Category: General Article
GPS Coordinates to Neahkahnie Mountain Overlook: 45.744600, -123.960851
If you were a pirate stranded on the Oregon Coast, where would you hide your treasure chest? You’d have to find a landmark along the coast that you could find again, keeping in mind it may be years – even decades – before you could recover your booty. What would you look for? A beach? A cave? A bay?
How about the tallest natural formation on the coast – the 1,600-foot (518 m) Neahkahnie Mountain? That might make a good landmark, even in the worst Oregon rain and fog.
Rumors that the lofty Neahkahnie Mountain harbors a pirate treasure date back over one hundred and fifty years to when the first European-American settlers arrived on this part of the North Coast. These early pioneers were astonished by a story told by the local Clatsop and Tillamook Indians about a huge sailing vessel which had crashed onto either Neahkahnie Beach or Nehalem Beach at least a century earlier. The ship was ruined, but the men who sailed her managed to salvage a large chest from the wreckage which they hauled up the forested slopes. Once they found a suitable spot, the men dug a deep hole and placed both the chest and a dead human body inside. The placement of a corpse along with a treasure chest was a well-known pirate custom. It was believed that the ghost of the dead man would guard the treasure until the pirates could return to collect it. With their gruesome task completed, the strangers left the area and were never seen again.
Although the Oregon Coast was occasionally sailed by pirates, no one paid much attention to the old Indian tale until the early 1890s when strange stones were discovered on the slopes of Neahkahnie Mountain. The stones were inscribed with odd images and symbols – letters, arrows, numbers, criss-crossing lines, etc. Some of the markers were carved in hard volcanic stone, others in softer sandstone. Treasure hunters immediately declared that the stones were left by the mysterious visitors, probably as markers to the buried pirate hoard.
But Gary E. Allbright, Director of the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum, has a different theory. As Gary told our Oceanscape Network youth volunteers – Myles, Teresa and Grant – he believes part of the pirate treasure legend was promoted by real estate developers anxious to sell land to people from Portland and elsewhere. Often the developers would advertise the legend, subtly suggesting that a lucky homeowner might actually find the treasure buried on their newly purchased property.
Gary also thinks some of the inscribed stones are forgeries, intended to keep the treasure rumors alive. This is especially true of the etched sandstone specimens.
“I would think in 300 years that anything you put in sandstone wouldn’t have any merit at all,” he said, noting that this type of stone disintegrates quickly in wet environments like the Oregon Coast.
“As for the pirate theory,” he said, “this is not a likely pirate land. Pirates are located where there are main shipping lines, and [the Oregon Coast] was not a main shipping line… The ships that went down around here were ships that went way off course… What’s been found to day [from shipwrecks] are the traditional trade goods that the Spanish brought back from the Philippines and China, and that was porcelain, spices, silk and bees wax.”
What do you think? Could treasure still be hidden on the Oregon Coast? Watch the 7-minute video Pirate Legends of Neahkahnie Mountain located to the right to see if our team’s investigation struck gold… or if the pirate legend is as insubstantial as the coastal fog?