The Indian Marker Tree

History is all around us. Sometimes, history can be staring you right in the face and you don't know it. Take this live oak tree for instance. Located along the banks of Hamilton Creek in the small town of Burnet in Central Texas, it overlooks the Highlander Inn's parking lot on Highway 29. Other than having an unusual shape, it is unremarkable and hundreds of people park next to and under its limbs with not a second thought or glance. Actually though, it is a living memorial to the Comanche Indians, the fierce tribe of Native Americans who caused the early settlers much pain, anxiety and death.

The Comanches traveled with the seasons, spending their summers on the high plains of the Panhandle and their winters in Mexico. Each fall, they passed through Central Texas and one of their favorite camping spots was along Hamilton Creek. 
According to written reports from early settlers, the Indians would come in the night and set up their tepees along the banks of the creek. After a few weeks, they would pack up and leave as silently as they had come. 


The Comanches liked Hamilton Creek for its flow of cool, clear water as well as for the native pecan trees which lined its banks. Flint and other hard rocks were also available in large quantities for the making of weapons and tools. While camped along the creek, the women gathered and shelled pecans. The meats were ground into a meal and made into cakes. The warriors spent the time chipping arrowheads and hunting game.

The Comanches had several trails they traveled from the Panhandle to Mexico and back. At the better camping spots along a trail, a sapling-size tree was bent to the ground and tied down to serve as a marker. As the tree grew, the limbs would grow upwards, but the trunk maintained this horizontal position. Such is the configuration of this live oak now known as "The Indian Marker Tree" by those in the know. An estimated 300 years old,it is a living monument to the presence of these early Native Americans in Central Texas.

The Mysterious Wolf Girl of Devil's River


In the late 1830's, when the land and people were still wild, two men, John Dent and Will Marlo, became fur-trapping partners in the backwoods of Georgia. Wild game was plentiful and for a few years things went smoothly. Then, in the spring of 1843, an argument broke out over the division of their winter catch. Death and a strange tale resulted. And it was all because of a woman.

While trapping near the cabin of a mountain man, John fell in love with the man's beautiful young daughter, Mollie Peters. Fortunately for John, Mollie had fallen in love with him too and the two became engaged to be married. When John and Will had become partners, they made a pact to jointly sell the pelts they trapped and divide the money equally. But with marriage on the horizon, John wanted to take half the pelts and sell them himself since he was sure he could get more selling them separately.

After a bitter quarrel, Will relented and did things John's way. Soon after though, Will began telling townsfolk that he had been cheated. This continued for a few weeks until a vicious fight occurred and John stabbed his old partner to death. Since public opinion was against him, there was nothing for John to do but quickly leave the country. Before leaving however, he managed to see his young love and tell her he was going to find a place where they could be together and that he would return to steal her away.

A whole year passed and people soon lost interest in the matter. During all this time, every morning and every evening, Mollie stood outside her father's cabin, silently looking off into the distance. Not once, as far as anyone knew, did she hear from her lover. Then, a little after sundown on April 13, 1844, as she did every day, the mountain girl went to the barn to milk the cow. After she had been gone an unusually long time, her father decided to investigate. He found the cow unmilked and in the empty pail, a Bowie knife with dried blood around the hilt. The peculiar stag horn handle made it easy to identify as the knife with which John Dent had killed Will Marlo.

In the dark, Mollie's father searched and called for her, but could find no trace. The next morning, after summoning the surrounding mountaineers and a few towns people, the search began again. They found the tracks of a man and a woman leading to the Chickamauga River. On the bank, under the overhang of a leaning tree, they found a freshly driven wooden stake to which a small canoe had evidently been recently tied. Mollie was gone with no explanation and without a moment's preparation. All she took with her were the clothes on her back.

Six months later, a letter arrived at Mr. Peters’ lonely cabin. It was postmarked Galveston, Texas and read: "The Devil has a river in Texas that is all his own and it is made only for those who are grown. Yours with love, Mollie."

In those days, the people of Georgia were not familiar with the rivers of Texas or their names. Even in Texas itself, few folks knew anything about Devil's River, far to the west of San Antonio. Along its banks was the small colony of Dolores, sparsely populated with mostly Spanish speaking people. It was the last outpost of the settlements. Poor Mr. Peters and his neighbors merely considered that somewhere in Texas, John Dent had to himself a river on which to trap. They knew Dent was a devil all right, but they were surprised at Mollie's admitting it.

John and his bride settled near Dolores, but like the lone wolf he was, he built a small log cabin a few miles away from the town. Within a year however, the colony was abandoned. Indians killed most of the settlers; a few went back to Mexico. The remainder, fourteen adults and three children, headed east for more civilized territory. The Comanches caught and attacked them at an unnamed lake, near what is now Carrizo Springs. After killing them all, the Indians threw their bodies into the waters. The Mexicans named the lake Espantosa, which means “frightful,” and to this day people consider the lake to be haunted.

Two days ride west of the site of Dolores, two or three Mexican families, who, like John, had an agreement with the Indians, raised a few goats in the Pecos Canyon. About noon one day in late August 1845, during a thunderous rainstorm, a man on a horse rode up to one of these ranches. He told the Mexican ranchero and his wife that he was camped where Dry Creek runs into Devil's River. He said his wife was giving birth to a baby and they desperately needed help. As the rancher and his wife saddled up their horses though, a bolt of lightning struck the wooden hitching post, killing the messenger standing impatiently beside it. This, of course, considerably delayed the helpful Mexicans. From the description of his campsite given by the man, the ranchero knew the location, but night came before they reached the river. They did not find the camp until the next morning. There, under a sheltering tree, lay the woman dead, alone. Indications pointed to the fact that she had died giving birth to a child, but no baby could be found. Tracks around the tree made the ranchero suspect that lobo wolves had devoured the infant.

In the pocket of the dead woman's dress, the good Samaritans found a letter. After burying the unfortunate woman, they took the letter with them to show the first person they might encounter who could read English. A few months later, a white man did come along and read the letter. It was written a few weeks before her death by Mollie Peters Dent and addressed to her father. It served to identify her and her husband. And so, their romance suddenly and tragically ended.
                       
Ten years passed. A wagon road had been laid out across the new Republic of Texas from San Antonio to El Paso. This seldom traveled road went by San Felipe Springs, where there were a few Mexicans, and on across Devil's River. In 1855, a young boy living at San Felipe Springs told of seeing a pack of wolves attacking a herd of goats and with them was a creature, long hair half covering its features, that looked like a naked girl. Some cowboys passing through the settlement heard the story and quizzed the boy, but they seemed more interested in getting his description of what a naked girl looked like than in getting information about the strange creature he reported. The boy was accused of fabricating the tale, but the story spread among the surrounding settlers.

A little over a year later, an Indian woman outside San Felipe declared she had seen two big wolves and a naked girl eating a freshly killed goat. She was able to get close, but they saw her and all three ran. The naked girl, at first, ran on all fours, but then rose up and ran on two feet, keeping up with the wolves. Other Indians also reported seeing barefoot human tracks mixed among wolf tracks in the sandy places along the river.

The few people in the Devil's River country began to keep a sharp lookout for the girl. They remembered the disappearance of poor Mollie Dent's infant amid wolf tracks. The men told of how female wolves carry their young by the scruff of the neck without injuring them. Perhaps, they said, some female wolf, having lost her own young, had carried the newborn to her den and raised it.

Being confronted with unmistakable evidence of a human being reared by and running wild with wolves, a hunt was organized to capture the Lobo Girl, as she had now come to be called. On the third day of the hunt, two riders found the girl in a side canyon. She was with a big, black wolf and both of them ran at the sight of the men. The wolf and the girl became separated when she dodged into a crevice in the rocks. Here, the men cornered her. She cowered at first, but as the men reached for her, she spat and hissed like a wildcat and began to fight, biting and clawing. While the men were tying her, she began to emit pitiful, frightful, unearthly sounds described as resembling both the scream of a woman and the howl of a wolf, but being neither. As she was howling this awful scream, the big wolf that she had been separated from suddenly appeared, rushing at her captors. The men's lives were saved when one of them saw it before it could get close enough to use it's powerful jaws and he managed to shoot it with his pistol. When she saw her animal companion lying dead in the dirt, the girl fell into a silent faint.

After she was securely tied, the men closely examined the creature. She had a full head of long, tangled, dirty hair that had obviously never seen scissors and very hairy arms and legs. Her hands and arms were muscled in an extraordinary manner, but not ill proportioned. Other features showed she was a normally formed human female.

The Lobo Girl was taken to the nearest ranch and placed, unbound, in a sturdy room used to store potatoes. After she revived, the rancher's wife offered her clothes, food, and water, but the girl would only cower in the corner, hissing and howling in such a threatening manner that no one dared come near her. Finally, the door was tightly fastened and she was left alone for the night.

Shortly after darkness fell, the girl began howling her unearthly wail. The sounds traveled through the logs and far into the surrounding desert. Soon they were answered by the long drawn out, deep howls of wolves. The lobos seemed to answer from all sides, near and far. The ranchers, who had heard wolf howls all their lives, had never heard anything like this. It seemed to them that all the wolves in the western world were gathering around. It was easy to tell the wolves were getting nearer and nearer, their sullen, soul-chilling howls getting louder and closer. The wolves began to howl in unison, a chorus of ferocity and darkness and lost hopes such as no man had ever heard. Then they would be silent as if waiting for an answer, and the wild, captured creature would let forth with her unearthly scream, a voice neither of woman or beast.

After a time, the great pack rushed the ranch, attacking goats, cows, and horses. The noises brought the men out into the night, yelling and shooting at the dark shadows. A few minutes later, the men heard the girl emit her scream once more, and the lobos retreated into the darkness.

After gathering themselves, the shaken men went to the little potato bin. Somehow, the Lobo Girl had managed to wrench off the cross board which held the door closed and made her escape. It was supposed she rejoined the wolves since no howls were heard the rest of the night. The next day, no tracks of the girl could be found and for a long time afterwards, the sight of a wolf in the area was very rare.

For six years, nothing more was heard of the Wolf Girl of Devil's River. Then, in the spring of 1862, a trio of men passing through on their way to the gold fields of California, told of seeing a long-haired naked girl on the banks of the Rio Grande, far above the mouth of Devil's River. She seemed to be suckling two wolf pups, but before the men could get close enough to get a good look, the girl jumped up and with a pup under each arm, ran into the dense brush faster than any horse could follow. Their story was met with stares and silence, but the residents knew it could have been none other than the wild Wolf Girl.

As far as is known, the girl was never seen by man again. For many years, the Indians told of occasionally seeing human footprints mixed with wolves' far out in the wilds and even today there are whispers by Mexican cowboys who ride their horses in the remote unpopulated ranges of a rarely glimpsed pack of strange looking wolves with almost human faces. Of course, everyone knows that can't be. These brave men will tell you though, It sure is unsettling when you are camping at night all alone in the remote brush country of far West Texas and you happen to glance into the darkness to see a wolf watching you through human eyes.

Heavener Rune Stone

No longer a state park, but the sign still
points the way.
Did Vikings visit Oklahoma almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and found the "New World?" Some scholars are convinced they did while others, not so much. 

According to old Icelandic sagas, Bjarni Herjolfsson, a Norse settler to Greenland was sailing from one place to the other in 985 A.D. when he was blown way off course by a huge storm. He managed to make it back home and reported he had seen a large land mass to the west of Greenland - land that nobody knew was there. Word got around and other sailors tried to once again find this land that Bjarni had talked about, but none succeeded until 15 years later when Leif Eriksson was brave enough to keep going west until he found and landed on what would become North America. He also managed to return home safely and for the next 10 years, many Viking voyages were made to explore the land they called "Vinland." These voyages and settlements in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have been extensively explored and documented by present-day archaeologists.

Trailhead to the Heavener Runestone
Although still unproven to everyone's satisfaction, the old stories tell of one intrepid ship in the year 1000 A.D., whose crew sailed her south along the Atlantic coast of America all the way around Florida, into the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi River and then on up the Arkansas River. No doubt these brave Vikings found the extensive woodlands and the warmth of Arkansas and Oklahoma to be a paradise compared to the cold northern climate they came from. Perhaps they thought they had found the home of Idun, the Norse goddess of spring and eternal youth.

It is now thought that near present day Heavener, Oklahoma, within a deep ravine surrounded by forest, one or more of these Vikings, before they disappeared forever, carved a message on a large, flat stone. This massive slab of rock measures 12 feet tall, 10 feet wide and 16 inches thick. Deeply chiseled into the surface are symbols known as runes.  

The Heavener Runestone
The Heavener Runestone remained hidden in the deep forest until 1838 when Native Americans found it while exploring their new home after being forcibly removed from Tennessee to Eastern Oklahoma. Word spread about this large rock with the strange markings carved into it. Caucasian settlers in the area began calling it "Indian Rock" even though the Indians told them they did not do it and had no idea what it was or what it meant. 

Over the next 80 years, more and more white settlers came to the area and more rune stones were found on a fairly frequent basis. Not knowing what they were, most were simply thrown on rock piles when farmers were clearing their fields for crops and some were used as door stops, only to be lost over the years. In the mid-1920's, one curious resident, Carl Kenmerer, sent a copy of a runestone he had found to the Smithsonian for identification. The Smithsonian experts determined the writing was Norse, but they had no way of telling at that time how old the writing carved in the stone might be. When word spread of the finding, treasure hunters descended on the area and destroyed most of the runestones while trying to break them into smaller pieces which could be carried away.

In 1928, Carl took his young daughter Gloria to the remote place in the woods where the Heavener Runestone remained hidden. She was so intrigued by the inexplicable stone and the beauty of her father's secret wooded ravine that she spent most of her life researching and trying to find the meaning to the mystery. Without her efforts and diligence to protect it, the Heavener Runestone might well have suffered the same fate as the other stones which were destroyed or lost.

Over the years, Gloria was able to find 4 more runestones in the region. The additional stones were found in a straight line from the Heavener stone. This led her and other researchers to conclude the stones were used as trail markers toward the end of the Viking's exploration and served to signify the land had been claimed by them.

Just a few steps from the Heavener stone,
is this indention in the rock overhand.
According to old-timer's stories, it was
the entrance to a Viking cave. Before it
was covered by a rock slide, a dog ran
into the cave and never came out. 
Although there is no way to determine the true date of carvings in stone, weathering of the edges of the carving along with the hardness of the stone and exposure to the elements has proven to be an acceptable guide. This, along with deciphering of one of the stones points to the date of Nov. 11, 1012, about 480 years before Christopher Columbus first landed in the Bahama's.

Norse scholars, cryptographers, and archaeologists in the last few years are mostly in agreement the carving on the Heavener Runestone translates to "GLOMEDAL" - Valley of the Gnomes - or "GAOMEDAT" - Gnome's Valley. Exactly what this means is open to speculation.

In 1970, the Heavener Runestone and the area around it were developed into a 50-acre Oklahoma State Park. Steps and a trail were built leading to the stone and the stone itself was encased in a wooden shelter behind a thick sheet of clear plastic to protect it from the weather and vandals. A small visitor center was built at the top of the trail which led into the valley. In 2011, the state declared the park would be closed due to budget cuts. Fortunately, the small town of Heavener agreed to assume ownership and operation of the park. Currently, the town can only afford to have one paid employee and the park is in need of repairs.

The structure enclosing the Heavener
 Runestone
So did Vikings really explore all the way into Oklahoma over 1,000 years ago? If they did, what became of them? Norse legends tell of sailing to present day Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, tales that until a just a few years ago were considered nothing more than fanciful made up stories, but which have now been proven to be true. Those same saga's tell of a ship which sailed south along the Atlantic Coast of America, never returning home. Would the Norse sailors tell stories that have proven to be true and also make up a story which is a lie? So many "facts" we are certain we know about our history, but so many mystery's remain. Perhaps someday, somehow, the ancient Viking runestones will be proven authentic and American children will have to learn a different rhyme to help them remember who really discovered America.