The Yocum Dollar from another perspective
Copyright 2005
Joel Thomas Orcutt

 Anyone researching their familiar relationship to the Yocham family in Northern Arkansas, or Southwest Missouri will find plenty of good biographical information about our Yocham patriarchs, James (also known as Jake, and Jacob), and his brothers, Solomon, and Jesse. Whatever else they might have been, they were not dull, or boring. By far the most interesting, and controversial information about them is in regard to the famous Yoachum Lost Silver Mine, and the captivating tale of the Yocum trade dollars. Many persons have searched for the mine, the coins, and the truth, and as to now, I don't know that anyone can say for certain that they have definitively found any of the things. This is an excerpt from a book I have compiled regarding Yocham family history and genealogy, and is strictly "for what it's worth".

An Excerpt from
Copyright 2005
Joel Thomas Orcutt

History of Marion County, Arkansas
White River - Gateway to Marion County
By: Duane Huddleston
 Pages 104-106

"Henry Schoolcraft, who passed through what was later Marion County, lent his canoe to Mr. Yochem on January 14, 1819, to carry bear's bacon and pork to the mouth of the Great North Fork River, where a keel boat lay with trade goods. Yochem lived in the vicinity of what was later Talbert's Ferry."

Vol. 3, No. 4 October 1998 Yellville, Arkansas 72687

"Some of the early settlers on the Upper White include very familiar names. Augustine 'Teen' Friend was here in 1819 five miles below the shoals of White River. William Trimble and his wife, Sallie Coker, settled on White River before 1814. Henry Schoolcraft was noted to have stayed with Solomon Yocum and his son, Jacob, during his tour of the Ozarks in 1818 and 1819."

 In 1818 the United States Government made an agreement with the Delaware Indians, granting them land west of the Mississippi River in exchange for their land in  Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The Delaware Tribe settled near the James River in southwestern Missouri.  Upon taking possession of their lands granted by the U.S. Government, the Delawares, and some other tribes, effectively “displaced”  some settlers, termed “squatters”, among whom were the Yoachums,  Solomon and his brother, James, (also known as Jake, or Jacob), who by some accounts had already settled in the area as far back as the late 1790’s.  As an alternative to the white settlers simply leaving they were allowed to rent bottom land for cultivation, pasture for stock grazing, and erect mills on waterways, and other industry, and allowed to co-exist with the Indians, as long as they were peaceful and law-abiding.  But it didn’t take long for complaints to arise, particularly those of John Campbell, official Indian Agent for the U.S. Government in charge of the Delaware Reservation, who reported in a letter dated October 1, 1825;

 “Solomon Yoachum has erected a distillery... and has made a quantity of peach brandy and has been selling it for some time in quantities to the Indians. There is a number of those outlaw characters all below him who are selling whiskey  constantly to the Indians."

 John Campbell called for government removal of some so called “Outlaws” from the Delaware lands, including Solomon Yocham.

 Lynn Morrow, in an 1983 article in the Ozark Mountaineer,  titled  St. Yocum and the Delawares stated;

 “Tossed from The Nation, ( The Delaware Indian Nation) in 1825, Solomon set up just south of the reservation, below Finley’s mouth on the James, and opened up a distillery making whiskey and brandy.”


 Making peach brandy, while perhaps providing Solomon and the Yochums a bit of  local, short lived infamy in connection with their Indian “clientele”, somewhat pales on a historical note compared with the most popular bit of Yoachum, and Ozark history.  While some may take slight exception in referring to the Yocum silver dollar as history, and not strictly as mere “legend”, enough has been told, and written about it to qualify it as a true icon of Ozark history.  Perhaps no other legend, (as we might as well refer to it),  in American history has yielded a more profitable return than that of the Yocum dollar.  An entire industry, theme park Silver Dollar City, and it's off shoots have now “mined” the legend for what must surely be billions of dollars.  Many people have searched away countless hours, days, months, and even years looking for the source of the legend, the famed  Lost Yoachum Silver Mine.  Some people believe that it is a canard, or hoax, the typical tale told often by the evening fire, usually with the sure knowledge of someone who knows someone that once saw one of the dollars, or the molds that made them, or knew of someone that knew of someone that had a map.   Enough interest has been raised at various times to attract persons schooled in geology, mining, and formations, and reports of a professional nature seem to suggest that there is very little likelihood of silver being found in an quantity and quality to justify believing that a mine actually existed.

 In the early 1980’s I corresponded briefly with Artie Ayres, who owned the property that the Yoachum silver mine was believed to have been on.  I bought his book, Traces of Silver, an interesting read, with a pro “mine existed” content.  Since then I have read many accounts dealing with the mine, and the silver dollars, both pro and con, regarding belief in either, or both, and along with what I have read, and the older members of the family I have talked with, I cannot say that I entirely believe there was a mine, but cannot say I summarily discount it out of hand either.  On the other hand, I feel confident that the Yocum “trade dollar” was in fact made, and used for a short period of time. There were no banks in Missouri until 1837, and it was not illegal to coin legitimate money in those early days, and as Government money was scare it makes sense that some people would have made their own money, if they had something to make it out of.  Of course counterfeit money, called among other things in those times past as the “Queer” , then as now, has never been legal.

A Guide Book of United States Coins, 1984,
pp. 8-9.
“Federal silver dollars were scarce during the early 19th century. President Jefferson imposed a moratorium on their production in 1806 which lasted until 1837. There was, however, a great deal of private coinage during this period. Coins were "by no means fabricated in order to deceive the public; they were simply attempts, and successful ones, to commercialize the newly-produced metal. They did not claim government authorization but indicated the name of the producer and generally passed as money."

The Early History of Stone County Missouri

“A trade-coin, the Yocum Dollar, served the local necessities of commerce. This coin was stamped with two words, "Yocum Dollar," and was not intended to be a counterfeit. Its size and shape were identical to the American dollar, and it contained more pure silver.”

 The issue with me rest primarily not if the Yocum made their own dollars, of which I believe it is probable they did, but where they got the silver used to cast them.  One Yocham cousin suggested, tongue in cheek, that the silver was obtained by “borrowing” it at gunpoint from persons in wagon trains headed west!  Naturally, I don’t espouse that theory, but I do have an idea that the source of the silver actually was simply previously minted coins, whether they were U.S. Government issue, or the most available dollar at that time, the Spanish reales , or perhaps even Mexican silver coins, or French monies, all of which floated freely up and down the waterways and trading post, and of course also the  various  numerous “private” coinage, cited  previously in A Guide Of United States Coins.  With no bank in the entire territory, and very little real money by which to proceed with commerce, especially small money, or “change”, crucial to the everyday “small” purchases, it was common practice to break, or cut up larger coins into roughly symmetrical pieces, known as the “bit”.  A dollar was typically cut into eight bits, each worth twelve and one/half cent.  Two bits was a quarter of a dollar, four bits a half, ect.

by Thomas LaMarre

Money Talks Transcript No. 1572   Broadcast October 13, 1998

“Two hundred years ago, the predominant coin in the United States was the Spanish "eight reales" [ray-AL] or dollar. To make change, it was sometimes cut-like a pizza-into eight parts, or "bits," each worth twelve-and-a-half cents.”

 Naturally any business would eventually accumulate a lot of these “bits”, and for ease of storage and their own trade usage they might eventually wish to have some “dollars” all back in one piece. Smaller silver coins might receive the same treatment as to having been broken up, and the value of their bits, or pieces decided by mutual agreement.  As the pieces were often just hacked off from a whole coin, the pieces, or “bits” were often not uniform in size, or weight. A business might end up with a lot of mismatched bits and pieces of silver that they figured would better serve them as larger, whole pieces.  As anyone that has ever made their own bullets, or fish sinkers knows, it would  have been a very simple thing to simply melt the pieces and cast them into a mold to make brand new dollars, once the molds themselves had been made.

 If in fact the “bits” being melted happened to be from coins other than those of U.S. mintage that contained a higher, or purer grade of silver, such as previously minted private issues straight from the silver mines, then the new coins might logically have also been purer than the U.S. Governments, such as the Yocum dollar is reported to have been when assayed after being used by one man to pay homestead fees at Springfield, Missouri.  The Yoachums, if nothing else, seemed to do a good brisk whiskey and brandy trade, and also ran a mill and had extensive livestock interest, so were easily involved enough in their local commerce to have routinely taken many pieces, or “bits”, in exchange for their products.  Perhaps they took other “merchants” pieces, or “bits”  in exchange for the newly minted dollars, to facilitate their ease in having money that was more easily handled, and accounted for.  Persons outside the immediate sphere of the James River may, upon having seen the Yocum dollars themselves, have been the ones that speculated that the Yoachums must have had a silver mine.  It would no doubt have been amusing on Solomon and the other Yoachum’s part to have maintained some air of mystery about the coins to those who came asking, and to have played along and let people think they had their own silver mine.

 Such a scenario could easily explain both the source of the silver, and the reason for the Yocum trade dollar to have existed in the first place.  If it were so, then it was the coming of the banks, and ready access to government backed money, that likely brought an end to the short-lived  Yocum trade dollars, and not the removal of the Delaware Indians, as has been suggested, or a cave-in that sealed the mine, as others suspect.  In the end, the Yocum dollars probably suffered for the most part the same fate as contemporary monies, and were hacked to pieces, and/or eventually melted down to resurface as good old U.S. silver coins, or even jewelry.  But the notion, or lure of the possibility that somewhere out there in some cave, or likely hiding spot there is, perhaps,  an old  rotted leather bag, laying inside of which is a pile of large tarnished silver dollars, stamped “Yocum”, will no doubt fire the passion of yet even more people that will hear the “legend”, and believe that there is just enough truth in it to make it possible, and people will go on looking for the coins, and the silver mine, from now on.  As Artie Ayres stated, "There doesn’t seem to be much argument about whether or not there was a Yocum dollar," "The argument comes as to where did the coins come from?"