Early Rice County
Published, December, 1928
Here is a glamorous legend of glittering gold- gold buried deep in the banks of Cow creek near its crossing by the old Santa Fe trail. It is the most widely known and frequently related of the five treasure tales with which the county is possessed.
The origin of this legend is, like most others, uncertain. It has probably existed since the time of Chavez' murder on a little stream in eastern Rice county, for at least one writer has mentioned Cow creek as the locale of that tragedy. In other words it is probable that two legends have been confused. They are given to that. They appear unexpectedly, to startle even the most skeptical until they are dismantled, when they are frequently revealed as some time-worn bugaboo in new garb.
The Cow creek legend is one which has persisted without much alteration. It is lurid enough to satisfy the most adventuresome taste and plausible to the point of being accepted "in toto" by the more gullible.
Luther Cotton, who several years ago occupied the farm at Cow creek crossing, was visited one day about fifteen years ago by two young men who had followed the stream for several miles with some sort of an "instrument". They introduced themselves and announced that they were in search of buried treasure. They urged Mr. Cotton to permit a further search on his premises and asked for a lease covering all rights to any wealth they might uncover.
This granted, they set about in a matter-of-fact way to locate the treasure. They established camp just northwest of the crossing and began to dig.
The two young men remained on the farm for more than three weeks, during which time they had invested several hundred dollars in provisions and equipment and had dug a shaft of no mean proportions, lining it with a corrugated metal conduit twenty feet long and several feet in diameter.
At the end of three weeks they had come to the conclusion that, altho on the approximate location, they had for some reason missed the object for which they had labored.
During their stay, however, Mr. Cotton had been friendly with the boys and was taken into their confidence to the degree that they had told him the details of their "secret".
They carried with them a crude map, yellowed with age but tallying exactly with the terrain and natural surroundings at Cow creek crossing. They had procured it, they explained, from a widow in the Bicker-dyke home at Ellsworth whose husband, a soldier, had received it from Robert McGee, sole survivor of the Cow creek massacre related by Inman. And with the map, of course, went the story, according to which:
McGee and another young man, upon realizing their caravan was about to be attacked, grabbed up a money chest in which was gold for soldiers' pay being taken to the New Mexican fort. It contained a sum estimated at from $90,000 to $120,000, in gold coin. Racing to the creek bank they tossed the heavy chest over the brink, kicking down loose dirt and grass and covering it as best they could in the short time.
When McGee regained consciousness he was at Ft. Larned where he immediately advised officers of what had been done with the money. But, altho a detail was dispatched at once, the soldiers were unable to find it and it was always afterward presumed that box and burden had sunk into the sands.
The two young men left behind them a monument to their capriciousness in the form of the conduit previously mentioned. There it is to be seen today, well seated in the loamy banks of Cow creek, where it has come to be referred to as the "gold mine".
There have been other efforts to get-rich-quick through recovery of the Cow creek treasure. Mr. Cotton recalls a dozen or more such undertakings, all of which have gone on the rocks either because of fleeting faith or physical exhaustion.
Among the latest attempts are those of the summer of 1927 and the winter of 1927-28 when three men from western Kansas swooped down upon the place, laden with "information" and swathed in cupidity. Their success, so far as could be determined-for they left mysteriously and perhaps sheepishly-may be classed with the others.
Ranking next to the Cow creek legend is that of Jarvis creek crossing of the trail, immediately north of Saxman. The story of wealth buried there in early trail days has caused dozens to search for it, and some of these attempts have been remembered by residents of the vicinity.
The Jarvis creek legend is undoubtedly an outgrowth of the murder at that point of a Spanish trader named Chavez, early in 1843. In fact the name of the stream, now given on all maps as "Jarvis" is most certainly a corruption of the trader's Spanish cognomen by the county's earliest settlers who found it a bit hard to pronounce.
Don Antonio Jose Chavez! This was the man's name in full. He was a resident of New Mexico and had been plying the trail between the far southwest and the city of St. Louis. Reports circulated in 1842 to the effect that Texan forces were planning to attack traders along the trail were not heeded by Chavez who started out in February of the following year with two wagons, five servants, fifty-five mules and several bales of furs as well as $12,000 in gold and silver. His destination was Independence, Missouri.
The spring of 1843 proved unusually cold, which brought inconvenience to Chavez and his men and death to fifty of the mules.
It was on April 10 that Chavez camped at the crossing of the Little Arkansas river in what is now eastern Rice county. Here he was met by a company of 15 men under the leadership of a John McDaniel. Mc-Daniel had organized a band on the frontier of Missouri, expecting to join a Colonel Warfield who was on the plains claiming to be a part of the forces of the Texas republic and intending to attack trail caravans.
Chavez was apprehended by the McDaniel men and taken off the trail to be robbed of his belongings. Seven of the bandits returned immediately to Missouri with their shares of the loot while the balance remained, deciding to dispose of Chavez. They led him to Jarvis creek where, according to present beliefs, they took him to a ravine which empties into that little stream, and there shot him. With the balance of the spoils they, too, returned to Missouri.
Several of the McDaniel gang were afterward arrested by Missouri authorities for implication in the crime and, altho some of the guilty escaped, the leader, John McDaniel, was tried and convicted at St. Louis and put to death. During the trial evidence was produced, by the prosecution showing that the wagons belonging to Chavez had been discovered in the ravine near the crossing where they had been left by the murderers.
The legend of treasure at Jarvis creek as recounted by local persons now shows but little resemblance to the actual facts in the case. It is usually said that "Jarvis" had camped on the stream and that before retiring had buried his money to prevent its being stolen while he slept. Then, the local story goes, he was murdered during the night by Indians (this is sometimes varied to "members of his own party") who were unable to locate the wealth.
M. F. Baker, a pioneer of the Saxman neighborhood, remembers several early attempts to recover the money. One of these was made by a party of strangers who camped in a tent, telling inquiring settlers they were merely awaiting the arrival of others of their party before continuing a westward journey. After they had gone, several days later, their camping place was investigated and it was discovered that the straw floor of their tent site covered a deep pit. Some of the settlers imagined they could see, in the bottom of the shaft, the imprint of an iron kettle, and were certain that the Jarvis creek gold had been found and taken away.
Sometime prior to 1871 a party of people, thought to have been relatives of Chavez, came from the east to visit the spot. They located the scene of the murder as being a few rods southeast of the present crossing. Before leaving they obtained somewhere a slab of grayish stone about three or four feet high, 16 or 18 inches wide and four or five inches in thickness, inscribed upon it the man's name and the date of the tragedy, and set it up at the spot they had decided upon.
In the intervening years the monument has disappeared. Some settler, no doubt, needing a stone for a door sill or some other purpose, removed it for his own use, little realizing that he was destroying an object of historical value.
Mr. Baker, who saw the stone many times while it was standing, does not remember the inscription. He is quite certain, however, that the name was not "Jarvis", and believes it to have been "Chavez" or at least something similar. It was there in 1871 and remained at least until 1874. It had fallen over when he last noticed it.
With these evidences of error it would not be unwise for some future Rice county map maker to change the name of the stream back to its original and correct spelling and thereby return to the memory of a brave man the honor which is a just due.
Most of the other attempts to recover the Chavez money have been made by local persons, many of them mere boys lured by the ever-present boyish hope to someday "find treasure". But at least one man has spent several days near the crossing, endeavoring to locate the gold through use of some queer instrument for which he claimed positive results should there be anything for it to "indicate".
The farm of H. A. Renollet, near Saxman, has in more recent years become the setting for a third treasure tale.
A few years ago the sheriff was called to the Renollet farm to solve, if he could, a mystery which had aroused the curiosity of people living nearby. For several nights the yard of an abandoned farmhouse immediately south of the Renollet home had been the scene of queer happenings. Gars had driven in from various directions or had parked along the roads with lights burning "dim", as tho guarding the activities of others who had proceeded to the yard.
At one time men from the Renollet farm had been able to approach within a few rods of where a flashlight was being turned on and off at frequent intervals, and had seen there several men, digging into the sandy subsoil at the corner post of the yard enclosure. But a dog which had followed investigators had given away their presence, and the diggers had gone before the others could reach them.
The mystery was solved to the satisfaction of the sheriff, at least, when Mr. Renollet chanced to mention that there had long been a rumor which charged his late father with having been a miser, and of having buried a sum of money somewhere about the place.
Since the Renollet farm is not far from the Jarvis creek crossing, it is quite likely the two legends are related.
Another such fable, which seems to have no historical foundation, has attached itself to various points along the upper reaches of Cow creek, north and west of Lyons. It may have resulted from too frequent repetition of the Cow creek legend, but the circumstances are different.
In this fable the treasure is again gold. The characters are several plainsmen returning from the west and following the approximate route of the old Santa Fe trail but remaining far enough away to lessen the danger of attack by Indians who were stalking travelers along that route. The men, so the story goes, buried their money before retiring for the night-and were murdered while they slept, by savages, who, of course, were unable to find the treasure.
The Hathaway farms in the vicinity of Plum Buttes, at the extreme western edge of the county, have been visited at intervals during the past quarter of a century or more by persons who had heard of treasure there. One man was so satisfied of the truth of the story that he spent several days roaming about with a dipping needle.
Once more is presented the possibility that stories have been confused. Since the Plum Buttes region was the scene of an early-day massacre it affords a basis sufficiently plausible to attract the treasure-seeking class.