Finders Keepers?

OK, so, here where I live in central Missouri, there are oodles of caves, and I daresay very few of them have been COMPLETELY mapped by the USGS, MO Conservation Dept., or any other authority. I also note that Jesse James robbed bank after bank in Missouri and was known to hide the loot in these caves. This begs the question: supposing I, as Tom Sawyer did, find a stash of stolen loot in one of these caves. Does current case law support the notion of Finders/Keepers? Obviously, the money would be a over a century old, the bank that lost it would most likely be out of business any way, and most museums in central Missouri have all the Jesse James artifacts they could ever want. Does that make the loot mine?

This question raises 3 follow-ups:

  1. Supposing I, as Jed Clampett did, shoot at a rabbit and strike oil instead. How do I convert it into cash? Do I just look up Amoco in the Yellow Pages and tell them it’s theirs if they want it? You have to know these things.

  2. Supposing I, as John Brown (husband of the Unsinkable Molly) did, find a gold mine in my backyard. Again, how do I convert it to cash? Call the Federal Treasury?

  3. Considering that Tom Sawyer (WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD) and Huckleberry Finn find a stash of “Injun Joe’s” stolen loot in a cave, I wonder if Samuel Clemens didn’t get the idea for this plot point from Jesse James’ exploits? Does he mention this in any of his writings?

I assume the owner of the property under which the cave exists would have priority rights to it. . .if (s)he ever finds outs where it came from. Maybe, if a Native American decides it belonged to one of his ancestors, he could make a claim to it. If the IRS finds out about it, well. . .

If you find it on federal property, if I recall correctly the story about that trunk full of pseudo-valuables found in Death Valley, if it had been worth anything, I believe the federal government gets first dibs on it.

And if there’s a serious flood or earthquake while you’re down there with it, I guess the god of floods or of earthquakes gets it. . .and you.

Ray (How much did Carl’s bad calf earn?. . .mmmmm. Anyone coming up with one like that should be immediately put in a hole in the ground.)

To questions #1 and #2 consult your attorney and make sure you have mineral rights.

“The meek shall inherit the earth. But not the mineral rights.”
-J. Paul Getty

Don’t landowners own only the surface of their land (i.e. anything below a certain depth belongs to the goverment)?

Only humans commit inhuman acts.

I think it’s something like, if you find gold it’s yours. But if you own land with a gold or oil deposit on it, it belongs to the government.

Though they may pay you for the inconvenience of having your property ripped up and permanently destroyed.

“Waheeey! ‘Duck!’ Get it?”
“Errr… No…”
“Duck! Sounds almost exactly like fu-”

If you found the loot, the original owner of the loot would have claim to it. Probably some bank. yep, even if its 100 years old, some states let them claim it.

Course, if you kept your trap shut, they wouldn’t know.

Also, mineral rights don’t come with your property in the US. Unless so specified as such in your property description.

Regardless of how you obtain the money, what happens if you decide to declare it to the IRS? Doubtless you would get audited if suddenly one year you declared that you somehow earned several million dollars. Do you have to say where it came from? If you simply say “I found it in a cave”, do they have to take your word for it, or would you find yourself indicted for tax fraud, on the presumption that you had an undeclared source of illegal income? And finally, does the IRS routinely refer suspicious audits to the Feds, even if you’re in the clear as far as taxes go?
(Cecil did a column on why the tax laws specificly state that illegally gotten income is taxable, but he didn’t exactly cover the above questions).


Thankfully that’s not the case in the U.S.

There’s surface ownership and mineral ownership and, in urban areas, they are usually severed. That’s not necessarily the case and in rural areas they are quite often held by the same party or parties. The feds own a lot of both.

In the case of Jesse’s loot, I think you’d need to cut some kind of exploration for treasure deal along the lines of a mineral exploration lease before announcing your discovery.

In the case of Jed and the happily fleet footed rabbit (and pretty much the same would apply to the gold discovery), should you discover some bubblin’ crude you need to keep your mouth shut until you ascertain the mineral ownership. If you own mineral rights, everything’s fine; if not, you need to take a mineral lease from the mineral owner. This is pretty common stuff - you offer them a deal and they may refuse it or counteroffer or accept. One way or another you work your way to an executed lease that will likely have a 3 to 5 year term, often w/rentals due annually.

Once you’ve arrived at the point of having a lease you can exploit the reservoir yourself, but it would probably be more efficient to get an oil company to do that for you. First thing you’d do is hire a consulting geologist or geophysicist to evaluate the area, so you know what it is you’re trying to sell to an oil company. They would use their resources to find out what data exist that might reveal the nature of your reservoir.

From this point there are many scenarios that can develop, so I’ll try and keep it simple. Anyway, you arrive at what you’re willing to spend to get the reservoir characterization accomplished and start calling oil companies. Your consultant, as well as the contract landman I hope you used to take the lease (yes, you can find’em in the phone book) can help you pitch your deal to the oil companies.

At this point, you’ve paid for the lease(s), the landman, the geoscience consultant, whatever data you deemed necessary and your pitch package (drafted maps, data, exhibits, deal summary, etc.). Generalizing, I’d say that something that was discovered close enough to the surface to be revealed by a .22 caliber bullet (or a 105 mm Howitzer, for that matter - but who hunts bunnies w/them?) is not something that will have a great areal extent or much in the way of existing data available. If you’re as frugal as I imagine the pre-Beverly Hills Clampetts (SP?), you might have somewhere between $15,000 to $100,000 in the deal so far (this is verygeneral, more meant to give a look at the process).

So now you’ve got a deal to pitch to the companies that do this sort of thing. There’s a thousand shades of them, and that many more variations on what deal you might make.

A typical deal you might make would have them pay 100% of the cost of your expenditures so far and 100% cost of the first test well, and they get 75% of the net revenue (NRI) while you get 25% of the NRI. The 100% of your costs so far would include your “promote” which is basically getting paid for your time (add $10,000 to $1,000,000 to invoice cost). You would also, at some point, have to start contributing your 25% share of operating and drilling expenses. When you cut your original deal with the landowner you paid him some kind of bonus for the lease, and cut some deal on the royalty (ORRI), or override. When you cut your deal with the oil company, you retained some of this ORRI. These are percentage points that generate revenue for you without a concommitant obligation in operating expense.

As I’m sure you can tell, I can go on and on about this. And what I’ve given you here is an answer to your question, but I’m poopin’ out…

So, to wrap it up, you make your deal w/XYZ Drilling and Exploitation, Inc. (after you’ve checked out their previous history) and they take over operations. They may well decide to conduct additional data acquisition efforts prior to drilling the test; make sure your deal with them allows you access to these data.

Anyway, the happy ending version…

They drill a discovery well and begin an ambitious exploitation program. You will start receiving run checks and you really don’t have to screw with it much more. If everybody is in “snap to” mode, your first check arrives about two years after you missed the bunny.

There’s a whole lot of variations, but this is the basic how you turn that bubblin’ crude into a check (which I presume you know how to turn into cash).


If you do find Jesse’s old loot, a simple procedure will help you keep it no matter who owns the land, or what bank originally claimed the swag.

Buy an old trunk at an antique store. Rip out part of the lining. Sell the bills to coin collecters; because they are antiques, not negotiable legal tender. Pay the IRS their cut , & tell them you found it in the trunk’s lining. If you have a legit receipt for the trunk, & you ‘found’ the bills in the trunk; the cash is yours, period.

Of course, all this is hypothetical-you could do it, but it would be wrong.

“The truth is uncontrovertible. Panic may resent it; ignorance may deride it; malice may destroy it, but there it is.”-Sir Winston Churchill

daniel p
bostaph, oh yeah, sure, money laundering…

Plus, you forgot, if they really were his stash, they would be worth a whole lot more if you said they were his.

Best to just ask the police department of the city you find something. Talk to them about a ‘hypothetical’ situation like yours, & youre all set.

And be careful down there! We don’t want no more Floyd Collinses on our hands!

In the case of the discovered treasure, couldn’t you claim to have discovered it during a deep sea dive in international waters? I think there are still international laws of salvage which basically states if you find it in international waters it is yours.

What more could you expect from somebody who lets people kick him to the head?

Why lie? Do a straight up deal w/the landowner along the lines of a mineral lease where he/she gets 15-25%. Then everything’s legit and you’ve got a clean asset.