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.

7 thoughts on “Vikings in Oklahoma? The Heavener Runestone

  1. What an interesting stone you have in Oklahoma. Thanks for sharing the info – I never heard of this stone. And it’s a real mystery that’s still a mystery – how fun! Maybe someone will figure it out one day.

    • One thing that makes this stone even more interesting is its proximity to the Spiro Mounds, which would have been an active Mississippian city during Gloria Farley’s proposed Viking presence.

  2. As the author of two fiction novels about the Heavener Runestone, I enjoyed this article. I met and interviewed Gloria Farley in the 1990’s when I owned a TV station in SE Oklahoma. I grew up in nearby Poteau, OK and first visited the Heavener Runestone when the road up to it was a rough path cut into the hill by a bulldozer. I visit there often and publicize the park, especially since the state turned it over to a local nonprofit group.

    • This is one of the most beautiful parks I have ever been in, and the stone–no matter whether it is a Viking land claim–is a fascinating and important artifact of either pre-history or very early American history. Are your novels still available? I’d be interested in reading them.

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