State Treasures - Oregon

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 41 of the March, 2012 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2012 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved


A Fortune in Gold Vanishes in the Oregon Wilderness…
CROOK COUNTY – What happened to a fortune in gold freebooted by a band of outlaws in 1863 near Prineville is still a mystery that may never be solved.
The identities of this group of six masked gunmen, who first robbed several sluice boxes near Canyon City before holding up a bank in Dayville, to this day remain unknown, as does what happened to a fortune in gold they were carrying when they narrowly escaped a posse by heading into the Oregon wilderness.
Gold fever was running high in the Ochocos during the 1860’s. The story goes that, in 1863, six masked gunmen struck a gold camp near Canyon City, cleaning out the sluice boxes and loading the gold into their saddlebags before fleeing westbound.
The next day and 30 miles west of Canyon City, the same bunch robbed the bank at Dayville. The alarm was sounded and a posse quickly departed in pursuit of the gang.
The posse tracked the outlaws through Antone and into Mitchell. At Mitchell, the posse was told a group of six riders was last seen leaving Mitchell towards Prineville. The outlaws had deviated from their westbound course and had headed southwest from Mitchell into the Ochoco Mountains.
Wasting no time, the posse cut their trail into the mountains and continued the chase until losing the trail near “Burglar’s Flat,” said to be located “about 10 miles north of the Divide Ranger Station,” though I was unable to locate this place name in use today.
The story of the posse losing the fugitives at Burglar’s Flat appeared in the Sunday Oregonian in a story written by Tom Lindsey on August 10, 1930. Likely Burglar’s Flat was a place name in use over 80 years ago; local research may help locate the site.
In the vicinity of Burglar’s Flat, the posse called off the pursuit, apparently without knowing just how close they came to their prey. At this point, it is assumed the outlaws were heading for the Willamette Valley to lay low and nothing else came of it until 1913. Fifty years after these events occurred, a man passing through the Ochocos stumbled upon a bizarre site.
Spotting a log with six notches dug into the topside, he walked up for a closer look. He saw that on the ground next to the log lay the bones of six long dead horses with the remains of six saddles and bridles.
The horses had been tied to the log and left to die, but why? When Prineville residents heard of the strange discovery, some old timers recalled the Dayville Bank robbery 50 years before and that the posse had lost the bad guys near Burglar’s Flat, apparently the same location where the man had found the bones and saddles.
No gold was ever found at Burglar’s Flat and for years the question of why the outlaws hadn’t turned their horses loose has brought many to the conclusion that the fugitives must’ve been spooked, possibly by the approaching posse or hostile Indians, resulting in their abandoning their horses and fleeing on foot with the gold.
But more recently two other options have been presented. First, historian Gale Ontko (deceased) is recognized as an authority on the history of the Ochoco region and author of Thunder Over the Ochoco. Ontko states in his book, “Four days after the bank robbery, a man crawled into Alkali Flat Stage Station, his arm shattered by a bullet and an arrow driven through his leg.” Before he died, he mentioned tossing some gold into a deep mountain spring flowing from the base of a large pine to hide it from the Indians.
Another, slightly different, version claims instead of throwing the gold into a spring it was buried at the base of the pine.
In 2006, author Dan Petchell presented his own theory. Petchell believes the outlaws never intended to abandon their horses; instead he suggests the fugitives had a fresh set of saddled horses waiting for them at Burglar’s Flat and, after loading the gold into the saddlebags on their fresh mounts, they fled into the Willamette Valley, unable to cut their tired animals loose as they could hear the posse bearing down on them.
We know the posse lost the bad guys in the vicinity of Burglar’s Flat, but clearly they never found the glade where the animals were or they would’ve turned them loose. Petchell believes the outlaws changed horses somewhere near the present-day Bandit Springs rest area on U.S. Highway 26.
And what of the gold? The outlaws may’ve buried it at Burglar’s Flat to lighten their load in order to escape the posse. Or they could’ve split it up among themselves before they fled. They could also have been in such a rush that they quickly transferred the gold from the spent animals to the fresh ones and didn’t stop long enough to look back.
Then there is the unknown man who stumbled wounded into the Alkali Flat Stage Station four days after the bank job at Dayville, rambling on about tossing some gold into a spring to keep it away from the Indians just before he expired. Could he have been one of the six outlaws?     

Oregon’s Swan Lake Mystery
KLAMATH COUNTY – Swan Lake, Oregon, is a ghost town today, but at one time this was the site of an early pioneer settlement for which I have found little historical information.
Swan Lake is reported to have been a “state station” on the line from Klamath Falls to Lakeview. It had a Post Office, but little else is known of its past. The one physical remains left of the village that could help pinpoint its location is the Old Swan Lake Settlement Cemetery.
Three burials are recorded there. It appears that Mary Meires Hibberts died during labor on August 8, 1907, and was buried there with her dead infant. Twenty years later, John Hibberts was laid to rest there on or about April 23, 1927.
My map work places the cemetery 4.9 miles northwest of the actual town site, which appears on earlier maps as being fixed at the junction of present-day Oregon Highway 140 and Swan Lake Road, six miles south of the actual lake itself and 9-1/2 miles east of Klamath Falls.
Legend has it that within the old town site you’ll find the final resting place of an untold fortune in gold. Story goes there were quite a few stage robberies along the desolate Klamath Falls to Lakeview Road sometime after the Post Office was established at Swan Lake.
The identity of this successful road agent is said to be a mystery, but we do know the exact spot where he buried the loot, as he likely was a resident of Swan Lake. He always buried the loot from several hold-ups in the potato patch behind the Post Office.
Several have tried and failed to unearth this cache; the trouble is said to be that no one knows where the original Post Office was located, and research has failed to produce any documents that could help locate the old site.
Research of the Post Office’s history might help. In the 19th century, the U.S. Post Office Department usually provided a physical description of the property where the Post Office of each community was located, including when the Post Office was located in someone’s private residence.

The Sparta Treasure
BAKER COUNTY – The ghost town of Sparta, Oregon, was founded in 1871 by William H. Packwood from Sparta, Illinois, after he visited the gold region on the Powder River.
The town was platted in 1872 and a Post Office opened there that same year and closed in 1952. In 1891, a one-room schoolhouse opened there.
Chinese laborers built the 22-mile long Sparta Ditch that brought water to the diggings. By 1915, the diggings had been taken over by the Chinese after being abandoned by American miners. That year, the Americans forced the Chinese out of the diggings and out of Sparta.
One Chinese gold cache was confirmed as lost, though it is believed a number were likely lost and left behind.
Sparta is located at Sparta Lane and Sparta Butte Road and is marked by the Sparta Cemetery and an old stone store built in 1872. Sparta is roughly 20 miles northeast of Baker City.

Sources:
Witty, Jim, Gold fever, http://www.bendbulletin.com/article/20061229/SPORTS0411/612290301/
Henson, Michael Paul, Oregon, Typed manuscript in my possession.
Terry, Thomas P., “U.S. Treasure Atlas – Volume 8,” 1985, Specialty Publishing Company, La Crosse, WI, p. 844.

State Treasures - Oregon