MOHICANVILLE -- With the news of the discovery of gold in California in 1849, gold fever spread across the United States.
Many area residents headed west dreaming of glory and fortune -- a few struck it rich, most failed, and some never survived -- but perhaps the most interesting case comes from the small town of Mohicanville.
The residents of the village conceived "The Mohicanville Mining Association," of which residents could purchase shares at $25 each. Approximately 30 residents invested in the company, and once the $800 goal was met the association purchased the equipment and provided expenses for eight members to head west in search of gold.
Under the agreement, the eight -- including Thomas A. Eagle and Jacob Bucher -- would return in 2.5 years and split half the profits with the remaining investors. The idea gained popularity, and before the prospectors set out the association had raised over $1,700 in investments.
The eight prospectors set out on April 5, 1849 and arrived in California on Sept. 15, 1849. The journey was not without drama, and the prospectors quarreled relentlessly during the trip.
In fact, they had become so disgruntled that within a few days of arriving in California they decided to disband the association--unbeknownst to the investors at home -- sold their equipment, divided the remaining funds amongst themselves, and went their own ways swearing that "they would not pay a damned cent to the company."
What happened to all eight of the prospectors is unknown, as not all returned home. David Kauffman died in California. Two others decided to stay out west.
However, after 2.5 years Jacob Bucher and the remaining prospectors made their way home to Mohicanville. Bucher had struck it rich. At least one other, Philip Wertsbaugher, also had some luck in his quest for gold. The investors in Mohicanville had not heard a word from any of the original eight since the day they headed west, and upon seeing the prospectors slowly arrive home wanted not only answers but payment as well.
Bucher refused: the association had abandoned him, he claimed.
Wertsbaugher, on the other hand, agreed to comply with the original agreement and paid out his share of the fortune.
The investors filed suit against Bucher to compel him to account for his share. In answer, he agreed to refund the investors one-eighth of the initial $1,700 the association had provided. The investors, however, claimed they were still entitled to half of the $12,130 Bucher brought home with him.
The trial dragged out over two years until Nov. 17, 1853 when Judge James Stewart of the Ashland County Common Pleas court ruled that Bucher was bound to pay out half his fortune to the investors, a rate of $88.54 per share.
However, in the two years of litigation prior to the ruling, Bucher had hedged his bets and planned ahead by purchasing the shares of many of the investors, including Michael Kaufman, Michael Ritter, Kenny Dillon, Jacob Kinney, George Ream, John Saraway, A.K. Grim and Asa Smith.
Such foresight saved Bucher $2,213.50 in payouts. Despite the discount, he appealed the ruling. He lost, and appealed again … and again … and again. Finally, the case made it all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court.
In the fall term of the 1856 Supreme Court session, the justices led by Chief Justice Thomas W. Bartley ruled that the failure of the prospectors to work together and the distribution of the property of the association among the prospectors without knowledge or consent of the association, did not constitute a dissolution of the association or discharge the prospectors from their obligations. The prospectors had discharged themselves from liability to each other but not from liability to the association.
Furthermore, the association could compel any of the remaining prospectors to account for their earnings as well, while also excluding those prospectors from receiving any earnings from shares they owned.
Bucher, therefore, had figuratively shot himself in the foot with his appeals; he was not able to keep the $2,213.50 he had saved by buying out his investors, and in fact had also lost the cost of purchasing their shares.
The remaining investors who refused to be bought out included Thomas & Amelia Eagle, Philip & Samuel Wertsbaugher, William F. Hill, William Randall, Peter Helbert, George Bruder Jr., Laraway & Bun, Jacob Helbert, James Offriese, the heirs of David Kauffman, Lafayette Reyno, Elizah Yocum, Reason B. Hand, WiIliam Helbert, George Howman and Jacob Eminck.
More information on the Cleo Redd Fisher Museum can be found at this link.