Chapter 9

The Oklahoma Runestones

The present rage for infallibly fixing everything all at once, is highly to be deprecated. Future finds and the progress of Runish studies will doubtless modify some things here given (Handbook of the Old Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England). We shall know more a hundred years hence, than we do now.

--- George Stephens, Cheapinghaven, Denmark, February 15, 1884

If the tales told by the old-timers are correct, Oklahoma may once have contained dozens of runestones. Five of these have been found. This chapter discusses their discovery and possible meanings. Also, other possible runestones from Oklahoma and Arkansas are discussed.

The Heavener Runestone

The study of epigraphy, which has dominated my adult life, was to have as its seed a childhood visit to a local site. Even after beginning to pursue this interest, it would take thirty-five years of research to determine that the Heavener Runestone on Poteau Mountain in eastern Oklahoma is most likely a boundary marker.

It all began on a warm spring day in the year 1928. This day found me as a skinny child, hiking up Poteau Mountain which overshadows my little hometown of Heavener, Oklahoma, near the Arkansas state line. Invited by my chum Rosemary, we were guided by her father, Carl F. Kemmerer, a kindly and jovial man. Our goal was to see "Indian Rock" a misnamed slab of stone standing in a deep ravine on the western face of the mountain.

The brush was dense and we could not see 10 feet in any direction, but Kemmerer led us up a trail to a ledge which slanted ever higher to the left. Walking on top of this ledge, we arrived at a place of magical beauty: a ravine surrounded on three sides by 40-foot-high cliffs which formed a "U" shaped area. Tall trees stood like guardian sentinels, graced now and then by flowering dogwood. The mossy layers of stone under our feet were punctuated by wild flowers. The only sounds were the songs of birds, which flitted through the dappled shade and sunshine, and the gurgle of a small stream which gushed from the cliff side like a faucet. This was very handy for washing hot faces. The water ran down the steep slope near the base of the stone in the bottom of the ravine, which we had come to see..

Standing on a broad stone platform at the foot of "Indian Rock," I gazed upward at the slab which resembled a huge billboard. It was 12 feet high, 10 feet wide, and only 16 inches thick. Kemmerer, who had found the stone while hunting game in 1913, had checked the directions and found that the vertical west face was oriented true north and south by the north star, which made him think that the stone slab had been erected by man. A horizontal slab of stone about the same size formed a platform at the base.

There was writing on the stone at a height a man would comfortably work. A line of deeply pecked symbols stretched almost 6 feet across the west face. Although the flat gray lichen that covered most of the stone also had grown into the grooves of the symbols, young fingers could easily trace their outline. The eight symbols increased gradually in size from 6 1/2 inches at the left to the final 9 1/2 inch one at the right. There was an "X," an "M," and a slanted-down "F," but the other five letters were not familiar (Fig. 9-2).

Fig. 9-2 Runes on Heavener Runestone.

Using a stone shelf halfway up the back of the slab, Kemmerer lifted me to the top, where I clung to him in what he laughingly called a "death-grip," as I looked out over the abyss. In my imagination I could see a strong bronze Indian pounding out the letters. This was the same assumption that others had made.

When Kemmerer had first reported his find in 1913, other people knew of the stone, calling it "Indian" writing. This was despite the fact that none of the Indians originally in the area had possessed alphabets. Even those tribes removed to Indian Territory in the 1830's either wrote in English or used the Cherokee syllabary.

Kemmerer told us that he had also found two other inscribed stones on the slope above the cliff, seventy-four steps back from the edge. Each was carved with one letter from the big stone, the second and the fourth symbols. As they were an appropriate shape and size for gravestones, he had turned them over for safekeeping. A black-jack oak tree stood between them. In the years to come, my helpers turned over stones on that slope so many times that both people and stones began to show signs of wear, but it was done in vain. These two other stones have never been rediscovered.

Two or three years after the first visit to the impressive ravine, Rosemary showed me a Sunday School paper which illustrated runes, letters in the alphabets used by the ancient Scandinavians. "Look!" she said, "These are like the letters on Indian Rock!" This bit of information was tucked back in my mind, where it lay dormant until 1948.

That year, while living in Ohio as the wife of J. Ray Farley and the mother of a small son, I read of the famous Kensington Runestone found in Minnesota, which bore the date of 1362 A.D. I was inspired to send a copy of the Heavener inscription to the Smithsonian Institution. Much to my surprise, the Head Curator of the Department of Archaeology replied that a copy of the inscription had been sent to the museum by Kemmerer in 1923. They had replied that very plainly the characters are runic, but their guess was that whoever made the inscription had a Scandinavian grammar as a guide.

The Smithsonian's opinion was not convincing. My father, Dr. M. A. Stewart, had been a horse-and buggy doctor in Heavener, Indian Territory, in 1902, when the schools were primitive and English grammars were scarce, much less Scandinavian ones. With the knowledge gained from my father about early-day Heavener, it seemed unlikely that anyone with the needed knowledge of Scandinavian runes existed in the area.

A quest for the solution of the mystery began with correspondence, especially with Frederick J. Pohl of New York City, author of several books on Norse explorations. A study of the fascinating Norse sagas revealed the efforts of the Norse inhabitants of Greenland to colonize the eastern coast of America from approximately 1002 until 1010 A.D. If the Vikings had sailed to Russia, Ireland, England, France, and to the far end of the Mediterranean, why would it have been impossible for them to reach Oklahoma via the Mississippi River?

When my family moved from Ohio back to Heavener in 1950, a search to relocate that big stone on Poteau Mountain was on the agenda. My chance came in February the next year: a season when the dense foliage was gone, but before the ticks, chiggers, and rattlesnakes had emerged. My husband helped me search, but, as my memory of the location was dim, we searched for half a day on the wrong side of the mountain. Finally we stood on the west face of the upper ledge and looked down at a lower ledge which was rimmed with a deep shadow. It had to be there. As the slope was too steep for walking, we slid on dry leaves until we sat on the lower ledge with our feet hanging over, to catch our breaths. I was hot, dirty and excited. Ray was hot, dirty, and disgusted.

He said, "I don't believe there is any such stone." Just then the sun emerged from clouds and strongly side-lighted the big slab. The runes seemed to jump out at us. Ray's gasp was the vindication for all the effort. We clambered down at the north end of the ravine and found the runes untouched, although the stone platform at the base of the big stone was gone, and there were signs of digging. Treasure hunters had been there in the 1930's, and their dynamiting had tilted the big slab slightly backward.

On that day of rediscovery, I named the stone the "Heavener Runestone" and wrote the date, February 2, 1951, with a lead pencil on the gray lichen on its face. The stone is in such a protected place from wind, and further safeguarded from ice erosion because it is vertical, that the date was still visible seven years later.

This day began the thirty-five year effort to establish the authenticity of the Heavener Runestone. I began by interviewing the old timers. These older residents not only said they had seen "Indian Rock," but described dozens of similar carvings they had seen on the miles of Poteau Mountain, which curves then stretches 40 miles to the east into Arkansas, bordering the Poteau River. At Heavener it fingers out into other ridges called High Top and Cowskin.

Several of the old men were by this time on crutches or in wheel chairs, but they desired deeply to help relocate other carved stones. One man, Harrison Huie, did attempt to climb the mountain on crutches. When he fell, we turned back. Ed Wilson got on horseback and rode off to find a 7-foot monument carved with several rows of lettering, which he said he could easily relocate in Dry Creek in Kitchen Canyon on the east side of the mountain. He said the stone stood where the creek branches off to the right in a square natural stone ditch. This place had been visited by me, but I did not find a runestone. Returning, Wilson said he found the exact spot, but saw evidence that the stone had been dynamited.

From a meticulous local historian, Carl Wolf, I learned that the letters on the Heavener Runestone had been seen by a Choctaw Indian hunting party in the 1830's. This was an oral tradition within the family of Henry Hontubby and his son Israel.

Many signed statements were obtained. The report of the earliest sighting was signed by Ben King, who stated that his father, Wilson, with two other bear hunters had seen the carving on the Heavener Runestone before the younger King's birth in 1874. Laura Callahan, daughter of R. L. Bailey who owned a sawmill on the mountain, told how he held her up at age five in 1904 to run her hands over the mossy lettering. Luther Capps stated before witnesses that he saw the stone in 1898.

More Stones Found

In approximately fifty search trips, only two more carved stones were found in the Heavener area. In 1954 Ed Baker of Heavener described a stone carved with a large "turkey track" which had been used fifty years previously as a stepping-stone over a fence in a pasture near Morris Creek, which runs out of a canyon east of the Heavener Runestone. When he relocated it on the property of Joe Wilson, half of its 20-inch thickness was buried. On the top surface, which measured 30 by 14 inches, was pecked a 12-inch, three-pronged symbol on a stem, the runic "R" (Fig. 9-3). Below it on the side surface was a small mark which later proved to be a "bindrune," or combination of two runes. This stone is called "Heavener Runestone Number Two."

Because by this time some of the local people were becoming suspicious of my work, we wanted evidence of what we were doing. This caused us to make a mistake. When Wilson gave me the stone it was moved from its original site. Runestones or any stone bearing an ancient inscription should never be moved unless its destruction is imminent. The orientation of the stone may have meaning for the experts, if they can be persuaded to come and study it.

Fig. 9-3 Photograph (top) and drawing (bottom) of Heavener Runestone Number Two. Photograph by Robert Hill.

By the time another stone carved with runes was rediscovered in 1959, we attempted to keep this rule. Wes Thomas relocated a stone on a high peak of Poteau Mountain, although he had not seen it in forty-five years. On it was carved an "X," a "turkey track," and an arrow shape: the runes for "G," "R," and "T," respectively (Fig. 9-4). The letters, 6 to 9 inches tall, appear in a triangular pattern on a stone 5 1/2 feet long, which was called "Heavener Runestone Number Three."

In spite of our intentions, this stone was "kidnapped" with machinery and later found in a rural yard, then given to the Kerr Museum, near Poteau, Oklahoma. Pieces of the large stone are now missing, but the carved portion is preserved. Neither of the Heavener Runestones Numbers Two or Three have enough runes to render a translatable message.

Fig. 9-4 Photograph of Wes Thomas with Heavener Runestone Number Three (top). Runes on this stone (bottom).

Establishing a Park

In the summer of 1965 a town meeting was called by State Senator Clem Hamilton, a Heavener resident, to discuss the feasibility of establishing a State Park. Because Hamilton's son James, who was supposed to speak, was thirty minutes late to begin the presentation, I was called from the audience. With no notes, I somehow found the ability to talk because of my vital interest in the subject. The thirty minutes was used to present seventeen years of research in a nutshell. I told of how the old-timers had described dozens of similar carved stones which had apparently been destroyed. I related how despite this wholesale destruction that two other runestones had been found.

The history of the attempted Norse colonies on the east coast, as related in Norse sagas was given. The opinions of Frederick J. Pohl, Norse historian of New York, were quoted. He believed that one of Viking explorer Karlsefni's ships had sailed south from Vinland, which is believed to have been somewhere on the northeastern coast of America. He thought it had rounded Florida, entered the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. Then it had sailed up the Arkansas River and into the Poteau River. This would put the Vikings' entrance into the area 3 miles from where our meeting was being held.

Pohl had been invited to meet at my home with officers of the Oklahoma State Historical Society in 1958, including Muriel Wright, a leading Indian authority. Together they had resolved that the inscription on the Heavener Runestone could not have been made by Indians. This confirmed the answer I had received earlier from the Summer Institute of Linguistics at Oklahoma University stating that none of the Indian tribes questioned recognized the script.

Scandinavian runologists, however, could not translate the line without changing the shape of the runes, which did not seem permissible.

The opinions of three geologists were presented. They had concluded that the weathered and pecked runes could have lasted more than a thousand years, due to the protected environment and the hardness of the stone which rated as seven on the Mohs' hardness scale, in which a diamond is ten. The State Geologist, Dr. W. E. Ham, had said the stone could be broken by a geologist's hammer only with difficulty, and that the slab had fallen from the cliff eons ago into its north-south position.

A suggestion had been made that early land surveyors had carved the stone as one of their markers. When the records of the original 1897 survey of the area were checked, it was found that the closest survey line was run off the cliff 1/2 mile away from the stone. So these surveyors had not seen or made the carved stone.

When the Senators' son James arrived, he read my unsigned statement from the Department of the Interior which had been written eight years previously. This was a one-page summary of the site, the stone, and its possibilities.

The idea for a State Park caught hold. I had approached the landowner ten years previously about a donation of ten acres to the state. He was agreeable if the runestone could be proved authentic. However, it was James Hamilton who obtained the donation of fifty-five acres, plus an access easement, from Herbert Z. Ward and his wife Betty. Mr. and Mrs. Leland Dial also gave an access easement across their property. Senator Clem Hamilton obtained the first appropriation from the legislature, and soon a road began to snake its way up the western side of Poteau Mountain above Heavener.

Senator Hamilton and I did not see eye to eye at first. When he was told that some graffiti had been scratched into the Heavener Runestone, he said the state would "clean it up" by sandblasting. My answer was that they would have to sandblast me first, as I would be standing in front of it. He got the point and smiled. His son James was to be very important in the development of the State Park when he also became an Oklahoma State Senator after the death of his father.

The Heavener Runestone as a Date

An important incentive for the establishment of the State Park at Heavener occurred in 1968. A copy of the runes had come into the hands of Alf Monge of California, whose particular background combined to give him an understanding that possibly no one else could have had. He was born in Norway and was familiar not only with runic inscriptions but the ancient Norse calendars. He was a retired U.S. Army Cryptographer. After he had broken one of the important Japanese codes in World War II, England borrowed him to work with the British Military Intelligence. This work resulted in an award from King George VI.

Monge proposed that the Heavener inscription was the date November 11, 1012, A.D. This date meshed with Phol's theory concerning Karlsefni's boat ascending the Mississippi River. Monge said the runes did not translate because they were not used as letters, but as numbers. The numbers were obtained by using the letter's positions in two ancient Norse alphabets, the Elder Futhark which was used from the third to the eighth century A.D., and the Younger Futhork which was used after that.

Monge said the second and eighth runes were from the Younger Futhork and the other six were from the Elder Futhark. He said it was necessary for the man who made the inscription to use both alphabets in order to give the year, the month, and the day of the month. He explained that the method employed was the same that had been used in the ancient Norse cryptopuzzles. The intellectuals of that time, especially the Benedictine Monks, had composed these puzzles to hide a date in as many ways as possible.

Monge said the date on the Heavener Runestone, which also is St. Martin's Day, was verifiable in eight different ways, a condition that was mathematically impossible to happen by accident. The complicated process used to draw this conclusion is explained in a book co-authored by Monge and Dr. Ole G. Landsverk, and in an article by Landsverk.

The Park is Dedicated

From 1965 there were many legislative problems over the money, the name of the park, and the land deeds. Finally all these matters were resolved, and the Heavener Runestone State Park was formally dedicated on October 25, 1970, largely due to the efforts of Senator James Hamilton.

The Poteau Runestone

Perhaps once in a lifetime something unexpectedly happens that exceeds one's fondest hopes. Such was the discovery of the "Poteau Runestone." On September 21, 1967 a note on my office desk said, "The Superintendent of Poteau Schools called and said some boys had brought in what they believe to be a runestone. Call him if you want to see it." The report did not generate much excitement, as I had tracked down at least fifty false reports of runestones by that time. All the treks into the rugged mountains were painfully remembered, along with the tick and chigger bites, briar scratches, rattlesnake scares, and bruises which had been endured. All this was the result of following information about a carved stone someone thought they had seen. Surely it would not be possible to see an actual runestone only a few blocks away and under a roof. But noontime found me at the Junior High science room for an appointment with Margaret Blake, the boys' teacher.

When she produced the 15-inch stone, I could hardly believe what I saw: an unmistakable, genuine, authentic runestone!(Fig. 9-6). There were seven characters in a straight line, l 1/2 to 2 inches high. The runes showed very plainly because the bottom of the grooves were in a lighter colored layer of the stone, while the surface was dark. Tool marks in the grooves showed that the letters had been made with a punch, like the Heavener Runestone.

Fig. 9-6 Photograph and drawing of Poteau Runestone.

Four of the runes were duplicates of those on the Heavener Runestone, and three seemed to be variants of others on it. A careful tracing and drawing of the inscription was made. In answer to questions, Blake called in two students, the twelve-year-old boys who had found the stone. Mike Griffeth was tall, blonde, and serious. Smaller, dark, part Choctaw Indian, Henry McBride had a ready grin. The four of us planned a trip to the original site near the crest of Terry Hill on the outskirts of Poteau, at the foot of Cavanal Mountain at 5 P.M. that afternoon. At 1 P.M., my need for a camera caused me to stand at the foot of the stairway at my office building and wish aloud for one. It was not surprising when a strange young man descending the stairs overheard me, and within one minute had obtained a camera from his car and placed it in my hands.

Terry Hill was steep and rough, being recently denuded by a bulldozer. The boys led us to the top of a ledge of rock 5 feet high near the crest of the hill, and placed the runestone exactly where it had originally formed a part of the top surface of stone. They were not scolded for removing it. After all, they had not known the cardinal rules for inscriptions: leave it in place, do not break it loose from any ledge or cliff of which it is a part, and do not scrape or scrub it. The boys had not only done all of this, but their effort had broken the inscription itself into two pieces, the break occurring through the second rune. Undaunted, they had successfully glued it back together before they had taken it to school.

Listening carefully to the boys and their teacher, I obtained the story of its discovery. Terry Hill had long been a place for the boys to explore. They were especially interested in finding Indian arrow-heads. On Monday, September 20, after an especially hard rain, they were searching along the ledge. The red clay from the upper bulldozed area had washed onto the surface of the ledge, filling the grooves of the runic inscription, making it plain to see. They knelt and uncovered the lettering. McBride had seen the Heavener Runestone and realized they might be runes.

It did not occur to the boys that adults might be willing to climb the hill to see the stone in its undisturbed state. Their only thought was to take it to their teacher. They returned the next day after school with a crowbar and a sledge hammer. Deceased runologists probably turned over in their graves at that moment. The top layer of the sedimentary ledge was about 2 inches thick, giving them a crack for inserting the crowbar. The task proved harder than they had anticipated. They had to return another day before they succeeded in breaking the inscription loose.

As the remaining part of the ledges' surface was covered with the flat gray lichen common to the area, the boys were asked if the inscription stone had been like this. They said that it had, that circles of lichen grew very near the grooves, but they had carefully cleaned the stone with a scrub brush. A very tiny bit of lichen had escaped their zeal, and still clung to the edge of the stone. They said the top of the runes had been nearest the edge of the ledge.

Standing where the runemaster had stood, I tried to discern why he had chosen this particular spot. The study of geological quadrangle maps, aerial photographs, and reports of the original land surveys of the area had given me an understanding of the location. Gazing out over a lovely valley, I could see that the site of the Heavener Runestone on the side of Poteau Mountain lay about 10 miles to the southeast. It was then realized that the sites of Heavener Runestones Numbers Two and Three also fell along my line of sight. With the able assistance of State Senator Joe Johnson, we correctly placed four tiny marks for the four sites on a map, laid a ruler along the marks, and drew a straight line running almost due southeast to northwest through the four marks. An extension of the line ran through Short Mountain north by the Arkansas River about 40 miles away. Surely this had some significance.

In December 1967 Griffeth and McBride brought to school a fragment of stone marked with an "X," which they had found at the bottom of the ledge at the site of the Poteau Runestone. We found with great satisfaction that it fit with a click onto the left side of the original stone. It matched exactly in color, texture, lineup of the lettering, and a slight scratch on both pieces. A margin all around the eight runes assured us that the inscription was now complete. The added "X" made it even more like the Heavener Runestone which also begins with this symbol.

A report was obtained from Paul Richardson, geologist, who stated that the stone was of the Pennsylvanian age Savanna Formation, and tested seven on the Mohs' hardness scale, which explains why the boys had such a difficult time removing it. He stated that the inscription could have lasted for a thousand years without eroding away. At my request, since the branch to the left of the seventh symbol seemed short, he verified that this was a part of the original pecked inscription.

I wrote several articles on the discovery of the Poteau Runestone which were published in Oklahoma newspapers and magazines. They explained that Monge had given his solution to the Poteau inscription as another date, November 11, 1017 A.D., exactly five years later than the date he said was on the Heavener Runestone. One of the pieces of evidence he used was the shape of the seventh symbol on the Poteau Runestone. It was not, he said, in the standard runic alphabets but was a runic symbol for the numeral 17. It was made anciently to denote the seventeenth line of the Rati, used in the Norse Easter Table and the Ecclesiastical Calendar. The Rati is one of nineteen "Golden Numbers" used at the left of the Easter Table to indicate lines in the two-way numerical table.

A series of misunderstandings and events after the publication of these articles reads like a detective story. Elbert Costner, Field Representative for the Oklahoma Historical Society, had been quietly working to document the find and to obtain donation agreements for the stone to become the property of the newly developing Kerr Museum. The antiquities laws of Oklahoma dictate that an artifact belongs first to the state, second to the landowner, and third to the finder. Costner had obtained signed release statements from the boys and from the landowner.

However, he did not know that a collector of Norse artifacts in Minnesota had contacted the boys, offering $1,240 for the Poteau Runestone, or that an Oklahoma City collector had offered them $1,000. The boy's parents had never been informed of the antiquities laws. The Griffeths obtained the stone from the school, and for a while there was a merry mix-up about ownership. After a few days it was donated to Kerr Museum, where it securely rests in a locked case.

The Shawnee Runestone

Another small incised stone reposes within a case at Kerr Museum, but its importance is not to be judged by its size. It has been suggested that it could be another runic date, or a name written in runes. There are indications that it marked a grave. It is called the "Shawnee Runestone," because it was found within the city limits of Shawnee, in central Oklahoma, 1 mile from the North Canadian River, which is a tributary of the Arkansas River.

News of this stone finally reached me in March 1971, by a circuitous route, because fifteen long distance calls to my home went unanswered. I was at the time at work in another town.

In August 1969 Jim Estep, a young man of Shawnee, was taking his 7-year-old brother-in-law, Mikel Lindsay, and another small boy, David Sersen, on a snake hunt. They were walking in the northeastern part of the city, along a wooded path that followed a small creek, a tributary of the North Canadian River. There are very few stones exposed in this area and no ledges or outcrops. However, they did find an oval stone about 14 inches long in the weeds, buried about an inch in the soil. They turned it over. Instead of the hoped-for snake, they saw a neatly cut inscription of five strange letters on the underside of the stone (Fig. 9-7). The find was reported to Estep's mother-in-law, Vondell Lindsay, who asked him to retrieve the stone. The letters were filled with dried mud. Unfortunately, young Mikel used a frog-gig to clean some of it out, but he did very little damage.

Fig. 9-7 Photograph and drawing, with transliteration, of Shawnee Runestone.

Estep took the stone with him when he moved to Lawton, where his mother, Mrs. Calvin Estep, took it to the Museum of the Great Plains in October of the same year. The officials at this museum were not interested in the inscribed stone, a fact that in the future was to make the Board of Directors at the Kerr Museum very happy. The stone traveled back to Shawnee when Mikel wanted it for a "show and tell" at school, and it was preserved by his mother. The next year she read the article by Landsverk in Oklahoma Today. It described the method by which Monge had determined and believed that the Heavener Runestone was a date, and showed the runic inscription on it. Mrs. Lindsay immediately recognized that the symbols on her son's stone were runes, and she contacted Landsverk after she failed to reach me.

Landsverk, Monge, and Syversen became excited at the discovery of another alleged runestone, and all of us began to work to verify and authenticate it. Lindsay had sent an accurate tracing, from which all of us were able to transliterate the five runes to their equivalent English letters, all from the 24-rune Elder Futhark, as "MEDOK."

Medok is similar to Madoc, the name of a Welsh prince. Ancient records state that he came to America in the year 1170 A.D., then returned to Wales for ten shiploads of colonists which he led up the Mississippi River. Could this stone have marked his grave? The voyages of Madoc had been studied when, in 1960, I had written a 59-page term paper on pre-Columbian discoveries and was impressed by accounts written by early explorers of Welsh-speaking Indians. In 1961 a book was published that included an entire chapter on Madoc, which is quite fascinating. That the carved stone might be Madoc's gravestone is very improbable. The Welsh did not use third century A.D. Norse runes. The name Medok is not Madoc. But anything written in runes is worth an investigation.

Estep and Lindsay offered to meet me in Shawnee to show the stone and the site, but they warned that it must be soon, as the site was being bulldozed for a new housing development. Their telephone call the evening of March 8, 1971, offering to meet me the next morning, came at an unfortunate time, for my just-sprained left ankle was packed in ice. What to do? I rented crutches and drove 175 miles to Shawnee, although this indiscretion was paid for by wearing a elastic bandage for the next six months.

When the stone was put into my hands, it was no disappointment. It measures 14 1/2 by 11 1/2 by 2 inches, and weighs 14 pounds. It is reddish in color and has a rough surface. It was later verified by geologist Paul Richardson that it is a red Permian sandstone, native to the Shawnee area. The five runes, which range from 1 1/2 to 3 inches in height, stretch for 8 inches across the center in a straight line.

The top edges of the stone are more weathered than the bottom ones, indicating that it had once been placed in the earth like a sign or a tombstone. Curiously, the first three runes are connected, and the last two are larger and offset.

When Estep took us to the site, he was unable to locate the exact spot where the stone had lain, because a road had been bulldozed where the path had been. He located the spot within about 20 feet. He also described another larger stone carved with an arrow, which he had seen lying against a slope. It had been too heavy for him to carry home, and it now had disappeared. How fortunate that the family had rescued and preserved the Shawnee Runestone!

On the theory that the stone had marked a grave, which might contain some metal, my son Mark and a friend went to the site with a metal detector to check the 20-foot area. They found nothing. Elbert Costner and Benny Klutz of Poteau, the latter an Oklahoma Highway Commissioner, then assisted. With a very powerful metal detector, we rechecked the small area, again with no helpful results. The construction crew barely waited for us to do our work to set off dynamite blasts, and we left in a shower of small stones.

One new bit of information was gleaned while we were searching. A thirteen year old boy, Mark McKidder, who had moved to the neighborhood in January 1970, told us that he had seen another carved stone on the ground near his tree house. He described it as being roundish, about 18 inches long, and with six or seven strange 2-inch letters on it in a straight line. He could not have been describing the Shawnee Runestone, as Estep had removed that in August 1969. McKidder said that some trucks had loaded up stones from the entire area and hauled them away. I felt like saying, "This is the story of my life, always too late!"

Monge studied the inscription on the Shawnee Runestone and said it was another Norse cryptopuzzle, giving the date November 24, 1024 A.D. It is noteworthy, that using his method, the dates of Heavener, Poteau, and Shawnee Runestones are within twelve years of each other and that the inscriptions themselves are very similar.

In determining the date of the Shawnee Runestone, Monge considered the grouping of the first three runes, which were connected (called a ligature), as a count of three, and the last as two. He offered no less than nine verifications that the date of the Shawnee Runestone is correct. Based upon this interpretation, the Shawnee Runestone became so important that on April 19, 1971, the Oklahoma State Senate adopted a resolution commending persons who had played a part in tracing this particular history of Oklahoma.

Other Translations

Research on the Oklahoma Runestones continued through the years, and one new opinion was published in 1987, when Paul Chapman of Georgia presented his theories on the Heavener, Poteau, and Shawnee Runestones. Chapman was of the opinion that the Heavener Runestone was an invitation to barter, made by a Norse trader during the time of the use of the Younger Futhork. Reading the inscription from right to left obtains "L A D E M O N G." By changing the vowels "E" and "O" to two "A's," he obtained the Icelandic words, "Lada" and "Mang," meaning "To invite" and "barter." He was under the erroneous impression that the 12-foot stone stood highly visible on the crest of the mountain.

Chapman thought that a second trader made the Poteau inscription and implied that the trader intended to copy the Heavener runes, which are very similar, but made several errors. Chapman explained that the carver substituted one rune for a similar one, used half of that, and inadvertently left it out of its proper place, so added it at the end. He thinks the seventh rune on the Poteau Runestone is the same as the seventh one on the Heavener Runestone but reversed and "stung." Chapman also thought the Shawnee Runestone is a gravestone. By changing the second rune "E" to "Y-R" in Old Norse, as it is connected in what he calls a bindrune, or a ligature in this case, he obtained the translation "MYRDA," "to conceal a murdered body." He says the changes on the three runestones reflect later futhorks.

Boundary Marker

In 1986 research on the American runestones was to change drastically. An American engineer and Norse scholar, Richard Nielsen, whose doctorate had been obtained at the University of Denmark, published the first of a series of three articles which made great strides in authenticating the Kensington Runestone, which was dated at 1362 A.D.

He then turned his attention to the Oklahoma Runestones. In doing an in-depth study in the Scandinavian countries, he had access to ancient literature and to seldom-seen runestones, and consultations with runologists. He published one paper on the Heavener Runestone63 then another titled "The Runestones of Oklahoma," after he had studied the Poteau Runestone.

He determined that the second and last runes on the Heavener Runestone, which had been considered an "A" and a "T," were actually versions of "L," and that the seventh rune on the Poteau inscription was a double "L" in the form of a bindrune, a combination of two runes using one vertical stroke for a stemline. Nielsen determined that all the runes on the Heavener, Poteau, and Shawnee inscriptions were actually in the Elder Futhark (Fig. 9-8). This would negate Monge's theory of dates based on the runes being in two separate futharks, and would also negate Chapman's theory which used the Younger Futhork. Using only the Elder Futhark allowed Nielsen to translate the runes into a plain text, or words, instead of numbers.

The Heavener runes transliterated into "G L O M E D A L." "Glome," is an ancient name, and "Dal" means "valley." Thus the meaning is "Glome's Valley," or a land claim by a man named Glome (Fig. 9-9). The Poteau runes, he found, transliterated into "G L O I A L L W (Alu)." In Scandinavian literature he found that "Gloi," is a nickname for "Glome," thus the two stones are related to the same man. The word "Alu" means "Magic" or "Protection" so the translation is "Magic to Gloi." This expression is usually used in relationship to a death. The Poteau Runestone is a memorial to Glome. This language was used around 600 A.D. and is the key to the new dating of the Oklahoma Runestones. The stones were made, according to Nielsen, between 600 and 900 A.D., probably around 750 A.D.

Fig. 9-8 Comparisons of runes on Heavener, Poteau, and Shawnee Runestones.

Fig. 9-9 Transliterations of Heavener and Poteau Runestones by Nielsen.

In June 1992 Nielsen visited the Heavener Runestone State Park, and was interviewed for two and one-half hours by a Tulsa television reporter. His interview was condensed to about a minute and a half for the broadcast on KOTV Channel 6, July 1, 1992. It is the policy of this station to erase the parts of the tapes not used for final broadcast. In spite of my pleas, we were not allowed to purchase or copy any of this significant and historically valuable interview before it was destroyed.

Final Choices

The Heavener Runestone does stand up like a boundary marker in a deep ravine. The surrounding small valley, protected from the elements, would have been such a desirable place to live, that it seems sensible for a land claim or boundary marker to have been cut there on stone.

So the reader is invited to sift all the opinions and painstaking research and consider whether the Heavener Runestone says, "November 11, 1012 A.D." based on the use of two runic alphabets, whether it says "To invite barter" based on the Younger Futhork, or whether it says "Glome's Valley" based on the use of the Elder Futhark. My vote is for the latter.

From the Norse to the Egyptians is quite a shift in thinking, but both cultures appear to have been in ancient America. The Egyptians trek through the next chapter.

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