by David Rittershouse
Who wouldn’t like to find a buried treasure? You’d have fame and fortune! I’ll probably never be lucky enough to find any, but there is no shortage of stories about lost Spanish hoards, secret Indian mines, treasure caches of the old bushwhacker era, and even tales of gold buried in Mason Jars.
The “lost” Yocum Silver Mine is our most famous local tale. But tales of the Yocum mine and Yocum Silver Dollar are based in reality. As the story goes, in the early 1800s Jim Yocum arrived in Stone County and took an Indian wife. Sometime later the tribe moved west and somehow Jim came into possession of the secret location of their silver mine, according to Jim. Soon after, Yocum dollars were being traded in southwest Missouri. Sometime in 1846 Jim and his wife were killed in a cave-in at the mine. The entrance was ‘hidden’ and since then it’s been officially lost.
I recently had the pleasure of my first time in front of a camera for an oral history interview. The subject of the interview, Mr Artie Ayers, was a most charming and knowledgeable man. His family has been in Stone and Taney county for many, many generations.
He has written several articles, one book (Traces of Silver), and given a few lectures on the Yocum silver mine legend and the Yocum dollars used as currency. He started the interview with a historical preface beginning long before the Civil War and talked about the arrival of the Yocum family, many of whom still live in Stone County today.
In the late 60s a Yocum descendant did give Artie a map. Artie thought he had found the lost mine, but eventually proved himself wrong. He has since found a new possible location and is still actively searching.
Although the legendary mine was said to exist in a hidden location, the fact is that silver has only been found in one other place in Missouri. Many suspect the Yocum silver came from some other ‘source’ and that the mine was used as a ruse to disguise the actual (perhaps illegal) source of the silver.
Some claim to have seen Yocum dollars, but Artie knows of no one today who owns one, to the best of his knowledge. There is no accurate guess as to how many of these dollars were passed into circulation but tales persist of those who saw barrels of newly minted coins. When one was analyzed by Federal Authorities in Springfield during the 19th century, the Yocum dollar contained a higher quantity of silver, and was therefore worth more than the federal dollar.
Mr. Ayers brought in a fire hoe said to have been used to stir the fires under the smelting pots. This is an authentic tool passed down through the Yocum family and given to Artie.
We hope to reconnect with Artie each year for updates on his project in locating the Lost Yocum Silver Mine.