"KING JAMES:" BEAVER ISLAND CACHE
By Howard Duffy
James Jesse Strang - that's a name one never hears anymore, but in the mid-1800s his name made newspaper headlines across our nation. Unknown to his followers as "King James" or "The Prophet," he established a religious sect, in 1847, on Beaver Island, just off the Charlevoix mainland at the northern end of Lake Michigan. At that time the island was a Michigan wilderness. One might not assume that a religious leader would be associated with lost treasure caches. Nevertheless, Strang accumulated :a large fortune, which was concealed on Beaver Island. In fact, in September of 1980, two Grand Rapids families on a treasure search of the island recovered a considerable amount of coins and paper currency near a building once used by King James' sect. Most of his wealth, however, still awaits finders. To backtrack a bit, we can tell you that Strang had a background as a school teacher, postmaster and lawyer. Although less than average height, he possessed a commanding presence. Born in New York State, Strang moved to Burlington, Wisconsin, in 1843. Lured by reports of Mormonism, he visited Nauvoo, Illinois, to hear a sermon by Joseph Smith, the faith's founder. Apparently, it was a compelling sermon, for Strang proclaimed himself a convert to Mormonism. Unfortunately for Smith, he was slain by a mob several days later at Carthage, Illinois. When an election was held to select a new leader for the faith, Strang threw his hat in the ring. Nevertheless, Brigham Young received the majority of votes and determined to lead the Mormons westward for their protection. In his book, We Explore the Great Lakes, Webb Waldron wrote: "Undeterred, Strang founded his own Mormon church near Burlington, at a place called Voree, and it grew and prospered. He kept up a constant controversy with the Brigham Young branch, ably defending his claim to the leadership. At the end of four years, evidently fearing the same sort of persecution that beset Joseph Smith, Strang moved his church from Voree across the lake to Beaver Island. " In the upper portion of Lake Michigan - 32 miles off the Charlevoix harbor - Beaver Island is now a most unique vacation retreat. About 13 miles long and six miles wide, it was first occupied by prehistoric Mound Builder Indians. When French voyageurs arrived in the mid-17th century, Ojibways occupied the island. Then, the Ottawa's came; some members of the tribe still inhabit the island. Strang sailed with a scouting party to Beaver Island, in 1847, to ascertain whether it would make a good home for his followers. Finding it suited to his purpose, he built a cabin, left behind two members of the party, and returned to Voree. Emigration was begun at once, and by winter the Mormon colony numbered 18 persons. The few early settlers who ran the trading post on Whiskey Point, plus the island's Indians and Irish fishermen, gave Strang a very frigid welcome. The Mormons soon built a mission house and school. They cleared the land and sold cordwood to lake steamers. By the time the largest group Or Mormons arrived, in 1849, the demeanor of local settlers and Indians turned to animosity, then hate. they despised the newcomers, odd in their dress and clannish in their ways. The arrival of more Mormons, too, created a profound change in Strang, transforming him from a man of inner peace to one craving a lust for power. He abandoned meekness to preach the gospel of might as a means of creating a kingdom. Gradually, muskets, powder and balls mysteriously found their way into the Mormon arsenal. An opportunity to test his new-found power occurred, in 1850, when Strang proclaimed he would be crowned King of Beaver Island. Hearing this news, the local gentiles (as Strang called those outside his faith) and neighbors from nearby islands scheduled a huge Fourth of July celebration to be held at Beaver. Actually, this was a ploy to chase the Saints from the island. Hearing this report, the Prophet hastily purchased cannon, balls and powder to defend his group. So, on July 3, armed fishermen docked at Whiskey Point, where Peter McKinley's store stocked a fine supply of whiskey kegs. Through that night the tipsy invaders boasted how they would rout Strang and his followers with the coming of dawn. However, when dawn broke on July 4, the fishermen dozed in drunken slumber. Suddenly, a cannon report broke the silence to propel a ball splashing near McEinley's dock. Then, a second and third boom rent the still air. Partially sobered by the cannon blasts, the invaders sent an envoy to Strang, demanding the meaning of his uncivil actions. "Tell your friends," the Prophet retorted, "that we are merely firing a salute to celebrate the Fourth of July. " With no better ideas in mind, the invaders determined to finish off the whiskey rather than the Saints. By the following day the hostiles had departed. Undeterred by this brief invasion, Strang proceeded with his coronation on July 8. Attired in a crimson robe, he stood before his Twelve Apostles while Prime Minister George J. Adams placed a silver crown, with glass stars, upon King James' head. Adams, a former actor, was resplendent in a King Richard III costume, with a tin sword dangling from his belt. Feasting then was the order of the day. As king, Strang placed increased demands on his followers. In his book, Crown of Glory, O. W. Riegel wrote: "Strang's tithing law demanded one-tenth of the wealth of every Saint. One-tenth of the Saint's harvest, one-tenth of his calves, one-tenth of his wood, one-tenth of his time, belonged to Zion. Although remittances were made to the needy, nonpayment of the tithe was punishable by stripes at the whipping post. All tithes, like all other property, were disposed of by the King. " Becoming more aggressive, King James organized the Society of the Illuminati, a band of marauders that stole from citizens on the mainland and neighboring islands. Two of the most notorious members of this band, the brothers John and Isaac Pierce, amassed a great amount of loot in the upper Michigan area. According to old-timers, this swag was concealed in a cave on Rock Mountain Point, at the southern end of Beaver Island. Eventually, Strang's despotic ways rankled his Saints, some of whom refused to obey the strict dress code for women. For instance, Mrs. Alexander Wentworth refused to wear the bloomer costume prescribed for all women. Then, Mrs. Thomas Bedford also refused to wear bloomers. As a result of his wife's disobedience, Thomas Bedford was given a severe lashing at the whipping post. Angered by this act, Bedford and Alexander Wentworth devised a plan to murder Strang.
Under some pretense, King James was lured to the boat landing. As-he approached the dock, Wentworth emerged from behind a pile of cordwood, firing a shot into Strang's head. Then, Bedford stepped forward to hit their quarry with two more bullets. Both assailants escaped in a boat.
However, Strang was not dead - but seriously wounded. Loyal followers rushed him to Voree for medical care. In spite of this, Strang's wounds were fatal, and he died on July 8, 1856. Following this incident, a drunken mob invaded the island to drive the Saints away and destroy their homes and property. The Saints departed so rapidly that there was not opportunity to take any money or valuables that may have been in their caches. We know that Beaver Island had no banks in 1856, so the only means for safekeeping money and valuables was for King James and the Saints to bury them or conceal them in a cave. Strang's wealth must have been considerable, when one considers the tithes he exacted from his group as well as the loot heisted by his Society of the Illuminati.
The suddenness, too, with which the 2,600 faithful were driven from the island probably precluded their taking much, if anything, with them except their precious lives. There is also an old story that a party of Saints cached a large quantity of gold at Fox Lake, on Beaver Island.
Other reports claimed Strang had additional caches on both North and South Manitou Islands, approximately 18 miles southwest of Beaver.
Whether the treasure recovery made by the aforementioned Grand Rapids searchers came from one of these caches, in 1980, is difficult to state. If you are planning to search for King James' treasure, be certain to obtain permission from property owners, for there is no need to ask for trouble. Operating from the mainland town of Charlevoix; two ferries carry passengers and their cars to Beaver Island. Air service is also available.