Pablo Hoffman forwarded this very interesting, well written and illustrated article from Topic on a landmark court case on the issue of who
owns finds of buried treasure in the U.S. Thanks! Here's a short excerpt, but be sure to read the complete article online. -Editor
Deep under mounds of refuse and soil, Waldo discovered a rusted and sealed half-gallon fruit can. He was about to toss the can into a
container with the other trash, but the vessel, which felt unusually heavy, piqued his interest. After lifting the lid with a pickax, he found
several tightly packed tobacco sacks, full of five-, ten-, and twenty-dollar US gold pieces.
Chalmus suggested taking the cache home, but his older brother insisted on showing the treasure to Roberts. Perhaps Waldo was proud of the
discovery, or maybe he anticipated receiving a big reward in return for his honesty and transparency. Regardless, he and his brother lugged the can
over to the family's porch. "What you got?" asked Roberts. "A can of gold," the boys replied.
Concealed stashes like the one found in the chicken coop were not unusual in the late nineteenth century. Banks frequently failed during financial
crises-there had been panics in 1837, 1873, and 1893, the year before the boys found the treasure-and depositors could lose everything they
had, so many Americans hid money and valuables in or around their homes: in attics and cellars, in secret compartments, or in holes in the ground.
Hiding or burying personal savings or treasure was also a way to protect it from robbers or law enforcement, particularly if the goods had been
illegally acquired. In addition, a gold rush in Oregon in the 1850s-during which some prospectors made fortunes in the southwestern part of the
state-created the possibility that lucky miners who hit pay dirt had hidden their earnings. Decades after the gold rush, when money could be dug
right out of the earth, many people in the area still believed that "finders keepers" was the law of the land.
Nine years later, in 1903, Waldo and Chalmus, now 19 and 17-ages at which their accusations would carry credibility-engaged two lawyers
and took legal action against the Robertses and their farming partner, P. B. O'Neil. The boys' mother, Minerva Danielson, agreed to act as a
guardian ad litem in a lawsuit in which the brothers claimed rightful possession of the treasure and charged the landowners with wrongfully taking
and keeping the money. Newspaper reporters learned of the lawsuit as soon as it was filed and called it the "Tin Can Case."
The case that the Waldo and Chalmus set in motion has been cited at least 17 times in legal decisions since 1904. "It's one of the
leading cases on the question of found property," says Orth, who often calls it to the attention of students in his property-law classes.
The Danielson brothers' claim to possession of buried treasure was also echoed in a 2013 case, when a couple walking their dog found $10
million in gold coins buried on their property in rural Northern California. It was impossible to know who originally buried the money-the coins
all dated from the 19th century-so possession of the treasure went to the couple, though they were also required to pay federal and state income
tax on their find, roughly 47 percent of the coins' worth.
To read the complete article, see:
Who Owns Buried Treasure? (https://www.topic.com/who-owns-buried-treasure)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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