State Treasure - Louisiana

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 40 of the November, 2010 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2010 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved


The Ballowe Treasure
PLAQUEMINES PARISH – In the February 2000 issue of Lost Treasure appears a letter from reader John Arledge of Monroe, Louisiana. He asked about the “Ballowe Treasure” of Plaquemines Parish.
Unfortunately, the name of the treasure was misidentified and our staff replied that we had no record of such a treasure.
Ten years later while compiling research on a number of treasure caches known as the Gambi Treasures, I came upon Mr. Arledge’s letter and realized the mistake.
Sorry it took so long to get back to you with the correct information, John, but here it is.
The Ballowe Treasure, as you know it is almost certainly one of two treasures buried by Italian pirate Vincenzo “Johnny” Gambi.
Treasure legend states Gambi buried two caches at Diamond, in Plaqemines Parish. Decades later a man named Ballowe unearthed a pirate’s hoard in Diamond, along with a map showing the location of a second cache nearby.
I have compiled quite a bit of research on the Gambi Treasures, believing there is a very high probability for recovery.
Since I have no plans to be in Louisiana anytime soon, I will give John and our readers what I have in hopes that one of you will be the lucky person to unearth a pirate’s treasure!
Dr. Hewitt Leonard Ballowe was born in 1876 and was a life-long resident of Plaquemines Parish. He died at 75 years of age on September 2, 1951, while a resident of Diamond, Louisiana. Dr. Ballowe’s career was an interesting one. His patients were “Delta Louisianans” of the Creole and marsh country region who were both black and white.
At times his practice required him to treat a patient in the same room with a folk doctor or a Voodoo medicine man.
Dr. Ballowe authored two books before his death, The Land Sayin’ the Same-Negro Folktales of the Creole Country in 1947, and Creole Folktales in 1948.
But there was one event during his life that remains a mystery.
A mystery that, according to unnamed sources, led Dr. Ballowe to a pirate’s treasure, right in the very town he was living in at the time of his death, Diamond.
It’s alleged that Dr. Ballowe discovered a buried pirate’s treasure sometime during his life. The date and under what circumstances he found the treasure are unknown.
It is reputed that this discovery resulted in a sudden and unexplained “show of wealth” that was immediately noticed by the community.
The local scuttlebutt at the time further claimed a treasure map leading to a second cache was also found with the hoard.
Ballowe looked for the second cache for the rest of his life without ever having found it.
Vincenzo “Johnny” Gambi was born in Italy and arrived in New Orleans during the early 1800’s. He had a long criminal history and a passion for blood.
Gambi had a peculiar fetish for one weapon he always carried, his broadaxe, which he claimed had taken the lives of over a dozen men.
Though Gambi was a lesser-known 19th century Gulf of Mexico pirate, he was highly successful and is known to have accumulated much wealth during his pirating days.
Gambi first organized the Barataria Pirates who, through a merger agreement, later became the infamous Lafitte Barataria Pirates.
His success as a renegade buccaneer is credited to two things - first, he always employed violence at the first opportunity, and, second, was his ability to smuggle looted items from the gulf into New Orleans without his ship and cargo being scrutinized by American authorities on the Mississippi River.
By 1819, Gambi was believed to be the last active pirate operating in the western Gulf of Mexico.
In December that year, Daniel Patterson captured his schooner. Patterson reported that Gambi had been killed shortly before being captured by his own crew.
The crew claimed Gambi got caught shorting them of their share of the loot from their last job.
Ironically, it was reported that Gambi was killed while sleeping on deck one night while lying on top of a pile of gold.
With his head resting on a spur, one of his crewmen, armed with Gambi’s favorite broadaxe, decapitated him. Since then, a number of attempts have been made to locate and retrieve several documented treasure caches left behind by Gambi.
My research shows at least three cache sites used by Gambi that I believe to be highly credible.
If, in fact, the good doctor did unearth one of these treasures, then two more remain unfound.
Gambi legend claims the pirate buried two hoards at Diamond. A third cache was buried just 7 miles southeast of Diamond at Home Place.
This cache is reported to be $50,000 face value in gold coins.
Other reported Gambi cache sites include his main cache of $2,000,000 buried on Caillou Island in Terrebonne Parish.
Two more caches of undetermined size are said to be buried on the Isle de Gambi and at Chenier Caminada in Jefferson Parish.
Please note that the place name Isle de Gambi no longer appears to be in use, so local research should help identify its modern-day name.

Magnolia Plantation Treasure
WEST BATON ROUGE PARISH – It was during the Civil War when Dr. George J. Adams was assigned to Company A, 17th Massachusetts Volunteers.
During a Union campaign in the region, Dr. Adams and two other soldiers broke into a home at the Magnolia Plantation along the Mississippi River roughly 20 miles above New Orleans. While on their foraging mission, they discovered $30,000 hidden in the home in various locations.
Adams told this story to the New Orleans police in 1886, saying the treasure consisted of $1,800 in silver dollars, $1,000 in mixed silver, and the rest in gold specie.
Adams stated their company had been sent to New Orleans, but with such a large amount of money the three foragers were afraid to enter the city.
Instead, they selected a spot to bury their treasure, planning to return for it after the war.
Adams stated they selected a very large tree in a pecan grove and buried the treasure among the tree roots.
The site was about a half-mile from the locks at the canal opposite Ewenville. All three men recorded the site with directions to it then departed for New Orleans.
Shortly after burying the coins Dr. Adams was wounded in action and the two soldiers were killed.
The doctor suffered a long recovery in a Union hospital before being discharged.
Not until 1886 did he find the opportunity to recover the treasure he’d cached so long before.
On arriving in the pecan grove, Adams discovered that the old trees had all been removed.
He searched for over a month, but could not locate the site of the large tree.
Next Adams enlisted the aid of a few locals who helped the good doctor search for several more weeks, without success.
Finally, in disgust, they all gave up. As far as anyone knows, it’s still there.

Evans Farm Treasure
RICHLAND PARISH – The Evans Farm was located about three miles east of Baskin, Louisiana.
Early on in the 1900’s, Mr. Evans had become a well-respected and prosperous man in the community. He had no trust of banks and had his own banking system on the farm, consisting of two half-gallon fruit jars he kept buried in the ground.
Mr. Evans lived with his two teen-aged boys and both helped their father with the household chores and worked the farm. Together, the boys watched their father fill the jars with $10 and $20 gold coins before he buried them.
When their father left the house to bury the coins, one son reported that he was back within 30 minutes. A short time later, the father took ill and sent one of his boys to Baskin to pick up medicine.
When the boy returned he found the house burned down and his father dead. The fire was not assumed, however, to have been accidental. The question of murder was raised, adding that the house was torched to cover the crime.
Unfortunately the story ends there. I have no information on where the second son was at the time of the fire, or what the outcome of the investigation was.
Newspaper research could provide many more details, and a search of deeds in county records should provide the location of the Evans farm.
This is not a well-known treasure and over the years a few have tried to locate the buried fruit jars filled with gold, but without success.

Sources:
Duffy, Howard M, “Johnny Gambi’s Lost Louisiana Treasure,” July 1977, Lost Treasure magazine, p. 28
Research on Dr. Hewitt L. Ballowe:
Let’s Go Digging - http://www.godiggin.com/lousiana.html
Ballowe’s obituary: http://files.usgwarchives.org/la/plaquemines/obits/obit1951.txt
Henson, Michael Paul, America’s Lost Treasures, 1984, South Bend, IN, Jayco Publishing Company, p. 164-165.