SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read below here if you don’t want to know what happened in the premiere of The Curse of Civil War Gold.
The Curse of Civil War Gold has debuted on History! The new show follows the hunt for $2million — $140million in today’s money — of lost Confederate gold believed to be lying at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
The premiere introduced us to the team taking the part in the hunt, led by Kevin Dykstra, and saw him explain his theory as to where the gold came from and how it ended up in the lake.
We also learned about the capture and arrest of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, which is believed to have led to the gold being stolen, while Kevin approached Marty Lagina of The Curse of Oak Island fame for help funding his search.
Here’s the 10 biggest things we learned in The Curse of Civil War Gold Season 1 Episode 1, Betrayal!
1 Kevin Dykstra believes there is a boxcar full of gold at the bottom of Lake Michigan
Kevin believes there is $2million worth of looted Confederate gold lying in a boxcar at the bottom of Lake Michigan. His research shows that it was stolen off Confederate President Jefferson Davis following his arrest in 1865 by members of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry.
He thinks the gold, along with silver and jewels, were being transported by Davis in wagons as he tried to flee to Texas or Mexico while avoiding capture from Union troops.
Following Davis’s arrest, it’s believed six wagons containing the lucrative haul were stolen before their contents were buried, to stop them being found, and the wagons were burned to hide the evidence.
Kevin’s theory, as he explained to Marty Lagina in the premiere, is that the people who stole the treasure later returned, dug it up, and had it transported back to Muskegon, Michigan — Dykstra’s home city — where they set about trying to launder it.
Later he thinks some of the gold was being transported across Lake Michigan when it was pushed off a car ferry into the waters below, possibly by people upset at it being taken out west.
2 He has already been looking for this treasure for seven years
Kevin has already been looking for this treasure for seven years — but primarily by tracing its journey on paper. His interest in the treasure began after his long-time friend, researcher Fred Monroe, told him about a deathbed confession from a lighthouse keeper in which it was claimed the boxcar had been pushed off the ferry into the lake.
The premiere introduced us to Fred, who told us about the confession, along with Kevin’s other team members — high-school history teacher Brad Richards and Kevin’s brother Al. Kevin himself is a facilities director for a local high-school in Muskegon.
3 Marty Lagina will join the hunt if Kevin can prove his theory has legs
Kevin approached multi-millionaire Marty for funding due to his links to treasure-hunting on Oak Island. The two main things he says he needs are a bigger boat — to allow his team to cover a greater area in their search of Lake Michigan — and a more powerful sonar.
Marty, who made his money in the oil and gas industry, said he would consider helping — but only if Kevin could give him tangible proof that his theories about what happened to the gold could actually be correct.
Asked what he could show Marty that would convince him of their veracity, Kevin said he believed he could find the location that the Confederate gold was initially buried following Jefferson Davis’s arrest, and hopefully discover some evidence of it.
4 The team visit Abbeville, Georgia, to start their quest
To start his quest, Kevin travelled with his younger brother Al and Brad Richards to Abbeville, Georgia, where they met up with local historian and magistrate Shawn Rhodes.
He helped them scope out the area where it’s believed Jefferson Davis crossed the Ocmulgee river with his wagons shortly before his arrest, and then took them to visit the actual site of the Confederate president’s capture — at the Jefferson Davis Memorial historic site near Irwinville, GA.
5 Six wagons went missing
Records from the ferry crossing showed that Jefferson Davis and his party had 14 wagons with them at the time. It was also revealed on the show that Davis overpaid for his journey across the river, possibly as a bribe to keep his identity secret — or to stop his wagons being inspected.
However, a report from Lieut. Col. Benjamin D. Pritchard of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry, who took part in Davis’s arrest, recorded there only being eight wagons when the president was captured. So what happened to the other six?
Dykstra believes they were the ones that contained the gold, and were initially hidden by Davis nearby to where he had set up camp so they wouldn’t be found — but they were, by Pritchard and his men, who then buried the contents for safe-keeping and burned the wagons to destroy the evidence.
6Lieut. Col. Benjamin D. Pritchard later became mysteriously rich
Lieut. Col. Benjamin D. Pritchard was a public school teacher earning a salary of approximately $240 a year before the Civil War. After the arrest of Davis, Pritchard, who had been under the command of Col . R. H. G. Minty, received a promotion to the rank of Brigadier General and a $3,000 reward.
However, five years later he was somehow able to start the First National Bank in his hometown of Allegan, Michigan, with a bankroll of nearly $50,000. The question is, how did Pritchard become one of the wealthiest men in Michigan just five years after the war ended?
Dykstra’s theory is that after burying the money he later returned to Georgia and recovered the bullion, before transporting it back to Michigan.
7Gary Drayton joins the team
To find some sort of proof to show to Marty, Dykstra came up with a plan to metal-detect the area where he thinks the wagons were burned and the gold was possibly hidden. Who better for that job than “metal-detecting ninja” Gary Drayton of The Curse of Oak Island fame?.
Gary was recommended by Marty Lagina, who has seen a huge increase in discoveries on Oak Island thanks to Gary’s work.
8They find what they believe is old wagon parts and Confederate silver
After matching the map from Lieut. Col. Pritchard’s report with one shown to them by the curator of the Jefferson Davis Memorial historic site, John Hughes, Kevin and his team came up with their best guess for where they thought the wagons would have been burned and the treasure buried.
The location was just out of sight of Jefferson Davis’s camp, and at the time of his capture would have been a forested area. Today, it’s a field that has evidently been used for farming in the past.
Gary and the rest of the team then all set to work with metal-detecting devices, placing small red flags in the field every time they got a reading. The first thing they dug up was a square nut, quickly followed by a bolt — which both looked to be of the same size, and which Kevin was sure were part of the old wagons.
Gary said they must be old as if they were from more recent times — say the 1920s or 30s — they would be made of a far less robust iron and would have rotted. Not long after, Gary got a reading with his Minelab CTX 3030 which turned out to be a piece of shrapnel, likely once part of a larger shot.
A ‘friendly fire’ incident occurred during Jefferson Davis’s capture, after the Fourth Michigan Cavalry approached his camp from the south-east and the First Wisconsin Cavalry approached from the north — with two of Pritchard’s men being killed.
It was speculated on the show that the shot could be evidence that heavy artillery may have been used during the firefight, a sign that Pritchard was under strict orders to get the treasure at all costs.
Then came the biggest find — a silver coin! Even more impressively, Gary said he believed it was a Confederate one due to the stars he could see around the edges.
The wagons captured from Jefferson Davis are recorded to have been carrying 60 kegs of silver coins, so could this be one that they buried then missed when they retrieved them later?
9 Marty wants more proof
After their discoveries in the field, the team had a rendezvous in Irwinville to show Shawn Rhodes and John Hughes their discoveries, and to call Marty to discuss their finds.
After telling Marty about the apparent Confederate coin, Kevin said: “I don’t want to say ‘I told you so'” but Marty joked: “You can’t Kevin…’cause you promised me a gold coin, bud!”
While he was evidently liking the fact that they had found something, Marty told them he needs more if they’re to truly convince him that their claims are not just speculation.
He told the team: “This is a good start, and I’m very encouraged. You guys, don’t misunderstand me but, look, I’m going to need a little more proof. You dug in one spot and you found this, but where does this lead you? I mean, where do you go?”
10 They’re going to trace the gold’s path to Lake Michigan
Kevin tells Marty that the next thing he will try to prove to support his theory is how the gold was transported to Michigan. The trailer for next week’s episode, below, shows he thinks this happened by train on a “forgotten railroad”.
The sneak peek for the season ahead, which was shown at the end of the premiere, also revealed footage of the team doing lots more exploring — from caves to “32nd degree Masons”, Confederate symbolism, safety deposit boxes and the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
Divers were also shown in what is thought to be Lake Michigan, with one of them saying via radio from underneath the water: “We have found a boxcar! Tell Marty!”
Watch the trailer for next week’s episode below!
The Curse of Civil War Gold airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on History.