Vikings in Oklahoma? The Heavener Runestone

 

Before it was enclosed.

Before it was enclosed.

In 1832 a Choctaw Hunting party discovered a rock engraved with mystical symbols on Poteau Mountain. It wasn’t hard to find. This stone was twelve feet tall, ten feet wide and sixteen inches thick. It had eight angular figures chiseled into the surface about eye level. Those symbols had to mean something, and since the Choctaw didn’t know what that might be, they quickly left the area.

White hunting parties also ran across the stone from time to time. Most of them dismissed it as an Indian Rock, but in 1923 an Oklahoma school teacher named C.F. Kemmerer decided to investigate. He wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institute in Philadelphia with a sketched representation of the symbols and asked if it was worth pursuing. He was told the symbols were a mix of Scandinavian and Gothic runes. No one came to look at the rock and the best translation they could offer was, gjomedat. No real translation at all.

Gloria Stewart Farley

Gloria Stewart Farley

In 1928, Kemmerer took 12 year old Gloria Stewart (daughter of a Heavener physician and a librarian) to see the stone. It made such a strong impression that she recalled the inscription 20 years later when she read about the discovery of the Kensington Runestone in Minnesota, believed to pre date Columbus by a century. She was living in Ohio by that time, married to Reverend J. Ray Farley, but she was inspired to send a copy of the symbols—as C.F. Kemmerer did—to the Smithsonian Institute. The Curator of the department of archeology replied. He told her of Kemmerer’s earlier communication and suggested that whoever chiseled the runes followed Scandinavian grammar.

When Gloria Stewart Farley moved back to Heavener, Oklahoma in 1950, she set

Heavener Runes

Heavener Runes

about doing her own research on the “Heavener Runestone”. She exchanged information with a number of interested parties, including: science fiction author, Frederick Pohl, cryptographer Alf Monge, and architect, Richard Nielson.

Frederick Pohl consulted a number of academic rune experts, none of whom believed the runes were an authentic pre-Nielson-Farley_Glome_Dale_2.29690536_stdColumbian message. A number of complicating factors were cited: (1) The grammar was confusing. (2) The second and the eighth rune are Scandinavian but the other runes are from a Gothic alphabet. (3) There is a small slash stroke next to the runic M that may be a ninth rune. (4) Rune writing was sometimes read right to left instead of left to right. (5) The eight rune is reversed.

All this confusion has led to a number of interpretations. Read right to left, it could be

The Runestone is enclosed in a protective house today.

The Runestone is enclosed in a protective house today.

translated “The Seven Demons”. Read left to right, it could be a simple date (1,000 A.D.), or a land claim (Glomedal—Glome’s valley), or another message that defies comprehension (gjomedat, gjnomedal).

In her book, In Plain Sight, Gloria Farley took the position that the stone was a Viking Land Claim dating around 650 A.D. She was instrumental in having a state park (now under local control) built around the stone in 1970 based on this “Official Position”. In 2011, the park lost its status as a state facility due to budget cuts and is now operated by the city of Heavener.

Recently, academic Lee Woodward (Doctor of Ministry) has developed a new theory. He believes the Heavener Runestone is a secret monument to the French Explorer LaSalle who may have been killed by the Spanish near

Dr. Lee Woodward's enhanced picture

Dr. Lee Woodward’s enhanced picture

present day Heavener, Oklahoma, during his 1686-1687 expedition.  A member of that expedition James Hiens was known for leaving arcane messages in runes that would not alert military adversaries. Woodward enhanced pictures of the runes to bring out features no one else has noticed, including: James Hiens initials, directional markers, and barely visible maps to where La Salle was murdered. He also found a drawing of a cat and has a linguistic explanation of how that image fits with his theory.

It’s safe to say that no one can speak with any unassailable authority about the origins of the Heavener Runestone. It’s a mystery, one of the things that make the state of Oklahoma a very interesting place to live—Perfect for a fiction writer.

Check out my Oklahoma fiction, loaded with Native American mysticism and written from a distinctive Oklahoma point of view: Owl Dreams, Messages, Southwest Gothic Tales (Free Download), and Magic Popsicle Sticks (Coming Soon). You can also find my stories in anthologies available on Amazon, here.

Oklahoma’s Oldest Ghost Town

"Craig Mound" at the Spiro Mounds Archeological Center

“Craig Mound” at the Spiro Mounds Archeological Center

Oklahoma has only been a state since 1907, but people have been living here a lot longer than that. There’s a quiet little spot by the Arkansas River just outside of Spiro where Native Americans lived for 8,000 continuous years. About 1,200 years ago they built a city that included earthworks mounds and a plaza laid out to match solar astronomical events (solstices and equinoxes). The people who built that city were part of a Mississippian culture that included similar settlements along all the major rivers of the south-eastern and mid-western continent. The Mississippians established religious, political, and economic ties from the

Incised Conch with central striped cedar pole / Spiro Mounds

Incised Conch with central striped cedar pole / Spiro Mounds

Gulf of California to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Spiro mounds cityand the entire Mississippian culture—thrived from 900 to 1300 A.D. Then it went into a steep decline. The city was abandoned by 1450, less than a half century before Columbus changed everything in this part of the world forever. The most probable reason for the Mississippian collapse was global climate change associated with the “Little Ice Age”.

A centuries long drought made the Mississippians’ corn based culture untenable and the population dispersed. A few holy men continued to maintain the city as a burial site and religious center for another 150 years.

 

Spiro Mounds Dwelling

Spiro Mounds Dwelling

While the Mississippian culture flourished, Sun Kings lived on top of platform mounds, higher than any other citizens. They were religious as well as a political leaders with direct connections to the supernatural. When a Sun King died, his wife and servants were strangled. Their bones were cleaned and buried along with elaborate grave goods. In the Spiro mounds city, the bones were put into a central burial chamber inside “Craig Mound”.

Craig Mound / The Great Mortuary

Craig Mound / The Great Mortuary

Over 600 complete and partial burials have been found in Craig Mound. It is the only Mississippian mound with a central chamber. Archeologists call it “The Great Mortuary”.

In 1933 a group of commercial diggers who called themselves the Pocola Mining Company acquired a lease for the Craig Mound. From 1933 until 1935 Pocola employees dug haphazardly into the burial mound, using earth moving equipment and even dynamite. The commercial diggers destroyed about one-third of the mound and sold thousands of artifacts, made of stone, copper, shell, basketry, and fabric, to collectors throughout the world.

Excavation at Spiro Mounds

Excavation at Spiro Mounds

In 1935, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a licensing requirement to protect the site and the Pocola Mining Company was shut down. OU archeologists began careful, methodical excavations a year later with the help of WPA laborers. This continued until 1941 with the beginning of U.S. involvement in WWII.

Today, the Spiro mounds site is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. It is open to the public and special tours are conducted during solstices and equinoxes.

Sifting for artifacts at Spiro Mounds

Sifting for artifacts at Spiro Mounds

The mounds are not currently being excavated but archeologists are still exploring the site with non-invasive techniques as well as excavations.

Many anthropologists believe the early ancestors of the Muskogee speaking tribes, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole were part of the Mississippian culture. About 1,700 years ago, the Hopewell People—ancestors of the Choctaw—built the great earthwork mound, Nanih Wayah, which is still sacred to the tribe today.

When the Muskogean “Civilized Tribes” were forced-marched from their southeastern tribal lands to Indian Territory, they were actually being sent to the ancient religious center of their ancestors’ culture. The magic had waited patiently for them for 400 years.

Coincidences like this is one reason I think Oklahoma is the best place in the world for a fiction writer to live.

My first book, Owl Dreams, is a magic realism novel based loosely on Native American mysticism.My new novel Magic Popsicle Sticks also has a contemporary Native American Mystical theme and will be released from Pen-L Publishing soon. If you visit the Spiro Mounds Archeological Center, you’ll see where the magic all started.

Red Rock Canyon and the California Road

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

In 1849, thousands of Americans emigrated to California in hopes of striking gold in San Francisco. The most common Forty-Niners route started at various points along the Missouri River and followed what came to be known as the California Trail. This route was put together from bits and pieces of trails already well established by earlier settlers and traders.

The Oregon Trail was initially charted by Lewis and Clark on the first American

Red Rock Canyon. A stop on the California Road

Red Rock Canyon. A stop on the California Road

expedition to cross what is now the western part of the United States. The route was refined a few years later by the founders of the American Fur Company, John Jacob Ascot and Robert Stuart, and by1813, the Oregon Trail was already a principal route followed by western settlers looking for land instead of gold.

The Hastings Route, was a short cut on the California Trail made famous by the Donner Party. Everyone has heard of them. The Donner party was caught in the Sierra Nevada in the winter of 1846-47. About half of them survived, some by resorting to cannibalism.

Brigham Young established The Mormon Trail in 1847 when he led 70,000 members of the LDS church from Nauvoo, Illinois to what is now Salt Lake City.

After the 1848 San Francisco gold strike western migration really picked up. Southerners were anxious to get to California before all the good claims were taken.

 

Black Beaver. Delaware Guide

Black Beaver. Delaware Guide

The federal government ordered Capt. Randolph B. Marcy to take 500 migrants along a well-established Canadian River route through Indian Territory and then move north to Santa Fe to connect with the California Trail. Marcy hired a famous Delaware scout, Black Beaver to guide them.

A major stop along the way was Red Rock Canyon, where there was a year round supply of fresh water and timber. The canyon was an excellent place for the Forty-Niners to rest and repair their wagons before Marcy and the Delaware scout took them on to Santa Fe.

Black Beaver was anxious to get back home after he delivered the would-be gold miners to their destination. Unencumbered by wagon trains and white emigrants, he risked a short cut across the staked plains of the Texas Panhandle. Water was difficult to find, and Kiowa and Comanche warriors hunted Buffalo—and the occasional settler—on the grasslands, but Black Beaver made it safely. His trail cut the length of the trip from two months to two weeks.

Thousands of future settlers followed the Delaware scout’s short cut on their way to the American West. The Black Beaver route became known as the California Road Trail.

 

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

 Red Rock Canyon is now an Oklahoma State Park near Hinton, OK, not far from Interstate 40. The red sandstone cliffs are popular for rappelling and rock climbing. There are hiking trails, formal campsites, and paved roads, but the primitive atmosphere experienced by the Forty-Niners remains. The area looks much the same as it did when Black Beaver took the emigrants there one hundred sixty five years ago. Wagon wheel ruts from the 1849 mass emigration can still be seen in parts of the park.

 

Dead Woman Mound, Ghost Mound, Rock Mary

 

Dead Woman Mound. Caddo Coumty, OK

Dead Woman Mound. Caddo Coumty, OK

Dead Woman Mound, Ghost Mound, and Rock Mary are three natural formations in Caddo County, Oklahoma with names that almost scream “Legend”. All three mounds are natural formations that were used as landmarks during the western migration.

One Dead Woman Mound story—which almost certainly didn’t happen—involved an attack by renegade Indians on a wagon train of settlers. The settlers fought bravely but were hopelessly outnumbered. When it was clear that all was lost, a young woman collected their watches, rings, and money in her apron. She climbed a nearby mound and hid the valuables in a crevice. Many people have searched Dead Woman Mound but no sign of the treasure—or the attack—has ever been found.

Some locals say the mound was named for a mysterious female corpse that was found by a rancher and buried at the base of this 522 meter pile of red dirt and sandstone. Other’s say the mound took its name from nearby Dead Woman Creek, which passes under old Route 66. How Dead Woman Creek got its name is also a bit of a mystery. One I didn’t explore.

If you want to visit Dead Woman Mound put these coordinated in your GPS: Latitude 35.4025, Longitude-98.61306.

 

 

Ghost Mound. Caddo County, OK

Ghost Mound. Caddo County, OK

Ghost Mound, as you might imagine, is said to be haunted. The specter is a female ghost who sometimes appears without a head. Ghost Mound may have been the inspiration for an H.P. Lovecraft a novella written around 1930. The famous horror author was a writer for hire in those days and Zelia Bishop paid him to write the story. He portrayed “The Mound” as entryway to a subterranean alien civilization. The novella was never published during his lifetime, but after he died, a radically abridged version of “The Mound” was included in Weird Tales and later in an Arkham House anthology. The 30,000 word original was eventually published in 1989 in The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions.

If you want to visit Ghost Mound put these coordinates into your GPS: Latitude 35.4025, Longitude-98.50444.

 

Rock Mary. Caddo County, OK.

Rock Mary. Caddo County, OK.

Rock Mary was a landmark on the old California Trail. A pair of army lieutenants named it after 17 year old—probably very pretty—emigrant, Mary Conway. There is a plaque at the base of the mound and another on the top where the smitten soldiers planted a flag and named the mound in 1849.

Rock Mary is on private property and you can’t visit it without permission. Its coordinates are: Latitude 35.45977, Longitude -98.4259