Wickliffe Bottom was on the Barren River about 20 miles upstream, east of Bowling Green, KY. This very rich and productive piece of land today bears no trace of the stirring events of 250 years ago. It was once a wooded bottomland with several Indian mounds. There was once a flourishing Indian village of wigwams, and the cave around which the mystery is hinged has vanished and the vast treasure lying within is lost forever.
This following bit of history was almost unknown to local residents 100 years ago. A manuscript known as “Lilanthal’s Curse,” belonging to Jacob Moulder, was left to his son Victor shortly before his death in 1903. The information in the paperwork came to Moulder from Stephen Claypool, a Warren County pioneer, who heard it from two witnesses who participated in the events described.
In 1792, Stephen Claypool left the settlement of Harrodsburg, KY, and came across the wilderness to Barren River. A number of residents came with him: Robert Wickliffe, Hudson Martin, Andrew McFadden, two of Claypool’s brothers, and others. Wickliffe settled on aforementioned Wickliffe Bottom. Martin settled where the extinct town of Martinsville once flourished. McFadden founded McFadden Station and the other two Claypool brothers founded Claypool, KY. Stephen Claypool patented lands on the southern bank of the river, opposite Wickliffe’s claim. When these hardy pioneers came to Barren River, a few scattered Indians still skulked in the forests and along the water courses.
An Indian lodge was on the land taken by Stephen Claypool, and was occupied by an old Indian warrior and his squaw. “Wahtum and Ouita” were friendly towards the men and were extremely religious. A lasting friendship sprang up between the two old Indians and Mr. Claypool, and he allowed them to live in their lodge unmolested. Wahtum often remarked to Claypool that the vicinity of Wickliffe Bottom was haunted by numerous “white devils,” who were slain and buried there many, many moons before. Mr. Claypool pressed Wahtum for a history of the place, and bit by bit it was finally given to him.
When Wahtum and Ouita were very young, they lived with their tribe on the Kentucky River. A white man and his sister, Morganti and the Lady Varina, were found floating on the river in a bark canoe. They were taken from the river and brought safe to the Indian village, where they were fed and restored to health. The strangers were fair of face, beautiful to behold, gentle of voice, and good of deeds. They told their Indian friends they had fled a great way in the boat from the lady’s husband, who had threatened to kill them. A band of some 500 Indians migrated with the fair strangers to Barren River, where they pitched their wigwams in Wickliffe Bottom. Under Morganti’s directions, a rude log fort was built, defended by a double stockade and manned by many warriors. For about a year, all went well in Wickliffe Bottom, everyone living happily together.
Meanwhile, the deserted and irate husband, Count Lilanthal, was stationed at Fort Pitt in 1756. He resigned his command, returned to NY, and thence across the Atlantic to his home in Italy. He converted his vast estates into gold and jewels, hired a band of trusty warriors, and armed them after the fashion of the “Knights of St. John.” He recrossed the Atlantic and set out across the wilderness with his followers on a quest of vengeance against his wife and her foster brother. Count Lilanthal found the refugees strongly fortified. A fierce battle, lasting 3 days, followed his discovery. Count Lilanthal’s force was completely routed, and the Count himself barely escaped from the field with his life. Nearly half of Lilanthal’s army had been slain and over 100 Indians were killed.
On the south side of the river, below Wickliffe Bottom, Lilanthal discovered a cave. A channel led down from the cave to the water’s edge. Through this river entrance Lilanthal led his band of warriors, his train of pack animals, stores, and treasures. From this underground stronghold, Lilanthal and his band made secret and rapid raids on the unsuspecting Indians and when pursued, would plunge into the water and disappear. The natives called this place on the river “devil’s suck hole.”
On one of these raids, Lilanthal captured Ouita, and carried her to his cavern. He seduced her, showed her his great hidden treasure and promised to make her his queen if she would help him capture Lady Varina. Being enamored of the handsome and powerful white stranger, the maiden agreed to his terms. She secured an Indian canoe and returned to the fort, where she enticed the Lady Varina to come with her, and hurried back to Magic Cave.
Lady Varina lay captive for 6 months, suffering untold torture at the hands of Lilanthal. During this time, Ouita learned her would-be lover had deceived her and used her to capture Lady Varina. Her love turned to hate, and she made her escape, liberating Varina and restoring her to her brother lover, winning the undying gratitude of them both.
Count Lilanthal wasn’t seen for over a year, and the settlers of Wickliffe Bottom thought they were rid of him for good. One October afternoon, Morganti and Varina were gathering maize near the foot of the bluff. A horseman in black armor emerged from the forest, rode furiously toward them, hit Morganti on the head with a sword, snatched Lady Varina up in his arms before him, and charged up the steep incline to the summit of the bluff.
On the north side of the river, just below Wickliffe Bottom, the bluff rose over 200 ft above the water. The topmost cliff juts out over the river in a solid wall of limestone. The water below the cliff was about 25 ft deep.
Count Lilanthal dashed over this ledge, carrying Lady Varina with him. Wahtum and a couple other Indians were in a canoe a few yards below where he went in. In the space of a few moments, something white fluttered in the water near the boat, then a face rose to the surface. Wahtum and his comrades drew Lady Varina into the boat, and hurried with her to the fort.
For a month, both she and Morganti lay at the point of death in the little fort. A Catholic priest, in the employ of Varina’s father, came to Wickliffe Bottom in a quest for the lost ones. When they recovered, Morganti and Varina were married after both the Indian custom and the rites of the Catholic Church.
As Count Lilanthal went over the bluff, he uttered curses upon the place and swore eternal death and damnation to any who would seek his treasure. Ouita knew where Magic Cave was located, had seen its great treasure, but nothing could induce her to go near the place or reveal its exact whereabouts.
Chief Wahtum had fought by Morganti’s side against the white devils in Wickliffe Bottom, and was married to Ouita on the same day Morganti and Varina were united by the Catholic priest. Wahtum and Ouita died in 1799, being near 100 years of age. In their possession was a golden cross gifted by Lady Varina, a letter from Lieutenant Barclay dated 1757 NY to Morganti warning him of Count Lilanthal’s return, a marriage certificate written in latin by the priest, and many other relics, all of which came into Mr. Claypool’s possession.
Mr. Claypool fully believed Wahtum’s story, and made several attempts to locate the cave and Lilanthal’s treasure, but all his ventures were disastrous, and he barely escaped with his life on one occasion. In the fall of 1859, Mr. Claypool related Wahtum’s story to Jacob Moulder, who jotted down the words that came from the lips of the old warrior. Mr. Claypool died in 1863, at the ripe old age of 95.
Many others sought the treasure, but to no avail. In 1874, a man from Missouri came to Claypool, possessing a paper that supposedly told where to find a great treasure. After several days’ wandering, he left Claypool’s packing house, and was never seen again. In the fall of 1879, four Indians from the Indian Territory came to Iron Bridge on Barren River. they camped in Wickliffe Bottom, below Lilanthal’s Leap. One morning they broke camp and disappeared along the cliffs south of the river. They were last seen by Mr. Milton Adair, who then owned Wickliffe Bottom. The Indians were never seen again.
In the summer of 1880, four local young men determined to search for the treasure. They gathered supplies together and went at the job with enthusiasm. A large rock in the cliff was pried open and an entrance to the cave was effected. Two of the party disappeared in some freak accident inside the entrance, and the other two fled in terror, refusing to go back. Some time later, a flood closed up this entrance and no other attempt was made to locate this underground treasure house.
According to tradition, the mound at Wickliffe Bottom was explored to some extent; in it were found human bones, arrowheads, tomahawks, swords, pieces of plate armor, and rusty flintlock guns. This indicates Indians and white men were buried in a common grave. The old fort, built by Morganti, could still be outlined in 1903; and evidence of it may still be there.
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