Thursday, October 27, 2011
In March of 1934, Joe Hunter, an avid treasure hunter, was combing through the rugged granite boulders near Bear Springs in the Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma. On that day, he discovered a brass bucket. The find would make history, due to its unique inscription. On the bottom of the bucket was a patent date of Dec. 16th, 1851, extended in 1873, and manufactured by E. Miller and Company. The bucket was a treasure in itself.
Chiseled deep into its sides fifty-eight years prior to Joe’s discovery was an outlaw contract which formed a bounty bank for all who would sign below. These outlaws had made their mark on a contract which stated, “This the V March 1876 in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy six. We the undersigned do this day organize a banty bank. We will go to the west side of the Keechi Hills which is about fifty yards from a crossed set of rifles. Follow the trail line coming through the mountains just east of lone hill where we buried Jack, his grave is east of a rock. This contract made and entered into this V day of March 1876. This gold shall belong to who signs below.” Carved into the bucket were the names: Jesse James, Frank Miller, George Overton, Rub Busse, Charlie Jones, Cole Younger, Will Overton, Uncle George Payne, Frank James, Roy Baxter, Bud Dalton, and Zack Smith.
Though many clues had been found, Hunter and his partners searched for more than a decade for the elusive treasure without success. The Lawton Constitution dated Sunday, February 29th, 1948, featured the story of Hunter and his long quest for hidden treasure. The story spread like wildfire across the nation. It was Hunters’ hope that, by coming forward with news of his discoveries, he might be given the final clues to unearth the long-sought treasure.
What Joe Hunter failed to realize was that the bucket contract itself was the map needed to find the gold. The bounty bank was hidden in an area some thirty miles to the northeast of where the James Gang had camped and hidden the bucket. Just a mile east of Cement, Oklahoma, stands a lone hill that has made a unique landmark for travelers throughout the ages. Known locally as Buzzard Roost, this hill is where Hunter unearthed a cast-iron tea kettle containing gold, coins, a pocket watch, and a copper treasure map, but that is another story altogether.
Buzzard Roost happens to lie in a set of limestone hills known as the Keechi Hills. This same lone hill happens to be the one mentioned in the brass bucket contract. On the north side of the Roost was carved a set of crossed rifles. Time and the elements have long since erased this important clue, but an aged photo taken in the late 1940’s shows a clue never reported by Joe Hunter.
I discovered this clue while looking through some old photos that had belonged to Hunter. The picture taken from the top of Buzzard Roost and looking toward the northeast clearly shows the name JACK spelled out using rocks. A rock with a carving of a pistol had been found by Joe just to the west of where JACK lay and due north of the Roost. This rock was another clue that had been mentioned in the contract code.
Having gone public with his story of the James gang brass bucket contract, Joe hoped to profit from his sudden celebrity status. He soon sold the brass bucket to a group of Texans, but upon their departure with the bucket they cancelled the check used as payment. Joe was forced to travel to Texas to recover his beloved bucket. After Hunter’s death, the brass bucket disappeared into history. It wasn’t until I was given a lead informing me that it was in the collection of Craig Fouts, a noted western memorabilia collector, that the bucket’s location was revealed.
It is still unknown how much of the bounty bank remains to be found. What is known is that part of the loot was uncovered in the early 1900’s by workers digging a pipeline northeast of the Roost. The value of the fortune they discovered in the ditch they were digging is anyone’s guess, but it was reportedly enough that they walked off the job never to return.
This is but one of many treasure stories associated with Buzzard Roost and the Keechi Hills. Time will tell what remains to be discovered.