Etienne Brule and the Lost Cave of Silver
When most people think of western Pennsylvania, they may think of its scenic countryside, its diverse outdoor recreational activities or even its championship-winning sports teams. But stories of lost treasure seem a bit out of place.
These kinds of tales are more often associated with the deserts of the American West or the clear blue waters of the Florida coast, not the mountains of western PA.
Coal and steel are the riches that can be found here, not gold and silver. Surprisingly, this region has its share of legends and lore of lost treasures.
There are Revolutionary War-era tales of lost gold shipments, stories of secret stashes of cash hidden by horse thieves and moonshiners and rumors of unrecovered bags of stolen loot cached away by bank and train robbers.
One of these tales of lost riches is the story of Etienne Brule and the lost cave of silver.
This story takes place before the first German and English settlers came to this region. In fact, it occurs long before any European had traveled f west of the Delaware River, back when this area was a nameless tract of untamed wilderness teeming with “bloodthirsty savages”, or so it was believed the time this story takes place.
If you think about it, Pennsylvania could be considered to be this country’s very first “wild frontier”.
In 1620, the same year that the Pilgrims rowed ashore at Plymouth, Massachusetts, Etienne Brule became the first white man to venture into this area and it is during his many adventures that this story was born.
Etienne Brule (1542-1638) had been born in France, but in 1608, he emigrated to Canada, which at that time was known as New France, in search of fortune and adventure.
His early days in New France were spent accompanying French fur traders on trapping expeditions in which he served as a cargo porter.
These expeditions were invaluable experiences for him, for on these journeys he learned wilderness survival skills and became familiar with the lay of the land. It was this experience that led the famed French explorer, Samuel de Champlain to hire the young man to serve as a guide for one of his exploration parties in northern Ontario.
*Editors Notation: The name Champlain may be familiar to some readers due to his connection to Lake Champlain. A large lake that starts 10 Miles south of Montreal Canada and extends 80 miles south. The lake is sandwiched between the northern flatlands of Vermont and the lush forests and the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York. This lake is also believed to be the home of Champ, the ancient lake monster that lives in Lake Champlain. Back to Etienne Brule and the Lost Cave of Silver*
Champlain was so impressed by the young frontiersman, that he soon hired Brule as his chief guide, beginning an association that would last over twenty years.
In 1610, Champlain instructed Brule to live with the Algonquin people so that he could learn their language and customs. two years later, Champlain paid a visit to his friend to see what he had learned so far. Champlain was surprised to see that Brule had not only learned the language, but he had become integrated into the tribe and had become familiar several other Algonquin bands, such as the Abenaki, the Objibwan, the Cree and the Maliseet. Brule had also become familiar with the Iroquois people and the Huron.
Champlain was so impressed with Brule’s accomplishment, that he instructed him to remain with the tribe and learn as much as he could about the neighboring tribes.
Three years later, Champlain gave Brule a special assignment, he was to make contact with the Susquehannock tribe in eastern Pennsylvania in order to gain their support and assistance in an expedition he was planning.
Accompanied by twelve Huron warriors and a party of French frontiersmen, he embarked on his mission. unfortunately, Brule and his party arrived two days too late, for the Susquehannock had just been defeated by the Iroquois in a major battle and were unable to provide any assistance.
Brule not wanting to return to Canada without accomplishing anything decided to set about exploring. Brule and his group visited the Great Lakes, where Brule and his French companions became the first white men to see Lakes Huron, Superior, Erie, and Ontario.
He was the first European to stand on the banks of Lake Michigan.
By canoe, the party explored the Ottawa River, Lake Ossining and Lake Simco, the Detroit River and the Niagara, where he became the first white man to see Niagara Falls.
Brule’s band of frontiersmen became the first Europeans to explore throughout Ontario and upper New York. They canoed down the Susquehanna River in eastern Pennsylvania and traveled as far south as the Chesapeake Bay.
Unfortunately, he left no written records of his travels, so very little is known of his journeys, other than a few journals kept by members of his party. Most accounts were Oral Interpretations by some of his companions. Some were set to writing many years later.
One such account mentions Brule sharing a story about a glittering cave of silver located to the west of the lands of the Susquehannock in Eastern Pennsylvania.
In 1620, Brule set out to investigate the story, and according to one source, found the cave in the mountains east of the Loyalhanna River. The story goes that Brule and his party carried out ten chests of silver, which Brule intended to transport back to New France to give to Champlain to support an upcoming expedition planned by the explorer.
While carrying a load of silver overland, somewhere in the mountains overlooking the rivers that fed into the Ohio River, (possibly the Conemaugh) they were attacked by a band of hostiles and lost some of the chests.
The men managed to get some of the chests to their canoes, but lost several more when two of the canoes capsized in rough water. only one chest of silver was said to have made it to Champlain.
A few years later, Brule made another journey in search of the cave, but since he had not charted his prior expedition, he was unable to find it.
Brule, with the support of Champlain, intended to mount a larger expedition, but that never came to be. Brule was killed in 1633 by his one-time allies the Huron, who suspected him of colluding with their mortal foes, the Mohawk.
The cave was never found again and none of the lost chests of silver were ever recovered. Who knows, perhaps one day some unsuspecting hiker or hunter, out of curiosity will wander into a cave and be awestruck by the shimmering mirrors of silver walls and their eyes will shine in delight as they gaze at the glittering ceiling. Perhaps it will be you.
-Douglas Yonker ( firstname.lastname@example.org )