This week’s theme is ‘fortune’. I don’t know about you but I love a good buried treasure story! I’ve been waiting a while to tell this story and now is the perfect time! Back in August of 2019 I told you about my DNA adventure with the BAIR/BEAR/BARE family. See this post:
In that post I briefly mentioned Henry and Elizabeth (YOCUM) SCHELL.
I mentioned that Henry was murdered by bushwhackers and I believe the murder was tied to a hidden treasure called “Yocum’s Silver Dollars”. I didn’t really go into much detail in that post because I didn’t feel I could bring you a good enough story about it at that time. I’ve since done some more research and it fits perfectly with this week’s theme so we’re going to unpack and dig into the legend of Yocum’s Silver Dollars!
The First Non-Indian Residents in Stone County, Missouri
There are so many YOCUM family stories online that it took me two days to locate and read through the stories about JUST the Stone and Taney County, Missouri YOCUMs. I’m still finding stories so I know I haven’t gotten them all. The abundance of information about this family is almost overwhelming. At the bottom of this post I will link to a crude bibliography I created so you know what information I looked at to get this post written. One of the links I found identified James YOACHUM as being the first non-Indian resident to live in Stone County, Missouri.
Some say the YOCUM family (then spelled YOACHUM) was in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri as far back as the 1790’s. I can neither confirm nor deny this information. I can say with some degree of confidence that James YOACHUM/YOCUM left Illinois shortly after the death of his first wife and moved to Taney County, Missouri by at least the very early 1800’s, some say after the War of 1812. He left his son with his brother Solomon (who went by Sol). In the spring, James would return to Illinois to see his son, Jacob, and then return home in the summer with provisions. By 1815, James had convinced Sol and Jacob to move to Missouri with him. Around 1818, the US Government signed the St. Mary’s Treaty with the Delaware Tribe which ordered the tribe to move to land west of the Mississippi. Two governors got together and declared the area around Taney County, Missouri to be Delaware Indian Reservation land so that’s where the tribe settled. This was the same land/same area that James YOACHUM lived on and farmed. James eventually married a Delaware Indian woman named Winonah. In 1825, the government’s Indian Sub-agent, John Campbell, got the YOCUMs evicted off the Delaware Reservation land by writing a letter to his superior stating that James YOCUM and other “outlaws” were distilling liquor and selling it to the Indians. Specifically, he had this to say about our YOCUM family:
“Solomon Yoachum has erected a distillery… and has made a quantity of peach brandy and has been selling it for some time in quantities to the Indians. There is a number of those outlaw characters all below him who are selling whiskey constantly to the Indians.”The Yocum Silver Dollar (thelibrary.org), accessed on 3/4/2021.
The previous year, John Campbell- the Federal Indian sub-agent who had sole jurisdiction over the Delaware Indian Reservation land, had complained about “relations between whites and Indians” and said,
“I think it bad policy to permit traders to cultivate so much of the Indian soil and to keep such large stocks of horses and cattle in the neighborhood of the villages and they pay the Indians no rent and sell their corn at an extravagant price to them… Some of the traders are now clearing more land, those who have Indian families of children I think ought to be allowed to cultivate soil sufficient to support their children but nothing more.”The Yocum Silver Dollar (thelibrary.org), accessed on 3/4/2021.
It was, however, seemingly acceptable to Sub-agent Campbell that the likes of John Jacob ASTOR had a monopoly on trade in the area via a trading post that “extended credit” to the Delaware people. ASTOR maintained quite the lucrative venture from 1823-1827. The YOACHUMs weren’t going to win this particular battle against the government. They were evicted from their land by the government and they moved just southwest of the reservation to the mouth of the Kings River where it empties into the White River.
The Silver Mine Enters the Story
The Delaware were later moved off this land to a different location and sometime before the Delaware Tribe left, James traded horse, blankets, and soap to the Delaware in exchange for a silver mine (or cave, depending on who is telling the story). Eventually, James was joined by both his brothers as well as his son. The three brothers built the first cabin across the valley from the mine entrance so they could guard it. Later they built James’ cabin directly in front of the mine entrance and made a secret mine entrance so they could access the mine from inside their home.
In the early 1800’s money, especially silver, was scarce. This is where the story diverges. Some say it was because of the scarcity of silver that YOACHUMs decided to make their own from the ore in the mine. Others tell a different story about how the YOACHUMs came into possession of the silver. In either case, it wasn’t illegal at that time to coin your own money and many did it. (Minting your own coins wasn’t illegal until 1862 when Congress got involved and started passing laws.) There are so many versions of the story and they all start to diverge right about this point in the story. Some people believe James’ son, Jacob Levi YOACHUM, was responsible for making the dies with which they struck the coins. Some believe the coins don’t exist at all. Several of the YOACHUMs were expert blacksmiths so it’s very possible that one or some or all of them did create some dies and use the dies to mint some silver coins.
Again, the country as a whole was very short on physical money in the early 1800’s. The government had forced the limiting of the production of coins. President Jefferson had imposed a moratorium on production in 1806 and maintained that limitation until 1837. There was a great deal of private coinage in circulation during this time. Privately minted coins in circulation at the time bore the name of the creator of the coin and was generally accepted as money. There were no banks in Missouri at that time – not until 1837 would there be a bank in Missouri. Bartering was a normal way of life and if you minted your own coins, provided they met a certain standard, they were a very welcome way of paying for goods. YOCUM dollars were used by everyone in the area. No one objected to the YOCUM dollars until one day a group of 6 men went to Springfield, Missouri to the land office there because they’d been told that even though they’d been living on their land a long time, now they had to go pay a filing fee to the government land office and homestead their land if they wanted to keep it. So they arrived in Springfield with their Yocum dollars to pay up. When they presented their YOCUM dollars, the land agent objected to them and said they were counterfeit. The settlers refused to leave without title to their land. The land agent confiscated the coins and sent one to Washington, D.C. for assay and a judgment on the legitimacy of the coins. The coins assayed at almost pure silver – worth more than the federal silver dollars. The government ordered the confiscation of all Yocum Silver Dollars, ordered agents to locate the silver mine/cave then confiscate it and not homestead that land to anyone.
Sticking It to the Man…Twice
Some time after that, James and Winonah YOCUM were said to have been killed when the silver mine caved in while they were inside it. This was about 1846-1848. Around this time, a federal agent showed up looking for the YOCUMs’ silver dollars, the mine, and the minting equipment. He didn’t find any of it. The YOCUMs refused to tell him the location of any of it. If anyone else knew the location, they didn’t give it up either. YOCUMs advised the agent to leave the country and never come back. The agent left. However, 8 years later the same government agent showed up again with 8 more agents. The agents and the YOCUMs did eventually arrive at an agreement that the YOCUMs would not mint any more coins and the government agent would go away and never come back. This was, apparently, the only concession made by the YOCUMs. (Way to stick it to the man, Sol!) After the death of James and Winonah, Sol packed up his family and left for California to see if they could strike it rich in the California Gold Rush. The silver mine/cave has never been located. Sol was the last surviving YOCUM who knew the location of the silver mine or any remaining hidden caches of YOCUM silver dollars. After having a stroke, Sol gave his grandson William a map with the location of the silver mine on it but the grandson was never able to find the mine. William’s son, Joseph, took up the search in 1958 but was also unsuccessful. Joseph gave the map to Artie AYRES who owned the land where the cave/mine was supposedly located. Artie never found the mine/cave either. Artie did, however, write a book which is now so rare it sells for $100 if you can manage to find a copy to buy. Eventually the White River was dammed and Table Rock Lake was created which covered up the alleged location of the mine and the alleged location of hidden caches of YOCUM silver dollars (along with the hidden dies used to mint the coins).
Adapt and Overcome
That’s the basic story of the Yocum Silver Dollar that I believe to be truthful. There are a lot of background details and side stories that are missing though so I want to fill in a few holes in the story. For instance if you believe the government and their experts, there are no known silver mines in either Stone or Taney County, Missouri that actually produce silver and professional geologists have said there will never be a producing silver mine in this area due to the geography of the land. They say it isn’t possible. I’m not an expert so I can’t say one way or the other. I can only ask myself if anyone offering a story has a reason to mislead and then base the “believability” of a statement on the conclusion I come to. (I can say that as recently as this week, I’ve found the government and one of their agencies being less than truthful about the existence of something. So there’s that.) I will say, some stories mention a silver mine or silver cave that had solid silver walls. I excluded that detail because I don’t believe it to be true. All of this to say, you’re getting the details *I* believe to be true. You’ll have to make up your own mind for yourself.
I did find someone on a message forum who said they were family of the YOACHUMs. This person told the most believable story of all and said they got it straight from other members of the family. It makes the most sense to me of all the stories I’ve read so far. This person says the truth is there was no silver mine. That story was created and perpetuated to throw off the government and to explain how the (very impoverished) YOACHUM family came into so much silver when it was so hard to come by. The truth is they distilled whiskey and brandy and sold it to the Indians which was an illegal act at the time. The Indians received payments from the federal government because of the treaties and the government paid the Indians with…you guessed it, silver dollars. So when the Indians got their government money, the YOACHUMs (being the wise entrepreneurs they were) brought out the peach brandy and whiskey. The Native Americans paid for the alcohol with the government silver. Now, the government silver would have proved the YOACHUMs to be criminals so they melted down the silver, re-minted it with their brand, and then were able to use it. Yes, the YOACHUMs laundered money…in a 19th century kind of way. They illegally sold homemade liquor and then laundered the silver coins they received in exchange for goods. They likely laundered money in this same way for other illegal distillers in the area as well. They did what they had to do to survive. There was a severe economic downturn in 1837. They adapted and overcame.
If you’re still doubting the YOCUM silver dollars ever actually existed, perhaps it will sway you to know that at some point there was a witness who said they visited YOCUM’s blacksmith shop and reported seeing a barrel full of YOCUM silver dollars. Again, you have to make up your own mind based on the information you find and the bias of the people offering the information.
Missouri…The Show-Me State
Perhaps, like me, you’re wondering what the YOCUM silver dollars looked like. There are a multitude of descriptions. I’ll give them all to you and you can decide which you find most likely to be credible.
Description #1: “Same size as a Spanish Silver Dollar coin”. (per yoakumrendezvous.pdf)
Description #2: The silver dollars had ‘YOCUM’ on one side and were larger than the standard U.S. silver dollar. (Yocum Silver Dollar: Fact or Legend? (thelibrary.org))
Description #3: The YOCUM dollars were “crudely fashioned” and possibly only said “YOCUM Dollar”.
Description #4: Each was roughly 2 inches in diameter and embossed with the YOCUM name.
Description #5: There is outlined a number ‘1’ in the center with ‘DOLLAR’ curved below the ‘1’. Also there are some very small letters at the bottom which are illegible. It looks like there are about 4 numbers or letters that are illegible.
Description #5: The coins had hand punched denticals on both sides resembling a half circle pattern of connecting shapes that go completely around the outer circumference on both sides. The dies were primitive and crudely lettered. The die rod ends opposite the devices show expansion from being hammered on. Obverse has ‘YOACHUM’ punched halfway curved around the top while the curved date of 1822 is at the bottom. There is a single central star in the middle of the coin with 8 stars going around the central star. Two other stars are located on either side and connect ‘YOACHUM’ with the ‘1822’ date. The lettering is crude, resembling a chisel impression and not that of a lettered punch. Reverse has ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’ going around and having smaller lettering than the obverse. (Yoachum Dollar (or Yocum) information desparately saught. — Collectors Universe)
There was one coin found in an old trunk in Kansas and it was reported to have been displayed at Missouri State Archives several years prior to 2017, according to Bob DERRYBERRY, the great-great-grandson of George YOCUM. Four coins were found under the floor of an old cabin that was being razed in 1923. There was allegedly 236 coins found in a metal box in South Branson, Missouri by a St. Louis, Missouri man. These 236 coins match up with Description #4 above.
J. R. BLUNK of Galena, Missouri, found YOCUM dies on 11 March 1983 while digging along the White River on property adjacent to the YOACHUM Settlement. The dies were buried and were preserved in a waxy substance that resembled animal fat. (More about this below.)
Although most stories credit James YOACHUM with being the first YOCUM in the Stone and Taney County, Missouri areas and they say he owned the silver mine, the family story that I found most reliable says George W. YOCUM (nephew of James) was the one who minted all the YOCUM silver dollars, not James and his son Jacob. The family says George and his wife came to Missouri from Ohio in the 1820’s. Many YOCUMs came to the area from Illinois and Ohio and all settled along the White River. Later, some moved north to the James River west of Branson, Missouri. I cannot tell you which version is correct on this particular detail.
A side note, the James River in southern Missouri is said to have been named after James YOACHUM. As of today, I still have not found a Taney County, Missouri map of the right time period with James River on it but I did find this 1830 map showing where the Delaware tribal reservation land was.
A more interesting side note: on Underground Ozarks forums there’s a post which ties together a lot of Branson area locales. For instance, I had no idea (and never really thought about it) that Silver Dollar City took it’s name from the YOCUM silver dollar legend. In the 1980’s when Branson was still a small-town attraction, there was a small outdoor amphitheater called Lost Silver Mine Theater that told the story of the YOACHUM family and the lost silver mine. If you’re looking for a podcast to listen to, I recommend Episode 4 of Ozarks Haints and Hooch where one of the hosts discusses her time as an actress at the Lost Silver Mine theater in Branson West (which was then called Lakeview and not Branson West). Dogpatch and Li’l Abner both based their main characters off the YOACHUM family as well. In addition to all this, there used to be a Camp Yocum in the Galena, Stone County, Missouri area. It was a summer resort on the James River during the 1920’s.
Other interesting family facts:
- As of 2009, YOCUM descendants still lived around the Shell Knob, Missouri area.
- On the Above Top Secret forums, someone who once saw the maps that Sol passed down to William (the maps that ended up with Artie AYRES) suggests the silver mine/cave is actually in the Reeds Spring, Missouri or Galena, Missouri area rather than in the Branson, Missouri area. Oddly enough, this fits in with other details I’ve read that were more obscure. Even odder, this is where my 3rd great grandfather, Jehue BAKER, lived and is buried. Jehue’s mother was Mary BAIR/BEAR and is our connection to the YOCUM/YOACHAM and SCHELL/SHELL families.
- In 2016, John R. BLUNK filed for a trademark on the YOACHUM silver dollar. (YOACHUM SILVER DOLLAR YOACHUM 1822 Trademark – Serial Number 86892222 :: Justia Trademarks)
- For those of you interested in the Native American heritage, it is said that YOCUMs have Osage, Cherokee, and Delaware blood.
There is so much more I’d love to know about this family. I wouldn’t mind trying a sip of that peach brandy either. Unfortunately, I’ll have to settle for reading my copy of a magazine I just scored off eBay this past week – the November/December 1988 issue of Treasure Search magazine which carried the article about the “Yoachum Dies” being found. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.
This week I hope you don’t have to settle for just “what you can get”. I wish you the best of the best and no being forced to settle. Make it a great week, friends. And if you do have to settle – just know that your turn for something perfect is coming. Make the best of it no matter what you get this week. Your attitude is the only thing you get to control.
Until next week,
Lisa @ Days of Our Lives Genealogy blog