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Comanche County Pioneers

Interview with Dean C. Salyer
Lawton, Comanche County Oklahoma
July 23, 1913 - October 31, 1973
(Dean was married to my father's sister, Ethel Burnett)
Sharon Burnett-Crawford

Jesse James's Two Million Dollar Treasure

Dean C. Salyer, of Lawton, first visited Oklahoma more than 25 yrs ago with the goal of finding the lost treasure of Jesse James. He has periodically sought the $180,000 he believes to be hidden in the rocks not far from Cutthroat Gap, in far northwest corner of Comanche County.

Salyer, a tree surgeon, a former cowboy, and a treasurer hunter is another who came into personal contact with an aging member of the outlaw band, but far away from the Wichita Mountains.

I haven't found anything, but I haven't given up looking, even thought I've slowed down a mite. One thing I know, Jesse and Frank James buried one hundred and eighty thousand dollars in those hills. Make no mistake about that.
You might wonder how I came to know all this. It was all from an old outlaw in Brownwood, Texas - that's where I'm from originally - who was a good friend to Jesse and Frank. Even after Frank was acquitted of his crimes, he used to come down to Brownwood just to talk over old times with this man, whom I knew as Conley. I imagine they talked over buried treasure, too, although Conley never admitted as much.

During the depression Salyer worked as a cook, carpenter, farmer, cowboy, or in any other job he could find. During that time he met the aged Conley. Conley and his family were hungry. Salyer asked no questions and slipped Conley a ten dollar bill. Over the months a great friendship developed. Salyer recalled with fond memories visiting Conley for hours at a time, listening to him tell of his strange past.

Conley spoke often of outlaws, but it was a long time before he said just who the outlaws were. He was more of a lookout man for Jesse as I gathered it. At first I didn't think to much of his story. But, you know, he talked like he must have been there. And, too, he had a cowhide map which he said was one of only three copies.

Salyer and Conley talked often of making a trip to the Wichita Mountains to reclaim the treasure that Conley knew had been buried - that is, if Frank hadn't recovered it himself, and Conley had his reasons for believing that he had not.

Before the old man and I could make the trip, Conley died, but before he died, he gave me his directions and let me look at the map. The old outlaw told Salyer that the gold was hidden in a sealed cave. A natural stone corral known to the outlaws as Horse Thief Corral, a log cabin in Cutthroat Gap, and a Winchester rifle mounted in the fork of a tree were the signs leading to the hidden cave.

It was years before Salyer moved from Brownwood to Oklahoma, and it was several years more before he made his first trip to the Wichitas. Finally in the 1950's, he enlisted the aid of J.B. "Burt" Holderbaum, an old prospector left over from the gold rush days and together they rediscovered the old stone corral in the shadow of Cutthroat Gap, a valley into the mountains from the north that had earned its title more than a century before in 1883 when Osages massacred their Kiowa neighbors and placed their severed heads in brass buckets. Holderbaum was one of the few living persons who knew the location of the rock pen.
At first even Holderbaum had trouble locating the outlaw lair, but he knew that it was on level ground at the bast of Mount Pinchot, the highest peak in the Wichitas, although it does not appear to be. An old trail ran past the corral, but the animals inside were hidden from view, Holderbaum remembered.  In one corner of the corral stood the rotten stumps of two trees that had once served as gateposts. Holderbaum recalled having served as gateposts. Holderbaum recalled having been shown the corral in 1901. At that time a rock fortress said to have been used by outlaws was still visible about two miles north. Its breastwork was constructed from boulders stacked in a large circle on top of a lone hill, which in 1901 had but one lone cedar growing on it. It had been some time before that Holderbaum found a rust eaten rifle hanging in an oak tree just west of the makeshift fortress.
The cabin in Cutthroat Gap was a clue that I could never forget. A bandit queen once lived in the cabin. She apparently purchased the food and supplies for the outlaw bunch. Old Conley often mentioned her, always with a smile.

At the summit of Mount Pinchot a long, black streak plunges twenty feet down a bluff.

The black streak is a sign too. The gold is between the streak and the hanging rifle, if Conley didn't err in his directions. My partners and I searched continuously for six weeks during one spell. We looked every day except Sundays but had no luck in finding anything more than the corral, fortress, and ruins of the cabin. The 180,000 was part of a payroll robbery at Dodge City as I remember.

Every since early boyhood in Brownwood, Texas, Salyer had heard tales of a prominent banker there who was believed to be the real Jesse James but who went under the name Colonel Henry Ford. But there is no record that Ford ever admitted such or even pretended to be James. However, even today, old residents of Brownwood will swear that Ford was indeed Jesse, for he had no other reason to keep a mysterious trunk in his house under lock and key. Too, many residents believed the legend because both Frank James and Cole Younger made trips to Brownwood to see Ford, and Frank's sister, Susan, and brother-in-law, Allan Parmer, lived nearby, just outside El Dorado.

Ford first appeared at Brownwood in 1870's, later served as its mayor and then as president of the Coggin Brothers and Ford Bank. It is possible that Ford was a member of Quantrill's guerrillas or even one of the original outlaws who rode with Jesse. Whoever he was, Frank and Cole had a lot to talk over with him after the turn of the century.
Salyer regrets that he and Conley never made their trip to the Wichitas before Conley died. But at that time it seemed impossible. Occasionally Salyer still pokes around in the shadow of Cutthroat Gap.

Frank James recovered some of the loot. Joe Hunter unearthed some of the treasure that Frank had failed to find. The clues have been to many to dismiss as legend, the brass bucket with the outlaw contract, the silver watch, the graves, the gold bracelets, the copper sheet with its secret code, and of course the maps, to old and perhaps to cryptic for anyone to read now. Yet treasure seekers still dig in lonely canyons, scan out of the way pinnacles and explore musty smelling caves in quest of Jesse James's two million dollar treasure, secreted in the Wichita Mountains at a time when those hills harbored some of the deadliest outlaws of the west.
Frank himself is said to have once revealed that the treasure was buried alongside the old Chisholm Trail between Fort Sill and the Keechi Hills. It must still await some lucky finder, one who can break its secret code and follow th long trail that Frank James rode hard enough to wear out six horses.

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