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The Curse of Civil War Gold recap: The forgotten railroad and the lumber tycoon

Kevin Dystra on The Curse of Civil War Gold
Kevin Dykstra looking for the ‘forgotten railroad’ on The Curse of Civil War Gold

The Curse of Civil War Gold is two episodes down going into this week’s episode — as Kevin Dykstra and his team try and convince Marty Lagina that their theory about Confederate gold lying at the bottom of Lake Michigan is true.

The premiere of the new treasure-hunting show saw the group head to Georgia to scope out the site where they believe $2million worth of bullion was looted from Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

In the second episode they attempted to find a ‘forgotten railroad’ which they believe was used to transport the gold to Michigan several years later.

As we gear up for Episode 3 — which comes days after the FBI oversaw another search for Confederate gold in Pennsylvania — here’s 10 things we learned in The Curse of Civil War Gold Season 1 Episode 2.

1 Kevin thinks two men initiated the looting of the gold

Colonel H.J. Minty
Colonel H.J. Minty, who Kevin Dykstra believes was central to the theft of Confederate gold

Mention of both Lieut. Gen. Benjamin Pritchard and his commanding officer Col Robert H.J. Minty were made on the premiere, but in Episode 2 we learned a lot more about them and what Kevin thinks it is they got up to.

Kevin believes that Minty was the one who informed Pritchard that Jefferson was carrying the Confederate treasury before it got looted in Abbeville, Georgia, but that afterwards the pair had no way to bring it up to Michigan undetected.

That was until a few years later when Pritchard became the Michigan state land commissioner, which gave him the authority to approve new railroad construction, and when Minty became the superintendant of several railroad companies, including one that was building a new line that stretched from Irwinville to Michigan.

2 A third man, Charles Hackley, allegedly helped them launder it

Charles Hackley
Charles Hackley, who was a lumber tycoon but later helped fund the forgotten railroad

Even if they could get the gold up to Michigan, how would they set about laundering it? Step in lumber tycoon turned banker Charles Hackley, who Kevin says along with his “crew” put up the funds to get the railroad built.

According to Kevin, shortly after getting to know Pritchard and Minty, Hackley quickly decided to expand his business ventures into the railroad industry. After that, his wealth apparently increased exponentially.

3 They believe the gold was transported to Muskegon by the ‘forgotten railroad’

Map of railway route
The route the railway is believed to have taken along the shore of Lake Michigan

A year before Kevin claims the gold was transported from Georgia to Michigan, Hackley apparently authorised the building of a 17-mile track along eastern shore of Lake Michigan between Ferrysburg and Muskegon.

Mysteriously, just two years later it was shut down. Kevin believes it was built pretty much specifically to transport the gold, with the line leading right to the back door of the office at Hackley’s lumber operations.

The railroad was finished in 1870 — the same year Pritchard opened the First National Bank of Allegan and Hackley opened the Muskegon National Bank. Did they fund the banks with the gold stolen from Jefferson?

4 The line of the railroad can still be seen from the air

Shore of Lake Michigan from the air
The shore of Lake Michigan from the air, with the apparent location of the railroad marked

Kevin needs to prove to Marty Lagina that the railroad is there if he’s ever going to get the funding he needs for his later treasure-hunting operations..

To do that he and his brother Al initially took to the skies in a Cessna 172 light aircraft to scope out the part of the Lake Michigan shore where they believe the train tracks to have been.

Looking down from above, they see a raised up section of beach and dunes which appears to follow the shoreline — and which they think sits higher than the surrounding ground because it is on top of the old line.

5 A GPR device picks up metal under the sand

The team using the GPR device
The team using the GPR device, which picked up two anomalies in succession

The team then headed to the area of shore identified from the air, which sits on land owned by the Muskegon Elks Lodge.

There they met up with ground-penetrating radar (GPR) expert Dave Paul, who set to work with a 400 MHz GPR device that can detect metal more than two meters below ground level.

Tracing a path from the edge of the dunes to the water, he quickly came across two anomalies in succession, which they suggest must be the old train tracks.

6 Old photos show the railroad back in the day

Old railway photograph on Lake Michigan shore
An old photograph of the Lake Michigan shore showing what looks like the railway

Back in Muskegon, Kevin’s fellow researcher Frederick Monroe began examining old photo negatives given to him by Elks Lodge which he was told could provide evidence of the old railway.

And Bingo! He almost immediately came across one which clearly shows two lines running along the beach. He had the negatives turned into photographs, before taking them to the shore to show Kevin during his exploration work there.

7 There was an old locomotive abandoned on the beach

Rogers locomotive
A Rogers locomotive, of the type that was said to have been stolen in Florida

Much to Kevin’s surprise, while the team were searching the shore with the GPR device they also picked up an anomaly somewhat further down the beach right at the water’s edge.

Shaun Wade from Muskegon Elks Lodge then informed him that there was actually an old railway locomotive under the sand, which he used to play on as a kid. After the Civil War ended, a Confederate locomotive was reportedly stolen in the city of Cedar Key, Florida.

The engine that was stolen was a Rogers one, and Kevin believes it was Col. Minty who stole it. If he can prove that the one under the beach is also a Rogers, then he will have made a crucial link in the puzzle.

8 They touch metal, but can’t get photographic proof

The team drilling in the sand
The team drilling in the sand at the reported location of the old locomotive

Kevin really needed photographic proof of the engine and the railway tracks in order to make his case to Marty Lagina for funding, but he failed on both counts.

Despite amassing a team of 20 volunteers, they were unable to dig up either the locomotive or the tracks sufficiently to take a picture — because the sand around kept caving in, and their holes repeatedly filled with water even while using a generator-powered pump.

However, they DID manage to touch metal in both places — so ended up pretty convinced what they were looking for was there.

9 Hackley is a key figure

Kevin Dystra and memorial
Kevin examines what looks like a Templar-style cross on the next episode

The end of the episode saw the team decide on their next moves, and agree that they should focus on Charles Hackley. While he was rich from his lumber business before the Civil War, he became much richer after it.

The sneak peek and trailer for the next episode shows the team exploring various areas of Muskegon which carry Hackley’s name, including a square which Kevin identified as looking like a Confederate cross from the air. They also look at possible links to the Masons.

10 A bank vault could hold vital clues

The team in bank vault
The team inside an old bank vault which they believe may hold clues

The sneak peek also showed the team investigating an old bank vault — possibly from one of the banks set up by Hackley or Pritchard — as well as old safety deposit boxes, one of which they prise open.

Episode 3 also sees them go in search of an old tunnel hidden underground and possibly used in connection with the gold, but while drilling a wall which they believe lies in front of it…it collapses.

Watch the trailer for the next episode below!

The Curse of Civil War Gold airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on History.