Tall Tales of Confederate Gold

by Josh Williams

photos courtesy of Barbara Williams & the Garland County Historical Society

Everyone loves a good lost treasure story. People all over the world have devoted many months or even years trying to uncover buried receptacles of riches they once heard about in a story in the dark. With the exception of very few, none of these treasure hunts produce the proverbial “pot of gold,” but the thought of finding a king’s ransom is pretty enticing. What’s even more enticing is the fact that legend says there is a bounty of booty right here in the Ouachita Mountain region. We’ll tell you a little more about it, but we’re not going to give away too much…we want to find it too.

Albert Pike was born in Boston, Massachusetts, son of Ben and Sarah (Andrews) Pike, and spent his childhood in Byfield and Newburyport, Massachusetts. In August 1825, he passed entrance exams at Harvard University, but when the college requested payment of tuition fees for the first two years, which he had successfully challenged by examination, he chose not to attend. He began a program of self-education, later becoming a schoolteacher in Gloucester, North Bedford, Fairhaven and Newburyport.

In 1831, Pike left Massachusetts to travel west, first stopping in St. Louis and later moving on to Independence, Missouri. In Independence, he joined an expedition to Taos, New Mexico to do some hunting and trading. During the excursion his horse broke and ran, forcing Pike to walk the remaining 500 miles to Taos. After reaching Taos he joined a trapping expedition heading back east, with their sights set on the Llano Estacado in New Mexico and Texas. Trapping was minimal and after traveling about 1300 miles (650 on foot), he finally arrived at Fort Smith, Arkansas.

In 1833, Pike taught school and wrote a series of articles for the Little Rock, Arkansas publication, the Advocate under the pen name of “Casca.” The articles were popular enough that he was asked to join the newspaper’s staff. Later, after marrying Mary Ann Hamilton, he reportedly purchased part of the newspaper. By 1835, he was the Advocate’s sole owner. Under Pike’s administration, the Advocate promoted the viewpoint of the Whig Party in a politically volatile and divided Arkansas.

Pike then began to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1837, selling the Advocate the same year. He was the first reporter for the Arkansas Supreme Court and also wrote a book titled “The Arkansas Form Book,” which was a guidebook for lawyers. Additionally, Pike wrote on several legal subjects and continued producing poetry, one of his early loves. His poems were highly regarded in his day, but are now mostly forgotten. Several volumes of his works were privately published posthumously by his daughter, and in 1859, he received an honorary Master
of Arts degree from Harvard.

As much as Albert Pike accomplished, there was still more that most people don’t know about. Is it any surprise that he was a member of the Freemasons? He first joined the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 1840, then joined a Masonic Lodge and became extremely active in the affairs of the organization, being elected Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction in 1859. He remained Sovereign Grand Commander for the remainder of his life (32 years), devoting a large amount of his time to developing the rituals of the order. Notably, he published a book called “Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry” in 1871, of which there were several subsequent editions. This is where the legend of the Albert Pike treasure begins, and the legend is just that, it’s folklore: There has never been any substantiated evidence of gold in the Albert Pike area. There is a park in the the foothills of the Ouachitas, near the town of Langley, Arkansas that bears Pike’s name. This was supposedly one of the numerous locales that were drawn up as one of the treasure repositories for Pike’s masonic group, Knights of the Golden Circle. It’s a beautiful place that’s free and open to the public with winding rivers and hiking trails,numerous campsites and waterfalls and caves…or it was, at least. During a torrential rain and subsequent flood of the Little Missouri River on June 10, 2010, twenty people who were camping lost their lives. Overnight camping is no longer allowed and it has unfortunately hurt the economy of the area and it may never recover, but that’s what the treasure is for, right?

According to Ed King’s website, www.masonicinfo.com, Warren Getler and Bob Brewer are the authors of a book entitled “Rebel Gold.” Bob recounts a journal entry from his grandfather as the basis of the Albert Pike Treasure legend: “The Knights of the Golden Circle are a little-known group that was formed in the northern, mid-west United States as the Civil War was drawing to a close. It was their hope that the battle to maintain slavery could be continued even as the inevitability of the lost cause was, to most, patently obvious. Created and maintained with utter secrecy, it’s a little-known footnote to history, never
having accomplished anything and having faded away in time – except in the mind of two people.” So you’re probably wondering how Albert Pike and Freemasonry get tied into all this? Here it is: Mr. Brewer’s “Grandpa” with whom he has some limited contact as a teenager, goes off into the woods to, in Grampa’s words, “shoot cows”. Years later, looking in Grampa’s diary, Bob learns that there were two “…unusual entries: “Found cow in cave” followed by the next day’s “Stayed home.”

As a boy, Bob had no way of knowing that “cow” might have been shorthand for “cowan,” an old Masonic term for “intruder.”

Even if one never finds any treasure at the Albert Pike Recreational Area, the sheer beauty and rugged, natural landscape are enough to make any visitor feel like they’ve struck gold. For more on the Albert Pike Recreation Area, go to www.fs.usda.com, or call 870-356-4186.