In the 1800's, well over one hundred years ago, in the hills of Missouri, lived a young outlaw by the name of Billy Hayes. He was tall and handsome in his shiny block boots and black Stetson hat. He wore two pearl handled Colt 45 pistols in tied down holsters, low on his hips. The mark of a true gunfighter.
There were a lot of outlaws living in Missouri at this time, probably because there were a lot of good places to hide from the law. Many of them were better known than Billy, such as Frank and Jesse James, Cole Younger, and Quantrell and his raiders, but none were as mean and ornery. This is how he got the nickname Bad Billy. Billy didnít have to work, if there was anything he wanted he just took it. Everyone was afraid of Billy, even the law. Billy was so fast with his guns he could draw and fire two or three shots into a man before he could blink his eyes.
Billy didnít have any friends. He didnít care much about anything or anybody, except for his dog Wolf and his horse Lightning. Wolfe was half dog and half wolf, and if possible was even meaner than Billy himself. Lighting was a beautiful black stallion with four white feet and a white streak down his forehead that looked like a bolt of lightning. There wasnít a horse in the whole state of Missouri that could run as fast or as far as he could.
Billy knew he was bad and he was proud of it. He loved his nickname, Bad Billy, in fact if you didnít call him by it, you could be in serious trouble. One day he rode into Amity, the closest town to his hideout and someone on the street said, ďHi, BillyĒ. Billy instantly sicked Wolf on the man. Wolf jumped up on him and bit off his nose.
Billyís idea of a good time was to catch two tom cats and tie there tails together, then throw them over a clothes line and watch them fight each other. However, one day he decided he needed some fresh entertainment. He shined his boots, combed his dark hair, saddled up Lightning, and headed for the city of St. Joseph, or as some people call it, Joe Town. When Billy got to St. Joe he went into the first saloon he came to. He sat down at a table where some men were playing cards and got into a good game of poker with them. After playing several hands of five card stud, Billy glanced up at the swinging doors of the saloon. In walked a girl in a blue velvet dress. She was the prettiest thing he had ever seen. He quickly got up from his poker game and offered to buy her a glass of champagne. She accepted his offer and drank it down quickly. She told him her name was Mallanie Kaye and that she worked for a big bank in Chicago. The bank had sent her to St. Jo on business and this was her last night in town. They had several more glasses of champagne and they danced to the tune of an old player piano until nearly daylight. Mellanie fell madly in love with Billy. She asked him if he would marry her. This threw quite a scare into Billy, because he had no intentions of marrying her or anyone else. He told he that he was an outlaw and made his living robbing trains and stagecoaches. This didnít seem to bother he at all, so he told her that as soon as he made a lot of money from a big robbery, he would come to Chicago and marry her. They kissed good bye and went their separate ways, Mallanie to Chicago, and Billy, back to his hideout in the Missouri hills.
Several months later, Billy received a letter from Mallanie. She said that her bank had received a large shipment of pennies from the Denver Mint and that these pennies had been mismarked. The machine that printed the writing on the pennies had printed 1900s instead of 1800s. She said that coin collectors in the big cities would pay a lot of money for coins with wrong markings. Mallanie told Billy that her bank was returning the coins to the Denver Mint on the train. She told him that if he would rob the train he could be rich and they could get married and live happily together forever.
Mallanie said the train would be stopping in Osceola, Iowa on October 31. She had looked at a map and this would be the closest place for Billy to meet the train. Billy read the letter several times, and he thought it all sounded like a pretty good plan, except for the part about getting married. So a few days before Halloween, Billy threw some empty saddle bags behind the saddle on Lightningís back, took some food for him and Wolf and headed for Osceola.
Billy got to Osceola in plenty of time to meet the train. When the train pulled to a stop, Billy was there waiting. When the door on the box car carrying the pennies rolled open there were three guards with shotguns standing over the big box of pennies. Before they could even raise their guns, Billy shot one through the heart. Wolf leaped at the second and tore open his throat. The third guard dropped his gun and threw up his hands. Billy told him to fill the empty saddle bags with pennies, which he did very quickly. As Billy rode away, the guard yelled at him, ďIíll get you for thisĒ. Billy spun Lightning around and put two bullet holes between the guardís eyes before he could say another word.
Billy knew that the sheriff and a posse of men would soon be after him. He headed Lightning in a straight line towards his Missouri hideout as fast as he could run. About ten or twelve miles from town he noticed Lightning was slowing down. Billy hadnít thought about how all the extra weight of the pennies would make him tired. He knew he had to do something with the pennies fast or else the sheriff would soon catch them. Billy rode across the farm that now belongs to me. He was a big ditch with a lot of soft sand in it. He buried the saddlebags full of pennies int he sand and rode on towards home. Without the extra weight of the pennies they easily outran the posse and soon were safe in Missouri.
Billy waited nearly a year before returning to Iowa to dig up his treasure. When he got to the sandy ditch, things looked different. The heavy rains of summer had shifted the sand around. When he dug where he thought the pennies should be, he found nothing. The flood waters had either washed them away or covered them so deep with sand that he couldnít find them. He walked up and down the ditch looking and digging, but all he found was a handful of pennies that the water had left on top of the sand.
Mallanie was right. When Billy got home with his handful of pennies, he was able to sell them to coin collectors for a good price. If only he had all of his pennies he would be a rich man. Every year a little before Halloween, and after the summer rains, Billy returned to Iowa to look for his treasure. He was a little superstitious about Halloween, probably because of his bad luck with the train robbery, so he always planned to be back in Missouri before Halloween.
The trip was always pretty much the same. Billy always hoped to find the saddle bags full of money. He would walk up and down the ditch, looking and digging, but all he could ever find was a few pennies that the water had left on top of the sand. However, after he sold them to coin collectors, it gave him enough money from year to year that he didnít have to rob trains and stagecoaches anymore.
Several years went by and old age was beginning to show on Lightning and Wolf. Lightning couldnít run nearly as fast and Wolf walked with a limp. Even Billy himself wasnít in as good shape as he used to be. So many years sitting around the saloons playing poker hadnít done him any good. He had to be a little careful who he picked fights with.
Another summer rolled by and it came time for Billy to make his yearly trip to Iowa. He saddled up Lightning, called Wolf, and headed North. The trip took longer than usual because Lightning didnít move nearly as fast as he used to. They reached the ditch on October 31, the weather was beautiful. Billy had seen several flocks of geese flying South and the squirrels seemed busier than ever gathering nuts. He reckoned it was that time of year. The warm sun felt good on Billyís tired aching muscles. He got out his shovel and started digging and looking for pennies. He was so intent on his work that he didnít notice the huge black cloud building in the west until Wolf looked up at the sky and gave a long howl. The next thing he knew, it was pouring down rain. The heavy rain didnít last too long, but it was enough to get them soaked to the skin. Billy laughed and said to Wolf, ďthis ainít so bad, weíve all been wet before.Ē Then something unexpected happened, the wind switched directions and started howling out of the North. The temperature began to drop quickly, and the light rain turned to snow. Billy realized this could be serious, he had no warm, dry clothes and it would soon be dark.
Billy had never seen anything like this in his life, the wind was getting even stronger and the cold was unbearable. Old Wolf was whining and Lightning was shivering so, he could hardly stand up. He had Lightning lay down in the bottom of the ditch in hopes that the ditch bank would shelter him from the fierce wind. Billy knew that their only hop of surviving this terrible night was to build a fire.
There was plenty of dead wood lying around, but it was all wet. Billy knew if he once got a fire started even the wet wood would dry out and burn. He pulled his double edged Bowie knife out of its sheath and began to whittle the wet bark off of a piece of wood. When he got down to the dry wood, he shaved off several small pieces to get his fire started. He chose a spot in the bottom of the ditch beneath an overhanging black oak tree to build his fire. He felt around in his shirt pocket and pulled out a small waterproof box of matches. He opened the box and removed a match. He leaned over to shelter it from the wind and carefully struck it against the rough side of the box. The head fell off the match without any sign of a spark. Even in the waterproof box the matches must have gotten damp. One by one, Billy tried to light the matches. One by one, they failed to light. Finally, he came to the last match. His fingers were so numb from the cold he could barely hold it. He knew that this tiny match would decide if he lived or died.
Billy gently struck the match against the box. It didnít light, but its head stayed on. He tried again and this time it flickered and then burned bright. He cupped his hands around the match and held it to the dry wood shavings. They started to burn quickly. Billyís hopes began to rise with the flames. Just as the bigger pieces of wood began to burn, a huge gust of wind screamed overhead. Snow that had gathered in the dead leaves in the black oak tree fell right into the middle of Billyís fire. As the last spark of the fire went out, so did Billyís hope of survival.
Old Wolf had been sitting watching intently as Billy had struggled with the fire. When the last bit of flame died, he once again looked up and the sky. He gave one last mournful howl and then lay down beside Lightning. Billy knew this was the end of the trail. He patted Lightning and Wolfís head and then laid down between them. His final thoughts were of the beautiful girl in the blue velvet dress. He couldnít help but think that if he had married her he might not be in the bottom of this terrible ditch freezing to death.
It just so happens that some of those pennies have shown up in the creek next to "Treasure Island." And thus has begun the "Treasure Hunt" at family gatherings and as if by magic that seems to be the only time they can be found.