• By Jenny Fry

Frightening Mystery Urban Legends 3

While growing up in Walkerton I heard my share of urban legends. I'm certain that many of us have learned our own. This is one Halloween story that will intrigue your minds! Here is one of several to be included for Walkerton Page readers before Halloween 2020.

The Mystery Of The Missing Counterfeit Coins By Frances Hungerford

Historic lawless disorder! Francis Hungerford was the white haired scamp whose checkered past was written for the World's history books. He was one of the most notorious counterfeiters of all time.

Only 1/2 a mile east of Walkerton along Pine Creek was the Hungerford homestead where one of the coins he minted was actually discovered. He had actually resided there for about 40 years.

On April 6, 1880 Hungerford and his oldest son were arrested there by the Secret Service Division of the US Treasury Department. They exchanged gunfire. During an interview at Leavenworth Prison in Kansas he told what he could about his time.

He said, "I lost my wife after 40 years at Walkerton, Indiana. I am known all throughout that country. Ask any farmer or business man about me and I think they will say old Frances Hungerford is an honest man."

"I am sure I never wronged any of them."

"But trouble came."

"I lost my wife and after that ill fortune followed me for years."

"Through the machination of enemies I ended up at the Indiana State Prison and served a 2 years term on the charges for counterfeiting."

Though Hungerford was modest about his crimes the US government considered him one of the "most extraordinary" criminals of his time. He remains a legend today, because no one knows where the chest of counterfeit Mexican coins are located? Nor does anyone know what happened to the stolen mint press for issuance of the counterfeit dollars? They were once, commonly acceptable for monetary exchange in this country.

Hungerford had run-ins with the law between Indiana and Arkansas for counterfeiting before he ended up at Leavenworth, Kansas.

The US government marshalls contended that Frances Hungerford "since, early boyhood, indeed, he has been engaged directly or indirectly in making or passing spurious coins."

"He has been in trouble on this account more than once, and his escapes from capture and adventures with officers of the law illustrate the fact that truth is stranger than fiction." Hungerford was modest about the amount of crime he was involved in. He escaped US Marshalls many times and kept a six-shooter with him for exchange of bullets should that have been necessary? Francis dared the wildest incidents with adventures of exaggerated fancy. The law caught up with him.

A long time ago, later during the early 20th century Plymouth Postmaster, J. A. Yockeyl, and his wife were sharing the cabin of T. N. Peddycord, off Spruce Rd. Mr. Yockey, early one morning, went to dig for worms so he would have bait after the day's fishing. He expected to indulge in the worm hunt.

While digging under an old log near the house when, in removing the decayed leaves, he turned up a bogus Mexican dollar with the date of 1875.

There is quite a bit of local history connected with this and other similar coins manufactured at that eastside Walkerton place many years ago. During the 1870s and prior to that time the farm on which Mr. Peddycord once, lived was owned by a man by the same Francis Hungerford.

Although lacking in education, Hungerford was a man of more than ordinary intelligence, and had his efforts in life been directed in the proper channel he would have been a useful man in any community in which he might have lived.

The place in question at that time was in the "backwoods," the locality being sparsely settled and the neighbors few and far between. Seldom anyone visited the Hungerford family, and for weeks at a time they saw no one except an occasional hunter and fisherman passing and repassing that way.

Koontz's lake was near there, and surrounding it were thick woods, underbrush, swamps and marshes, in which was an abundance of wild game, not counting the barrels and wagon loads of fish that were playing around the shores waiting to be taken out of the wet.

It was in this sort of environment that Francis Hungerford conceived the idea of procuring dies and operating a bogus money manufacturing establishment, thus enabling him to earn a living a good deal easier than in chopping down trees, grubbing out the roots, plowing up the sod, splitting rails, building fences and such like drudgery.

Accordingly, he procured a set of dies for the manufacture of various coins, the principal ones being Mexican dollars. At that time Mexican dollars were in general circulation, and as the Hungerford spurious dollars were a very good imitation of the genuine, they passed quite readily in the ordinary course of trade.

He built a milk house near his residence with a lookout on top. In the floor was a trap door, underneath which was a large cellar conveniently arranged for the purpose. Here, he placed his machinery, dies and metal, and forged out his bogus coin by the bushel without let or hindrance.

The greatest difficulty in regard to the success of the scheme was to devise ways and means of putting the bogus money into circulation. Hungerford started a good deal of it into circulation by paying it out for such purchases as he made in Plymouth and the surrounding towns. But, that was entirely too slow a process, and other individuals whose consciences did not disturb them were let into the secret, and in the course of time Hungerford had several assistants who helped him to dispose of the bogus coin.

Frances Hungerford of Walkerton in 1875

For a considerable time everything went lovely and the financial goose honked high. Nearly every business man in the towns and villages round about had his pockets full of Hungerford's dollars, most of which had been taken as good Mexican money without making any examination or without any thought that it was spurious. When upon a close examination it was easy to detect the good from the bad, and it was not long until, it was hard to pass any of them in current business transactions.

It was then that the people generally began to try to find out where the spurious coin came from and who was the manufacturer of it. Suspicion finally settled upon Hungerford. A detective was sent for, who, after many difficulties, succeeded in working himself into the good graces of Hungerford, and finally arranged to assist him in coining the bogus money. He worked away for some time until he got all the information necessary for his arrest and conviction, when he swore out the necessary papers and the officers made a raid on the mint, arrested the old man and his son, confiscated his dies, plates and machinery, metal, retorts, and stock in trade generally, and delivered him up to the United States authorities.

He was taken to downtown Walkerton, and put on the Lake Erie & Western railroad train for Indianapolis. A trunk containing several hundred coins was left behind on account of not having room for it in the conveyance.

After taking Hungerford to the downtown Walkerton train depot the wagon was sent back after the trunk. When it was returned and opened at Walkerton to repack it the coins were found to be missing and brickbats had been substituted.

Where did old lady Hungerford have the coins dropped in Koontz Lake? Are any remaining dies, plates, or machinery still hidden in the area?

The old lady who had been left behind said the coins had been emptied out into Koontz's lake, and if the authorities wanted them they would have to go over there and get them. It is needless to say that they are probably still there.

The old man and his son were tried, convicted, and sent to the penitentiary. On account of his age of 75, after a few years, the old man was pardoned, after which he took up his residence in Missouri. It was not long after he settled there until, the old desire to dabble in counterfeit money came over him once more.

And again, arrested, convicted then sent to the government prison at Lawrence, Kansas. It is said he died several years later. His oldest son probably, served out his sentence. Whereabouts since,

that time is unknown. Others in the neighborhood who were suspected of having a hand in the business managed to get out of the country without being arrested. That ended the only counterfeiting manufactory known to exist in this section of the country.

Are the coins really at the bottom of Koontz Lake in a treasure trunk? How about hidden dies, plates, or other machinery? It is a mystery to this day.

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