State Treasure - Idaho

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 20 of the July, 2010 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2010 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

Armed Robbery, Double Homicide Case Closed
BONNEVILLE COUNTY – For the residents of sleepy Idaho Falls, in rural Bonneville County, Idaho, it was a morning that began like any other. It was 1954 and, in a county known for its large cattle ranches and delicious farm produce, crime was a rarity and murder almost unheard of. This morning would be anything but routine for Sheriff Dean F. Wilkie and Deputy Fred W. Keefer.
A farmer reported finding a human skull while plowing his field that morning and Sheriff Wilkie and Deputy Keefer soon arrived at the scene.
After interviewing the farmer he took the lawmen to the site where he’d been plowing and subsequently unearthed the skull.
Both officers slowly started processing the crime scene, which by mid-day revealed a complete skeleton protruding from a shallow grave.
The case was perplexing from the start. No missing persons had been reported locally and nothing across the Teletype recently offered any clues to help identify the victim.
Looking for any clue, the officers carefully widened their excavation into the afternoon.
Then the unthinkable happened. From the same shallow grave a second skeleton started taking form. By the time Wilkie and Keefer had completed their grisly task they knew almost nothing.
The lawmen surmised the victims were two American males, both murdered. Bones sent to Washington, D.C., for forensic examination indicated the victims were both white males in their fifties.
Sheriff Wilkie worked the case until he took an early retirement in 1956, one year before his term would’ve ended.
Deputy Keefer was appointed acting sheriff until the next sheriff-elect, Al Heslop, was sworn in, in 1957. By now the first double-murder case in Bonneville County history had gone cold.
The case haunted Wilkie into his retirement; he continued to work it on his own. Then he remembered a long-forgotten conversation he’d had years before with a friend named Sidney Close, now an elderly man and a long retired sheriff of Clark County, Idaho. Wilkie met with Close and, after some reminiscing, Wilkie put the old lawman’s brain to the test.
Wilkie asked Close if he remembered a conversation they’d had years earlier about a robbery that occurred near Grasshopper Creek, Montana. Like it happened yesterday, the sheriff didn’t miss a beat… “Small and Kelly were their names. They robbed the stage up near Grasshopper Creek back in oh-two, [1902] as I recall. Got $40,000 in gold, never caught ‘em.”
Wilkie fired right back, “Do you remember telling me something about them being in Spencer?” This was the critical information Wilkie needed.
Close remembered getting word of the hold-up and that two fugitives had been chased south into Idaho, so he was told to keep a lookout for them. A couple days passed without news, then he heard of… “A couple of fellas who came through Spencer one night with four mules loaded down pretty heavy.” Close admitted he figured it was Small and Kelly, but after passing through Spencer they simply vanished, he added.
“The more I thought of those bones, the more I became convinced they were the remains of Small and Kelly,” Wilkie wrote.
And if Sheriff Close, Ret., was correct and it was Small and Kelly seen in Spencer that night, then Wilkie could place them both 56 miles north, heading south, and on the same road as his crime scene victims.
The location of the crime scene-gravesite is on the west bank of the Snake River at the old Bear Island Crossing, six miles north of Idaho Falls.
Wilke did a second excavation of the crime scene and, though not conclusive, he did recover enough artifacts to convince him that his victims were indeed Small and Kelly.
Now able to view his crime scene as a fugitive’s camp, Wilkie wrote his own hypothesis as to the fate of Small and Kelly, and $40,000 in gold never recovered.
Wilkie wrote… “Small and Kelly reached the ford [Old Bear Island Crossing] at night and attempted to cross the river. The weary and heavily laden mules lost their footing and fell into the shallow but swift current.
They were washed down into a large pool where an eddy kept them trapped until they and the gold were covered with sediment and debris.
The men swam back to safety and crawled up the riverbank to dry out during the night.
The next day they built a makeshift camp and tried to recover the loot, but without success.
Someone just as greedy as they were discovered what they were up to and bushwhacked them, burying their bodies in the field near the river. I’m convinced the $40,000 in gold is somewhere near Bear Island.”

Incident at White Bird
IDAHO COUNTY – During the height of placer production on the Salmon River in the 1860’s, John Doc Noble ran a long mule and horse freight business between the gold camp of Florence and the bustling river port town of Lewiston. Noble’s team consisted of 60 to 100 animals that could make 35 to 50 miles per day between sunrise and sunset.
Noble transported large shipments of gold from the Florence mines to Lewiston, charging $1 per ounce for the service. The train consisted of 20 stock handlers, all armed. When moving large gold shipments, Noble hired an additional 12 armed guards.
In August 1864, the pack train was transporting $75,000 in gold through the Salmon River Canyon. At about 2 p.m. at a location now known as Robber’s Gulch, south of White Bird, the train was ambushed by eight highwaymen. Without warning, gunshots exploded from rocks overlooking the trail as riders, firing from horseback, charged the unsuspecting train.
So intense was the gunfire that Noble, his guards, and stockmen all ran for their lives, believing that they’d been hit by at least 20 guns. They didn’t slow down until they were in White Bird.
Meanwhile, having the field to themselves, the road agents stampeded Noble’s stock, sacked the train for its gold, and counted six of Noble’s men dead.
White Bird wasn’t far from the ambush site and the leader of the gang knew a posse would soon be on them. The gang rode up a side canyon off the Salmon River and buried 18 packages of gold in three separate cache holes described as being “not far apart.”
With the treasure safely cached, the gang left the canyon, turned west and slowed down to enjoy an amusing ride to their “secret camp” high in the Seven Devils’ Mountains.
One rider went ahead to kill some game for fresh meat for the evening’s meal; he would catch up with the others at camp.
The plan called for the outlaws to lay low at a predetermined camp that they’d pre-stocked. When the heat was off, they would dig up the treasure and travel to California by way of Oregon and Washington.
There were several colorful accounts being swapped from the saddle in the re-telling of the robbery story as the bandits heedlessly ascended deeper into the Seven Devils.
And with talk about how they’d spend the money, these fleeing felons failed to observe the distant shadows cast below the summit peaks, nor the growing cloud of dust being raised by the 40-man White Bird posse closing rapidly from the rear.
Once the gang realized the law was on them panic broke out. Unprepared to fight, and without defenses, the outlaws began shooting wildly.
Return fire from 40 guns made quick work of the seven fugitives. Unaware there was an eighth outlaw, the posse presumed they’d killed the entire gang.
A search revealed the highwaymen carried no gold. Lawmen backtracked the gang’s escape route, combing the Salmon River Canyon and its side canyons, but the loot was never recovered.
Hearing the short gun battle in the distance, the eighth outlaw slipped away never to return to Idaho.
Thirty-two years later, at 79 years, he re-surfaced in Coulterville, California, using the alias Charlie Yarnell.
In exchange for his winter convalescent care and keeping him out of the potter’s field, Yarnell agreed to give 22-year-old prospector Elmore Jacatter a map to the treasure.
Yarnell died soon after and Jacatter did find the map among the old man’s possessions.
Years later Jacatter appeared in Idaho searching for the loot. By following Yarnell’s map he did recover one of the three caches.
Jacatter settled in New Mexico where he died in 1958 at 84-years-old.
He never returned to Idaho to locate the remaining two caches.

Wilkie, Dean F., “Clues to a $40,000 Cache,” February 1972, True Treasure magazine, p. 50
Research: Bonneville County, Idaho Sheriff’s Department history,
Kildare, Maurice, “The Pack Train Robbery Treasure,” September 1972, True Treasure magazine, p. 26.


Danyaf's picture


Hi, have you gone out there yet?

Danyaf's picture

So no one has found those

So no one has found those other two bags or whatever? I live by there as well and I was thinking about checking it out as well.

Brett's picture

White Bird Cache

I don't live far from White Bird and I was thinking about poking around a little for fun but there just isn't that much information out there...has anyone tried lately? Or has anything been heard about elmore jacatter? I cant find anything about him online anywhere Thanks Brett

cnielsen's picture

Idaho story

Hi Peggy, Unfortunately we do not have any updates on the story as of yet. Hopefully one will become available soon. Carla Banning.

Peggy Warner's picture

what happened to the map?

After Jacatter died who inherited the map?  Is it in a museum?  Someone's attic?  Really like to know.  This story shouldn't end like that.

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