Earlier this year, I was interviewed for an episode in a new series of Myth Hunters (in the US, “Raiders of the Lost Past” in the UK). The documentary makers focused on a particular well-known group of Beale Treasure Hunters from some decades back: but for me, talking on camera brought a whole load of conflicting research strands to the front of my mind.

Specifically, people usually talk about the Beale Ciphers in a very polarized they’re-either-real-or-they’re-fake kind of way. But this doesn’t do the subject justice at all: in fact, to me the evidence suggests the Beale Papers are both real and fake at the same time. Which is a juicily paradoxical place to begin…

Firstly, the cryptology. I now believe that Jim Gillogly was just plain wrong when he concluded that what we now call the “Gillogly strings” are evidence of hoaxery. Rather, I have no doubt at all that they offer strong evidence of some kind of keystrings “poking through” the B1 ciphertext: nothing else makes any kind of practical sense to me. So on the one hand, I would say that I find the evidence that ciphertexts B1 and B3 do use some kind of genuine cipher system (because B3’s stats look extremely similar to B1’s stats) based on the DoI to be extremely convincing.

Yet secondly, the deciphered text of B2 doesn’t seem to tally with the account given in the text of the pamphlet. The writer writes: “To systematize a plan for my work I arranged the papers in the order of their length, and numbered them”. However, the deciphered text reads:-

I have deposited in the county of Bedford […] the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number “3,” herewith […]

Paper number “1” describes the exact locality of the vault so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.

So who numbered the pages? The original encipherer (say, Thomas Beale?) as the ciphertext implies, or the writer of the pamphlet as the pamphlet text implies? The answer is simple: if the cipher is real, then the pages were numbered by the original author — but if the cipher is fake, it was the pamphlet writer who numbered them. There’s no middle ground to be had.

Logically, then, my conclusion is that if the cryptology demonstrates – as I think it does – that the Beale Ciphers B1 and B3 are genuine ciphers, then I think it is extremely likely that the pamphlet text is just a confection, a frippery. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that this implies that all the letters included in it are fake as well.

In which case, it seems that we have a new Third Way to proceed along: that while the ciphers (and possibly the name Thomas Beale) appear to be based on some kind of actual cryptography, everything else is probably something else entirely. Right now, my opinion is that the pamphlet is very probably some kind of retrospective whitewash (or do I mean ‘hogwash’?) wrapped around a genuine cipher.

Currently, the secret history of the Beale Papers looks to me like this: that while Robert Morriss probably was given a box at his hotel in 1822 by someone (Thomas Beale, why not?) to look after, when in 1845 Morriss forced the box open, it was simply to take what was inside for himself – there were no letters, no grizzlies, no stampede, none of it. But all Morriss actually found was some sheets of paper with numbers on and (I suspect) a Declaration of Independence: mystified, he eventually passed this on to a third party, who came to realise the relevance of the DoI to the sheets of dictionary cipher, and thus was able to crack the B2 ciphertext (though not the other two).

But as for the letters and the pamphlet… to my eyes, they’re nothing more than a fabrication, perhaps to justify Morriss’s breaking the locks, or perhaps to help Ward sell his pamphlets: possibly even both. But regardless, I don’t believe that anything much we find in the pamphlet (the ciphers aside) will help us move towards decrypting those ciphers. The secret is genuinely in the ciphers, sure, but I trust the rest of it not one jot.

Make of that what you will! 🙂

7 thoughts on “The Beale Ciphers, a Third Way…

  1. BillDee on February 27, 2015 at 1:12 pm said:

    I know (knew) someone who is working on this who partially decoded text #3 (I think it was #3, either that or #2, I forget) about 15+ years ago using a book that was published at the time. (can’t remember the title, and wouldn’t say if I did) It had some (more than) scrambled and misspelled words like the DOI #2 does (without ‘correction’), but some REALLY interesting results that I’m pretty sure cannot be “random” and made sense not only in their own context (partial sentences), but in the general context of what the message was supposed to be (cor-related content). That is, to get about 10 or 20+ correctly-spelled words that “make sense” in the overall scheme of things is ALSO statistically large and relevant. He asked me to look at it to see if I could do something with a computer program to figure out more, or why it wasn’t 100%, etc. I suggested that using a “modern” re-print of the book was not the best source to use and try to find a “first edition” or something like that. So I pretty much “KNOW FOR SURE” that the cyphers are NOT a “hoax”, at least in that regard. (or ONE of the other two, anyway — the people who point out the ABCDEFG… stuff basically don’t know what they are talking about — it literally COULD be a “coincidence”, it’s just statistically large, but anyone who knows anything about statistics knows that that literally means nothing, because there really are such things as “random coincidence”, even when it is “statistically improbable”)

  2. BillDee: alternatively, the coincidence there could simply be in the choice of the book that the person you know (knew) used. If you tried enough books, you might well get the kind of results you describe, but still without actually having unravelled the mystery.

    The difference is that the probability of someone finding a partial match goes up the more books that get examined, but the probability that the Gillogly strings appeared by chance remain disconcertingly huge (and many million times higher, I believe) – so they’re actually different classes of probability.

  3. bdid1dr on March 31, 2015 at 8:13 pm said:

    Gentlemen: You may want to get a copy of the “Book of Mormon”. Check its index for Plates, Brass, and cross-references Laban — and further X-ref notes to gold.

    I am not Mormon. The Church of Latter Day Saints (headquarters in Salt Lake City Utah) “Family Search” libraries (anywhere) will give you a copy, free. You may find just what you are looking for (for translating the “Beale” ciphers.
    Just my guess.
    beady-eyed wonder-er

  4. Cat Darensbourg on April 25, 2015 at 10:42 pm said:

    I just found this post by you, and hope you are continuing to have as much fun poking through all the possibilities as I am. Have you heard of anyone considering the possibility that mirror writing might have been used for the DoI? The reason I ask is because that would mess decoders up on several levels — especially as the DoI might have been typeset in a different size font than we see in the printed papers — and messed up further with the “helpful” addition of numbers. Also, if *anything* was truthful in the letters, they were most likely hand-written, with 5 to 7 words per line? And mirror writing would flip the “find the first letter”, which was done for 2, since first would become last — if the last letter is what people are looking for at all, and not the second or third. Just some thoughts I have been turning over lately, and wishing you all the best.

  5. Cat: I think it’s fairly clear that the difference between B2 and the others is going to be some additional transformation – a small step, but an annoyingly sideways one. However, I think that the presence of the ‘Gillogly’ strings tells us that we are right to be using the DoI in a forward sense (rather than mirrored)… and so it’s that other step that eludes our grasp.

  6. Cat Darensbourg on May 1, 2015 at 10:39 pm said:

    Thanks, Nick. The only other original idea I have on the subject is that might we possibly be dealing with a second cipher that somehow translates the numbers into grid coordinates: original numbers into newer numbers that then plug into the Declaration? Sort of like a 5×5, or 3x3x3. Also, the shorter cipher “3” may be the key, as whoever Beale was could have been counting on human greed (none of that here, nope — not me 😉 to throw hopeful treasure hunters off the track with cipher “1”. Oh well, back to the drawing board — when I have time . . .

  7. Justintime on June 26, 2015 at 3:35 am said:

    The Key, will “merely “state the contents(#2)of the vault. #1 is the, key-map, one will receive #3 once in the vault, for it can easily be found. Once you have the key, focus more on letters not the cypher. The key, which makes info intelligible.. Justintime

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