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  • Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

    The Runestone

    by Bob Bowman
    Bob Bowman

    East Texans willing to take the time to drive about 100 miles into eastern Oklahoma will be rewarded with a centuries-old mystery.

    And then when they leave the small town of Heavener, Oklahoma, they may carry with them a lingering doubt that Christopher Columbus really discovered America.

    In a small, rocky hollow on Poteau Mountain near Heavener is a mystery etched into the face of a large slab of rock standing 12 feet tall, 10 feet wide, and 16 inches thick. For years, Heavener residents called it "Indian Rock." Today, it's known as the Heavener Runestone.

    Local history says the rock was discovered by a Choctaw hunting party sometime in the 1830s. Etched on the face of the rock was an inscription of eight strange letters.

    White men who later settled in the area also saw the stone and, in 1913 Carl Kemmerer submitted the letters to the Smithsonian Institution, which identified the letters as Norse "runes" or letters.

    Gloria Stewart Farley, who had seen the inscription as a child, began a 38-year effort to find answers to the lettering. In 1970, after the Herbert Ward family donated 55 acres surrounding the stone to the State of Oklahoma, the Runestone State Park was founded.

    People have continued to probe into the mystery. Alf Monge, a Norway-born cryptanalyst, said the letters represented the date of November 11, 1012, and speculated that ancient Vikings carved the letters into the rock. His theory was supported by the discovery or additional runestones in eastern Oklahoma.

    By 1985, researchers theorized the runestones were carved before 800 AD. Dr. Richard Nelson, whose doctorate was obtained in Denmark, translated the symbols into words instead of numbers. He said the inscription was from the oldest 24-rune Futhark alphabet, in use from 300 to 800 AD in Scandinavia.

    Nelson said the letters on the Heavener runestone spelled G-L-O-M-E-D-A-L, which meant Glome's Valley and constituted a land claim.

    Today, Oklahomans believe that Vikings from Norway crossed the Atlantic, rounded the tip of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, went up the Mississippi River, and sailed into its tributaries, the Arkansas and Poteau rivers around 750 AD. The feat was likely possible because the Vikings often used boats with shallow drafts.

    If all of this is true, this means that Vikings, as other historians have speculated, really discovered America some five centuries before Columbus sailed here.

    Heavener State Park

    If you choose to see the Heavener Runestone yourself, here's how to get there.

    From DeKalb in East Texas, drive north on U.S. 259 and continue for about ninety miles until you reach an intersection with U.S. 59, which will carry you fourteen miles to Heavener. Follow the green signs to Heavener State Park.

    Even if you don't enjoy the mystery, the scenic walk into the cool, shaded Runestone Hollow is worth the trip.


    © Bob Bowman
    February 19, 2006 Column, updated June 24, 2012
    More Bob Bowman's East Texas >
    A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers

    (Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas history and folklore. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)
    Bob Bowman's East Texas >
    "All Things Historical" archive >

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