Twice in the past month, as part of the research I am doing for a book I’m writing, I have visited a secluded area of Douglas County, Colorado where the Confederate underground was known to have operated in the 1860s- An area where several buried caches of Civil War era arms and ammunition have been found through the years. I set out to search for any signs or evidence of these long-forgotten Confederate agents who smuggled weapons and supplies through Colorado Territory.
Old Stage barn constructed in 1861 in Douglas County, Colorado. The Confederate underground operated in the hills nearby throughout the Civil War.
Known as the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) the Confederate underground was a secretive, fraternal order loosely based on the Masons. Active throughout the southern states, and western territories in the waning years of the Civil War the KGC possessed a tremendous amount of wealth and influence. Many high ranking officers of the Confederacy were KGC members, and thousands of rank and file soldiers were initiates in the secret order as well. Among the most notable members of the KGC were Frank and Jesse James, William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, John Wilkes Booth, General Douglas H. Cooper, Colorado pioneer Alexander “Zan” Hicklin, James and John Reynolds (see my previous blogs regarding the Reynolds Gang in Colorado) would-be assassin Lewis Powell (Payne) and the well-known Freemason Albert Pike (who many believe founded the KGC.)
Famous Freemason Albert Pike, Thought to be the Founder of the KGC
The primary objective of the KGC was to accumulate wealth (aka gold and silver) and weapons by any means, which usually meant robbery, for use in a future “second” Civil War against the Union. Hidden in caches across the south and west, the KGC employed agents or “sentinels” that stood guard over the buried treasure for many decades. Dating back to the days leading up to the Civil War, KGC initiates used a series of “grips” or hand signals to indicate their membership in the order- To the casual bystander, the “grips” wouldn’t seem unusual, but to a fellow KGC member they would be easily recognized.
Four famous members of the KGC demonstrating one of the Orders’ “secret” grips-
The right hand grasping or tucked inside the lapel.
Left to Right- “Bloody Bill” Anderson, Jesse and Frank James, John Wilkes Booth.
William “Bloody Bill” Anderson
Jesse and Frank James
John Wilkes Booth
KGC initiate Lewis Powell (Also Known as Lewis Payne) attempted to kill Secretary of State William Seward on April 14, 1865. These photos taken after his arrest show him giving what former members of the KGC confirmed were secret “grips” of the order.
Also employed by the KGC in their nefarious activities was a secret alphabet or code, and messages would be carved in trees, rocks, or passed between members on scraps of paper. A first hand account given by a ranch hand of Alexander “Zan” Hicklin of a guerrilla traversing Colorado Territory bound for Confederate lines in New Mexico in 1862 states:
“Hicklin was suspicious of the man at first. I saw him hand Hicklin a scrap of paper covered in symbols and scribbles. Hicklin then eased and provided the man with food and provisions for his journey.”
It is clear the “…scrap of paper covered in symbols and scribbles…” was a message in the KGC code vouching for the wayward guerrilla.
Key to the KGC Secret Code
The KGC was a very real, very powerful order which lasted well into the 20th Century. Reports of second and third generation KGC sentinels standing vigil at burial sites persisted until the 1930s! In the late 1800s and early 1900s numerous cases of confrontations and even shootings at the hands of mysterious armed men deep in forests have been attributed to KGC sentinels watching over their loot. Around the outbreak of WWII, suspected KGC activity seemed to disappear.
KGC cache sites were marked with a series of nondescript signs- Treasure hunters have spent years deciphering the signs of the KGC and documenting anomalies found at known KGC cache sites. A common series of markers used by the KGC, which would go unnoticed by the casual passerby, has been documented-
- “Hoot Owls”– Trees which have been deformed, grafted or otherwise “engineered” into unnatural shapes are the most common KGC marker. “Twin” “Triplet” or unusual clusters of trees the exact same height and age also indicate KGC activity, as they were purposely arranged in such a fashion.
Examples of KGC “Hoot Owls” found at cache burial sites in the south/west.
2. Rock Carvings– Some complex, such as those using the KGC code or symbols-pyramids, eyes, numbers, etc. Other carvings were as simple as a cross or a series of holes bored into the rock.
Examples of known/suspected KGC rock carvings (complex)
Examples of suspected KGC rock carvings (simple)
3. Marker Stones– A series of stones, often triangular or “arrowhead” shaped placed along the path to a cache, these stones would appear ordinary to most, but to a KGC agent, they would point the way to buried goods. Also used as marker stones were ordinary looking rocks that might not be of a type native or normally found in the area, for example quartz markers left in an area where there is only sandstone.
Examples of KGC marker stones from confirmed cache sites.
4) Burned out tree trunks and holes bored into tree trunks-The burned out stump was a popular KGC marker meaning “Buried cache in a hole nearby.”
(No photos available of “burned tree trunk/stump markers”- Information based on data and claims compiled/made by Military Historian Dr. Roy William Roush, Ph.D., in his book “Knights of the Golden Circle Treasure Signs”)
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Using the known examples of KGC markers, I set out to find if any of these KGC markers were present at the Douglas County site- I didn’t expect to find much, but I was surprised at what I found, and I believe that a KGC cache once existed at the site, or still exists waiting to be discovered. My findings-
1. “Hoot Owls”– I stood on a small rise over the creek bottom I was investigating and scanned the treeline looking for anomalies- Anything that didn’t look right, any tree that wasn’t growing in a natural way. I found several examples of “Hoot Owls” over a one-mile stretch of creek bed, including a near perfect “arch” made by two trees bent inwards towards each other, and a “triplet” tree of nearly perfect proportions, both pictured below.
“Hoot Owls” found at the Douglas County, Colorado site- Including an “arch” and a nearly perfect “triplet”- Highly unusual for such a large concentration of “naturally” occurring anomalies to be present in an area of less than a mile. Also of note- Each of the trees was large/old enough to date to the Civil War era.
2. Rock Carvings– Across the one-mile stretch I investigated I found several rock carvings of the “simple” style- A “key”, a “cross”, two “eyes”, and series of stones with between one and four holes bored into them. There were tons of boulders and rocks in the area- Only about eight had carvings, and the stones bearing “eye” carvings all had a distinct depression or hole in the ground directly below the “eye”…former site of a buried cache???
Cross, key, and eye rock carvings found in Douglas County, Colorado.
“Eye” and simple hole pattern carvings at the site-
3. Marker Stones– Rocks that shouldn’t be there, or arrow shaped stones in unusual places. I found only one “arrow” shaped stone that was 110% out of place, sitting on top of a rounded, water worn boulder in the creek. An angular, pointy stone is very out of place in a creek bed. It was definitely put there by human hands- When? Who knows, maybe three days ago, maybe 150 years ago by a KGC agent. What was intriguing was the huge open hole in the rocks just beyond the “arrow” looked like a perfect spot to hide something.
“Arrow” marker stone and hole in the rocks behind it.
I also noticed red stones, all of a uniform size, placed at regular intervals along the creek. The stones were roughly fist sized, and unlike the native stones in the area. When I reached the near perfect triplet “Hoot Owl” tree, the trail of red stones stopped. I found no more for the next half-mile before I turned around and headed back.
Red marker stones found at regular intervals along the creek.
4. Burned Out Tree Trunk– I was not expecting to find a burned out tree trunk, but on a steep side slope of the tiny valley cut by the creek this old stump, clearly cut off by the hand of man many, many years ago caught my eye. It was so old that it was dry rotting and would crumble in your fingers, and the base had been hollowed out long ago by a fire. It was the only tree cut down by human hands on the whole hillside, and was located at a steep point next to a promontory rock that caught your eye. Directly across the creek from the burned out stump was the “Hoot Owl” arch mentioned previously.
Three views of the burnt out stump, and the “Hoot Owl” arch directly across the creek.
5. Strange circular clearing surrounded by very old felled timber- From the burnt out stump, I crossed the creek and walked through the “Hoot Owl” arch. On the other side of the “arch” was a large patch of felled timber, very old and gray with age, obviously having been down for many years. In the center of the felled timber was a nearly perfect circular patch, void of timber with the exception of one very young pine tree and short grass. I’ve seen similar circular patches in the Rockies where meteors fell, or at the site of dormant freshwater springs. This spot was similar, but the felled timber surrounding it seemed to be situated in a uniform depth of 6-8 logs which seemed unusual to me. Is this clearing the site of a forgotten KGC cache???
Circular clearing beyond the “Hoot Owl” arch.
Buried Confederate arms and ammunition have been found in this same vicinity of Douglas County in the past. Based on the evidence I found, I think that more waits to be discovered.