(Perry County, Mississippi and the New Augusta area.)
The Southern "Land Pirate"
James Copeland, often called the Southern "Land Pirate," and his gang of criminal associates plagued Perry County (now Lamar County), Mississippi for nearly 18 years from 1839-1857. Copeland began his criminal career as a small-time thief and hog rustler, but after aligning himself with other local "ne'r do wells" like Gale Wages and Charles McGrath, his depredations and crimes increased both in number and in significance.
The Copeland Gang ranged far and wide in Perry County (and outside the county's environs as well) stealing anything that wasn't tied down, including stock and tools. During numerous home intrusions Copeland and his boys also absconded with silver and gold coin, jewelry, and family heirlooms including silver flatware. After Copeland was actually jailed for a brief period in 1843, he and the gang retaliated by burning down the Perry County courthouse.
Murder, Buried Loot, and Nearly a Quarter Million in Gold
In the early years of its reign of terror the Copeland Gang ran wild because local law enforcement was essentially non-existent and the vigilantes who tried to bring the gang to justice early on were disorganized and incompetent. This allowed Copeland and his minions to increase their criminal activities to the point they actually committed murder. The 2 unfortunates in question were Robbert Lott and Thomas Sumrall, well-respected Perry County citizens.
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The murders were the turning point for the Copeland Gang as the vigilantes grew both in numbers and in proficiency. Since Copeland was always on the move and literally "one step ahead of the law," he began burying caches of his stolen loot in various parts of Perry County. According to one of his men who was later captured, one of Copeland's caches which was buried in or near Catahoula Swamp contained nearly $230,000 in gold coin and jewelry. This informant, after disclosing the nature and size of the treasure cache, refused to cough up its exact location and was subsequently hung by vigilantes.
Copeland and His Gang Meet Justice
By 1857 all of the "Land Pirate's" gang of thieves, murderers, and thugs had met their fate, most by hanging at the hands of vigilante groups who had hunted each and every one of them down with dogged persistence and vengeful hearts. Copeland himself was hung on October 30, 1857. Here are a few of his final words:
"It is often I have meditated upon this subject since my imprisonment and often now I remember my father's advice to me when I was young, and repented a thousand times over with sorrow and regret that I failed to receive his good advice. Much I have suffered, but after tomorrow (his execution date, J.R.) my troubles will be over or worse than at present. I bid you a long farewell."
A Treasure Tale of Substance and Credibility
Copeland went to the gallows without revealing a single location of any of his buried treasure caches, including the big one containing nearly a quarter million dollars worth of gold. Although many have searched for Copeland Gang treasure caches over the intervening years, I can find no record of any of them being located or recovered.
Since the Copeland Gang and its movements and depredations in today's Lamar County, Mississippi are reasonably well documented, this tale of lost treasure contains a great deal of substance and credibility. If anyone out there decides to get down to it and perform additional research on the Copeland Gang treasures, remember that the historical records concern Perry County, not Lamar County (which did not exist at the time).
Good luck to you!
If you liked this post, you may want to read: "5 Famous Lost Mines and Treasures"
(c) J.R. 2009
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