On June 5, 1869, both the Salem Volunteer Fire Department
and Capitol Engine Company No. 1 turned out in full attendance
for the funeral of their beloved friend, John Webster Perit
Huntington. Flags at the State Capital hung at half-mast,
and the businesses on Commercial Street were closed to honor
his passing away. Two days before, Huntington was on his deathbed,
delirious and unable to share the hidden location of his most
recent gold shipment. In the Salem area, he served as State
Representative, Oregons fifth Superintendent of Indian
Affairs appointed by first President Lincoln, and then, President
Andrew Johnson, he was a shareholder in several silver mines
in the Valley area, and was part owner and editor of the Oregon
Statesman newspaper. His obituary attests: "
...he was nearly...38 years old, the last 10 of those years
looming large in the history of Oregon and ...Salem, its capital
city....J.W. Perit Huntington was a remarkably active and
But the mystery of Huntingtons hidden gold lingers the
John Webster Perit Huntington, or J.W.P. Huntington, was born
on July 5, 1831. He died on the third of June, 1869. The first
18 years of his life were spent in Norwichtown, Connecticut,
until the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in California.
He then joined his Mason brethren and invested their money
into buying a ship and mining equipment. They then set out
on a trip around Cape Horn until they reached San Francisco
in late 1849. Their exact arrival time isn't known, but Huntington
had been sighted by a friend in July, 1850. J.W.P. Huntington
and the Masons sold all the mining equipment for far more
than its original worth, and broke up the ship to use as river
freighting, which was later sold as well. At first Huntington
had been able to pick up gold nuggets worth over $1000 apiece,
which he sent to his parents in Connecticut to help them financially,
but had little luck afterwards. He then decided to go north
to explore the potentially available land for settlers.
After arriving in the Yoncalla area, the earlier local residents
encouraged him to settle in the Valley. He soon became a prominent
member of the community, and was at times a surveyor, teacher,
lawyer, and a cattle rancher. He was the first Clerk of Umpqua
County, when it was created on June 2, 1851. On the 14th of
August, 1852, "a Democrat" stated that Huntington
could not legally hold the office as the first Clerk of Umpqua
County (likely because Huntington was a Republican.) The same
year, J.W.P. became Deputy Marshal of the first court held
in the southern district of Oregon. On July 4, 1853, he began
working for the office of the Notary Public.
John Webster Perit Huntington married Mary Applegate on February
18, 1857. Huntington built a house in the Yoncalla area in
1857. On June 26, 1860, Huntington became State Representative
for Umpqua County. He sold his house and land and moved to
Salem in 1860. Their home in Salem was located at 738 N. Front
Street. ( It was destroyed much later during the Columbus
Day Storm in October, 1962.) On August 21, 1861 John and Mary
had a child, a boy, named after his father but fondly called
Perit. They soon had another child, named Benjamin. Mary had
a miscarriage with their first twins, which they simply called
"Our Twins". Later J.W.P. and Mary had a second
set of twins, Philip and Pelatiah, on February 28, 1866. Both
died, however, a few months later, with Philip on September
25 1866, and Pelatiah on September 28, 1866. Thirteen days
before his fathers death, Perit died on May 21, 1869,
from some illness he had caught. It is likely that they both
died from the same illness. His beloved wife, Mary Applegate
Huntington, would pass away on December 23, 1878, nine years
after her husband. His remaining son, Benjamin survived to
live to adulthood, passing away in 1944.
On June 26, 1860, Huntington became the elected Representative
of Umpqua County and the electoral district, as a Republican.
February, 1863, Huntington was appointed as Superintendent
of Indian Affairs by President Abraham Lincoln. He took office
on Tuesday, April 6, 1863, and was the fifth Superintendent
of Indian Affairs in Oregon. Indian Agent for Oregon was a
very important office in these early times. Huntington was
a very popular man with both Indians and settlers. While he
was Superintendent, he warned people in Salem against settling
on Indian reservations. He also organized several attempts
at a treaty with the Klamath Indians until a land treaty with
them was successfully concluded. In matters of commerce and
resource, he also worked with Siletz Indians, particularly
over Yaquina Bay oysters, and he tried to get the Snake Indians
to meet, asked different tribes for their bids on items such
as wheat, horses, etc. to assist tribal economic development.
In August of 1865 he finally made a treaty with the Snake
Indians, and did other such work with legal, economical, and
territorial matters with the Native Americans.
Though he did his work with the Indians, Huntington had several
other occupations during this same time. On January 11, 1864,
J.W.P. was elected as the director and editor of the "Oregon
Statesman," and changed the name of the newspaper company
to the "Daily Unionist," or the "Unionist"
for short, but the name was returned to the original shortly
after the death of Huntington. He also held stocks in Santiam
Gold and Silver Mining Company, although he was a delinquent
stockholder many times. On October 30, 1865, he was elected
as the Director of Aurora Gold and Silver Mining Company.
Just over two months later, he was elected on January 1, 1866,
to be the director of Morning Star Gold and Silver Mining
Company. He also held ownership in several woolen mills and
other properties around Oregon.
Though Huntington's life was colorful, one of the more interesting
aspects of his life occurred shortly before his death. He
had become deathly ill, just after his son Perit died from
an illness. During this time, J.W.P. Huntington as Indian
Agent received Federal disbursements of gold for salaries
and expenses for the other Indian Agents in Oregon. Several
bondsmen knew for a fact that Huntington had received a large
sum of gold from the Federal government and that the gold
had not been deposited in the Ladd and Bush Bank, nor any
other bank. Upon learning of Huntingtons sudden illness,
James Brown, also known as "One Arm" Brown, went
to fetch Judge R. P. Boise, of the Third Judicial District
and a member of the Oregon Supreme Court. Boise was sought
out as the highest legal authority available. "One Arm"
John Brown came with the news of Huntington's sudden illness
and the missing gold. Both Judge Boise and "One Arm"
John Brown hastened to Huntington's bedside. They came too
Unfortunately for them, Huntington was delirious and could
not be aroused to a state to tell them the gold's location
after their arrival. This was upsetting to them, because they
had known he had the gold and Huntington was the sole person
who knew its location.
On June 3, 1869, John Webster Perit Huntington died, with
a large sum of gold hidden somewhere on his household premises.
On June 5, 1869, Huntington had one of the largest funerals
ever held up until that time in Salem.
Huntington's gold has always had remained as a mystery, because
few people ever found any of it. Many people searched for
Huntingtons gold through the next several years. It
was known that he hid valuables around his home on Front Street.
The mystery was heightened further by Huntingtons peculiar
religious beliefs as a spiritualist. Rumors of how his coffin
floated up and down in the air and how he enjoyed taxidermy
added to the awful stories of his former home with its stuffed
dead animals. It was one of the famous "haunted"
houses in the old days of Salem.
The exact sum was never known, but was estimated to be $4,000
by R. P. Boise, the son of Judge Boise. Others believed there
was more gold based on a tip that was given by a woman who
nursed him throughout his delirium and sickness before he
died. The value was estimated to be between $4,000 and $7,000
by most however. The house had been sold many times, and somebody
who called himself by the name of Myers had rented the home,
most likely to find the gold. Myers employed a man named Charley
Genteel, who worked on the premises for Myers until one day
Myers disappeared after showing Charley the gold which he
had claimed was over $7,000 in value. Genteel guessed that
it was over $4,000 at least. It is likely that this "Myers"
person questioned the nurse who cared for Huntington during
his ailment and had received some form of tip from her. There
was evidence that Myers had dug under the front porch of the
home, which is where the gold's location is suspected to have
been. Regardless of the golds value, the standard trade
from gold to regular currency was eleven dollars to buy a
ten dollar piece of gold. However, little else has ever been
heard of Huntington's gold.
Researched and written by Terry Davison, 2004
The Daily Unionist. Local News. "Funeral", "Will
Turn Out." Saturday, June 5, 1869. Page: 3, Column: 1.
"Called Early" Saturday, May 22, 1869. Page: 1,
Dictionary of Oregon History. Edited by Howard McKinley Corning.
"Huntington, John Webster Perit." Page: 121, Column:
Hendricks, R. J., Oregon Statesman. "Bits for Breakfast."
Nov. 8, 1932, Page: 4, Columns: 3-7. Nov. 9, 1932, Page: 4,
Columns: 3-5. May 19, 1934, Page: 4, Columns: 3-5. August
4, 1935, Page:4, Column: 3. August 6, 1935, Page: 4, Columns:
Lockley, Fred, Portland Journal. "Impressions and Observations
of the Journal Man." September 29, 1930. Page: 8, Columns:
6, 7. June 12, 1934, Page: 10, Columns: 5, 6.
Nichols, Valerie (Kerber), Yoncalla Historical Society, Yoncalla
Yesterday. "History of the Huntington Family." Pages: