“Thar’s gold in them there hills!” may be more than a colloquialism in Colbert County, Alabama.  Tucked away in the northwest corner of the state, one of the most intriguing lost treasure tales has weathered the test of time and survived the scrutiny of doubtful treasure researchers.

The tale of the Redbone Cave treasure lode originates in the 1700s in northwest Alabama. Most of what is now Colbert County was a vast rugged wilderness under the control of the Chickasaw Indians. Chickasaw encounters with whites had long generated mistrust and any unfortunate whites who entered the territory were likely to be attacked. The Chickasaws were also noted for looting their victims.  It was during this period that a lone trapper found himself deep within Chickasaw territory.

The trapper was soon spotted and captured by a band of Chickasaw scouts.  He was tied up and dragged through the underbrush until they reached a village.  The village was situated on the north bank of the Tennessee River in the general area of present day Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

While the tribal chieftains debated what gruesome fate awaited the trapper, he was herded up a mountain and thrown into a cave with Chickasaw warriors posted at the entrance.  No longer fettered, he began to explore the cave, lit only by a small sliver of light from outside.  Although not large, the cave was high enough in the central area for him to stand up. As he felt his way around he discovered an unbelievable find.  The cave was stacked with gold bars alongside wooden chests filled with coins and jewelry.  The trapper realized he was viewing a treasure trove of booty from Chickasaw raids.

Colbert County

Colbert County

Redbone Cave Today

According to the legend, the trapper managed to escape his captors and spent the rest of his days retelling the cave treasure story from county to county and state to state.  While the circumstances surrounding his escape are undocumented, there is reason to believe that the Redbone Cave Treasure is not a fabrication.

Much of the Chickasaw anger and fear of intruders stemmed from the time of the Conquistadors. Hernando De Soto and company roamed and ravaged the southeast  from 1539-1542 and were in Chickasaw territory in 1541. De Soto demanded 200 porters for his supply train. The Chickasaws refused and a battle ensued… The conquistadors suffered heavy losses, which would also have included any gold, silver or jewelry they were transporting.

Fast-forward to Colbert County, 1971.  Two treasure hunters searching for Redbone Cave discovered a gold ingot the size of a brick along the banks of the Tennessee running close to the Natchez Trace Bridge in Colbert County.  Researchers later confirmed the ingot was of Spanish origin.

Several years later, a farmer plowing a field near Smithsonia in nearby Lauderdale County uncovered another gold ingot.  This bar was also determined to be Spanish.

Whether or not these finds are from the Redbone trove is debatable.  Many locals in Colbert County believe they are, along with a significant number of professional treasure hunters.  Detractors cite a lack of definitive proof connecting the ingots to Redbone and theorize any ingots in the area may be left from a raid on a Spanish payroll train.  There have likely been other ingots found but not publicized.

If the Redbone Cave treasure exists, it is likely the result of the loot from the 1541 battle, or possibly a combination of raids on Spanish columns in Chickasaw territory during the conquistador period.   So if you have the gold bug, head to Colbert County and start digging around. DeSoto’s misfortune may turn out to be your good fortune.

De Soto Expedition 1539-42