Parson Keithley's Mysterious Hoard
As published in "Centennial History of Missouri (The Center State) One Hundred years in the Union 1820-1921"
Volume I by Walter B. Stevens - The S.J.Clarke Publishing Co., 1921)
Submitted by Blake Keithley <email@example.com>
Old Parson Keithley was one of the strange characters of the Ozark country. One day in the week he preached. The other six he roamed the country with his gun on his shoulder and his dog at his heels. He loved solitude. It was his custom to disappear. For days his family would hear nothing of him. Then he would return as suddenly as he had gone. He was reticent. Nothing more than disjointed accounts of his wandering ever came from him. Relatives learned to ask no questions. When the old man buckeled on his belt and went over the ridge he might be back for supper or he might be gone weeks.
When the California gold fever spread the parson was well advanced in years. One day he walked out of the house. Months afterward a brief letter came from him. It was written in the Rocky Mountains. In it the parson said he was on his way to Calif. Two years and eight months passed. One day the old man walked into the house, greeted his family pleasantly and resumed his old way of living. Little by little the family learned that the parson had found gold. He had acquired all that he wanted and had come back by Cape Horn, landed at New Orleans and made his way overland to the Ozark country. Nobody ever learned how much the parson brought back. The neighborhood story, which took no account of avoirdupois, was that the parson had actually lugged $6,000 in gold into the Ozark country. What he did with the treasure was a mystery. He made no exhibition of it, and he did not keep it in the house. There was a garden and an apple tree some distance off., At intervals of weeks or months the old man would draw from his pocket a $10 gold piece and hand it to his daughter saying, "See here what I've found." The gold was usually produced on some occasion of domestic need. Where the gold was "found" the old man never told. The "shiner" came to light just after the old man had been under the old apple tree in the garden, and unearthed a piece at a time. Others speculated that the hiding place was in a cave to which the parson was wont to retire for meditation. So much did he frequent the place that he (it) became known, and it still is known, as Keithley's Cave.
The strangest part of the parson's career came toward the end. Shortly after the close of the war he told his friends that he felt he had not much longer to live. It was his fondest wish to make the cave his tomb. He set about the preparations for that purpose. A portion of the cave was very dry, and that was chosen by the parson for his last resting place. He walled off a room and buuilt of rock an entry five feet wide leading to it. The stones for the purpose he carried from some distance on the hillside, dressing them so that they would fit well, but laying them without mortar. At the entrance to the passage Keithley built a double stoone door, inclined at an angle. The door was of two slabs, eighteen inches wide and three feet long. In the sides he made handles. When he entered his tomb the parson pulled the doors over and their weight held them snugly in position. On one side of the enclosed room, close to the wall, he laid up a stone coffin just large enough to hold him comfortably. For this he had a slab which he could work into position so as to cover the top after he had lain down inside. For several years before the end came, Keithley was in the habit of retiring to the cave, closing the doors for days at a time waiting for death. Then, when the feeling of weakness or depression passed away, the old man would come out and preach and hunt. At all times he impressed it upon his people that they must see to it his bones rested in the cave, if death came suddenly when he was away from the chosen spot. In his leisure the parson carved on the wall of the cave a short sermon. The text he engraved was , "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." The Ozark country has many Keithleys, and some of them direct descendants of the old parson.
The floor or bottom of the coffin was dry clay, and stretched at full length upon it the parson passed many nights and days. The darling wish of Parson Keithley's heart was not fulfilled. The old man was far past 90 when the sudden summons came. His waiting and watching in the tomb had been in vain. Death found him in a lonely spot on the mountain, several miles from the cave. Faintness had come upon him. He had rested his gun against a tree and had lain down. The dog had dropped beside him. Days afterward the searchers who had failed to find him in the tomb came upon the body.
Note from Blake Keithley: I think Old parson may have been WILLIS KEITHLEY. Willis was in Taney county but is buried in STONE county on the SEATON farm i think. Near the head of BEAR CREEK. Keithley Cave was near a place called RORK or a group of hills called the RORKS. it is near REED SPRINGS or REED SPRINGS JUNCTION i think. Do you know where Keithley Cave is per chance?? Please Email Keith if you can help solve this mystery!
© 1996, 1997 Jo Dunne