Oregon back country is rich in legends of buried treasure
Stories of lost loot and buried booty have kept treasure hunters busy digging for gold in hidden corners of Oregon for the past 150 years
A Concord stagecoach similar to the ones that Oregon bad guys used to
rob— a popular source of buried-treasure legends. This particular coach
was built recently by G and F Carriages of Bloomington, Calif., which
builds and sells upscale horse-drawn vehicles. It is available for sale; for
more information or to see more and larger pictures of it, click here.
By Finn J.D. John — January 16, 2011
Oregon has more than its share of high-profile stories of lost and buried treasure — stories like the Blue Bucket Mine in northeastern Oregon and the buried treasure of Neahkahnie Mountain on the coast.
But there are many more as well — rumors and legends of buried loot from stagecoach robberies, gold dust squirreled away by nervous prospectors, and even a kettle of cash stashed away for safekeeping by a paymaster doomed to die in silence.
And who knows? One or two of them might even be true.
The Louse Creek Stage Robbery
In 1890, a group of robbers held up a stagecoach near Louse Creek in Josephine County, north of Grants Pass. (The story says “Douglas County,” but this is probably an error; Louse Creek runs within a few dozen miles of the Douglas County line.)
A Google Map of the Louse Creek area. [View larger map]
According to this legend, the robbers were chased down and killed in classic 1890s Oregon gold-field style; but one of them, with his dying breath, said the loot had been stashed a few hundred yards from the crime scene, in a hole in the ground.
For years, treasure seekers scrounged around the area, looking under every leaf. As far as anyone knows, they found nothing.
Then, in 1933, a gold prospector named C.L. Eubanks, beating the bushes along the creek, came across a manzanita tree with some peculiar carvings on the trunk. The date 1890 was there, along with the initials MLP and LPM (the robbers' names, perhaps?) and, below that, a message. Eubanks could just make out the words “Go to” — beyond that, the tree’s healing powers in the previous 35 years had made the carving unreadable.
That summer, Eubanks devoted himself to the hunt for the missing loot. But, so far as anyone knows, he never did find it.
The silent paymaster of Fort Grant
A Google Map of the area where Fort Grant once lay; today, it's part of
Phoenix, Ore. [View larger map]
In the years after gold was discovered in California and southern Oregon, the town of Fort Grant sprang up south of Medford — more or less where Phoenix is today. The town lacked a bank, so the paymaster of one of its companies — probably the stage line — kept accounts for local miners. He’d stash their gold dust, $20 coins and other valuables in a big iron kettle, which he kept securely buried in a secret location.
This worked great — until the paymaster suddenly had a stroke.
Struck dumb, the paymaster motioned for a pencil and was handed one. But halfway through his attempt to draw a map, the growing damage in his brain reached the lethal stage, and he took its secret with him to the grave.
Again, there was much time and effort given to scrounging around camp and thrusting steel rods into the ground to probe for the kettle; again, so far as is known, no one has found it. But then, if I'd found it, I wouldn't have told anyone ... would you?
The inside job at Pendleton
Another solid-gold legend has enough basis in fact to have made it into court in 1880. It seems a fellow named H.P. Page, an official with Wells Fargo, was riding to Portland on a company stage that was delivering a big chunk of money.
A Google Map of Pendleton. The coach en route to Portland from this
little city would have followed roughly the same path that Interstate
84 takes today. [View larger map]
On the way, Page went into the boot of the Concord stagecoach to take a nap on the mail sacks … or so the jury chose to believe when it acquitted him. The prosecution tended to think he was doing something other than snoozing in there.
Whatever the real story was, what mattered most was that the shipment of gold was somehow abstracted from the coach on its way to Portland. Oh, and one other detail: The coach didn't stop anywhere on the way. The gold simply disappeared en route. It's hard to imagine any way that could have happened, other than Page chucking it out the window into a bush along the route.
Page, acquitted, found himself marked as untrustworthy and left the area and was never heard from again. But some folks think he stashed the loot somewhere in Umatilla County to retrieve it later, after his notoriety had ebbed a bit, and never made it back. Maybe it’s still there. Or, maybe the whole thing is a Tooth Fairy-class fantasy. Who knows?
Corvallis and the solid-gold muck boot
One last story. This one is probably the least believable of the bunch — but again, who knows?
Peavy Arboretum is just north of Corvallis, just off Highway 99W, on
Arboretum Road. [View larger map]
Apparently in 1857, a miner showed up at a saloon in Corvallis and started bragging about a rich gold strike he’d hit. The story goes that after sobering up, this guy realized he’d raised his public profile more than was good for him, and that he’d better stash his pile of gold someplace safe so that he would not be a walking, talking, engraved formal invitation to a mugging. So he put his gold dust in a rubber boot and squirreled it away in what is now Peavy Arboretum.
Subsequently, the story claims, the miner disappeared and several Corvallis citizens shortly thereafter became uncommonly wealthy.
This last bit makes this story suspect, as in 1857 so much money was still pouring into Oregon from the gold fields of California and southern Oregon that a sudden increase in a neighbor’s living standards would not have been unusual enough to raise such suspicions.
This Wells Fargo Concord stagecoach was being pulled across the
American prairies when buffalo still were roaming it. It's currently on
display in Kenab, Utah. [Larger image: 2000px]
What else is wrong with this story? Actually, plenty. First of all, Corvallis isn’t a mining town. It’s certainly possible that someone struck gold nearby, but he’d be far more likely to go south and strike it in Jacksonville or Virginia City, which means he’d be doing his drunken boasting there, not back home in Corvallis.
And secondly, rubber boots were uncommon and valuable items in 1857, not the sort of thing a man would use to bury something in.
Still, it’s a fun legend to think about if you’re ever visiting the arboretum — and who knows? It may even be true.
(Sources: Friedman, Ralph. The Other Side of Oregon. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1993; www.treasure-adventure.com/oregon.html)