When the 186,000 acre Toledo Bend Reservoir was created by damming the Sabine River in the 1960s, a few communities were inundated and forever lost. I have heard tales of many communities lost in the name of progress as man-made lakes are created for purposes of water-creation, recreational opportunities, tourist attractions and hydro-electricity generation.
One such community that stands out to me is the Pine Flat Community, which was once upon a time a very close-knit community of mostly African Americans situated near the Sabine River in Southwest Sabine Parish, Louisiana. The population of the Pine Flat community numbered approximately 100 individuals and included about 50 homes.
Some information on Pine Flat was feature in a 2011 article appearing in the archives of Stephen F. Austin University. Historian Rolonda Teal wrote a bit about the Pine Flat community, along with closely neighboring Barlake and Richard Neck communities.
“Mrs. Alma Cross stated that while growing up in Pine Flat she, ‘didn’t know what black and white was,'” the article reads. Cross was further quoted, “We were all just family down there. We ate at the same table, slept in the same beds, and sometimes ate out of the same plate”.
“Pine Flat had distinct communities and surnames associated with them. For example there were the Bar Lake and Richard Neck communities whose surnames included: Gasaway, Grace, Neck, Cross, Sweet, Stallworth, Fobbs, and Hines.” The article continued, “Although these residents were mostly African American, other cultural groups also lived among them.
“Mrs. Cross described her own ancestry to illustrate the diversity of some bottom land residents. She stated that her Grandmother Lula Fobbs had Blackfoot, Choctaw, African, and Irish ancestry.
“These bottom communities were comprised of people who depended on one another for social and economic support without much regard to ethnic affiliation.”
Ponds and Lakes in the Pine Flat Community area included: Grocer Lake, Ferry Lake, Middle Lake, Spate Lake, Arthur’s Lake, Deer Lake, Tom Self Lake, Matt Fobbs Lake, McCartney Lake, Bar Lake, Green Lake, Oil Well Lake, Willow Pond and Gum Lake.
Churches were St. John’s Church, Macedonia Church, Saint Mary Church and St. James Church.
The following article was carried by the Associated Press on Oct. 9, 1930.
CONVERSE BANK FUNDS TAKEN BY THREE BANDITS
Hold Up Men Armed With Pistols Make Way with $3,000 Cash
Two men arrested near Myrick’s Ferry on the Sabine River ten miles west of here after an exchange a shots with their captors were identified as the robbers of the Bank of Converse who a little earlier stole between $2,500 and $3,000. The captives at first refused to give their names.
The men were overtaken by E. N. Nolan of Benson and Goodwin Harris, of Mansfield, members of a sheriff’s posse tailing the bandits. They were identified by R. D. Darnell, cashier of the bank, and C. W. Worsham, a pedestrian who saw the robbers flee.
The money had not been recovered.
Converse, La, (A) — Three bandits today robbed the bank of Converse of Between $2,500 and $3,000 in cash, after having forced Cashier R. D. Darnell, and his wife, into the bank’s vault.
There were no customers in the bank at the time of the robbery. The cashier and his wife were taken by surprise when confronted by the holdup men, armed with pistols. They were in the vault only a short time as the bandits tailed in their efforts to lock the combination.
After getting all the money in sight. the bandits left in an automobile.
Converse is in Sabina Parish 18 miles south a Mansfield.
Sheriff Williams of DeSoto Parish, it Mansfield, Was immediately notified and almost succeeded in heading off the at Benson but later the was lost as that hold up car headed west for the Sabine river.
Cashier Darnell said the men apparently entered the front door of the bank but were at the cashier’s windows before he was aware of their presence as he was busy on an adding machine. His wife was reading a newspaper in the office.
While one of the bandits covered them, the other slipped around to the door and entered the cashier’s office. They compelled the cashier to take all the money in the safe and drop it in a bag they carried. Only asmall amount of silver was overlooked.
During the robbery, Mrs. Darnell fainted but the bandits made Darnell drag the limp form of the woman into the vault and they closed the door but tripped the combination and it did not lock. Darnell within a few moments had pried the door open and took his wife into the open air where she was quickly revived.
Meanwhile the bandits left by the front door, firing one shot as they left. This alarmed several bystanders on the street. The bystanders helped Darnell get the vault door open.
Seeing the gravesite of Moses Rose, tucked away in Logansport, Lousiana, was truly fascinating. The legend of Moses Rose is full of intrigue, mystery, and rushes to judgment. Often called the Coward of the Alamo, to know his story is to know this title could well be both unfitting and unfair.
It is he who tells the story of William Travis drawing the line in the sand at The Alamo for anyone who wanted to cross and thereby declare their intentions to enter battle… to fight a fight which pretty much promised the fate of death to all who took him up on his challenge. Rose did not cross the sand and because of that… And he lived to tell about it. He simply wanted to live… That was his admitted reason for not staying and fighting to his certain death.
The true story of Lt. Louis “Moses” Rose remains a bit of a mystery. Different accounts tell different things, and which are tales and which are the truth have yet to be completely sorted.
Rose got the nickname, “Moses”, supposedly because of his age when fighting at the Alamo (he was one of the oldest warriors there, at 50).
While some accounts refer to Rose as a coward who fled the Alamo when the going got tough, others say he simply chose not to die what he determined to be a losing cause.
There are even stories that Rose, who some say was a Frenchman, was an officer in Napoleon’s army.
Whatever the case, it does seem he had lived a pretty much heroic life before the Alamo. By 1827, he had settled in Nacogdoches, Texas. When the Texas Revolution began, he dedicated himself to the cause. He sold or mortgaged all his possessions to fight in the Fredonian Rebellion and the Battle of Nacogdoches. He fought in the siege of Bexar and he followed his friend Jim Bowie to the Alamo.
After quietly escaping the nightmarish situation in San Antonio, Moses Rose lived out his last years in East Texas and along the Sabine River. Such an interesting character.
Rose’s reputation as a coward remained with him for the rest of his lifetime, and continues up to the present day. To those who accept the popular account, it matters little what Rose’s motives were; more important is the fact that he left, by choice.
According to legend, when asked many years later why he did not cross the line and remain, he replied simply, “By God, I wasn’t going to die!” This alleged statement did not help his reputation, especially in Texas.
During the period just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S., the Rose legend gained new currency when France opposed the invasion. Anti-French sentiment in the United States increased and Rose’s legend was often invoked as an historical example of ostensibly French cowardice in the face of war, despite the unverified status of the popular account.
The traditional account of Rose at the Alamo suggests as follows:
In March 1836, the Alamo was surrounded by the Mexican Army, which raised a “no quarter” flag, promising death to all defenders. Travis, the Texan commander, drew a line in the sand with his sword. He asked the defenders to cross over it, and thereby pledge to fight (and presumably die) in the Alamo. Rose is the only one who did not cross, but instead fled the Alamo the night of March 5, evading Mexican forces, and made his way to Grimes County, Texas where he found rest and shelter at the home of William P. Zuber. Rose made no attempt at hiding the true story of his journey, attributing his decision to a love for his family (including his children) and desire to fight another day rather than face a slaughter like those he had seen in previous failed battles. But Rose did not fight another day, and instead merely faded away from the revolution, later settling in Logansport, Louisiana.
Some historians have said that the story of the line in the sand was first told by Rose himself. Whether there ever was an actual line drawn in the sand is disputed, but the evidence does suggest that all Alamo defenders were at one point given a choice to stay or to go.
Rose is reported to have stated “I came to America to live, not to die.” Col. Travis gave Rose the opportunity to leave, and so he left.
According to the website for Logansport, Louisiana, Rose’s “long and fateful journey took him through large cactus beds, prickly pear thorns became embedded in his legs which became very sore and painful. As the thorns worked their way deeper into his flesh, it became so painful that he was unable to even bear the pain of removing them.”
The info on the website continues, “He very likely crossed into Louisiana on the Logan’s Ferry, where he was befriended by Aaron Ferguson, a farmer who lived north of Logansport (then Logan’s Ferry) about six and one-half miles from town, on Castor Creek. Rose spent the remaining years of his life as an invalid on the Ferguson Farm. Rose died in 1850 and was then buried in the Ferguson Cemetery.
I found Rose’s gravesite in remote DeSoto Parish. When I saw remote, I mean remote, as in it took us quite a while to find it, and it was pretty close to Panola County, I think. There is little fanfare marking his site, what you see is what is there, though he did get a nice new granite marker somewhat recently.
Originally when I came across this photograph of a house in Natchitoches, Louisiana in the 1920s, the only details accompanying it were the following:
This is the Home of the woman who refused to marry Ulysses S. Grant, located in Natchitoches Louisiana.
Curious, I searched for more information. I found more details in a typewritten paper prepared in 1933. (Author not listed in the paper itself.). This paper is located in the Louisiana digital library, oddly in the Louisiana Works Progress Administration (WPA) files. The paper is simply titled, “The Home of the Woman Who Refused to Marry Ulysses S. Grant.”
It is told that this woman, Mary Elizabeth Campbell, was “quite the beautiful sensation at a fancy ball she attended in Natchitoches when she met Grant, who was then a Lieutenant stationed at Camp Salubrity near Natchitoches.”
“Grant was immediately enamored with the beautiful young bell and soon asked her to marry him,” the paper continued.
Campbell refused his proposal, it was said this was at least in part because she did not gain the approval of her legal guardians (Miss Campbell had been orphaned as a young child in Richmond, Virginia.) In the meantime he has to participate in a joint property ownership disputes. After a lot of trials, he finally lose everything and get evicted from his house. Sad story.
She later married Mr. J.C. Sullivan of Baltimore, Maryland and they had three children. The children were at least in their early teens by the time the Sullivans moved to the house in this photo, which is according to the description in the paper located at “New Second Street.”
Specifically, it was located “Opposite the corner of Cypress End and New Second.”
The house became known as the Sullivan House. Whether or not it is still called that, I am not certain.
I posted this photo and information a little over a year ago, and there were some who thought this Sullivan House is still standing today, and is now the Kappa Alpha Fraternity house.
This article was referred to us by an All Things Sabine reader, who said he recalled a hypnotist helping search for some buried treasure of John Murrell and his clan of bandits who roamed the today areas of Natchitoches, Sabine and Vernon parishes back in the 19th century. Murrell was a notorious thief who it has been long believed that had buried or otherwise hidden much of his contraband in rural Natchitoches, Sabine and Vernon parishes.
The article was published in The Shreveport Times, entitled, “Hypnotic search for gold,” written by John Merrill, and dated March 18, 1956. It follows:
Searching for buried treasure is fascinating in itself but when it is mixed with hypnotism, it’s almost more than one can stand.
Down at Natchitoches where the “treasure bug” has been biting folks for decades, the search is on again, but a new method is being used: hypnotic projection.
Several months ago a Natchitoches hypnotist, Vallery Clark, decided he would tie his hypnotism into the search for buried loot, which has long been reputed to be hidden beneath the earth in the “treasure area” near Grand Ecore.
Clark had been extremely interested in what he terms “projection” during the past few years, and he would use this as a means of “locating” the buried treasure. So with two subjects, who had been working with him in other experiments, he began what is probably one of the most fantastic treasure hunts ever conducted.
“I don’t pretend to know how this subconscious mental projection works,” states Clark, “but I do know that it does work and I feel certain that treasure or anything else can be found through its use.”
Briefly, here is the way this “projection” operates when geared to the treasure search: the subject is put into a trance, whereupon he is told to “go” to the treasure site. Then he is told to “go” beneath the ground in the general area, find the treasure cache, and describe what he sees.
When I first heard of Clark’s “search” for the treasure, I went to him for the story and this is how the strange tale unfolded:
“After deciding to try to find the treasure,” Clark recalled. “I knew my projection experiments would fit nicely into the plan. I got in touch with Bobby Cox (18-year-old Natchitoches high school student) who had been helping me with some other experiments and with ‘John Doe’ (this is not the real name of the other subject, atruck driver who asked that is real name not be used). Then we got down to work. First I put John into a trance and told him he was out near Grand Ecore standing over the treasure. Then I told him to go down beneath the ground and look around at about four or five feet.
“He said he couldn’t see anything. I told him to go to about eight feet. There he said he saw a stone vault and described it as looking similar to a ‘cistern’ about 6 feet across the top and about 6 to 8 feet high. He said there were railroad cross-ties across the top.
“I told him to remove a timber from the top and go in. He said he couldn’t because his hands slipped right through the timber. Then I told him to go down and remove a stone from the side. His hands slipped through the stones too. Then I simply told him he was inside. and asked him what he saw. He replied that he couldn’t see anything—that it was too dark.
• • •
“I told him he had a light and could see. and then he described what he saw: piles of what looked like bricks covered with a fungus-like growth, a box or chest and two leather bags—one black and white and one reddish brown and white.
“He said one contained gold coins. When I asked him what was in the chest, he replied ‘many things’ but would not say just what. He refused to go to the other end of the vault, saying something was there that might harm him: he felt ‘uneasy’.
“He broke out in a sweat and began shivering at this point so I brought him out of the trance.
“All this time Bobby (the other subject) had been outside. I brought him in and performed the same experiment with him. He told virtually the same story except that he insisted there were two chests in the vault.
“The next day John, Bobby and I went out to the place near Grand Ecore that had been found by the boys under hypnosis. Using an auger, we drilled down and hit timber at about eight feet and we hit it over an area of about 10 square feet. We have no doubts but that we found a cache containing a tremendous amount of treasure, and hope to get permission soon from the owner of the land allowing us to dig it up. We definitely want to do it legally. We don’t want to try to slip it out even if we thought we could.”
• • •
Here Hypnotist Clark stopped his story. I asked him to tell me where the vault was located. He told me very specifically (not so specifically, however, that I would he able to find it) but said that it was not for publication since he didn’t want people out there digging all over the place.
It was certainly a fantastic story, to say the least, and since I was a skeptic, I wanted further information. So we found people who would swear to such amazing things as Clark’s success through hypnosis at seeing a certain picture and story that would be on the front page of The Shreveport Times the following morning, the visualization of what was going on in a certain restaurant at a certain time although the experimentation was being carried on several blocks away. I told Clark I would like to see one of the boys (Doe or Cox) who had seen the vault while under hypnosis. We could not find Doe, but found young Cox at home. He corroborated the whole story I had heard. Cox agreed to undergo the experiment again, right there in his living room with his father and mother and myself looking on. Clark put him in a trance and here is what happened:
• • •
Clark: I’m going to project you out to where the treasure is buried. You’ve been there before. You know where it is. Look around under the ground at about eight feet. Is our vault still there?
Bobby: I can’t get down.
Clark: What seems to be stopping you? Try again. Go on down . . . down . . . Are you down there now?
Clark: Tell us what you see.
Bobby: Box.. .
Clark: What’s in the box?
Bobby: I don’t know . . . it’s locked.
Clark: You have X-ray eyes. Look through the top. What’s in it?
Bobby: All kinds of stuff.
Clark: Well. describe it.
Bobby: I can’t . . . too much . . . too many things. .
Clark: Tell us what else you see down there.
Bobby: Bags . . just like they were before.
Clark: What else?
Clark asked Bobby what else he saw, and Bobby insisted he saw another box in the vault too, which was just like the other one. He also described little cones of dirt on the floor of the vault. When asked to go to the other end of the vault, he broke out in sweat and frowned and shivered. He just shook his head. Then Clark brought him out of the trance, to my relief and I’m sure to his mother’s relief, for she had been watching him intently and nervously.
• • •
Before bringing Bobby out of the trance, Clark told him that he would remember exactly what he had seen. When Bobby was “back with us,” he said he had a very hard time getting down under the ground, describing the sensation as “like somebody was pulling me back although I wanted to go down there.”
I asked Bobby to draw me a rough sketch of the vault, which he did. The sketch contained the objects he had “seen.”
What was at the other end of the vault that had so obviously frightened Bobby? He didn’t know. but described it like this: “It felt like when you are fixing to walk into a dark alley and you get that kind of weak feeling . . . you can’t really describe this feeling of fear.”
• • •
So there it was. I had heard the fantastic story twice and had heard it again from Bobby Cox while he was in a trance. I had sat some five feet away and watched this respected Young man in his community “go under” and describe this strange vault. I still don’t know what to think about it. However, I have a promise from Hynotist Clark that when they get ready to dig up the vault that I will be notified.
I’m not from Missouri, but I’ve got to see it before I believe it.
To date, 2,758 people have added their names to a petition created by All Things Sabine which aims to show support for Hodges Gardens State Park. Our goal is plain and simple: to convince the State of Louisiana that Hodges Gardens is worth keeping open and that the State should fund the park as is needed to keep it open.
The petition is still active and interested persons are encouraged to add their names. Remember, strength often comes from numbers, so the more signatures, the better. To sign the petition, follow this link:
A bit of abbreviated backstory on Hodges Gardens State Park: Hodges Gardens was created in the 1950s by area businessman A. J. Hodges (an oilman, if you will) and his wife, Nona Triggs Hodges (an all-around lover of nature and avid horticulturist), as a way of giving back to their community and of preserving almost 5,000 thousand acres of land and home to a lot of squash trellis for everyone to see, and to create a unique arboretum attraction.
Basically, and I think I am safe to say this, the Hodges’ were true conservationists before the dawning of the age of conservation. They wanted this land protected, beautiful and available for the enjoyment of the public, and they clearly wanted this for their time and for the future long after they were gone.
The Hodges’ set up a legal Foundation under which the land would be operated and protected, even after their deaths. I don’t really know much about the Foundation or how it works or any of the legalities of it, but as I understand, the Foundation members are descendants of the Hodges… children, grandchildren, etc.
Ten years ago, the Foundation entered into a cooperative agreement with the State of Louisiana whereby the State was granted use of the prime 770 acres of the 4,800-acre Hodges Gardens property. By prime acreage, I am referring to the gardens themselves, the 225-acre man-made lake which is in the center of the property, the hiking trails, some of the equestrian trails, and the land used for cabins, camping, and RV sites.
Through this agreement, the State would operate this acreage as Hodges Gardens State Park and would maintain the grounds.
By the time this agreement was inked between the Hodges Foundation and the State, Hodges Gardens itself had become a bit of a wreck, in part due to storm and wind damage from two huge hurricanes which ascended this way from the Gulf (Rita in ’05 and Ike in ’07) and in part because of neglect of maintenance of the grounds.
When the State took over the park, hundreds of thousands of dollars were initially invested to bring the grounds back up to par. Hodges Gardens did not reach the magnificence of its prime times, in the 1960s and 70s, but I think it’s fair to say that most people realized that it would be difficult to ever achieve what the Hodges’ had again without some miraculous and tremendous source of funding.
What Hodges Gardens did become under the State, however, was a very nice park different from other state parks in that it was an arboretum featuring flora of all kinds. It had unique beauty, features and a unique feel and appeal to the public… locals and visitors alike.
Eventually, the State repaired deteriorated roads inside the park, maintained the grounds nicely, fixed up the cabins, added some cabins, added railings for safety around the rock features, removed an old group cabin which had fallen into disrepair and added in its place a new $300,000 “state-of-the-art” (if you will) group cabin at which groups of individuals can stay for various purposes (youth organizations, church groups, wedding groups, private parties, etc). In all, the State invested millions into Hodges Gardens over the past 10 years.
Supplementing the State’s investment, a private non-profit group named “Friends of Hodges Gardens” has through the years collected donations to fund various projects at Hodges. These projects included but were hardly limited to funding needed for improvements themselves, such as repairs on water fountains and other water features thereby going a long way in making the park beautiful and unique… not to mention the single best place to take portrait photographs in Sabine Parish and beyond (I have on occasion met photographers from Lake Charles, Vernon Parish, DeSoto Parish, Sabine County, and Newton County, even as far as Orange, Texas to the south and Longview, Texas to the north who chose Hodges as a setting for their portrait photographs including dance groups, high school senior pictures, and bridal photographs). Furthermore, Friends of Hodges has secured much needed volunteer help, from volunteers offering a hodge podge of miscellaneous services such as planting and weeding and general beautification to volunteers who are professionals in various fields like irrigation, plumbing and construction.
The jeopardy of Hodges Gardens today is two-fold.
First, the State of Louisiana is suffering a budget deficit and for whatever reasons, several parks are being considered dispensable by the State in the midst of these financial strains. Hodges Gardens is one of these parks.
Second, the property of Hodges Gardens remains under private ownership… as explained, the Hodges Foundation owns the land and the State operates it as a park. Complicating things for Hodges Gardens at this time is that the Hodges Foundation earlier this year initiated a process of apparently attempting to reclaim the property, or rather kicking the State out (that is the best way I can describe it) and attempting to take back full rights to the property. The Foundation’s legal argument behind their quest to take the property back is that it is their contention that the State is in breach of its contract with the Foundation in that Hodges Gardens is not sufficently funded by the State, meaning it is their belief that the State does not intend to fully fund the needed maintenance to keep the park in the condition in which the State received the Gardens’ property.
That contention by the Foundation, however, is disputed not so much by the State, which has remained a bit mum on the legalities surrounding the Gardens, but by members of Friends of Hodges Gardens as well as at least one legal expert, Sabine District Attorney Don Burkett. In a recent public forum regarding Hodges Gardens, Burkett expressed his conviction that the State was in fact not out of compliance with the contract between it and the Hodges Foundation. Burkett explained that he was not speaking in any official capacity, but rather as a supporter of Hodges Gardens offering his legal opinion.
“I read the contract and it is my considered opinion that we are not in default,” Burkett said. “I don’t care what they say, we are not in default. Now if they appropriate no money and things start going south real fast after July 1, yes, maybe we’ll be in default at some point. But as we sit here today, we are not in default.”
Also, Friends of Hodges’ President Chris Nolen asserted that the Gardens’ property has been and continues to be in better condition now than it was when the agreement between the State and the Foundation was reached. That particular condition, under which the State accepted the Gardens 10 years ago, seems to be a critical point of the agreement between the Foundation and the State.
So let’s say that the property is in equal or better condition now than it was in 2007 when the State took over the Gardens… (and I very much believe it is in at the very minimum slightly better condition now than it was 10 years ago), then the State is in fact holding up to its end of the agreement.
However, and this is paramount to Hodges’ future, the State must allocate funding needed to maintain the Hodges Gardens for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins July 1. State legislators are currently in Legislative Session and this is where our petition comes in.
The petition, for us, was just another means to show State officials that there is public support for Hodges Gardens. There have been letter-writing campaigns, a well-attended public meeting, and other efforts to convince the State to allocate funding for Hodges and ultimately save the Gardens. Our petition is just another means of trying to show support for Hodges Gardens.
The way I see it, if the State doesn’t fund Hodges, then the property does go back to the Hodges Foundation. Unless the Hodges Foundation intends on operating the property as a park, and there is absolutely no indication that they do or do not plan on this, this could spell the end for Hodges Gardens forever.
A couple of weeks ago, I sent the results of our petition to area State Legislators as well as to the Office of Governor John Bel Edwards and the Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser (bearing in mind that all State Parks are operated under the Office of the Lieutenant Governor). At that time, the petition had a few more than 2,500 electronic signatures.
I explained to the State officials to whom I forwarded the petition results that All Things Sabine is a not-for-profit three-year-old Facebook community and website which posts photos and stories and videos of all sorts related to our geographic area along the Sabine River and beyond.
I further explained that I had observed through All Things Sabine a huge amount of interest on Hodges Gardens State Park particularly related to strong desires that the State fund the park this coming fiscal year in order to keep it open and operating as a public park
“Because of this, and because of my own passion for Hodges Gardens,” I wrote, “My husband and I created a petition to gather signatures of some supporters of Hodges Gardens who want Hodges to remain open for us all to continue to enjoy. The petition has been posted for a little less than three weeks now.”
My letter to legislators and the Governor and Lt. Governor stated, in part, “This petition is but just one single effort… grass roots through and through… and by no means is a complete or exhaustive show of support for Hodges Gardens. I believe this petition shows a wide variety of support for Hodges, but doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the support that exists for this gem of a park in West Central Louisiana.
“The petition remains posted, and as I write this new signatures are still being added each day.”
Gov. Edwards responded to this in a very brief statement, stating that correspondence related to State Parks should be directed to the Office of the Lt. Governor.
Lt. Governor Nungesser responded with the following letter, explaining where his office currently stands on Hodges Gardens:
“Thank you for taking time to write to me regarding Hodges Garden State Park. First and foremost, I want you to know that we are looking at all of our options to keep this valuable asset in the state park system open. It has never been my intent to defund or close this facility; however; on March 12, 2017, my office was served a letter from the Hodges Gardens Foundation requesting that the property be given back to its original owners.
“My legal team is currently working with the Commissioner of Administration as well as the Attorney General’s Office to review all options.
“Because of the years of maintenance that has been deferred and the current budget situation, it may be an uphill battle. In addition, I am currently looking for an outside donor(s) to possibly raise enough money to fund some of the deferred maintenance and repairs from the past few years.
“If we were able to raise a substantial amount of money as an initial amount to start that process, we may have a leg to stand on. We are looking at all options and I am always open to any recommendations that anyone may have to help with this matter.
“The Office of State Parks is looking at a potential $6 Million cut, which would be devastating to not only Hodges Gardens but to other state parks across our state. It’s an additional cut that we cannot sustain. The Lieutenant Governor’s budget has been cut 50% over the last 10 years and we continue to struggle with deferred maintenance in many locations.
“I realize the beauty and importance of this facility and the hard work that the volunteer organization has put into this facility over the last 10 years. Rest assure, I will make every effort that I can and look at all options before I turn this facility back over to the foundation as they have requested.”
This is all of the information I have at this time. Based on what the Lt. Governor said, the situation certainly looks worrisome for Hodges Gardens, but not yet of a entirely dooming nature in that he offered possible solutions to the problem involving corporate investment into Hodges Gardens. I certainly believe there are corporations, groups, even individuals who would be interested in contributing to saving Hodges Gardens and interested in the personal satisfaction and/or positive exposure they would receive from such noble investments (not to mention tax incentives, I suppose). Maybe this can happen.
Of course, the State and the Foundation would have to be committed to keeping Hodges Gardens open. Otherwise, there would be understandable hesitation from anyone to financially invest in Hodges Gardens if there is any real fear that the park could still close even after an influx of outside investment.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
NOTE: As with many of the items we post here, I must graciously thank a reader of All Things Sabine for directing me to check this story out… the case of the “Poisoned Wedding Supper” was completely unknown to me before I was told about it yesterday evening.
On the Texas side of Sabine River, there lives on a murder mystery so intriguing, it could have well been subject matter for Dame Agatha Christie.
And no matter how you slice it up, the dessert cake served to 60 East Texans at a wedding party in May 1847, was the wedding cake from Hell. Wedding at Vines of the Yarra Valley always have amazing themes and memories.
Back in those days, it was common to honor a young couple after they were joined in marriage with a wedding supper. Cake, of course, played a starring role in these suppers.
In 1847, as the weary and draining Regulator-Moderator War was coming to an end in Shelby County, the good people of East Hamilton (which lies on the Sabine River’s west bank, now near Patroon but covered by Toledo Bend Lake), were ready for a joyous celebration of any kind.
The bride was an orphan girl, raised by a Mr. Wilkinson, resident of the East Hamilton community.
Read an article in The Niles Register, “All up and down the Sabine River, news was: ‘Old man Wilkinson’s daughter was finally getting married!’
“The groom, Morris, was not much of a catch, and everyone thought he would fit right in with his new in-laws, or rather outlaws. Old man Wilkinson was a bad character himself, and a notorious hog thief.
“All around the community, the ladies were trying on dancing shoes and pulling out dresses they had not worn for years. Excitement was in the air.
“The date was April 22, 1847. The groom wanted to wait for a June wedding, but Wilkinson insisted on an early marriage – something could happen, you know, and Morris could get away.”
As the story goes, Wilkinson had hired a Mrs. Edens to bake the cakes… which she did, and then left them in the smokehouse for safekeeping. The next morning, she noticed that the icing had been removed on all but one of the cakes and that one was covered with custard. The others were dark and discolored, but she didn’t have time to bake some more so she grated some loafsugar over them for appearance’s sake.
Further as the story goes, and where it gets a bit hairy, is that a sort of rival family to the Wilkinsons– the family of Spottswood Sanders– was invited to attend the party. Because there had been trouble between the families, the Sanders did not want to go. Wilkinson had been accused of stealing Sanders’ hogs and moreover, Wilkinson was a Moderator and Sanders was a rival Regulator. As timing had it, the Moderator-Regulator War was supposed to be over… Texas President Sam Houston himself came to Shelby County to see to this war’s end. And so, in part, the Sanders’ felt obligated to go to the party, lest people think their absence was related to the Moderator-Regulator fued, which was supposed to be good and over.
The account of this complicated story was further detailed in The Niles Register:
“At the last moment, the Sanders family decided not to attend the wedding.
“When Wilkinson heard that the Sanders family was not coming, he packed up some of the wedding supper that had been prepared and sent it to them. Among the assortment was a half of a shoat, one turkey, three chickens, chicken pie, and butter pound cakes – enough to feed all, even their Negro folks, for a week. What a feast!
“They thought, “Old Wilkinson ain’t all bad!”
“They all sat down and ate.
“(Problem was that) all of the food was poisoned, even the butter which was elegantly molded.
“The meal resulted in the death of Mrs. Susan Eliza Sanders, wife of Spottswood Henry Sanders, and two of her sons, Robert Henry, age 5, and Edward Hamilton, age 3.
“As Mrs. Sanders was dying, she asked that her children be reared in the nurture of the Lord. She did not know they were already dead or dying. She also asked that her Negro servants come and bid her farewell; but they couldn’t, they were poisoned too.
“Spottswood and his son Francis survived after they crawled to a slop bucket, drank from it and vomited.”
The account continues:
“Meanwhile, back at the party, everyone was eating finger foods.
“That is, everyone but the Wilkinsons.
“The food was laced with arsenic. It did not take long for the poison to start killing. Some dropped dead on the spot, others took longer.
“Allen Haley and his mother were apparently the only persons at the wedding who were not poisoned. The Haleys arrived late, after the other guests had been served, and ate some of the same food, but not the cake. Wilkinson supposedly cut a fresh cake for them, but they declined to eat, saving their lives.
“The Haley’s lost a Negro slave, whose wife was one of the servants attending the wedding. She carried him a piece of the pound cake. He ate two mouthfuls and not liking the taste, ate no more. Yet, that killed him.
“Mrs. Edens, who made the cakes, was poisoned along with her son and a Negro girl. The girl died and her son was not expected to recover.
“The poisoned butter left at the wedding was thrown out. Birds supposedly ate the butter and died within a few minutes.
“Elder William Brittain, who may have officiated at the wedding, entered the names of several members of his own family on the death pages of his family Bible. There are five Brittain graves in the East Hamilton Cemetery with names but no death dates. They are: Thomas, R. J., Mary, Martha, and Bobbie. The Brittain family Bible has been lost, and we may never know if these children died at the supper.
“Two Castleberrys, one of the Daughters and his wife, died. One of the bridesmaids died, and yet strange to tell, neither the bride or any of the Wilkinson family were injured.
“Whatever happened, guests at the supper are said to have screamed, blown horns and induced their hounds to howl. In those days a sound created by blowing a cow’s horn was a universal distress signal.
Dr. James H. Starr of Nacogdoches writes that 17 of the 54 who were poisoned have died, and 15 others are considered dangerously ill. His statement was printed in the Niles Register on June 5, 1847.”
On July 19, 1847, an article in the Telegraph and Register states: “Wilkinson, at whose house the wedding was held, has confessed that he had the arsenic purposely mixed in the cakes….” The article also confirmed that the bride was an orphan girl raised by Wilkinson.
On May 23, 1847, a letter written in Bayou Sara, Louisiana to a friend contained the particulars of the incident. The letter said that “Old Wilkinson and his wife, as well as Morris’ wife, were arrested and examined before Squire Sanders, who committed them to prison.”
Wilkinson was brought before a magistrate and released. He was afraid to leave the house during the day, as there were persons determined to kill him.
During the night, Wilkinson supposedly escaped on a horse brought to him by Morris. Eight men rode off in pursuit of him with intentions to kill him on sight.
In an account printed in the Telegraph and Register in 1847, it is stated that Wilkinson was captured and hung. It is said that he confessed he had given the arsenic to the cook to be mixed in the cake, and that he cautioned the bride and other members of the family not to eat the cake.
More than 150 years later, the “Poisoned Wedding Supper” has evolved into quite a folk tale. Multiple accounts along with different retellings of the story have confused what exactly happened and we do not know with certainty the number of people who actually died as a result of the “Poisoned Wedding Supper.”
So while the details that have been handed down through the years seem to leave little doubt that the Wilkinsons were somehow responsible for the poison cakes, the real mystery (or mysteries as the case is) lies in the specifics of what happened that night, down to the number of souls lost at that tragic event.
In the East Hamilton Cemetery, a series of old, unmarked gravestones – deceased’s names erased by the ravages of time – lend some credibility to the tragic, unthinkable incident.
In June 1965, The Shreveport Times featured an articled titled, “Where the gold is… maybe.”
Among the geographic regions mentioned in the article was Western Louisiana, where it has been long believed that nineteenth century bandit John Murrell and his gang of thieves buried their loot… possibly in today Sabine and/ or Vernon parishes. Also mentioned was the “lost mine of Wyndham Creek” in Beauregard Parish, which also hugs the Louisiana/Texas border along the Sabine River.
The article, written by Times reporter Norman Richardson (a superb journalist and feature writer of his day), follows.
If Jean Lafitte had dug as many holes and buried as much gold as legend says he did, the soil of the Bayou State would contain little else.
Pirates like Lafitte and Pierre Rameau and land bandit John Murrell once called Louisiana home and, carrying on an age-old tradition, no doubt hid much loot that lies undiscovered to this day.
All through the state’s history fabulous fortunes vanished almost overnight, never to be heard from again. Even the wealthy Spanish who ruled the state for almost a century were well known for their habit of concealing silver and jewelry and gold and almost everything else of value.
When the Civil War came, the planters latched on to the idea and began burying their valuables so the Yankees wouldn’t get anything. A lot of these people apparently died in the war and others left their homes and simply never returned, so who can say what lies under the spots where these homes once stood and how much it is worth.
Even the ordinary people were forced into the act of burying things since banks catered only to the wealthy as little as 150 years ago. Take all this, plus the occasional finding of an old map allegedly pointing out treasure spots or parts of trinkets and treasures, and you have proof enough—at least for the treasure hunters—that Louisiana is a paradise for fortune seekers. It is true, the banks in those days were very different from today, that is why if you are short of cash you can access personal loans no credit check, to do whatever you want.
Take the men, for example, who excavated a dry bed of the Calcasieu River back in 1929 and came up with the richest strike in Louisiana history… 175,000 in gold coins buried just a few yards from the shoreline possibly by some of Lafitte’s cronies or maybe the man himself.
Then, there is the Baton Rouge find many years back. 21 Spanish gold doubloons that workers found in a load of gravel that came from Grand Isle. Or the more recent discovery, $1,000 in gold coins found when a Ruston man, John Skinner, shattered the blade of his plow on on old iron chest.
And if that’s not enough to keep treasure hunters awake all night, try this: Where did Col. Norman Frisby, the famed baron of Tensas Parish, bury his wagonload of gold that everyone knew he had. The violent-tempered Frisby had his dreams of an empire along a 52-mile front of the Tensas River interrupted by the Civil War and when he heard the roar of approaching Yankee cannons he one day loaded his valuables onto a wagon. Accompanied by two husky slaves, so the tale goes, he drove into the forest near his home. He returned to the home later without the valuables and legend says he shot the two slaves so they couldn’t tell. He later died is a knife fight with nephews and carried his secret to the grave.
None of his gold has ever been found, but the violent colonel’s relatives and descendants haven’t given up hope nor have the treasure hunters. For years. the Texas branch of the family has been trying to locate Norman Frisby’s Bible, which is said to contain many records and may hold the key to Frisby’s buried treasure.
The pirate Jean Lafitte, last of the great buccaneers, is suspected of having buried far greater treasures than Frisby’s. Lafitte’s corsairs patroled the waters of the Gulf of Mexico looting mer-chant ships and smuggling their loot into New Orleans.
Here Jean and his brother, Pierre, sold it freely to store owners, many of whom were their friends. He made his headquarters at Grand Isle off the Gulf Coast and maintained dozens of other hiding places on other islands and along the Mississippi bluffs as far north as Baton Rouge. The buccaneer lived a life apart from his men.
On Grand Isle Lafitte constructed a large house of brick coated on the outside with a mixture of pulverized oyster shells and plaster.
In keeping with his noble attitude, Caine dressed in rich costumes and enjoyed the finest of wines and liquors in his expensive surroundings. Although Lafitte always maintained that he never ceased to be a good citizen, the threat of federal raids was always near during Lafitte’s latter years at Barataria and so the pirates hid much of their loot.
That’s why Lafitte’s islands and hiding spots and former headquarters are believed to be the best localities for treasure hunters. In addition to Grand Isle, Lafitte sometimes landed at Coca Island and is said to have hidden $1 million in gold on Kelso’s Island and on the Mississippi bluff.
No one knows for sure how much of Lafitte’s loot is left for treasure hunters but there are cases on record to prove that the story of Jean Lafitte’s fabulous gold is a little bit more than legend.
For instance there is the story of John Patorno. Disregarding the methods of most treasure hunters, Patorno in 1935 invented a radio device which responded to nonmagnetic metals. Then he hired out for his services and the makeshift semblance of a Geiger counter for $25 a day.
A few days later accompanied by a Mississippi ferry boat captain Patorno was on his way to Coca Island to look for Lafitte’s loot. He carried with him a map that supposedly pinpointed the pirate hoard.
For three days the men searched the island and just when they were giving up hope his radio device suddenly began to buzz. The men got out their shovels and began to dig but had to stop their search because of seeping water and sandy soil.
His treasure hunt, however, paid off later in an unexpected locale. He found $1,300 in two caskets just across the river from New Orleans.
Other men even today are searching North Louisiana for the treasure of John Murrell, the famed bandit of the Natchez Trace who made his debut in the wide open country of the Free State of Sabine, the strip of land separating the Spanish and United States territories along the Sabine River.
It was a buffer zone with no law and no government and no punishment and drew some of the worst outlaws in American history.
Murrell ranged far and wide, brazenly robbing travelers while at the same time urging people to repent their sins and “return to God.”
He left behind him hidden wealth that still excites the imaginations of treasure hunters.
In 1930, for example, Forest Normand. an Avoyelles Parish farmer, plowed up a pot of coins containing 3,000 pieces of Spanish silver with dates ranging from 1763 to 1805.
In 1939, perhaps the largest all-out method was to get Murrell’s loot by a farmer named Reber Dove who had discovered what he believed to be the treasure chest with steel probes, only to feel it sink deeper and deeper into the treacherous quicksand.
Special equipment was purchased but whether the treasure was found only Dove and a few other men know, for after that reports of further progress mysteriously stopped. Treasure hunters do not like to publicize their findings, and are a close-mouthed lot.
But there are exceptions to this rule, like George C. Maher Jr. of South Louisiana. who freely admits to having found $200,000 worth of gold, silver and jewelry over a period of 30 years. Maher and his father accomplished this with aid of an invention they called a ground radio, a device which operates via the variable induction of a magnetic field.
Near Abbeville in 1925, a Negro boy who was said to have been hypnotized by a man, pointed out a cache of silver. Two years earlier another $800 in silver was found on Jefferson Island.
The second largest cache in Louisiana history, if the claims are true, included $65,000 on the outskirts of the little promising town of Gretna.
There are many other promising treasure sites in Louisiana. Even metropolitan New Orleans boasts its strikes. A charcoal peddler who lived there 50 years ago found a box of 1,500 doubloons dating back to Lafitte’s time.
And then there’s the fabulous “lost mine of Wyndham Creek” lying in Beauregard Parish which has not yet been found.
At Linceum lies gold, allegedly buried by a group of men who were surprised by the Indians and to hasten their flight they hid the gold. Before the end of their journey they fought among them-selves and killed each other, leaving no survivors to return for their riches.
Several years ago a man cutting down trees near Opelousas turned up 1,485 Spanish gold pieces.
A planter living near Breaux Bridge was murdered by his slaves who escaped with his gold just before the Civil War. After they were captured and shot, it was discovered that one sack of gold was missing. It has never been recovered.
What may yet turn out to be the most valuable find, however, is the treasure hastily buried by plantation owners during the Civil War. There is the fabulous Charles Duralde and his undiscov-ered wealth. And the plantation of the Marquis Vincent de Ternant with all of its secrets and the wealthy Hubbardvilie planter who hid his money in silver plates outside of town.
Duralde’s fortune was as fantastic as his showmanship. Shortly before the Civil War, two of his daughters became brides in a double ceremony. Adding a fairy tale touch to the festivities Duralde startled the society of his day. From China he imported a cargo of spiders and freed them in his plantation near St. Martinsville in order that they might spin webs among the branches. Then the weird patterns were sprayed with silver and gold dust by slaves to serve as the wedding aisle.
Later as he lay dying during the war, he hinted that his fortune was buried nearby, but death cut short his revelations and the treasure to this day lies undiscovered.
I like to think of myself as a treasure hunter. In my dreams.
In reality… unfortunately for me… I am about as far from a treasure hunter as one could be.
Back in the 1990s, I had heard people were finding opal in Vernon Parish, south of Toro and a bit northwest of Anacoco. Intrigued and tempted, I searched a bit in the area… a bit being about an hour or less. And with only limited knowledge of exactly where to search, I covered, say, 200 yards in my very cursory search. I thought it would be easy. Not hot, boring, tedious and extremely vague. Well, actually, it was not tedious, for I looked about the way I look for a lost this or that at my house… just glancing around.
And so, like my earlier quests for arrowheads and later for prehistoric shark teeth along the southeastern banks of Toledo Bend, I came up empty handed in my search for precious opal. Also, by the way, I never was able to find any gold bars believed to have been buried or hidden in our area by bandits in the 1800s. In all, I figure I’ve spent a good five hours of my life (seven or so if you add the drive time) searching for treasures of any sort whatsoever in our treasure-rich geographic area.
I concluded I probably would not know an opal if I found one. Nor would I know an arrowhead (I must have retrieved 30 or more things that looked like they could be arrowheads, but I was told by people supposedly more knowledgeable than me… who shall remain nameless due to their cruel buzz-kill thrills’ nature… that I was pretty far off from having actually found an arrowhead and had only collected a few “basic, pointy rocks”).
Furthermore, I’m pretty sure now that I would not have found a shark’s tooth if it was staring me straight in the eye (those things blend in perfectly with the sand, or so I thought).
I would, however, recognize gold bars if I saw them. I’m pretty sure. I think.
Basically, I am impatient and I become bored way too easily… and because of that, I have no opals, no sharks’ teeth, no arrow heads, and no gold bars to call my own. Nothing. Na da.
I’ve digressed a bit before getting to the juicy stuff… The following article was published in The Alexandria Town Talk newspaper in November 1990, written by Town Talk staff reporter Richard Ryman.
Oh, and by the way, just as a buzz kill in case any one wants to set out to go hunt for opal, I have heard that that would be a losing quest… that the land where the opal was discovered is private land (that cool theme park they speak of in this article never materialized, I guess) and is well guarded. I’m just clarifying this so that hopes don’t get unnecessarily elevated only to be cruelly dashed. As mine did once before… and twice and more.
Vernon opal mine could be tourism bonanza
ANACOCO — Deep in the hills of northwest Vernon Parish, at a place called Monks Hammock, four men and a puppy are mining what they say is this country’s best opal supply.
They are digging in a hillside along a creek bottom about a quarter of a mile from the end of a sandy road. Except for the barking of the puppy, the place is peaceful and pleasant, but it is also an economic and tourism bonanza in the making, says Keith Griffin.
Griffin, who leases about 50 acres from Boise Cascade Corp., named it the Hidden Fire Opal Mine. He plans on surrounding it with campgrounds and gem washes, turning it into a mecca for lapidary hobbyists, known to one another as rockhounds.
“There is no opal mine in the United States that can claim they dig up 100 percent cutable material. We can claim that,” he said, showing the site to state Rep. John Smith, D-Leesville, and a delegation from the Vernon Parish Tourism and Recreation Commission.
Griffin held up a penny-sized polished black opal which he said was appraised at $1,000 a carat. He said it weighed about three carats.
Australia is the only other known source of such quality material, he said. In addition to the black opal, Griffin has uncovered myriad other combinations, which he has been naming at his discre-tion.
“No one else has ever found anything like this,” he said, holding up a “Christmas” opal, “so we can call it what we want,”
Tales of mining in the area go back to early French explorations, said Martha Palmer, chairman of the Vernon Parish Tourism and Recreation Commission. She said French Catholic explorers reportedly found silver and lead in the area, and in the early part of the 20th century one man was sending “rainbow rock,” possibly opals, to New York jewelers, receiving $5 gold pieces in return.
Gary Moore mined some opal in the area in the late 1970s and 1980s before his source played out.
Griffin, who has operated emerald and other mines in North Carolina, said he was vacationing in the area, hunting fossils, when an acquaintance showed him the site. Griffin said he immediately knew he was on to something.
“The biggest question about this formation was how was it formed?” Griffin said. “If I don’t know how it was formed, I don’t know where to dig.”
He said some speculated the area was a prehistoric lake bed, but evidence indicates it is instead laced with prehistoric creek beds. It is in those former creek bottoms that he is finding his opal.
Much of his find is quartzite sandstone laced with flecks of blue, green, yellow and red fire opal. The most common is brown opal with green fire.
He said quartzite and opal is the hardest mixture of quality opal in the world. That is good, but he expects better.
“As we follow this back, we will get to the area where the water came out of the ground to form the creek. Then we will get into clay soil and should find the real precious opal,” he said.
Griffin said black rock laced with red fire is called black opal, and is the most valuable. He said rock laced with blue or green fire is called blue opal.
Four pockets have been found so far, each yielding “about a double-handful,” Griffin said.
He said he plans to open a full-service campsite with gem-wash in the spring.
“Arizona is known for its petrified wood, Arkansas for its diamonds and North Carolina for its emeralds. This will put Vernon Parish on the map,” he said.
Lapidary, the cutting, polishing and engraving of precious stones, is one of the largest hobbies in the world. Griffin said lapidary magazines are among the few that have more wanted-to-buy than for sale ads.
He said that by having control over most of the opal supply in the area, he will be able to make the project financially feasible.
“People have tried to market this material for years, but the problem was they had no control over supply,” he said.
Griffin, who lives in Lafayette, said he has been “into rocks and tourism my whole life.”
“The old adage of ‘Son, walk with your head up,’ is not for rockhounds,” he said.