Treasure? Well, I’ve looked 3 times and I sure haven’t found one! Honestly, I guess the first two times didn’t really count because we didn’t get to what I would call ‘ground zero’ to search. Either through lack of preparedness, roads that didn’t match the map, or fences where we didn’t expect to find any, our terrestrial based efforts could never get us to the right spot to begin our search. But somewhere near the old military road there is supposedly a cave with guns and gold in it!
If you go up the Little River from Pine Lake, there are still the remains of a river crossing on an old military road dating back to the early 1800’s, in Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. The legend goes that some guys were camping, one split off to hunt for squirrels, became lost, found a cave just before a storm hit, found his way back after the storm passed with a few treasure trinkets from the cave, and they all went back every year for the rest of their lives, with one even dying in those very woods, still on the quest! Now you have the cliff notes! The legend is easy to find through a google search, and Okie Treasure Hunter (Jamie Dodson) has a great write up in his blog about it.
So on my birthday in October 2011 or so, we appropriated an old Ranger bass boat and headed up river to find our fortune. The weather was perfect, a little cool, sunny and not a cloud in sight. Perfect for exploring dark woods looking for a small entrance to a cave. We had multiple detectors, backpacks full of gear, flashlights, and were armed to the teeth. Did you know SE Oklahoma is meth country? Well it is, and most of the trash you’ll find in those woods seems to come in the form of chemical containers or outright lab trash. While you hate to encounter that in the woods, it would be way worse to stumble onto an active operation, so according to a suggestion from local law enforcement, we were armed just in case.
Our research had been a two-pronged approach, first trying to determine if the people actually existed, and then using topo maps and google earth to help find the most likely terrain that would support the narrow box canyon leading to a cave that was central in the story. Being so close to the old military road, the tale made at least some sense because everybody, not just the military, would have been using that road at one time or another. It would also have been completely normal for boxes of Springfield rifles, still in brand new grease, to have been transported down that road. Further, we knew from information about people’s habits at that time, that if the river was high or the time late in the day, travelers would frequently just set camp till conditions improved to cross the river. Everything seemed to make decent sense as to why a treasure would be there at least. In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that we didn’t research the people of the story very heavily. We all just wanted an adventure and this one was close!
There’s nothing like a treasure hunt. Searching the woods for visual clues, navigating to points of interest picked out on our topo maps, encountering wildlife along the way, the quietness and darkness of the woods…just being on the quest. In the course of our 2 day hunt, we would normally split up, each carrying a radio to stay in communication, already having agreed to meet back at the boat in 2 or 3 hours depending on how early we made it to our hunt area. It was easy to see how a cave could stay so well hidden amongst the layers of leaves, dense tree growth, and terrain changes. Our main focus was to find a small box canyon, not much wider or deeper than maybe 10-15 feet. The only problem was that the terrain didn’t support such a feature in the area the lost hunter supposedly found the cave, unless it was an actual feed channel for Terrapin Creek. We later remarked at just how difficult it was to effectively search in the first place, then try to figure out if possibly the direction taken by the lost hunter was even remembered correctly by him.
Each night back at camp we pored over the topos, planned new spots to hunt, and relived the day’s adventure. Sitting up late around the campfire, we heard coyote howls, and deeper howls that my buddy swore was bigfoot. It didn’t help any that we would hear knocking sounds intermittently, which really freaked my buddy out! Yes, that area is prime bigfoot territory! People go there just to look for the world’s hide-and-seek champion. Slightly intriguiged, I commented that I’d ask him if he knew of any caves nearby, lol! Just business mind you, go back to hiding and we’ll pretend this never happened!
Each day was mostly the same routine, split up, search, mark areas off our maps, and grumble about not being rich already. After 2.5 days, we never found the cave! In typical fashion for Oklahoma, and the second time Okieland tried to kill us with weather, conditions took an extremely nasty turn, resulting in a high speed boat ride downriver, almost making it back but still doing about a 1/2 mile in drenching, cold rain, crazy close lightning, and gusts of wind that practically lifted us out of the boat!
Dejected, we were all ready to head home. Had we engaged in a fool’s errand? Maybe. What we did know was that we had so much fun it almost defied description. We discussed how much area we just couldn’t cover, and the possibility that we could just hunt for things lost along the road and probably have better luck. That will definitely on the list next time, especially considering I found an old rusty pocketknife-most likely carried by whatever famous outlaw you can imagine-beside the old road next to a massive oak tree!
Looking back and having lived through it once, I know I’d like to go back. The two friends I went with are no longer involved in treasure hunting, and we’ve lost contact. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. So it’s time to round up some new Argonauts and try again. Y’all know how to reach me.