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J.W.P. Huntington:
The Mystery of Huntington's Gold

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, Oregon’s 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 able man." 

But the mystery of Huntington’s hidden gold lingers the longest.

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 father’s 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 Huntington’s 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 late.
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 Huntington’s 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 Huntington’s 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 gold’s 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, Column: 2.

Dictionary of Oregon History. Edited by Howard McKinley Corning. "Huntington, John Webster Perit." Page: 121, Column: 1.

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: 3-4.

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: 77, 78.


J.W.P. Huntington
John Webster Perit Huntington as he was likely seen while in Salem.
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John Huntington, 1865
J.W.P. Huntington c.1865
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