Throughout history...in regards to folklore, culture, and geography the Ozark mountains have been a foreboding and inhospitable place.
Described as remote, secluded, dark, forbidding, lawless, dangerous, and mysterious.
Even today these descriptions are accurate...in spite of their location near major cities...some places in the the Ozark mountains remain dark, unexplored, and mysterious.
These mountains comprise large portions of NW Arkansas, Southern Missouri, NE Oklahoma, and even a tiny sliver of southeast Kansas.
Consisting of 60,000 square miles of uplifted and dissected plateau...the Ozarks are bordered at the north by the Missouri River...at the east by the Mississippi River...at the south by the Arkansas River, and to the west by the Neosho River.
While the sculpting of the Ozark landscape was taking place on the surface 30 million years ago when the area was subject to uplifting from prehistoric seas...and intense climate changes along with accompanying incessant rains...a different type of sculpting was going on underground.
The highly soluable limestone that makes up the Ozark range was being eaten away by chemically active ground waters...forming vast underground cavern systems.
What little information that exists about Paleo Indian history in the Ozarks...points to the fact that the lush valleys of the Ozarks did not lure great numbers of Indians.
Why remains a mystery...but it is suggested that the Ozarks were considered possessed by demons by early Indians...therefore held in fear and awe by these early settlers who settled on the fringes of the range.
Settlements of Osage, Illinois, Caddo, and Quapaw tribes eventually occupied small areas of the interior of the range...but their numbers were always isolated and small.
Spanish explorers...Desoto and his men...visited the Ozarks in and around 1555 in search of precious metals as they worked their way eastward towards the Mississippi River.
Evidence of Spanish occupation and mining is plentiful...although their time there was short, and they established no permanent settlements....the tales of Spanish plunder of gold and silver are legion.
While there the Spanish prospered with the help of Indian slaves doing the dirty work...in the end carrying away enough gold and silver to fill a treasury.
But they didnt get it all.
The French were next...and they did in fact set up permanent settlements. They were instrumental with setting up trading routes in the still untamed wilderness.
Fast traveling news of silver, gold, and a rich fur trade...led to more white settlers...new settlements...and more conflict with indigenous indian tribes
Enter the Lousiana Purchase...and in no time the area was bustling with eastern settlers looking for free land and the lures of striking it rich...as well as poor dirt farmers looking to carve a meager living out of the rocky hills and valleys.
The indian problem was more about white settlers becoming disconcerted with ownership of the best farming areas being occupied by inidans.
What to do? The solution was clear.
Relocation programs (The Trail of Tears) soon ushered out the "indian problem."
Regardless...indian escapees and renegades still roamed the Ozark countryside in hiding...angered by the theft of their land...and exacted revenge upon targets of opportunity.
Adding to the list of already formidable perils and dangers of frontier life in the hills.
During and after the Civil War...the area became even more inhospitable by the legions of outlaws and rebels who took to hiding in the hills...more willing to rob and pillage established settlers than they were to working for a living.
Many homesteads and farms did not flourish...but the stories of riches from faded gold and silver mines, lost caches, and buried treasures of the Spanish explorers, French traders, numerous outlaws, and Indians did survive.
Some of the poor possessionless few who survived this rugged landscape did in fact find riches...most aspired of wealth that eluded them.
Many were unlucky, some fared better, others died trying.
People come and go...but the tales live on.
Stories of lost and buried fortunes of the ancient mines...ingots of pure silver and gold.
They tell of the eternal quest for what lies just out of sight beyond the next bend...the next valley over...or buried under a few feet of Earth.
Here are a few:
1. Ol' Tobe Inmon was a dirt poor settler who was ran off from his homeland of Kentucky after being accused of stealing a neighbors cow.
One day he ended up off the main trail in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains...and got lost.
So far this trip had yielded little but swamps, mud, and misery.
He found himself in a small valley that appealed to his family and himself, and he started building a pen for their hogs they had herded all the way from Kentucky...and built a crude cabin for them to live in.
Time goes by...and one of his kids ended up being very ill...running a high fever.
He made the rare journey into the nearest town...12 miles away...and fetched the town doctor.
The doctor stayed with the family until the girls fever broke, and she looked to be recovering.
He expected no payment...but ol' Tobe insisted that the doctor take a bag full of bullets he had in his possession.
He had claimed to have mined the lead for the bullets from an old mine he had found somewheres near Old Moccasin Creek...which flowed through the remote valley in which he lived.
They looked to be finely made bullets...and the doc being a deer hunter...gratefully accepted the sometimes hard to aquire ammunition as payment, for he did happen to have a gun that would fire them.
The doc takes the bullets home and forgetfully puts them on a shelf without further examining them.
The following deer season he goes to retrieve them...and upon further inspection...he is mesmorized by the color of the peculiar color of the "lead" beneath the black residue that he scratched off the bullets surface with his fingernail.
Following a hunch...he cancels his deer hunt...and rides into Russelville to visit a precious metals appraiser there.
He is shocked to find that the bullets are made of pure silver!! He sells the bag of shells for $72...and goes home with a brand new plan.
He hustles out to ol' Tobes homestead deep in the hollers...and is dismayed to find that he had long since moved out. The nearest neighbor...miles away said they packed up months ago...and had left for whereabouts unknown in Texas to find better farming ground.
The doc promptly sets up camp at the old homestead...and the following morning he went back into town and bought mining supplies and provisions for a few weeks.
He climbed through the hills and crevices behind ol' Tobes homestead...exploring every rocky outcrop and holler he encountered for evidence of mining...but found nothing.
He soon ran out of food...and was forced to return to town...where he made preparations to for a longer stay.
As he bustled around town people remarked about his filthy and unshaven appearance...as well as his disregard for his medical practice, and peoples pleas for his service.
He refused to tell people what he was doing...and for the next two and a half years was consumed with notions of striking it rich with the fortune in silver he believed existed in a hidden mineshaft near Tobes old Ozark Mountain homestead.
More years passed...and the long and fruitless search for the silver mine had left the doc penniless and heartbroken.
His health deteriorated rapidly...and the doc died a broke and broken man.
Upon learning of docs secret...many others took up the search...and did manage to find ancient Spanish armor and mining tools...but no fortune in silver.
Could it be that ol' Tobe had stumbled upon a lost Spanish silver mine? It probably was.
But poor Tobe...who had lived in filth and squalor all his life as a dirt poor farmer...didnt realize that it wasnt lead he was mining for his hunting bullets...it was pure silver.
He had his hands on a fortune...but couldnt see it for what it was.
And poor old doc...he realized it...but couldn't locate it.
2. Another story relates to a party of 19 Spanish explorers who had come up from Mexico..through Texas...and into the Ozarks....around the present day borders of Missouri and Arkansas.
They had robbed and pillaged Indian villages their way to the Ozarks...and had amassed a large fortune in gold as a result.
They had arrived in midwinter...and found shelter inside a limestone cave...one of many in the area....where they decided to ride out the winter.
A large war party of Indians seeking revenge had trailed them...and eventually located them due to smoke coming from the entrance of the cave...and attacked them near the its entrance.
Before they were killed however...the Spaniards managed to carry the gold they had obtained deep into the cave...all the way to the final cavern...where they cached it.
There they all perished...and nothing more was heard of about it again...until an old Spanish gentleman arrived in Sulfur Springs in 1885....bearing an ancient Spanish treasure map detailing how to reach the hidden cache of gold.
According to the old Spaniard...a second detachment of Spanish soldiers was sent to ascertain the fate of the first party.
The second detachment learned of the many exploits and raids of the first group from indians they encountered along the way...and ended up at the cave where they were said to have died.
Once inside...the skeltons of their dead Spanish comrades killed in the indian massacre were found. The soldiers searched the cave...and found the huge cache of gold in the back of the cave.
Since they lacked enough horses and mules to carry all the extra booty...they backfilled the cave with dirt...disguised the entrance with a large rock...and made a map to enable a future party to find the buried loot.
They never returned to the area.
The old Spaniard employed two local men to help with finding the mine...which was marked with a deer hoove carved into the rock by the entrance.
Eventually...with a great deal of effort...they found the spot...which was camoflauged by many years of undergrowth on the side of the hill.
Once the rock blocking the entrance was removed...they saw that the cavern had indeed been backfilled with dirt that had apprently been carried in.
As the excavation began...and the dirt was removed...old Spanish armor and weapons were indeed found...confirming to them that this was the right spot.
Days turned into weeks...and then months...the old man finally took ill...and left the area.
The old man left money for the excavation to continue...and he promised to come back later when he was well.
The two men continued to dig for a few days...but eventually gave up...split the money...and vowed to restart the dig upon the old mans return.
The old man never came back.
As it turned out...the old man ended up at a homestead in Oklahoma...where he was nursed up until his death from fever.
The map in his possession remained in an old trunk tucked away and forgotten about until in 1922 when the grandson of the people who had nursed the old Spaniard...was told about the cave and the map...but couldnt locate the wherabouts of the old map...he then took up the search himself with the help of a man whom he had befriended who also had knowledge of the same old cave...along with another ancient map that pinpointed the same cave as the holder of a fortune in Spanish gold.
They hired a crew to excavate the ton upon ton of fill dirt from the cave...but got nowhere....they would uncover a new passageway...sure that this one would be the right one...only to be disappointed time and time again.
Eventually one of the men died...the other continued the dig...but evntually gave up.
A few others have tried unsuccessfully to find the fortune in gold rumored to be deep inside the mountain.
Many say an 1812 eartquake has forever buried the cavern with the gold in it...and the "fill dirt" was dirt that had filtered through the fractures of the caves ceiling over the years.
Today the old mine is located along the highway between Gravette and Sulfur Springs...advertised on a roadside bill board as the "The Spanish Treasure Cave."
3. The turtle rock is another famous legend of lost fortune in NW Arkansas.
Scientists and geologists have long noted that the Spanish marked their mining activities in both North and South America with symbols carved into rock.
In Pope county around Big Piney Creek in 1910...an old farmer went out to tend to his crop. As he did...he noted two strangers camped in the wooded area next to his field.
The men approached him and asked him if he knew of any carvings of snakes or turtles in exposed rock.
He thought this an odd question...but he obliged...and replied no.
A few days later the men hurriedly loaded up...and left the area...angrily gesturing a rifle or shotgun at the passerby who got too close to their wagon.
The farmer went to their deserted camp...and found several holes dug around a nearby old beech tree....which had the old and weathered image of a snake carved into the trunk.
Just a few paces to the north...there was a large rock that appeared to have been dug up.
With the help of his son...the farmer flipped the large rock over...revealing the carving of a turtle on the exposed stone.
Underneath the rock was a freshly excavated hole about 2 feet deep.
Whatever the two strangers had unearthed will probably never be known...as they were never seen again.
In 1976 a college professor led a team of students into the same Big Piney area to do geological and fossil studies...and later it turns out after the photos were developed...one of the students had taken a picture of a flat limestone rock with the image of a turtle carved upon it.
The professor...familiar with carvings of turtles, deer hooves, turkeys feet, and arrowheads in exposed rock being consistent with hidden Spanish mines or caches in the Ozarks and elsewhere...contaced the student to see if they remembered where they had taken that picture.
She did not...the professor has returned many times attempting to find the turtle carving...but never did find it.
Was it the same rock the farmer and his son had flipped over years earlier...or was it a brand new yet un-discovered rock hiding a lost cache?
The search continues.
4. The Lost Tabor Mine. Old man Tabor was a hermit who lived in Searcy county, Arkansas along Tomahawk Creek around 1865.
He rarely came to town...but when he did...he paid for his provisions in pure silver ore.
When asked about the origin of the silver...he would cackle a toothless laugh...and promptly evade those who would try to follow him home by leading them in circles for miles through the brushy hills and hollers.
Eventually Tabor was never seen again...everybody assumed since he was elderly anyhow...he probably met his end in the hostile Ozark mountains.
People searched for his lost silver mine...but after 15 years or so of failed efforts...it eventually was forgotten.
Years later...in 1924...a farmer and his daughter were searching for two lost cows on the land that they owned along Tomahawk Creek.
They ended up half a day later on a remote trail leading down by the creek...when they crawled through some twisted downed trees...he spied the entrance to a mine on the side of a rocky hill....right beside a recent landslide that had opened it up into plain sight.
He explored the mine...and discovered a rich and thick vein of silver ore so pure it could be pried out easily with a pocket knife.
He resorted to secrecy when people began asking too many questions about the mine and the silver... it was suspected that he mined the silver out of the hill side over many years.
Even when other farms nearby faultered during very hard times, and made no money...his farm prospered year after year.
From the geographic location and description of the mine shaft the farmer accidentally found...it appears that the lost Tabor mine had been re-discovered...only to be lost again.
In spite of numerous organized attempts to re-locate it...it remains lost.
5. The Yoachum Silver Dollar....One of the most enduring legends of lost Ozarks treasure is the Yoachum Dollar.
In 1541...DeSoto and his men in search of mineral wealth in SW Missouri constructed a log fortress near the mouth of the James river confluence with the White River.
While inspecting an ancient Indian cave near their fort...they discovered a large and thick vein of pure silver ore inside the numerous passageways.
They promptly enslaved some local indians...and extracted and smelted the ore into ingots 18 inches long...stacking hundreds and hundreds of them along the cave walls as they awaited transport to the Mississippi River...and then to the gulf of Mexico where waiting Spanish Gallions would sail them back home to Spain.
The Spaniards treated the laborers very cruelly...and eventually there was an uprising that resulted in most of the Spainiards being killed.
After the indians regained control of the area...mining stopped for 2 1/2 centuries.
Along about 1815 or so...a family named Yoachum moved into the area...and homesteaded the land surrounding the old indian cave...and started a very properous farm along the river.
One of the Yoachums married a Delaware indian girl...which put him in the good graces of the local tribe.
During the indian relocation...tribe elders passed along to Yoachum the secret of the silver cave to him.
Within days of the departure of the indians...the Yoachum brothers 3 had located the cave...and made a pact to NEVER disclose the location of the cave.
When they needed money...they would go to the cave and fetch a few of the hundreds of bars of pure silver...and cash it in.
As time went by...more and more people moved into the area....and the french traders...usually content with silver as payment...started demanding FEDERALLY issued coin money.
This was dismaying to the Yoachums...who were VERY rich in silver...but poor in money...but they then did the obvious...they made their own money...using simple blacksmith tools...they constructed die stamps...and began stamping the date 1822 and Yoachum on one side...and then the United States Government...and one dollar on the other side.
They effectively minted their coins...and several months later saw their stamped coins become more used and more readily available to the residents of the remote Ozarks region than federally issued coin was.
They were the preferred mode of currency for many years...as the James Fork Trading company decided to accept them as good for any and all purchases.
No one outside of this remote part of the Ozarks had heard of them...but the residents were quite pleased with the situation...and this economy worked quite well.
By 1845 however...the federal govt. became aware of the Yoachum dollar...because when the former indian lands became available for homesteading...they required a title...and the mode of payment was federally issued monies.
Several dozen residents tried to pay with Yoachum dollars at the govt. office in Springfield. The clerk refused...but was persuaded...by gun point...to issue the titles...or else.
He wisely obliged...and promptly forwarded the Yoachum dollars and a description of what happened to Washington D.C.
The feds tested the Yoachum dollars...and found them to be pure silver...much more so than the fed dollar was.
They were not considered counterfeit...because no imitation had been attempted....however they had a strong desire to get a handle on proliferation of non-fed money.
The result was the clerk showing up at the Yoachum home to confiscate the remaining coins and the loaction of the silver mine...and promptly being ordered off the property by gun point...only to return later with 8 heavily armed and menacing looking federal marshalls.
Normally a law abiding citizen...Yoachum agreed to stop minting the coins...but would not divulge the location of the silver mine.
At the end of the resulting conversations with the federal agents...they finally agreed that he had to stop minting the coins.
Yoachum promised to stop...and the location of the old Spanish silver mine remained a secret.
3 years later the elder yoachum died during what some say was a cave in at the silver mine along with his indian wife.
After their brothers death...the two remaining brothers decided to abandon the ozarks...and headed for California.
Before leaving...the brothers were said to have given the coin stamping equipment to family friends who owned a grist mill who buried it...and then camoflauged the entrance to the mine so that it was hidden from view before they left.
With that...the brothers left in wagons for the Cali gold fields. It is said that the families died crossing the Rocky Mountains.
With their deaths...the location of the silver mine was lost too.
There are many variations of this story...but one thing is indisputable...and that is that thousands of the Yoachum dollars did in fact exist...and many still do today in the hands of collectors.
An old man in Missouri relates the story that when he was a boy...he had a boyhood friend who was a Yoachum...and inside his friends grandfathers barn...they spied a barrel filled to the top and heaping over with Yoachum dollars.
In 1974...near Branson, Missouri...a cache of 236 Yoachum dollars was found as a man was metal detecting in the Ozark hills. The practice of distrusting banks was common...MANY lost caches are still said to exist throughout the Ozarks because of this practice.
In 1983...a property owner was digging along the james river bank...and found what appeared to be a ball of wax.
Inside the wax...upon breaking it open...were what appeared to be coin stamps.
The man obtained a Yoachum dollar from a coin collecting friend of his...only to find that it matched exactly both sides of the stamp he had in his possession.
It undoubtedly was pressed back in the day when Yoachum made his own money...presumably from a lost Spanish silver mine that he had one day stumbled upon after acting on a tip from an inidan friend.
How many of the legendary Yoachum dollars are in some musty old trunk in some attic or basement somewhere in the Ozarks??
A guy might be suprised.
If these few stories peak your interest...you really should buy the book titled..."Buried Treasure of the Ozarks"...by W.C. Jameson.
There's 38 more legends and stories similar to the ones I cited inside the covers...and the ones I did cite are much more detailed in the book.
He also has other books about the Ozarks and its fascinating stories of its people. I intend on buying those as well.
These stories have a local flavor for me...perhaps that's why I've read the book 3 times now...Lol.
I..along with several BOC members live in or near the Ozarks areas of Se Kansas, SW Missouri, NW Arkansas, and NE Oklahoma...and there are ample stories available to capture ones imagination of our land before accurate or consistent records were kept.
Do you have any stories of hidden or lost confedrate, Indian, ancient, or other treasure that you have heard about in your area?