The mysterious codes supposedly gave directions to a treasure buried in a secret location in Bedford County, Va. The cryptic texts have captured the imagination and enthusiasm of avid cryptographers and treasure hunters ever since. However, despite numerous digs and countless attempts to crack the code, two out of the three ciphers remain undeciphered, and no treasure has ever been found. According to the story set out in the pamphlet, an American man by the name of Thomas J. Beale came across a treasure consisting of gold, silver, and jewels in a mine located to the north of Santa Fe. Beale and 30 fellow adventurers transported the hoard to Bedford County, where they buried it in a secure location.
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On August 22, a vast team of researchers from Britain, the Netherlands, France, Canada and America announced that they had cracked a code known as RSA, the sort of encryption that can be used to protect e-mails and financial transactions on the Internet. However, the breaking of RSA does not demonstrate the weakness of current encryption methods, but rather their strength. First of all, it took the international collaboration over three months to crack the code.
Furthermore, RSA is a crippled version of the standard RSA encryption system, one that is effectively unbreakable, and one that is used routinely for encrypting messages on the Internet.
However, codebreakers who are looking for the ultimate challenge might like to tackle an, as yet, uncracked code from the 19th century. The story of the Beale ciphers begins in January , when a stranger by the name of Thomas J. Beale rode into the town of Lynchburg, Virginia, and checked himself into the Washington Hotel. His form was symmetrical, and gave evidence of unusual strength and activity; but his distinguishing feature was a dark and swarthy complexion, as if much exposure to the sun and weather had thoroughly tanned and discoloured him; this, however, did not detract from his appearance, and I thought him the handsomest man I had ever seen.
Then, at the end of March, he left as suddenly as he had arrived. He disappeared without trace, never to be seen again. Inside he found a note written by Beale in plain English, and three sheets full of numbers. The note revealed the truth about Beale, the box, and the ciphers. In April , almost three years prior to his first meeting with Morriss, Beale and twenty-nine others had embarked on a journey across America. After travelling through the rich hunting grounds of the Western plains, they arrived in Santa Fe, before heading north in search of buffalo.
Upon showing it to the others it was pronounced to be gold, and much excitement was the natural consequence. In due course, they agreed that their new found wealth should be moved to a secure place, and decided to take it back home to Virginia, where they would hide it in a secret location. To reduce the weight, Beale traded some of the gold and silver for jewels, and in he travelled to Lynchburg, found a suitable location, and buried the treasure.
It was on this occasion that he met Morriss for the first time. When Beale left at the end of the winter, he rejoined his men, who had continued to work the mine during his absence. After another eighteen months, Beale revisited Lynchburg with even more to add to his stash. This time there was an additional reason for his trip.
His companions were concerned that, in case of an accident to themselves, then the hidden treasure would not find its way to their relatives. Hence, Beale was instructed to find a reliable person, who could be confided in to carry out their wishes in the event of their sudden death, and Beale selected Morriss to be that person.
Upon reading the note, Morriss felt responsible for finding the treasure and passing it onto the relatives of the presumably dead men.
Unfortunately, there was a problem. The description of the treasure, its location, and the list of the relatives had been encrypted, and had been transformed into the three sheets that contained nothing but numbers. This task occupied his mind for the next twenty years, and ended in complete failure.
Morriss confided in a friend, but unfortunately the identity of this person remains a mystery. The second Beale cipher, like the other two, contains about numbers, beginning with the sequence; , 73, 24, , 37, … The pamphleteer guessed that each number corresponded to a word in the Declaration of Independence. Hence the first number, , represents the letter I. Hence, the second number, 73, represents the letter H.
Louis in exchange for silver to save transportation … The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. Unfortunately, using the Declaration of Independence as a key failed to unlock the other two Beale ciphers. In particular, the pamphleteer could not decipher the sheet of numbers that described the location of the treasure.
Not surprisingly, once the pamphleteer knew the value of the treasure, he spent increasing amounts of time analysing the remaining Beale ciphers, but despite strenuous efforts he failed to make any progress. In , he decided to unburden himself by publishing everything he knew, choosing to remain anonymous so as not to be pestered by eager treasure hunters.
Although a warehouse fire destroyed most of the pamphlets, those that survived aroused immediate interest. Among the most ardent treasure hunters attracted to the Beale ciphers were the Hart brothers, George and Clayton. They pored over the papers for decades, but Clayton Hart gave up in , and George eventually abandoned hope in An even more persistent Beale fanatic has been Hiram Herbert, Jr.
He, too, had nothing to show for his efforts. Professional cryptanalysts have also embarked on the Beale treasure trail. Herbert O. Yardley, who founded the U. Cipher Bureau known as the American Black Chamber at the end of World War I was intrigued by the Beale ciphers, as was Colonel William Friedman, the dominant figure in American codebreaking during the first half of the 20th century. Marshall Research Centre, is frequently consulted by military historians, but by far the largest number of visitors are eager Beale devotees.
More recently, one of the leading figures has been Carl Hammer, retired director of computer science at Sperry Univac and one of the pioneers of computerised codebreaking. And not a dime of this effort should be begrudged. The work — even the lines that have led into blind alleys — has more than paid for itself in advancing and refining computer research. Sceptics have searched for inconsistencies and flaws in the Beale story. However, it is quite possible that the word was in common usage in the wild west at a much earlier date, and Beale could have encountered it on his travels.
Evidence in favour of the probity of the ciphers comes from historical research, which can be used to verify the story of Thomas Beale. Peter Viemeister, a local historian who showed me some of the places where treasure hunters have already looked, searched for evidence to prove that Thomas Beale existed. Using the census of and other documents, Viemeister has identified several Thomas Beales, who were born in Virginia and whose backgrounds fit the few known facts.
Most of the details we have about Beale concern his trip to Sante Fe, and there is evidence to corroborate his discovery of gold. Also, there is a Cheyenne legend dating from around which tells of gold and silver being taken from the West and buried in Eastern Mountains.
Consequently, the tale of the Beale ciphers continues to enthral codebreakers and treasure hunters.
The Lost Treasure of the Beale Ciphers
When Beale and his party left to go mining and exploring in , he left a strongbox with Morris for safekeeping. No further letters arrived, and neither Beale nor any of his associates was ever heard from again. When Morriss finally opened the strongbox in , he discovered three encoded ciphers. One listed the location of the hidden treasure, one listed its contents, and a third listed the names of the people who had claim to it. Morriss was never able to solve any of the ciphers. This author was finally able to crack the cipher containing the vault contents, but conveniently neither of the others.
They supposedly lead to a fortune buried in the Virginia hills that has never been recovered. Lynchburg: Virginian Book and Job Print Entered according to act of Congress, in the year , by J. Ward, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington. The following details of an incident that happened many years ago, but which has lost none of its interest on that account, are now given to the public for the first time. He is, therefore, compelled, however unwillingly, to relinquish to others the elucidation of the Beale papers, not doubting that of the many who will give the subject attention, some one, through fortune or accident, will speedily solve their mystery and secure the prize which has eluded him. It can be readily imagined that this course was not determined upon all at once; regardless of the entreaties of his family and the persistent advice of his friend, who were formerly as sanguine as himself, he stubbornly continued his investigations, until absolute want stared him in the face and forced him to yield to their persuasions.
It has also driven untold souls to obsession, madness, and ruin. According to frontier legend, hunter Thomas J. Beale struck out from Bedford County, Virginia at the head of a thirty-man expedition headed west. Legend has it that they journeyed all the way into Spanish territory. The party split at Santa Fe and turned north toward Colorado. There, the story goes, they found rich veins of gold and silver, which they mined and loaded onto a train of wagons for the return trip to Virginia.
The Beale Treasure Ciphers
Home The Beale Ciphers have been cracked in with the key. More documentation will be coming soon. Why would Thomas use this spelling of his name by his own hand in the decoded ciphers? Why did he have a dual cipher for Page 2?? The only conclusion that could be is he had faked his death in