In 1950s Natchitoches Parish: “They hunted for buried treasure”

I found this treasure of an article published in The Shreveport Times, in January 1956, and detailing hunts for long lost treasure in Natchitoches Parish.  The article was written by John Merrill, which sounds neatly similar to the bandit whose hidden gold treasure hunters sought… John Murrell.

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“Thar’s gold in them thar hills!”

Words of like nature have been brazenly stated and stealthily whispered around Natchitoches since the tawdry days of the Reconstruction era.

The “gold” folks have been seeking consists of buried outlaw loot and pots of Civil War gold hidden beneath the ground.

“Them thar hills” is a large area of rolling pine land southwest of the Red River at Grand Ecore and five or six miles northeast of Natchitoches.

Treasure-seekers (and the woods are full of ’em) have been digging for years in this area where old Camp Salubrity stood back in the 1840s, 50s and 60s. Solitary figures with picks and shovels, groups of intent diggers with definite convictions that millions of dollars in hidden treasure await them, and even large-scale “digs” with machinery: All these have marked the treasure-seeking days of old Camp Salubrity.

And these days are far from over.

Photo by Guillet Studio, Natchitoches. Treasure hunting expedition.
Photo by Guillet Studio, Natchitoches. Treasure hunting expedition.

People still dig in the old cave where the famed Natchez Trace-San Antonio Trail outlaw John A. Murrell is said to have hidden out. Holes in a deep ravine —dug only this month—show that the treasure-fever has not subsided.

The “treasure area” lies in thick woods where only an occasional timberman or hunter passes; but even they keep to the dirt and sandy roads and seldom wander into the steep gullies and thickets where once the “bushwackers” hid to rest and count their money.

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Back before the Mexican War, Ulysses S. Grant (then a lieutenant), wrote of the area in 1844: “I found my regiment camping out in small linen tents on the top of a high sandy ridge and in the midst of a pine forest. The great elevation of our situation and the fact that one of the best springs of water in the state puts out here are the only recom-mendations the place has.”

(The young lieutenant’s regiment had been stationed here at Camp Salubrity to prevent overcrowding at Fort Jesup, 20 miles to the southwest.)

Stories and legends that abound in the area have it that after the Civil War the cunning Murrell, who could preach as well as he could waylay travelers, came to the area often and dug the cave to shelter his gang while they were “holed up.”

Not only Murrell and his bushwackers frequented the hideaway, say the stories, but also other well-known outlaws—including Frank and Jesse James. Reputedly, Murrell and his gang buried most of their loot in the area and never had a chance to return for it.

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Hopeful diggers have come to the area after having been given or sold “secret” maps, old waybills. or letters written during the Reconstruction period by persons “in the know” about the disposition of the outlaws’ treasure. Some of the treasure-seekers claim they can “read” the old carvings in the bark of trees of the vicinity.

Especially during the past 30 years has the area received a thorough going over by diggers, although there is no real evidence that any money has been found.  There are individuals in Natchitoches Parish, however, who claim that a “pot” of gold was found some years ago, and several “small caches” of money have been unearthed.

Milo Burke, a colorful character in his sixties who lives with his wife in a small house in the woods not far from Camp Salubrity’s old site, has led many treasure hunters through the maze of ravines and thickets during the past three decades.

As to whether he has ever seen anyone find treasure, Burke gives a toothless grin and says: “I wouldn’t say that I have and I wouldn’t say that I haven’t. I guess I’ve seen hundreds of folks hunting for gold like crazy around here. I know just about every foot of this country, and I guide ’em, but I don’t try to tell ’em much. Folks don’t believe me nohow—so I generally don’t say nothing.”

Burke. who spends most of his time hunting (he’s on relief) in the surrounding woods, does admit that he believes gold is buried in the area. He is certain. he says, that there is another cave somewhere around. Asked why he believes this, he smiles.  “I got my reasons but keep ’em to myself.”

The old fellow obviously loves these hills and woods and is generally ready to guide a visitor through the area. He will show Murrell’s cave, the torn-up watch house of stone, the graves of Yankee soldiers who died here of disease during the Civil War, and numerous holes scattered all about where money-seekers have dug.

Then he takes you down into the deepest ravine where ice-cold water trickles from the side of a hill and points out the biggest hole of them all.

Straight down for 75 feet.
Straight down for 75 feet.

“This one was dug in 1950.” he says. “Boy, was that some diggin’. Went straight down 75 feet. Had to dig for weeks. About four of ’em diggin’ Folks came from all over to watch. You’d be surprised if you knew some of them big shots, bankers and all from Shreveport and other places that came to take a look.”

—–

What Burke was pointing to was a hole about six feet in diameter and now filled with water. It was here in the spring and summer of 1950 that a group, led by a man who claimed a “building” containing from 9 to 30 million dollars was located about 75 feet beneath this spot, undertook the mammoth “dig.”

He had his information from old waybills dating hack to 1853 and from his Bible.  More he would not tell for fear someone would “get smart.”

It took the group several months but they dug 75 feel down through cement-hard soil and did hit a solid substance, which the group’s leader said was the top of the “building.” Needing heavy machinery to tunnel to a ‘door” supposedly at one side of whatever had been hit, he tried in vain to get the financial backers. Bankers and contractors did look at the hole and listen to the story, but nobody put up the money.

After weeks of digging and pumping water from the hole, the group gave up the venture. However, it was quite obvious at the time that they were still convinced the treasure was there.

—–

There have been no more large-scale diggings since 1950, but numerous persons hoping to find something of value in this scenic area still pock with holes the hill-sides and ravines.

If outlaw Murrell and others did hide their loot near old Camp Salubrity, they hid it well. Treasure hunters, however, are a persistent lot and the digging is likely to continue for at least another 100 years.

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1 thought on “In 1950s Natchitoches Parish: “They hunted for buried treasure””

  1. Back in the early 50’s there was an article in the Shreveport Times about Vallery Clark finding the whereabouts of a treasure in
    the old graveyard on Grand Ecore. He used hipnosis to locate this site. Strange story.

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