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Treasure Map

Today’s story about a legend of lost treasure near the town of Kensal is twice as perplexing as it is puzzling. The tale involved gold dust, violence and a hand-drawn treasure map.

It was on this date in 1927 that a United Press newspaper story, dateline “Kensal, N.D,” gave vague details about a fabulous treasure of “$100,000 in gold dust” that had been “hastily” buried long ago alongside the historic Fort Totten Trail.

The Fort Totten Wagon Trail once connected old Fort Seward, near Jamestown, with Fort Totten, on Devils Lake’s south shore, following the east side of the James River. The trail opened in 1872, when the Northern Pacific Railroad extended from Fargo to Jamestown. Freight and mail was subsequently hauled 81 miles northward by wagon. Ten years later, in 1882, the trail was made obsolete when the Great Northern Railway laid tracks from Grand Forks to Devils Lake.

The treasure legend goes like this: Three prospectors were traveling from Montana back to their Wisconsin homes in the time of the Montana Gold Rush, vaguely in the 1870s. As the three men journeyed southward from Fort Totten, they were pursued by hostile Native Americans. Fearing deadly harm, the grizzled prospectors hid in some previously dug “old rifle pits” beside a lake, and buried their precious bags of gold dust. After a fierce attack, two of the prospectors lay dead. The third survived by hiding in the waters of the lake.

The survivor escaped on horseback to Fort Seward thence homeward to Wisconsin, planning each year to return to recover the gold. He never did. On his deathbed, he gave a hand-drawn treasure map to a lifelong-friend.

The friend journeyed to Jamestown, pretending to be a “honey-peddler.” He searched near Kensal, but the ground had been plowed-up, leveling the rifle-pits, rendering key landmarks unrecognizable.

The treasure-map came into the possession of a man who lived near Kensal, and he kept it securely in the family Bible. Unfortunately, someone stole the “faded old map” and the tale of the prospector’s gold became legend.

Who knows, maybe someday the treasure-map will reappear and Kensal’s long-lost gold will at last be found -- perhaps in a golden farm field, near a nameless lake, somewhere east of the James River.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department.


“Big Treasures Buried,” Lincoln [NE] Evening Journal, January 25, 1927, p. 1.

“$100,000 Gold Dust Reported Cached in N.D.,” Minneapolis Star, March 26, 1927, p. 9.

“Big Treasures Are Buried in North Dakota,” Santa Ana [CA] Register, March 10, 1927, p. 3.

“Two Trips Mark 40th Anniversary,” Bismarck Tribune, July 26, 2009, p. 29.

“Wagon Trip Planned on Fort Totten Trail by Jamestown Group,” Bismarck Tribune, May 2, 1969, p. 6.

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