Reports of criminal enterprise pepper the pioneer history of Lansing. The first known account appears in Longyear’s 1870 publication A History of Lansing, Chapter Five is entitled “A GANG OF COUNTERFITTERS.” The first paragraph reads:
Just west of the city is a tract known as the “Bogus Swamp.” The cause of this euphonious cognomen being bestowed upon a genuine swamp, was by reason of its having been, before the Capital was located, the rendezvous of a gang of counterfeiters and horse thieves.
The exact parameters of the bog are not known. From several accounts and period maps, it appears to have stretched over most of the Westside Neighborhood, emptying northeast into the Grand River via Weinmann’s Creek and west to the current city limit, possibly beyond.
Longyear describes the quagmire as “an impenetrable morass, being covered with a rank growth of swampy vegetation that appeared to be as impregnable to the passage of anybody, but that of a snake or other reptile.” In Turner’s An Account of Ingham County from it’s organization he states; “[t]his land was covered by a dense growth of ash, elm and tamarack with thick undergrowth of brush and brambles.” All known narratives chronicle a refuge of high ground somewhere in its depths. Upon this holm resided a “shanty” where the counterfeiters plied their trade.
Turner recounts the bandits kidnapping and nearly dispatching an unsuspecting interloper lost in the palustrine swale. The tale continues that one of the criminals was killed by an explosion and buried in an unmarked grave by his comrades. Records digress on the manner of how this venture ended. They agree by the early 1840s the peccant syndicate had dissolved.
A news article appearing in the State Republican November 6, 1894 suggests the Westside Neighborhood may still harbor a buried treasure from the ill begotten hoard. The article originally appeared in the Argus-Patriot of Montpelier, Vermont. It details a Mr. Charles Stebbins who would be leaving Montpelier shortly after the article appeared and traveling to Lansing, Michigan. His mission was to track down “a large sum of money in gold”, buried by counterfeiters. Its location appears to be the Bogus Swamp. By then, 1894, it had been drained for years, used for polder farmland and was set for development; the Westmoreland Subdivision.
Stebbins came by this information from his then recently deceased “bachelor uncle” who possessed “a lot of old papers and a diagram of the locality.” His uncle had “guarded his secret with the greatest care.” The State Republican’s introduction to the piece names the Bogus Swamp as the probable locale and states “where recently [was] found several gold coins, molds and other evidences of the counterfeiter’s work.”
The details of how the counterfeiters conducted their affairs are more fleshed out in this story than other accounts, as is how they were discovered and disbanded their operation. Stebbins’ uncle, as the story suggests, was a member of the brigands. After encroachment from the law he fled to South American “accumulated some fortune, and did not return until a short time before he died.”
The fortune, valued in the 1894 story at $10k, would today be worth slightly in excess of a quarter million dollars. There is no known record of the booty being discovered.
A Stebbins family, still represented in Lansing, came to prominence locally in the late 19th century. They were successful in a number of ventures. By all accounts they settled decades after the nefarious gang. When asked about the treasure a descendant of this branch, Win Stebbins, grinned and promised to look into his family genealogy, of which he is knowledgeable. Stebbins did come from Vermont. He does not know of a family legend concerning buried treasure or a relative with the name and appropriate age to the individual in the story. However, “Charles is a family name”.
If new evidence surfaces regarding the Stebbins family, historic local counterfeiters/horse thieves or buried treasure in the West Side Neighborhood. It will appear here.
Lansing State Republican Newspaper (11/06/1894
1895 Standard atlas of Ingham County, Michigan
1874 County atlas of Ingham, Michigan
1859 Topographical Map of Ingham County
A history of the city of Lansing, from the foundation thereof down to the present time by John Munro Longyear
An account of Ingham County from its organization by Frank Turner