Echoes of War: Mystery of a missing Confederate treasure in Whatcom County, Chapter 3

Editor's note: "Echoes of War" is a six-part, historical fiction story written by Whatcom County history researchers and writers. This is the final chapter.


Teddy, the teenage son of Phinny and Martha Arkeson, saw his father secretly looking at papers and a brass key. The key, Teddy knew, resembled a sketch of a key on an ominous poem he had seen in his father's Civil War journal. Are the keys related?


Teddy made his way quietly back down the stairs to his parent's party. With his attention occupied by the scene upstairs, he had neglected the young lady and went into the parlor.

As he sat with the others he heard a muttering in the corner where his father, returned from the attic, and one of the Citizen League members sat. He recognized the member as Stephen Brown, a relative of Mackey Brown.

Teddy heard Mackey's name mentioned by his father. Stephen shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "I don't know."

Teddy heard the word "Henry" and Stephen sat up straight, staring at his father. Teddy worked his way closer.

"My cousin Henry left here in the '50s and never came back," Stephen told Phinny, Teddy's father. "Why are you asking about him?"

"His name is in the book," Phinny replied. "Didn't he spend some time with those rebels in California?"

"I don't know that for sure" Stephen answered.

"Well, I have a drawing of a key, most likely to one of the hotel rooms in town and will show it around to see if it matches."

Stephen said, "It would have to be one that was here in '68. You can check the old Whatcom and Sehome hotels. Say, how about the fact that the old Sehome Hotel is now called the Keystone?"

At that point the two men looked up to see Teddy standing nearby.

"Don't you need to be visiting with someone?" his father asked.

"Father, I really want to help," Teddy replied. "If you let me help, then I promise to do better in school, and you know how I like adventures. I have asked you before about the war and I know it is still important to you.

"Your mystery must be tied in to the war," Teddy continued. "I read about those rebels in California, especially Calhoun Benham. He was up here to get the coal from the Sehome Mine in the '60s and everyone knows it was to raise money for the South."

His father looked at Teddy. "And here I thought you were just interested in baseball and girls."

Stephen spoke up. "I see Teddy is taking after you. At his age we were chasing the rebels around the countryside. Maybe Teddy is ready to be a Ted."

Phinny looked at Teddy. "I will sleep on it and think about this. You will hear from me in the morning."

The next morning Teddy rose early and prepared for breakfast. He wasn't going to school, as it was a Saturday and there were going to be celebrations to greet the New Year. Fireworks and gunshots had been going off last night and through the early-morning hours.

After breakfast Teddy and his father went into his dad's office.

"How much do you know about this business with the key?" his father asked.

"I only know that you went somewhere last night and returned with a box and the key was in it," Teddy said. "I also know you did something in the war that you don't want to discuss, and I think it ties in with the box."

Phinny said, "I guess I will have to loosen some more steps on the attic stairs. Well, I will tell you now that I think you are mature enough to know about this."

Phinny then related his story, reminiscing about his time in the Union Army.

"We were doing some reconnoitering along the coast of Georgia late in the war," he began. "One day we saw a Confederate squad digging in the sand along the beach, so we ambushed them and killed some. The rest ran away to a boat and rowed away.

"We looked to see what they had been digging and found some boxes containing gold and silver bars. A letter with the bars was addressed to a C. Benham in Sacramento charging him with using the gold and silver to bribe voters into electing a majority of Southern sympathizers so California would join the Confederacy.

"We took the valuables and hid them in another spot, but one of our group was a secret Southerner. The gold ended up being taken to San Francisco. We think Benham brought it north with him when he visited the Sehome Mine, but he was unable to come back for it. The key and other papers were taken from him when he was captured by the Union in '61.

"Mackey was there when Benham was arrested and he kept the papers and key. We don't know the significance of the poem or of the vessel Andron yet. That can be your job."

Teddy thought for a minute.

"Do you think Mackey knows more about this? He doesn't remember much. I will try to find him, and if I mention the key, maybe it will help."

Wes Gannaway of Ferndale is the co-author of several books about Whatcom County history is the current president of Whatcom County Historical Society.