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Page 24 : Beale Ciphers Analyses

The author of 'The Beale Papers'

    A dedicated Beale researcher for twenty-five years, Richard H. Greaves, a Virginian retiree, has contributed the information for this webpage and also Page 20.

    Beginning as a treasure hunter, Greaves moved to Virginia in 1981 where he led three digs in search of the Beale treasure vault. He became obsessed with the Beale story and pursued his research throughout the country. He eventually became convinced the pamphlet was fiction. By concentrating on all the genealogical family relationships and studying each individual, the truth finally emerged.

    He has deposited his research paper, Attic, Basement, Backroom Closet, at the Virginia Room, Roanoke City Public Library, the Jones Memorial Library in Lynchburg, the Bedford Public Library, and the Bedford Museum Library where, subject to library policies, it may be available to other researchers.

    The paper consists of 49 sheets of legal size paper complete with genealogical charts, newspaper articles, obituaries, census data, personal notes, acknowledgements, and much more.

    His findings, and the true story of The Beale Papers, are presented here for the first time.


    The Beale Papers exhibits all the characteristics of a dime novel: pamphlet format, short story, adventure out west, and ten cents sale price (despite its original offering price of fifty cents). Anonymous authorship was also a common practice.

    Its author was John William Sherman,  then editor, and subsequent owner of the Lynchburg Virginian newspaper, and a known playwright. He was directly related to the personalities of the story, including Ward, the Bufords, and Morriss. Well known in Lynchburg, he had to remain anonymous for the credibility of the tale.

    Originally written in aid of the bereaved families of the 1883 Lynchburg fire and put on sale at fifty cents in 1885, the novelette was resurrected in 1886 and advertised intensively at ten cents, a total of 84 times over five months, to generate income for his newspaper, then in financial crisis. It is doubtful that the cost of these ads at the published rate can be justified by the sales potential in the population served. The newspaper owner however, didn't have to pay those fees. No advertisements were placed in any other area newspaper. Despite all the publicity and reported public interest, the other Lynchburg newspaper, the Daily News, only mentions the booklet once, when it was originally released.

    These facts, and several others below, point to him, and only him, as the author of The Beale Papers. He had the motive, the opportunity, and in some cases, the exclusive opportunity.

John William Sherman - A brief biography

   Stylometry analyses (Page 22) have demonstrated that the pamphlet and the three letters it contains, supposedly from T. J. Beale, were in fact written by the same person, which we now identify as John William Sherman. Greaves' research traces Sherman's life through a multitude of census records, the Lynchburg City Directories and newspaper articles.

    Born in 1859 in Lynchburg, Sherman was listed as a student in the 1870 census. His newspaper career began as a clerk for The Lynchburg Virginian, under the ownership of Charles W. Button. Over some twelve years he progressed to printer, local editor, and owner. He and his brother purchased the paper from C. W. Button in November 1885. In February 1887, in an editorial to their subscribers, they announced the suspension of the paper due to financial difficulties. An acrimonious debate between Button and Sherman followed and culminated in a court case which Sherman lost.

    For three years following this bankruptcy, he wrote many children's short stories. See the list below.

    Until 1912 he worked as a reporter for the Lynchburg Daily News, and then reporter and city editor for the Daily Advance, followed by The Evening World. In 1913, following a change of ownership of that paper, he left and was appointed deputy sergeant for the city of Roanoke.

    Sometime in late 1915 or early 1916, John W. Sherman was admitted to Western State Hospital in Staunton, Virginia, a mental institution, where he lived his last twenty-three years, dying December 29, 1938. Census records during this period refer to him as an "inmate". The reasons for this incarceration are unknown and hospital records can only be opened by authority of the descendants.

    His first appearance as a playwright-actor was in 1878. Many references appear in area newspapers during the 1890's and early 1900's about his plays and performances.

Family Relationships and Beale personalities

    John William Sherman was the great grandnephew of Paschal Buford, the owner of Buford's Tavern, and the first cousin once removed of Harriet E. Otey, James B. Ward's wife. Harriet was also the grandniece of Sarah Mitchell, Robert Morriss' wife.

    Sherman came from a well-to-do and well connected family. His grandfather, John T. Murrill, was a successful merchant; his father, Henry H. Sherman, was also a successful businessman with his father-in-law; his sister, Harriet Otey Sherman, married Henry Madison Ford, a successful attorney.

    Julia H. Ward, James' daughter, married William D. Johns in 1881. W. D. Johns is listed in the Lynchburg City Directory of 1884 as a clerk at Adams Bros & Payne. This announcement appeared in the Lynchburg Virginian on August 2, 1883:

Mr. Wm. D. Johns is now in charge of the feed store of Adams Bros. & Paynes on Twelfth Street, where he will receive orders for wood and coal.

    That company's letterhead was used by James Ward in 1884 to apply to the Librarian of Congress for copyright for The Beale Papers.

    Sherman married Anna Marie Helbig on January 4, 1893. Annie Sherman pursued a successful career in newspapers. From 1914 until 1935 she is listed in city directories as society director for many newspapers, including The Evening World, The Roanoke Times, World News, and Times World Corp. In this role she personally knew all the influential people of the state and was well positionned to exercise that influence. From 1922 onwards, city directories often list her as the widow of John W. Sherman, despite her husband's continuing existence. She died January 1, 1938. Her obituary the following day lists surviving relatives excluding her husband, still in hospital. He is only mentionned historically as the past owner of the Lynchburg Virginian.

    These facts imply that Mrs. Sherman, perhaps because of the stigma then associated with mental illness, was anxious to conceal her husband, and consequently she may have played an important role in hiding his works, including The Beale Papers. Her influence may even have extended from the grave; John W. Sherman's obituaries later that year make no mention of her either, despite her high profile.

    In 1884 the main personalities, such as Paschal Buford and his wife, and Robert Morriss, were deceased.

His plays

    These are the known plays by John W. Sherman. Some were formally copyright, others were not.

    Previous versions of this webpage credited Sherman for a series of juvenile dime novels published during his lifetime. Thanks to the sharp eye of website visitor, Shawn Brinkman, it is now revealed that these novels were in fact the work of St. George Rathborne, a very prolific dime novelist, who used dozens of pseudonyms, including "John Sherman".

       Sherman's cryptology

    John William Sherman has no evident history of cryptological interests, with one possible minor exception.

    The title of his play His Canal Boat, B 4 Any, or the Gal That Loved a Boatman is a spoof of a popular play title of the times by Sir Arthur Sullivan and William Schwenck Gilbert, Her Majesty's Ship, Pinafore, or the lass that loved a sailor. These titles were abbreviated to B 4 Any and Pinafore, respectively. B 4 Any may be a cryptogram of Pinafore, as follows:

Articles from The Lynchburg Virginian

    The paper published two book reviews for The Beale Papers. Both appeared on the page 1, column 3, and are transcribed below.

April 10, 1885


A pamphlet under the title of "The Beale Papers" has just made its appearance in this city and contains what are said to be authentic statements in regard to an immense treasure buried in Bedford county, near Bufords, by several miners, in 1828. This information has been in the possession of a gentleman in this city for many years, but it has never before been made public. That gentleman has devoted much time to working on the key which locates the pit where the treasure can be found, and has succeeded in getting points which will lead the reader to the place where the immense treasure is buried. He has been compelled to give the papers up and now all who purchase one of the books will have an opportunity to look for big boxes of gold and silver now concealed. One of the papers states that the treasure consists of 2921 pounds of gold, 5102 pounds of silver and jewelry valued at $18,000. Mr. J. B. Ward, of the county, will sell the books at fifty cents each, to all who wish them. Buy a book, get a pick and shovel, strike for Bufords, dig, grow rich or starve.

April 15, 1885


We are informed that much interest has been excited by the Beale Papers, which give an account of a large amount of gold and silver buried near Bufords, in Bedford county. The book is sold by Mr. J. B. Ward, and his agents, and will doubtless find many purchasers. A condensed history of the hidden treasure will be interesting to our readers. It seems that a party of young men, while hunting in the Far West, accidentally discovered a gold mine which proved almost inexhaustible. After working it for some time the men decided to send a large amount of gold and silver to Bedford county (their home) in charge of T. J. Beale and nine others of the party. Arriving at Bufords the party first thought of concealing the treasure in a cave, which can still be seen at that place, but finding that the place was too frequently visited, selected a better place. Beale left a lot of papers with Mr. Robert Morriss, who was well known here at that time as proprietor of the Washington Hotel. Nothing has been heard from any of the parties since that time. It is thought they were killed by Indians. The book gives a full account of the treasure and figures which it is said, when worked out, will tell where the treasure is buried.

    Despite "much interest has been excited" as reported above, only Sherman's paper gave this much publicity to these events. Their competition, the Lynchburg Daily News printed a book review in April, 1885, but did not carry ads or further reports. No other area paper ever mentionned The Beale Papers.Then on February 17, 1887, page 4, column 1, they informed their readers as follows:


We regret to be forced to suspend the VIRGINIAN, thus severing that, which has been to us, at least, fifteen months of pleasant intercourse with its readers and patrons.

Having to pay an exhorbitant price, we discovered too late, for this paper, and the general scarcity of money which made it hard to collect our claims, thus preventing us from paying those whom we owe, renders this necessary. We have now assigned our accounts to Mr. John P. Ford, trustee, 813 Main street, for the benefit of our creditors, and they are of sufficient amount for us to say, confidently, to meet all of our indebtedness. There will, of course, be some delay, but when finally settled, we can gladly say - "we are the only losers."

On the 17th of November, 1885, we purchased the VIRGINIAN from Mr. Charles W. Button, paying him $5,000 cash, and notes for the balance ($10,000).

In less than a month we discovered that we had been deceived as to its value. Instead of good will, we got a tremendous amount of the other kind, which was thrown in, we suppose, to fill up the deficiency in the other.

In spite of this we have struggled on day after day, month after month, endeavering to make something or lose everything in the poor investment. The day has now come, that to go further would be an injustice to our creditors, which we are unwilling should be done, for we would rather be penniless than to cheat any one out of honest dues.

While the VIRGINIAN was then in a wrecked condition, we are glad to say now - when it will be of no benefit to us - that it is in a good condition - with a larger circulation and steadily growing advertising patronage. We thank our readers for the kind patronage they have bestowd upon us, and hope the time may come when it can be reciprocated.

We trust our friends, who are indebted to the VIRGINIAN, no matter how small the sum, will settle with Mr. Ford promptly, and with as little expense to him as possible.


The advertisement

    Beginning April 15, and ending May 30, 1886, an advertisement very similar to that pictured below, but slightly smaller, appeared in the Lynchburg Virginian thirty-one times.

    Then from June 25 until August 27, this ad appeared almost daily, six days a week, just over nine weeks, or fifty-two days, excluding Mondays.

    Note the price: ten cents; a dime, a dime novel. This is not the fifty cents on the cover which James B. Ward submitted for copyright, nor the fifty cents cited in the 1885 book reviews.

    And who was W. W. Watts at 1001 Main Street?

    The Lynchburg Virginian newspaper was located in the Virginian Building, 1001 Main Street. It was also the address of the "Job Printing Department of the Virginian Office", offering "… plain & ornamental printing, forms, book binding, blank books, …" . This business had been retained by Charles Button and his sons after the sale of the newspaper to the Sherman brothers.

    Walter Wirt Watts was the son of James and Laura Watts, residing on Clay Street, between 10th and 11th streets. This was just a few houses away from the Sherman family who lived on Clay between 9th and 10th. As recorded in the 1880 census, James Watts was a printer, and Walter was eight years old. He would have been a 14-year old apprentice at the time of the advertisement.

Key events

    Here is a chronological list of the main events.


    The Lynchburg Virginian publishes several articles about a trip to the west, gold and silver discoveries in Colorado, and gold and jewel finds on farm properties. Such a story, very similar to The Beale Papers novel is reproduced at the end of this page.

    In 1882, Frances Buford, the last possible direct witness to the events of the story, dies.


    A major fire destroys a good part of downtown Lynchburg (Page 20), including the Virginian newspaper and its building. Five men die. The whole community is stricken with grief. Several funds are established to aid the victims' families.


    Sherman completes plans for a new novel. Because he is a known playwright, and journalist, and due to the nature of the story, he must remain anonymous for its credibility. His most probable initial motive is to help the bereaved families of the victims of the1883 fire, but other motives are also possible. For example, it may

    He enlists the help of his cousin, James B. Ward, to be his intermediary. Ward obtains an Adams Bros & Payne letterhead from his son-in-law and applies for copyright on The Beale Papers.

    To expedite the writing, and under the cover of anonimity, Sherman plagiarized extensively the works of Edgar Allan Poe, even to the extent of leaving clues suggesting Poe was the author. It is far easier to rationalize plagiarism than to explain how Poe wrote the story, communicated it to James Ward thirty-five years after his death, and inserted references to the Civil War, also after his death.


    Copyright is approved. In the spring, the novelette goes on sale at fifty cents. Sherman writes two promotional book reviews and places them on the front page of the Virginian. In the fall, he and his brother buy the paper for $5,000. cash and $10,000. debt.


    Early in the year (per his editorial, one month after the purchase), the papers' financial problems become evident. The need for income is pressing. In April, he resurrects last year's novel, reduces the price to a dime, and promotes it aggressively for five months. He appoints a junior apprentice to receive the public and collect their purchases.


    His efforts fail and the paper ceases operations.


    In criminal law, convictions are often based solely on motive and opportunity. In 1886, John William Sherman had an urgent and pressing motive to resurrect his previous year's novel and promote it intensively. His business was in financial crisis; he needed the cash. As a writer, printer, with a trusted cousin-in-law, James B. Ward, and with detailed knowledge of Robert Morriss, the Bufords, and the local area, he had all the opportunity in the world; as owner of the newspaper who didn't have to pay the advertising rates for an ad published eighty-five times, as editor who could write promotional book reviews and place them on page one, and as the employer of an apprentice who received the money from sales at his place of business, he had exclusive opportunity. Any other advertiser, after placing a few ads in The Virginian, would conclude that he had covered that market, and would have moved on to another newspaper, and there were a few in Lynchburg and neighbouring communities. Yet, not a single such advertisement was placed. This fact, more than any other, points to the newspaper owner, Sherman, as the author. As author, he felt he could do with the novel as he pleased, and raising money for his troubled newspaper was justification enough.

    The word 'hoax' has often been used to describe the treasure story and the three ciphers. That word implies evil intent which is absent from these events. As proof of no ill will, Sherman inserted the Gillogly strings in Cipher number 1, as if to say "Don't take this too seriouly folks; it's just for fun".

    The Beale Papers has amused, frustrated, obsessed, and challenged generations of treasure hunters and cryptanalysts, amateur and professional. This is not a hoax; this is superb entertainment value for a mere ten cents; this is a classic; this is an american masterpiece.

Lynchburg Virginian treasure story

   The following is a reproduction of an article published in 1879.





       A Marrow-Bone (Cumberland County, Ky.) letter to the Cincinnati Enquirer says:

    During the last week a sensation of considerable interest came to the surface, which I deem worthy of note. It was nothing more or less than the discovery and recovery of a vast amount of gold, silver and precious stones which have been buried since the beginning of the war in a small cave on the farm of Robert O. Willis, one mile south of this town. The treasure consists of about $65,000 in gold and silver coin, and about $10,000 (present value) of jewelry, such as diamond rings, pins, ear rings, &c. It appears that Mr. Willis placed all these valuables


which he buried in the extreme end of the cave, covering it over with boards and loose rock from the side of the cave. His wife alone he informed in regard to the precise spot where the treasure had been secreted. Of course it would have been imprudent to have imparted such an important secret to any other person or persons.

    A few weeks after secreting his treasure, Mr. Willis mysteriously disappeared. It is supposed he was killed by guerillas on the Cumberland river, whither, he had gone with several head of cattle to ship to Nashville. He was never heard of afterward, and his wife mourned for him until the day of her death, which occurred March 1st. Although she was well aware that there was a vast fortune buried in that cave, yet she did not impart her secret to any person, and having a good income from the farm, had


of any of the money, so she thought she would let it remain there, as it was fully as safe as it could be elsewhere. Grief over the loss of her husband, and having poor health combined, rendered her somewhat careless and indifferent. She lived all alone with an old negro man and his wife as her servants and companions. They were old slaves - had nursed her in her infancy, and she was perfectly content. She had no children or near relatives, and a few days before death claimed her as his own, she imparted the secret of the hidden treasure to these old servants, also to Rev. John D. Hogan, her pastor, and Messrs. Owsley & Gore, her attorneys, who were summoned to execute her last will and testament.

    The treasure was found, according to directions, all safe and sound and in first class condition, and it was opened in her presence. She bequeathed her jewelry and $40,000 to her old servants; also, the old homestead, a rich farm of some 200 acres. The remainder she ordered to be invested in securities for her husband's benefit


alive in twenty years. If not, that it be donated to Catholic charitable institutions that may be greatly in need of it at that time, in Louisville, Ky.,  the interest to be given from now on yearly to the orphan asylums there. This vast treasure was taken to Glasgow, Ky., yesterday, and shipped from there to Louisville, where it will be deposited for the present with the State Deposit Company. The old colored servants who are thus abundantly rewarded for their devotion expressed the wish that their portion of the treasure be invested for them, as they did not wish to keep it in the house, fearing they would be murdered for it.


   This story may have been John W. Sherman's inspiration for The Beale Papers. It has the following elements in common:


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