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Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

at the movies:

In 2006, a feature film was made based on the legend of the Spanish gold. It's titled "The Legend of Tillamook's Gold," although its festival title was "The Tillamook Treasure" and it often goes by that name. It won a number of awards. Here's a link to the Internet Movie Database info page about it; to see the movie's trailer on YouTube, click here.

Pieces of eight, etc.

If there was or is any treasure on Neahkahnie Mountain, it would likely be 17th-century Spanish doubloons like this one. For more information about these and other very old European money, check out 2-clicks-coins.com's info page on them.

You might also enjoy:

500-year-old beeswax still washes up on Oregon beaches regularly from a Spanish shipwreck -- probably the San Francisco Xavier -- near Nehalem Bay. If it's the Xavier, there's a lot more than beeswax amid the rotting timbers of the shipwreck ...

... the possibility that Sir Francis Drake's "Nova Albion" was not in California as most people believe, but Oregon's Little Whale Cove ...

... the story of the lost trove of gold nuggets found by pioneer children when their wagon was lost on the Oregon Trail, and never (as far as we know) found again -- known to history as the Lost Blue Bucket Mine.

So, where is this place?


View Larger Map

you just might ALSO
enjoy ...

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Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...

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Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...

z

this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.

z

oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...

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the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.

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take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.

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timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.

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pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

The legendary Spanish gold of Neahkahnie Mountain

A Native American story tells of a galleon coming to the bluff, just south of Astoria, and its crew burying a mysterious chest there — guarded by the body of a murdered crew member. Is it true? And has the treasure already been found?

Neahkahnie Mountain as seen from the north side. Photo by Eric Baetscher.
Neahkahnie Mountain as seen from the north today. (Photo by Eric
Baetscher. For larger image and copyright info, click here.)

Stories about buried treasure are, of course, almost never true. But there’s one buried-treasure story, dating back to the 1600s on the northern Oregon coast, that might actually be the real thing.

The story has been passed down through generations of Native Americans in the area of Nehalem Bay, and has almost certainly been corrupted over the centuries by exaggerations and simplifications. But here’s the gist of it:

Mysterious Spanish mariners arrive

In the late 1600s, a Spanish sailing ship came into Nehalem Bay. Some versions of the story say it dropped anchor there; in others, the galleon was shipwrecked. Both versions go on to say a group of men climbed into a small boat and rowed through the breakers to shore. The men then walked straight inland and up the side of a shoreside bluff called Neahkahnie Mountain, carrying a heavy chest. At some point, on the side of the mountain, they stopped, set the chest down and started digging; the whole time, the local natives had been watching with great curiosity.

Murder by the sea ...

At last, the hole was deep enough, and the chest was lowered into it. Then, apparently knowing the natives would not disturb a man’s grave, one of the bearded strangers drew his cutlass and plunged it into another, a dark-skinned man — apparently an African slave. This unfortunate fellow, once he finished dying, was then tossed in on top of the chest, and man and chest were buried together.

Map image from Google Earth
Neahkahnie Mountain from the south side, as rendered using the
"Earth" function on Google Maps. For the full map, which you can use to
explore the surrounding areas of the coast, click here.

... then they sailed away

From here, the stories diverge again. One has the ship hoisting anchor and disappearing over the horizon. In another, several sailors are left behind to guard the ship, but quarrel with the natives over women and are killed in the ensuing fights. Perhaps the most ludicrous version, a shipwreck scenario, has the captain of the ship killing all his crew members who won’t fit in the lifeboat and then setting out on the open sea in it, rowing to Baja California.

The legend begins to grow

A century passed. Then, in the early 1800s, British and American expeditions started to arrive: Lewis and Clark, the Astorian party and the Hudson’s Bay Company by land, and captains Gray and Vancouver by sea, though not in that order. Trading with the natives, they learned of the buried gold.

Hordes of treasure hunters

Poor Neahkahnie Mountain hasn’t been the same since. One settler after another has become obsessed with the legend and gone to try and retrieve the Spanish gold. People have spent years, decades, whole lifetimes digging hopeful holes in the bluff. In the 1870s, a treasure hunter named Pat Smith found some stones marked with arrows, crosses and the letters “DEW,” but nothing more. During the 1930s, two treasure hunters even died in the attempt, when an excavation they were working on collapsed on them.

The legend is still very much alive today. In 2006, a movie was even made about it – “The Tillamook Treasure” (also known as "The Legend of Tillamook's Gold"), an indie children’s film that won an impressive bevy of awards. People are still digging holes in the bluff, although a lot of it is going on in secret now, because the part of the bluff owned by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is officially off-limits to treasure hunters.

But these latter-day treasure hunters may be barking up an empty tree. There’s some reason to believe the treasure was real, but was found long ago.

Thomas McKay, treasure hunter

It seems back in the early 1800s, a fur trapper named Thomas McKay arrived with the Astorian party on the ill-fated sailing ship Tonquin. Here, he must have heard about the treasure, because after he became an employee of Hudson’s Bay Company, he started coming to the mountain, spade in hand. He worked obsessively, digging and scrounging every spare moment.

Then one day he suddenly walked away from the mountain, quit his job and disappeared. Years later, when he settled at French Prairie by the Willamette River, he seemed oddly flush with cash — not to the point of being flashy about it, but never worried about money either, and quite generous with it among his friends. And this was before the 1848 gold rush, when other residents of the Willamette Valley were using bushels of wheat and “Abernethy rocks” as currency.

Thomas McKay, treasure finder?

Could it be that Thomas McKay found that chest, secretly slipped away with it, quit his job and went somewhere else to enjoy it, free of the notoriety and envy that always seem to accompany found money? In fact, isn’t that that what any of us would do?

If that’s what happened, one has to hope that he treated the bones of that poor murdered slave with some respect.


(Sources: Gulick, Bill. Roadside History of Oregon. Missoula: Mountain Press, 1991; Sullivan, William L. Hiking Oregon’s History. Eugene: Navillus Press, 2006)

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