Volume 6, Number 9, Fall 1978
Legends often center around lost treasures, and the Ozarks has a fascinating story with a number of variations. It begins back in the days when the earliest European explorers, namely Spaniards, came from the Gulf Of Mexico up the Mississippi and its tributaries (the White River which in recent years has been dammed to form Bull Shoals, Taneycomo, Table Rock, and Beaver) in search of precious metals and stones.
Legend has it these fortune seekers found their way to the upper reaches of the White River at the mouth of James River around the Galena area of Stone County. The Spaniards supposedly found Indians working silver mines in that area and managed to bargain for silver. Supposedly, more silver was obtained than could be taken back by the Spaniards, so they stashed the silver ingots (which they had made by pouring molten silver into musket barrels) in natural caves around the area, intending to return for it. They never did.
The next people to find the silver was a family named Yoacham who settled in the Galena area in the 1820s. The legend says they found the silver and cut slices of the round ingots, stamping their name YOACHAM on the coin which became known as Yoacham silver dollars. These were supposedly worth more than the U.S. government silver dollars of that day.
One variation on the legend says the early Yoacham family only found the silver mines from which they minted ore into Yoacham silver dollars. The Yoachams working these mines pulled out for richer promises in California during the gold rush of 1849.
Descendants of the Yoacham family still live in and around Galena. The late Tom Yocum spent a lifetime looking for solid proof of the legend -- i.e., a coin. Though he never found one, he said relatives in the Kimberling City area had the molds (which he had never seen). He also claimed to have talked to elderly people who had supposedly seen Yoacham dollars.
Marvin E. Tong, Director of the Ralph Foster Museum, discounts the validity of the legend, but gives some interesting theories on its origin. Supposedly, he says, the Yoacham family migrated from Hungary. The spelling of their name even today varies-Youchum, Yoachum, Yocum. He says the probable origin of a story about the dollar was brought by the immigrant Yoachams to the Ozarks. It seems there was a Bishop Yoacham of Hungary who become a saint and a coin was minted in his honor. This coin became known as the Yoacham "Stalard." He believes our word "dollar" was derived from "stalard."
Mr. Tong also discounts the legend on the geological basis that the Ozarks does not produce any appreciable amount of silver. A publication put out by the Missouri Geological Survey and Water Resources of Rolla, Missouri Minerals, states that the only minerals commercially produced in the Galena area are stone and gravel. However, quantities of lead-zinc ore have been found in the area. Galena was given its name from the mineral galena which was found in abundance on the surface of the ground in early settlement days. In fact, galena could easily be considered "fools silver" by novices. The publication states: "Almost without exception all the states silver production has come from the lead-zinc mines of the southwest Missouri Lead District."
As for the early Yoachams being Hungarians, Mrs. Kathleen Van Buskirk who claims to be related to the Yoachams, says their ancestral origin is Welsh.
Before the White River was dammed to form Table Rock Lake, Mr. Tong searched for Yoacham Dollars in the area below the lake line. He was present when the Corps of Engineers unearthed some graves for relocation. He figured that if there was evidence anywhere of coins or molds, it might be in Pninah Yoachams grave. However, nothing was found.
Buck Marchbank has been in search of the coins for over twenty years. About twelve years ago, Buck found an outline of a person on a rock painting. Supposedly in the direction of the cache of Yoacham coins, but he lost track of it until last fall when he and I rediscovered it on a creek bed. The extensive use of a metal detector in the area only turned up a piece of barbed wire and metal foil,
Several years ago Mike Brittain, whose ancestors homesteaded in the Ozarks, showed me Xeroxed copies of an excerpt from a diary and a portion of a map which he claimed a friend had made when doing some research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The map indicated a carving or sign on a rock, a cave, and a small Spanish fort. Mike claimed to have found the foundation stones of the fort, but not the rock sign. The diary contained the last words of a man trying to escape from Indians. He talked
about the silver he had found in a mine or cave and the Indians closing in on him.
No doubt the story gets richer with each telling. The evidence, or lack of it, leaves the mind to unlimited imaginings. If a cache of silver dollars does exist, quite possibly it is under the lakes where so much of the early Ozarks communities lie as a result of the damming of the White River. As far as we know, no one has yet found a single Yoacham silver dollar.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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