Lost Treasures of the North Oregon Coast
By J.D. Adams
Oregon’s quaint coastal towns are like pearls strung along Highway 101, born of lost legends and mysteries emerging from the mists of time. Native Inhabitants passed on knowledge to coastal pioneers about shipwrecks and castaways that lived with the tribes centuries ago. Tantalizing tales were told of a fabulous lost gold mine in the northern Coast Range and of buried treasure at Neahkahnie Mountain. Ancient clues are still being revealed in the sand, of Spanish galleons and Oriental junks cast adrift, of explorations untold.
Pioneers who settled in the Tualatin Plains knew that coastal Indians had a secret horde of gold somewhere in what later became the Tillamook Burn. They offered nuggets of pure gold in trade at the store of Colonel T. H. Cornelius, east of Forest Grove, but were forbidden to disclose the location of the mine. Many times curious settlers tried to follow the Native Inhabitants back to the source, but always lost the track west of Gales Creek. On the West Tualatin Plains a farmer by the name of Sol Emerick had been a good friend to an old Indian woman who confided the location to him on her deathbed. With her last breath she said “Where water runs into a lake in a black canyon, you will find it”. Emerick spent his last years searching for the Lost Tillamook Mine to no avail. Later a person named F.T. Watrous narrowed the search to an area on the Coast Range summit, but found it was private property. To this day the gold remains unclaimed.
Perhaps the most enigmatic area on the Oregon Coast is Neahkahnie Mountain, just north of the town of Manzanita. It is here that coastal lore and recovered artifacts intersect in a tangled web of mystery. Clatsop Indian legends speak of two ships; one was wrecked on Nehalem Beach with a cargo of beeswax. A second ship anchored offshore of Neahkahnie Mountain, sending a landing party to bury a treasure chest on the slopes of Neahkahnie, and marking the spot with an inscribed rock. Yet unfound, to this day it is guarded by the ghost of a black man who was killed and buried along with the treasure.
Many industrious and resourceful people have attempted to find the lost wealth of Neahkahnie Mountain, literally honeycombing parts of it. The depression years were a flurry of activity. The many intriguing artifacts they have unearthed have only deepened the mystery. On display at the Tillamook County Museum are rocks found on Neahkahnie Mountain that bear cryptic symbols, as if mapping the treasure’s location. What is not commonly known is that such markers were often placed in order to mislead and distract searchers. Also on display are some of the blocks of beeswax that were obtained by early settlers. These bear stamped trade markings that were in use in the 1600’s. Spanish galleons plied Pacific waters until the 1800’s, with cargoes of beeswax destined for Catholic missions. When Lewis and Clark came upon the scene, local Indians had been finding and trading the beeswax for many years. And at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain a hidden, underwater cave has also yielded artifacts.
My wife Darlene and I traveled to Manzanita, a town clinging to the southern slope of Neahkahnie Mountain and spilling down into sheltered meadows where creeks meandered through whispering pines. Neahkahnie’s forested dome held seaward a vertical rock face with a distant archway that captivated the eyes. The clouds had parted on this calm and comfortable April day as we rolled on toward the wide beach. We parked and then walked northward as if pulled by the mystic gravity of Neahkahnie Mountain. Ahead, waves hurled against its sheer cliffs and flew skyward.
As we strolled along Neahkahnie Beach, my wife found a piece of translucent gray material near the high tide line. We inspected it closely, noting the rough and battered exterior. Many other objects had been rejected; pieces of plastic, wood, cork, and Styrofoam, but realization dawned on us. Could this be the historic beeswax from the 1600’s, carried partway around the world, shipwrecked, and lost for centuries? We got serious and found several more palm-sized pieces. It’s especially rewarding to hold a tangible link to the past in your hand, one that has spanned cultures and verified one of Oregon’s oldest legends.
We Oregonians take pride in our beaches and return to them regularly, finding peace and inspiration. On the edge of twilight, hear the wind that whispers of treasure waiting in the moon shadows of Neahkahnie Mountain.
Above Picture: Ancient wax that we found bleached by the sun and rolled by the waves.