State Treasure - Oregon

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 27 of the November, 2010 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2010 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

MALHEUR COUNTY – The Snake River Massacre, also known as the Utter-Van Orman Massacre, was one of the most brutal ever documented.
The Utter-Van Orman wagon train was composed mainly of four families, with eight wagons totaling 44 people.
The massacre wasn’t just a single event. The incident occurred over a 40-day period, involving at least five attacks at three locations over a 75-mile stretch of the Snake River. Twenty-eight men, women and children were killed, 16 survived.
In August 1860, the Utter-Van Orman wagon train pulled out of Fort Hall under a military escort bound for the Willamette Valley.
Following the Oregon Trail, the escort returned to the fort after having no trouble with the Indians; a few soldiers remained to protect the pioneers.
Two weeks had passed when a party of Snake Indians attacked the train near the Snake River south of present-day Adrian.
Nineteen settlers were murdered and the rest were forced to abandon their wagons and flee. A couple of riders managed to escape and took off for help. Meanwhile, the survivors worked their way to the Snake River led by Mark Van Orman.
Over time, what little food was salvaged had been consumed as the survivors continued their trek up the Snake until they reached the mouth of the Owyhee River. Starving and weak, they made camp hoping help would soon arrive.
A passing Indian hunting party found the settlers and provided food. But a comment made and misunderstood by the Indians caused them to return that night and take all the guns and ammunition the survivors had. Van Orman decided they had to move on, but most of the party was too weak to travel.
Van Orman took his family and those who could travel and continued their trek up the Snake River northbound until they arrived at the confluence of the Burnt River. There the entire party was massacred.
Forty-five days after the initial attack, the soldiers arrived at the Owyhee camp. Twenty-one had died of starvation; 16 survivors were forced to cannibalism.
At the time the wagon train departed Fort Hall it carried over $10,000 in gold specie, most or all belonging to Mark Van Orman. The treasure was entrusted to the wagon-master and kept in a strongbox. So what became of the treasure?
A letter Van Orman was writing while traveling was among his belongings, which were recovered at the Burnt River massacre site. His property was sent to a woman, possibly the next of kin. It wasn’t until after her death years later that the letter was found.
The contents revealed that, during the initial attack near Adrian, Van Orman managed to secure the strongbox before having to flee. It was then carried by the survivors to the Owyhee camp. When Van Orman left this camp with his family he took the strongbox with them.
According to the letter, Van Orman crossed the Owyhee River and buried it on the north side. He engraved his initials, “MV,” into a nearby rock to mark the site. Apparently survivors from the Owyhee camp never knew this.
According to the Oregon Treasure Research Center, this story is not well known and there is no record of the gold ever being recovered.

The Lost Malheur River Mine
HARNEY COUNTY – Passing through the Malheur Mountain country in 1845, a wagon train of settlers heading west stopped to rest on the Malheur River. There, James McBride picked up a strange piece of metal he couldn’t identify.
Sometime later, McBride saw a piece of native gold from California and realized that what he’d found on the river in 1845 was pure virgin gold.
Twelve years later, in 1857, and again in 1858, McBride led two expeditions back to the site where he’d found the virgin gold. The first expedition never arrived and fled under attack from hostile Indians.
The second, a 26-man expedition, also failed to find gold after spending months in the area searching. The Wallen Expedition followed in 1859 and did find placer gold on the river, but hostile Indians forced the expedition to abandon everything and flee for their lives.
After the Indians were eventually subdued, thousands of men were mining on the Malheur, Powder, Grande Ronde, and Burnt Rivers. They averaged from $3 to $15 per day, but no one ever discovered the rich gold deposit that would explain the virgin gold found by McBride 165 years ago.

The Thrill Killers' Treasure
JOSEPHINE COUNTY – An innocent man is murdered in broad daylight…in cold blood…on the town’s Main Street. His killers are five well-armed fugitives – all loaded on testosterone, adrenalin, and liquor; they are known as the Triskett gang.
Wanted in the northern mines of the California Mother Lode for robberies and homicides, they attacked their victims less than 5 miles north of the California State Line in the mining camp of Sailor’s Diggins.
The camp is occupied by miners and their families, mostly settlers who arrived in the Oregon Territory sometime after 1841. It’s Tuesday afternoon, August 3, 1852. Most able-bodied men are working their claims or prospecting in the hills.
With the exception of a few merchants, the village is virtually defenseless. The Triskett Gang, Jack Triskett, Henry Triskett, Fred Cooper, Miles Hearn, and Chris Stover, spend their afternoon in the saloon where they got drunk on territorial liquor.
After murdering their first victim in front of the Main Street saloon, they walked from one end of camp to the other “killing anyone in sight.”
Eighteen men, women and children lost their lives in the massacre. Two women survivors were found beaten and raped.
The last stop for these 19th century thrill killers was the assay office. After relieving the assayer of $25,000 in gold dust, he became murder victim # 18.
It's said the gang appeared to be leaving town when they returned and robbed the assay office, “like it was an afterthought,” leading many to believe the massacre may’ve occurred on a mere whim, without pre-planning or premeditation.
And their capture was so incredibly pathetic it testifies to their lack of any fore planning at all.
Afterthought or not, plenty of miners heard the gunfire from the surrounding hills and were already racing towards Sailor’s Diggins.
Within minutes, a miner’s posse was formed and quickly cut the track of the fugitives heading west towards O’ Brien, a mining camp less than six miles away. Being intoxicated and hauling the gold on two stolen horses certainly slowed their escape.
About one mile east of O’Brien, the Triskett gang was forced to flee up a “low hill” after being overtaken by the posse. From atop the hill, they watched as the posse surrounded them and each knew their day of reckoning had come. The miners were itching for a fight; many had friends or family at Sailor’s Diggins, and all they knew was that several of them had been left to die and these five strangers were responsible.
Most believe the stolen gold was buried at or near the top of the hill; others claim the gold never got this far and was buried at a predetermined location in the immediate vicinity of Sailor’s Diggins. Perhaps we’ll never know.
With the first shot, a fierce firefight erupted that resulted in the deaths of four of the five thrill killers, save Chris Stover.
Stover was transported back to Sailor’s Diggins while other posse men searched for the stolen gold.
Unable to locate where it was cached, the posse returned to town only to learn that Stover had died; he never revealed where the gold was buried.
Several searches over the years have all ended with negative results. Hidden somewhere on this low hill it is still believed lies a treasure cache of gold.

Oregon Treasure Research Center, Vanorman’s Cache,
Oregon Argus, Snake River Massacre-Account by one of its Survivors, Oregon City, Oregon, November 24, 1860
Bancroft, Hubert Howe, History of Oregon-Vol. II. 1848-1888, San Francisco, CA, 1888, The History Company Publishers, p. 469-475
Henson, Michael Paul, Gold in Oregon, March 1995, Lost Treasure, p. 50
McLane, Larry, Josephine County: The Golden Beginnings, Josephine County Historical Society,
Terry, Thomas P., United States Treasure Atlas – Volume 8, 1985, La Crosse, WI, Specialty Publishing Company, p. 841-842.


Treasure Hunter's picture

Oregon tale

I glad you entered a treasure story from the great state of Oregon. Thank you and also from the fact it is a most recent story from the files of Lost Treasure magazine and not some thirty year old rehash of old yarns.

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