One hot day in August, 1867, two covered wagons entered the outskirts of the town of Gatesville. It was then a post oak grove with a sand road threading its way among the trees. It was not until it reached the present location of the Baptist Church that one could tell that it was a street approaching a town. In Mr. W.H. Belcher’s lead wagon was a wooden chest with a false bottom in which he had $6,000 in gold. It would give him his horse ranch and money to improve it. (Excerpt from Coryell County Scrapbook)
This summer John Clay and Diane McClellan donated to Coryell Museum their ancestors sewing chest that is over 200 years old and once held all those gold coins. This chest was kept by Minnie Mears in her living room all her life. Minnie was a small woman and fondly known as “The Boss” by the family. She is the author of the Coryell County Scrapbook, published in 1963 and it is for sale in our own museum Gift Shop.
John McClellan inherited this chest from his father Rear Admiral Thomas R. McClellan who gave it to his son and his wife in 2008 before he passed away in 2010.
The chest Mr. McClellan donated to Coryell Museum was once covered with leather, which has since worn away, and no traces are left. It is about 18 inches tall and 12 inches deep by 16 inches wide. The chest has a lid and locks that open and fold away and are decorated with round head brass tacks that originally held the leather together. It was finished with a varnish that has turned dark over the years. There is a drawer on the bottom with a lock also and the legs are hand turned on a treadle lathe.
Likely the chest was carried around and then the drawer and legs were put on later. The nails were box head nails with flat tips so that wood fiber would be driven ahead and prevent splitting on the edges of the box boards. These cannot be seen, but hold the box together.
The following information accompanied the chest and is protected in a wooden frame:
This chest was made by Thomas Morgan near Charlottesville, Virginia in 1813. He made it for a sewing chest for his bride, Dorothy Morgan. Sewing then consumed much time because it all had to be done by hand, so the chest was a safe place to put her sewing while she was doing other household duties. It was brought to Gatesville in 1867 by her daughter, Mildred Belcher. W.H. Belcher, Mildred’s husband was the first mayor of Gatesville.
Mr. Belcher had $6000.00 in gold coin that he wanted to bring with him but some of the pioneers had been robbed on the way and he was afraid that he might lose his money, so he put it in the bottom of this chest and put a false bottom over it.
Thomas Morgan’s father, Hames Morgan, was in the Virginia Legislature when they sought to impeach Jefferson because of his advanced theories on Democracy. Hames Morgan was one of those who defended him, so Jefferson was always grateful to him and his family.
Signed by Tom R. Mears
These stories about her family and many other Coryell County residents can be found in Coryell County Scrapbook by Mildred Mears.
Upstairs in the Coryell Museum is the Hotel Exhibit and information about several hotels in Gatesville’s early days. There is a photograph of the Belcher Hotel with a brass band standing in front of it. The wooden sewing chest that once contained the Belcher’s gold will be placed in the “Going to Texas” Exhibit upstairs, near the covered wagon.
Come to the museum and see other Belcher family items in our exhibits. A beautiful French Bisque doll belonging to Rosa Belcher in 1866 was donated to the museum by Susan McClellan Thomas many years ago and is in a glass cabinet upstairs at the museum. W.H. Belcher was Sheriff from 1875-1878 and a fine picture of him is on display near the Log Jail exhibit. He was also the first Mayor of Gatesville. His muzzle loading shotgun is in a glass cabinet in the Spur Exhibit and was donated thru the Mitchell Collection.