image of Fireimage of Johnny Wheelbarrow

Wheelbarrow Johnny's Lost Gold

by Anthony Belli


On July 6, 1856 a fire started in a small restaurant on Sacramento Street, which rapidly spread to neighboring buildings. Hangtown was an assemblage of dry board structures, turning Main Street into a roaring inferno.

Fire of 1856
John Studebaker was a member of the volunteer fire brigade and was directed to fight the fire on a nearby street, leaving Joseph Hinds, the Blacksmith, to protect their shop alone. Once the fire jumped Sacramento Street, it didn't take long to reach the blacksmith shop, burning it to the ground.

That night, the fire was finally brought under control and Studebaker returned to the shop where he and Hinds removed the charred floorboards and dug up a few jars of gold coins. They were happy to see that the intense heat from the fire had not damaged the cache, but Studebaker could no longer identify the spots where he had buried the remainder of his horde.

After some hurried digging Studebaker unearthed about $8,000 of his cache. He knew he had recovered only a portion of his gold, but had tore up so much flooring he discontinued the search to allow Hinds to open the shop for business.

Even after the shop was rebuilt, Studebaker remained confused as to where he had hidden his treasure. Shortly after, Studebaker received word from a family in Indiana urging him to return at once. The family had been awarded a government contract to build 100 wagons. This turn of events would make the family wealthy. After a hasty farewell, John M. Studebaker left Hangtown and returned home to help build the Studebaker empire.

More then 140 years has passed since Studebaker left Hangtown, and to this day many of our old timers remember hearing the tale of Wheelbarrow Johnny's lost gold. Many locals who pass the site of the Hinds - Studebaker Blacksmith Shop, at 549 Main Street, look at the modern building there now, which houses the Placerville Town Hall, and ponder the question... Could Studebaker's gold still be buried there after all these years?

"Legends start from fact. They are kept alive through faith."
Brad Williams & Choral Pepper

by: Anthony M. Belli
SOURCE- Gold Prospector Magazine, Fallbrook, CA. Oct. 1985, pp. 32-35

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