The Beale Cyphers

Posted 13 Aug 2011 in Breaking the Code

The Beale ciphers are a set of three ciphertexts, one of which allegedly states the location of a buried treasure of gold, silver and jewels estimated to be worth over USD$65 billion as of 2010. The other two ciphertexts allegedly describe the content of the treasure, and list the names of the treasure's owners' next of kin, respectively. The story of the three ciphertexts originates from an 1885 pamphlet detailing treasure being buried by a man named Thomas Jefferson Beale in a secret location in Bedford County, Virginia, in 1820. Beale entrusted the box containing the encrypted messages with a local innkeeper named Robert Morriss and then disappeared, never to be seen again.[1] The innkeeper gave the three encrypted ciphertexts to a friend before he died. The friend then spent the next twenty years of his life trying to decode the messages, and was able to solve only one of them which gave details of the treasure buried and the general location of the treasure. He published all three ciphertexts in a pamphlet, although most of the originals were destroyed in a warehouse fire. Since the publication of the pamphlet, a number of attempts have been made to decode the two remaining ciphertexts and to find the treasure, but all have resulted in failure

The Story

It is important to note that all of the following information originates from one source — a single pamphlet published in 1885, entitled "The Beale Papers"

The treasure was said to have been obtained by an American man named Thomas Jefferson Beale in 1818, to the north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, most likely in what would now be Colorado. Beale supposedly led about 29 adventurers on the discovery, but no solid proof of Beale's existence, or that of any of his companions, has yet been found in any public or private record.

It is claimed that Beale placed the ciphertexts in an iron box, and left it with a reliable person in 1822, a Lynchburg innkeeper, Robert Morriss. The treasure was supposedly buried near Montvale in Bedford County, Virginia. Beale asked Morriss not to open the box, unless he, or one of his men failed to return from their journey within 10 years. Beale promised to have a friend in St. Louis mail Morriss the key(s) to the cryptograms, but they were never received. In 1843 Morriss opened the box and unsuccessfully attempted to solve the ciphers on his own but, decades later, passed the box and contents (three letters and three ciphertexts), and the story, to one of his friends.

Using a particular edition of the United States Declaration of Independence as the key for a modified book cipher, the friend successfully deciphered the second ciphertext, which gave descriptions of the buried treasure. The friend ultimately made the letters and ciphertexts public, apparently via James B Ward, in an 1885 pamphlet entitled The Beale Papers. Ward is thus apparently not 'the friend'. Ward himself is obscure, and is untraceable in local records with the exception that someone of that name was the owner of the home in which a Sarah Morriss, identified as the consort of Robert Morriss, died at 77 (Lynchburg Virginian newspaper, May 21, 1865), so perhaps he was "the friend" after all. There was no explanation of the accident which led to the solution of the second ciphertext, which perhaps suggests that there was additional information now lost (from Morriss?).


Beale's first cryptogram
Beale's second cryptogram (the deciphered one)
Beale's third cryptogram.


The deciphered message

"I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford's, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number three, herewith:
The first deposit consisted of ten hundred and fourteen pounds of gold, and thirty-eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited Nov. eighteen nineteen. The second was made Dec. eighteen twenty-one, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange for silver to save transportation, and valued at thirteen thousand dollars.
The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number one describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it."

The second cipher can be decrypted fairly easily using any copy of the United States Declaration of Independence, but some editing for spelling is necessary. To decrypt it, one finds the word corresponding to the number (i.e. the first number is 115, and the 115th word in the Declaration of Independence is "instituted"), and takes the first letter of that word (which would be "I"). Note that this method of encryption is slightly different from a standard book cipher.

Beale used a version of United States Declaration of Independence different from the original. To extract the hidden message, the following 5 modifications must be applied to the original DOI text:

  • after word 154 ('institute') and before word 157 ('laying') one word must be added (probably "a")
  • after word 240 ('invariably') and before word 246 ('design') one word must be removed
  • after word 467 ('houses') and before word 495 ('be') ten words must be removed
  • after word 630 ('eat') and before word 654 ('to') one word must be removed
  • after word 677 ('foreign') and before word 819 ('valuable') one word must be removed


  • The first letter of the 811th word of the modified text ('fundamentally') is always used by Beale as a 'y'
  • The first letter of the 1005th word of the modified text ('have') is always used by Beale as an 'x'

Finally, in the decoded text there are 4 errors, probably due to wrong transcription of the original paper:

  • 84 (should be 85) 63 43 131 29 ... consistcd ('consisted')
  • 53 (should be 54) 20 125 371 38 ... rhousand ('thousand')
  • ... 84 (should be 85) 575 1005 150 200 ... thc ('the')
  • ... 96 (should be 95) 405 41 600 136 ... varlt ('vault')

Size of the treasure

The totals given in the second cryptogram come to 35,052 troy oz gold (worth about US$38m in 2010), 61,200 troy oz silver (worth about $1m in 2010) and jewels which were worth US$13,000 in 1818: this sum is worth around $180,000 in 2010 terms. The treasure would weigh about three tons.


Article Source:

Posted by admin

Leave A Comment