Frank and Jesse’s Treasure!

It was midsummer, 1962. I was ten, my brother was eight and our sister was four. My father’s new USGS assignment was to topo map the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia. So my parents left us kids with Grandma Iris Thurston in Wyoming while they went to set up “base camp.” Mom and Dad always got us fixed up with a place to live—motel, boardinghouse, rental house and sometimes, for very brief assignments, Dad’s big Army tent.

Image result for shenandoah valley virginia usgs map 1962

USGS topographical map of Shenandoah Valley
done by my father and his team in 1962

Bob and I had a ball that summer, playing with kids we’d met at school. We’d gone to the same school for an entire year while Dad was mapping Antarctica! That never happened before!

Bob and I got up to our usual high-jinks, tricking other kids into believing we’d found Frank and Jesse Jame’s Treasure Map. Of course, Bob and I made the map, using old paper from a 1920s ledger Grandma gave us to draw in. Her dry cleaning business was full of old things like that ledger.

We spent over an hour perfecting the map. Bob was as good with topo as Dad was. So he drew the map part of it. I had excellent handwriting, so I wrote at the top “Frank and Jesse’s map!! You will die if you steal this!!” I also drew a big red X with a crayon and wrote “Here is the Treasure.”

Then we went to the sandbank about a mile north of Douglas and buried some costume jewelry Grandma said we could have, along with a bunch of old coins from her big glass jar. She paid us for doing chores around the house with money from that jar, so we had twenty coins—ten of mine, ten of Bob’s. Kathi was only four years old, so she had absolutely zero interest in our endeavour. She and cousin Connie (also four) would play with their dolls all day long. Boring!

Kathi Doll

Kathi and her doll in Grandma’s backyard (Douglas, Wyoming)

Bob gathered up all his pals and I got my one friend to join us on a hot Sunday afternoon. The movie house was closed on Sundays, so there was nothing better to do than play outside.

Bob announced, “Dixie and I found this Treasure Map. Who wants to come help us find the treasure!?”

Lemme see that,” a dirty faced boy grabbed the map from my brother. He turned it this way and that. Then said, “Looks real to me.”

That fired up the other kids so off we went, following my brother as he dashed northwards through the small town.

We had carefully covered our tracks to the sandbank by using a broken off branch from a cottonwood. Dad had taught us how smart Indians brushed their tracks away so white men couldn’t get them. This trick came in handy on many an occasion.

Let’s see,” leader Bob mused. “Looks like if we dig around here (he swept his tanned arm in a southerly direction) we will find the treasure.”

We all started digging away with our bare hands. Nobody cared about getting dirty. We dug like wild dogs, throwing sand behind us as we went. Finally, the dirty faced boy yelled, “I got somethin’!!!”

It was an old wooden cigar box we’d buried the treasure in earlier that day.

Check it out!” Bob grabbed the box and slowly opened it, revealing the glittering jewelry and old coins.

Wait a minute!” I shouted, “Let’s see how old those coins are. Grandma said Frank James didn’t die until 1915, three years after she got married. Grandpa was friends with Calamity Jane, so maybe Jane got this stuff from Frank and put it up here for safe-keeping, Those outlaws were all pals.” I drew a coin out of the hoard.

It’s a 1910 wheat penny,” I rubbed it to a nice shine, “Authentic.” I loved using big words.

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The younger kids did a wild dance, whooping like Apaches. They believed me because I was older and did well in school. Why would the teacher’s pet lie?

Bob announced, “OK, everybody gets One thing for helping find the James boys’ treasure.”

He passed the box to dirty faced boy, who took a danged long time picking something out.

He finally said, “I get this diamond pin for my Ma.” I felt a twinge of guilt. It was only rhinestones, which Grandma had explained, “those are fake diamonds—if people are drunk enough, they’ll think you’re rich.”

The box made its way around the circle of fortune hunters. Everyone got part of the treasure. We were all sweltering in the hot Wyoming sunshine.

Let’s go to Grandma’s and get some lemonade,” I suggested.

YEAH!” everyone screamed in unison.

Despite the heat and the energy we’d spent on digging, we all ran hell-bent for leather toward South Fifth Street.

Grandma!” I yelled, entering the cooled-by-shade-trees house. “Can we have some lemonade?”

For cryin’ tears,” Iris said upon seeing the dirty group. “Get out to the pump and wash up. I’ll make up a pitcher for you.”

We retreated to the back yard, where a water pump awaited us. We took turns using the lever while each of us dunked our heads under the cool gush, then spraying our hands until they were clean enough.

That lemonade sure did taste good. And Grandma said nary a word as each kid bragged about his or her treasure. She even grinned toward me, as if to say “I was just as wild at your age.”

Author: dixiewriter

Due to my father's job as an explorer/cartographer, my family moved 48 times before I turned 13. We lived where Dad worked: on mountain tops (in park ranger cabins), in deserts, swamps, along coastlines from Maine to Key West & other wild places. My father mapped parts of Antarctica, living there for 8 months in 1961-62. A mountain peak & a glacier are named after him (William C. Elder, USGS) As an adult, I helped Lars Eric Lindblad (then president of World Wildlife) find out about the migration path of Silverback gorillas (from Tanzania into Kenya). On my information, he chose to move Lindblad Travel's photographic safari camps to accommodate these wonderful creatures. I got a Jimmy Carter grant to teach after I graduated from Madison College. Grantees had to sign up to teach for at least a year in a severely impoverished school anywhere in America. I taught for 3 & 1/2 years in SW Virginia near Bluegrass Central (Galax, VA). I taught 7th-9th grade English, Drama, Journalism. I was the forensics coach. Moved to Connecticut & worked for Lars Lindblad, typing up the manuscript for his autobiography, working with Liz & John Fuller on this book. (They co-wrote "Ghost of Flight 415" & other books about unusual phenomenon. Moved to Colorado in 1982. Worked as "gal friday" for 12 detectives at the Boulder Police Dept. Set up files for DA to use in court amongst other things. Then at a law firm. Next, CU/Boulder for 10 years. At CU, workers could take a free course each semester. So I did 5 Master's levels courses in special ed' & many in creative writing/history/religion & other subjects at the Master's level. I taught "Drama for the Disabled" in Boulder, CO after the teacher had to quit due to health issues. It was wonderful! My last 7 years working, I helped adults/teens/children with various brain differences such as autism. I was diagnosed at age 45 with 3 types of seizures, manic depression (atypical, rarely depressions, mostly manias), OCD & PTSD. At age 67 (!!) this diagnosis was changed. The manias are most likely due to temporal lobe "disturbance." The other symptoms are due to "high functioning" autism or Asperger's. Shock!! I do Tai Chi 3x/day which helps me to calm down. My husband & I work out at a gym 3-5 times/week for balance mostly but also weight training, running etc. We climb the beautiful Rocky Mountain High places (like Long's Peak & Maroon Bells) in summertime/autumn. We love archaeology, so when we travel, it's in order to discover ancient sites. My husband is an actor with a "day job." He has performed in shows with Zero Mostel (Fiddler on the Roof, the road show), Dick van Dyke (Diagnosis Murder), Firesign Theatre/John Goodman/Annette Bening et al. (Wizard of Oz/radio show) & many other wonderful people since age 14. We have traveled to: Iceland, Scotland (twice), Germany (3 times to visit friends), Ireland & fascinating places in America. We usually spend a month when we travel. So we go about every 5-6 years. Otherwise, we stay at home in a town in Colorado, attending Poetry sessions, working in local theater, enjoying our shelter rescue cats, writing, painting & dancing.

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