The Treasures of the Catskill Mountains
By Gene Ligotti
The greed to accumulate untold wealth has driven men in search of rare precious metals in all the mountain ranges of the world. They have scraped at the river beds and streams, dug shafts and caves into the lofty peaks and deep in the bellies of the rocky giants. They have lied, cheated, stole, killed and many died just for a glimpse of the sparkle that coule lead to the treasure of the mother lode. The Catskill Mountains have not been immune to this lust for riches: the search for gold and silver. The Catskill Mountain Region has not been ravaged by any extensive search, but the all-consuming drive to grasp instant wealth, power and fame from the ground and to get "something for nothing" has not left it untouched.
In the beginning, before the event of Henry's Half Moon, the Native Americans were in awe of these mountains. For it is in these mountains where Manitou, the great spirit, lived and perhaps still does. If these indigenous peoples did come across any precious metals, chances are they would have left them largely untouched, for doesn't everything in the mountains belong to the great spirit?
The Anglo-Saxons who came to this region, though, did not share these views. One of the earliest white men to arrive in the Catskill Mountains, Hudson's firstmate Robert Juet, noted in his writings that he was keeping an eye out for signs of the desirable ores. The Dutch West India Company, which controlled the New Amsterdam colony, laid claim to any and all mining in the area assuming that the mountains would eventually give up their secrets. Of course, unauthorized searching could not be controlled. Prospectors searched for the so-called tell-tale signs: mineral deposits, ailing trees of undetermined cause, unusual plants found only in some areas, fungi growing in odd patterns, trees with odd colored leaves or trunks and dead sections of mountain forests that defy reason. They would decimate the chosen area with fire, hoping the tortured mountains would bleed rivers of gold and silver. Fortunately, it was not the case. The mountains resisted all efforts and refused to reveal their secrets, perhaps guided by the great spirit, Manitou.
The Dutch believed that the devil himself lived in these mountains and that fearful superstition prevented all but the most greedy to search. When New Englanders settled here from Connecticut and Massachusetts, their religious fervor continued the superstition that the Catskill Mountains were the abode of evil spirits.
During the administration of Governor Wilhemus Kieft, there was a meeting with chiefs of various Indian tribes to discuss and culminate a treaty of peace. Accompanying the governor was the subsequent historian of the New Amsterdam colony, Adrian Van der Donck. Van der Donck watched as an Indian interpreter prepared for the meeting by painting his face with a gold colored substance. The two Dutchmen made arrangements with the Indian who took them to an area, "somewhere in the Catskill Mountains" where the glittering metal could be found. They soon were in possession of a bucket full of the ore which assayed as top quality gold. The discovery was kept quiet until some of the ore could be sent to Holland for more expert study. A newly built and rather large ship set sail from New Haven and was never seen again, that is, unless you count the sightings of the great ship, its specter occasionally sailing into New Haven harbor and then fading away as an apparition. Some say the ghost ship still sails, unable to find any port.
The Governor himself set off for Holland in still another ship loaded this time with more than substantial amounts of the ore in its hold. As the ship prepared to sail into Bristol harbor, its first port of call, an unexpected storm slammed its fury at the vessel. Within a few hours the ship broke apart, and both the ore and the Governor were sent to the bottom of the sea. Was it an unexpected storm? Was it a ghost ship? Was the great spirit of Manitou protected its own? The story continues.
In 1651, a farmer's daughter found a large and heavy stone, of which a small portion was removed, assayed and confirmed to be silver. A young man, Gerrit Van Schlechtenhorst, was sent by his father, who owned the farmland, to see the stone and place a claim on the silver. It was hoped that perhaps young Gerrit might achieve where others had failed, and find great amounts of silver. When he arrived at the farm, the stream beside the farmhouse, in a sudden rush of mountain water, rose from its banks destroying everything in its path. The farm house, the farmer, his daughter, and of course the stone were carried away with the devastation. Gerrit witnessed the tragedy and relayed the tale to his father. A sudden rush of mountain water? Can we not believe that the spirits had a hand in this? It seems that the spirits and guardians of the mountains kept their secret once again by haunting the superstitious. By controlling the weather, they destroy all who would be greedy and take what they have hidden so well. Once again, a greedy soul was thwarted.
During the first part of this century, treasure hunters came to the Catskill Mountains in a new form; oil and gas companies. Geologists came, companies sprang up all over the area, many shares were sold and all greed and dreams were dashed. Some say they never found what they wanted, others say that New York City bought all the claims as a means of protecting its water supply from contamination, or was it the Manitou at work? Was it all a scam? How do geologists find the excellent possibility of vast quantities of oil or gas and then nothing comes to fruition?
The stories and legends have all come and gone. One even mentions that the famous pirate, Captain Kidd, buried his treasure in Kaaterskill Clove. Tales of treasure hidden during the Revolutionary War by settlers fearful that the war effort would take what they had were told only to delight tourists and seasonal visitors. But what are those curious small stone pyramids that appear with amazing constancy near Woodstock? Stories handed down from past generations say they hold the clue to the location of the treasures hoarded by the Loyalists. Those clues and their secrets are gone, as is any Revolutionary treasure, now forever protected by the guardians of the Catskill Mountains. Rumors of lost gold and silver mines turn up now and again, but they are never found.
But, you and I know that there is wealth here in the Catskill Mountains. The treasures of the mountains are all around us. An accumulation of a great fortune is here for the taking, but you must look for it without greed. It is yours to keep forever and it belongs to those who can see the forest as well as the trees. Bountiful beauty is the wealth and riches of the Catskill Mountain life. Gold and silver can be found in abundance in peace and contentment and a love of life. Diamonds sparkle in the brooks, the streams and the waterfalls. Pearls bubble up from the depths of the clear lapis blue pools. Rubies, emeralds, amber, opal and jade abound in the autumn foliage. Gold is in the sunshine and silver in the clouds set against a sapphire sky. A rich black velvet night sky displays for our delight a wealth of diamonds. The richness of earth's warm gifts envelop us here in the Catskill Mountains and bless us with untold treasures of comfort, peace of mind, tranquillity, and union with nature. This is the way it was meant to be for all humankind. Those whose greed turns them into beings seeking treasure at any cost, if they find what they seek, would they not then want to buy beauty, comfort, peace of mind, and tranquillity? Those treasures you seek are already here in the Catskill Mountains. Look around my friend, Eureka!