A can of gold in the henhouse

When the Oregon Supreme Court heard the Danielson gold coin appeal, the court chambers were housed in Oregonís 1878 Capitol Building.

In March 1894, just across Bear Creek and southeast of Phoenix, the Danielson boys were cleaning out a chicken coop on the Roberts place.

William Roberts and his wife, Mary, were building a new house in Medford and wanted to get the old place spruced up before they moved.

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Quotes used in this story come directly from the Oregon Supreme Court decision: 44 Ore. 10S, 74 Pac. 913, 914 (1904).

The Roberts' chicken coop was on the 1853 Henry Amerman Donation Land Claim. The land had subsequently been owned by Charles Broback, one of four men who contributed the land that became Medford. Broback testified that the henhouse had been built in 1883, but perhaps because he was a close friend with Roberts, his claim didn't carry much weight.

Waldo Danielson married in April 1905, right after the out-of-court settlement was announced. Nearly six months to the day later, he was dead, struck by bricks that fell from the roof of a building at a Medford construction site.

Chalmus Danielson moved to Sacramento and died there in August 1970.

The Danielson decision has itself become a legal precedent, still referenced today. A recent Google search for the Oregon Supreme Court case, "Danielson v. Roberts," returned more than 10,600 hits.

"I was in the back end of the building," said Waldo Danielson, 10, "spading through the trash, when the point of the shovel struck something hard."

Waldo shoveled away the trash and dug down about 4 inches into the dirt floor. The hard object was a half-gallon can, but when he tried to shovel it onto the sled, it was just too heavy.

"This can must be filled with rocks," he told Chalmus, his 8-year-old brother.

When Waldo couldn't get the can's lid off, he chopped through it with a pick and the lid flew off, revealing tobacco sacks stuffed inside.

"I had cut two of the sacks containing fives and twenties (coins)," Waldo said. "So then we looked through all the sacks, which were all gold."

Chalmus wanted to take the coins home, but Waldo said, "No! Let's take them up and show Mr. Roberts."

"What you got, boys?" Roberts asked.

"A can of gold!" they both shouted at the same time.

Robert's wife, Mary, came out of the house and told the boys to hand over the can.

"We gave it to them," Waldo said, "and they walked inside and closed the door in our face, and we went back to work."

About a half-hour later, Roberts called to the boys and gave them a nickel.

"We put the money there some time ago," Roberts said. "Don't say anything about it, and the Lord will bless you."

Waldo asked how much was in the can, and Roberts said more than $7,000.

Nine years later, the boys had come to the conclusion that the gold coins belonged to them and not to the Roberts. They brought suit in District Court in an attempt to recover the money, but after hearing their testimony, Jacksonville Judge Hiero Hanna refused to let a jury hear the case, saying the coins "had been intentionally deposited by someone," and under Oregon law the boys could not claim them.

The Danielsons' attorneys appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court and, in 1904, won their right to a hearing.

In his decision, Justice Robert Bean quoted the Danielson boys' previous testimony.

"The can was old and rusty, and almost ready to fall to pieces; that it was buried in the earth under debris and dirt "… that the ground around it was quite solid, as if it had not been disturbed recently; that the building in which it was found was old and had stood on the premises for more than 40 years, and during that time had been in the possession and control of many owners and tenants."

After quoting three pages of legal precedent, Justice Bean ordered Judge Hanna to conduct a trial and ruled that unless William and Mary Roberts could prove the money was theirs that it must be returned to the Danielsons with 10 percent interest.

With a subsequent District Court jury unable to come to a decision, the Roberts and the Danielsons reached an out-of-court settlement that reportedly gave $6,000 to the Danielsons.

It was a decade away from that stinky old henhouse, but now the gold was finally theirs.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.


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