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.
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"
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.
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
Column, updated June 24, 2012
Bob Bowman's East Texas
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers