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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Local historian unveils treasures legendary and real

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Local historian Marvin Wilhite holds up a small bell, one of the first items he found when he started hunting for treasure more than 40 years ago. Wilhite described a number of finds during a presentation Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Marshall Public Library.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
Is there buried treasure in Saline County?

The historical record suggests there is, or was, treasure left in several places, according to historian Marvin Wilhite.

Whether old treasures remain where they were stashed and whether they can be relocated is another matter, he said.

Wilhite started a presentation Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Marshall Public Library by recounting legendary Saline County treasures. Most were from the Civil War era.

In one story, a group of Union soldiers were transporting a strong box containing payroll money when they were surprised by bushwhackers. The strong box was left behind as they made their escape. When they returned for it, it was gone.

Another story involves a family from rural Marshall who fled the strife of the Civil War. They buried the family silver before leaving, but they never returned.

Items on display during Marvin Wilhite's presentation on treasure hunting Tuesday, Nov. 20, represent about 5 percent of his collection, he said. In his first decade pursuing the hobby, he scanned with his metal detector almost every day, he said.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
Wilhite said he has talked to descendants of the family who believe the silver might still be there.

Then there's the sunken riverboat that was carrying $150,000-worth of silver. Wilhite estimated the value of the cargo might be worth considerably more than $3 million today.

"That gives you an idea of things that possibily could be in the county," he said. "It doesn't mean they are."

Wilhite is content to search for these treasures on paper as part of his historical research. There are other treasures closer to hand, easier to find and often quite interesting in their own right, he said.

Wilhite's searching began in earnest in 1978, when he began using a metal detector to scan for items at or near the surface of local terrain. Much of his early work was in Malta Bend, where he took the time to painstakingly excavate an old town dump to see what items of interest or value had been discarded there.

He's been looking for treasures since, though he said the most intense searching was for the first 10 years, when he used his metal detector nearly every day.

At the recent presentation, he unveiled a table with an array of items he has found, each labeled and protected by plastic.

He held up a small bell and gave it a tinkly shake.

"This little bell is one of the first things I found," he said. "I found it about 40 years ago in an old house that had just fallen down."

And that illustrates another point he made about treasure hunting: Don't depend on gadgets alone.

Although he has had great success using a metal detector, Wilhite said the key to successful hunting is paying close attention to the small details of the world.

The bell was not the only item he found with unaided eyes.

Wilhite took the audience on a tour of his display, which he said represented maybe 5 percent of his whole collection.

He was able to describe when and where each piece was found, and in some cases he could provide more information about the maker and age of the item. That's because he keeps meticulous records of each find.

Among his collection are numerous rings, tokens and coins. The coins have long piqued his interest because he found so many foreign coins in Malta Bend.

One time, for instance, he was scanning the baseball diamond and was coming up empty. As he trudged toward home, his metal detector beeped near second base. There, he found a number of silver Canadian coins. It wasn't the first time he'd found Canadian coins in Malta Bend, either.

And the first coin he found when he started using a metal detector was Greek.

"I have no idea what it's worth," he said. "I have no idea what a greek coin would be (doing) in Malta Bend."

In other cases, he has been able to determine the value of items found and something of the story behind them. One of his most valuable finds was a diamond ring. It is so small, he can't even slide it on his pinky finger.

He found out later that a small woman lived in a nearby home about 1901 or 1902.

"She was about four-feet eight and weighed about 80 pounds," he said. "She was engaged to be married and the guy just walked off and left her. So my speculation is she probably walked out the back door and gave the ring a flip."

Imagining the stories behind the artifacts is part of the satisfaction of the hobby, according to Wilhite. Of course, valuable and/or interesting items aren't the only things treasure hunters find.

"You also find junk sometimes," he said. "Fishing sinkers, a clip for a dog chain, a broken wrench. It's not always good stuff or valuable stuff."

Drink can pull-top tabs, for example, are plentiful. Wilhite figures if he had saved all the pull-tabs he has found, he could have filled barrels with them.

Wilhite also provided the audience with sage advice from an experienced hunter, noting good practices to follow.

--Don't go on state or federal property with metal detector.

--Don't go on private property without permission.

--Make sure the person you get permission from is authorized to give it.

--Leave the land just as you found it.

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Interesting Article!

-- Posted by Cynthia 2 on Sat, Jan 5, 2013, at 7:58 AM

Marvin, or as I call him "Uncle Vinnie" is my wife's uncle and probably the most interesting and intelligent man I know. I have seen much of his collection of finds and heard many stories. I'm glad to see that others love to hear his stories too. Keep up the good work, Uncle Vinnie!!!

-- Posted by LMWalker on Thu, Dec 27, 2012, at 10:23 AM

Is Mr. Wilhite going to write a book about his discoveries in Saline County? How about at the least recording the many presentations he makes, then transcribing, and publishing them. I would jump at the opportunity to buy either.

More importantly the valuable work he has done should be recorded for posterity.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Sun, Dec 2, 2012, at 12:13 PM
Response by Eric Crump/Editor:
Excellent suggestions. We have, in fact, recorded several of Marvin's lectures. Transcribing is time-consuming, I'm afraid, but the content is worth the effort. Our news clerk, Bretta Colindres, is working right now on transcribing one of Marvin's lectures about the Battle of Marshall. Hope to have that available soon. He will deliver another lecture on the battle Jan. 12 as part of the Battle of Marshall 150th Anniversary Commemoration. We'll record that, too.

very fascinating, a good read :)

-- Posted by pahloart on Thu, Nov 29, 2012, at 7:57 PM

I would have loved to have heard his presentation. Where can I find out more info on his next presentation?

-- Posted by ljohnson on Thu, Nov 29, 2012, at 2:26 PM

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