The Hills Of Oklahoma
Tales of the James, Younger, and Dalton gangs predominate in the hills of Oklahoma, especially in the rugged terrain around Sand Springs and Pryor, in the northeastern part of what was once Indian Territory. More than once hidden caches have been unearthed in these areas, and there are those who believe that more booty will be found in the future-more like the $37,200 found near Oglesby in 1913.
Robber's Canyon lies five miles west of Pryor. It was here that the James-Younger gang supposedly buried $110,000 in gold. Cole Younger verified the story in later years, say old settlers who knew him personally. In his autobiography, The Story of Cole Younger, the old outlaw gave no hint about hidden loot. But old residents of Pryor say that Cole revisited Robber's Canyon about 1910 to recover the long hidden plunder. But ill luck still haunted the old desperado.
Cole told several Pryor friends that in the 1870's the gang made several daring raids in southern Kansas and Indian Territory, collecting more than $110,000. They often holed up in Robber's Canyon because of its superb vantage. They dug a deep pit, placed the gold specie in a large iron cooking pot, and lowered it to the bottom of the hole. When their horses had trampled the earth, Jesse James-who usually marked the burial sites-took a heavy pocketknife and carved a rattlesnake around a nearby stone. Jesse fashioned the snake so that it coiled around the rock, its head pointing up the canyon. When they returned for the loot, the sign would be all they would need.
The money would wait for a rainy day-but that day never came. Cole Younger and his brothers rode north to Minnesota. A bank robbery got them twenty-five years in prison. A few years later Jesse met his end. Frank James knew about the gold, but whether he ever attempted to retrieve it no one knew (apparently he spent his time seeking two million dollars in gold bullion down in the Wichita Mountains).
One account has it that Cole had tried much earlier to retrieve the treasure shortly after he was released from prison, but the Oklahoma territorial governor made it clear that he did not want him back in the territory. Whether Cole made a try for the loot when he returned to Oklahoma in 1903 is not known, but in 1910 he made a final attempt at the Robber's Canyon gold.
But by then the country had changed far too much, even for his keen memory. In the 1870's Pryor was not much more than a section house. By 1910 much of Robber's Canyon was fenced, and part of it plowed. But Cole believed that if he could only find the carved rattlesnake luck would turn in his favor. After much hunting-and raising the ire of farmers-he found the snake, badly weathered on the sandstone rock. But it did him no good, though he knew that the buried kettle was near. At least, that is what Cole told his friends in Pryor.
H. W. Kiskaddon, of Tulsa, was sure that the Robber's Canyon treasure was not the only cache Younger failed to retrieve. Although Cole said nothing about it to Oklahomans, he spoke about it to his family in Missouri. A close friend of the family told Kiskaddon the story of the sixty-three thousand dollars that Cole talked about until his dying day.
He had buried the money, Cole said, on the south side of the Arkansas River only a mile downstream from the Sand Springs bridge. When he tried to find it again, the gold had sunk deep in its mucky grave. It would take more than Cole had to retrieve it, which was only a shovel. The old outlaw dared not arouse the citizens by bringing in draft animals to remove the earth, because if he found the money it would be confiscated. It was blood money, and as far as Cole was concerned, it would have to stay there.
Kiskaddon learned all this one evening about 1930, when he was returning home from the oil fields near Claremore. He came upon an old man walking along the road. Kiskaddon recalled the meeting: He was a giant of a fellow, distinguished in appearance and very courtly in his bearing. Because of his evident refinement, I picked him up and brought him on into Tulsa. On the way into town he told me something of his story. He was eighty-nine years old and his name was O. S. Kelly. He was a brother, he said, of the Kelly tire people of Springfield, Illinois, but he had not seen any of his family for years.
During the Civil War his brothers had fought with the North while he had elected to join the Confederacy. At the close of the struggle he went back to Illinois to find that his family had disowned him. Heartbroken, he started west, and in Missouri near what is now Aurora he traded for 160 acres of woodland. He cleared the land, put in an apple orchard, and lived until the day he started on the trip on which I met him. The thing about Kelly that made people listen with respect to what he had to say was that he was so obviously a man of education and talents. He had been educated in the universities of Germany and his speech and bearing corroborated him.
Kiskaddon said that the four Younger brothers frequently stayed at Kelly's farm and that Cole Younger told him the story of the sixty-three thousand dollars on the Arkansas River and then laughed and said just try to find it. Anyone who dared he wished him luck. Cole's story was that the gang had held up an express coach conveying the gold and silver northward. They were headed toward Missouri when a posse began to catch up with them and they were forced to ditch the loot.
The Arkansas River was the final obstacle. At the south bank they jumped from their horses and with some makeshift tools dug a hole for the bags of coins clinging to their horses. Once the hole was filled, they mounted their horses, trampled the fresh sod, and spurred their animals across the river. Cole Younger told Kelly that he had never retrieved the money and then laughed and added that he was just as sure that no one else had either.
W. H. Reynolds once recalled that Cole spoke in Atoka in August. 1913. on the subject "Crime Doesn't Pay." In his talk Cole mentioned Cat Creek Cave fifteen miles northeast of Stringtown in Atoka County where he and the Jameses had often hidden out. Cole made no mention of hidden booty. But someone had secreted loot there because Arthur Goad found seven hundred dol-lars stuffed into the wall behind a large rock.
Emmett Dalton in his book When The Daltons Rode did not mention his buried loot. But it has been said that when he appeared in Lawton in 1907 after his release from prison he offered ten thousand dollars to anyone who could show him a certain cave. Many looked for the cave in the Keechi Hills, where Dalton had reputedly stashed seventy-five thousand dollars. It is also believed that Dalton buried some of his loot near Sand Springs. Many area settlers were certain that he recovered some of it after his days of sin were repaid.
Both Grat and Bob Dalton served as deputy United States marshals under "Hanging" Judge Isaac Parker at Fort Smith before launching their outlaw careers. Emmett served as a posseman under his two brothers. Finding it more profitable to be without the law than within, they resorted to horse stealing and fled to California to escape the clutches of Judge Parker.
Later they returned to Indian Territory and for more than a year terrorized banks and trains. Bandits Dick Broadwell and Bill Powers joined their ranks, and together the five pulled successful train robberies at Wharton, Lillietta, Red Rock, and Adair. Rewards amounting to six thousand dollars were placed on their heads. But lawmen failed to find their hideouts-the caves along the Canadian River in the Creek Nation. The gang's doom came shortly after nine o'clock on the morning of October 5, 1892, when they rode into Coffeyville, Kansas. They planned to rob two banks at once, a feat beyond those of even the Jameses or the Youngers.
From the First National Bank they made off with eleven thousand dollars and from the Con-don Bank, another twenty thousand dollars. But they were not to keep it long. A barrage of gunfire cut them down in a battle that lasted only ten minutes. When the smoke had cleared from what witnesses declared were two hundred shots, four bandits and four citizens lay dead in the street. Emmett Dalton, the only survivor, was severely wounded. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Kansas State Penitentiary. After serving fourteen years, he gained a pardon, later wrote his memoirs, and died in California in 1937. "Outlaw treasure is haunted money," Emmett Dalton is reported to have once said after his release from prison. "It lies best where it is, like a shroud for outlaws gone."
But Emmett did not practice what he preached, say old-timers in Sand Springs. Three days after his release from prison he was back at his old hideout, and curious neighbors believed that one of three fresh-dug holes indicated that a round brass kettle might recently have been removed, not far from the caves in the rocky cliffs above Shell Creek. The Dalton gang had often used an old cabin near Sand Springs to hold their secret meetings and plan their forays. The cabin stood three miles east of the Dalton caves and a mile from the thicket of black-walnut and oak trees where the holes were found.
It had long been rumored that the massive fireplace in the cabin guarded a treasure map, placed there by the outlaws before their departure for Coffeyville. When they found the three holes, the discoverers hurried to the cabin. In the blackened hearth lay a stone that had only recently been removed from the mantel. The treasure map might have been folded and stuffed into the crack behind the stone and retrieved by Dalton.
Years later the cabin was torn down, and today the Sand Springs Home, a haven for orphans and widows, stands on the site. When the Daltons roamed the countryside, harboring in caves of the area, Jack Wimberley owned the farm on which they buried their money. Wimberley's wife often cooked for the bandits, and after her meals Jack and the boys would sit around the crackling fire and spin yarns about the days when they had been on the other side of the law as United States marshals. Wimberley never forgot them. "Uncle" Ed Page often recalled Jack Wimberley and his tales of the Daltons. Page, too, had seen the three holes in the walnut thicket and the hollow in the fireplace mantel from which he was sure Emmett had retrieved the treasure map.
On his daily trips over his land Page passed the caves above Shell Creek where the Daltons had often sought refuge. He also passed the old farmhouse ind chimney that guarded the aging treasure map. Page recalled in 1931: We all knew the Daltons had buried some money hereabouts, for Jack Wimberley told us of conversations he had overheard among the boys. "They used to come to my place," Jack would say, "and my wife and I would feed them, and then they'd sit around and talk and laugh. They used to tell about holdups and bank raids and the like, and laugh about how one fellow acted and another fellow acted. They were always fine and polite, just the nicest gentlemen I ever knew. And their saddle horses were the best I ever saw."
We'd ask him, "Well, Jack, why didn't you turn them ~ and collect a big reward?" "Why should I report them?" he'd ask, "I never knew nothing. I'd just hear them talk. How'd I know wether they really did all those things, or were just talking?" It was Jack who told us that one time he heard the lalton boys refer to a map or plat that gave the erections to some money they had buried somewhere near their cave over on Shell Creek. After all the boys had been killed at Coffeyville, all except Emmett, and he had been sentenced to life in prison, the men around here tried to locate the treasure. They searched all through the farmhouse for the map, but couldn't find it. They had a hunch, however, that the money was somewhere near the very thicket it later proved to be, and they dug all around that region, but had no luck.
Then came the news that Emmett had been released. Three days later one of the men who lived near here found the three holes, each dug at the foot of a giant oak tree. At the base of the largest tree was the round impression where a large kettle had sat. In great excitement the fellows spread the news. Some of the boys went up to the farmhouse of Jack's. There they found a stone had been removed from the mantel.
The fireplace was a huge affair, eight feet wide and capable of burning four-foot logs. It was evident the map had been lodged behind the stone in the mantel. It was obvious to us all that Emmett had headed straight down here from Lansing, gone to the house, secured the map, and followed its directions to the black walnut thicket. In the third hole he dug, he found the kettle. Then he left the country and the treasure went with him.
No one knows just how much Emmett recovered. But many think it was no less than seventeen thousand dollars, which the gang had netted from a train robbery at Adair. Whether or not Dalton recovered all of the outlaw loot is anybody's surmise. Emmett, of course, was not telling. But one thing old-timers remember that he did tell concerned his two partners, Bill Powers and Dick Broadwell.
Emmett said that they had buried part of their take from train robberies at Red Rock and Lillietta on the South Canadian River, about sixty miles southwest of Kingfisher. They consisted of several heavy sacks of silver. But they never got to spend it. Emmett did not know just where it was stashed, but he knew that his partners never touched it after it was buried.
Just north of Wilburton in Latimer County lies Robber's Cave State Park, named for the bandits and desperadoes who found it an excellent hiding place in territorial days. Near Robber's Cave huge boulders form a labyrinth of long, narrow tunnels. The list of notables who spent time there is long, and in one secret chamber the notorious Belle Starr is credited with hiding part of her plunder. One story has it that "Fiddlin' Jim," one of Belle's lovers, was killed here by a jealous admirer.
One brisk January day in 1903 a spelunker picked a curious cave to explore in the Glass Mountains of Major County. It was like any other cave in those gyp hills-not spectacular, but large enough to have accommodated a gang of outlaws who holed up here before the turn of the century.
Old-timers remembered that just after Zip Wyatt, alias Dick Yeager, was gunned down by a posse on August 4, 1895, he spoke of hidden money in the hills but failed to tell where it was concealed. The cave found by the spelunker might well have been that undisclosed site of hidden treasure, for while he was exploring the cavern, he happened across a number of moldy greenbacks under a large rock.
The stone was much too heavy to lift, and in trying to free the money, he tore off part of a twenty-dollar bill. He refused to show others the entrance to the cavern, saying only that he had found it near the head of Barney Creek, the very area where the infamous Wyatt and his band were known to have hidden. Perhaps the cave still contains some of Zip Wyatt's plunder- some of it, no doubt, metallic.
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