Buried Treasure in Oklahoma: The Strange Tale of Standing Rock
From buried Spanish gold to ill-gotten gains of outlaw loot, Oklahoma has a fantastic history of producing treasure tales. Some of these tails border on the absurd, while others are deeply rooted in historical fact. The tale of Standing Rock contains a bit of flavor from both. On one end, the tale can easily be dismissed as there are no historical facts to prove it. At the other, there is just enough evidence to support it.
Coronado and the Fabled Seven Cities of Gold
One of the earliest tales of buried treasure in Oklahoma stem from Spanish Explorers. Legend claims that Coronado and his band of Conquistadors made their way across Oklahoma in 1535 in search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. From Mexico, his men traveled north into New Mexico and then east into Oklahoma and Kansas. While in Oklahoma, they paused for awhile at Standing Rock on the north bank of Piney Creek near Lake Eufaula.
Standing Rock was named for a massive slab that had broke loose from a sandstone cliff formation high above the north bank of the Canadian and lodged itself in the center of a nearby stream. Before the location was flooded by Lake Eufaula, the rock was well known as a directional landmark. It stood between 40 and 65 feet tall. The walls of the rock were smooth, and since it was located in the river, it was hard to reach. Still, because of its location, it would be hard to miss.
It was at this rock where Coronado and his men stopped to rest. The legend, as told by local Native Americans, goes on to say that Coronado had acquired a significant amount of gold while in New Mexico. The large amount was weighing down the packhorses and slowing the men down. Additionally, many of the men were getting sick for unknown reasons. With so much of his team sick and wore out, Coronado decided to hide the treasure until they finished their hunt. His intention was to pick it up on their way back south.
After the loot was hidden, they carved several markers throughout the area. Two markers were carved on the rock, around 30 feet up from the base. These consisted of a stylized turtle and a triangle with a handle attached to one of the points. Another symbol found nearby was a large arrowhead marker carved on a large oak tree. The arrowhead pointed upwards, as if pointing towards the sky. These symbols were to indicate where the treasure was buried so that they could easily find it on their return trip.
The Markings Explained
Wilbert Martin from Tulsa had a theory on these markings. He said that “if the arrowhead pointed down it could mean that treasure was buried there. If the symbol slanted then it might mean proceed to the next marker. When an arrowhead was carved on a tree with the point of the symbol pointing straight up, it could mean go ahead, or go further on up a slope or hill.
“A turtle-shaped symbol could signify one of several things, one of which is disaster.” This gives a little credence to the story, as a good many of the Spanish men were sick with disease.
“Another was a mark for a triangle area, in which case three trees or large rocks were picked that were so located that each tree or rock formed the point of an equilateral triangle. A turtle was usually the symbol used as a mark on each of these points. The triangle location was much used. The points might be 100 yards from each other, sometimes nearer, or maybe farther - as in one case in the west where the points were three miles apart. A dot in the center of a triangle on a rock or tree meant the treasure was buried in the center of the triangle area. A mark attached to the outside point of a triangle and extending straight off could mean the treasure was buried outside the triangle area.”
Before Lake Eufaula was created, the Tulsan was out exploring around Standing Rock when he claimed to have found a bar of gold. During the 1950s and 60s, he was considered one of the greatest experts on the treasures of Standing Rock in the state.
Following the visits of the Spaniards, the rock served as a marker for many years. During the 1800s, it was a favorite camp site for travelers heading towards California. When the Cherokee Nation was formed, it became one of the cornerstone markers of the surveyed boundary line.
Although the story of Coronado and his men is entertaining, the likelihood of it being true is very slim. Coronado and his men did travel through Oklahoma, but their only movement in the state was to cross the panhandle.
Still, that does not discount the presence of Spanish miners. In the later part of the 1700s, Spain had once again acquired the area once known as the Louisiana Territory from Spain. During this time, a great many Spaniards flocked to the Wichita Mountains to seek gold. A number of Spanish arrastra’s can still be found there today. Could this be where the legend of the Spanish buried treasure came from?
The Second Tale of Buried Treasure at Standing Rock
A more likely scenario comes from the Twin Territories paper printed in 1899.
In the 1870s, during the era of the great cattle drives, a rancher was returning home to Texas after driving a large herd of cattle to market in Kansas. After receiving a hefty sum in gold for his wares, he began to make his way back home.
During those days, many stories circulated throughout the newspapers and taverns about ranchers getting waylaid by bandits and outlaws. While traveling south, the rancher lost his way and soon found himself in unfamiliar territory. Fearing the worst, he decided that his best course of action was to hide his pay and try to find his way back to the main road.
As quick as he could, he buried the saddleback containing the silver coins, marked out directions so he would remember where to find the coin, and began scouting for the main road again. After some time, he finally found the main road again, although by this time he was starting to feel ill. Knowing that he hid his treasure well, he decided that it was in his best interest to continue on to Texas where he could seek medical attention. Within a few weeks, after he was well recovered, he could return to pick up his stash.
The rancher eventually reached his home town in Texas where he immediately sought out the local doctor. It soon became apparent that he wasn’t getting any better. As he lay dying, he took the doctor in confidence and told him how to find his buried coin. The rancher instructed the doctor to find the carved hatchet on Standing Rock and follow the direction the handle pointed. He would come across another marker, an arrow, and he was to follow in the direction the arrow pointed until he reached a cave. The rancher’s treasure was located inside, buried about a foot deep.
At first, the doctor disbelieved the rancher, but the more he thought about it, the more fascinated by the idea he came.
Within a few weeks, the doctor took off for Indian Territory. After arriving, he easily found Standing Rock, but that’s where his journey ended. The untamed area proved to be too much for him and he decided to turn back, claiming that the land was full of “wild Indians” and he was afraid for his life.
Following the doctors journey, he decided to write a letter in search for help. This letter, wrote to a Cherokee whom the doctor knew by reputation, was the only surviving clue to the buried treasure. It is claimed that the Cherokee went in search of the ranchers pay, found all of the markers, but still wasn’t able to find the stash of silver coins.
The letter eventually made it into the hands I. B. Hitchcock, who related the story to the local media.
The truth of the lost treasure at Standing Rock may never be known. In 1964, the dam at Lake Eufaula was completed. The area around Standing Rock was submerged. Today, the only way to find the location is to dive deep and search through the muddy lake bottom.
The McIntosh County Democrat
Oklahoma Treasures and Treasure Tales by Steve Wilson
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles of Oklahoma
In Person Interviews of Local Residents