Man has always had an eye for the riches. Since the early 1500’s to the mid 1800’s, pirates have roamed the seas hunting for goods and treasures. In fact, when we hear the word “treasure”, that’s the first thing that comes to our minds. More than a century ago, a pamphlet titled “The Beale Papers” was published. The small piece of paper was embedded with three cipher texts that leads to a location in Bedford County, VA. The secret location is thought to have been buried with treasure and has been a topic of interest for treasure hunters and cryptographers. Since the 1820’s, several men, women and children and have made attempts to crack the code. Today, two out of the three remain undeciphered and keeps the location of the treasure hidden in darkness.
The Beale Ciphers are 3 encrypted texts from the 1800’s.
The Beale Treasure Story was first described by James B. Ward in 1885. James published the story in a 23-page pamphlet entitled “The Beale Papers”. The pamphlet contained authentic information regarding sets of treasures that were buried in 1819 and 1821. The location of the buried treasure, which is yet to be recovered, is near Buford’s in Bedford County, Virginia. According to local legends, Thomas J. Beale buried the treasures, which will be valued at approximately $43 million today, then disappeared without a trace; only leaving texts to a local innkeeper. The innkeeper spent 20 years of his life trying to decode them and find the hidden treasure.
Thomas Beale’s first cryptogram.
According to the Beale Papers pamphlet, three encoded messages were created, that takes one towards the riches. Shown below is the first cipher, which is still to be solved.
To uncover the $43 million worth of treasure, one has to solve all three of the ciphers that Thomas J. Beale created. The remaining two unsolved ciphers hold the description of the contents of the treasure, a list of names of the treasures’ owners and their next of kin who were to receive the treasure in case of accident.
The local innkeeper, Robert Morris, was Beale’s trusted friend.
According to the story set in the 1885 pamphlet, Thomas J. Beale came across a treasure consisting of gold, silver and jewels in a mine located to the north of Santa Fe. Beale, along with the help of 30 other fellow adventurers, moved the riches to Bedford County in a secure location. After writing the cipher texts, Beale enclosed them in an iron box and handed it over to his trusted friend. He then instructed Morris not to open the box unless he or his partners failed to return from a journey within 10 years. Morris waited for Beale and his associates for 23 years but did not hear from anyone.
Morris decided that it was time to open the iron box. What he read after opening the box stunned and excited him to say the least. Morris immediately started working on trying to decipher the codes. He spent decades trying to solve them but was no closer to solving the mystery than when he first opened the box. Before his death, Morris handed over the papers as well as his scribbles to an unnamed friend. He too spent decades working on the ciphers trying to decode them.
The second cipher is the only one to be decoded.
The only cipher of the three that was solved by Morris’s friend was the second one. Amazingly, the man decrypted the texts using the Declaration of Independence. Sounds like something out of a Nicolas Cage movie, right? As crazy as it sounds, the cipher revealed something amazing.
Upon translating the ciphertext, it read:
I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford’s, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number three, herewith:
The first deposit consisted of ten hundred and fourteen pounds of gold, and thirty-eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited Nov. eighteen nineteen. The second was made Dec. eighteen twenty-one, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange to save transportation, and valued at thirteen thousand dollars.
The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number one describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.
However, the man was unable to solve the remaining two ciphers, which were the crucial parts to the location of the treasure.
Even though the man was successful in solving the second cipher, he learned that he was incapable of solving the rest. Understanding that he could not decipher them, the man took the story to the public. In 1885, his friend James B. Ward was the one to publish the pamphlet containing the solved cipher, as well as the rest of the remaining unsolved ones.
When the pamphlet was published in 1885, treasure hunters grew impatient trying to solve them. Dreaming of becoming rich by nightfall, treasure hunters as well as locals grabbed their shovels and headed for the hills of Bedford County and began digging – none were successful. Even today, many men, women and children spend valuable time attempting to solve the ciphers while some experts consider the Beale ciphers to be an elaborate hoax. Jim Gillogly, a world renowned cryptographer, published an article in 1989, “A Dissenting Opinion”, which argues that James B. Ward, the person who published the pamphlet itself, wrote the original letter with the ciphers. He also suggested that the letter in the box and the published pamphlet had strong similarities in writing style; such as punctuation, grammar and vocabulary.
Many believe that James B. Ward created an elaborate ploy to earn some extra dollars. At the time, the pamphlets were sold at the price of 50 cents (roughly equivalent to $13 today). Though attempts to crack down the ciphers are still ongoing, the attempts always have dead ends. Maybe treasure hunters themselves are trying to conclude the Beale ciphers to be hoax, in order to find the riches for themselves. Whatever the case may be, there’s no harm in trying to solve these. You might just end up finding it!
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