Philip Gillespie - Rifles and Gold

(Submitted by Zach Crawford) March 27, 2023

On display in the Transylvania Heritage Museum is a muzzle-loader, named “Old Ellen”, stamped with the letters PG. “Old Ellen” was hand forged in 1841 at Mills River by Philip Gillespie.

In 1849, Philip purchased 347 acres of land from his grandfather, Philip Sitton Sr, in present day Mills River. He is the most well known maker of the Gillespie Rifle. His forge. initially established by his grandfather in 1804, was located on what is known today as Forge Mountain. 

Philips father, Matthew, was the original Gillespie role maker in Transylvania County but he never "signed" his work. Like his ancestors before him, Matthew passed the craft on to his sons. 

Many of the rifles were sold to the Confederate government. A lot of the rifles were paid for with Confederate money, however, some paid with gold coins that were minted in Rutherfordton at the private Belcher Mint.

In October of 1863 Philip, along with his brother and two brother-in-laws, left Mills River to join the Union Army in East Tennessee. On January 7, 1864 Philip left the battlefield and was taken to a home near Maynardsville, TN where he died from an illness.

Local folklore says that, before he left for Tennessee, Philip hid his fortune of gold and fifty gallons of brandy. It’s said that the face value of the gold at the time was approximately $1600. Philip, and his mule, are the only ones that knew where the treasure was hidden. He told many people that he hid it on his land so it would not be stolen by revenuers, but never revealed the location before he passed.

For over a hundred years, treasure hunters have searched the land but have come up empty handed. According to Philip, he hid it so well it would last and no one would ever be able to find it. To this day, his fortune still lies hidden in the ancient earth, in an unforgiving wilderness.

The Transylvania Heritage Museum does not accept responsibility should anyone search for the treasure. Nor do we condone any unsafe, illegal or unethical actions. This story, although it is based on a real legend, is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only.

The museum archives is home to many artifacts that can be traced directly to Transylvania County residents and events. For more information on our archives, or to donate artifacts, reach out to

The Transylvania Heritage Museum, located at 189 West Main Street in Brevard, is open Thursday-Saturday from noon to 4pm. Anyone interested in becoming a Docent or volunteering in any capacity can contact Rebecca Suddeth at or by calling the Museum at 828-884-2347.


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