Aug 25, 2015

Pint-sized P.I.s uncover plundered Civil War treasure

Hunter, Melody, Rachel and Zach
While most kids their age are out catching frogs and collecting Pokemon cards, four youngsters right here in Oxford have been up to their necks in buried treasure.

The fabulous foursome, dubbed "the Kudzu Kids," recently solved a 135-year-old mystery in their own backyard.

By researching old manuscripts and interviewing key Oxford residents, the kids — Rachel McGowan, 13; her brother, Hunter, 12; Melody Cheever, 12; and Zach Burgess, 11 — discovered an underground labyrinth of tunnels designed by an obscure Civil War general who made his home in Oxford around the time of these kids' great-great-great-great grandparents.

The intrigue began when the kids were hanging out on the University of Mississippi campus and saw people entering an off-limits building on campus. Their curiosity got the best of them, and they explored the building, where — much to their surprise — the kids stumbled upon a human bone.

The angry professor

Professor Charles Lowry
Their discovery made them heroes on the front pages of newspapers throughout the area, but they made an enemy of Ole Miss Civil War professor Charles Lowry.

"Right away it was clear that we had found something we weren't supposed to," said Kudzu Kid Rachel. "Dr. Lowry was mad that we had brought publicity to his project, so we knew right away it was Civil War-related."

The kids went to work digging through the university's archive of Civil War documents and letters, and they discovered that the college campus had been used as a field hospital during the 1860s.

"All of the letters mentioned this guy, General Shegog, and we did some more research and found that he had tried to horde all the wounded soldiers' valuables to hide them from the Yankees, who were about to invade Oxford," Rachel explained.

The kids recorded interviews and photographed different sites on campus. They also used their cell phones to record conversations and important information.

When the angry professor caught wind of their investigation, he tried to sabotage the kids' progress by closing the Civil War archives.

The general's descendant

Mildred Shegog
The kids turned their search to the Internet and found a Shegog living in Oxford. It turned out to be Mildred Shegog, great-great granddaughter to the old general.

She invited the kids to rummage through her ancestor's old records, where they found a poem written by the general that gave clues to his treasure's hiding place in a series of tunnels beneath the university.

The kids were almost ready for their treasure hunt when the last clue fell into place — an actual treasure map.

Following the map
Rachel explains how the Kudzu Kids found the treasure room by consulting the General's map and poem.

"By reading the General's cadence and poem, we knew that he put God before country. If you look at the map, the tunnels to the left of Santo Spirito form a cross, and the tunnels to the right of Stark's Bait form a star, representing the republic.

"If there's one thing General Shegog put before his country and after God, though, it was the Confederacy.

"If you notice the dens positioned at various places throughout the tunnels, you'll see that the design resembles the stars and bars of the Confederate flag, except the middle is cut out — that's precisely where the bars intersect. In other words, 'X' marks the spot."

"It was totally luck," said Rachel. "We were following one of Dr. Lowry's assistants, who happened to have the map. He scanned the map at the computer lab, and Zach knew how to retrieve the file after he left. After that, we just studied the map and followed the clues."

But when the kids finally set out to claim the hoarded treasures, their journey through the dank, dangerous tunnels resulted in near tragedy.

Instead of treasure, danger!

"We followed all the clues and found the treasure room, but there was no treasure," Hunter explained. "Instead, we get down there, and a flood of water comes gushing in. We couldn't get out or anything. Thank God Zach brought his cell phone, and we called my dad to let him know what was going on."

Luckily, Rachel had remained above ground and maintained contact with the amateur spelunkers. She was able to assemble the clues and pinpoint her fellow treasure hunters on the map. That gave emergency rescue workers the exact spot to dig and retrieve the soggy sleuths before the treasure room was flooded.

The kids help authorities locate the treasure

After Hunter, Zach and Mel were rescued from the tunnels, the kids explained to the police about the treasure, and by studying their clues one last time, they figured out where the missing treasure was located.

"The whole thing hit me when Hunter and the others were already in the tunnels," Rachel said. "Mrs. Shegog had already found the treasure. When we went to visit her, she told us we could look in the attic, but that she didn't have a basement. But in the general's poem, he specifically mentions being in his basement, and that was the exact same house Mrs. Shegog lives in today.

"On top of that, we found an article about Mrs. Shegog winning a senior beauty pageant, and it mentions her wearing a red-heart locket," Melody added. "That necklace was mentioned in a Civil War letter we found from a wounded soldier named Beauchamp, who said the general had taken a locket just like that from him."

Just as the kids had predicted, police discovered a basement filled with treasure at Mildred Shegog's home. Among the artifacts was a jewel-studded, gold crucifix, which dates back to the 16th century during the time Hernando DeSoto and his fellow Spanish explorers passed through Mississippi.

Descendant double-crossed

Jerry O'Brian AKA Jerry Boyce
The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department intervened in the mystery just in time, as Shegog's grandson, Jerry O'Brian, was loading the treasure in a U-Haul for a quick getaway.

O'Brian, who was on parole from Washington's state prison, had misled the kids during their investigation by planting the bone and posing as a janitor for their witness interviews.

O'Brian was taken into custody for breaking parole and attempting to steal the Civil War treasure from his grandmother.

Professor pays the piper for pretense

Investigators subsequently found out that Dr. Lowry and his crew had caused the flooding in the tunnels when they ruptured a water main while digging for the treasure.

"I swear, I wasn't trying to hurt those children," Lowry insists. "Sure, I was upset that they interfered with my excavation, but I had no idea they knew as much as they did about Shegog. I didn't even know they were in the tunnels at the time the water main was ruptured."

After the revelation about his actions, Lowry was fired from the university for destroying university property and acting in a manner unbecoming of an Ole Miss professor.

The professor reacted in outrage. "This university still hasn't forgiven me for being related to William Lowry, a soldier in the University Greys who stormed the Lyceum with a bullwhip and challenged the chancellor after he was expelled," Lowry told the school newspaper following his own expulsion.

"That was over 150 years ago! I offer a challenge of my own to the Lyceum, though mine is in an intellectual challenge: Come to terms with your own history, and don't be afraid of past defeat, for victory answers the call of the righteous and brave."

Back to school and back to normal

In the meantime, the Kudzu Kids have returned to their everyday lives, going to school and doing homework.

Though the pint-sized P.I.s didn't get a share of the treasure, the university expressed its appreciation for their exemplary research and courage, and the kids have the memories of a job well done.

"Anytime we want to remember this, we just have to go to, and it's all right there," said Rachel.

"Yeah," added Zach. "And who knows what'll happen next summer."
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Aug 24, 2015

Young Oxford treasure hunters reported missing

The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department is asking for the public's help to locate three missing Oxford youths — Hunter McGowan, 12; Zach Burgess, 11; and Melody Cheever, 12. The trio were reported missing last night at approximately 7:00 p.m.

The missing kids recently made news on the Ole Miss campus when they discovered a human bone in the basement of the Y Building on August 4th.

Rachel McGowan, sister of Hunter and a witness to the bone discovery, believes the kids went searching for buried Civil War treasure in a maze of secret tunnels under the University.

"We have maps and everything," said Rachel from her mother's home in Jackson, Miss. "I told them not to go, but my brother was so set on finding the treasure before Professor Lowry that he couldn't wait."

The professor in question is Dr. Charles Lowry, who teaches Civil War Studies at Ole Miss. The professor, who is supervising the discovery of any artifacts during the construction work at the Y Building, could not be reached for comment.

The bone the youths found was never officially identified, but sources at the University Police Department said the bone was found at a Civil War excavation currently underway in the Y Building.

"We have our men searching the Y Building and various other sites on campus to find the children," said University Police Chief Milton Steward. "There are a hundred nooks and crannies on campus, and I'm certain it's just a matter of time before those kids turn up."

Thomas McGowan, father of Hunter and Rachel McGowan and an anthropology professor at the University of Mississippi, filed the missing persons report when his son failed to show up for supper last night.

Upon calling his daughter in Jackson, he discovered that his kids had been investigating what they believed was buried treasure in the Grove.

"Hunter is a smart boy," said McGowan. "I'm sure if he's lost somewhere, he'll find his way back. I know he and his friends are okay. We just need to find them, and we'll take all the help we can get."
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Aug 4, 2015

Oxford youths discover bone

Is construction site a murder scene or a historical find?

Four Oxford kids were apprehended by University Police this afternoon when they discovered what appeared to be a human femur bone amid construction in the "Y" Building on the west end of the Grove.

"We were just playing around in the abandoned building when I saw a secret chamber in the floor," said 11-year-old Zach Burgess. "It was dark and deep, so I reached down in there and fished out somebody's leg bone."

"The end looked like it had been sawed off," said 13-year-old Rachel McGowan.

Also on the scene were 12-year-olds Melody Cheever and Hunter McGowan, Rachel's brother.

Rachel and Hunter are the children of Ole Miss anthropology professor Thomas McGowan, who was asked about the finding.

"It's hard to tell, at this point, where the bone came from," McGowan said. "We'll have to perform carbon dating tests on the bone to determine its age. It could be anyone's from a Choctaw Indian to a Confederate soldier. It could be that this leg came from a victim of some heinous crime. We just don't know."

When approached about the news of the bones, the chancellor's office responded, "Ole Miss is very proud of our past, and any link that we can find to reinforce our place in history, we are more than happy to examine."

University Police Chief Carl Fisk hasn't ruled out the possibility that the bone was planted on the construction site as a hoax.

"We checked with the foreman, and neither he nor any of his men saw the bone yesterday. There's really no sense in speculating at this time," Fisk advised.

The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department agrees.

"Until we get the analysis back, we don't know if we're dealing with a recent death, a historical find or just a prank," said department spokesperson Elizabeth Jones.

Preliminary results from the testing are expected within a week.

Check back for updates on this developing story.
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