Tales have circulated for years, telling of counterfeiting operations somewhere in the Unakas – all the way from the Ephriam Place to the Beauty Spot, from the Lose Cove to Iron Mountain. Some of the stories tell of rich silver mines still there somewhere for the finding.
Lewis Banner’s family told this story, which took place while they lived at Indian Grave Gap. Somewhere on the North Carolina side of the mountain, someone, someday will probably find a trove of counterfeit dollars – at least a peck or so, as the story goes.
A stranger rode up and asked Lewis Banner (1811-1883) if he would rent his blacksmith shop for a week, no questions asked and complete privacy assured. Lewis could not refuse his generous offer, but did make exceptions in case of dire need for repairing customers’ equipment. After they agreed, the man moved in a few things, and everybody stayed clear of the shop.
The man took his meals at the house, but went back to the shop to continue his work and to spend the nights. On the afternoon before the last day of the contract, the fellow came out, locked up the shop, mounted his horse, and headed down to the settlement of Rock Creek. When he returned, he had a jug of good old Tennessee corn squeezings, and after a few swigs of the nectar, he became quite talkative.
‘Well, Banner,’ he said, ‘I believe you are all right; so I’m going to tell you what I’ve been doing – I been making money’.
He could tell by his look that Lewis did not believe him, so the man showed him several genuine-looking specimens, which he then put in his saddle bag. Turning back to Lewis, he said, ‘I want you to make a strong box that will hold at least two gallons of coins, and make a lid that I can nail on when I’m ready’.
When the box was ready, the stranger put a few coins in it and carried it on his horse down the Carolina side of the mountain – apparently planning to find a good hiding place and then come back for the rest of the coins. He was about forty five minutes. He came back without the box, picked up the rest of the coins, and put them in his saddle bags; and then taking a claw hammer, he headed back down the mountain. No one followed or heard his hammering. When he returned, he had the hammer, but there was no sign of the box or money, except for a few coins he was keeping in his saddle bags.
After paying Lewis for the box and for the use of his shop – in real money- he rode off toward Rock Creek, saying that he was going on to Jonesborough. Sometime later, word came back that he had been caught passing the coins and had been arrested, ending up in a federal prison, where he later died. At any rate, he was never seen again at Indian Grave Gap.
Lewis and his boys attempted to find the hidden money, but without success; Matt and Henry searched from time to time throughout the years. Others, including Walter Day and Ike Nelson, also tried and failed. No one ever knew just what it was that tripped up the counterfeiter – whether it was a poor job of molding, or someone noticing the duplicate dates on several coins – whatever the reason, the treasure hunters today who might find them have little more for their trouble that a box full of souvenirs of an early enterprise.
source: Around Home in Unicoi County, by William W. Helton, The Overmountain Press, 1986, 1994