Lost Gold Eludes Three Generations

It was like a scene out of a movie, a dying man summoning his family to his bedside to tell them something of great importance. He rises from a sweat–stained pillow, licks his lips, struggles for breath. "Come closer," he croaks.

The family leans anxiously forward to catch the trembling words. "Yes, Papa, yes… "

The dying man works his throat, pauses as tension builds. "The gold," he says, breath failing him, "the gold is buried… " A rattle rises from his chest, takes away the words. His head falls to the pillow. He is gone.

The family stands in bewildered confusion. Gold? Papa buried gold? We have worked here so long for so little and Papa has buried gold? Anger and expectation mix with grief. They spend the rest of their lives in fruitless search. The old man’s intended blessing has become a curse.

This actually happened, legends say, on a farm north and east of Erhard. The old man was Pet Johnson, also known as Pet Kronquist, a Swedish immigrant who came to Minnesota by way of Missouri in 1886.

Arlo Lund owns the land now, heard about the gold from Bill Toso, who spent his boyhood next door. "Bill said the old man might have been connected with Jesse James," Lund says.

Jesse James in Minnesota? Don’t forget that Jesse, his brother Frank and the Younger boys bungled a bank job in Northfield in 1876. After being run out of Northfield by outraged citizens, the gang split up. Pinkerton agents followed, threw a bomb into Jesse’s home which killed his mother. Jesse wisely retired, took an assumed name. But five years later, he was shot in the back by a former cohort desirous of a $10,000 reward. Frank did hard time, spent his last years giving lectures about his life of crime. Lesser known accomplices simply disappeared.

Bill Toso’s connection with the legend was via neighbor Frank Moore, who married Pet Johnson’s daughter, Mary, who stuck with the land after her brothers had wearied of farmwork and fruitless search. Frank and Mary Moore kept chickens, cows, grew a large garden, and peddled eggs and produce from a lumber wagon on the streets of Pelican, Elizabeth, and Fergus Falls. The neighbors remember them as good people, except when Frank "took to drinking" and Mary "took to digging." They tell of Frank’s prolonged and unexplained disappearances and Mary’s trudging around the farm at odd hours, a shovel over her shoulder.

Bill Toso’s younger brother Irv smiles when he remembers Mary Moore. "Mary was always looking for something," he says mysteriously.

Lund also spent his time looking for Pet Johnson’s lost loot. There were these three big rocks on a wooded hillside that didn’t look quite natural. When a friend came to visit from the West Coast with a metal detector, they decided to do some exploring. A persistent beep by the middle rock sent them scrambling for shovels. "First we dug up this old buckle," Lund remembers, "and all I could think was saddlebags." The men kept digging, consuming the rest of the afternoon, a considerable quantity of beer, but got nothing for their efforts but blisters and sore backs.

So did Pet Johnson—aka Pet Kronquist—actually ride with Jesse James? Probably not. How about being involved in some less notorious shenanigans? Perhaps. Could Pet have buried a cache of legal gold eagles intending to dig it up someday if times got real tough? That—at least—is entirely likely. Professional treasure hunters’ contention that more loot was buried and lost by Midwestern homesteaders than by all the pirates on the Spanish Main is hardly an exaggeration. Pirates were few, their overhead high, their tastes wildly extravagant. Thousands of hard–working, frugal homesteaders, distrustful of banks, buried small caches—a hundred here, a hundred there—in canning jars or crockery. Some of them never dug them up. So if there is no gold buried on Pet Johnson’s old place, chances are there is some buried not too far away—and if not gold, perhaps silver, moldy greenbacks.

Arlo Lund’s enthusiasm for strenuous labor is understandably diminished after that fruitless afternoon with metal detector and shovels—but he remains hopeful of eventually turning up something. There’s this psychic in Illinois with a long history of finding water, missing objects, even lost people, by dowsing over a map with a number two lead pencil. Lund is considering sending him a map of the place and see what he might turn up. "I wouldn’t mind more digging," Lund says, "if I could get close."