There’s a peril that comes with talk of gold. History changes with the stroke of a pickaxe and the glint of precious metals.
Historically, people have done drastic things all for the pursuit of gold.
And so, before we go any further into talk of underground treasures hidden under the thick rhododendron groves, known as hells, of the Greenbrier, let’s agree to keep our heads about us, shall we?
We’re all friends here and even if we found an ancient hidden gold mine, it’s National Park property and we couldn’t keep it.
Let’s start with what we know and we’ll work our way back to the rumors.
Who was Perry M. Shultz?
A man named Perry M. Shultz – or possibly Shults – was born in 1822 in Sevier County. In 1848, he married Adeline (Huskey) Shultz and they had four children who lived to adulthood.
The family lived in the Pittman Center community north of the Greenbrier area.
Shultz is listed on the census of 1860, and again in the 1870 census, as a farmer.
He died in 1889 in an unknown location.
Whatever is left of his remains is roughly six feet underground in the Shults-Whaley Cemetery. It is one of three Shults or Shultz family cemeteries in the area.
In the same cemetery is the grave of his son, Phillip whose headstone clearly reads “Shults,” so moving forward we will assume perhaps incorrectly – that father and son used the same spelling.
Why do we care about Perry Shults?
Perry, by multiple accounts, obtained a corporate charter from the state of Tennessee to mine an area of Greenbrier near the head of Porter’s Creek. Sources note that while the charter includes a number of minerals, it did not include gold.
Was there a secret gold mine in Greenbrier?
So why do we think Perry had a secret gold mine?
For that, we have to carry our little gold story into the area of rumor, legend and myth.
According to his great-granddaughter, the late Nadine Oakley, he was often seen coming out of the mountains with gold and silver.
He also liked to carry silver dollars around in his pocket. That would, in fact, be odd for the times up in the mountains where most of the people were cash poor.
When I found these quotes from Nadine, I was excited. It sounded like she’d had some first-hand knowledge.
She was born in 1933, more than 40 years after her great-grandfather died.
As with any legend, there are multiple versions of the lost gold mine.
The story, essentially, is that Shults, who is frequently identified as a blacksmith, not a farmer, came across a vein of gold, shallow in the ground.
And news of his mining charter spread.
Rumors of a gold mine in Greenbrier
Rumors – which are likely the forefathers of today’s legend – sprang up from the ground thicker than the rhododendrons.
Frequently repeated is the idea that he always had silver dollars in his pocket, which one thinks would lead to rumors of a silver strike.
Perry would periodically visit the mine, according to legend, mixing up his route to keep people off the scent. Reportedly, he used Adeline as a lookout but never told her the exact location.
Perry, allegedly, would take the gold or silver from his mine to his blacksmithing forge where he would melt it down and – using authentic stolen U.S. Treasury plates – mint his own coins.
The problem? Perry didn’t have access to the formula or materials to make his coins like U.S. Treasury coins. Perry’s coins were too pure. And it wasn’t long before federal agents – possibly from the Secret Service which launched in 1865 – came around.
Perry got wind the feds were on his tail, chucked his plates in the river and headed west.
How much of the legend is real?
Fast forward 100 years to 1967 and a man named Walt Rice had bought the old Shults homestead.
Rice was plowing in his garden when he turned over a clay pot with $37,000 worth of coins.
Now for the sad part: It is incredibly likely that all of this is made up.
The most likely scenario – in my opinion – to even have a grain of truth would be Perry found a cache of coins hidden during the war. I would guess he possibly made up the story of the mine to keep searchers in the mountains and away from his home.
That would explain the silver coins in his pocket and the clay pot of coins allegedly found by the mysterious Walt Rice.
Perry didn’t appear to live outside the standard of the other people in Greenbrier, according to most reports. And his descendants certainly didn’t profit from his alleged find.
Also, the accounts are pretty consistent on the name Walt Rice and the worth of the found coins.
However, a search for a myriad of combinations showed no news coverage from the time, just modern folklore.
If the name and the amount are so well known, it seems unlikely that we couldn’t find some reference to it in 1967 media. I will allow that while I spent quite a bit of time searching, it wasn’t exhaustive.
Walt Rice and his coins might still be out there.
Does the lost gold mine of Greenbrier exist?
So does the lost gold mine exist?
I, of course, can’t say for sure but it doesn’t seem likely. The confluence of events required to make even a small portion of the legend true is far-fetched at best.
This farmer from Greenbrier put his hands on U.S. Reserve plates? It also seems unlikely he was working hard to escape the feds.
We don’t know his census whereabouts in 1880, but we know where his body was in 1889. Not far from home or the rough location of the legendary lost mine.
What is the truth of Perry M. Shults and his lost mine?
We’ll never know.
Maybe he found some coins. Perhaps he earned them in a way he didn’t want to share with the town. Maybe he had the same three silver coins in his pocket for 20 or so years and liked to walk around jangling them.
Whatever secrets Mr. Shults had, he took them to his grave more than 130 years ago.
Do you know the story of the lost mine? Let us know in the comments.
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