SECRET SOCIETY – HIDDEN TREASURE – BURIED JOURNALS??
What have Detective Annie Avants and Detective Tom Weston of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office Robbery/Homicide Unit got themselves into now?
It seems that Annie’s cousin, Zachary Avants, who is a retired history professor in Mena, Arkansas and an avid genealogist, has found three journals buried in the root cellar of a cabin in the Ouachita National Forest near Brushy Creek. The journals are almost 100 years old and, to Zack’s surprise, were written by his great grandfather, Orris Avants. What Zack and Annie don’t realize is that a mysterious secret society that has been in existence before the Civil War, and the FBI, both would kill to get their hands on these journals. And, they do. . .
Here’s the Prologue:
February 8, 1921, Ouachita Forest near Brushy Creek, Arkansas
The man scrambled up the steep slope through the underbrush. His pursuers were about thirty minutes behind him. There wasn’t a lot of time to lose.
Many months had passed since he visited the abandoned cabin that was his destination. On his previous visit, there were no squatters or hunters in residence. He hoped that was still the case.
At last, the cabin came into view. He approached it warily, being very quiet. All he could hear were the normal sounds of the Ouachita Forest and the wildlife that lived there. He didn’t sense the presence of any other persons.
The windows were broken out and the front door lay on the porch. He entered quietly and headed for the bedroom. The cabin had once been the home of his ancestor, Peter Avants, and his family. They were dead now and Orris didn’t know of any descendants or where they might be. The cabin was all but forgotten.
In the bedroom, he found the trapdoor under the broken down bed that led to the cellar. He shined his light down the stairs to make sure they were intact. Nature was kind. The stairs appeared to be solid. Still, he tested one step at a time as he descended the rickety wooden staircase.
When he got to the bottom, he shined his light around looking for the section that housed the root cellar. Rows of Mason jars that held the produce that the wife had canned before they left filled the shelves. There were no windows and the smell was dank and musty. It didn’t take him long to locate the root cellar.
He searched the walls, looking for a good place to dig. He found a location that he liked on the back wall, about three feet from the floor. With a small shovel that he found in the outer chamber, he begin digging a hole in the dirt wall. The dirt walls were packed solid and didn’t cave in under his digging. When the hole was two feet wide by one foot high and went back three feet, he was satisfied. He lined the hole with some old pieces of tin he found on the floor of the main cellar.
Next, he took his three precious journals, wrapped in many layers of oilcloth, and placed them inside a cast iron skillet from the kitchen. He covered the skillet with the cast iron lid. From his pocket, he took a small package of pitch and sealed the edges around the cover.
When he was finished, he shoved the sealed skillet into the hole, as far back as it would go. Then he carefully begin packing the dirt he had excavated back into the cavity. He packed it tight, leaving no air spaces.
He smoothed the exterior wall when he was finished so no one could tell it had been disturbed. He scattered the extra dirt around the floor of the outer chamber and used an old branch to sweep his footsteps in the root cellar. Then, he scattered some old junk around the floor, as well as some leaves and other debris.
Satisfied that no one would be able to find his cache, he backed out of the main chamber, brushing his tracks as he left. After he climbed the stairs to the bedroom, he reached down and forced them loose from the wall so they ended up on the floor. He then replaced the trap door and the bed where they were originally.
Checking everything, he slowly backed out of the cabin, making sure any foot prints he made in the dust were obliterated. He didn’t want his trackers to know for sure he had been inside the cabin.
Feeling in his heart that there was not much more he could do, he set off through the forest. The trackers weren’t far behind.
”Whoa,” the lead man said to his horse as he and his men pulled up to the abandoned cabin. “Lookee here, a cabin. How convenient,” he said to his companions.
He got down from his horse and, followed by the three other men, carefully surveyed the land around the cabin. “If he was here,” said one of the men, “he covered his tracks well. But my gut feelin’ is that he passed this way within the last hour.”
“What signs do you see?” The leader said.
“Faint footprints leaving the cabin and going back into the forest. He appears to have tried to brush out his tracks in the bare dirt around the cabin, but when he got to the forest, he was less careful.”
“Well, let’s take a look inside. He could still be here hidin’.”
The men searched the house and found no obvious signs that anyone had been there for a while. The dust on the floor and what little furnishings were left appeared undisturbed.
“Hey, boss, come here,” one of the men called out. “There’s a trapdoor goin’ down to a cellar. You wanna check it out?”
The boss man came into the bedroom and they opened the trapdoor. When they saw that the wooden stairs were laying at the bottom, they shined their lights around to examine the area.
“I don’t see anything worthwhile. I don’t think he went down there, if he was even here. The trampled leaves we saw leading away from the cabin could have been left by animals,” one of the men said.
“Well, I think we should follow them anyway,” the boss said as he turned to leave the cabin. “The trail led to this cabin and now it seems to lead away from it. The cabin itself is probably not important. Let’s head out.”
With that, the men remounted their horses and set off after the man they called a spy and a traitor.
* * *
Orris Avants watched the four men leave the cabin in the direction of the false trail he left. Before they arrived, there was enough time to walk in a misleading direction, leaving tracks that they could easily follow. He then doubled back to the cabin, leaving no trail. He climbed a tree just off to the right of the cabin and watched the men as they did their search He needed to make sure they didn’t find his cache.
He waited in his perch for one hour after they departed. Then, he climbed down and headed back in the original direction from which he and the trackers had come.
In a hidden cave, several miles from the cabin, he rested for the night. Inside the cave was his horse and a good stash of supplies that would last him a long time. He also carried a Mason jar full of gold coins. Taking his time to travel over obscure routes and spending as little of the gold as he could, he made his way north and away from the sentinels of Polk County.
HERE ARE SOME MORE ENTRIES FROM ORRIS’ JOURNALS:
March 5, 1920
In June of 1919 I was through with my schooling and didn’t know what direction my life would follow.
Although I had been born in Mena in 1902, when I was three years old, my family moved to Fort Smith. This was a long way from where most of our other relatives lived and it was lonely at first. Most of our other relatives lived down in Polk County near the Ouachita National Forest.
My mom stayed in touch with her nieces – my cousins – Anna May and Mary Elizabeth. Mary Elizabeth lived with their brothers Joseph Isom and Archie Edward Avants in the Brushy Creek/Six Mile River area. When “Aunt Jim”, as Mary Elizabeth was affectionately known, suggested that I take off a year or so and come live with them, she said it would give me a chance to get to know my southern relatives and sort out what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t see any future for me in Fort Smith, so I was very happy with her offer.
Aunt Jim said my male cousins, Ed and Isom, were gone most of the time and the women could use another man around the homestead to help with the chores.
On the last day of June, 1919, I headed south for Brushy Creek.
Ed was 8 years older than me and Isom was 10 years older. Aunt Jim was just 2 years older than me and Anna was actually 2 years younger than I was, so it was going to be fun. I couldn’t wait to get there.
There are many more entries that detail the daily life on the Avants homestead. At one point, he begins to get suspicious of what Ed and Isom were doing each day, but they wouldn’t answer his questions.
Then, he found Isom’s notebook left behind one day and took a peek into it. He was amazed at what he found and since he was alone at the homestead that day, he got a clean journal and copied every page of the notebook, then put it back where he found it. There were also some loose sheets of paper which he copied. He was glad he had brought several empty journals with him to record his experiences ‘down south.
Here’s how he describes what he found in Isom Avants’ notebook:
August 30, 1920
I don’t understand what these drawings in Isom’s notebook mean, but I know they have something to do with what he and Ed are involved in. The drawings are familiar. They remind me of the etchings I’ve seen all over the hills on trees and rock faces. I’m going to start drawing what I see when I’m out and mark the locations. Maybe it will all make sense eventually.
The meetings continue in the barn and several local men attend. I’ve never been invited, but I’ve started trying to listen when I can get close enough and find out what they are talking about. I have another journal I started when I was trying to figure out what my cousins were up to – before I found Isom’s notebook – and I’ve listed the men who attend the meetings, when they take place, and any snatches of conversation I’ve been able to overhear. None of it made much sense but I’m hoping when I get a chance to study the contents of Isom’s notebook, it will become clearer what’s going on. I fear that they’re involved in illegal activities. I don’t think my aunts know anything about what’s taking place. Of course, what the men do is the men’s business and the women only concern themselves with running the household.
After that, he watched the two brothers carefully and tried harder to overhear their conversations, especially when they had meetings in the barn with other locals. So he ended up with three journals – his original ‘diary’ talking about his life with his cousins, a hand made copy of Isom’s notebook, and the journal he was using to document what was going on with his cousins and their friends.
Here’s the last entry in his journal:
February 8, 1921
When I first came to stay with my relatives, I was excited. Aunt Jim ran the household and Anna was there almost every day, but still lived with her parents.
I had hoped to learn more about what the men were doing each day, but they were gone a lot and when I asked about their work, or if I could go with them, they usually ignored me. They were pleasant and we had good rapport when they were at home, but I began to feel that whatever they did, they were very secretive about it.
I would watch Isom at his desk in his office when he left the door ajar. He would be writing in a small notebook but, of course, I couldn’t see what he was writing.
Sometimes a bunch of men would come and they’d go out to the barn and talk for hours. I was never included.
One day, after Isom and Ed left the house, I noticed Isom’s office door was open and that his notebook was sitting on his desk. He never left it out and, as far as I could tell, he always kept it with him. I walked around the house to see where Aunt Jim was, and she was out back hanging up the wash. I went into the office and peeked in the book. There was writing, and numbers, and lists of names but the thing that intrigued me were drawings, some looked like circular grids, or spider webs. They made no sense to me.
I heard the back door slam so went out into the kitchen to talk to Aunt Jim. I was afraid Isom would come back to get his notebook and I didn’t want to be caught looking at it. I asked Aunt Jim when they would be back. She said it wouldn’t be for a couple of days, that they had left with Will Ashcraft and some other men and were going to stop at William Wiley’s cabin and then head to Little Rock to pick up supplies.
I thought that perhaps I could sneak the notebook into my room to get a better look at it, but I was still nervous that Isom might realize he had forgotten it and return. But, Aunt Jim solved that problem for me.
She said she was going to go pick up Anna and they were going to Mena for the day to do some shopping and other chores and they wouldn’t be back until evening. She said there was plenty of food I could fix for myself and that they would probably eat in Mena before they came home.
I waited for half an hour after Aunt Jim left before I went into Isom’s office. I had another blank journal and I started at page one and copied each and every page as exact as I could. Most of it didn’t make sense to me, but I figured I would have time to figure it out later.
In the back of the journal were some loose pages in someone else’s handwriting. I copied them, also. They were coordinates from certain landmarks with a dollar amount next to them. Also, each place had the name of someone local and they called that person the sentinel. Weird, I thought.
Also, on the loose pages was the initials KGC, which I didn’t understand at the time, as well as lists of names – mostly local men that I had seen around the homestead. Some of the other names were J.I. Avants, Edward Avants, J.P. Smith, Will Ashcraft, Blalock, Joe Anders, C.B. Rowe, and Chas. Davis. Also mentioned was Shady, Arkansas.
Now, Brushy Creek was a small area and there had been rumors for years that there was Spanish treasure buried in the Ouachita Mountains. There were also strange markings on trees and rocks and other things. I had seen a lot of these markers, but no one would tell me what they meant and they discouraged me from wandering in the mountains.
Well, I liked to hike and didn’t like always being stuck in the house with the womenfolk so, every chance I got, I would go out and explore the area.
I took my third, and last blank journal and started writing my speculations as to what all of this meant. I went round in circles because I didn’t have enough information to form any meaningful ideas. I also started drawing pictures of any trees or rocks with markers on them and adding them to the third journal.
My curiosity was inflamed so I started paying more attention when Isom and Ed were home. I would try to listen to their conversations and later, I got really bold and would try to overhear what they were talking about with their friends in the barn. I had to be real careful not to get caught outside when they had their meetings because there was no reason for me to be hanging around the barn.
Each time I heard something interesting, I would write it in the third journal. There was a lot of talk about “caches” and protecting the area, and being wary of any strangers lurking about. They also talked about the government and how it would love to get ahold of what they had.
That’s what I couldn’t figure out. What did they have, exactly? I heard someone mention the Knights of the Golden Circle and that’s when I figured out what KGC meant. As far as I knew, it was no longer active, but had been a secret society since before the Civil War. I knew that the KGC had been accused of stealing a lot of money from the Union, robbing payroll and other shipments, but no one ever said where the money ended up or what it was stolen for.
I started thinking. Maybe these stashes of money were buried in our mountains and this is what all this secret stuff is about. This is why they had sentinels guarding the area to make sure there were no accidental discoveries.
I kept putting the pieces together in my third journal. I was now very careful because I knew what they were doing was in secret and I would be in big trouble if they found out what I knew, especially if they knew I had seen Isom’s notebook and the loose sheets of paper which seemed to give the precise locations of some of the places that were being guarded, as well as a list of people involved.
After six months, though, my luck ran out. One day after they left, I was sitting outside under a tree writing in the third journal, with the other two in my day pack and I didn’t hear Isom and Ed return . Isom walked over to where I was sitting and asked me what I was doing. I told him just writing. He reached down and took the journal out of my hands, spent a few minutes reading it, and then told me I was in big trouble.
He took me back into the house – I didn’t have a choice – and called Ed to come into his office. He told Ed what he’d found. They searched my day pack and found the other journals and I was sure I was a dead man.
They put my journals back in my day pack and locked it with me in the cellar. Aunt Jim was gone for the day with Anna again, so I had no one to help me get away. And I knew I had to escape. They so much as said they were going to have to have a meeting and decide what to do about the spy in their midst. They even hinted at the idea that I might be working for the government, which of course I wasn’t.
I sat in the cellar trying to figure out what to do. I didn’t think I could break down the door and there was only one small window up high and I wasn’t sure I could get to it, let alone get through it.
But, I gave it a shot and, much to my surprise, when I climbed up on some old steamer trunks and reached the window, I found it was unlatched and I was able to barely squeeze through it.
I ran to my room, grabbed my belongings, and headed north. I knew I had to get away, but I also knew I had a good head start. So, when I got to the abandoned cabin, I took the time to write this final entry in my first journal. Now I’m going to find a good place to hide them and then high tail it out of here.
If anyone ever finds these, I hope I’m still alive. All I want is to get as far away from Brushy Creek as I can.
If you want to know when this exciting crime fiction thriller will be published, just sign up using the form in the right sidebar on the home page of this site. You’ll be one of the first to know and will have a chance to enter a free giveaway to get a paperback copy of SOUTHERN SECRETS when it’s published!