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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 6: Circles in Wood

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 6: Circles in Wood


Merry Christmas ladies and gentlemen, Canucks and Yankees, and MysteriesOfCanada readers of all ages! May your holidays be filled with love, family, good food, and ferocious street hockey games.

Last Tuesday in America, the History Channel released the latest episode in its TV series The Curse of Oak Island (in Canada, the same episode premieres on Christmas Day). Read on for a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 4, Episode 6: Circles in Wood.




Plot Summary


The men of Oak Island Tours Inc. meet in the War Room with Vanessa Lucido and Kent Peterson of ROC Equipment; Louis Fritz, an engineer of Berminghammer (the engineering branch of Bermingham Foundation Solutions Ltd. of Hamilton, Ontario); and Andrew Folkins of Irving Equipment Ltd. There, they inform the contractors of their fear that the hammergrab currently being used to excavate the Money Pit area might damage the contents of the Chappell Vault (discovered by Oak Island treasure hunters William Chappell and Frederick Blair of the Oak Island Treasure Company in 1897), which they suspect they are right over top of- a sentiment voiced perhaps most strongly by Rick Lagina at the end of Season 4, Episode 5. The contractors suggest that they try to wash whatever is in the hypothetical Chappell Vault to the surface through the use of water and air pressure- a suggestion which the Oak Island team adopts.

The following day, the crew meets with the contractors at the Money Pit area. There, it is revealed that the shaft dug the previous episode has been flooded with seawater, reminiscent of the Onslow Company’s (the first Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate) experience in 1804 upon reaching the 90-foot level. In an effort to measure the flow rate of the incoming water, Marty has the contractors push the water in the caisson-lined borehole down into the earth- and perhaps into the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel beyond-  through the use of air pressure. Upon observing the water’s resurgence, Marty remarks, “the amount of water coming in as we tried to pump it out was enormous- thousands of gallons a minute, I would say.” He determines that this significant flow rate is an indication that items inside the Chappell Vault will almost certainly not be able to be brought to the surface through the use of an air lift system.

Following the flow rate test, Rick Lagina agrees to allow the contractors to continue to pick at the ‘Chappell Vault’ with the hammergrab on the condition that they progress downwards in minute increments. Unfortunately, the device penetrates deeper into the earth than Rick had stipulated, bringing up the very oak beam Oak Island Tours Inc. had drilled through in Season 2, Episode 4.

Now that the ‘Chappell Vault’ (if it is indeed a vault) has been breached, the crew decides to throw caution to the wind and excavate the shaft even deeper with the hammergrab. The device disappears into the shaft and emerges with two sizeable square wooden beams. Upon close inspection, it appears that the sides of the beams are coated with clay. The presence of the clay and the dimensions of the beams are consistent with the results of William Chappell and Frederick Blair’s drilling operations in 1897, indicating that these boards comprise a portion of the lid of the Chappell Vault.

Unfortunately, a close examination of the beams reveals surficial scratches akin to those made by a circular saw, which Marty Lagina laments is “a relatively new invention”. Specifically, the circular saw was invented in the late 18th Century, and was not commonly used in North America until the early 19th Century. Therefore, the wooden planks unearthed from the shaft are almost certainly not relics of the original pre-1795 Money Pit. With that unfortunate development, the crew decides to temporarily postpone operations in the Money Pit area.

While work is deferred at the Money Pit area, Marty Lagina’s son Alex and Craig Tester’s step son Jack Begley travel to Oak Island’s Lot 6, accompanied by metal detecting expert Gary Drayton. As the three men approach the spot, the narrator explains that Lot 6 was one of the Oak Island lots once owned by Samuel Ball, a former American plantation slave who earned his freedom by enlisting in the Loyalist Militia during the Revolutionary War. Alex and Jack stand by with shovels as Drayton begins to scan the ground of Lot 6 with a Minelab CTX 3030 metal detector.

Meanwhile, Rick Lagina and Oak Island historian Charles Barkhouse travel to the home of veteran treasure hunter Dan Blankenship. There, they show the elderly Oak Island resident the two beams they pulled up from the Money Pit, both of which bear the marks of a circular saw. Blankenship examines the beams, independently observes that their sides bear circular saw marks, and suggests they are likely remnants of the Chappell Shaft- a shaft dug in 1931 in the general vicinity of the Money Pit by Chappells Limited, a treasure hunting syndicate comprised of William Chappell, his son Mel, his brother Renwick, his nephew Claude, and Oak Island landowner Frederick Blair. Rick and Charles thank Blankenship for his wisdom and conclude their visit.

Back on Lot 6, Gary Drayton gets a number of hits on his metal detector. Alex Lagina and Jack Begley explore the site of one of these hits with shovels and quickly unearth the end of a thick, rusted iron chain. Upon observing that the chain appears to run in a relatively straight line, and is not coiled up as one might expect a derelict chain to be, Drayton remarks that certain pirates were known to lay chain on the ground leading towards their buried treasure. The three men, who have since been joined by Charles Barkhouse, work to dug up the remainder of the chain, which proves to be only several feet long (no treasure chest at the end!). Nevertheless, Drayton follows the imaginary line indicated by the chain with his metal detector and soon gets another hit. Jack Begley explores the area and uncovers a small copper ring.

Bolstered by the interesting finds, Drayton explores more of Lot 6 with his metal detector. After some time, he uncovers another artifact of interest- a coin which he speculates might be up to 200 years old. He and his crew present their findings to Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Dan Blankenship, when the three treasure hunters roll up in a truck.

The following morning, Rick Lagina and Craig Tester meet with Andrew Folkins of Irving Equipment Ltd. in the War Room. There, they discuss an upcoming excavation of Borehole C1, the drill hole punched in Season 3, Episode 12, at the bottom of which a camera revealed the presence of something shiny and gold. After watching footage taken from the interior of the drill hole, Folkins affirms his belief that his hammergrab is the optimal tool with which to retrieve the mysterious item at the bottom. With that, the meeting is concluded.

Later, Rick and Marty Lagina meet with Charles Barkhouse at the site of Borehole C1, where the men and women of ROC Equipment and Irving Equipment Ltd. are preparing to conduct another excavation similar to the one recently carried out at Valley 3. The two brothers congratulate Barkhouse on prescribing C1 (using his extensive knowledge of Oak Island history, Barkhouse suggested this particular area is the true location of the original Money Pit in Season 3, Episode 12 of The Curse of Oak Island), and watch in anticipation as a caisson is secured over top of the drill hole. The episode ends as an oscillator slowly grinds the toothed caisson into the earth.




Chappell Shaft

In this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, Oak Island Tours Inc. finished excavating a shaft over top of the Valley 3 borehole, first drilled in Season 2, Episode 4 at the behest of Craig Tester. One particular core sample taken during the first drilling operation led Oak Island Tours Inc. to believe that the drill hole had intersected the Chappell Vault, a hypothetical treasure chamber drilled through by Oak Island treasure hunters William Chappell and Frederick Blair in 1897. Unfortunately, when Rick and Mary Lagina and their crew dug a shaft to the bottom of the Valley 3 borehole, they unearthed milled wood bearing the markings of a circular saw. Although the circular saw was invented in the late 18th Century, it was not used in North America with any regularity until the early 19th Century. As the Money Pit was first discovered in 1795, the lumber uncovered from the bottom of the Valley 3 shaft was almost certainly not a part of the original Money Pit structure.

If the wood at the bottom of the Valley 3 shaft is not a relic of the original Money Pit, where did it come from? In this episode, veteran Oak Island treasure hunter Dan Blankenship proposes the wood is a piece of cribbing that once supported the Chappell Shaft.

The Chappell Shaft was a shaft dug in 1931 in the general vicinity of the original Money Pit by Chappells Limited, an Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate composed of William Chappell (the man who discovered the Chappell Vault along with Frederick Blair in 1795), his son Melbourne, his brother Renwick, his nephew Claude, and Oak Island landowner Frederick Blair. The men of Chappell Ltd. did not know the precise location of the Money Pit, but hoped to intersect it with their large 12′ x 14′ shaft, which they sank to a depth of 163.5 feet- deeper than any Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate had dug before. Today, it is believed that that Chappell Shaft was situated slightly southwest of the original Money Pit. Perhaps because of this, the Chappells found no evidence of timber, iron, cement, and soft metal discovered by Oak Island Treasure Company drillers in 1897 aside from some wood chips found under a granite boulder at the 119-foot level. They did, however, unearth what appeared to be an old anchor fluke solidly embedded in clay at a depth of 116 feet. The fluke showed no signs of rust, indicating that, until the point at which it was unearthed, it had been entombed in a compact, airtight cocoon of clay. This indication, coupled with his observation that the fluke was “of an ancient design,” led William Chappell (the head of the syndicate) to believe that the anchor fluke might be an artifact left behind by the original Money Pit builders. The Chappells also discovered what has been described as a rusted “Acadian axe” at 123 feet. At a depth of 127, they also found a pickaxe, along with the remains of a seal oil lamp once commonly used by miners.

Gary Drayton

Gary T. Drayton, a metal detecting expert who features in this week’s episode of The Curse of Oak Island, is a world-renowned treasure hunter who hails from south Florida, U.S.A. Originally from Grimsby, Lincolnshire, U.K., Drayton has been treasure hunting for more than 25 years. He has compiled his considerable knowledge of metal detecting and treasure hunting into several books (which he sells on his websites and, including:

  • Metal Detecting for Spanish Treasure: The Beach Treasure Hunter’s Guide
  • The Ultimate Sovereign Beach Hunter’s Guide
  • Hardcore Beach Hunting
  • The CTX 3030 Beach and Water Hunter’s Guide
  • Minelab Excalibur: Pro User Guide
  • The Shallow Water Hunter’s Guide to South Florida
  • Advanced CTX 3030 Beach and Water Hunting Techniques
  • Water Hunting
  • How to Find Old Coins and Artifacts at the Beach
  • Jewelry Hunting
  • How to Read the Beach

This week’s episode is not Drayton’s first Oak Island experience; the treasure hunter’s The Curse of Oak Island debut took place in Season 2, Episode 1, in which he and a number of other metal detection experts did a winter metal detection scan of Oak Island’s then-frozen swamp. He appeared again in Season 2, Episode 2, to assist treasure hunters Dan Henskee and Peter Fornetti in searching for metallic artifacts on Smith’s Cove, and in Season 2, Episode 3, in which he led Rick Lagina, Dan Henskee, and Peter Fornetti on a similar metal detecting excursion on the South Shore Cove.

Samuel Ball

Most hardcore Oak Island enthusiasts are aware of the legend of the the discovery of Oak Island’s Money Pit in 1795. According to this popular legend, the Money Pit was discovered a local setter named Daniel McGinnis, and first excavated to a depth of 30 feet by he and his friends John Smith and Anthony Vaughan shortly thereafter. However, the late Nova Scotian historian Mather Myles DesBrisay, in his 1870 book History of the County of Lunenburg, maintains that McGinnis, upon discovering the Money Pit, enlisted the support of Anthony Vaughan and Samuel Ball, a black landowner from South Carolina who escaped a life of slavery by enlisting in the Loyalist Militia during the American Revolution. DesBrisay makes no mention of John Smith being one of the co-discoverers of the Money Pit- a strange omission considering that DesBrisay likely used information provided to him by his close friend Mary Smith, John Smith’s daughter, as a main source. Curiously, DesBrisay also claims that the Money Pit discovery occurred in 1799, not in 1795.

Who is Samuel Ball and how is he connected to Oak Island? According to The Oak Island Tourism Society and African Canadian journalist F. Stanley Boyd, Samuel was born into a life of slavery in 1765 on a South Carolinian plantation. During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1784), he was given the opportunity to serve in the Loyalist Militia in exchange for freedom, an opportunity which he enthusiastically took advantage of. Taking the surname of his former master, teenaged Samuel Ball was ordered to New York to serve as an infantryman under General Henry Clinton. Upon joining Clinton’s army, he was put under the command of Major Artemas Ward. When the war ended in 1784, Ball served briefly under General Charles Cornwallis before being deported by the victorious Patriots to Port Roseway (Shelburne), Nova Scotia, in 1783 (similar to Daniel McGinnis). Ball lived in Port Roseway for two years before making his way to Chester, where he purchased some land on Oak Island. The house he built on his land would remain his home for 23 years.

In 1809, upon petitioning the local justice of peace to grant him the land promised to all blacks who joined Loyalist forces during the Revolutionary War, Ball secured 4 acres on Oak Island’s Lot 32. Ball, along with a servant named Isaac Butler, farmed his newly acquired land and made a steady profit. With this profit, Ball, over a number of years, purchased Oak Island’s Lots 6, 7, 8, 24, 25, 26, 30, 31, and 32. The former slave purchased additional land on the mainland and on nearby islands until, in time, he owned about 100 acres of Mahone Bay land.

In 1795, Ball married a Halifax woman named Mary. The couple would have three children: Andrew, Samuel, and Mary. Sometime in the 1800’s, Mary passed away. Ball eventually remarried, taking a woman named Catherine as his wife.

On December 14, 1846, Samuel Ball died at the age of 81. In his will, he left his land to his servant Isaac Butler, on the condition that Butler change his surname to Ball.

Many Oak Island researchers find it curious that Ball, who made his living selling his produce to  settlers on the mainland, became one of the wealthiest and most prolific landowners in the Mahone Bay region during his time. Some speculate that Ball’s considerable wealth might be attributable to a treasure he discovered on the island.

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 5: Bullseye

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 5: Bullseye

After watching this week’s episode of The Curse of Oak Island, a particular quote, popularly attributed to Mark Twain, comes to mind- “history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Read on for a plot summary and analysis of this tantalizing, nerve-wracking chapter in the history of Canada’s most famous treasure hunt.





Plot Summary

The episode begins where Season 4, Episode 4 left off: at the Money Pit area, where a massive steel caisson is being ground into the earth. There, Rick and Marty Lagina and their crew meet with Andrew Folkins of Irving Equipment Limited, who informs them that the operation’s progress is slow but steady. The narrator then explains that the Lagina brothers and their crew are hoping that their caisson will intersect the Chappell Vault, discovered by driller William Chappell and treasure hunter Frederick Blair of the Oak Island Treasure Company in 1897. The narrator describes how the (currently) 143-foot-deep Chappell Vault is believed to be a wooden vault covered in concrete and filled with ‘loose metal’, and how Chappell’s auger brought up from the vault a scrap of parchment inscribed with the letters ‘vi’. There is then a flashback to Season 2, Episode 4, in which Oak Island Tours Inc.’s drill hole ‘Valley 3’ bit into what the crew believed might be the side of the Chappell Vault.

The narrator explains that the earth currently being extracted from the Money Pit caisson is hauled to Oak Island’s Lot 25, where it is dumped and sifted through. At Lot 25, treasure hunter Jack Begley and Oak Island historian Charles Barkhouse sift through the first load from the Money Pit- which they name ‘Pile #1’- with a backhoe. In it, they find a number of wooden planks, which are almost certainly pieces of shaft cribbing left behind by earlier treasure hunters. They pick out these pieces of worked wood and throw them in a separate pile.

After a preliminary examination of Pile 1, Jack Begley goes over the debris with a metal detector. In no time, he unearths a brass bullet casing. Shortly thereafter, he discovers a small unidentifiable object which, according to the metal detector ‘hit’, appears to contain silver. The items are labelled and bagged.

The next day, Rick and Marty Lagina, their nephew Peter Fornetti, treasure hunter Craig Tester, and historian Charles Barkhouse congregate at the Atlantica Oak Island Resort & Conference Centre in Western Shore, Nova Scotia. There, they meet with author and investigative journalist Randall Sullivan. Sullivan reveals that he is in the process of researching for a new book he hopes to write on Oak Island. In his explanation, he alludes to the supposed existence of underground smugglers tunnels beneath Haiti’s Tortuga Island, once a haven for Caribbean pirates.

At the end of their conversation, Marty and the Oak Island crew invite Sullivan to accompany them to the island. Sullivan accepts the offer, and the six men drive to the Money Pit. There, Sullivan marvels at all the heavy machinery and remarks that the ongoing Big Dig, as many Oak Island enthusiasts refer to this long-awaited excavation of the Money Pit, is the first major excavation in the Money Pit area since the late treasure hunter Robert Dunfield’s heavy duty excavation in the 1960’s. Marty responds by stating that Oak Island Tours Inc.’s excavation is “like surgery” when compared with Dunfield’s excavation, which some Oak Island researchers have criticized for being too destructive.

While work continues at the Money Pit area, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Jack Begley travel to the ‘hatch’ on the western end of Oak Island, uncovered in Season 4, Episode 2. The ‘hatch’ is really a rectangular cavity in stone which archaeologist Laird Niven suggested might be artificial. The Oak Island crew discovered this anomaly after investigating a point of interest on a mysterious map of Oak Island allegedly drawn in the 14th Century A.D., provided to them by New York-based researcher Zena Halpern. After probing the ‘hatch’ with an iron rod, the three men learn, to their disappointment, that its stone bottom is relatively shallow, and that the hatch does not open up into an underground tunnel as they had hoped. Although Rick is reluctant to “cross [the hatch] off [the] search agenda”, the crew agrees that an immediate rigorous investigation is unwarranted.

The following day, historian Charles Barkhouse and writer Randall Sullivan meet with veteran treasure hunter Dan Blankenship. Sullivan informs Blankenship that he is working on a new book on Oak Island, and that he was initially dismissive of the notion that pirates are responsible for Oak Island’s underground workings, as some theorists maintain. The three men then begin to discuss the various theories regarding the nature of the Oak Island treasure. Dan Blankenship immediately brings up the theory that the Oak Island treasure is the lost Incan treasure of Tumbes, Peru. The narrator then describes how Spanish conquistador Franciso Pizarro, in 1528, discovered the Incan city of Tumbes while exploring the west coast of South America south of Panama. Impressed by the Tumpis’ vast wealth of gold and silver, Pizarro sailed to Spain and entreated the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (a.k.a. Carlos I of Spain) to grant him ships and men with which to conquer Tumbes and appropriate its wealth for Spain. The monarch granted his request, and Pizarro returned to Tumbes with a full complement of conquistadors. However, upon arriving at the Incan city, Pizarro and his men found it in ruins and bereft of all its treasure. Some theorists believe this treasure somehow ended up on Oak Island.

After the narrator’s explanation, Sullivan states that he finds the Tumbes theory improbable, but does not discount it entirely. He, Blankenship, and Barkhouse discuss various Oak Island theories briefly before concluding their meeting.

At the Money Pit, Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Jack Begley stand by in anticipation as the caisson approaches the 143-foot level, at which depth they hope to find the elusive Chappell Vault. Unfortunately, the first few scoops of material to be hauled from the 143-foot level reveal nothing but mud and rocks. Suddenly, to the crew’s pleasure, the hammer grab used to remove material from the caisson drops a load containing old, blackened oak wood.

Marty enthusiastically suggests they lower the hammer grab back into the caisson to see what lies beneath the wood. Rick, however, expresses his concern that the massive tool might damage whatever lies below, which he believes might be an object of significant historic and archaeological value. Rick wants the crew to slow down “and take a deep breath” before making a decision on how best to proceed, while Marty, cognizant of the “hideous” hourly expense incurred by the excavation crew, maintains that “there’s never been a better time to keep digging than right now.”

Ultimately, the crew decides to take Rick’s advice and postpone their decision until they have mulled it over.



Chappell Vault

Arguably one of the most interesting discoveries made by the Oak Island Treasure Company (or, for that matter, by any Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate) was the structure believed to be a concrete vault located in the Money Pit between the 154 and 161-foot levels (now from the 143-150-foot levels, due to treasure hunter Robert Dunfield’s operations in the 1960’s, which lowered the elevation of the Money Pit’s surface by 11 feet). This structure was discovered during two exploration drilling operations.

During the first drilling operation, a 7-inch layer of cement was discovered at the 154-foot level. Below the cement were five inches of oak, and below the oak were about 2.5 feet of soft, loose metal, which was encountered again at a depth of 158 feet. Core samples from these depths were analyzed by professionals, who affirmed that the cement was, in fact, man-made. One of the professionals who analyzed these core samples, Dr. Andrew E. Porter from Amherst, Nova Scotia, discovered a small fibrous brown ball which turned out to be a small shred of balled-up parchment with the letters ‘vi’ written on it.

During the second drilling operation, the drill hit cement from 154-161 feet, along with oak wood from 154-158 feet. The results of this operation led the Oak Island Treasure Company men to believe that they had drilled into the side of the vault, which was composed of an outer layer of concrete and an inner lining of oak wood.


The Scrap of Parchment

Upon discovering the 161-foot vault through the use of exploration drilling, the Oak Island Treasure Company submitted core samples from the vault for analysis. One of the analysts, Dr. Andrew E. Porter from Amherst, Nova
Scotia, was tasked with inspecting one of these core samples, which consisted of mostly wood and cement. Among the debris, Porter picked out small brown ball which he thought at first to be a piece of wood. Upon closer inspection, however, he realized that the object was actually a tiny ball of parchment with either paint or ink on it. The Oak Island Treasure Company sent this scrap off to be analyzed by experts in Boston and Halifax, who all concluded that the material was a scrap of sheepskin parchment with the letters “vi” written on it in India ink with a quill pen. This item- which is, perhaps, the most incontrovertible piece of evidence indicating that there was, at some point in the distant past, a human presence deep within the Money Pit- was in Frederick Blair’s possession for decades. Blair eventually passed the parchment scrap down to his son Mel, who would, in turn, bequeath it to Dan Blankenship, a partner in the Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate Triton Alliance. Today, the scrap of parchment resides in Dan Blankenship’s residence on Oak Island.


Randall Sullivan

Randal Sullivan, who appears in this week’s episode of The Curse of Oak Island to market his upcoming book, is an author, investigative journalist, and long time contributor to the Rolling Stone magazine. His 2004 Rolling Stone article The Curse of Oak Island, which highlighted the hardships experienced by various Oak Island treasure hunters over the years, remains an important piece of Oak Island literature.

In addition to his Rolling Stone articles, Sullivan has published a number of books, including:

  • The Price of Experience: Power, Money, Image, and Murder in Los Angeles (1996)
  • LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implications of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal (2002)
  • The Miracle Detective: An Investigative Reporter Sets Out to Examine How the Catholic Church Investigates Holy Visions and Discovers His Own Faith (2005)
  • Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson (2011)

Sullivan has announced that he plans to release his upcoming book on Oak Island, entitled The Curse of Oak Island, on July 4, 2017.

Pirate Bank

In this week’s episode, author and investigative journalist Randall Sullivan alludes to a complex system of subterranean tunnels constructed by pirates which run beneath the island of Tortuga, Haiti, suggesting that they rival Oak Island’s underground workings in their complexity and belie the notion, held by many Oak Island researchers, that a pirate crew could not possibly have had the discipline or engineering aptitude to build the Money Pit and the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel.

Interestingly, Dan Blankenship’s former partner, the late Montreal-based treasure hunter David Tobias, once entertained the notion that Oak Island’s underground workings might be a sort of pirate bank. According to Tobias’ theory, the pirates who built this bank first dug the Money Pit. When that was accomplished, each pirate or group of pirates tunneled away from the Money Pit in a different direction and buried their treasure at the end of the tunnel. Each pirate interested in retrieving his treasure in the future, therefore, would only need to know where his own treasure chamber was located in relation to the surface; no digging in the Money Pit would be required. When all the treasure was buried, the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel was built and the Money Pit booby trapped.

According to writer and researcher Darcy O’Connor in his book The Secret Treasure of Oak Island (1978), David Tobias, in the late 1960’s, learned of a Haitian engineer named Albert Lochard who claimed to have uncovered one such communal pirate bank in southern Haiti. Tobias tracked Lochard to New York, where he was “living as a political refugee under an assumed name.” The Haitian engineer claimed that he had discovered a vast treasure in the pirate bank, but that the Haitian government had forced him to flee the country before he could finish excavating. When pressed, he explained to Tobias that the treasure bank’s main shaft led to a chamber at the 140-180-foot depths. Five smaller tunnels led from the chamber, and a number of flood tunnels, plugged with clay, fed into it.

It must be mentioned that Lochard’s tale of the Haitian pirate bank has never been verified, and that a number of researchers doubt its authenticity.

The Lost Treasure of Tumbes

Some Oak Island researchers believe that the Oak Island treasure is none other than the lost Incan treasure of Tumbes, Peru.

In 1528, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro discovered the city of Tumbes while exploring the west coast of South America south of Panama. Pizarro and his crew were warmly welcomed by the local Tumpis, who called them ‘Children of the Sun’ due to their light skin and shining armour. During their stay, the Spanish learned that the city was one of many under the jurisdiction of Emperor Atahualpa, ruler of the powerful Inca Empire, and that it was rich with gold, silver, and other treasures. Hoping to return in the future with a more powerful force with which to relieve the city of its considerable wealth, Pizarro left two of his own men behind so that they might learn the language and customs of the natives before returning to Panama.

The Spanish governor of Panama would not allow Pizarro to lead another expedition south, and so the conquistador sailed to Spain in order to bring his entreaty to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (a.k.a. Carlos I of Spain). The Emperor’s wife, Queen Isabelle of Portugal, authorized Pizarro’s campaign, and in the spring of 1531, Pizarro disembarked on the shores of Tumbes with 180 well-armed conquistadors. Instead of finding the thriving city he had left in 1528, however, Pizarro found Tumbes ransacked and deserted. In addition, the two Spaniards who had been left behind had vanished without a trace.

Upon questioning some of the locals found in villages in the neighbouring jungle, the conquistadors learned that Tumbes had been sacked by Emperor Huascar, Atahualpa’s halfbrother and rival to the Inca throne, and that its riches had been carried away.

According to an alternative history espoused by some Oak Island theorists, one of the men whom Pizarro left behind warned the Tumpis that Pizarro planned to return with a powerful army and strip the city of its wealth. Heeding the Spaniard’s warning, the Tumbes citizens took their most precious treasures overland to the Caribbean, built a fleet, set sail, were swept north by a series of storms, and were ultimately shipwrecked on Oak Island. There, some theorists believe, they buried their treasure.

Supernatural Evidence?

There is very little evidence, concrete or circumstantial, to support the theory that the Oak Island treasure is the lost gold of Tumbes. In fact, this unlikely theory is derived from three separate yet eerily consistent incidents involving what some theorists believe to be the supernatural.

The first of these three incidents involves Dan Henksee, an eccentric, reclusive treasure hunter who has lived on and off Oak Island since 1965. Over the years, Henskee suffered a number of frightening experiences on Oak Island which he attributes to the supernatural. The first of these experiences took place one summer day in 1973. While working, Henskee felt as if he was possessed by the spirit of a long-dead Spanish priest whose body he believes might be buried somewhere on Oak Island. According to a witness, Henskee fell into what looked to be a sort of trance and collapsed to the ground, screaming. Henskee believes he relived the priest’s experience of having his throat cut, although he concedes that he is unsure of where or not “the experience that happened to [him]… was real or imaginary.”

Many skeptics dismiss Henkee’s experience as some sort of medically-explainable hallucination, perhaps simply the product of an overactive mind. However, the phenomena Henskee experienced that day in 1973 is particularly creepy considering two supposed paranormal experiences had by self-proclaimed psychics regarding Oak Island.

The first of these supposed paranormal experiences took place in the early 1930’s, when Oak Island treasure hunters
Frederick Blair and Mel Chappell travelled to Saginaw, Michigan, to meet with a professed psychic named John Wicks. During their meeting, Wicks produced a pen and a piece of paper and began to scribble furiously, at a blistering pace, as if his hand was guided by some sort of supernatural force. In spite of the incredible speed at which he wrote, Wicks’ writings were clear and legible. When he had finished, Wicks explained to the bewildered Blair and Chappell that he had been contacted by the spirits of a Spanish priest named Menzies and an Incan priest named Circle who, through his hand, told the story of how Oak Island’s underground workings came to be.

According to Wicks’ writings, which appeared to form a story in mixed English and Spanish, Incan workers arrived on Oak Island in the 1520’s and buried the lost treasure of Tumbes, Peru. Before Francisco Pizarro left Tumbes to return to Spain, where he hoped to convince the king to finance a conquest expedition, he left two Spaniards behind so that they might learn the language and customs of the natives. According to Wick’s scribblings, the priest Menzies was one of the two Spaniards Pizarro left behind. Is it possible that Menzies warned the Incas of Pizarro’s ambition and accompanied them to Oak Island? And is it possible that the Incas, upon interring their treasure, slit Menzies’ throat, and that the Spanish priest’s spirit revealed this incident to Henskee in 1973?

The other ostensibly-paranormal experience involving ancient priests and Oak Island’s underground workings took place in 1976, three years after Henskee’s ordeal. That year, Ray Nutt and his wife, two self-proclaimed psychics from Texas, purportedly experienced a series of visions in which they toured Oak Island’s underground tunnels and chambers. One of the things both Ray and his wife claimed to have seen in their visions was the image of a hooded and cowled priest whose garments were “light tan.” The habit worn by the Hieronymites, members of the Spanish Order of Saint Jerome which had a presence in the Americas in the early 1500’s, includes a brown hood and cowl.



Mulling it Over- Reminiscent of the Onslow Company?

According to a saying popularly attributed to Mark Twain, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” For many Oak Island enthusiasts familiar with the island’s history, this piece of folk wisdom comes to mind in the final scene of this week’s episode of the The Curse of Oak Island.

At the end of Season 4, Episode 5 of The Curse of Oak Island, the Oak Island crew sank a caisson 143 feet deep into the Money Pit area, hoping to intersect the famous Chappell Vault which they believed they drilled through in Season 2, Episode 4. At the 143 foot depth, the hammer grab, which they used to haul debris from the caisson, brought up bits of old oak wood- evidence that they reached whatever they drilled through in Season 2, Episode 4, and a tantalizing suggestion that they might have hit the Chappell Vault. Marty suggested that they immediately dig up whatever lies below, while Rick counselled circumspection, fearing that an aggressive excavation might damage potential artifacts of historic and archaeological significance below. In the end, the crew agrees to postpone the excavation and thoughtfully consider how best to proceed.

This decision to shut down digging operations while within reach of the prize is painfully evocative of an earlier episode in the history of the Oak Island treasure hunt which did not end well for the treasure hunters. Back in 1804, the Onslow Company, Oak Island’s earliest treasure hunting syndicate, excavated the Money Pit to a depth of 90 feet. There, the Company members uncovered the legendary 90-foot stone, which they believed was an indication that the treasure they were seeking was close at hand. After digging several feet below the stone, the crew members decided to call it a day, as it was getting dark. They returned to the Money Pit the following morning, certain that a treasure awaited them. To their dismay, the treasure hunters found the shaft filled to the 30-foot level with seawater. To make matters worse, no matter how much water they bailed from the pit, the surface remained more or less at the 30-foot level. Ever since, flooding has remained one of the two primary impediments to Oak Island treasure hunters, along with lack of funds.

Oak Island Tours Inc.’s decision to postpone work in the Money Pit when they are mere feet from reaching their goal is keenly reminiscent of the Onslow Company’s decision to call it a day shortly after discovering the 90-foot stone. Will Oak Island Tours Inc. be flooded out like the Onslow Company? Or will Oak Island Tours Inc. tackle whatever the island throws at them? Was Marty sensible to suggest that they keep digging? Or is Rick wise to counsel caution? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 4: No Stone Unturned

The Curse of Oak Island– Season 4, Episode 4: No Stone Unturned

This week’s episode of The Curse of Oak Island requires a good deal of unpacking. Names were introduced, discoveries were alluded to, and artifacts were presented with as much backstory as the 42-minute program would allow (i.e. not a heck of a lot). Without further ado, here is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 4, Episode 4: No Stone Unturned.






Plot Summary

Rick and Marty Lagina, Marty’s son Alex, the Laginas’ nephew Peter Fornetti, Dan and Dave Blankenship, Jack Begley, and Charles Barkhouse watch as Mike Turnbull and Andrew Folkins of Irving Equipment Ltd. drive across the causeway to Oak Island, their 18-wheeler laden with high-tech excavation equipment. With this equipment, the Oak Island crew plans to fully excavate the Money Pit and solve the Oak Island riddle once and for all.

The narrator explains that the two areas of interest in the vicinity of the Money Pit which Oak Island Tours Inc. plans to excavate are the sites of drill holes labelled ‘Valley 3’ and ‘C1’, respectively. Valley 3 is the hole drilled in The Curse of Oak Island’s Season 2, Episode 4, in which clay, two perpendicularly-oriented fragments of old oak wood, and a substance which is either natural limestone or crude artificial concrete were found between the depths of 140 and 142 feet. The Oak Island crew speculated that Valley 3 might have intersected a concrete treasure vault believed to have been discovered by driller William Chappell in 1897. They named this hypothetical vault the ‘Tester Vault’ in honour of their fellow treasure hunter Craig Tester, the engineer who prescribed the drill hole upon analyzing archival maps.

The other drill hole, C1, was bored in the TV show’s Season 3, Episode 12 on the advice of Oak Island historian Charles Barkhouse. This hole encountered a 21-foot void beginning at a depth of 171 feet. The following episode, a special camera revealed the presence what appeared to be a shiny gold-coloured object at depth.

After hearing veteran Oak Island treasure hunter Dan Blankenship express his desire to see the Oak Island mystery solved, the Oak Island crew meet in the War Room, where Oak Island researchers and historians Doug Crowell and Kel Hancock of Blockhouse Investigations inform them that they have identified the location at which Oak Island’s semi-legendary 90-foot stone was last scene: a building in Halifax which once housed a bookbindery called Creighton & Marshall Stationers. The narrator then describes how the stone was discovered at the 90-foot depth in the Money Pit in 1804, transported off the island in 1865, and eventually put on display in the front window of Halifax’s Creighton & Marshall Stationers. The narrator goes on to explain how the stone mysterious disappeared in the 1930’s, and how various Oak Island enthusiasts have been searching for it ever since.

Following the narrator’s explanation, Rick Lagina mentions that the last documented sighting of the stone was in 1909, when Oak Island treasure hunter Harry L. Bowdoin examined it. The narrator then briefly describes the  American treasure hunter, his remarkably unproductive stint on Oak Island, and his visit to Creighton & Marshall Stationers which left him convinced that the cryptic inscription on the 90-foot stone had been completely worn away resultant of its employment as a beating stone.

The Oak Island crew tasks Charles Barkhouse and Alex Lagina with accompanying Crowell and Hancock to the site of the old Halifax bookbindery in order to search for the 90-foot stone. Following the cessation of their meeting, these four men travel to Halifax and promptly locate the old building. Inside, they meet with Dr. Allan Marble, historian and former president of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, and building representative Joe Landry of Halifax’s Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. These two men lead Charles, Alex, Doug, and Kel to the building’s basement where, after exploring for some time, they discover the entrance to an underground military tunnel which had long since been boarded up.

After finding nothing else of interest in the basement, the men exit the building and congregate outside, where Dr. Marble informs them that a former member of the nearby Halifax Club headquarters told his son that he believed a particular stone set into the Club’s floor was, in fact, Oak Island’s 90-foot stone. The crew unanimously agrees that this lead is worth investigation, and so Dr. Marble leads the way to the Halifax Club building.

As the men approach the building, the narrator describes how the Halifax Club, which’s headquarters were built in 1862 by a famous Scottish-Canadian builder and stonemason named George Lang, was a male-only fraternity peopled by some of the city’s most prominent citizens.

Upon entering, the Oak Island crew learns that Halifax Club building is unfinished and under construction, and that the identity of the floor stone in question is a mystery. They meet with Ryan Burke and Zach Woodworth, members of the construction crew tasked with the building’s refinishing, who suggest that they look for the stone in the basement. A subsequent search of the basement reveals nothing of interest.


Back on Oak Island, Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Jack Begley, with help from metal detection and GPR experts Matt Savelle and Luke Malanson of Canadian Seabed Research Ltd., search for the infamous Smith’s Cove flood tunnel using ground penetrating radar technology. While the men work, the narrator recalls how men of the Truro Company, a 19th Century Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate, uncovered a set of five box drains under the beach at Smith’s Cove. These box drains- which were covered by layers of coconut fibre, eelgrass, and carefully-placed beach stones- converged like the fingers of a hand to form what they believed to be a single sloped flood tunnel- a boobytrap which fed seawater into the Money Pit.

The men conduct a ground penetrating radar scan of the Smith’s Cove area and discover a point at which they believe the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel might be located. The crew decides to excavate this point in the future.

Later, Rick and Marty Lagina and Craig Tester, while working to clear logs from the Money Pit area, are visited by Dave Blankenship, Lee Lamb, and Lamb’s two children, Claire Bradfield and Brook Helland. Lee Lamb is the daughter and sister, respectively, of Oak Island treasure hunters Robert and Bobby Restall, who lost their lives in what is known as the Oak Island tragedy on August 17, 1965. Lamb, who appeared in Season 1, Episode 3 of The Curse of Oak Island, has returned to the island to show the Laginas and their crew the artifact known as the ‘1704 stone’. As Lee retrieves the item from her car, the narrator describes how the stone was accidentally discovered by Lee’s mother Mildred in 1960 while she, her husband Robert, and her sons Bobby and Richard were living on the island.

Lee and her children accompany Rick, Marty, Craig, and Dave  to Smith’s Cove, where she points out the general location in which her mother discovered the 1704 stone. Lee mentions the ‘Vertical Shaft’, one of her father and brother’s most prominent discoveries on the island, and the fact that her brother Bobby documented its location on his own hand-drawn map of the island. Marty suggests that they use Bobby’s map to locate the Vertical Shaft, to which Lee replies “good luck with that.” The narrator then recounts how treasure hunter Robert Dunfield, who took over the Oak Island treasure hunt following Robert and Bobby Restall’s deaths, destroyed many of Oak Island’s landmarks, including the surface section of the Vertical Shaft, in a massive Money Pit-area excavation.

After Lee and her children conclude their visit to Oak Island, the Oak Island crew gathers at the Money Pit area. There, Vanessa Lucido of ROC Equipment explains how a newly-arrived piece of equipment, called an oscillator, will grind massive steel caissons into the Money Pit area. She asks that a member of the crew turn on the machine, and the crew unanimously nominates Dan Blankenship for the task. With the help of ROC Equipment operator Kent Peterson, the elderly veteran treasure hunter starts up the oscillator and the caisson begins its slow descent into the Money Pit.



Valley 3

In the summer of 2015, Oak Island Tours Inc. under the direction of engineer Craig Tester brought up a 2-foot-long core sample from a hole drilled in the Money Pit area, which they named Valley 3. This sample, which came from a depth of 140’-142’, contained clay, old wood, and a material which could be either natural limestone or manmade concrete. The facts that the core sample contained a concrete-like substance followed by two pieces of wood- the first bearing horizontal-running grain and the second bearing vertical-running grain- led the Oak Island crew to speculate that they might have drilled into the side of the vault discovered by the Oak Island Treasure Company in 1897.
At first glance, one obvious problem with the Oak Island crew’s speculation is the fact that the Oak Island Treasure Company reported drilling through the top of the concrete-wooden vault at a depth of 153 feet, not 140-142 feet. The 11-foot gap between the bottom of the Oak Island Tourism Inc.’s core sample and the top of the Oak Island Treasure Company’s shaft is not insubstantial. However, when comparing these two depths, one must take into consideration the heavy-duty excavations of Robert Dunfield, which significantly altered the elevation of the surface of the Money Pit area. According to Kevin Burns, the executive producer of the History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island, Dunfield’s operation resulted in the Money Pit’s surface being roughly 10 feet lower than when it was originally discovered by Daniel McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan in 1795. If true, this means that the Oak Island Tours Inc.’s core sample was taken from a depth of about 150-152 feet below the original Money Pit level- the approximate level at which Frederic Blair and William Chappell discovered the vault in 1897. Perhaps the Oak Island Tours Inc.’s core sample is a piece of the Chappell vault after all. In any case, the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. have taken to calling the vault the Tester Vault, in honour of its discoverer Craig Tester.



During his 25 years of Oak Island research, Oak Island historian Charles Barkhouse had come to the conclusion that the Money Pit was located at a spot just north of where the Oak Island crew drilled in Season 2, Episode 4 of The Curse of Oak Island. On Season 3, Episode, 12, the Oak Island crew drilled in the spot prescribed by Barkhouse- which they termed ‘C1’- and discovered some fragments of old oak wood at a depth of around 100 feet along with a 21-foot void beginning at the 171-foot depth. Since the entire Money Pit area is about 10 feet lower than it initially was following treasure hunter Robert Dunfield’s heavy duty excavations in the late 1960’s, this Barkhouse Void would have been located 161-182 feet below the pre-Dunfield surface. This finding is reminiscent of the Money Pit-area void discovered independently by treasure hunters George Green and Robert Dunfield, as well as a void discovered by former Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate Triton Alliance beneath a treasure shaft known as the Hedden Shaft.

In Season 3, Episode 13, a special camera was lowered down drill hole C1. Somewhere below the 171-foot depth, the camera picked up a shiny, gold-coloured object. The nature of this object has yet to be determined.


The 90-Foot Stone

In 1804, the Onslow Company, the current Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate, discovered a large, olive-coloured stone slab in the Money Pit at a depth of 90 feet. The stone- which measured 2.5 feet in length, 1.25 feet in width, and 10 inches in depth, and weighed about 175 pounds- is believed by some to be of either Swedish granite or porphyry, rocks not indigenous to Oak Island. Apparently, none of the Onslow Company members were able to make sense of the stone’s symbols or speculate as to their origin, although the company men unanimously interpreted the stone’s existence as a sign that the treasure they were seeking was close at hand. The Onslow Company workers laid the stone aside upon recovering it and retired for the day shortly afterwards. The following morning, the Money Pit was filled to 30 feet below the surface with water.


Many Oak Island researchers believe that Money Pit co-discoverer and Onslow Company shareholder John Smith took the 90-foot stone into his possession and had it built into the fireplace of his new Oak Island home in 1805, where he exhibited it to visitors to the island. In 1865, eight years after Smith’s death, the stone was removed from Smith’s fireplace and brought to Truro by Oak Island treasure hunter Jotham B. McCully. McCully kept the stone in his Truro home and showcased it to potential investors in his Oak Island treasure hunting scheme. Sometime after, the stone came into the possession of businessman A.O. Creighton, a hopeful Oak Island treasure hunter and partner in a Halifax bookbinding firm called A. & H. Creighton (or perhaps Creighton & Marshall Stationers). A.O. Creighton showcased the stone in the front window of his book bindery, hoping that it might attract investor interest in his Oak Island treasure hunting venture, the Oak Island Contract Company. When the Oak Island Contract Company failed to get off the ground, Creighton used the 90-foot stone as a base on which to beat individual sheets of paper. While the stone was employed for this purpose, the strange inscription on its face gradually wore away into obscurity. By the turn of the 20th Century, the inscription had faded completely. According to some unverified accounts, the stone was taken to Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1920, and was later returned to the bookbindery in Halifax in 1929. Then, sometime in the early 1930’s, the stone mysteriously disappeared, and has been missing ever since.

Shortly after the stone was taken from John Smith’s house and brought to Halifax in 1865, James Liechti, a linguistics professor from Halifax’s Dalhousie University, claimed that the stone was a cipher which, when decoded, read: “Forty feet below two million pounds are buried.” Although no rubbings were made of the stone’s inscription, some believe that the cryptic markings may have been copied down at some point. The only supposed copy of the inscription on the 90-foot stone surfaced in April 1949, in a letter written by Nova Scotian Reverend A.T. Kempton
to Oak Island treasure hunter Frederick Blair. Kempton, in his letter, maintained that he received a copy of the stone
inscription from an “old Irish School Master” who resided somewhere in Mahone Bay. That same year, the Kempton symbols found their way into Edward Rowe Snow’s book True Tales of Buried Treasure. The Kempton symbols form a simple substitution cypher which, when decoded, read the same message allegedly decrypted by Dalhousie Professor James Liechti in 1865: “Forty feet below two million pounds are buried.” It should be mentioned that many serious Oak Island researchers doubt the authenticity of the Kempton symbols, believing the substitution cipher they suggest to be too simplistic. IBM cryptoanalyst Stephen M. Matyas, upon analyzing the Kempton symbols, concluded they were “most likely a fraud” and “cannot be trusted.”

In 1971, Dr. Ross Wilhelm, a Michigan professor who worked as a code breaker during World War II, bolstered the plausibility of the veracity of the Kempton symbols by claiming they formed a double cipher which could be decrypted using a cipher wheel. More recently, Wilhelm’s theory has been supported and supplemented by cryptographer and Oak Island researcher Daniel Ronnstam.

In 1980, Barry Fell, a Harvard zoology professor and marine biologist with a passion for ancient languages, published his book Saga America, a sequel to his book America BC (1976), in which he proposed that ancient Old World peoples regularly made voyages to the New World long before Christopher Columbus’ 1492 discovery. In one small section of Saga America, Fell mentions that the Kempton symbols, allegedly inscribed on Oak Island’s 90-foot stone, actually spelled a Libyan Arabic message using a late Tifinagh script. This message, when translated, read, “To escape contagion of plague and winter hardships, he is to pray for an end or mitigation, the Arif: the people will perish in misery if they forget the Lord, alas.”


Harry Bowdoin


In 1909, a treasure hunter named Captain Harry (or perhaps Henry) L. Bowdoin decided to take a stab at solving the Oak Island mystery. Bowdoin was an American inventor, ex-diver, and marine engineer who was fascinated with the prospect of recovering lost underwater treasure. He claimed that “with modern methods and machinery, the recovery of the [Oak Island] treasure is easy, ridiculously easy.” In 1909, he made a contract with Frederick Blair (Oak Island’s landowner at the time) which allowed him to treasure hunt on Oak Island for a year, and promptly formed the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company. Interestingly, one of the company’s shareholders was a young New York law clerk named Franklin Delano Roosevelt- a man who would later go on to serve as the 32nd President of the United States.

Once Bowdoin had sold enough shares to become operational, he and his crew set up shop on Oak Island. He dubbed the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company’s island headquarters “Camp Kidd,” in reference to the theory that the Money Pit treasure is the long-lost treasure of pirate William Kidd- a theory to which he subscribed. Immediately, Bowdoin and his crew, through the use of divers, got to work searching for the Smith’s Cove box drains. When they were unable to find them, they sent a diver down the flooded Money Pit and learned that it was clear to a depth of 113 feet. Instead of draining the Pit, Bowdoin, who had not raised as much money for his venture as he had initially anticipated, decided to conduct an exploration drilling operation in the Money Pit. He reasoned that if he produced concrete evidence of the vault believed to lie in the Pit at a depth of 161 feet, he would have an easier time attracting investor interest.

Unfortunately for Bowdoin, the drilling results revealed precious little. Aside from blue clay between the 130-146-foot depths and 6-10-inch-thick layers of cement from 146-149 feet, the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company brought up no evidence of treasure or man-made structures from the Money Pit. These findings, or lack thereof, thoroughly discouraged investors, who quickly withdrew their support. Unable to raise the capital they needed to carry out additional exploration and excavation, the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company folded.

Following his ill-fated stint on Oak Island, at the end of which he and island landowner Frederick Blair had a falling out, Bowdoin wrote a bitter summary of his Oak Island experience in which he ultimately stated his belief that there is not, in fact, any treasure on the island to find. In his article, which was published in a Nova Scotian newspaper, Bowdoin asserted that he had travelled to Creighton & Marshall Stationers in Halifax to examine the 90-foot stone, and found it to be completely devoid of markings of any kind. Some Oak Island researchers believe that Bowdoin’s assertion indicates that the inscription on the 90 foot stone wore away as a result of its being employed as a beating stone, was deliberately defaced at some point, or never existed in the first place. Others suggest that the stone, in actuality, still did bear an inscription at the time Bowdoin wrote his article, and that Bowdoin lied about its condition in order to spite Frederick Blair, with whom his relationship was strained.

It is somewhat ironic that the main character of what is probably the most boring chapter of Oak Island history has one of the most interesting backstories. As mentioned earlier, Captain Harry (or perhaps Henry) L. Bowdoin was an inventor, ex-diver, and marine engineer who was obsessed with recovering lost underwater treasure. A number of
old articles have been written about the arrogant engineer’s many achievements, all of which assign Bowdoin a different hometown. Some claim he was a resident of Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Others maintain he was a New Yorker who lived in Manhattan or Whitestone, Queens. Others still assert that he was a native of Bayonne, New Jersey. All, however, agree that he was an American citizen.

bowdoin-diving-suitBefore his death in 1935, Bowdoin invented a number of fascinating underwater treasure-hunting apparatuses. Before arriving on Oak Island in 1909, he had invented what he called the “Bowdoin Air Lock Caisson,” a subaqueous treasure-retrieval device which used positive air pressure to keep water out. In 1915, six years after leaving Oak Island, he invented a type of heavily-armoured atmospheric diving unit (a submarine suit designed for ultra-deep-water dives) with oil-filled rotary joints. And in 1930, he invented a type of controllable diving bell, a submarine
chamber which enabled occupants to do salvage work on the ocean floor. Bowdoin also invented a number of non-treasure- hunting-related devices, including a “Theatrical Apparatus”- designed “for use in giving exhibitions or performances whereby in connection with a tank of water, drowning, disappearing, rescuing and other scenes may be affected…” – a rudder lock for boats, and an ice cream cone-making machine.

Although Bowdoin’s brief and ill-fated stint on Oak Island was his first treasure-hunting adventure, it was not his last. In 1916, Bowdoin tested his new atmospheric diving unit in a failed attempt to retrieve the $120,000,000 Spanish treasure believed to lie at the bottom of Vigo Bay where, in a 1702 naval battle of the War of Spanish Succession, seventeen Spanish treasure galleons were sunk by English and Dutch warships. Years later, in 1932 and 1933, Bowdoin attempted to salvage the $2,000,000 treasure of the sunken SS Merida- an American steamer loaded with Yucatan aristocrats (and the contents of their safes) fleeing the Mexican Revolution- which sank off the Virginia Capes at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in 1911.


The Smith’s Cove Flood Tunnel

In the summer of 1850, a member of the Truro Company noticed that seawater trickled as if from underground at several places on Smith’s Cove during low tide. In the words of one of the Truro Company members, the beach “gulched forth water like a sponge being squeezed.” Upon further investigation, the Company learned, to their astonishment, that a large part of Smith’s Cove was actually a huge artificial filter designed to prevent box drains below from being clogged with debris.


This massive filter, about 145 square feet in area, was composed of several different layers of material. Below the layer of sand which covered its surface was a 2-inch-thick layer of coir, or coconut fibre. According to one account, the coir was topped with a thin layer of blue clay. Below the coconut fibre was a 4-inch-thick layer of decayed marine eelgrass. Below the eelgrass was a layer of flat, clean beach stones. And below the beach stones was a series of carefully-constructed box drains which apparently converged, like the folds of a hand fan, to a point somewhere along the Cove’s shore. The drains- which, according to some accounts, were eight inches wide- were graded so that they sloped downwards towards the shore.

The Truro Company members believed that the drains fed a flood tunnel which extended from Smith’s Cove to the Money Pit. This flood tunnel, they believed, was the reason the water level in the Money Pit could not be lowered via bailing. Accordingly, they built a cofferdam around Smith’s Cove so as to give them better access to the beach workings before systematically dismantling the box drains, working from the cofferdam towards the shore. Before the Truro Company was able to reach the point at which the drains apparently converged, however, the cofferdam was destroyed by the implacable Atlantic elements and the deconstruction project was abandoned.


The Restall Family

In October 1959, Mel Chappell, Oak Island’s landowner and Treasure Trove licence holder at the time, signed a contract with Robert Restall, a hopeful Oak Island treasure hunter who had been writing him persistently since 1955.
Restall- a plumber, steamfitter, tinkerer, and ex-motorcycle stunt rider from Hamilton, Ontario- was not a wealthy man. However, the financial support he received from his friend Fred Sparham, coupled with his keen analytical mind, his strong mechanical inclination, his honest character, and most of all his indomitable perseverance (as
evidenced by the many letters he wrote to Chappell from 1955- 1959), made him, in Chappell’s mind, the perfect man for the job. That month, Restall, along with his wife Mildred and his eighteen-year-old son Bobby, moved into a tiny tool shack on Oak Island near the Money Pit. Grateful for the rare and long-sought-after opportunity to search for Oak Island’s famous treasure, and eager to please the ever-restless Chappell, Robert and his son got to work preparing for a grueling winter excavation of Smith’s Cove.

Below is a video of Robert and Mildred Restall performing in the so-called ‘Globe of Death’. Before coming to Oak Island, Robert and Mildred worked seasonally as motorcycle stuntsmen. Video courtesy of Lee Lamb.

Throughout the fall of 1959 and the winter of 1959/60, Robert and Bobby Restall dug a number of test holes along the Smith’s Cove beach in search of the legendary flood tunnel that had thwarted Oak Island treasure hunters time and time again since 1804, when the Onslow Company first reached the Money Pit’s 90-foot level. Loath to destroy potential archaeological evidence left behind by the mysterious men responsible for the original Oak Island workings, the father and son eschewed the use of heavy machinery, opting instead to labour with pick and shovel as their Oak Island predecessors had done. While digging in Smith’s Cove, they uncovered the remains of the massive coir-eelgrass-stone filter first discovered by the Truro Company in the summer of 1850, and learned that it was far larger than previously believed.


Robert and Bobby Restall toiled on Smith’s Cove for several years, making a number of intriguing discoveries. They remained on Oak island until their untimely deaths in 1965.



Lee Lamb

Lee Lamb is Robert and Mildred Restall’s first child and only daughter. Although she spent relatively little time on Oak Island compared to her parents and brothers, her accounts of the Restall treasure hunt, which she details in her books Oak Island Obsession: The Restall Story (2006) and Oak Island Family: The Restall Hunt for Buried Treasure (2014), are nevertheless the best sources on this particular chapter of Oak Island history.

In Oak Island Obsession: The Restall Story, Lamb begins with a detailed backstory of Robert and Mildred. She goes on to describe her own childhood, and recounts anecdotes from her early life in Hamilton, Ontario, which illustrate her family members’ unique characters and personalities. Lamb describes her father’s struggle to secure digging rights on Oak Island and includes a number of the letters written between him and Mel Chappell. She includes some of her mother Mildred’s insightful accounts of Oak Island life, as well as a few stories written by her brother Ricky. She chronicles her family’s Oak Island treasure hunt by seamlessly weaving her own narrative with her father’s many letters to friend and investor Fred Sparham, and by including samples of Bobby Restall’s many journal entries, sketches and articles.

Oak Island Family: The Restall Hunt for Buried Treasure is a shorter summary of Oak Island Obsession specifically written for teenagers and young adults.

More recently, Lee Lamb has published Strange Legacy: A Memoir of Paranormal Events (2016), a brief autobiography in which she describes a number of her own strange experiences which she attributes to the supernatural. Some of these experiences include an out-of-body/ near-death experience, premonitions, episodes of clairvoyance, and other strange phenomena.

In October 2016, Lamb published another autobiography, A Kid on the Carnival: The Glory Days, in which she recounts her childhood experience of touring with the Conklin carnival.


The Oak Island Tragedy

Tuesday, August 17, 1965, began as just another day on Oak Island for the Restall family. In the early afternoon, Robert Restall peered into a flooded shaft to make sure that the pump was running smoothly (at that time, he and his son Bobby were sinking shafts along the hypothetical line of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, hoping that they might intercept the legendary booby trap and stem its water flow). Suddenly, he fell in. Robert Restall had gotten a whiff of some sort of toxic gas which filled the pit below. Some Oak Island researchers theorize that it was carbon monoxide, exhaust from the gas-powered pump which was running at the shaft’s bottom. Others maintain that it might have been methane, or swamp gas, a product of rotten underground vegetation. However, the facts that witnesses described the gas as having a pungent smell akin to the stench of rotten eggs, and that Robert Restall succumbed to the gas almost instantly, indicate that the gas was almost certainly hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a powerful, deadly gas sometimes encountered by oil drillers and underground miners.

Upon seeing his father topple into the pit, Bobby, who was gathering brush at the time, rushed to his
aid. He had barely begun to descend the shaft’s ladder when he, too, fell in. Karl Graeser, who had also rushed to help, similarly fell to the bottom of the shaft, along with Cyril Hiltz and Andrew Demont, two young cousins who worked as labourers on the Restall crew, and a worker named Leonard Kaizer. According to Andrew Demont in a later account, the last thing he remembered before passing out was a lucid Bobby Restall holding his father’s head above water.

Among the handful of tourists on Oak Island at the time was a firefighter from Buffalo, New York, named Edward White. White was certain that the six men had fallen victim to some sort of toxic gas. Despite the protests from his wife, he tied a handkerchief around his mouth and nose, secured a rope around himself, and asked a fellow bystander to lower him into the pit.

The handkerchief around White’s mouth and nose did little to protect him from the gas. In spite of this, the Buffalo native managed to rescue two men- Kaizer and young Demont- from the shaft before admitting that he could not take the gas any longer. By this time, the water in the shaft was rising fast; the pump was no longer working.

Tragically, Robert and 24-year-old Bobby Restall, Karl Graeser, and 16-year-old Cyril Hiltz drowned to death in that pit, bringing the Oak Island death toll up to 6. Although most attributed the tragedy to bad luck, some of the more superstitious locals suggested that the four men had fallen victim to a curse put on the island by the original builders. In time, this belief gave rise to what is now a popular Oak Island legend: that a total of 7 people must die before Oak Island will reveal its secrets.


1704 Stone

On November 6, 1960, Robert’s wife Mildred made an intriguing discovery which may shed some light on the mysterious origins of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. To give the story of this discovery some context, it should be noted that, starting in the fall of 1960, Mildred enrolled Ricky in a Government of Nova Scotia correspondence
course so that he could continue his education while living on Oak Island. In the mornings, she would help Ricky with his lessons and homework. In the afternoons, if the weather permitted, she would often accompany Ricky as he explored various parts of the island. On the afternoon of November 6, 1960, Ricky was spending his post-lesson time playing with fish in a tide-pool on Smith’s Cove not too far from where Robert and Bobby were working. Nearby
the tide pool farther down the beach was a dump pile at which, earlier that season, the two men had shoveled the rubble from one of their Smith’s Cove shafts. The pile’s dirt and debris washed away with the tide, leaving behind nothing but the rocks. While Ricky played in the pool, Mildred idly examined some of the stones in the pile. To her surprise, she gradually realized that one of the stones appeared to have some characters carved onto its surface… but she wasn’t sure. Curious, she retrieved the stone, washed it off, and sent Ricky to inform Robert and Bobby that she might have found something significant.


At first, the men were irritated at having been interrupted from their work. However, when they saw what Mildred had discovered, they immediately examined the rest of the rocks in the dump pile to see if there were any more like it. As it turned out, the rock Mildred had recovered was the only stone bearing an inscription.

In the beginning, the inscription on the stone was dark and hard to make out, although it had obviously been carved with some sort of chisel. As time drew on and the stone dried out, however, the writing on its surface became clearly legible. The stone read ‘1704’ in a style which, according to experts, was common in England around the turn of the 18th Century.


The Vertical Shaft

In the summer of 1961, Robert and Bobby Restall discovered what they described as a carefully-constructed
stone dome hidden among the rocks of Smith’s Cove at a location in line with the Money Pit area, an Oak Island landmark known as the Cave-in Pit, and two drilled rocks discovered on the island. Beneath the dome was a shaft about 1.5 feet in diameter which disappeared deep into the earth. When tested, it appeared that the hole led to some underground water. They called this shaft the Vertical Shaft.

The Restalls believed that the Vertical Shaft not only led to the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, but was also the spot at which the original Oak Island builders meant for the flood tunnel to be shut off. Robert Restall theorized that the original builders might have designed the shaft so that the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel would shut off once it was stuffed with a ship’s sail and packed with clay. Accordingly, he tried to pump cement down the Vertical Shaft so that it might similarly shut off the flood tunnel. Unfortunately, the cement Restall purchased from Western Shore was of inferior quality, and did not make a good seal; the cement was washed away with the tide.


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 3: Swamp Things

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 3: Swamp Things

Rick and Marty Lagina and the crew are back in the bog in this week’s episode of The Curse of Oak Island. For Americans looking for a refresher, and for Canadians hungry for a sneak peek, here is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 4, Episode 3: Swamp Things.






Plot Summary

Treasure hunters Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, Jack Begley, Marty’s son Alex, and Oak Island historian Charles Barkhouse meet in the War Room following the funeral of veteran Oak Island treasure hunter Fred Nolan. In honour of the Nova Scotian surveyor who had dedicated so much of his life to the Oak Island quest, Marty reads a poem entitled The Surveyor, by Don W. Thomson. The narrator follows up on Marty’s reading by briefing Nolan’s long Oak Island history and describing some of his most prominent discoveries, including the giant cross-shaped pattern of Oak Island boulders styled ‘Nolan’s Cross.’


Rick Lagina states that, while Nolan’s passing has elicted grief, it has also hardened his resolve to get to the bottom of the Oak Island mystery. The rest of the crew echo Rick’s sentiments. The crew then briefly discusses the possibility of future excavations in the Oak Island swamp (formerly Nolan’s property), and the upcoming Big Dig in the Money Pit area.

The following morning, Rick Lagina and Charles Barkhouse meet at the Money Pit area, where heavy equipment operators of Brycon Construction, a Nova Scotian contracting company, are levelling the Money Pit area for the Big Dig, and building an access road to the worksite. While the two men examine wooden debris the contractors have dug up- likely timbers from previous searcher shafts- the narrator recounts treasure hunter Robert Dunfield’s heavy-duty operation in the late 1960’s which ultimately transformed the entire Money Pit area into a massive backfilled crater.

While sifting through the freshly-exposed earth in the Money Pit area, Rick discover small fragments of pottery- likely relics of previous treasure hunting syndicates. Shortly thereafter, Charles discovers a small flat stone, which he believes to be a piece of tile. Upon closer inspection, the two men identify a vague marking on the tile, which Charles suggests might be an “‘X’ with a hook.” The narrator then describes how forensic geologist Scott Wolter- host of the H2 TV series America Unearthed– has recently posited that this particular symbol is a medieval rune adopted by the Knights Templar, whom some theorists believed buried their most valuable treasure on Oak Island following the suppression of their Order in 1307. Rick suggests that they ought to have a geologist take a look at the inscribed tile to determine whether it is natural or worked by man.


Later, Rick and Marty Lagina, Marty’s son Alex, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, and Charles Barkhouse meet in the War Room with Matt Savelle, a metal detection expert of Canadian Seabed Research Ltd. This is not Sevelle’s first Oak Island experience; the metal detection expert’s The Curse of Oak Island debut took place in Season 2, Episode 8, in which he, along with co-worker Pat Campbell, used the MALA Rough Terrain Antenna System (a Ground Penetrating Radar device) to survey the southwestern section of the Oak Island swamp, the Mercy Point area (situated at the apex of the Oak Island swamp), and the so-called Enochean Chamber area (situated at the central-western edge of the Oak Island swamp).

The narrator reveals that Savelle returned to the island earlier that year to conduct additional tests in the Oak Island swamp with a Geonics EM-61 MK IIA metal detector. At the Mercy Point area at the swamp’s apex- at which professional diver Tony Sampson, in Season 2, Episode 1, discovered an old oak stump- and in the swamp’s southwestern section, the metal detector got ‘big hits’.

Back in the War Room. Savelle explains that the Mercy Point reading indicates that the metal in question might be located beneath the point at which Tony Sampson discovered the stump. He also explains that the metal in the southwest section of the swamp appears to be long and flat. The crew decides to task diver Tony Sampson with exploring these two locations.


Later, while brothers Rick and Marty Lagina discuss the upcoming swamp exploration, the narrator explains how, in the summer of 2014, the Oak Island crew discovered a 1652 copper Spanish 8 maravedis at the Mercy Point area. He goes on to briefly summarize the theories that Oak Island’s mysterious underground workings are attributable to the crew of a lost Spanish treasure galleon and European buccaneers, respectively.

At the swamp, Rick and Marty Lagina and Jack Begley meet with Tony Sampson. The four men travel to the Mercy Point area, whereapon Sampson manually examines the area at which Savelle’s survey indicated the presence of metal. Sampson, equipped with a hand-held metal detector, soon discovers discovers some sort of metal object which appears to be encased in a large stump rooted to the swamp floor. Sampson pries the object loose, revealing it to be a survey marker placed decades ago by Fred Nolan.

Following the discovery, the narrator launches into a brief history of Fred Nolan’s swamp excavations, and his belief- also held by a number of independent researchers- that the Oak Island swamp is artificial. The narrator also recounts the theory espoused by some researchers that Oak Island was once actually two islands, and that the men who built the Money Pit and the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel joined the two islands together in an effort to conceal something between them. According to the narrator, Nolan believed that this ‘something’ was a treasure galleon, which is now buried beneath the Oak Island swamp.

The narrator goes on to describe the theory, presented by writers Alan Butler and Kathleen McGowan in Season 2, Episode 7, that a chamber reminiscent of the Chamber of Enoch from ancient Hebrew scripture lies at the central-western edge of the Oak Island swamp. He also alludes to Scandinavian cyptographers Petter Amundsen and Daniel Ronnstam’s theory that a Rosicrucian (i.e. pertaining to the Order of the Rosy Cross, a mysterious Renaissance-era secret society) vault lies at the Mercy Point in the Oak Island swamp.

Back at the swamp, Marty Lagina expresses his disappointment that Sampson’s investigation did not produce a more significant discovery, as well as satisfaction that Savelle’s data was accurate. Without further ado, the Lagina brothers, Jack Begley, and Tony Sampson proceed to the second area of interest in the swamp indicated by Savelle’s survey.

At this new location, Sampson promptly unearths a long wooden plank. Although the crew initially fears that the hits from Sampson’s metal detector are attributable to nails or bolts embedded in the plank, a thorough examination by Jack Begley reveals the board to be devoid of metal. Sampson fails to uncover anything else in the area, and the crew eventually calls off the operation.


In an aside, Rick and Marty explain that Sampson’s failure to uncover any metal in the area is an indication that the metallic object revealed by Savelle’s survey is buried beneath the swamp floor. If true, it is likely that whatever lies at that location is relevant to the Oak Island mystery.

Following the diving operation, Rick and Marty Lagina, Tony Sampson, and Jack Begley examine the long wooden plank Sampson uncovered in the swamp. The treasure hunters suggest the plank might be a fragment of the ship Fred Nolan believed lay beneath the Oak Island swamp, and agree that a carbon dating is in order.

Later, Rick Lagina and Craig Tester meet with geologist Phil Finck and present him with the flat stone piece Rick discovered in the Money Pit area which Charles Barkhouse suggested might be a tile inscribed with a hooked ‘X’. Finck informs the treasure hunters that the slab is sandstone, and that most of the markings on its surface are natural glacial striations. However, he concludes that the hooked ‘X’ inscribed on its surface is likely man-made.


After concluding their meeting with Finck, the Oak Island crew congregates in the War Room, where Craig Tester informs them that the plank of wood Tony Sampson unearthed in the Oak Island swamp was carbon dated from 1680-1735 with a 95% degree of accuracy. Marty Lagina remarks that the carbon dating is consistent with a number of Oak Island theories, including Fred Nolan’s theory that a ship laden with treasure was buried in the Oak Island swamp. Oak Island historian Charles Barkhouse remarks that the plank’s carbon dating is but the newest of a succession of discoveries supporting Nolan’s theory, which include Nolan’s discoveries of “parts of a spar… and also a section of a ship called a ‘scuppers'” in the Oak Island swamp.

Talk then turns to the mysterious metal object in the southwest section of the swamp, apparently located beneath the plank Tony Sampson unearthed. Marty states his desire to excavate that particular section of the swamp- an interesting turn of events considering his historic aversion to the Oak Island swamp. With that, the meeting is concluded.


Fred Nolan

stone-triangleFrederick G. Nolan, a one-man treasure hunting company and professional Provincial Land Surveyor from Bedford, Nova Scotia, had been looking for Oak Island treasure since 1966. Nolan first came to Oak Island as a tourist in the late 1950’s. In 1962, after receiving permission from Mel Chappell (who owned Oak Island and its Treasure Trove licence at the time), he returned to conduct a comprehensive survey of the island while Robert and Bobby Restall (contemporary Oak Island treasure hunters) laboured in Smith’s Cove. While conducting his survey, Nolan recorded the positions of various Oak Island landmarks, including the stone triangle on the South Shore Cove. In this way, he preserved a number of potentially significant landmarks that were later destroyed in Robert Dunfield’s heavy duty excavations, carried out in the late 1960’s.

After persistently urging Mel Chappell to allow him to partake in the treasure hunt and being sharply rebuffed, Nolan made a trip to the Registry Office in nearby Chester and learned that Oak Island’s Lots 5 and 9-14- all but one of them situated around the Oak Island swamp- were not owned by Chappell but rather by the heirs of the late Sophia Sellers, who had inherited Oak Island property from her father Anthony Graves. Nolan quietly approached the heirs with an offer and succeeded in purchasing seven lots of Oak Island real estate for $2,500. Ever since his purchase and subsequent acquisition of an Oak Island Treasure Trove licence, there has been two official treasure hunts on Oak Island. Once Mel Chappell got wind of Nolan’s purchase, a friendly rivalry ensued, which quickly devolved into a bitter feud. This feud between Fred Nolan and his rival Oak Island treasure hunters (which spilled over from Chappell to Dan Blankenship’s Triton Alliance to Oak Island Tours Inc.)- involving a series of financially-draining legal battles and malicious pranks in which both parties were equally culpable- continued for four decades, greatly hampering the progress of the Oak Island treasure hunt. While not engaging his treasure hunting rivals in court or on the Oak Island battlefield, Nolan made a number of interesting discoveries on his property. These discoveries include:

  • Four stone cairns, located on Oak Island’s northeastern hilltop, which appear to form two triangles, one pointing west towards the swamp, and the other pointing northwest towards Joudrey’s Cove.
  • A number of drilled rocks similar to the ones discovered by Oak Island treasure hunter Gilbert Hedden in 1937.
  • A number of rocks with metal ringbolts embedded in them.
  • The Old Well, a well located at the edge of the Oak Island swamp.
  • Parts of a ship’s spar in the Oak Island swamp.
  • A ship’s scuppers in the Oak Island swamp.
  • Sandstone survey markers.
  • The remains of three ancient oak chests in theOak Island swamp.
  • Various marked rocks and stone strutures.
  • Nolan’s Cross.

In the summer of 2015, Fred Nolan made peace with Dan Blankenship, Dave Blankenship, and Rick and Marty Lagina of Oak Island Tours Inc., effectively ending a bitter feud that had greatly hindered the progression of the Oak Island treasure hunt for 40 years. This peace pact was manifest in a formal agreement between Nolan and his former rivals, in which Nolan granted the Blankenships and Oak Island Tours Inc. access to his incredibly detailed survey maps, much of his property, and the various places of interest on Oak Island he has pinned down over the years based on his interpretation of the orientation of the various landmarks he recorded on his survey maps. According to Rick Lagina in an “Ask Me Anything” thread which he Marty Lagina submitted to in November 2015, “being able to work with Fred Nolan” was one of Oak Island Tours Inc.’s biggest successes on Oak Island to date. On June 4, 2016, one month and one day before his 89th birthday, Frederick G. Nolan passed away, leaving behind his wife Ora, his son Thomas J., his granddaughters Catherine and Shannon, his brother Frank, and a number of nieces and nephews.

Nolan’s Cross


In 1981, Fred Nolan made what is arguably his most important discovery on Oak Island. That year, he discovered that five conical granite boulders on his property, each of them approximately 8 feet wide and 9 feet high, formed a perfect Latin cross. Upon this discovery, Nolan dug a hole at the centre of the cross and unearthed a large sandstone boulder which bears vague resemblance to a human head. This cross- dubbed ‘Nolan’s Cross’- has an 867-foot-long stem and a 720-foot-long crossbeam and has been fodder for countless theories regarding the nature of the Oak Island treasure, including the Templar theory, the Rosicrucian theory, the Freemason theory, and others.

Hooked ‘X’



In this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, Rick Lagina comes across a small, flat piece of stone upon which Charles Barkhouse suggests is inscribed a ‘hooked X’. Later, geologist Phil Finck determines that the supposed inscription on the rock’s surface is indeed man-made.

The notion of the historical and archaeological significance of the ‘hooked X’ character is most prominantly espoused by Scott Wolter, a forensic geologist and fringe historian who hosts the H2 TV series America Unearthed. Wolter first came across the symbol of the hooked X while examining the Kensington Runestone -a large stone inscribed with runic markings discovered on a farm near Kensington, Minnesota in 1898, which some researchers believe is evidence of a 14th Century Scandinavian expedition deep into the American continent- as a geological professional. Wolter was intrigued by the presence of a recurring ‘hooked X’ character on the runestone, which runic scholars were unable to identify. Upon further investigation, Wolter discovered what he believes to be variations of this same hooked X inscribed on a disparate variety of seemingly unrelated stones and documents, including:

  • The Copiale Cipher, an encrypted 18th Century manuscript which, upon its decipherment in 2011, revealed the existence of a secret sub-Freemasonic society called The Oculus Order of Wolfenbuttel  (seriously)).

  • The Larsson Papers, the 1883 notes of then-16-year-old Edward Larsson, a Swedish tailor’s apprentice who had immigrated to America. Larsson’s notes suggest that the hooked X character represents the letter ‘A’. It should be mentioned that the Larsson Papers appear to call into question the authenticity

    of the Kensington Runestone, suggesting that the inscription on its surface be written in a 19th Century secret runic alphabet favoured by Swedish craftsmen.

  • The Talpiot Tomb, an ancient rock-cut tomb in the Old City of Jerusalem around which a controversial theory revolves.
  • The signature of Italian explorer and navigator Christopher Columbus, whom some Oak Island researchers believe had a hand in the Oak Island mystery.
  • The walls of Rosslyn Chapel, which features prominantly in the theories that the Knights Templar or members of some Freemasonic Lodge are responsible for Oak Island’s underground workings.
  • The Spirit Pond Runestones, three stone allegedly inscribed with runic inscriptions which were discovered in Phippsburg, Maine, in 1971.
  • The Narragansett Runestone, a 2.5 tonne stone inscribed with allegedly runic markings which, prior to its theft in 2012 and resurfacing in 2013, was situated between the high and low tide lines on the shores of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay.

Wolter has used his findings to weave a bizarre, controversial conspiracy theory involving the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, the Catholic Church, and the Holy Grail, which he outlines in his books The Kensington Runestone: Compelling New Evidence (2005), The Hooked X: Key to the Secret History of North America (2009), From Akhenaten to the Founding Fathers: the Mysteries of the Hooked X (2013), and Templar Sanctuaries in North America: Sacred Bloodlines and Secret Treasures (2016). Charles Barkhouse’s suggestion that the small flat stone discovered by Rick Lagina in the Money Pit might be inscribed with a hooked X appears to be an effort to establish some sort of connection between Wolter’s theories and the Oak Island mystery.

Wooden Plank


In this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, diver Tony Sampson discovered a long wooden plank submerged at a particular section of the Oak Island swamp at which metal detection surveys revealed the presence of a large quantity of buried metal. This board was later carbon dated from 1680-1735 with a 95% degree of accuracy. This carbon dating is congruent with a number of prominent theories regarding the nature of Oak Island’s underground workings, including:

  • The Spanish theory, which holds that the Money Pit and Smith’s Cove flood tunnel were built by the crew of a shipwrecked Spanish treasure galleon laden with New World silver.
  • The William Phips theory, which involves New English treasure hunter and privateer William Phips, the treasure of the sunken Spanish treasure galleon La Concepcion, and a British conspiracy revolving around the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
  • The Captain Kidd theory, which posits that Oak Island’s underground workings are attributable to the crew of privateer captain William Kidd, who was hanged for piracy in 1701.
  • Fred Nolan’s theory

Fred Nolan’s Theory

In this episode, the narrator reveals that the late Oak Island landowner and treasure hunter Fred Nolan believed that the eastern and western ends of Oak Island were, at one point, actually separate islands, and that those who constructed the Money Pit and the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel sailed a treasure-laden ship between the two islands, joined the two islands together in a massive earthworks project, and sank the treasure ship beneath the artificial swamp that was created.

In The Curse of Oak Island’s Season 3, Episode 7, Fred Nolan explained his belief that Oak Island’s artificial swamp, the Money Pit, and the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel were constructed by the British during the American Revolution, and that the treasure they buried was bullion and specie from the Thirteen Colonies.


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The Curse of Oak Island, Season 4, Episode 2: Always Forward

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 2: Always Forward


Last night, American fans of the History Channel were able to watch the newest chapter of Canada’s greatest and longest-running treasure hunt. For my fellow Canadians who don’t feel like waiting until Sunday, and for our American friends who want to learn a little more about what they just watched, here is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 4, Episode 2 of The Curse of Oak Island, entitled Always Forward.





Plot Summary

The episode begins where Season 4, Episode 1 left off: at the location on the western end of Oak Island at which New Yorkish Knights Templar researcher Zena Halpern’s mysterious map suggests a ‘hatch’ might be found. Treasure hunters Rick and Marty Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Craig Tester look on as their fellow treasure hunter Jack Begley clears the area of brush.


As Begley works, the narrator recounts how Halpern, in the previous episode, presented Oak Island Tours Inc. with three old documents which came into her possession by chance, and which she believes are connected with the Oak Island mystery. The first of these documents, now popularly known as ‘La Formule’, bears a strange inscription

containing many of the same characters as the Kempton symbols, believed by some to have been inscribed on the long-lost ’90-foot stone’ (which was discovered in Oak Island’s Money Pit at a depth of 90 feet in 1804). The second document Halpern presented to the team was a map of what appears to be Nova Scotia, labelled in French and dated 1179. The third document Halpern came forward with- the aforementioned map of Oak Island- bears the date ‘1347’, and is similarly labelled in French. Specifically, the French labels on Halpern’s map of Oak Island indicate the presence a number of landmarks on the island. Some of these landmarks, like ‘the swamp’, the Money Pit, and ‘the stone triangle’, are familiar to Oak Island researchers. Others, like ‘the valve’, ‘the anchors’, and, most relevantly, the ‘hatch’, are entirely new pieces to the Oak Island puzzle. In this episode, Oak Island Tours Inc. hopes to investigate ‘the hatch’, one of the most intriguing of these new puzzle pieces.

After clearing the area in question of vegetation, Jack Begley starts digging by hand. His manual excavation reveals an angular cavity in the underlying rock. Marty Lagina speculates that the cavity might be artificial, prompting his elder brother Rick to express his concern that a more rigorous excavation might compromise the integrity of what, if anything, lies below. Both brothers agree that an archaeologist ought to examine the structure before any more digging is done.

Later, Rick Lagina and Jack Begley meet with Lorne Flowers, Perry Power, Andrew Folkins, and Mike Lynch of Irving Equipment Ltd. (a contracting company based out of Saint John, New Brunswick), and with Allan Sutherland of Brycon Constructions Ltd. (a similar company headquartered in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia). The men congregate at the Money Pit area, where they discuss how best to prepare the area for the long-awaited ‘Big Dig’ with which the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. hope to liberate the Money Pit of its precious contents. Due to a particular treasure-hunter’s heavy-duty excavations in the Money Pit area in the late 1960’s, the earth in which Rick, Marty, and their crew plan to dig is unstable, and unable to support heavy machinery. In order to rectify this problem, the men decide to level the area surrounding the Money Pit, reinforce it with layers of gravel, and construct an access road to the work site.

knights-templarAfter the meeting, Rick Lagina and Oak Island historian and tour guide Charles Barkhouse accompany local researcher Doug Crowell of Blockhouse Investigations to New Ross, Nova Scotia where, in Season 4, Episode 1, the three of them had done some investigation. As they drive, the narrator explains how Zena Halpern’s mysterious map of Nova Scotia- labelled in French and dated 1179- suggests the importance of a place called “RhoDon”, apparently situated at what is now New Ross, templar-castleNova Scotia. After summarizing a belief, held by some local researchers, that a particular New Ross property was once the site of a Knights Templar castle, he goes on to explain how Rick, Charles, and Doug, in the previous episode, had studied a mysterious stone-lined water well on that property and discovered strange lines on its bottom, a finding which they believed warranted further investigation.

In New Ross, Rick, Charles, and Doug meet with authors and property owners Alessandra Nadudvari and Tim Loncarich, as well as with professional diver Tony Sampson. It is decided that Sampson will dive to the bottom of the well to see if, as Nadudvari and Loncarich suspect, the well bottom is merely the entrance to a secret underground chamber.

As Sampson prepares for the dive, the narrator describes the fringe theory, hitherto unsupported by anything aside from folk legend and circumstantial evidence, that outlawed Templar knights visited the New World sometime after the suppression of their order in 1307, bringing with them some of their most valuable treasure including, perhaps, the Ark of the Covenant. He goes on to describe three pieces of evidence proponents of this theory have used to support their claim.


The first of these items suggesting a pre-Columbian Templar voyage to the New World are two of the carvings that adorn the interior of Rosslyn Chapel, a 15th Century Scottish castle commissioned by the grandson of Scottish-Orcadian nobleman Henry Sinclair (whom some researchers have proposed sailed across the Atlantic in 1398 on some sort of Templar-oriented mission). One of these carvings depicts what some claim to be Indian corn, a New World crop which would not have been known in Europe (except, perhaps, by the Norse Vikings, who

established temporary settlements on the Canadian Atlantic coast as early as the mid 10th Century) during the mid 1400’s, at the time of the chapel’s construction. The other Rosslyn carving cited by proponents of the Templar theory depicts what some maintain is a three-petalled trillium flower, another plant endemic to the New World.

The second piece of evidence the narrator cites as verification of a 14th Century Templar voyage to the Americas are the legends of Glooscap, a hero of Mi’kmaq (a Nova Scotian First Nation) mythology. Some Oak Island researchers have argued that Glooscap shares some characteristics with Henry Sinclair, whom some believe brought the Templar treasure to Oak Island in the late 1300’s. The supposed similarities between these two individuals seems to imply that the legendary Glooscap may be based on the real-life Henry Sinclair, who, according to this theory, apparently interacted with and thoroughly impressed the Nova Scotian Mi’kmaq during his alleged 14th Century voyage to the New World.

The third and final piece of evidence the narrator brings up is the claim that the flag of the Mi’kmaq Nation is the reverse image of a Templar battle flag, suggesting that the Mi’kmaq borrowed the image from visiting Templars in the 14th Century.


At the New Ross property, diver Tony Sampson and his team construct a sturdy wooden frame around the well, from which they suspend a bosun’s chair. During a preliminary safety inspection of the well, Sampson discovers a rock bearing a triangle-shaped carving. Upon close inspection, the crew discovers another obscure marking inside the triangle which Sampson, a Freemason, suggests might be an eye.


The narrator follows up on Sampson suggestion by explaining that the symbol of a pyramid with an eye in its centre- also known as the ‘Eye of Providence’ or the ‘All-Seeing Eye’- was adopted by late 18th Century Freemasons, and that some researchers believe it was also employed by the Knights Templar. He goes on to state that the symbol of the triangle is a recurring motif on Oak Island, being the shape of the Oak Island swamp and one of the Kempton symbols (believed by some to have been inscribed on Oak Island’s 90-foot stone).


broad-arrowFollowing the discovery of the carved triangle, Tony Sampson dons his diving gear and descends into the New Ross well. Near the well’s bottom he discovers another stone in which the image of a broad arrow appears to have been carved.

Following this discovery, the narrator explains that the broad arrow, also known as the ‘King’s Mark’, is an English heraldic symbol which can trace its origins back to 14th Century English King Edward III, and which was used by the British Empire to mark Crown property.

Eventually, Sampson ascends from the well, whereupon he informs the crew that the bottom of the well is not, as Nadudvari and Loncarich had hoped, a flat flagstone layer. The crew then discusses the potential significance of the broad arrow carving, recounting that an arrow is one of the symbols believed by some to have been inscribed on Oak Island’s 90-foot stone. With that, they pack up their gear and return to Oak Island.

The following day, Rick and Marty Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Jack Begley meet with archaeologist Laird Niven. After briefly explaining its backstory, the crew leads Niven to the partly-excavated angular cavity situated on the spot at which Zena Halpern’s map indicates the presence of a hatch. After inspecting the anomaly, Niven agrees with the treasure hunters that the cavity is likely man-made. With that, Rick and Marty decide to apply for a permit from the Canadian government allowing them to legally excavate what appears might be an archaelogically-significant structure.

One week later, Marty Lagina, his son Alex, and his business partner and fellow treasure hunter Craig Tester meet in the War Room, Oak Island Tours Inc.’s on-site headquarters, to discuss the engineering problems regarding the upcoming Big Dig in the Money Pit area. They are soon joined by Rick Lagina and Dave Blankenship, who inform them of the death of 88-year-old Oak Island veteran Fred Nolan. Frederick G. Nolan, a surveyor whose relationship with Oak Island began in 1966, passed away on June 14, 2016, one month and one day before his 89th birthday. The crew expresses sadness at Nolan’s passing, and at the fact that they will no longer have the opportunity to work alongside the seasoned treasure hunter with whom they had so recently made peace.

As a tribute to the treasure hunter who had spent nearly six decades of his life working to solve the Oak Island riddle, the narrator relates some of the discoveries Nolan made over the years, including the famous Nolan’s Cross, various stone inscriptions, and submerged structures hidden in the Oak Island swamp.


The crew unanimously agrees that Dan Blankenship, Oak Island’s other long-time treasure hunter who feuded with his rival for more than half a century before making peace with him in the summer of 2015, ought to be informed of Nolan’s passing. Although Blankenship’s true sentiments regarding the death of his long-time rival are difficult to interpret, Rick Lagina asserts his believe that Dan and Fred are more similar than perhaps they realize/d. In his words, “… they both persevered in the face of all kinds of adversity. They risked, they sweated, they worked, they labourered towards the common goal. You don’t get any closer than that.”

As they leave Dan Blankenship’s house on Oak Island, the crew reflects on how Nolan’s passing is a sort of passing of the Oak Island torch from the old generation of treasure hunters to the new. David Blankenship agrees, but insists that they must look to the future, to which Rick replies “sempre avanti”– always forward.



Rosslyn Chapel

rosslyn-chapelIn this episode of the History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island, the narrator suggests that several stone carvings inside Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel- commissioned in the mid 1400’s by Scottish-Orcadian nobleman William Sinclair, grandson of Sir Henry Sinclair whom various theorists have attempted to connect to Oak Island- might be evidence that the Knights Templar sailed to the New World long before Christopher Columbus’ 1492 discovery. One of these carvings appears to depict stylized ears of maize, or Indian corn. Corn is endemic to the Americas, and would not have been known in Europe (except, perhaps, by the Vikings) during the mid-1400’s, at the time of the chapel’s construction. Another plant unique to North America which makes a lithic appearance inside Rosslyn Chapel is the three-petalled trillium flower. Some believe that the existence of these carvings in a church constructed decades before Christopher Columbus’ first voyage suggest that the designers of Rosslyn Chapel were privy to very unique knowledge. Some people believe these carvings are evidence that the Knights Templar sailed to the New World and later returned to Scotland, where they informed members of the Clan Sinclair of their findings.


Whether or not the carvings inside Rosslyn Chapel are proof that the Templars sailed across the Atlantic and back is up for debate. However, an enigmatic letter sent in 1546 from French Regent Mary of Guise- the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots- to William Sinclair- son of the William Sinclair who built Rosslyn Chapel- suggests that Rosslyn Chapel may be, at the very least, connected with a secret of one kind or another. A line from this letter reads: “We bind us and oblige us to the said Sir William and shall be a loyal and true mistress to him. His counsel and his secret shown to us, we shall keep secret.”


The Mi’kmaq Nation Flag

Perhaps one of the most striking clues supposedly connecting the Knights Templar with Oak Island is an observation made by Oak Island researcher Mark Finnan. Finnan, in his 1999 book The Sinclair Saga, claims that the flag of the Mi’kmaq Nation, a Canadian First Nation indigenous to the Maritime Provinces, is the mirror image of one of the many battle standards used by the Knights Templar.


There are at least two potential problems with Finnan’s theory. The first is that the most prominent vexillum belli, or battle standard, used by the Knights Templar was the beauseant, a half-black half-white banner sometimes adorned with a red cross. If Finnan’s ‘Templar battle flag’ was truly a military flag used by the Knights Templar, it was a relatively obscure one. However, to Finnan’s credit, the ‘Templar battle flag’ he espouses incorporates a number of known Templar symbols; the red cross on a white field, a symbol reflecting the Crusaders’ call to martyrdom, adorned the surcoats and mantles of the Templar knights, and the symbol of the sun and moon, curiously evocative of the Islamic star and crescent, is known to have been used in at least one 13th Century Templar seal. The second potential problem with Finnan’s theory is that the design of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council Flag (pictured above), also known as the Sante Miwiomi flag, is widely attributed to the influence of the French Jesuits who converted many Mi’kmaq to Roman Catholicism in the 1600’s.


The All-Seeing Eye

In this episode, professional diver Tony Sampson, while exploring a mysterious water well situated on an equally mysterious property in New Ross, Nova Scotia, discovered a stone featuring a vague marking which he suggested might be the Eye of Providence, or the All-Seeing Eye. The narrator suggested that this finding might somehow link the Oak Island mystery with Freemasonry, and perhaps fortify its supposed connection with the Knights Templar.


Although the All-Seeing Eye, in recent years, has increasingly been associated with the New World Order conspiracy theory [which proposes that a small, secret group of powerful elites- perhaps members of some Freemasonic Lodge or the (long-defunct) Bavarian Illuminati- are conspiring to bring about a global authoritarian government], its historic origins are much less sinister. During the Renaissance, the symbol of an eye encased within an equilateral triangle came to represent the concept of Divine Providence, or God’s Hand in worldly affairs. The triangle’s three sides represented the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which holds that God is a single entity comprised of three distinct persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.


In the late 18th Century, the symbol of the All-Seeing Eye was adopted by the Freemasons, for whom it represented God’s omniscience. Today, in non-English-speaking countries, the All-Seeing Eye serves as a universal, non-sectarian Freemasonic representation the Grand Architect of the Universe (i.e. God; the letter ‘G’, sometimes encased in a square and compass, often performs this function in English-speaking countries).

In 1779, Benjamin Franklin (a Freemason), Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and artist Pierre Eugene du Simitiere incorporated the All-Seeing Eye into their design of the Great Seal of the United States so as to represent God in their seal. This symbol was placed atop an unfinished 13-leveled pyramid- representing God’s role in the formation of the embryonic 18th Century United States, the Thirteen Colonies- and flanked by the Latin phrases Annuit Coeptis– meaning “He has favoured our undertakings”- and Novus Ordo Seclorum– which translated to “New Order of the Ages.”


Broad Arrow

In this episode, diver Tony Sampson uncovered another interesting rock in the New Ross well bearing what he believed to be an inscription of an arrow, perhaps a broad arrow, or a ‘King’s Mark.’

The broad arrow has, since the 17th Century, been used to mark British government property. Initially adorning British Army and Royal Navy equipment, the broad arrow symbol spread throughout the Empire, from Australia to India to British North America.


In colonial North America, the British Royal Navy laid claim to lumber by scoring a tree’s bark with three hatchet slashes, forming a crude broad arrow. British colonists largely ignored these broad arrow claims and felled whatever trees they pleased, often selling their lumber to the French and Spanish, Britain’s colonial rivals, who paid much more for the wood than their English counterparts. When British authorities attempted to enforce their broad arrow policy, New Hampshire colonists revolted in what is known today as the Pine Tree Riot. This act of resistance against the British Crown was the first of a succession of revolts which would ultimately culminate in the Revolutionary War.


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The Curse of Oak Island Season 4 Premiere: Going for Broke

Michigan brothers Rick and Marty Lagina and their crew are back in Season 4, Episode 1 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island… for the viewing pleasure of our Yankee neighbours, that is. Although American fans of this reality TV show- which chronicles the latest developments in Canada’s greatest treasure hunt– were able to watch the Season 4 premiere last night at 9:00 Eastern, 8:00 Central, we Canadians have to wait until 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific on November 20, when the episode first airs in Canada. For those of you Canucks who can’t bear the wait, scroll down to see a plot summary and analysis of this first episode of the season, entitled Going for Broke.






Plot Summary


The episode opens with Rick and Marty Lagina- the two brothers from Northern Michigan heading the current Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate, Oak Island Tours Inc.- driving across the causeway from Crandall Point, in the town of Western Shore, Nova Scotia, to Oak Island. As they drive, the narrator explains that the brothers have decided to invest $2,000,000 in a “go-for-broke” assault on the infamous Money Pit- a major, long-awaited excavation project termed ‘The Big Dig’ by Oak Island enthusiasts.


On the island, members of the treasure hunting crew congregate in their on-site headquarters, which they

affectionately refer to as the ‘War Room’, to review their plans for the season. After the crew unanimously agrees that the time has come to dig in the Money Pit, Marty recounts how, in the summer of 2015, the crew bored a 142-foot hole in the general vicinity of the Money Pit (the precise location of the original Money Pit has long been lost to history) under the direction of their fellow treasure hunter and engineer Craig Tester. A core sample taken from the 140-142 foot depth revealed what appeared to be old wood and crude limestone concrete- materials which members of the crew believe suggests the presence of a treasure vault at that depth. Oak Island historian and tour guide Charles Barkhouse took this find as an affirmation of his long-held theory that the original Money Pit lay at a location just north of this new drillhole. The crew bored a hole at thbarkhouse-voidis location prescribed by Barkhouse and encountered a 21-foot void beginning at the 171-foot depth. Hoping that they had drilled into a chamber containing the elusive Money Pit treasure, the crew lowered a camera into this new drillhole. At the 171-foot depth, the camera picked up a shiny, gold coloured object, the nature of which has yet to be determined.

The crew also discusses the possibility of draining the triangular swamp that sits in the middle of the island, which some researchers have suggested is artificial, and conceals the entrance to an underground chamber or tunnel system leading to the Oak Island treasure. In the summer of 2014, the crew had unearthed a copper 8 meravedis- a New World Spanish coin minted in 1652- in spanish-8-meravedisa particular section of the swamp, and hoped to explore the area further. Unfortunately, up until recently, the Oak Island crew had been unable to do any serious excavation or draining operations in the swamp due to the long, bitter rivalry between veteran Oak Island landowners and treasure hunters Dan Blankenship and Fred Nolan. Nolan, who owned much of the swamp, refused to co-operate with Oak Island Tours Inc., which had entered into a partnership with Blankenship in 2005, and denied them the right to conduct any sort of treasure hunting operation on his property. However, in the summer of 2015, the Lagina brothers brokered a peace between Blankenship and Nolan, ending the feud that had severely hampered the Oak Island treasure hunt’s progress for half a century.

Lastly, the crew discusses the possibility of further exploring Borehole 10-X, a 235-foot shaft located approximately 180 feet northeast of the Money Pit area which Dave Blankenship, his son Dan Blankenship, and fellow treasure hunter Dan Henskee had hand-dug in the 1970’s. Although Dave Blankenship hopes to make 10-X a priority this season, Marty Lagina expresses his reluctance to spend more time and resources on the pit, stating that the shaft “is not dead, but at least on life support.”

The narrator follows up on Marty’s statement by explaining how Dan Blankenship, through the controversial process of dowsing, suspected he had identified a subterranean tunnel- perhaps connected somehow with the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel (a booby trap which flooded the Money Pit with seawater)- 180 feet northeast of the Money Pit area in 1969. After a subsequent exploration drilling operation in the area revealed cavities at the 140 and 235-foot depths, along with fragments of oxygen-starved low-carbon steel carbon dated to pre-1750 at the 165-foot depth, Blankenship decided to dig a shaft on the spot. He labelled this shaft ‘Borehole 10-X’.

Blankenship promptly drilled 10-X to a depth of 235 feet and lowered a camera into it. In the chamber at the bottom of the shaft, the camera revealed what appeared to be a severed hand floating in the water, along with a wooden chest, tools, two outgoing tunnels, and a headless human corpse. The results of this underwater camera operation prompted Blankenship to manually widen Borehole 10-X with the assistance of his son Dave and fellow treasure hunter Dan Henskee.


In 1976, a section of Borehole 10-X imploded, nearly entombing Dan Blankenship beneath the island. In 1978, Dan Blankenship, Dave Blankenship, and Dan Henskee began to re-excavate the collapsed shaft, stabilizing it with an impromptu casing made from railway tank cars. They postponed their work on 10-X in 1980 before resuming in 1986.

In recent years, Oak Island Tours Inc. has re-explored Borehole 10-X using remote controlled underwater cameras and sonar scans. Although the data from the underwater camera operations was largely inconclusive, the sonar scans appeared to validate Dan Blankenship’s belief that the cavern at the bottom of Borehole 10-X contains a chest, a vertical timber (or perhaps two vertical timbers), outgoing tunnels, and a human corpse. However, professional diver John Chatterton, who manually explored the cavern in the summer of 2015, expressed his belief that the chamber at the bottom of 10-X is natural, and that all the items of interest indicated by the 1971 remote camera operation can be attributable to natural phenomena. Marty’s skepticism regarding 10-X is attributable to Chatterton’s bleak analysis.

Dan Blankenship, who has dedicated nearly 50 years of his life to excavating 10-X, responds to Marty’s skepticism by presenting him with bits of chain, wire, and low-carbon steel- artifacts that he, himself, has taken out of 10-X. Out of respect for Blankenship and his convictions, Marty concedes that further exploration of 10-x may be in order. With that, the meeting is ended.

Later, at the Money Pit area, Rick, Marty, Dave Blankenship, and Craig Tester’s step-son, treasure hunter Jack Begley watch as drilling contractors attempt to extract old drill casings from previous exploration drilling operations. After overcoming some initial difficulties, the contractors are able to extract the casings without incident.

Three days later, Rick, Jack, Dave Blankenship and Charles Barkhouse meet in the War Room with acclaimed Oak Island researcher and historian Doug Crowell of Blockhouse Investigations. They are joined by Marty and Craig Tester via Skype. Crowell explains how Zena Halpern, a Knights Templar researcher from New York with whom he had been in contact, had presented him with evidence supporting the popular Knights Templar theory. According to this theory, members of the Knights Templar, a medieval Christian monastic-military order, following the infamous suppression of their organization in 1307, transported their most valuable treasures across the Atlantic Ocean and buried them on Oak Island. It should be mentioned that this theory, while popular, is not generally supported by mainstream historians. Without further ado, the crew phones Halpern up.

While speaking with Halpern over the phone, Crowell shows the crew in the War Room a copy of a map of Nova Scotia, a copy of a map of Oak Island, and a copy of a scrap of paper bearing a strange inscription which Halpern terms La Formule.


As Crowell and the Oak Island crew study the documents, Halpern explains that one of the documents came with “a mention… dated 1178 to 1180… that the Templar voyage to the northeastern part of America… took place… and that the Templars had made landfall… on an island of oaks… When I found the map, which is dated 1347, I began to put the pieces together.”

Crowell directs the crew’s attention to La Formula– a scrap of paper bearing a strange inscription- explaining that, upon learning of the strange inscription, he immediately recognized many of the symbols to be the same as those on the Kempton symbols (believed by some to have been inscribed on Oak Island’s 90-foot stone).

Back in the early 1800’s, when the first Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate, known as the Onslow Company, first dug the Money Pit to a depth of 90 feet, the workers uncovered a large, olive-coloured stone slab at the 90 foot level. Carved on the underside of the stone was a strange inscription which none of the company members could decipher, or thought to copy down. At first, this stone was set into the fireplace of John Smith, one of the three men who first discovered the Money Pit in 1795. Then, in the mid 1800’s, the stone was brought to Truro, and shortly thereafter to Halifax, where it was displayed in the window of a bookbindery. During this time, a professor from Halifax’s Dalhousie University claimed that the inscription on the stone was a cipher which, when decoded, read “Forty feet below, two million pounds are buried.” Then, in the 1930’s, the stone mysteriously disappeared. It has been missing ever since.

In 1949, Frederick Blair, the Oak Island treasure hunter at the time, received a letter from a well-respected Nova Scotian reverend named A.T. Kempton. In his letter, Kempton included what he claimed was a copy of the inscription on the 90-foot stone, which he allegedly recieved from an old Irish schoolmaster. Cryptographers who later studied this cipher determined that it was a simple substitution cipher, in which each character stood for a letter in the Latin alphabet, which, when decoded, read the same message put forth by the Dalhousie University professor in the mid 1800’s: “forty feet below, two million pounds are buried.”

Doug Crowell, upon first receiving La Formule from Zena Halpern, knew immediately that many of the characters on La Formule were the same as those on the Kempton symbols. After Crowell explains this to the Oak Island crew, Zena states that she first learned of La Formule upon finding a copy of the cipher “hidden in the back pocket of a book which was given to [her] several years ago.”

Crowell continues to explain how, after running the code through deciphering programs, he determined that the code revealed the words “grayware” (a term for pottery); “gold”; “Sofala,” the name of the chief seaport of the Monomotapa Kingdom (situated in present-day Mozambique) and the location of the first Portuguese fort in East Africa; and “Joab”, a general in the ancient Israeli King David’s army. After Halpern interrupts Crowell to assert to that code “has to do with gold in North Africa,” Crowell states his theory that Joab, while battling the Philistines, “made it safe for the transport of the Ark [of the Covenant]”, a religious artifact which many theorists believe was buried on Oak Island, perhaps by the Knights Templar.

After briefly discussing the cipher, the crew turns their attention to Halpern’s map of Nova Scotia. Crowell observes a series of Roman numerals in the top right-hand corner of the map which appear to date the document to 1179. Halpern then points to a dot located at the intersection of two perpendicular lines. The dot is located in the general vicinity of Oak Island.

Halpern goes on to point out another dot on the map directly north of the Oak Island dot. This point is labelled “RhoDon,” which Crowell speculates might have some sort of connection with New Ross, a Nova Scotian community situated on the location at which some researchers believe Scottish-Orcadian nobleman Henry Sinclair constructed a fortress following his alleged voyage to the New World in 1398.

henry-sinclairThe narrator goes on to explain how some researchers have suggested that the Templar treasure was brought to the New World not by the Templars themselves, but rather by a Scottish-Norwegian nobleman named Henry Sinclair, the grandfather of the William Sinclair who built the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel in Rosslyn, Scotland. Using supposed evidence gleaned from a book published in 1558 by a Venetian named Nicolo Zeno, some argue that Sinclair, under the alias ‘Prince Zichmni’, sailed to what is now Nova Scotia, or “New Scotland”, in 1398 with the help of two brothers, Italian navigators Nicolo (the author’s ancestor and namesake) and Antonio Zeno. Many historians have criticized this theory, challenging the authenticity of Nicolo Zeno’s story. Others have shown that members of the Clan Sinclair were among those who had testified against the Scottish Templars in 1309- stating that if the Templars were good and innocent, they would not have lost the Holy Land- and that the Sinclair family would not likely be friendly towards the Templars. However, the fact that Henry Sinclair was the Earl of Orkney, an archipelago north of Scotland which has strong ties to the Norwegian Vikings, gives credence to the notion that he might have had some knowledge of the existence of the New World; it is a fact that 10th Century Viking explorer Leif Erikson founded a colony on Vinland, present-day Newfoundland, more than five hundred years before Christopher Columbus’ first voyage.

Finally, the crew turns their attention towards Halpern’s third document, a French map of Oak Island, which is dated ‘1347’. The map clearly depicts Oak Island, and is labelled with various French words describing aspects of the island. Although many of these labels clearly reference well-known elements of Oak Island- including its swamp, the Money Pit, and an artificial triangle of stones which once stood on Oak Island’s South Shore- some of the others are more enigmatic. Specifically, these three labels, when translated into English, are “the anchors”, “the valve,” and “the hatch.”

Crowell explains to the crew that, according to the late George McGinnis (a descendant of Daniel McGinnis (one of the three co-founders of the Money Pit)), an old McGinnis family legend tells of a shallowly-buried hatch on Oak Island which led to an underground labyrinth. Crowell suggests that there might be a connection between the hatch from this McGinnis family legend and the hatch on Zena Halpern’s map.

Although it is not mentioned in the episode, this McGinnis family legend is expanded upon in a 2016 book entitled Oak Island Connection: Go Back Over 200 Years to the Mysterious Beginning. This book, written by Kerrin Margiano- a descendant of Daniel McGinnis, the man who discovered the Money Pit along with John Smith and Anthony Vaughan in 1795- tells the tale of a branch of the McGinnis family which’s male members, for generations, preoccupied themselves with getting to the bottom of the Oak Island riddle. In her book, Margiano explains that her great uncle George McGinnis, while suffering from dementia, told her mother Jean about the hatch. In Jean’s words:

“I have always been interested in anything to do with Oak Island, but this information came scattered [among] hysterical laughing and other stories. [Uncle George] said, ‘I told my son, but I am going to tell you too, Jeanie, there is a secret hatch near [Daniel McGinnis’ old cabin on Oak Island]. Send your son to find the hatch and find what’s inside. Warn them not to get lost in there.’ He did not explain where to find it, but said the entrance was just a few inches beneath the surface.”

In light of this new information, the crew members agree that it would be unwise not to follow up on Halpern’s theory. With that, they say goodbye to Zena and hang up the phone.

The following day, Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and Doug Crowell travel to New Ross, Nova Scotia, where they meet with researcher and author Alessandra Nadudvari and her husband Tim Loncarich. Nadudvari and Loncarich explain to the men that they believe their newly-purchased property in New Ross was once the site of a Knights Templar fortress. Loncarich recounts how, in the 1970’s, author Joan Harris, one of the property’s previous owners, while digging up the backyard in order to install a garden, uncovered what she believed were the foundations of an ancient castle. Upon further investigation, Harris discovered an old well constructed from small stones, and uncovered the remains of what she believed to be the entire foundation of a castle.

Loncarich shows the crew a particular stone on his property which Joan Harris maintained was a Celtic “herm”- or man-shaped- stone. Nadudvari them points out an indentation in the stone which she suggests is a very faded engraving of a cross pattee, a particular style of Christian cross often associated with the Crusades and the Knights Templar. Nadudvari goes further to suggest that the cross she believes was carved into the ‘herm’ stone is not just any Templar cross, but specifically a cross of the Knights of Christ, a Portuguese branch of the Knights Templar which survived the 1307 crackdown and thrived during the Age of Discovery.

After examining the cross, Loncarich guides the crew over to the old water well, which Joan Harris styled the ‘holy well’. Loncarich relates the unverified rumour that chambers branch off from the well. In order to determine the validity of this rumour, Doug Crowell lowers an underwater camera into the well. The camera hits the well floor at a depth of 18 feet without picking up any sign of a chamber. The crew turns the camera so as to get a good view of the well floor and discovers that the floor appears to be crisscrossed with lines. Loncarich and Nadudvari both insist that the odd appearance of the well floor is due to the fact that it is composed of flagstones, reminiscent of the layer of flagstones Daniel McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan allegedly uncovered in the Money Pit area two feet below the surface in 1795. According to the legend of the Money Pit’s discovery, McGinnis, Smith, and Vaughan determined that the Money Pit flagstones came from nearby Gold River on the mainland, the same river which runs through the town of New Ross.


The crew concludes that the findings on Loncarich and Nadudvari’s property in New Ross are intriguing, and agree to keep in touch and collaborate in the future if further inquiry reveals a connection between the New Ross stones and Oak Island.

After concluding their visit with Loncarich and Nadudvari, Doug Crowell and the Oak Island crew congregate at the Mug & Anchor Pub in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. There, they discuss their most recent theories and discoveries.

Jack Begley brings up the hatch marked out in Zena Halpern’s French map, and corroborated by an old McGinnis family legend, stating his belief that it would be in the crew’s best interest to devote some serious time and effort into locating the hatch. The crewmembers agree that the best way to go about searching for this hatch, which Halpern’s map asserts is located on the west side of the island, is to search for depressions in the soil. They decide to investigate a particular depression on Oak Island’s Lot 22 which eerily corresponds with the ‘hatch’ indicated on Halpern’s map.

Back on the island, Jack Begley projects the image of Oak Island from Halpern’s map onto a satellite image of the island. The depression the crew has decided to investigate and the ‘hatch’ on Halpern’s map are vaguely accordant. Equipped with picks and shovels, the crew travels through the brush to this depression. The episode ends as the crew prepares to excavate the depression.



La Formule (a.k.a. The McGinnis Code)


In this particular episode of The Curse of Oak Island, New York Knights Templar researcher and historian Zena Halpern presents the Oak Island crew with three strange documents. One of these documents is a cipher which bears close resemblance to the aforementioned Kempton symbols, believed by some to have been inscribed on the Money Pit’s 90-foot stone. Halpern explains that she first discovered this cipher, which she termed La Formule, “hidden in the back pocket of a book which was given to [her] several years ago.” Nova Scotian historian Doug Crowell, upon analyzing this cipher, suggests that it might have some sort of connection with the Portuguese, whom some believe to be responsible for Oak Island’s underground workings, and the Ark of the Covenant, a long-lost sacred Jewish artifact described in Hebrew scripture which many Oak Island researchers believed is buried somewhere on the island.









oak-island-connectionIt is intriguing that, although Halpern did find La Formule and her two Oak Island maps in the back of a strange book, the image is also featured in another, much more recently published book entitled Oak Island Connection: Go Back Over 200 Years to the Mysterious BeginningThis book was written by Kerrin Margiano, a descendant of Daniel McGinnis (one of the three co-discoverers of the Money Pit). In her book, Margiano describes how the McGinnis family retained a strong interest in the Oak Island treasure hunt long after the discovery of the Money Pit in 1795. Drawing from anecdotes recounted by her mother Jean, and her aunts Joan and Joyce (the three ‘McGinnis sisters’ who make an appearance in Season 3, Episode 13 of The Curse of Oak Island), Margiano explains how her great uncle George, while suffering from dementia, showed her aunt Joan La Formule. He claimed that the McGinnis family, for generations, had kept the code hidden behind a stone in the wall of Daniel McGinnis cabin on Oak Island, and that it, along with other similar papers, were the keys to unlocking the Oak Island mystery. Margiano included an image of La Formula in her book.


This summer, while working on an ebook on Oak Island for this particular website (which you can access here), I (the author of this article) came across La Formule in Kerrin Margiano’s book. Like Doug Crowell, I immediately made the connection between this new cipher and the Kempton symbols. After some fiddling around, I discovered that when the simple substitution from the Kempton symbols is applied to La Formule, and when the remaining 5 characters are solved, a French message emerges.


The shape of the scrap of paper indicates that the edges likely wore away in the past, leaving a truncated message. Artist and translator Alizee Zimmermann ( made an
educated guess as to the nature of the truncated words and determined that the message likely

“Halte ne deterrer pas creuser a quarante pied avez a angle quarante cinque degree la hamper a cinquente. Vignt deus pied a vous entre le reidor a une ile distante cinq ph (possibly ‘phare’ or ‘phi’) atteinte lache”

When translated into English, the message reads:

“Stop do not (un)earth( ?) dig 40 feet away with a forty-five degree angle (,) shaft at fifty (degree angle?) Twenty-two feet between you and the ?Corridor?? (really not sure of this word) / On an island 5 lighthouses/phi (the pic only displays ‘ph’ which I’ve figured could be ‘phare’ as in lighthouse or the Greek letter phi) distance (away) / Vile attempt {‘lach(e)’ means cowardly but ‘une atteinte lache’ is used in France to refer to cowardly but vile attack – e.g terrorist attacks are referred to this way.}”

The first part of the message- “stop, do not (un)earth,” appears to be a warning not to remove the 90-foot stone or the oak logs beneath. When the Onslow Company removed the 90-foot stone and the platform of oak logs beneath it in 1804, they apparently triggered the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel; the following day, the Money Pit was flooded with sea water. The next section of the message- “dig forty feet away with a forty-five degree angle”- seemingly instructs the reader to dig 40 feet from the 90-foot stone level at a 45 degree angle. It does not specify in which direction to dig.

After that, the message seems to suggest the presence of a shaft at a distance between the treasure hunter and some other object. The last section of the message is difficult to interpret, but seems to suggest the importance of some sort of nearby island located “five lighthouses away”, as if a ‘lighthouse’ is some sort of unit of measurement.

Interestingly, ancient Greek-Egyptian Ptolemaic mariners sailing into the Port of Alexandria from the Mediterranean Sea were unable to see the tip of the city’s great lighthouse before they were 21 nautical miles away from shore, due to the curvature of the earth. One could argue that this distance might be termed a ‘lighthouse’.


If you draw a circle around Oak Island with a radius of 5 Ptolemaic ‘lighthouses’ (105 nautical miles), the edge of the circle touches two islands: Prince Edward Island, and Grand Manan Island. It is interesting that Grand Manan Island, like Oak Island, has long been associated with buried treasure.


This potential connection between La Formule and the Egyptian city of Alexandria is interestingly congruent with two prominent (if controversial) Oak Island theories.

The first is late Harvard professor Dr. Barry Fell’s theory, outlined in his 1980 book “Saga America.” Dr. Fell- a Harvard zoology professor with a passion for ancient scripts- believed that Oak Island’s underground workings are attributable to 5th Century Coptic Christian refugees fleeing persecution from the Vandals who made the voyage across the Atlantic one thousand years before Christopher Columbus. He came to this conclusion after studying the Kempton symbols, believed by some to have been inscribed on Oak Island’s 90-foot stone. Fell maintained that the inscription on Oak Island’s 90-foot stone formed a Libyan-Arabic message using a Late Tifinagh script. The image included here is a reproduction of what Fell claimed was the inscription on Oak Island’s 90-foot stone, first published in Fell’s book “Saga America” in 1980. This version of the 90-foot stone inscription can be produced by subtly altering the Kempton symbols and flipping them upside down. Dr. Fell claimed that this message reads:

“To escape contagion of plague and winter hardships, he is to pray for an end or mitigation, the Arif. The people will perish in misery if they forget the Lord, alas.”

Fell believed that this inscription, along with a similar stone inscription discovered in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, was evidence that Oak Island’s underground workings were attributable to 5th Century Coptic Christian refugees fleeing persecution from the Vandals. Although Fell believed the Coptic Christians who he claimed constructed the Money Pit hailed from the deserts of Libya or the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, it is interesting to note, when considered in conjunction with the aforementioned interpretation of La Formule, that the epicentre of Coptic Christianity- historically, contemporarily, and currently- is Alexandria, Egypt.

fama-fraternitatisThe other Oak Island theory which appears to correspond with this interpretation of La Formule is the theory that the Rosicrucians were behind Oak Island’s underground workings, a theory most recently championed by Oak Island researcher Petter Amundsen . The Rosicrucians were members of a (possibly fictional) Renaissance-era secret society which published two documents, called the ‘Rosicrucian Manifestos,’ in the early 17th Century in Kassel, Germany. The first of these documents, called ‘Fama Fraternitatis,’ tells the story of the secret society’s legendary founder, ‘Father C.R.’, who allegedly made a round trip around the Mediterranean sometime in the Late Middle Ages. Throughout his travels, he learned widsom from the scholars and ‘wise men’ of Damascus, Jerusalem, Egypt, and Fez, Morocco. In this way, Rosicrucianism is tied, at least symbolically, with North African/Egyptian/Levantine wisdom. One could argue that the Libyan-Arabic language, Late Tifinagh script, an ancient Ptolemaic unit of measurement, and Coptic Christianty- elements of both this interpretation of La Formule and Barry Fell’s theory- might be considered elements of North African/Egyptian wisdom.



Doug Crowell

 Doug Crowell, an Information Services Specialist at the Nova Scotia Community College and Centre of Geographic Sciences in Sydney and Lawrencetown Nova Scotia, respectively, is one of Oak Island’s foremost researchers and historians. Along with fellow researcher and Oak Island enthusiast Kel Hancock, Crowell heads Blockhouse Investigations, a team of Canadian Maritimes historians and researchers who, according to their website, “spend [their] time investigating many aspects of history related to Atlantic Canada and beyond.” Throughout 2016, the Blockhouse Investigations team has independently developed a number of well-researched theories related to Oak Island based on historical and genealogical records they have unearthed. Many of these theories were formerly championed by the late Oak Island researcher Paul Wroclawski.


New Ross Castle

a-castle-in-nova-scotiaIn this episode of the Curse of Oak Island, it is revealed that writers Alessandra Nadudvari and Tim Loncarich purchased a property in New Ross, Nova Scotia, which is believed by some to be the location of an ancient castle, perhaps a fortress constructed by the Knights Templar. The couple hope to conduct further excavations on their property in order to get to the bottom of this New Ross mystery.

The theory that this particular piece of New Ross land is the site of an ancient castle was first developed in the 1970’s by the late Joan Harris, a writer who owned the property at the time along with her husband Ron. Harris, who outlined her theory in her book A Castle in Nova Scotia (which she self-published under the pseudonym ‘Joan Hope’), first began to speculate that her home was once the site of a 13th Century Viking castle when, while landscaping the yard, she and her husband uncovered a succession of large stones. More specifically, Harris was convinced that she had stumbled upon the long-lost ruins of Norumbenga, a legendary 16th Century city said to lie somewhere on the North Atlantic coast. Harris also made the claim, without any evidence to support it, that an exiled 17th Century noble of the Scottish House of Stewart built a sumptuous mansion atop the ruins of the dilapidated Viking stronghold which either eventually fell into disrepair or was deliberately destroyed.

In the early 1980’s, Harris’ theories came to the attention of Michael Bradley, an author with a fondness for tales of pseudo-historic pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic voyages. Bradley took Harris’ theories and twisted them to form his own fringe history regarding her supposed ‘Castle in Nova Scotia’. In his books Holy Grail Across the Atlantic (1987) and Grail Knights of North America (1998), Bradley posits that Harris’ alleged castle was built not by the Norse Vikings, but rather by the Templar-derived crew of Scots-Norwegian nobleman Sir Henry Sinclair, popularly rumoured to have sailed across the North Atlantic in 1398. It appears as if Nadudvari and Loncarich have espoused this particular narrative regarding the stones of New Ross.


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5 Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West- 3: John Healy

5 Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West

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3. John J. Healy

Every good western story needs its heroes and villains. If the history of the Canadian Wild West was dramatized in print or film, the officers of the North West Mounted Police would almost certainly be the good guys, while Montanan whisky traders would probably be the bad guys. Undoubtedly, the most powerful and prolific of the Montanan whisky traders to ply his trade north of the border- indeed the man who first brought American firewater to the Canadian plains in 1869, the man who might quite justifiably be considered the arch-nemesis of the early North West Mounted Police- was a fearless, wiry Irishman named John J. Healy. As is the case with all characters of the Canadian Wild West, however, John Healy was neither all bad, nor all good, but rather a bit of both.

John Jerome (or perhaps Joseph) Healy was born on January 24, 1840 in Bandon, County Cork, Ireland, into a family of millers. Like his Canadian-American Wild West counterpart Kootenai Brown, his childhood was dominated by the horrors of the Great Famine which ravaged Ireland in the latter half of the 1840’s and early 1850’s. Although John Healy, in latter-life reminiscences, would talk openly about his exploits on the Canadian-American frontier, he remained understandably tight-lipped about his early life in Ireland.

In the winter of 1853, John’s father Thomas decided that it was in his family’s best interests to leave the Old World for the New. Together with both his parents, his five siblings, and a flood of fellow Irish immigrants, 13-year-old John travelled across the Atlantic to New York City. His mother died shortly upon arriving in America and his father quickly remarried, prompting John to leave his father and siblings and take to the streets. According to some historians, Healy, not finding New York street life to his liking, left the city shortly thereafter and enlisted in the irregular freebooting army of American filibuster William Walker. If true, Healy would almost certainly have accompanied Walker and his soldiers to Nicaragua, where the mercenary army ultimately succeeded in capturing the city of Granada, effectively taking control of the Latin American country at the height of a political revolt.

Although historians are divided on whether or not John Healy really joined the mercenary army of William Walker in 1854, they generally agree that he eventually wound up in Buffalo, New York, where, in the spring of 1858, he enlisted in the Second Dragoons of the U.S. Army. The eighteen-year-old Irishman lied about his age in order to join the Force, declaring that he was “21 years and two months of age” (at that time, the U.S. Army accepted soldiers no younger than 21). He also declared that he had spent the past few years apprenticing in the saddlery trade. After completing basic training at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Healy was dispatched to Camp Floyd, a U.S. Army post about 60 kilometres southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. There, he and his company relieved the post’s garrison in the aftermath of the so-called ‘Utah War,’ a conflict between Mormon settlers of Utah Territory and the Washington government.

After doing garrison duty at Camp Floyd, Healy was posted in the Rocky Mountains to the west. There, he was tasked with patrolling a stretch of the wagon-rutted Oregon Trail, a settler trail which connected the American West Coast with the Missouri River. It was in the American Rockies that the eighteen-year-old soldier got his first taste of the western frontier, participating in Cheyenne buffalo hunts and meeting paragons of the American West like adventurer John Wesley Powell and legendary mountain man Jim Bridger. By 1860- when he was discharged from the Army on account of the War Department’s discovery of his true age- John Healy had fallen in love with the American Wild West.

Immediately upon his discharge, John Healy decided to prospect for gold. Instead of following in the wake of the Fifty-Niners- the hoard of prospectors who flocked to Kansas and Nebraska Territory in 1859- and pan the creeks of Pike’s Peak Country for gold, however, he decided to travel to what is now Clearwater County, Idaho, where gold had oregon-trailbeen discovered that year. In order to earn his passage to the goldfields, he traded in his blue coat for buckskins and hired himself out as a guide to a wagon train traversing the Oregon Trail. En route to its destination, the wagon train was constantly harried by Shoshone warriors. Healy, being the only member of the train with anything approaching frontier experience, found himself thrust into a position of unofficial authority. Through the use of wit, nerve, and sheer dumb luck, Healy managed to guide the wagon train safely through hostile Indian territory, earning himself an ample paycheck and an arrow wound in the leg.

John Healy used his the money he earned to outfit himself in Portland, Oregon, and purchase steamboat tickets up the Columbia River to the Idaho goldfields. While on the trail, he partnered up with John Kennedy, a railroader and fellow ex-soldier from Ohio, along with a handful of prospectors from Portland. The company reached their destination with little incident, did some panning, staked a claim, and set about clearing their land of trees and brush so that they could excavate it. Before the prospectors had even started a shaft, Healy crushed his leg in a tree-felling accident. During his recovery, he heard tell of new prospects not far from the Clearwater area and left with Kennedy and  another party for the new diggings.

panning-for-goldHealy and company had difficulty reaching their new destination due to a series of aggressive yet largely non-violent encounters with Nez Perce Indians strongly opposed to white men trespassing on their hunting grounds. After joining with other similarly-plagued prospecting parties, however, John Healy and his fellow prospectors managed to muscle their way through to their destination. At the new diggings, panning proved fruitless, and the company soon dissolved. Soon, only Healy, Kennedy, and a handful of members of the original company remained. Although these men succeeded in finding better prospects that warranted an excavation, they decided not to exploit their unstaked claim due to lack of game in the area. They travelled to Orofino, a mining boomtown in Clearwater Country, before travelling to a location about 160 kilometers south. There, they staked a claim and purchased provisions before heading back to the site and sinking a shaft. Word of their find got out, and in no time the area was crawling with prospectors. These prospectors founded the boomtown Florence, Idaho, in the vicinity of Healy and company’s find.

In the spring of 1862, Healy took a break from digging in order to follow up on a lead indicating a bonanza a good distance away on the Salmon River. Along with a party of twenty lightly-equipped prospectors, John Healy travelled down the Salmon River. What was initially expected to be a brief, exploratory jaunt quickly devolved into a truly grueling ordeal as Healy and company found themselves battling impassable rapids, severe privation, and hostile Bannock Indians. The party’s most formidable foe, however, was starvation, an obstacle the prospectors would all almost surely have succumbed had they not been rescued by a wagon train of fresh prospectors bound for Florence, Idaho.

missouri-riverUpon being nursed back to health, Healy, along with Kennedy and a handful of companions, joined another wagon train bound for Montana Territory. The prospectors took part in another gold rush and saw the beginnings of the burgeoning boomtown of Bannack. When their prospecting efforts were unsuccessful, Healy and company travelled northeast to the fur trading frontier town of Fort Benton, Montana, on the banks of the Missouri River. There, Healy, Kennedy, and a number of fellow prospectors, eager to visit their families back east, boarded a steamer and headed down the Missouri.

Near the confluence of the Missouri and Milk Rivers, the steamboat happened upon a band of friendly Gros Ventre Indians. No sooner had the steamboat arrived at that location, however, when both it and the Gros Ventre band were surrounded by a large raiding party of Sioux. Although the Sioux and Gros Ventures engaged in a number of skirmishes over the next few days, the mounted Sioux made no move to attack the steamboat passengers.

During this siege, Healy and Kennedy, along with a seasoned Metis trapper named Louis Dauphin, sneaked into the Sioux camp under the cover of darkness and stole a horse without incident. The three men gifted the animal to the Gros Ventures. Shortly thereafter, the Sioux retreated onto the prairies, and the steamboat continued on its way.

22-year-old John Healy returned to New York in the fall of 1862, whereupon he married 18-year-old Mary Frances Sarsfield, the daughter of a well-to-do Irish weaver. In order to avoid the Civil War and conscription in the Union Army, John Healy and his brothers Joseph and Thomas headed for Fort Benton, Montana, in the spring of 1863, leaving the newlywed Mary Frances behind in New York.

The Healy brothers travelled to Montana Territory by way of the Missouri River. In the middle of the prairies, the steamboat they rode became grounded in shallow water and had to be winched along from the shore. During this slow and painful process, the steamboat was set upon by a war party of Sioux braves. A number of passengers- including hopeful prospector and future Montana Indian agent George Steell, American Fur Company baron Charles Chouteau, an Indian scout named “Little Dick”, and Scots-Blackfoot frontiersman Jerry Potts– mounted a successful counterattack that drove the Sioux back, and the steamboat was up and running again in no time.

Upon reaching Fort Benton, Healy set out for the North Saskatchewan River, where a minor gold rush was underway. He scouted the area out before returning to Fort Benton with a Blackfoot half-breed scout named Piscan (or “Buffalo Jump”) Monroe. On the way, the two men were captured and released by a Kootenay raiding party, and later joined a friendlier band of Kootenay Indians who accompanied them all the way to Fort Benton. John Healy, who was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, was greatly impressed when the missionary-influenced Kootenay, despite an obvious food shortage, refused to hunt on the Sabbath.

Upon arriving in Fort Benton, Healy gathered together a prospecting party and sent them north to the North Saskatchewan River while he returned east- where his wife and newborn daughter Maria were waiting- for particular supplies. After some fruitless panning and conflict with the Hudson’s Bay Company employees of the nearby Fort Edmonton, the American prospecting party headed back to Montana. William Gladstone, a young carpenter from Montreal from nearby St. Albert, accompanied the Montanans on their return journey.

When Healy returned west with supplies in the summer of 1864 and learned of his men’s conflict with the Hudson’s Bay Company, he made it his life’s mission to “make [the HBC] abandon [Fort Edmonton].” Instead of taking up that mission right away, however, Healy and his prospecting companions made another foray into British possessions, joining a prospecting party fresh from the Wild Horse Creek goldfields (near present-day Fort Steele)- consisting of Sam Livingston (a prominent prospector sometimes dubbed “Calgary’s First Citizen”), James Gibbons, Cass ‘Big Tex’ Huff, Charlie Thomas, and Joe Kipp- who crossed the Rockies by way of the Kicking Horse Pass and were bound for the supposed goldfields of the North Saskatchewan river. After some unsuccessful prospecting, all but Livingston and Gibbons returned south to Montana.

Upon returning to Montana, Healy made the journey east to Virginia City, Nevada, where another gold rush was underway. At the same time, John Healy’s brother Joseph travelled east to New York, where he picked up his brother’s pregnant wife Mary Frances and 1-year-old daughter Maria and brought them with him to Fort Benton. Mary Frances was hailed as “the first white woman in Fort Benton.” When she finally gave birth, her newborn daughter Sarah was the first white baby born in Fort Benton. Unfortunately, Sarah died only nineteen days after being born. When Mary Frances recovered from the tragedy, she and Maria travelled southwest by stagecoach to join John Healy in Virginia City.

After some unsuccessful prospecting in Nevada, the Healy family travelled to Sun River, Montana, where John Healy made a living for some time as a farmer, trader, ferry operator, and Indian Affairs Department agent. During the ensuing years, Healy and his family lived in relative peace in spite of the American Civil War which raged in the east and the bloody Blackfoot Wars, a series of skirmishes and revenge killings between local South Peigan Blackfoot and white Montanan settlers. During this time, John Healy was appointed the commanding officer of the Sun River Rangers, a Montanan vigilante force formed for the purpose of defense against hostile South Peigan.

One night in the spring of 1869, a large band of friendly Blood Blackfoot camped near John Healy’s Sun River trading post was attacked by a large raiding party of Pend d’Oreille Indians. Healy’s post was caught in the crossfire, and the Irishman and his employees engaged with the raiders in a deadly shootout. After the incident, Healy tracked down the fleeing raiding party and, through tact and bravado, managed to both retrieve the herd of horses the Indians had stolen from his coral and make peace with the Pend d’Oreille.

During the Blackfoot Wars of the 1860’s, white settlers and the U.S. Army gradually drove the Blood and South Peigan Blackfoot- Healy’s primary customers- north into the Dominion of Canada’s North-West Territories. In time, John Healy decided to follow his patrons. In the winter of 1869, John Healy partnered up with fellow trader and former prospector Alfred Baker Hamilton, formed the Saskatchewan Mining, Prospecting, & Trading Outfit, secured $25,000-worth of trading stock on credit from Fort Benton wholesaler Tom Powers, and started north for what is now Alberta with a crew comprised of he and Hamilton, frontiersman Jerry Potts, and a handful of others. The crew, after successfully smuggling their goods into British possessions and receiving permission from local Blood chief Buffalo Back Fat, built a trading post on the banks of the Belly (now Oldman) River near present-day Lethbridge, Alberta (a popular winter camp area for the Bloods). This post, formally dubbed ‘Fort Hamilton’ after co-founder Alfred Hamilton, would come to be known colloquially as Fort Whoop-Up.

That winter of 1896/97, Healy, Hamilton, and their employees made more than $50,000 (a small fortune in those days) at Fort Whoop-Up selling goods to the local Blood Indians in exchange for valuable buffalo robes. Although the Montanans sold a number of conventional trading items- including repeating rifles and ammunition, woolen blankets, various metal tools and utensils, flour, sugar, and tea- to the Blackfoot, they also purveyed another commodity which would, in time, cause the Indians considerable grief: whisky.

The whisky sold at Fort Whoop-up was a boiled-down rotgut concoction termed ‘firewater’, or ‘bug juice,’ which consisted of American whisky, river water, tobacco plugs, blackstrap molasses, red pepper, red ink, lye soap, Jamaica Ginger, and a dash of strychnine. This beverage was irresistible to the local Blackfoot, who would “undergo every hardship and fatigue to procure a [cupful of it].” Its widespread usage among the Indians had disastrous consequences. Many Blackfoot, under its influence, would murder friends and family in drunken arguments or wander alone out into the prairie and freeze to death, while others would succumb to the toxic beverage itself. Said Siksika Blackfoot chief Crowfoot on the effect of this beverage on his compatriots:

“The whiskey brought among us by the Traders is fast killing us off and we are powerless before the evil. [We are] totally unable to resist the temptation to drink when brought in contact with the white man’s water. We are also unable to pitch anywhere that the Trader cannot follow us. Our horses, Buffalo robes and other articles of trade go for whisky; a large number of our people have killed one another and perished in various ways under the influence.”

After a profitable season on British territory, John Healy, Alfred Hamilton, and a number of Montanan companions returned across the 49th parallel, traded in their season’s take of buffalo robes at Fort Benton, and returned to Fort Whoop-Up the following year. This time, they brought with them carpenter William Gladstone, who built a formidable palisaded fort a short distance from the original post designed to withstand potential Indian raids. Other enterprising Montanan traders, including Joe Kipp and Charlie Thomas, followed their advice and similarly established trading posts on the Belly River.

John Healy would continue to trade whisky and other goods to the Blackfoot in exchange for buffalo robes at Fort Whoop-Up until 1874. During this time, he helped broker a peace between the South Peigan and Pend d’Oreille, witnessed the Battle of Belly River (the world’s last great inter-tribal Indian battle; fought between the Blackfoot and Iron Confederacies), and single-handedly stood off an angry militia of wolfers who styled themselves the Spitzee Cavalry at Fort Kipp (another whisky fort on the Belly River). He also made good on his earlier vow to get back at the Hudson’s Bay Company by buying huge quantities of pemmican from the Blackfoot and Crow Indians, effectively starving Fort Edmonton into dissolution. When the North West Mounted Police formed up and marched west in 1874 with the aim of suppressing the whisky trade that Healy and his Montanan counterparts had brought to Canada, Healy returned south to Montana and spent the summer at Fort Benton. John Healy rode north to Canada the following year, his whisky-peddling past behind him, and acquainted himself with the newly-arrived Mounties.

In the following years, John Healy divided his time between Fort Benton, where he established a grain mill, and Whoop-Up Country, where he continued to trade various goods (aside from whisky) with the Blackfoot and North West Mounted Police. In 1877, he left Canada for good and took up permanent residence at Fort Benton with his family (which, in time, included six children), whereupon the town residents elected him as sheriff of Montana’s Chouteau County. That spring, he was tasked with guarding frontiersman Kootenai Brown, a fellow Irishman who had murdered wolfer Louis Ell in the heat of a dispute over wolf pelts. Several months later, he worked as a scout and interpreter for a volunteer United States militia during the Nez Perce War. In October of that year, John Healy served as an interpreter and consultant for U.S. Army General Alfred Terry during his meeting with Hunkpapa Sioux chief Sitting Bull, who had fled north with his people into Canada following the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Throughout his tenure as sheriff of Chouteau County, John Healy- Irish to the core- exhibited contempt for his British-esque, red-coated counterparts north of the border who had displaced him and his whisky-trading lot in 1874. In 1879, when the North West Mounted Police implored him to extradite a young Blood warrior suspected of murdering the 19-year-old Mountie Constable Graburn who, following the murder, had apparently fled south to Montana, John Healy haughtily offered to do so for $5,000. The Mounties declined the outrageous offer and later captured the Blood fugitive when he returned to Canada to visit relatives.

In the early 1880’s, John Healy traded his sheriff’s badge for pick and shovel and once again took up prospecting, this time in the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary. After his brother Joseph discovered copper and silver in promising quantities in the Bow River Valley, John and Joseph Healy, and a number of Canadian and Montanan investors founded Silver City, a boomtown on the Bow River across from Castle Mountain in what is now Banff National Park. Prospectors who flocked to the area soon learned that the area’s precious minerals were in short supply, and Silver City soon devolved into a ghost town.

By that time, the days of the Canadian Wild West were numbered. The bison that had dominated the plains since time immemorial had been hunted to near extinction, the last of the indigenous Plains peoples had been corralled into reserves, and the Canadian Pacific Railway was built across the country, opening up the North-West Territories to settlers. Ever the frontiersman, John Healy, following his and his brother’s financial setback at Silver City, returned briefly to Montana before setting out for the last frontier- the Canadian-American north.

In Juneau, Alaska, Healy acquired a loan which he used to establish a fur-trading and outfitting post on the Dyea Inlet at the  end of Lynn Canal, at the base of the Chilkoot Pass. There, he traded various goods to the local Tlingit in exchange for furs, and outfitted the handful of prospectors who trickled over the Chilkoot Pass into the interior in search of Yukon gold. That trickle of prospectors grew to a steady stream during the Fortymile Gold Rush of the late 1880’s. During this time, in which Healy made a respectable profit outfitting hopeful gold miners, Healy’s trading post was the site of a deadly duel between rival Tlingit and Tagish packers. Shortly thereafter, after marrying his second wife Isabella “Belle” Boyd (Mary Frances had succumbed to an illness in Montana back in 1883), John Healy and his new bride were made honourary members of the Crow and Eagle Clans, respectively, of the Tlingit First Nation.

In the 1890’s, John Healy moved inland to the boomtown of Fortymile, where he established an outfitting post. The hard-nosed, no-nonsense entrepreneur did not get along well with many of the boomtown residents. In 1893, he took offense to the verdict of a miner’s meeting- the northern frontier equivalent of a courtroom trial- which stipulated that he compensate one of his female employees for a slight, and sought the assistance of his old enemies, the North West Mounted Police. Due in part to Healy’s entreaty, the North West Mounted Police came to the Yukon to establish law and order.

After the arrival of the North West Mounted Police, John Healy expanded his northern empire. In addition to his trading posts at Dyea and Fortymile, he opened another store at the boomtown Circle City, Alaska (located at the edge of the Arctic Circle), and another at the old coastal port town St. Michael, Alaska (located on the Bering Sea at the mouth of the Yukon River). He also purchased a steamboat, which he used to ferry passengers and freight the length of the massive Yukon River. These expansions served him well; in the late 1890’s, the steady stream of northern prospectors which characterized the Fortymile and Circle City gold rushes of the previous decade swelled into a veritable flood during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890’s. John Healy and his family, several members of which had accompanied him north, made a small fortune during these years, using the considerable profit from their various enterprises to purchase interests in mining claims.

In 1900, 60-year-old John Healy travelled to Nome, Alaska, where another gold rush was underway. Instead of panning for gold, as he was wont to do in the past, the seasoned frontiersman contented himself with observing the operations of a younger generation of adventurers and entrepreneurs before co-founding the Yakutat Fishing Company, which quickly evolved into the Central Alaskan Exploration Company.

In the early 1900’s, after going through a nasty divorce with Isabella, Healy took on his biggest project yet. Along with a number of international partners, he contrived to construct a railway bridging North America with Siberia by way of the Bering Strait- a hypothetical railway dubbed the Trans-Alaskan Siberian Railroad. John Healy and his North American partners founded the Alaska Northern Railway Company, which would be in charge of the construction of the Alaskan stretch of the trans-continental railroad. After six years of seemingly-successful negotiation with Russian authorities, the venture fell through.


Broke and now in poor health, John Healy retired to San Francisco, where he lived with his daughter Maria and her husband. He became bedridden quite suddenly, and passed away on September 15, 1908, due to liver failure.


  • Healy’s West- The Life and Times of John J. Healy, 2014, Gordon E. Tolton


By Hammerson Peters


5 Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West:

1) Jerry Potts

2) Kootenai Brown

4) Joe Kipp

5) Harry “Kamoose” Taylor


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5 Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West- 2: Kootenai Brown

5 Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West

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2. Kootenai Brown

If you’ve ever driven through Waterton Lakes National Park on the Alberta #5 Highway, you might have noticed a sign labelled “Kootenai Brown” directing you off the main drag. If you take the sign’s advice, you’ll find yourself walking on a small paved path which leads to an even smaller trail through the brush. At the end of this smaller trail is a tiny cemetery in the middle of the woods. One of the cemetery’s three graves is that of John George Brown, known in later life as Kootenai Brown, Waterton Lakes’ first park ranger.

Although perhaps best known for being Waterton Lakes’ first park ranger, Alberta’s first petroleum pioneer, and the Chief Scout of the Rocky Mountain Rangers, John George “Kootenai” Brown has a rich and colourful Canadian Wild West history. Indeed, he is one of the greatest frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West.

Kootenai Brown’s story began in Ireland in 1839, when he was born into a long line of Scottish-English military men. Having lost both his parents in the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840’s, he was raised by his paternal grandmother, who fought tooth and nail for him to attain an officer’s rank in the British Army. In those days, officers of the British Army attained their rank by purchasing it. Brown’s grandmother, being of modest means, wrote incessantly to the Commander-in-Chief of he British Army, asking that her grandson be granted a commission pro bono on account of his father and grandfather’s dutiful service to the Crown. Her persistence paid off. In 1858, Brown was granted a gratuitous commission in British Army at the height of the Sepoy Mutiny, a bloody revolt in India which left the British Army in desperate need of officers. Brown left for Calcutta  on January 14, 1858 with a command of 21 private soldiers.

In India, Kootenai Brown acquired an appetite for adventure which, as he soon learned, would not be satiated by British military life. After returning to Ireland in 1860, he left the Old World for the New, never to return. With his friend Arthur Wellesley Vowell- a man who would one day serve as Gold Commissioner for British Columbia’s Kootenay district- Brown traveled to Panama in the hopes of eventually reaching the Cariboo goldfields of British Columbia. He and Vowell crossed the Panama Isthmus by train and traveled up the West Coast by steamer to San Francisco. There, they worked odd labour jobs, earning enough money to buy steamer tickets to Victoria, the present-day capital of British Columbia which, according to Brown, “in 1862 had no idea of ever becoming a capital of anything.” There, Brown and Vowell worked as lumberjacks for some time in order to raise money for a prospecting venture. When they each had enough to purchase an outfit, they traveled up the Fraser River to Port Douglas, up the Lillooet Trail to Coyoosh Flat (present-day Lillooet), and up the rugged Old Cariboo Road to the Cariboo goldfields of Williams Creek.

Like most of the prospectors who flocked to British Columbia’s Cariboo region to hunt for gold, Brown and Vowell were unsuccessful. After a season of fruitlessly panning the Cariboo River, the two partners split up. Vowell returned downriver to civilization. Brown decided to spend the fall and winter at the lawless Williams Lake, where he witnessed a deadly shootout between two rival prospectors.

Later that winter, Brown decided to temporarily abandon the search for gold and try his hand at trapping. Together with a partner, Brown succeeded in bringing in a season profit of $3,000 (current equivalent to about $70,000 Canadian). He used the money to outfit himself for another year-long prospecting venture which was, like the first one, completely unsuccessful. When the season was over, Brown, totally broke and down on his luck, found work as a swamper hauling canoes over a particularly rough stretch of the Fraser River.

After earning himself enough money to buy himself a hat, coat, and pair of suspenders, Brown traveled down the Fraser to New Westminster, where he found work as a Constable for the Colony of British Columbia’s Civil Service. His employers immediately dispatched him to Wild Horse Creek (near present-day Fort Steele), where a new gold rush was underway. Brown made the journey from New Westminster to his new post via the route that would one day become the Dewdney Trail.

As it turned out, Wild Horse Creek was just as wild and lawless as the Cariboo. Brown’s first act as Constable was to arrest three counterfeiters, who were making purchases with their imitation gold dust. When the Colony of British Columbia, on account of budget cuts, reduced his pay, he quit the service and took up prospecting once again. Brown and his new prospecting partners, after a fruitless season panning Wild Horse Creek, sold their claim to a party of Chinese prospectors and traveled east, hoping to try their luck on the North Saskatchewan River near Fort Edmonton, where it was rumoured that another gold rush was underway.

Brown and his partners had no idea where Fort Edmonton was aside from that it was somewhere to the east. Without a map or compass, the party traveled through the mountains, eventually stumbling upon the Kootenai Pass, located near the Waterton Lakes region. There, they crossed the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains over into the western Canadian prairies.


Brown and his three companions traveled further east along the prairies, running into all manner of prairie animals including huge herds of buffalo and prairie wolves, prairie grizzlies, coyotes, and “hundreds of rattlesnakes.” At Seven Persons Creek, near present-day Medicine Hat, Alberta, they were set upon by a war party of 32 young Blackfoot braves, all of them armed with either bows and flint-tipped arrows or hand-to-hand weapons. The prospectors, who were armed with muzzle-loading percussion rifles, drove back the warriors, killing two of them in the process. During this skirmish, Brown received an arrow in his lower back which narrowly missed one of his kidneys. He pulled the arrow out himself, and allowed his companions to dress his open wound by emptying half a pint of turpentine into it.

kootenai-brown-4Following the skirmish, the party traveled down the creek to the South Saskatchewan River. There, they had a falling out. Two of the prospectors rode north to Fort Edmonton. Brown decided to follow the river, hoping that it might lead to civilization. The third companion, a man with a gold tooth who had lost his horse during the skirmish, would have to travel on foot through extremely dangerous territory. Feeling sorry for his companion, Brown killed a nearby buffalo, constructed a bull boat from its hide, and pushed him off in it so that he, too, might travel downriver.

Brown quickly outstripped his waterborne companion as he rode downriver. In time, he came to the French Metis winter village of Duck Lake, just downriver of present-day Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The village’s Metis inhabitants invited Brown to stay with them for the winter. The frontiersman gratefully accepted. Shortly thereafter, one the Metis approached Brown, telling him that a newcomer named Mr. Goldtooth was looking for him. Mr. Goldtooth, as it turned out, was the man Brown had made a bull boat for. He, too, stayed the winter at Duck Lake.

portage-la-prairieIn the spring, Brown and his companion rode southeast to Fort Garry, present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba. From there, they they split up. ‘Mr. Goldtooth’ traveled east towards civilization, while Brown entered into the whisky trade. At various Indian camps, he sold clothes, blankets, and whisky to the local Cree and Ojibwa in exchange for muskrat, mink, fox, coyote, and wolf pelts. On one occasion, while he was trading in his furs at a post at Portage la Prairie, Brown found himself caught in a ferocious shootout between the post’s white owners and thirty angry Ojibwa from Red Lake, Michigan. During this firefight, one Indian and one white man were killed.

Following the shootout at Portage la Prairie, Brown continued to trade with the First Nations for over a year. During this time, while on a business trip to Fort Garry, he chanced upon a U.S. recruiter for the Pony Express. After hearing what the recruiter had to say, Brown decided to leave Manitoba for the American frontier. There, in North Dakota, he ran mail for the U.S. Army.

In the fall of 1867, Brown was captured by a band of Sioux, who warned him that he and other white men were not welcome in the territory, before releasing him. Despite the warning, he continued to ride for the Pony Express through hostile Sioux territory.

In the spring of 1868, Brown and fellow courier, a Sioux half-breed named Joe Martin, were captured by a Sioux war party led by Sitting Bull, the Hunkpapa chief whose warriors would, in eight years, massacre U.S. General George Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Sioux braves stripped the two couriers completely naked and debated amongst themselves on how best to torture them. While the warriors argued, Brown and Martin inconspicuously rolled down a hill into nearby Strawberry Lake, where they hid underwater. By this time, it was getting dark, and the Sioux were unable to find the two men. After hiding out in the water for several hours, the naked, barefoot couriers made their way on foot back to the safety of Fort Stevenson, from which they had come.

While under the employ of the U.S. Army, Kootenai Brown’s work took him to the Red River Valley. There, he married a French-Cree girl named Olivia D’Lonais and decided to quit his position and live among the French Metis. The Irishman enjoyed many happy years living with the semi-nomadic, devoutly-religious French-Cree Metis, immersed as he was in a tight-knit community which revolved around the annual buffalo hunt and the music and dance-filled winter camp.

By the mid 1870’s, the buffalo that had dominated the prairies since time immemorial were quickly disappearing. The First Nations and the Metis who depended on buffalo for sustenance began to break up into smaller bands in search of food. In 1877, Brown, his wife, and their two daughters left the Metis camp and headed west in search of better opportunity. There, in Montana, Brown made his living as a wolfer, or wolf hunter.

Wolfers were a hard breed of men largely despised by white traders and Indians alike. Instead of shooting wolves with bullets or snaring them with traps and damaging their pelts in the process, wolfers typically acquired their pelts by killing a buffalo, dressing its carcass, and rubbing the raw meat with toxic strychnine. Prairie wolves would flock to the carcass and gorge themselves on the poisoned meat before collapsing. Then the wolvers would return to the carcass to harvest the pelts.

In the spring of 1877, after hauling the season’s take of pelts to Fort Benton, Brown and his family camped with a Metis band a short distance from the fort on the Teton River. There, Brown was approached by a wolfer named Louis Ell, who asked him to accompany him to the fort. Brown obliged. En route, Ell insited that Brown owed him a debt. Brown denied the allegation. In the heat of the argument that ensued, Brown drew a knife and stabbed the wolfer in the gut. Ell died shortly thereafter. A Metis who had witnessed the stabbing rode to Fort Benton to report it, while Kootenai Brown rode north for the Canadian border.

The Fort Benton sheriff apprehended Brown about 110 kilometres north of the fort and interred him in the jailhouse. There, the sheriff’s successor, Sheriff John Healy, a fellow Irishman and other great frontiersman of the Canadian Wild West, watched over him until his trial. During his trial, Brown pleaded that he killed Ell in self defense. The Territorial Grand Jury agreed and rendered a verdict of not guilty.

Upon being set free, Brown reunited with his wife and daughters and traveled north into Canada. He and his family made their new home in the Waterton Lakes area, which was, at the time, called the Kootenay Lakes region. There, he earned the nickname by which he is known today: “Kootenai” Brown. Kootenai Brown spent the rest of his life in the area, working as a trader, fisherman, hunter, guide, and packer. In 1885, during Riel’s North-West Rebellion, Kootenai Brown served as the Chief Scout of the Rocky Mountain Rangers, a ragtag militia of ranchers, cowboys, ex-Mounties, remittance men, and old-timer frontiersmen who guarded the narrow-gauge Galt Railway bridging Medicine Hat with Lethbridge. Later, in 1889, he became Alberta’s first petroleum pioneer, using the crude oil he produced in the Waterton Lakes area as lubricant for his wagons. In his later years, Kootenai Brown was instrumental in turning his beloved Kootenay Lakes area into the Kootenay Forest Reserve, which would later become Waterton Lakes National Park. Kootenai Brown became Waterton Lakes’ first park ranger, and served that function until his death in the summer of 1916.


By Hammerson Peters


5 Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West:

1) Jerry Potts

3) John Healy

4) Joe Kipp

5) Harry “Kamoose” Taylor


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5 Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West- 1: Jerry Potts

5 Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West

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1. Jerry Potts


When the sun-burnt, mosquito-bitten officers of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) rode into Writing-on-Stone in the fall of 1874, they were disheartened, saddle-weary, and lost. The previous winter, they had first come together as a unit in Fort Dufferin, Manitoba. That summer, after months of training, they rode out west bound for the notorious Fort Whoop-Up, determined to bring law and order to the Canadian Wild West. Unfortunately, some of the Metis guides they hired had a less than complete knowledge of the western territory’s geography. By early fall, the Mounties found themselves straddling the Boundary Commission Trail on the Canadian-American border with no idea where they were in relation to their destination, Whoop-Up Country.

The Force’s Assistant Commissioner James Macleod and a handful of officers rode south to Fort Benton, Montana, in the hopes that they might find some directions. They found better. Two of the town’s most prominent businessman hosted the Mounties. During dinner, the Montanan merchants suggested that Macleod and company hire a short, bowlegged Scots-Blackfoot frontiersman named Jerry Potts as their guide. Despite learning that the unimposing mustachioed plainsman was a man of few words who had an enormous appetite for whisky, the commodity which they hoped eliminate from the Canadian plains, the Mounties took their suggestion and hired Jerry Potts as their chief scout. They couldn’t have been happier with their decision.


Jerry Potts returned with Macleod to Writing-on-Stone, took up a position at the head of the column, and led the bedraggled Mounties northwest over prairies and coulees. Said Mountie Sam Steele of the quiet, mysterious guide, “he never talked with others when he was at work. He would ride on ahead by himself, keeping his mind fixed on the mysterious business of finding the way. He was never able to give any clear explanation of his method. Some mysterious power, perhaps a heritage from his Indian ancestors, was at work.” In no time, Potts led the Mounted Policemen to Fort Whoop-Up, on the banks of the Oldman River. Shortly thereafter, he led them upriver to the location at which they would build Fort Macleod, their first permanent headquarters.

In the ensuing months, Potts, who was fluent in a number of Indian languages, also served the Mounties as an interpreter and Indian ambassador. While the Policemen were building Fort Macleod, he traveled throughout the territory to speak with the local Blackfoot chiefs, on whose lands the Mounties encroached. Potts informed the chiefs that the red coats were there to suppress the whisky trade which had brought the Blackfoot people so much grief, and that they had their interests at heart. The officers who accompanied Potts on these excursions noticed how the powerful Blackfoot chiefs treated the wiry half-breed with deference and respect and took him at his word. The scout, they soon realized, was well-known and highly respected among the people of the plains.

Over the years, various Mounties got the taciturn frontiersman to open up and reveal his mysterious past, which, if the manner in which the Blackfoot treated him was any judge, had evidently earned him a ferocious reputation throughout the Canadian-American plains. As it turned out, Jerry Potts was a man of two worlds. He spent half his time among his father’s people, the predominantly-white traders and ranchers of Fort Benton, Montana, working for various fur trading companies. While at the Fort, one of his favorite past-times was to fortify himself with whisky before playing a gutsy game with his co-worker and fellow half-breed George Star, in which the two of them, armed with revolvers, would stand 20 paces apart and literally trim each other’s mustaches with bullets.

In the white man’s world, Jerry Potts’ primary function was that of a scout. As a result, he often found himself far from the Fort in hostile Sioux territory. One time, while on a scouting expedition with two white men, Potts and his charges were set upon by a war party of about 200 well-equipped Sioux braves. At first, the half-breed ordered his charges to flee on horseback. When he realized that some of the warriors mounted on faster horses would inevitably catch up to them, however, Potts suddenly ordered his two clients to wheel around and ride through the Sioux ranks. After passing through the horde unscathed, Potts had his clients take shelter in a nearby abandoned cabin, where he, armed with nothing more than a revolver, managed to fend off the enterprising braves who rushed their location. That night, after sneaking into the Sioux camp and stealing three of their best horses, Potts and his two charges rode back to the Fort, escaping certain death.

When he was not working for the fur traders of Fort Benton, Jerry Potts lived among his mother’s people, the Blackfoot. He participated wholeheartedly in various raiding parties and war parties against the Sioux, Crow, Shoshone, Cree, and Assiniboine, and quickly established himself as a formidable warrior and horse thief. On October 25, 1870, Potts participated in the Battle of Belly River, the last great battle between the Blackfoot and Iron Confederacies and the last great inter-tribal Indian battle in the world. It was due to Potts’ leadership that the Blackfoot were able to take advantage of a Cree-Assiniboine retreat, turn the tide of the battle in their favour, and completely route their enemies. Due to his martial prowess, and the fact that he, despite his extensive combat experience, was never wounded in battle, the Blackfoot began to regard him with superstitious awe. Potts himself was imbued with the superstitious nature of a Blackfoot and, due to instructions he received in a dream, wore a catskin amulet around his neck day and night for good luck.


In 1869, Jerry Potts guided John Healy, Alfred Hamilton, and a handful of American whisky traders from Fort Benton to a place on the Oldman River. There, the whisky traders built Fort Whoop-Up, the notorious whisky fort which’s calamitous traffic, in essence, became the main reason for the formation of the North West Mounted Police. Throughout he early 1870’s, Potts watched in horror as the Canadian whisky trade, which he helped establish, succeeded in all but destroying his mother’s people, the Blackfoot.

In the spring of 1872, Potts’ mother and brother were killed in a whisky fueled argument. When Potts received word of the incident, he avowed to avenge their murders. About two months later, while watering horses near a Canadian whisky post called Fort Kipp, Potts spotted his mother and brother’s murderer riding out from the fort. The half-breed, furious, pursued the Indian and killed him just a short distance from his own camp.


Following the death of his mother and brother, Potts sought an end to the whisky trade, and was more than happy to assist the Mounties when they rode into Fort Benton in search of a guide.

After joining the Mounties, Jerry Potts performed the functions of scout and interpreter. By all accounts, he was a magnificent scout, and an abysmal interpreter. In the winter of early 1875, he led his respective Mountie charges through blizzards on two different occasions, during one of which he was rendered snow-blind. Said Sam Steele of his scouting ability,“he possessed an uncanny sense of locality and direction. Others could guide travelers through country they had visited before, but this man could take a party from place to place by the quickest route, through country altogether unknown to him, without compass and without sight of the stars.” On the other hand, during the signing of Treaty 7, during which the Blackfoot Nations made an agreement with the British Crown, Potts served as interpreter between the Blackfoot chiefs and Government of Canada representatives… that is, until called upon to translate Governor of the North-West Territory David Laird’s eloquent speech into Blackfoot. Potts, a man of limited frontier vocabulary, had no idea what the well-educated governor was saying, and said as much when called upon to interpret.

As a scout and Indian ambassador, Jerry Potts proved to be an invaluable asset to the Mounties. However, his love of whisky often strained his relationship with his superiors. For example, during the early days of the suppression of the whisky trade, Potts and a few officers of the NWMP accosted a pair of bootleggers smuggling whisky across the 49th parallel. The half-breed, who was tasked with keeping an eye on the prisoners in the back of their wagon, broke into the contraband and shared it with the men he was supposed to be guarding. In the words of Constable Robert Wilson, one of the Mounties who accompanied Potts on this mission, “the two prisoners and Jerry were soon howling drunk…” The three men promptly quaffed all the evidence of their wrongdoing, much to the displeasure of Potts’ superiors once they got wind of the incident.

During the North-West Rebellion of 1885- fomented by Metis revolutionary Louis Riel; in which the Metis people of the Red River and Qu’Appelle Valleys, and their Cree and Assiniboine allies fought against the Canadian government- Jerry Potts served as a peacemaker. While Metis and Cree ambassadors rode into Blackfoot reserves imploring their old enemies to take up arms with them against the Canadian government, Potts reminded his Blackfoot friends of their century-long feud against the Cree and Metis, and the good decade-long relationship they had enjoyed with the North-West Mounted Police. Due in part to Potts’ efforts, the Blackfoot refrained from joining the rebellion, thereby preventing what would likely have a huge amount of bloodshed. In the words of North-West Mounted Police physician Dr. George Allan Kennedy, “had the Blackfeet forgotten their own enmity and joined hands with the Crees, it is hardly possible to calculate the enormous loss of life and property that would have followed…”

On July 14, 1896, 56-year-old Jerry Potts succumbed to throat cancer, which was likely attributable, at least in part, to his life of hard drinking. This paragon of the Canadian Wild West was buried in the North-West Mounted Police cemetery in Fort Macleod with full military honours. His obituary in the Fort Macleod Gazette reads:

“Jerry Potts is dead. Through the whole North West, in many parts of eastern Canada, and in England itself, this announcement will excite sorrow, in many cases sympathy, and in all, interest. His memory will long be green in the hearts of those who knew him best, and ‘faithful and true’ is the character he leaves behind him- the best monument of a valuable life.”


By Hammerson Peters


5 Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West:

2) Kootenai Brown

3) John Healy

4) Joe Kipp

5) Harry “Kamoose” Taylor


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5 Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West

Five Frontiersmen of the Canadian Wild West

Thanks to Hollywood Westerns, the world will not forget icons of the American frontier any time soon. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) immortalized Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Cochise County Cowboys. John Wayne’s starring role in The Alamo (1960) made Davy Crockett a household name. And after Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in The Revenant (2015), the name Hugh Glass will long survive in posterity.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the heroes and villains of Canada’s slightly-less-Old, slightly-less-Wild West. Today, few Canucks, if pressed, would be able to list off any of the prospectors, whisky traders, wolfers, or adventurers who made their marks on Western Canada prior to the arrival of the North West Mounted Police in 1874. This is completely understandable, and not at all surprising. The golden age of Western cinema predates Vancouver’s ‘Hollywood North’, and the Ottawa-centric education systems adopted by the western provinces have historically done little in the way of educating their students on local history. Aside from a handful of obscure streets bearing their names, the frontiersmen of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have all but disappeared from our cultural memory. 

Luckily, historians like Hugh Dempsey of Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and Rodger Touchie of the Heritage House Publishing Company work hard to keep the stories of the Western Canadian frontier, and the memories of the colourful characters who lived them, alive. Through books and articles born from archival research, archaeological study, and interviews, these scholars have painted a picture of Canada’s Wild West which is every bit as unique and arguably every bit as interesting as its American counterpart. With our country’s 150th birthday only a year away, it’s important that we Canadians take advantage of their work and remember our country’s western lineage.

Without further ado, here are five of the Jesse James’s and Billy the Kids of the Canadian Wild West:


1. Jerry Potts

2. Kootenai Brown

3. John Healy

4. Joe Kipp

5. Harry “Kamoose” Taylor


By Hammerson Peters


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If you enjoyed this article and would like to help support this website, please check out our online bookstore: