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Backroads

Backroads
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Runestone Mystery

The smooth water-worn surface of the small flat rock was faintly etched with some kind of design…too far worn to fully visualize, but enough there to indicate that those lines could easily be thought of as not natural and must have been manmade.  The rock was maybe seven or eight inches across on the long side and five or six on the short side.  The strange etchings stirred the imaginative mind of a 10 - 11 year old boy who saw the outline of a Spanish conquistador holding a long lance as he sat high riding a horse.  

I’m not sure who actually found the rock, I believe my grandfather found it along one of the many creeks that run through the hills of southeastern Oklahoma, and the 50 plus years since that time has blurred my memory enough to where I can barely visualize the image…but to the best of my recollection, that is the way I remember it.  The moment my grandfather pulled the rock out of the filing cabinet and handed it to me, my world was changed.  It became one of those moments where science and history became one in my young, still exploring mind.  It stimulated an interest in both of those subjects that has yet to subside, and I even today find such things interesting and thought provoking. 

I’m not sure what happened to that old rock.  Some years later, a devastating flood engulfed that small community of Wister Oklahoma, not once but twice within a few years, as a result along with age, my grandparents retired from the business they had owned and operated for many years.  It must have been lost and I vaguely remember my grandmother saying that she gave it to the curator of a local historical society/museum…I hope that is what happened to it and it may yet today be sitting inside a collection drawer someplace.

It was at that time I first learned about a place called “The Heavner Runestone”.  Heavner is a small community maybe 20 miles to the south and east of Wister and is surrounded by large rolling hills…mountains the locals call them…Poteau Mountain being one of the more dominant.  On the flanks of Poteau Mountain deep within a horseshoe shaped ravine a large monolithic stone stands 12 feet wide, 10 feet high, and 16 inches thick.  Across the face of this tombstone like structure are carved 8 runic style inscriptions each deeply carved into the extremely hard surface of the stone yet heavily weathered through untold ages of time.


 Gloria Farley (http://www.midwesternepigraphic.org/heavener01.html ) of Heavner spent many years researching this oddity and was instrumental in getting the Runestone protected as a park. Throiugh her research and others, the writings suggest they were made by Viking explorers. The Runestone has been known to exist for about 200 years first being identified back in the early 1800’s by local indigenous Indians.

They have been identified as an ancient Nordic script that are designed as a cryptic multi-meaning message and interpreted as a date in one sense:  November 11, 1012, A.D
  
…and also as a land claim:  Glome's Valley


Another more recent explanation comes from a Dr. Lee W. Woodard (http://heavener-runestone.com) who researched the expeditions of Rene Robert Cavelier de La Salle who made a couple of excursions into the area back in 1686 -1687.  La Salle , along with several others in his party, was eventually murdered in 1687 by a mutinous crew.  Current historical reference places that event in Eastern Texas, but Dr. Woodard’s research indicates that it more than likely actually took place near where the Runestone is located in southeastern Oklahoma.  He believes, and makes a very strong case for, that the Runestone was actually carved by a talented French linguist named Jimmy Hiens of La Salles ill fated 1687 expedition and points out many compelling facts to support that theory. 


I've also heard of another interpretation that indicates the runes are a marker for a burial site, possibly Viking in nature.  Indeed there is evidence of collapsed underground chambers near the runestone...to my knowledge no one has ever tried to excavate or research if anything was there.

Poteau Mountain
Regardless of where it came from, its historical significance is of a high value.  Today a protective building surrounds the Runestone, but when I first saw the stone it was surrounded by a simple chain-link fence and you could see it as it appeared in its natural surroundings.  I was captivated by it and imagined seeing someone standing there for what must have been hours carving those inscriptions by hand into the diamond hard surface of this gigantic stone standing like a monolith at the base of a ravine.  When I discovered that other such stones had also been discovered in the area…all quite smaller...my imagination went through the roof believing that someday I could find such a marker.  I never did.

Who carved them?  Why were they carved?  What true ancient message is it trying to say to us today?  Those are questions that time alone will answer…maybe never.  Even so, fifty years after first discovering this fascinating relic of ancient history, I am as captivated by its story as I was as a young boy.  It’s one of those growing up moments that became pivotal in shaping the thoughts and dreams of one so young.  Even so, I suppose there are things we will never understand completely...maybe its just as well, because an imagination is far more  valuable and certainly more enjoyable to have.

Keith

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