The Hunt for Captain Rasputin’s Treasure

A treasure hunt program for Scouts

By Scouter Liam Morland, May 2001

Many years ago, a band of pirates under Captain Vladimir Rasputin set sail to plunder on the seven seas. Eventually, they spied a Spanish merchant ship. They raised their Jolly Roger and prepared to fight. After the battle, the pirates sank the merchant ship and made off with a great treasure. But Captain Rasputin had been injured in the battle. They sailed to their hideout near Berlin, Ontario where Captain Rasputin died. In accordance with the captain’s wishes, he was buried near their hideout, the treasure along side of him.

The pirates wrote themselves cryptic notes to remind them of where they had hidden the treasure. In case the notes fell into the wrong hands, they were written in code and hidden. To be doubly sure, the treasure was divided into three treasure hordes. Each treasure horde was given the protection of an animal spirit. Anyone who was not part of the right totem would be cursed if they touched the treasure. The animal spirits were Eagle, Owl, and Buffalo.

Many years passed. Eventually all the pirates had died except for the cabin boy who was now very old. So that the treasure would not be lost forever, he turned over the instructions for finding the treasure to a Scouter he had met once.

One Thursday evening, three patrols of Scouts, Eagle, Owl, and Buffalo Patrols, gathered at the site of the pirate's hideout, now a Scout Camp on the shores of the Grand River in Kitchener (Berlin was renamed Kitchener during the First World War). Each patrol was given a set of instructions and a pirate code book, both hand written on parchment. One set of instructions began "Start at the white pine nearest the old cabin". The Scouts were happy that they knew how to identify trees. The instructions went on, "Go 10 paces north-west and look for Note 1". Following the sequence of bearings and paces, and using their observation skills, the Scouts eventually collected four parchment notes which had been stuck on tree branches or under rocks with just a little bit sticking out. They then returned to the old cabin to decode the messages.

Using the code book, they broke the codes and put the four messages together. They gave instructions for finding Captain Rasputin's grave and the treasure.

The Scouts made their way to the graveyard. Each patrol located their separate treasure hordes. They opened the bags to find something more valuable then gold (at least to a hungry Scout). The bags were filled with marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers: the makings for s'mores. Happy Scouts headed to the campfire circle to consume their plunder, while I tried to explain about how the Spanish imported s'mores from the West Indies to satisfy the aristocracy in Europe.

The Scouts practised their skills in observation, compass use, tree identification, critical thinking, and teamwork. To boot, they said it was one of the best meetings ever. I'm sure they will remember it. I still remember when my patrol followed the instructions given to us by Teper Wadnos of the Tesucros Tribe and found Vade's Treasure, long hidden in a park in Ottawa.

How to make "parchment"

The realism of a treasure hunt is increased when the paper notes or maps look authentic. Boil a large pot of strong tea. Pour the tea into a shallow basin such as a casserole dish. Soak ordinary paper in the tea. Add the pieces of paper one at a time and press each below the surface before adding the next one. Let the paper soak for at least 15 minutes. Let it go longer, even for several hours, if you want it really dark. Lay the paper out to dry on a sidewalk in the sun or on a clothesline. When you go to write on the paper, use a fountain pen. Pre-filled disposable ones are available at stationary stores. Tear instead of cutting the paper.

If you want to make what looks like an old book, laser print the contents onto the pages before soaking in tea. You can also photocopy pages printed on a ink jet printer. Ink jets usually use water based inks which will run if you soak them. Look at a old book and try to use the same fonts and style of layout in your book.

Some codes to try

Scouts were given a code book, written by Captain Rasputin, which showed how to encode three ciphers and Morse Code. No messages combined ciphers. The book did not give decoding instruction. The Scouts had to figure that out based on the encoding instructions.

Letter Swap

To encode letter swap, swap each pair of letters in a word:


Shifted Letter

To encode shifted letter, replace each letter by the next letter in the alphabet. A becomes B, B becomes C, etc.



To encode railfence, first divide the word as shown:

SCOUT becomes

 C U

Then put the top row after the bottom row: SOTCU