Shadow of the Sentinel: One Man's Quest to Find the Hidden Treasure of the Confederacy

Shadow of the Sentinel: One Man's Quest to Find the Hidden Treasure of the Confederacy

4.5 2
by Warren Getler, Bob Brewer

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As a boy growing up in rural Arkansas, Bob Brewer often heard from his uncle and his great-uncle about a particular tree in the woods, the "Bible Tree," filled with strange carvings. Years later he would learn that this tree was carved with symbols associated with the Knights of the Golden Circle, a Civil War­era secret society that had buried gold coins


As a boy growing up in rural Arkansas, Bob Brewer often heard from his uncle and his great-uncle about a particular tree in the woods, the "Bible Tree," filled with strange carvings. Years later he would learn that this tree was carved with symbols associated with the Knights of the Golden Circle, a Civil War­era secret society that had buried gold coins and other treasure in various remote locations across the South and Southwest in hopes of someday funding a second War Between the States. These secret caches were guarded by sentinels, men whose responsibility it was to watch and protect these sites. To his astonishment, Bob discovered that both his uncle and his great-uncle had been twentieth-century sentinels, and that he had grown up near an important KGC treasure site.

In Shadow of the Sentinel, Bob Brewer and investigative journalist Warren Getler tell the fascinating story of the Knights of the Golden Circle and the hidden caches the KGC established across the country. Brewer reveals how, with agonizing effort, he eventually deciphered the fiendishly complicated KGC codes and ciphers, which drew heavily on images associated with Freemasonry. (Many of the key KGC post­Civil War leaders were Scottish Rite Masons, who used the cover of that secret fraternity to conduct their activities.) Using his knowledge of KGC symbolism to crack coded maps, Brewer has located several KGC caches and has recovered gold coins, guns, and other treasure from some of them.

Shadow of the Sentinel is the most comprehensive account yet of the activities of the KGC after the Civil War and, indeed, into the 1900s. Getler and Brewer suggest that the clandestine network of KGC operatives was far wider than previously thought, and that it included Jesse James, the former Confederate guerrilla whose stage and bank robberies helped to fill KGC treasure chests.

This is a rousing and provocative adventure that weaves together one man's personal quest with an intriguing, little-known chapter in America's hidden history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Conspiracy connoisseurs tired of contemplating whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone will feast on this tale of the 19th-century doings of the Knights of the Golden Circle. According to treasure hunter Brewer (aided by Bloomberg News editor-at-large Getler), who attempts to unravel their secrets in hopes of finding millions of dollars of hidden gold, the KGC was a sinister group of influential Southerners intent on engineering the secession of Southern states. They supposedly conspired to split the 1860 Democratic convention so that a weak candidate would emerge, guaranteeing Lincoln's election and support for secession-a deep game indeed. Losing the Civil War sent them underground, where, the authors say, political theorist and KGC member Jesse James, whose death they faked, led them to amass a fortune primarily through the pedestrian crimes of bank and stagecoach robbery and, more creatively, by collecting a multimillion-dollar award from Mexican Emperor Maximilian as repayment for aiding Maximilian's tottering regime. They hid their treasure, preserving knowledge of its whereabouts through a series of devilishly complex symbols known only to initiates for the day the South would rise again. Brewer believes some of his relatives were "sentinels" charged with protecting the KGC's hidden treasure. As fanciful as the group's history sounds (and the authors admit it is heavily based on circumstantial evidence), Brewer is convincing that the code existed and that he deciphered some of it, and his treasure hunting meets with modest success. In the end, this is a curiosity that will strain many readers' credibility, but leave a lingering "Maybe." Photos, maps. Agents, Matt Bialer and Robert Gottlieb. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Getler (editor at large, Bloomberg News) chronicles the history of the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC), a Confederate secret society that hid postwar rebel treasure and outlaw booty across the South and West in hopes of someday financing a second civil war, together with coauthor/treasure hunter Brewer's decades-long quest to locate these rich depositories. Based partially on anecdotal and circumstantial evidence, with a healthy measure of conjecture thrown in, this study makes some bold claims with regard to the KGC's historical influence: that the organization orchestrated member J.C. Breckinridge's Democratic candidacy in 1860, that it was behind New York City's antidraft riots of 1863, that it used the Ku Klux Klan as both a stalking horse and its militant arm following hostilities, and that it was involved in Lincoln's assassination. Members and fellow travelers, North and South, range from George McClellan to Jesse James. Brewer's searches carry him from Arkansas's Ouachita district to Arizona's Superstition Mountains. Readers may find numerous accounts of KGC cipher and cryptic Masonic-linked inscriptions on trees and rocks both somewhat baffling and repetitive, and the transitions between KGC history and Brewer's treasure-hunting activities are less than seamless. Recommended for dedicated treasure hunters, adventure collections, and large libraries.-John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Treasure hunter Brewer’s quest for Confederate gold, as told to veteran journalist Getler. Brewer grew up in rural Arkansas, where two uncles led him on expeditions into the woods, telling tales and pointing out strange markings in the landscape. Only later did he begin to realize that their stories outlined a conspiracy dating back before the Civil War. The Knights of the Golden Circle was a secret pro-slavery organization believed to have hidden a vast treasure intended to finance the rebirth of the Confederacy. Brewer and Getler trace the history of the KGC, which they claim engineered both Lincoln's election (to provide a pretext for secession) and assassination. Other historical highlights include Jesse James’s legendary career and Arizona’s "Lost Dutchman" mine, famous among treasure hunters. Much of the narrative appears to be based on Civil War propaganda or popular accounts of outlaw treasure—one of which argues that Jesse James was two different men, both of whom lived to the age of 100 after faking Jesse’s murder. As their most important evidence, they point to an allegedly widespread system of secret signs and maps based on Masonic ritual, Baconian ciphers, anagrams, etc. The interpretation of such esoterica is Brewer’s forte. Historical chapters alternate with tales of his treasure hunts, some successful, others not. On several occasions, Brewer reports being interrogated or approached by armed men he believes to have been sentinels posted by the KGC. Brewer’s wildest claims remain uncorroborated by discoveries of treasure. Readers who want to double-check the facts may find the extensive notes useful, but the plodding prose is unlikely to inspire anyone not alreadybitten by the gold bug. Paranoia or secret history? Brewer never makes case. Agents: Matt Bialer, Robert Gottlieb/Trident Media
From the Publisher
Dan Burstein, editor of the national bestseller Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code Rebel Gold is a great adventure story and a fascinating treasure-hunt tale, but it is much more than that. It is an improbable, fantastic, and yet ultimately eye-opening trek through unknown, unseen, and unremembered episodes of American history. Jesse James, Confederate gold, the Knights of the Golden Circle, Freemasons, Albert Pike, the Ku Klux Klan, mysterious maps, codes, and symbols, echoes of the Knights Templar: It would make a great case for Dan Brown's Robert Langdon character — except Warren Getler and Bob Brewer got there first — and in non-fiction!

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Simon & Schuster
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Shadow of the Sentinel

One Man's Quest to Find the Hidden Treasure of the Confederacy
By Warren Getler

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2003 Warren Getler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743219686

Chapter Four: Coming Home: A Gold-Filled Legacy

The phrase "Knights of the Golden Circle" meant nothing to Bob Brewer in 1977, the year that he moved his young family to Hatfield after a nineteen-year career in the Navy. It would take another sixteen years before "KGC" entered his vocabulary. Once he had resettled in the Arkansas hill country, a powerful desire to solve the mystery of Grandpa's deep-woods excursions -- and their links to possible treasure -- was never far from his mind. In fact, in that small Polk County mountain town, where everyone seemed to know each other, the topic of hidden treasure was all but unavoidable.

Bob spent the first year at home unwinding, adjusting to the pace of civilian life. He put his modest savings toward fixing up a small ranch that he and Linda had purchased a few miles from town. It felt good having stretches of free time, the first since his youth.

But, notwithstanding the buffer of a military pension, he also recognized that with three young boys to feed and a daughter going off to college, he had to enter the civilian workforce. To troll for job leads and catch up with old acquaintances, he would drive to McLain's, the coffee shop on the edge of town, where burly men from the timber and trucking industries would gather for breakfast. Much of the conversation centered on the hunting season, the mills and local politics. Almost invariably, amid the din, someone would slip in a line or two about hunting treasure, "Spanish gold," to be specific.

It struck Bob as odd just how much treasure talk there was. Some of the conversationalists -- locals such as Art Akins and George Icke -- were self-avowed, full-time "treasure hunters." Others claimed to do their "coin shooting" for sport in their free time. No one claimed outright to have found hidden caches. Yet many spoke of having uncovered mysterious "Spanish treasure" signs in the surrounding mountains.

Bob could only grin. Among the many vague descriptions of such signs from these well-meaning men -- all of whom claimed to know more than they actually did -- he would occasionally hear a precise account of one of the carved symbols that he had seen with Grandpa and Ode. When told about carvings that were unfamiliar, he carefully would sketch them on loose pieces of paper. If a location was given (and there was an implicit level of trust among these mountain men), he would head to the woods to investigate. On several occasions, he concluded, the tree- or rock-face engravings fit a pattern: the same knowing hand or hands had created them. That knowledge he quietly kept to himself. In his study at home, he began incorporating each field report into a master, color-coded topographical layout of the Brushy Creek area near Smoke Rock Mountain.

He recognized a certain irony in all this seemingly haphazard talk about "lost Spanish treasure" in landlocked Arkansas. He had just arrived from the Florida Keys, his last Navy posting, where an effort had been under way to find the sunken Spanish galleon, Nuestra Señora de Atocha, and its reputed millions. During his "twilight tour" at Naval Air Station Boca Chica, Bob occasionally had bumped into high-profile treasure hunter Mel Fisher at local establishments in nearby Key West. He learned that Fisher's treasure-hunting team was focused, well-equipped and maintained a systematic approach to finding its target. At some point, Bob speculated, Fisher was going to find the mother lode in the shallow waters off the Keys. (Fisher did just that with the Atocha, in 1985, for a total recovery estimated at more than $400 million in gold coin, ingots, jewels and gems. In the process, Fisher lost a son, a daughter-in-law and another diver to a freak salvage-boat accident.)

In their last encounter in Key West in 1976, Bob had told the veteran offshore treasure hunter that as a boy growing up in the Ouachitas he had been shown treasure markings. When Fisher asked about the origin of the rumored land treasure, Bob said that he didn't know but that it might be Spanish. (At the time, Bob had no way of knowing that Fisher would wind up on the same trail, fifteen years later, near Smoke Rock, on property owned by a daughter of Grandpa Ashcraft. A gold "mining" company, called Equity AU and financed in part by Fisher, would leave a hole ten feet long, five feet wide and eight feet deep a quarter-mile east of where Will Ashcraft had pointed out the beech tree with the "treasure signs" to Bob. The area, in fact, was thick with treasure markings and near the spot where Grandpa had staked some of his mining claims. After Fisher died of cancer in 1998, the short-lived Equity AU mining operations in the Ouachitas ceased.)

Grandpa and Uncle Ode never spoke about Spanish gold. So when Hatfield locals at McLain's gabbed loosely about sixteenth-century Spaniards having to hide their loot in the hills from marauding Indians, Bob chalked it up to plausible chatter. But, he figured, it could just as easily amount to mere myth. Whatever the stories' merits, he recalled how Grandpa had referred to a "Mexican" getting killed for "snooping around" not far from the Ashcraft cabin, in an area with numerous treasure markings. Was this "Mexican" actually a Spaniard, and did he ever exist?

The questions nagged Bob. So he set out to talk with the one person in town who, he thought, could shed some light: William Hicks, a former neighbor, retired preacher and friend of Will Ashcraft. When asked about the Mexican's murder, the octogenarian chuckled: "My grandfather loaned Tandy Hatfield the gun that he used." Hicks also said that young Tandy -- one of several sons of John Hatfield, an early homesteader with Confederate roots -- had been arrested for the fatal shooting, jailed and then, mysteriously, vanished. There was plenty of speculation, Hicks added, that a local conspiracy had freed Tandy and that he had lived quietly on a mountainside above Brushy Creek, some twelve miles from Hatfield, for years.

Bob thanked the old man and set out to confirm his account in the county court records in nearby Mena and then in newspaper archives in Little Rock, three hours away. The court records revealed an 1884 indictment for first-degree murder against T. A. Hatfield, but there were no follow-up documents as to the outcome of the indictment. Moreover, Bob could find no trial record, no punishment record or even a death certificate for the murder suspect. In Little Rock, he came across a July 18, 1884, article in the Fort Smith Elevator. It described how, in early 1884, an "old Mexican or Spaniard" had arrived in Brushy Valley via Texarkana with an old map of the area. The map reportedly delineated local "mines." The man, going by the name "Vannetta," used the information provided by the map to find a vertical shaft said to have hidden gold bullion inside. Vannetta reportedly recovered buried tools in the shaft, but, the article said, "nothing was done at the time toward developing" the search for the bullion. Vannetta then reportedly returned to the area in early July, seeking other trails for other mines, where he met his fate. The Fort Smith newspaper said: "Some week or two ago, this old Spaniard was delving on one of his claims, and it proved to have been homesteaded, and he was shot and killed." The young fugitive, Tandy Hatfield, was later arrested and jailed in Dallas, Arkansas, the old county seat of Polk County, it noted.

Bob found the century-old article fascinating. Parts of the story seemed to fit with what Grandpa had told him, on that first logging trip into the mountains. But what was the real motive behind the killing? What, if anything, was Tandy Hatfield trying to protect from Vannetta? Was Vannetta truly Spanish, he wondered. The name did not sound Spanish, and Linda, his wife of Mexican heritage, agreed.

Then, what about these "mining claims," in that area of Brushy Creek, near the Hatfields and the Ashcrafts? He scoured mining records stored at the Polk County courthouse and found that Grandpa, indeed, held extensive claims in precisely the same sector, running into the mid-1950s. Some of the claims appeared to be related to the same dank, abandoned tunnels and shafts that veined Smoke Rock mountain -- unsafe excavations that he had been warned to stay away from as a boy.

Most perplexing was that, despite persistent talk and effort expended on "Spanish" gold mines (and there were lots of abandoned "diggings" in the area), there never seemed to have been any authenticated amount of gold discovered. A state geologist contacted by Bob reported that there had never been any substantial quantity of gold mined in Arkansas. Manganese, for hardening steel, had been quarried extensively in the 1930s and 1940s in Polk County, but not precious metals.

It was all very confusing: the local papers from the mid-1880s through early 1900s had reported sporadic gold strikes by newcomers. Bob began to suspect these stories were apocryphal. He guessed that a "staged" gold rush in Polk County might have been promoted before 1900 -- perhaps as a smokescreen for some other purpose, one related to treasure.

A conversation he later had with Hatfield's postmaster, Jim Harris, bolstered his hypothesis. The postman's father, Tutt, owned the local general-supply store in Hatfield in the early part of the century. During the 1930s and 1940s, Tutt Harris regularly sold groceries and mining supplies to a perennial, albeit mysterious, visitor to town, William Chambers Dobson. Born in nearby Cove, Arkansas, in 1866, Bill Dobson was a close friend and associate of Will and Odis Ashcraft. He would arrive each year, beginning in April or May, from his home in Coolidge, Arizona.

After picking up rations of salt pork, pinto beans, loaves of bread and sticks of dynamite at Tutt Harris & Son, Dobson would gather up a paid crew of five young locals and work his and Grandpa's mining claims along the trails and creeks near Smoke Rock. (Joe Dobson, Bill's son and an all-star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox during the 1940s, visited his father in his Hatfield "mining" operation, causing quite a stir in the local barbershop and other parts of town.)

Dobson stayed in a miner's shack that had been built by Bill Wiley in the late 1800s or early 1900s. But Dobson's main interest was not exactly mining, in the traditional sense; it was something to do with buried treasure. Tutt Harris and others, for instance, had observed Dobson carrying around a "waybill," or what to them looked like a coded treasure map. On the one occasion that young Jim Harris visited the site, he noticed the overweight Dobson taking readings with a compass. He observed the old man wandering up the creek bed unaccompanied, while the rest of the crew dug into the side of the mountain. Jim recalled Dobson telling him that they were looking for a "vein of gold that runs all the way to Arizona." Moreover, this mysterious transient figure who hired local teenagers to dig holes deep into mountainsides had another puzzling habit: after the young men had dug to a certain depth, he invariably would pull them off the shaft and move them somewhere else. No one ever knew for sure what they were looking for. It was almost as if Dobson knew how deep something was buried and abruptly stopped the digging -- presumably to finish it later, alone, after the heavy lifting had been completed.

Dobson died suddenly, in June 1946, of a heart attack. He was found collapsed in a creek bed just a few hundred yards from the spot where Vannetta was said to have been killed. On his death certificate, his profession was listed as "mining, prospecting."

Such leads -- nineteenth-century newspaper clippings, court documents, mining claims and oral histories about mysterious men like Vannetta, Hatfield and Dobson -- were intriguing. But they did not yield a coherent picture, a clear historical context, from which Bob could devise a plan to solve Grandpa's riddle. To crack the code, he knew that he would have to pursue two tracks: archival and "grass-roots" field research, the latter involving hands-on exploration of clues on the surface and in the shallow underground.

Although he had done some weekend metal detecting, most recently with his teenage boys in the Florida Keys, he now was gearing up for something wholly different. This was to be a systematic hunt combining technology, instinct and a rough sense of direction provided by the abstract carvings in the forest.

Bob relished the idea. Yet, after a year with no formal job and with his nest egg from his time in the Navy gradually being depleted, he knew he had to put family first. Luckily, he landed a moderately well-paid job as a state apiary inspector in early 1978: it would take him along every backwoods trail in the region and provide an opportunity to search for further clues.

As a boy, Bob had learned a few tricks from Uncle Ode about harvesting honey from wild bees. In setting up the ranch in Hatfield, he decided to try his hand at running some commercial hives. A state apiary inspector who came by to examine the bees for disease and parasites mentioned that he was planning to resign in a few weeks and suggested that Bob look into applying. Upon hearing that the position offered flexible hours during nine months of season-based work each year, Bob shot over to Little Rock and soon was locating, registering and inspecting hives for two adjoining counties, Polk and Scott. But backwoods folk from distant areas were not greeting him with open arms when he came to inspect their bees.

In certain assigned inspection areas, parts of which happened to be monitored by the local police as marijuana-growing terrain, "beehive" owners were downright unwelcoming. The occasional hostile reaction, he thought, may have stemmed from his volunteering as a reserve police officer for the Mena Police Department. As it turned out, a nasty confrontation with an armed local near Nella, Arkansas, persuaded him to resign the following year. But he did so with mixed feelings, for the job had provided a little cash and some valuable visual leads from the field.

What most intrigued him was the discovery, along these distant western-Arkansas trails, of treasure markings similar to the ones surrounding Hatfield. If the Spanish had been depositing gold and silver caches in what is now Arkansas, they had spread their hoards over large distances.

To help resolve the markings' origins, he bought a few self-published books about so-called Spanish treasure and treasure signs, nearly all of which he found to be somewhat dubious in their assertions. Nevertheless, he saw a certain overlap between several symbols illustrated in the books and those that he had observed in the woods.

Bob -- a committed do-it-yourselfer -- wanted to decipher the signs that he had observed and meticulously recorded. By now, his inventory of carved hieroglyphics ran the gamut from countless letters and numbers with odd flourishes, to crosses and crescent moons, to bizarre stick-figure depictions of animals: snakes, birds, turtles (including one laying eggs), horses, mules and deer. These were almost always laid out in groupings, seldom singularly. Most were at eye level of a person standing or riding horseback.

From these etched tableaus, he knew there were messages to be discerned. He inferred that the key indicators were for distance and direction. Others, he surmised, indicated numerical compass headings and perhaps even the outline of topographical features in the immediate area. What appeared to be, say, the carved letter Y could actually be the confluence of two streams.

Bob wandered wherever his intuition would take him. There were innumerable false leads and cold trails, but for every ten of those, there was a payoff of sorts. He would carry along a U.S. Geological Survey topographic map and mark the location of every treasure sign -- tree carvings, rock carvings, rock piles -- that he discovered. Back in his study, he would sketch the various encrypted signposts, along with their relative positions and orientations, on yellow legal pads.

Rather quickly, he realized that the mysterious symbols extended along distinct tangents, sometimes for miles on end. He speculated that they were directional markers for some kind of linear, geometric grid. The grid appeared to be anchored in physical features of the Brushy Creek countryside, as there were clusters of carvings in the area. Distinct lines, it seemed, radiated from Smoke Rock Mountain, the rugged expanse where Grandpa had spent much of his time away from home.

But where did it all lead? Through simple trial and error, Bob tried to determine the gauges for surveying distances that he believed the clues indicated. Turning to his small library of Spanish treasure books, he resolved to experiment with historic Spanish distance measurements. These ranged from varas (30-35 inches) to statute leagues (21?8 miles). Armed with his compass and topo maps, he would pace off along directionals that he assumed the tree carvings indicated. But the only results -- over months of slogging through poison oak-infested forest along these transit lines -- were blisters, tick bites and added confusion. The symbols did not correspond to the Spanish metrics. Chagrined, he began to question whether he was, in fact, dealing with Spanish treasure -- or treasure of any kind.

It was a stressful period. Bob no longer had the freedom to immerse himself in the hunt. Over the past six months, he had spent so much time on the treasure trail that obligations around the ranch had gone wanting. Linda expressed growing concern that his focus on uncovering Grandpa's mystery was becoming a financial liability. Their daughter, Brenda, was at college, and Bob still had not replaced his bee inspector job. And there was a flicker of heat from the outside. Some relatives in town and friends of Linda's at church let it be known that they thought Bob was wasting good time and may even have gone "a bit crazy" with his meanderings in the mountains. "Why do you let him do that, running off to the woods?" was a constant question thrown at Linda, and it pained Bob.

Things turned his way in February 1979, when the job of utilities superintendent was tossed in his lap. The town's utilities supervisor had left abruptly, leaving Hatfield without anyone to oversee water supply operations during a fierce winter storm that had frozen the well controls. An elderly woman who had known Bob as a teenager and recognized his mechanical skills urged the mayor to call him. Within a few hours, the town got its water supply back, and Bob had a full-time job. The money was decent and the hours flexible. He enjoyed the work and soon became involved with the design, construction and operation of an environmentally friendly wastewater-treatment plant.

Hatfield's state-of-the-art facility received state and regional media recognition, sparking a visit by then-Governor Bill Clinton (who, due to politicking in town, never kept his appointment to tour the plant with Bob). Bob soon received numerous out-of-town job offers, including assistant to the director of the Arkansas Department of Pollution Control and Ecology. But, to pursue his life passion, he elected to stay in Hatfield. With the exception of a brief stint as director of public works in a small, southern Texas town in the mid-1980s (where he quickly grew tired of local government politics interfering with the job), he remained in Hatfield with its mysterious surrounding forests. With his children now well into their adult lives, his military pension -- combined with income from occasional cattle and timber sales and from intermittent contract jobs -- would be enough to keep Linda and himself comfortable while he explored the treasure trail.

In the late 1980s, Bob's investigation took a new turn. He began to realize that the clues around Brushy Creek and Smoke Rock Mountain were not limited to carvings on trees but in some cases included the shape of certain trees.

Walking along indicated directional lines, he began to notice that select trees -- almost exclusively red and white oaks -- had a pattern of grafted limbs or oddly shaped trunks which, he thought, could not be naturally occurring. Some had grown into the shape of football uprights; others looked like half-finished scaffolding, with perfectly vertical limbs sprouting off perfectly horizontal branches. Some took the shape of Ts or crosses. It appeared as if nineteenth-century pioneers had snapped the trunks of saplings and tied them into right-angled contortions, using twine that would disintegrate. By now these were no mere landmarks but giant sculptured signposts, or, in some cases, neat rifle sights -- showing a traveler that his compass bearing was correct as it sliced through the center of the marker tree. Other contorted oaks had large bent-knee knobs knitted into their trunks -- providing a waist-high "this way" indicator.

He wondered if his imagination were running wild. But the pattern was uncanny. If only Uncle Ode were around to explain, he thought, recalling how his mentor had grafted fruit trees.

By far the most fascinating "treasure" tree in Brushy Valley was the "map tree," the big beech singled out by Grandpa and Ode back in 1950, near where the Mexican had been killed. Bob had rediscovered the inscribed tree in the early 1980s by following a line indicated by one of the odd bent oaks in the area. Upon his return from Texas, he had spent months trying to decipher the beech's weird cluster of signs and symbols.

Anchored at the base of Smoke Rock, it was pocked with sixty-five inscriptions -- a cross, a bell, a heart, a legless horse or mule, a legless bird, a priest-like figure and a host of letters, symbols and numbers. The challenge was in seeing in this naive indigenous "art" a sophisticated coded message.

The beech, to Bob, was the starting point. Certainly, there were other marked trees nearby, but this one, because of its complexity, drew him in. Some of its signs were fully visible; others were covered with moss and lichen, which had to be delicately removed with a wire brush. Several engravings had been stretched or otherwise distorted by the tree's growth. Nonetheless, over many years, the carvings remained legible, particularly if outlined lightly in chalk.

(The bark of the North American beech, Fagus grandifolia, is unusual among temperate-climate trees. Its original tissue replenishes itself externally, producing the telltale smooth outer surface of the species; in contrast to the fissured bark of, say, oaks, which produce new bark tissue deeper inside the tree. Hence, the relative abundance of old inscriptions on beech bark.)

The name Odis Ashcraft -- juxtaposed with the date "1924" -- was carved into the beech, as Bob discovered one morning while brushing away the moss. From that startling moment, he knew that this tree "tablet" probably held important keys for unlocking the puzzle that had preoccupied him for so long. The bark engravings, inscribed as they were on a long-lived beech, were no idle graffiti. They conveyed something esoteric, arcane, perhaps spiritual. At the top of the inscription, more than four feet above the ground, was the lettering 1st Thess 2:3. Slightly below and on the opposite side of the trunk were the inscribed initials J.A.S., surrounded by three dots arranged in a triangle.

Bob at first did not know what to make of these, but he came around to thinking that they might be Biblical references, in keeping with the priest-like figure centrally carved into the bark. Turning to his King James Bible at home, he tried First Thessalonians, chapter two, verse three. The passage speaks of exhortations being true. As for J.A.S. and the three dots, he guessed at "James, chapter three, verse three" -- which speaks of turning a horse around by its bit.

The tree "tablet" seemed to suggest focusing on the prominent legless-horse figure, while the biblical references appeared to allude to the animal's direction. The trick, he guessed, was to turn the horse around and to know that this new direction of the turned animal was true. The horse's image was unusual because it had no legs and had one ear pointing down. If the image were reversed, the drooping ear would point east to a spot on the ground. The telltale ear of the "stationary" horse provided a directional line. Twenty yards from the tree, in an easterly direction as indicated by the ear of the reversed horse, lay a large depression in the forest floor, covered with brush.

Bob would never know whether the person who dug the pit had recovered a large cache or had merely excavated a large hole. But whatever initial disappointment he felt on discovering the dry pit was surpassed by a buoyant confidence that his interpretations of key aspects of the Map Tree had been on track. He renamed the beech the Bible Tree.

The trick now was to deduce additional directional lines leading from the tree, to sift out distinct compass headings from its explosion of symbolism. He scrutinized each carving for any suggestion of geographic headings. Several seemed to indicate a northeast direction: a fancy number 7, with a scythe-like tail, seemed to point that way. And, amid the scrambled letters, he noticed that NE seemed to have been carved as a distinct pair in an area not far from the upturned tail of the 7.

With compass in hand, Bob headed into almost impenetrable vegetation along a line to the northeast, as indicated by the 7's fish-tail. At just under half a mile, he made a series of discoveries. A large number 7, about the length of a man's arm, had been chipped into a rockface with a pick or chisel! The full length of the 7 was visible as a shadow figure under the bright sun. Not far from the 7 was a vault-like chamber, about eight feet on a side. Above the vault and to the right was a large carved symbol in the shape of a three-toed turkey track, whose middle toe pointed directly to the vault. The track had been partly defaced by someone, apparently years ago. Climbing into the vault, Bob could see that the man-made chamber connected to a waterlogged tunnel going off to one side and that a narrow entrance tunnel, coming up from the creek below, had collapsed.

Exiting from the vault, he felt confident that the Bible Tree had directed him to the spot. He realized that it was the same creek bed that Grandpa had said was the final resting place of the mischievous Mexican. He wondered how much of a coincidence it had been for Grandpa to have pointed out both the Bible Tree and the site of the Mexican's undoing during that first outing, nearly forty years ago.

Back at his study, Bob charted his discovery on his topo map. Using dividers to obtain pinpoint accuracy in calculating distance, he could see that he had walked exactly three-eighths of a mile to the 7 rock-face carving from the 7 engraving on the Bible Tree. On several prior occasions, he had noted that he seemed to have traveled a certain distance between signs measured in precise one-eighth-mile units. The trip from the Bible Tree to the seemingly important vault made him wonder: Could the measurements be indicated in furlongs, a standard legal gauge for American surveying calculated in eighths of a mile, or 660 feet? The "Spanish hypothesis" seemed to be fading fast.

Returning to other trees with distance indicators, he satisfied himself that the American surveyor system of measurement was being used. He found that he could predict the distance at which a clue was likely to be found along an indicated line. By early 1990, he began to find markers systematically. Typically, the clues were carved in tree bark or chiseled in stone outcroppings. But the symbolic signposts could also take the form of strategically placed rocks or groupings of rocks. The stone markers were often shaped like an elongated diamond or trowel; some resembled large arrowheads, and some even looked like a boot.

Moreover, Bob began to realize that the rusted "junk" metal that he occasionally discovered with his metal detector while walking lines could hold some significance for the overall geometric grid. Until this point, he had discounted all such seemingly random findings: horseshoes, muleshoes, plowpoints, pick and axe heads, wagon and stove parts. He had assumed that the "stuff" had been lost or deliberately tossed by miners or woodsmen working in the area long ago. But was it really junk? No, the pattern was too consistent, too linear, in fact, to be a coincidence.

He eventually concluded that constellations of abandoned spare parts had been placed at calculated distances and then buried four to six inches underground. That depth of burial, he realized, was just enough for concealment but within range of a magnetic-compass needle to mark the ferrous target below the surface.

(Those individuals who created an underground money grid -- perhaps a century or more ago -- obviously owned no metal detectors or other electronic devices for remote sensing. All they had in their employ was the basic needle compass or a similarly functioning instrument, known as a Spanish dip needle. The horizontally rotating magnetic needle of the compass or the vertically seesawing Spanish dip needle would orient itself to the induced magnetic field produced by the buried iron object -- the container for the gold and silver coins, bullion, jewels and the like -- in the shallow underground.

The science behind the venerable compass, the less-well-known Spanish dip needle and today's prosaic but reliable electronic magnetometers and metal detectors is fairly straightforward. Yet it takes a little explaining to relate this science to the task of finding treasure.

All magnets have two poles, commonly referred to as north and south. With any two magnets, like poles repel and opposite poles attract. Thus, a north pole of one magnet is attracted to the south pole of a second.

A powerful magnet exists within Earth's core, created by flows of molten iron. The presence of this giant subsurface magnet is detected by a compass.

A compass, in its brilliant simplicity, is nothing more than a bar magnet balanced on a pivot, such that the magnet is free to rotate. Since like poles of magnets repel and opposite poles attract, the south pole of the compass is attracted to the north pole of the Earth's core magnet.

The Earth's magnet occupies a relatively small volume in the planet's core. Consequently its magnetic poles do not extend to what are called Earth's true geographic north and south poles. The result is that Earth's magnetic north pole deviates from its geographic north pole, over time and from different locations. Nevertheless, under most circumstances, the magnet of a compass points true north, and this elementary tool can be used for land, sea and air navigation by those who know how to adjust for the deviation.

Because of the powerful magnet lying inside the Earth's core, all ferromagnetic objects -- those containing iron, nickel or cobalt -- lying on the Earth's surface will become "induced" magnets and thus detectable to some degree by a compass. Recall how a paper clip in the proximity of an actual magnet starts to behave like a magnet itself. The object becomes "magnetized" when near a magnet, or technically speaking, it transforms into an "induced" magnet whose magnetic strength is proportional to the distance from the actual magnet.

Moving from a paper clip to a buried iron washpot full of coins or an iron safe stuffed with jewels, the principle is the same. These buried iron containers have absorbed some of the magnetism of the Earth's core magnet. When a hand-held compass passes over these substantial "induced" magnets, the compass needle will react by pivoting sharply to this sudden, proximate magnetic force attracting or repelling it.

Hence, in the pre-metal-detector years of outlawry, those burying substantial caches risked never recovering their gold or silver [nonferrous metals] unless the caches were marked by signs or code on the surface or were buried in ferrous containers [iron washpots, safes, strongboxes, milk cans]. They would also need to be buried near the surface, for small stashes such as a glass jar full of coins capped by a ferrous lid would provide only a weak signal. The rusted lid could completely oxidize, leaving an even weaker signal. That is why heavy iron parts -- from old stoves, wagons, field tools -- were deployed just under the surface as unseen markers for actual treasure or crucial clues buried deeper. Their magnetic field, undetectable to the eye, would send the compass awhirl. Moreover, the buried rusted relics might have a distinct pointed part that, in turn, would provide a topographical heading to follow.

But it was not that easy to find treasure with compass in hand. The treasure hunter would need to stand on top of the target and then crouch down low with the compass and hope that the object was not buried too deeply. With each doubling of the distance between the compass as a sensor and the ferrous target, the detectable magnetic force decreases by a factor of eight.

Today's treasure hunter has better and affordable tools at his or her disposal. A magnetometer, like a compass, is an instrument that measures magnetic force. But, electrically powered and programmed, it is far more sensitive and powerful than the rudimentary, centuries-old compass. With a magnetometer, a treasure hunter can detect much smaller magnetic objects, and items lodged at greater depths. Still, like a compass, it can only find ferrous objects.

A metal detector, also electrically powered, detects all metals, not just ferrous objects. It does so by broadcasting a weak radio wave [far weaker than those emitted by a radio station] that is then reflected by buried metal objects. The metal detector monitors rebounding signals, which appear as a movement of a dial or as an audible alarm, indicating the presence of nearby metal. The larger, or the shallower, the metal object, the greater the interference to be monitored. Yet, since radio waves do not penetrate very deeply into the ground, metal detectors are limited to sensing and locating only shallow objects. There are other challenges as well. Soil conditions can wreak havoc: iron-rich soil or sediment covered by iron-laden rocks can create an impossible blur when looking for specific targets.)

Such were the considerations as Bob tried to comprehend both the mechanics of the elaborate grid system before him and the nature of what he was looking for.

Not only did the buried metal clues lie on indicated lines; more important, they also seemed to mark where two lines crossed. And there was another facet to consider. If the distances indicated thus far were in furlongs, what other American surveyor measurements might have been used in the system? Among the buried junk that he had found were random short links of chain and iron rods. If these were being used to indicate distance, could they not metaphorically represent surveyor gauges for linear measurement, known as chains (66 feet) and rods (161?2 feet), where 40 rods would equal 1 furlong, and 8 furlongs would equal one statute mile (5,280 feet)?

Bob began to grasp the ingenuity, the enormity of the puzzle. In the distribution of the carved clues and buried markers, there seemed to be a hidden logic, a symbolic language, a cunning intelligence to it all. These boys were surveyors, he thought to himself. The hunt was becoming intoxicating.

When Bob told Linda that the scattered metal parts might not have been junk after all, she was not convinced. She was pleased for Bob and his new enthusiasm, but she still wondered what the real facts were and whether any treasure were actually involved. Bob had been saying "Spanish" treasure for more than a decade, and now, in the early 1990s, he was saying that it wasn't Spanish. And what last week had been junk was now something useful.

She was at a loss as to why he had nothing to show for his painstaking detective work except a bunch of withered metal scrap and weird-shaped rocks. She had several female friends whose husbands had been avid treasure hunters: to a man, they left their families poorer for the effort, never seeming to turn up much -- in fact, anything at all -- on the trail. She was also concerned for the safety of her husband, who, with failing eyesight, continued to venture out every day amid the deadly snakes and the treacherous crags. Still, the patient soft-spoken Sunday school teacher had not lost faith in Bob's ability to succeed at whatever he started. She marveled at his mental discipline, his inquisitiveness, his ability to concentrate on an abstract, inscrutable puzzle for impossibly long stretches. Most of all, she marveled at his ability to disregard all detractors and doubters.

Hearing Linda's concern and acknowledging her forbearance over all these years, Bob reassured her that if he ever reached the point where it was obvious to both that he was not making progress, he would quit. And then he went back to work on his maps.

Rather than sit home and worry, Linda started accompanying Bob more often. She loved the exercise of traversing the mountains. But most of all she craved the opportunity to spend more free time with her husband, whose renewed enthusiasm was infectious. In a matter of weeks, she became adept at spotting clues, working off Bob's leads.

Now, with a partner in tow, Bob's rate of discovery of buried clues climbed exponentially. Linda, in turn, showed signs of becoming hooked on the hunt, watching the system of interconnected clues play itself out. Still, she harbored doubts that all his efforts would ever yield a substantial return, intellectual or financial.

One April day in 1991, Bob's hunt took him to an intriguing marker-filled area, where several lines appeared to cross. There, at a thickly wooded spot along a creek bank, he noticed some large odd-shaped rocks that looked out of place. Moreover, one of the surrounding trees -- a maple -- had a subtle vertical line cut into its bark. He recognized it as a "blaze," a trail marker crafted by the sharp edge of a woodsman's axe. That was the clincher, the subtle signal that the surrounding stones on the forest floor were clues.

Because it was already dusk, he decided to head home and return the following day with Linda, who could provide a welcome second set of eyes. Vigilance was critical. It was well into snake season, and the timber rattlers, copperheads and water moccasins were energetically sloughing off hibernation. While he routinely carried a large .44 Magnum revolver loaded with snake shot, the weapon would not do much good if his eyes were focused exclusively on the clues at hand. The holstered gun also interfered with the operation of his metal detector, constantly requiring him to remove his gunbelt. As the site had looked promising, he decided to lose no time and return early the next day with his new detector. The device was capable of finding deeper targets, such as caches, rather than just smaller objects on the surface or just below.

Soon after sunrise the next morning, with Linda at his side, Bob surveyed the base of the "blazed" tree, but his detector emitted no signal. He then aligned himself with the north-pointing tip of a large arrow-shaped rock, which lay a few feet from the blazed maple. He followed that line from the pointed rock across the creek, some twenty feet away. On the other bank, about fifteen feet from the creek bed, the detector sounded.

Excitedly, he probed with a shovel and hit metal, about four inches deep. Reaching into the hole, he pulled up an old axe head and marked its precise southwest orientation on his topo. While washing off the axe head in the creek, he noticed that it had a small notch chipped in its blade. Recalling how other buried metal clues had similar grooves or notches, he thought that the grooves might represent surveyor's distance markers.

Which one, though? Walking southwest, back across the creek, precisely one chain -- sixty-six feet -- he came to a large, shoebox-shaped rock. Searching behind the rectangular boulder, he detected part of a buried metal singletree, a device used in harnessing horses. Noting the precise orientation of the object's rounded tip, he took a compass heading. It pointed in the direction of the maple -- providing a line that completed the third leg of a triangle. Bob held the detector low to the ground as he paced slowly in the southeasterly direction indicated by the singletree. Some twenty feet along that bearing, the detector swung to its maximum reading.

As Bob started probing with the shovel, he realized that the object was buried deeper than usual. He carefully dug through the soft, loamy soil. At about eighteen inches, the shovel struck something that he knew was neither metal nor rock. Dropping to his knees, he reached into the hole and felt smooth glass. He groped again, this time retrieving a patina-coated, pint-sized fruit jar with his trembling hands. It was filled with gold and silver coins.

The system had worked.

The signs and the lines had led to treasure. In that brilliant second of discovery, Bob experienced a serene, indescribable calm. Intuitively, he knew that this breakthrough was no mere coincidence. Geometry, geography, navigation, cryptanalysis, intuition and raw persistence had meshed to bring him to this tiny spot in a vast wilderness.

In that wonderful moment, he sensed that he had only just begun to unlock the code.

Wiping the sweat from below the rim of his felt Stetson hat, he bowed his head and for a while was at a loss for words. He stood up, slowly, still unable to speak. He twirled the heavy glass container in his large palm, letting the sunshine bounce off the lustrous coins inside. "It's gold," he said softly to Linda, who ran over to hug him. He held her close as she took in what had happened. "Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness, honey! It looks so nice!" she blurted, her face now wet with tears. Her slight frame trembled and Bob looked at her, concerned. She laughed, and, with a kiss, reassured him: "Well, at least now I know you're not crazy."

At this first major milestone in his odyssey, Bob felt dizzy and disoriented. Steadying his stocky five-foot-ten, two hundred twenty pound frame, he walked the cache to the nearby stream to rinse off the coins. Then he called out the dates and denominations of each washed coin. They were all U.S. Mint -- nothing even remotely resembling Spanish pieces-of-eight. "Five dollar gold piece, 1866. Twenty dollar gold piece, 1854. Ten dollar gold, 1845," and on and on. The tally: over $400 face value in gold coins (which, in today's numismatic terms would be some 50 to 70 times that amount, depending on rarity and age), and around $60 face value in silver dollars (or a numismatic multiple of some 15 to 30 times that amount, depending on rarity and age), plus loose change. All were minted between 1802 and 1889. The date on the bottom of the jar: June 1903.

"This is outlaw money," Bob exclaimed. "And those funny signs got us to it."

Those "funny signs," in fact, were the coded inscriptions of the Knights of the Golden Circle and their post-Civil War adherents.

Copyright © 2003 by Ward Getler and Bob Brewer


Excerpted from Shadow of the Sentinel by Warren Getler Copyright © 2003 by Warren Getler. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Warren Getler is an investigative journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously he has been a New York-based financial reporter for The Wall Street Journal and a London and Frankfurt correspondent of the International Herald Tribune.

Bob Brewer is a U.S. Navy Vietnam War veteran who grew up in Hatfield, Arkansas. Since retiring from the Navy, he has returned to Arkansas to devote his time to investigating the mysteries of the Knights of the Golden Circle.

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Shadow of the Sentinel: One Man's Quest to Find the Hidden Treasure of the Confederacy 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The 'Shadow of the Sentinel' by Bob Brewer and Warren Gettler exposes a suppressed though vital aspect of the history of the United States starting in the pre-Civil War period with implications that are still being felt by us down to this day. This book examines the efforts of the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) -- a secretive, Rosicrucian/Knights Templar/high-degree Masonic-based organization devoted to perpetuate the *ideals* the Confederate Cause including states' rights and individual liberty of a chosen elite to do as they desired free from the tyranny of overreaching federal control. For those who have ever heard the rallying cry, 'Save your Confederate dollars for the South will rise again!' By reading this book you now will understand who or what was behind that effort.
This book alternates between two interrelated stories. The first story follows one man's (coauthor Bob Brewer's) lifelong quest to rediscover and comprehend the grand designs of a secretive organization in which his Arkansas forebears deep within the Ouachita Mountains participated -- designs mystically traced upon a trestle board deep within the mountains and wilderness areas of this country that turned out to be continental in scope and intended to be decipherable decades if not centuries into the future. Through Bob's research systematically presented in this book he discovers that the KGC evolved to become the driving force behind the acquisition, storage and future retrieval of caches of precious specie and even arms in what has been called an underground Confederate Federal Reserve and Armory. This history exposed for the first time in 'Sentinel' constitutes the second threaded story that examines the deliberately suppressed history of this conspiratorial, seemingly seditious organization -- an organization that in its time infiltrated and pulled the strings at the highest levels of US government especially in the 1870s to 1890s long after it supposedly had been disbanded.
This book demonstrates how even the Jesse James saga plays a direct role in this effort by making a convincing case that he was a KGC field level commander steeped in the mystical Rosicrucian tradition -- a tradition that dates back at least to Francis Bacon's 1626 publication of 'The New Atlantis' that firmly places this country on a course of cosmic Manifest Destiny -- a destiny that is still unfolding to this day. The authors then go on to uncover how even the lore of the Lost Dutchman Mine located somewhere within the Superstition mountain range of Arizona was just another cover story for a main cache designed to fund and arm the reestablishment of a Second Confederacy rising from the ashes like a Phoenix. Author Bob Brewer has developed for himself a pretty good idea where this cache is located using methods outlined and expounded in this book. He doesn't, however, just come out and say were it is for like a good teacher he challenges others to learn the seemingly complex and arcane though sublimely simple methods employed by the KGC for themselves. He leaves the actual solution as an exercise to the reader. Like a questing Grail Knight, he strongly believes that the search itself imparts vital and important lessons that would be lost by just merely relying on using solutions derived by others.
As an aside -- In my opinion the main reason that the *noble* though clandestine efforts of the KGC outlined in this book ultimately failed in its objectives is because of its members devotion to the morally bankrupt and ultimately indefensible institution of physical slavery or human bondage lasting in perpetuity. An institution that obdurately clashed with the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' E
Guest More than 1 year ago
Genre Jumper The Civil War. Jesse James and the Old West. Buried treasure and the Lost Dutchman Mine. A massive conspiracy involving powerful government officials. Shadow of the Sentinel is difficult to place in a genre. Fiction was one of my original thoughts, because much of what the book tells is hard to swallow. But as I read it, I decided much might actually be true; there was at least enough evidence to convince a major publisher like Simon and Schuster. Warren Getler, who has credentials as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, tells us Bob Brewer's story. I didn't want to buy it, but after 100 pages or so, they got me. Much of the evidence is circumstantial, and one reviewer notes that 'it inveigles more than it convinces.' But, as old Lazarus Long said, 'Deductive logic is tautological--there is no way to get a new truth out of it. Inductive logic is much more difficult, but can produce new truths.' The story centers around the real role of a Confederate front group known as the Knights of the Golden Circle, and Mr. Brewer's discoveries about the group's actions before and after the Civil War. The KGC gets passing reference in most histories, but Getler claims its role was much wider than has been previously thought. And here's the theory--and insight--he bagged me with, at least in respect to the group's relevance. Ever wonder why the South seceded in the first place when it would've been almost constitutionally impossible to abolish slavery? Getler gives a motive beyond going bonkers over Lincoln: He claims the KGC's long-term plans consisted of a lot more Manifest Destiny, extending the slave-owning power into takeovers of Cuba and other big hunks of the Caribbean and Latin America. Remaining in the Union would make that goal impossible, while an independent Confederacy could conquer away. By late 1863, the reality for the Confederacy was that it was going to lose. The KGC's response was to organize for the next time the South would rise again. The theory is that its members buried caches of gold and other stuff all over the place (including Arizona) and posted loyal sentinels to guard them. That this shadowy organization existed is unquestionable. How far it went is unknown, and it was officially abolished in 1908--but the caches existed. How do we know? Because Bob Brewer broke the code the members used to identify where they were and actually found some of them. Brewer is a retired lifer Navy man and Vietnam vet who grew up in rural Arkansas. He recalls his uncle, great-uncle and others spending considerable time in the woods and making reference to certain signs and objects. The conclusion he reached later in life was that they were part of a group of KGC sentinels. Brewer explains how he painstakingly broke their complex codes; this should keep the treasure hunter types enthralled. The KGC was composed of many members of the Masonic Order, which was particularly strong in the South. Whether it was a spin-off group or a copycat structure is debatable, but the symbols were carried over, and Brewer's discovery of them literally all over the country in strange rural sites (including the Superstition Mountains) enhances his case, while the caches he found using his theories about a complex master template/grid system encompassing much of America lends it considerable credibility. Much is devoted to Brewer's own story--things he's found, people he's been screwed over by and other personal trials. The part that most interests us is his forays regarding the Lost Dutchman Mine. The compact thesis: There is no Lost Dutchman Mine, that the Dutchman was a KGC sentinel, and that the mine is actually a humongous cache. There's evidence that Jesse James--himself a KGC operative--helped plant it. It would require heavy equipment to go after it, along with the permission of a whole bunch of federal agencies. And one more detail--somebody else with helicopters knows it's