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Debunking the Trunk: The Gold Coin

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     Here is the background information on the fabulous and miraculous 1853 gold coin that William Robinson purportedly left on the western flank of Pinto Peak—in today's Death Valley National Park—in January 1850 (no, there is no typo here).

     On November 22, 1998, Jerry Freeman was scouting the escape routes the Jayhawker and Brier parties used as they exited Death Valley in January 1850 when he found an old trunk in a cave. Jerry had read John Southworth's 1978 book Death Valley in 1849 and he had interviewed Southworth shortly before he made this discovery. Southworth's proposed route for the Jayhawkers is nearly due west from the summit of Pinto Peak (map, p. 48 in Death Valley in 1849). During this solo trip, Jerry was scouting the route Southworth outlined in his book.

     Jerry parked near Towne Pass and hiked toward the summit of the peak. Before reaching the peak, Jerry discovered the now notorious trunk that seemed to validate the escape route proposed by Southworth. The cave where the trunk was stashed is on or extremely near the Jayhawker route Southworth shows on his map. Based on a letter and a manifest he found in the trunk, Jerry concluded it was placed in the cave on January 2, 1850, by William Robinson, one of the Jayhawkers.

     The trunk was filled with a bizarre array of antique items: two ceramic bowls with lids, a law book, a small hymnal, a telescope, a worn out pair of infant's shoes, a shawl or table cloth, a doll, a flint lock pistol, a letter, and gold and silver coins. It is beyond the scope of this narrative to give a complete history of the trunk so I refer you to:

Johnson, LeRoy. 1999. "The Trunk Is Bunk: The Latest, Notorious Death Valley Artifacts." In: Proceedings, Fifth Death Valley Conference on History and Prehistory, March 4-7, 1999. Pp. 252-277. Bishop, Calif. : Community Printing and Publishing. (ISBN 0-912494-05-0.)

1853 gold coin from trunk with present day dime for size comparison.

     One of the seven gold coins in the trunk had a damaged date and neither Jerry nor the Park Service could initially determine the date but is appeared to be 1833 or 1843. A coin expert who inventoried and evaluated the coins for the Park Service made the astonishing pronouncement that the well worn dollar gold coin was not minted in 1833 or 1843 but was struck in 1853! All the other coins were 1849 or earlier.