Is There Buried Treasure on the Oregon Coast?

There could be gold in them thar rocks.

By Regan Breeden May 15, 2017 Published in the June 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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“Someone told me that they found Roman coins there," says Gary Albright, executive director of the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum. "And it’s like, come on, please spare me this.”

Around Neahkahnie Mountain on the Oregon coast, there’s tell of an ill-fated Spanish galleon downed at the tail end of a trading expedition to the Philippines in 1705, spitting to shore blue-painted porcelain, hunks of beeswax, and enough gold to fuel centuries of speculation. The legend has survived to this day.

“Some of it gets really stupid,” says Gary Albright, executive director of the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum and frequent onlooker to a parade of would-be treasure hunters with shovels and sifts strapped to their Jeeps. “Someone told me that they found Roman coins there. And it’s like, come on, please spare me this.”

In 1912, the alleged lost fortune near Manzanita was used to entice new residents to buy land in the area. Southern Pacific Lines, which had spent a year building a train line from Portland to just south of Tillamook, released a grade-school-style booklet as part of the railroad’s “Co-operative Publicity Plan,” hoping to lure northern Oregonians to the burgeoning towns along the coast. The booklet extolled the “rich and tempting” settlement potential of Tillamook County’s meadows and hills. It also paired pictures of the area’s “treasure rocks”—mysterious sandstone boulders found, over many decades, in backyards and farm fields, crudely carved with arrows, lettering, and shapes—with the caption: “Who knows to what buried treasure the unlocking of these mystic inscriptions might lead?”

“The point was to sell product,” Albright explains. “If you thought you could buy a second home on the coast but knew it would stretch your budget, the tipping point might just be, ‘Oh my God, there’s 500 pounds of gold somewhere up there.’”

Still, Albright says he is happy to play a role in the legend’s “recasting,” acting as caretaker to more than a dozen treasure rocks. Last year, a troop of academics from Massachusetts mapped the rocks and connected the inscriptions to a 19th-century bushwhacking trip undertaken by army infantry under Capt. C. C. Augur. Many of the carvings, they said, corresponded to the shape of Augur’s trail, offering warnings like “DEOS”: Dead End on Summit.

“Nobody tells an accurate story,” says Albright. “But I think this should go on, I think people should discuss it. Hell, I think somebody should find the treasure.”

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