A Land Of Tantalizing Treasures
Oklahoma is little known for its tales of fabulous lost treasure, but that is only because the state has had the least publicity of any in the Southwest. Oklahoma, too, had its Spanish conquistadors, clad in heavy, shiny armor. Its French forts are documented. Its Spanish forts are founded on more than legend. It has had its share of gold rushes-virtually every county has had one-land rushes, and oil-boom towns. Last and most, it has had more than its share of ruthless outlaws and gunmen, all the way from Jesse James to Pretty Boy Floyd.
Yes, Oklahoma is a land of tantalizing treasures-lost and found. Not all of Oklahoma's treasure recoveries have been listed here, their telling better suited for later: the brass cannon and twenty-five thousand dollars in Spanish gold found in a cave near the old Indian fortress of San Ber-nardo on Red River, the discovery of the Spanish town and fort of Cascorillo on Turkey Creek, the ruins of the Mexican mining settlement in Devil's Canyon, the five hundred dollars in gold near an outlaw's grave near Mount Scott, the silver dollars from an Indian massacre in Cutthroat Gap, the six thousand dollars in outlaw treasure that Frank James retrieved while he lived in the shadow of the Wichita Mountains, the silver ingots from Standing Rock- all are stories of treasure found- and, in many instances, more treasure yet lost. One old-timer summed it up aptly: "Son, there's more treasure buried right here in Oklahoma than in the rest of the whole Southwest."
The timbered hills of Oklahoma have provided a haven for countless outlaw bands. The rugged Wichitas, the eroded Keechis, the desolate Black Mesa, the rolling Antelopes, the cavern-laden Ar-buckles, the densely timbered Kiamichis and Cookson and Osage hills-all have their tales of booty-booty lost and booty found.
Between the Civil War and the turn of the century cutthroats, renegade Indians, moonshiners, whisky peddlers, gunrunners, and hard-bitten ruffians of all kinds holed up in dark caves and secluded cabins in what was then Indian Territory. The Jameses, the Youngers, Quantrill and his guerrillas, the Dalton and Doolin gangs, Red Buck, Zip Wyatt, Cherokee Bill, the reckless female desperado Belle Starr and her crew, and countless others had their secret hideaways in these hills.
For years the Indian nations of the region were in such lawless turmoil that editorials criticizing the deplorable conditions were commonplace. A typical sentiment was expressed by Fort Smith's West-em Independent, August 28, 1873: We have lived in and around the Indian country since the spring of 1834, but have never known such a state of terror. Now it is murder throughout the length and breadth of the Indian country. It has been the rendezvous of the vile and wicked from everywhere, an inviting field for murder and robbery because it is the highway between Texas, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.
People were calling Indian Territory the "Robbers' Roost," and the "Land of the Six-Shooter." Depredations were so common that people were saying, "There is no Sunday west of St. Louis- no God west of Fort Smith." Wherever there are tales of outlaws there are tales of buried loot. The evidence is convincing that much of that loot still lies beneath the veneer of sod in the state, and the odds are good that in just about any hill one picks in the Soonerland. he will discover that it bears a tale of buried trea-sure-all the way from the Black Mesa in the Pan-handle to the Ozarks on the Arkansas border.
Landmarks alongside old trails have always proved to be veritable treasure depositories. The ancient Spanish and Indian trails, military routes, stage roads, and cattle trails are likely sites for hidden treasure. A treasure of five thousand dol-lars found alongside one such route in 1895 proves that hidden caches can be found-if the hunter knows where to look.
It would be interesting to know just how many persons have found treasures while digging wells. One such incident occurred in early 1895 northeast of the Glass Mountains, near the small settlement of Cleo Springs. Farmer Alfred Abrams found his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when his shovel unearthed such a vessel a few feet down. The gold pieces were dated in the early 1850's. The cache amounted to more than two thousand dollars, reported the Hennessey Clipper.4
Little has been written about Oklahoma's trea-sure trail, the subject of a subsequent chapter, in which the following incident is but one of many similar discoveries. When the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache country of southwestern Oklahoma was opened to white settlement in August, 1901, Cor-win Adams took a farm on the banks of Otter Creek, about nine miles northeast of Tipton. Adams had no knowledge of the ancient Spanish trail that had once passed near his farm, down the east bank of the North Fork of Red River. Nor did he take much stock in the legend that a Spanish packtrain had met its doom along Otter Creek. But when one day an employee of Adams dis-covered that a human skeleton had been exposed by high water at the base of a large tree on the creek bank, Adams' curiosity got the better of him. It was not long before he convinced himself that he had stumbled onto the grave of a lone Spaniard who obviously had been interred with some of his loose change, for among his bones were found several antiquated Spanish coins and an iron stiletto, or dagger.
Some years later Adams was digging a cellar near the former discovery and unearthed two more human skeletons. No document substan-tiated the Spanish battle site, but bones do not lie. Spanish gold is still being sought along the banks of Otter Creek.
Just southwest of Tulsa lies a small red butte known as Turkey Mountain. In 1902 a small community called Red Fork thrived nearby. In September of that year Red Fork had a visitor, and when he left, he took over $700 in gold with him. The old gentleman had come from the East and had given the ready-made excuse of "seeing the country" for being in town. He checked into the Field Hotel and employed the liveryman, Bill Barnett, to drive him to Turkey Mountain.
The stranger asked Bamett whether he had ever seen a rock up Turkey Mountain with a cross cut on it. Bamett recalled having seen such a rock and believed that he could take the stranger to it. After some hunting the two men found the stone. On its smooth surface had been carved a cross and the numbers 64, which, even though badly weathered, were still visible. The stranger pulled a compass and tape measure from his coat pocket and placed the compass on the rock. When he got his bearing, he gave one end of the tape to Bamett and told him to walk seventy feet south. From there Barnett was to walk east, turn south a few steps, and then drive a stake.
The stranger then sent Barnett to the buggy for a shovel and directed him to dig beneath the stake. After twenty or thirty minutes Barnett began to doubt whether the old man was "in his right mind." He stopped work and demanded to know what the old-timer was up to. The stranger told him to keep digging and assured him that he would be "amply rewarded." Barnett complied.
When Bamett had reached a depth of about two feet, his spade struck something solid. When he cleared away the dirt, he saw he had uncovered a rust-eaten kettle. Both men tried to lift the pot to the surface, but its weight proved too much for the decayed vessel. Its bottom crumbled, and out poured fistfuls of glittering gold coins. "The old gentleman [the mysterious stranger] was in the service during the Civil War and was scouting in the Indian Territory," stated a reporter. "On one occasion he carried a large sum of money with him. It seems that he found himself at this time hard pressed by Pierce's army and buried the money. He claims to know of other buried treasure near here and says he will return and try to unearth more of the yellow metal in a few days."
It does not take a professional archaeologist to find a historic treasure, as one man in southwestern Oklahoma has proved time and again. Elmer C. Craft, Jr., of Eldorado, has made such discoveries for years while prowling the canyons and hills of his country. A serious-minded collector since 1952, Craft has one of the largest private collections of arrowheads and stone tools found in Oklahoma, many of which he has loaned to professionals to study.
Craft's accidental discovery of an unusual grave made it possible for historians to solve a frontier mystery that might have remained a puzzle had he not acted cautiously. In the spring of 1957 he was searching for Indian artifacts north of Quartz Mountain State Park Lodge, on the western edge of the Wichita Mountains. The eroding action of waves from adjacent Lake Altus had exposed the hillside and the toe bones of a presumed Indian burial. But very unlike an Indian were the remains of boot nails. Craft knew that the only way to excavate was with professional supervision. He notified James B. Shaeffer, then salvage archaeologist for the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. In April they began ex-cavating with all the care and pain of dentists working on patients. Soon their meticulous digging showed that the head lay only about six inches under the surface.
Then their digging tools exposed a bird bone- later identified as the stem of a wooden or corncob pipe placed in a breast pocket. They also found a small, round metal box, which when later opened in the laboratory was found to contain corroded percussion caps. Leather fragments, legging fasteners, buttons, and a hook were revealed as the skeleton was carefully exposed.
All the evidence indicated that the grave was that of a white soldier, for the body had been laid on its back with the arms folded across the chest. A hole in the left temple of the skull indicated that his death had been caused by a large-caliber weapon or by one of small caliber fired at close range. Because of the pistol caps and buttons, it was assumed that the soldier had been buried between 1861 and 1874. The victim had evidently been eighteen to twenty years old.
Several months of research followed the excavation, and finally the diary of one of General George Ouster's troopers, kept on an expedition from Fort Sill soon after that frontier post was established, solved the mystery of the lone soldier's grave. According to the diary, on Friday, March 5, 1869, Private William Gruber, chief bugler of the nineteenth Kansas Volunteers, was shot and killed in a hunting accident. Before daybreak the next morning the soldier was buried beside the trail "with honors of war." It was the way of the frontier. Only weeks after that historic excavation the gravesite was once again covered by the waters of Lake Altus. Craft had probably saved it from being lost forever.
Perhaps the most mysterious of treasure recoveries occurred fourteen miles northwest of Vinita one evening in February, 1935. A farmer, A. J. Lee, his wife, and their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Duncan Snider, had just finished dinner when a car sped up to the Lee home. Out jumped three men brandishing pistols.44 The couples were told to remain in the house and were assured that no harm would come to them. The bewildered people obeyed the orders, wondering what the gunmen were after.
They watched from the windows as the trio of gunmen turned their car around so that the head-lights shone on a large cottonwood tree at the edge of the driveway. For some time the men consulted a piece of paper, holding it up to a headlight. Then they paced out from the tree trunk. With a crowbar they probed the ground, as if searching for something buried. Finally, about six feet from the tree, just inside the roadbed, they went to work with pick and shovel.
A large tree root grew over what they were seeking. At first they dug around it. Then they cut the huge root in two, removing a section about eight inches in diameter and three feet long. After more digging the trio lifted out a large iron wash kettle, which they slowly carried to the trunk of the car. In moments they had sped away.
When the strangers had gone, the Lees and the Sniders ran out to examine the hole. The big imprint was there. Whatever the kettle contained, it was heavy, they knew. If only they had graded that road one more time, the Lees thought. . . .
Treasure is found in the strangest places-or are they perhaps the most obvious places? An old Cherokee named Ed Walkingstick once unearthed "a large amount" of Spanish gold while plowing the Laura B. Ketcher farm near Peavine, in Adair County. No one ever knew just how much he found. And there was a Dr. Bailey, whose big house seven miles southwest of Hugo, in Choctaw County, had three large fireplaces. The hearth of one was a solid slab of stone. Bailey was murdered for his money, but it was years later before anyone looked under the large rock, where $16,000 reposed. No one ever knew just how much money was found in the Tom Patton Cave, west of Courtney on Red River in Love County, but Kate Davenport believed that it was more than what its finders would ever admit.
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