A poor Irish immigrant named Ardan came to America, just after the Revolutionary War. He found peace and tranquility in Roan Mountain. He tended his patch of land as best he could. He made a little moonshine, or what he called “potcheen,” but his primary income came from “sanging,” or collecting ginseng root.
Roan Mountain suffered a torrential rainfall one spring. Ardan spotted a peculiar rock while sanging. It was a dull yellow formation. He figured it was worthless, but it was interesting to look at. He couldn’t ever recall seeing another rock like it, even though he’d been through most of the region. He dragged the pumpkin-sized rock back to his cabin and used it as a doorstop.
He kept the piece by the front door for the next two years. He worked hard to survive life in the mountains. One day, a neighbors visited and they both began to study the strange rock.
The neighbor, named James, said it might be quartz. James said he’d seen someone sell a similar piece of quartz in Asheville for ten whole dollars. Ardan thought it might be brass. The two couldn’t decide, no matter how much they reasoned. They then involved a third neighbor, Michael. Michael was the first to suggest it may be gold.
The men began a series of tests, such as rubbing the rock with vinegar, to see if they could get a reaction. The three men examined the rock until they were confident it was solid gold. They carried the piece to yet another neighbor who had a set of game scales. The rock weighed 100 lbs.
Arden grudgingly agreed to split the profits with James and Michael. The three men sat up that night and discussed what they planned to do with their share of the money, but secretly they were suspicious of one another. They were afraid one among their ranks would steal the rock if anyone slept.
They rigged the rock for transport the next morning and set out for Asheville. It was a laborious journey, so it wasn’t long before they needed a break. At that first stop, Arden and James conspired against Michael. They shot him as soon as his back was turned, and threw his body off the road.
They suddenly grew suspicious of one another. Arden pulled out a hatchet and told James he would cut the rock in two. Then, there could be no argument. He hit the rock until it split into two pieces. He offered James whichever piece he desired. When he bent over to take his rock, Arden buried the hatchet in his head. He dragged James’s body off the road, and placed him near Michael.
He made it to Asheville and sent the rock onto the United States Mint. It was indeed pure gold. He spent the week waiting on his money, but the bodies were soon discovered. The corpses were traced back to him. He was jailed before any check was issued.
He died less than a year into his sentence, and never saw a penny from the rock. The Federal Treasury kept the money from the gold because there was no one left to send it to. At the time of the legend, the men had the largest piece of gold found in America.
Countless mountaineers combed the region where the rock was found, but no further gold was ever discovered. Eventually, locals agreed the gold was cursed. The devil placed the “witch’s gold” there to ensnare some unsuspecting fool.