I've spent some time researching through the archives here at the Madison County Record, online and received considerable help from the Madison County Genealogical and Historical Society. Here's what I've found so far.
Born Rebecca Ann Hawkins in 1846, she was commonly known as "Aunt Ann" by residents in the area. She was the daughter of James Matthew Hawkins (he went by "Matt"), who ran Hawkins Mill near Huntsville - as well as running a lucrative government still.
Supposedly, her father made quite a bit of money with his mill and still endeavors, and his farm and fortune were passed to Aunt Ann upon his death. She lived on the farm her entire life, and reports say that she never traveled more than 30 miles from her family home even once. She was a homebody and quite a frugal one at that. Her obituary read...
"She was of extremely penurious habits, and though residing on and operating a productive farm on War Eagle, spending but little of the income from it, she denied herself many of the common comforts of life and was content with less than the ordinary household accommodations and conveniences, when she could have had a mansion for habitation furnished with every modern luxury."
Amassing what some believe to be a small fortune through hard work and thriftiness, Ann lived alone for most of her life and never married. I use the word, "thriftiness" but from what I read, most who knew her used the word "hoarding." It was apparently a well known fact that she claimed to have money and gold buried and hidden around her property. Shortly before her death at the age of 82 in 1925, she was asked where she had stashed away her fortune and she replied by saying there was a lot hidden and that it would never be found. Not ones to walk away from a challenge, her heirs formed a committee to locate Aunt Ann's squirreled away bounty.
A three man team, made up of a county judge, a county treasurer and a third man who went without title, set to conducting a search of Ann's property. Ann died on September 1, 1925, which was on a Tuesday. The account I've found stated that "up to Wednesday evening the searchers had found $2,640." I'm not saying they were quick to bury Ann and get on to the treasure hunting - I'm saying they were lightning quick in doing so. Here's a direct quote from a 1925 article in the "Fayetteville Daily Democrat"...
"After the funeral and with the food not yet removed from the dining table where the last meal had been spread, the heirs gathered and consulted upon what was to be done. There was no will but there was much wealth. That they knew."
The cold blooded nature of that statement is not lost on me, but it appears there was no love lost between Aunt Ann and her surviving family either. The same Fayetteville Daily Democrat report describes Ann as "trusting none, hating all her relatives and hoping openly that none of them would ever receive one dollar that belonged to her." Friend of the Hawkins family, Congressman John Tillman backed that up by saying, "she hated her kin." I don't know much about Tillman, but I do know he said a lot with just a little.
So with Ann's utter disgust for them and dollar signs in their eyes to fuel them, the treasure hunt began - and by "hunt" I mean they immediately began tearing her home to shreds. Believing they would find close to $70,000 in the home, they removed the mantle from the spare room, tore up a stone hearth, threw bureau drawers to the ground and "knocked to pieces" the four poster bed in which Ann died. They also plowed and dug holes throughout the family farm. Searchers found quite a bit of money too; thousands in bills and gold coins. The bulk of the alleged treasure was never found though.
Here's a photo of the search party in action courtesy of the Madison County Genealogical and Historical Society.
Ann's grave was dug up three times in an effort to see if she took any of her wealth with her to the grave. She had asked she be buried with a particular quilt, and some believed that it contained additional money. The 1958 unearthing was reportedly the last. The Hawkins farm is no longer owned by the family, but Aunt Ann's grave remains on the land. The cemetery is not public and there's much doubt there is any "treasure" left to claim. Roberta Appleton, Ann's great niece, once said that all the gold that was found had to be turned over to the government and the rest of the money to the estate.
If that's true, it appears that Aunt Ann's heirs would end up locating roughly $4,940 (about $1,700 of what they found was in gold; exciting upon discovery, I'm sure - less exciting upon discovery they had to hand it over to the government, I'm betting), and $4,000 of the $4,940 was actually in a bank account Ann held at the First National Bank of Huntsville. So did Ann get her wish that not a member of her family would see one dollar of her money? Not exactly.
Ann had 18 heirs looking to inherit what she had left behind. If what was found was all that was found, each would have inherited about $274. That equals out to about $3,378 today. Which, isn't too bad and probably made the family happy. The problem is, I've yet to find any record of the exact settlement issued to Ann's family. I'll keep looking, but that's as near as I can figure at this point. One family member might have made out a little better, however. Another 1925 newspaper report makes mention of "a 'bad man' of the family" that may have "already found the treasure and gone with it."
So, maybe Ann's wishes didn't go exactly as she planned, or maybe Ann got a kick out of stashing little bits of gold and cash around her home knowing one day it would drive her family crazy as they frantically scrambled to find her hidden treasure.
I like the latter because it means everyone involved enjoyed a bit of a win. Unless, of course, there really was a "bad man" who ferreted off with the money. We can just choose to ignore that theory though.
If you'd like to take a look at the 1958 article we mentioned in this week's edition of The Record, I've posted it below.