Rachel Fordham Finds Treasures of the Past

While researching a book, I came across several accounts of hidden money sewn into clothing, hat brims, or fake compartments in luggage. I didn’t end up using everything I’d discovered in my novel, but it did send my mind racing and ideas spinning. We are so used to electronic funds, checks, and secured shipping that we don’t often worry about traveling with the family’s heirloom jewels or your life savings, but times used to be different.

During the prime stagecoach and railroad days people often traveled with money or valuables. Robbers knew this, which is why we have so many accounts of stagecoach robberies and trains stopped by bandits and looted. Some passengers took to hiding money in their clothing, sewing it into the hem of their pants or skirt, or stitching it into lining of a jacket.

There have been other times in history when hiding money and valuables became the norm. During and after the Great Depression there was a general mistrust of the banking system. Our grandparents and great-grandparents (depending on your age) may have been some of those that weren’t quite ready to trust their hard-earned savings to an institution.

Rather than sew their money into their clothing (though, some of them might have), they could have buried it in the backyard, under floorboards, behind the mantle, in the piano, and even in the outhouse (gross).

There are fantastic stories of people buying old homes and finding “treasure” hidden in the floorboards or in the rafters of the attic. I can’t help but wonder how many homes have been torn down with their treasure never found, or items of clothing discarded that held a secret. The author in me wonders the circumstances that led to someone hiding away their money—were they saving so they could reach for a dream? Preparing for a rainy day? Hoping to give their children a better life?

When my husband and I moved to Buffalo, New York so he could attend dental school there, we bought a small, OLD home. I asked the neighbors about it and learned as much history as I could about the charming little place. It had once housed a large family. (Where they all slept, I will never know.) I tried to visualize them and often thought about those that had lived inside the walls of my beloved first house. At one point we decided to add more insulation. (Those Buffalo winters are brutal!) While working we discovered a small box tucked way back in the eaves.

I was not an author at the time, but I still had a vivid imagination and can still remember my heart beating a little faster when I reached for the box. It didn’t contain any gold, no rare coins, or fine jewels. But it did contain handmade Christmas ornaments from decades ago. As a lover of history and stories, I found my discovery fascinating. Holding those ornaments in my hand made it easier to picture the big loving family that I had only heard a few scattered details about. I confess, I still think it would be fun to prowl through an abandoned house and discover treasure, a journal, or any other fascinating piece of history. Wouldn’t it be so fun to sneak around a ghost town…sigh, someday!

Whether hidden to avoid bandits, or fear of a depression, or simply an accident, the pieces of the past we discover tell us a little about those that came before. I wonder what the next person to live in my beloved Buffalo house learned about me. We were students and had no money to hide, but there is a bird house my son made with his grandpa and nailed to the back fence, scratches in the floor from a baby walker, and probably a few missing socks behind the washing machine. (It’s been a decade, so maybe those are gone by now.)

And now after writing this and thinking about hidden treasure and stories, I am convinced that all writing retreats should take place in very old houses or near other prime locations for treasure hunting. Maybe we would all find a story worth telling!


Rachel Fordham is giving away a copy of her latest novel Where the Road Bends. To be entered in the random drawing, leave a comment for Rachel telling her if you’ve ever stumbled across a treasure or family heirloom.

The Grave of Douglas the Camel

Rachel Fordham

Our family recently travelled from Denver to Orlando, then up to the Outer Banks area of North Carolina and back to Denver making a giant loop. We stopped at historical sites all along the way and loved every minute of it (that’s not true, there were a few minutes of bathroom emergencies we could have done without and an encounter with fire ants that was less than pleasant).

In order to see as much as we could I planned ahead. This trip was three weeks and I wanted to make the most of it.

I found a road trip app that let me put in stops and map my route out (I got so much use out of this tool). Confession- I became slightly addicted to this app. It was so much fun! If you zoomed in on an area it would show you suggestions of things to see there and with one click you could add it to your route. Not only was this awesome for finding stops for our road trip, it was also fantastic for finding lesser-known pieces of history.

Today I want to tell you about Douglas the Camel (and his friends). I zoomed in near Vicksburg, Mississippi and discovered Ironclad ships, a coca cola museum and the Grave of Douglas the camel. Most people would have clicked the little x but wouldn’t read on, because who has time because who has time for a camel grave while on vacation, but I’m an author of historical novels and am always on the lookout for historical tidbits. So, I of course read more. Not only did I learn about Douglas who fought with the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, Company A (also known as the camel company), died in this battle and was rumored to have been eaten by Union soldiers but I went down a rabbit hole and discovered more.

Douglas the Camel

Jefferson Davies (before becoming the President of the Confederacy) was Secretary of War for the U.S. and he gathered funding to have camels shipped to the US for use in the conflicts in the southwest and for exploration. The idea was that they would do better on long journeys and in areas with less water. The experiment was granted funding and soon camels were brought from the Mediterranean and North Africa. To the founders of the project’s dismay, they proved unmanageable and spooked the horses. Essentially the project failed and the camels were sold at auctions to work in circuses and in mines (among other things). Some even were let go and roamed the American southwest for years.

My imagination has been running since learning about Douglas (one of the few camels to actually fight in the civil war). I’ve been wondering about the other camels, and ideas of camels and cowboys have been running through my brain like a stampede.

A lot of my story ideas start with a trigger moment. One tour of an old post office and Yours Truly, Thomas started percolating. One mention of orphan trains and The Hope of Azure Springs niggled its way into the forefront of my brain. One viewing of Blossoms in the Dust and I wanted to write A Life Once Dreamed and one handsome dentist husband led me to writing A Lady in Attendance.

Will Camels meandering across the American southwest become a story? I don’t know, but I love that I now know about Douglas and the failed camel experiment that left these hardy desert animals behind!

Rachel Fordham is the author of The Hope of Azure Springs, Yours Truly, Thomas, and A Life Once Dreamed. Fans expect stories with heart, and she delivers, diving
deep into the human experience and tugging at reader emotions. She loves connecting with people, traveling to new places, and daydreaming about future
projects that will have sigh-worthy endings and memorable characters. She is a busy mom, raising both biological and foster children (a cause she feels passionate
about). She lives with her husband and children on an island in the state of Washington.

Today, Rachel is giving away a signed copy of A Lady in Attendance. To be entered in the random drawing answer this question–What’s the most interesting or unusual historical fact you’ve discovered on a vacation or when reading?

Get your copy of  A Lady in Attendance HERE.


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