Written by Tom Ludwick
This story begins in 1973 at Mammoth Cave after completion of a wild cave tour. My name is Thaddeus Montgomery, and I am from Anaheim California. I met these other gentlemen on the wild cave tour who went to the University of Kentucky. One was a PhD in archeology and his better half was a medical doctor for the university. His name was Red Dog Shelton, otherwise known as Raymond Dalton Shelton; his wife’s name was Missy. We had another fellow and his name was Joe Dunahe, he was a student.
Red Dog had helped map out cave tunnels that went from Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, clear down to Macon, Georgia. He was impressed with my endurance. He asked if I would like to go to Missouri to Meramec Caverns to do some spelunking there and look for Jesse James stolen Wells Fargo shipment of $25,000 in Morgan Silver Dollars. He claimed I would have to carry some of the equipment, but the University of Kentucky would pay me a fee of $2,200.00 per month. With no hesitancy, I responded sure I’ll go.
We arrived three weeks later, all geared up with our food supply, fresh water, and not very much whiskey. There was a simple reason for our limited whiskey ration. If you drink 600 to 1000 feet below sea level, you will get drunk on just one drink. We also had our lighting equipment, ropes and our gaveling hooks. All of us packed warm, durable clothing. One thing in a cave that you do not need is air conditioning because the normal temperature is approximately sixty-four degrees. We were all set to begin our exploration.
Red Dog knew a lot about this type of exploration. He had been exploring caves for the last fifteen years, always hoping to find treasures and archaeologist type rock formations of yester year.
We began our adventure traveling about two miles into this cavern. Some of the stalactites and stalagmites were very sharp so you had to be careful while moving around them. We had traveled another five miles inside, when suddenly we hit a pocket of water, about the size of a very small pond. On the other side of the pond was something written into the stone. To our disbelief it was written in the Spanish language. Missy, who had degrees in Spanish and Latin, interpreted the inscription. Missy said the inscription was very old, possibly dating back to 1400 to 1600 AD. She said it was like a jingle.
Missy read out loud, “To find the Conquistador’s treasure you better be fair and less unaware because it is a long road to treasures and riches that may not be there. Instead, it can be a deep and elusive ending and the soul transgression.”
Red Dog said I couldn’t believe that Missy was reading something like this! It meant that the Spanish did come out of Mexico and must have gone all the way over to the Louisiana Purchase Territory, which the United States purchased later. Excited but exhausted after our seven-mile hike, we decided to camp out near the pond and the inscription.
The next morning, I tested the water for PH balance, using the phenolphthalein drops I had brought along. The results came out clear as a bell which meant we were able to bathe with it and drink it. We traveled another seven miles in, and we thought we might have taken the wrong branch. But Red Dog found some rocks that had rolled in from a cave in. He was able to move some of these with the help of Joe Dunahe. Once the stacked rocks were moved, it made a large enough opening that we were able to go into a larger part of the cave.
Suddenly there it was, Red Dog’s dream!
He discovered a large, wooden chest that weighed about seventy pounds. It had two carved handles and an old lock. Carefully we moved the chest into a clearing. We cut the lock off with a hammer and chisel to open the chest. Holding our breath, we lifted the heavy lid. Oh wow! Inside it was full of Spanish gold doubloons. Everyone was very excited with the treasure.
The student member of our expedition, Joe Dunahe, said Kentucky University would be very happy with our find. Angrily, Old Red Dog replied that we would give the University ten percent of our findings and keep the rest. Joe said that is not what was agreed to when Red Dog took on this expedition. Red Dog glared at Joe and quickly said it was time to get back.
Red Dog wanted Joe to take the point, because he had a good sense of direction to lead us out of the cave. Joe took some extra equipment from Red Dog and Missy so the two of them could carry the gold. As we were traveling back in a single file, we lost some of our lighting equipment. Anxious to get out of the cave, we decided to just keep moving on. Suddenly I heard a dull thump. We found Joe lying on the ground with his head bleeding. A rock had fallen on his head, and he was unconscious. Suspiciously, I was not so sure that a rock fell on him because of Joe’s disagreement with Red Dog and Missy.
Red Dog said we would have to leave Joe behind and come back later to get him. I argued that Missy who is a doctor should stay with Joe and tend to his injuries. But Red Dog said no. He yelled that we needed to get the gold out of there and Joe would only slow us down. We moved on, leaving an injured Joe lying unconscious on the ground on the floor of the cave.
All the time I was walking ahead, I was worried about getting hit in the head too. I did not trust Red Dog! We were about 150 feet below sea level and off to my left were another two cave columns. One of them looked like there was light shining in and sure enough there was a hole above us at a 28-degree angle. Red Dog said we could probably scale it. As we were climbing up, suddenly there was a great big dark hole to the left. Red Dog told me to get a move on. Then I felt Red Dog’s hand around my ankle pulling me down. I yelled what the hell he was doing and Red replied he was trying to keep his balance. Unable to hold on, I fell backwards and landed against a rock.
Missy said they needed to go back and help me. But instead of stopping, Red Dog yelled out, “No, let’s gets a move on because we are going to be rich!”
Suddenly Missy pulled back on the chest, which made Red Dog slip to the left towards the black hole. He told Missy to keep holding on to the chest! Why she didn’t let go I will never know but they both fell into the dark hole screaming until I could not hear them anymore. I could hear the gold coins bouncing of the walls and they fell to the bottom. I was able to get over towards the hole and I threw in a flare. I counted the seconds, and it was over forty seconds before the flare went out. That meant the black hole was over two-thousand feet deep. No one could help Red Dog or Missy at that depth.
I was able to get out of the cave and find help. EMS and special operators from Missouri came to help and we retrieved Joe who thankfully was still alive. On the way out some areas of the cave started caving in sealing off the lost treasure. I told my story to the authorities confirmed by Joe Dunahe who said that he thought Red Dog or Missy had hit him in the head with a rock. Of course, fate had punished Red Dog and Missy if they had indeed hit Joe with a rock and left him to die inside the cave.
To this day, Red Dog, Missy or the gold has never been found. All that remains from our cave adventure are our memories of finding a chest of Spanish gold, betrayal, and an ancient inscription carved on the cave wall that turned out to be a curse.