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Hidden Gold Coins Found By James P. Kenyon


For thousands of years, poor people across the globe have hidden gold and silver coins to keep them safe from robbers or because they did not trust banks. On this date, in 1916, the Bismarck Tribune told a fascinating tale about James P. Kenyon and a treasure-trove his wife had concealed from him for twenty years.

James Kenyon, born in 1841 in England, came to America as an adult and joined the U.S. Army, coming to Bismarck as a private in 1872. After 10 years in the military, Kenyon settled in Bismarck. In 1888, he married a woman named Mary, and they became parents of a son.

Kenyon worked as a bank teller for 30 years. Sometimes, when customers deposited old coins, Kenyon exchanged his own paper money for the gold or silver and brought the valuable coins home for his wife. Mary stashed the coins in secret places.

In 1914, when Mary was 58, she became dreadfully ill with cancer. Seeking the best treatment, John took Mary to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Sadly, Mary never fully recovered, dying in July of 1916.

However, several months before Mary died, she had urged her husband to be extremely watchful with her belongings after was dead-and-gone. She told him to scrutinize everything – to carefully examine even the “smallest scrap of cloth or paper” before throwing anything away.

James followed her instructions, and, as months passed, he discovered silver dollars stashed in “odd corners” of the house; shiny dimes sewn inside “little bits of silk;” and silver half-dollars “wrapped in old newspapers.” He found 210-dollars-worth of coins.

In October, Mr. Kenyon decided to discard some old clothing, to be sold to a rag-picker. While stuffing the clothes into a bag, he discovered some “hard disks” sewed inside a strip of cloth. Tearing the stitches, Kenyon found dozens of shimmering silver coins in secretive pockets, adding up to $38 face value. He looked for more, uncovering a $2.50 gold-piece dated 1850; and then another quarter-eagle gold coin, minted in 1854.

The coins from Mary’s hidden treasure-trove were worth $410 at that time. We do not know if Kenyon’s family kept the coins or not, but, if they did, the modern-day-worth of just those two 1850s gold coins would be an astonishing $3,000.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Ragmen’s Procrastination Costs Him Fortune In Old Coins,” Bismarck Tribune, November 1, 1916, p. 1.

“Mr. And Mrs. Kenyon Returned,” Bismarck Tribune, July 23, 1914, p. 2; “Mrs. Kenyon Passes Away After Extended Illness,” Bismarck Tribune, July 14, 1916, p. 5; “Funeral For Mrs. Kenyon,” Bismarck Tribune, July 18, 1916, p. 2.

“Services For Pioneer To Be Held Tuesday,” Bismarck Tribune, October 17, 1921, p. 3; “Well Known Capitol Employee In New Role,” Bismarck Tribune, March 19, 1918, p. 6; “Pioneer Of City Is Dead,” Bismarck Tribune, October 15, 1921, p. 1.

“James Kenyon,” Bismarck, Burleigh County, ND, U.S. Census, 1900.

N.D. Department of Health, Public Death Index, Mary E. Kenyon (7/13/1916); James P. Kenyon (10/15/1921).

R.S. Yeoman, A Guide Book of U.S. Coins, 2009 (Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2008), p. 235-236.