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The Heavener Runestone

by Gloria Stewart Farley

About Gloria Farley

The most recent research on the runic inscription of the Heavener Runestone which stands in the State Park on Poteau Mountain near Heavener, Oklahoma, indicates that it may be four hundred years older than first thought. A former translation stated that it could be the date of November 11, 1012. It now appears that it is not a date, but a boundary marker made as early as 600 A.D. and not later than 900 A.D. It says GLOME VALLEY.

The Heavener Runestone was first discovered, according to local oral history, by a Choctaw hunting party in the 1830's. Poteau Mountain, on which it located, was named by French trappers. It was part of the Indian Territory ceded to the Chactaw Nation when they were removed from Mississippi to present Oklahoma. The Choctaw were probably astonished when they saw the eight mysterious symbols punched in the mossy face of the huge slab of stone which stood in a lovely ravine, protected by overhanging cliffs. Records tell us that there was no underbrush on the mountains then; a deer could be seen for a distance under the virgin timber.

White men began to filter into the area in the 1870's. Wilson King, with two other bear hunters, saw the carved stone before 1874, according to a statement signed by his son. However, the earliest eyewitness on record is Luther Capps, who saw it in 1898. Logging was an industry when Heavener was established in 1894. Laura Callahan remembered that in 1904, at age five, she was held up to run her hands over the mossy lettering for her father, R.L. Bailey, who owned a sawmill. In 1913, when Carl F. Kemmerer again found the stone and described it in Heavener, others already knew of the monument-like stele which was called "Indian Rock."

Ten years later, Mr. Kemmerer sent a careful copy of the symbols to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who replied that very plainly the characters are runic, but their guess is whoever made the inscription had a Scandinavian grammar as a guide. In 1928, Mr. Kemmerer took a skinny little girl, Gloria Stewart, to the site and showed her the great stone and its setting. She was so impressed by the beauty of the secret place and the mystery of the writing, that she was to devote at least thirty-three years of her later life in research, seeking knowledge of who carved the letters, when, why, and most of all, their meaning. The mountain was a wild tangle of underbrush when she searched again in 1951, found the stone and renamed it "Heavener Runestone."

During the following years, many interviews were held with oldtimers and many efforts were made to located other similar carved stones. It was eventually understood that although many had once existed in the area, all but two had been destroyed in the 30's and the 40's by treasure hunters. It is unfortunate no one had the forethought to copy the inscriptions before destruction. Of the remaining stones, one has three symbols and the other has only two, making translation very difficult.

Although there is no test to determine the antiquity of an inscription on stone, such as the C-14 test on organic matter, the weathering of the edges of carving in relation to the hardness of the stone and the exposure to the elements is viewed by the author as an acceptable guide. The site of the Heavener Runestone is in a deep ravine, protected from wind on three sides. The stone itself, twelve feet high and sixteen inches thick, is in a vertical position and thus is protected from ice erosion. Three geologists confirm that it fell eons ago into its north-south alignment. There it stood like a billboard, waiting for someone to write on the broad west face. The fine-grain Savanna sandstone is, to quote Dr. W.E. Hamm, former state geologist, "so tough that it can be broken by a geologist's hammer only with considerable difficulty." The eight runes are in a straight line, six to nine inches in height, and still one-fourth to three sixteenths of an inch in depth. Weathering is so slow, that a date written in lead pencil on the flat gray lichen on the stone, exposed to rain and snow, was still legible seven years later. And yet the edges of the runes are smooth and rounded by weathering.

The research was continued by the author in spite of countless difficulties and disappointments, in the belief the Heavener inscription was indeed made by pre-Columbian Norsemen. It required intense study and consulting experts in many fields: ancient history, runology, geology, philology, archaeology, anthropology and even persuading a few to climb the mountain.

At a meeting at this writer's home in 1959, attended by a Viking historian, a geologist and important members of the state historical society, it was determined that the inscription was not made by Indians, French, or Spanish people and could possibly have been made by Vikings, who could have ascended the Mississippi River.

It was not until 1965, however, that practical assistance came as the result of a description previously written for a Department of the Interior publication, which listed sites for potential development. Suddenly, interest was expressed not only by that agency, but by representatives of state and federal parks, by state and Federal senators and by the citizens of Heaverner. Land was donated for a state park by Mr. and Mrs. H.Z. Ward and access land by Mr. and Mrs. Leland Dial, and the first financial appropriation was obtained by State Senator Clem Hamilton, for whom the Interpretive Center was later named. Soon a road wound its way up the mountainside. The huge stone was surrounded by an unattractive, but adequate, steel cage to prevent vandalism and the Heavener Runestone State Park was dedicated in October 1970.

For sixteen years, the mystery of the runes had been diligently pursued. Scholars in America and abroad had been stumped because the runes seemed to be a mixture of two ancient runic alphabets: six from the oldest Germanic (Old Norse) Futhark which came into use about 300 A.D., and the second and last runes from a later Scandinavian Futhark used about 800 A.D. A runologist from Norway transliterated the letters as G N O M E D A L, and suggested it might be a modern name, G. Nomedal. But to do this, he had to consider that the second rune was unfinished. Two other runologists said it made no sense and had to be a modern fake. None of the three had seen the Heavener Runestone, so apparently they had not realized the labor required to carve the runes into the exceedingly hard stone, nor had they considered the weathering of the inscription in its protected location.

In 1967, a translation was offered by Alf Monge, former U.S. Army Cryptographer, born in Norway. Refusing to alter the shape of the runes he said the correct transliteration is G A O M E D A T. He said the letters would not translate into sense because they were used as numbers according to their place in the two alphabets. Even the number did not give the date directly, but had to be used in the form of a very complicated Norse Runic Cryptopuzzle, which had been invented by ancient Norse clergymen to hide a date in the puzzle. Using this method, he said the Heavener Runestone inscription is the date of November 11, 1012. As this date did coincide with a Norse settlement on the Atlantic coast established in 1008, and there was some indicaton that the four ships did not all return to Greenland, this date was the most feasible explanation which had been presented at this time.

The authenticity of the Heavener Runsetone was enhanced when in 1967, another runic inscription which was very similar to the Heavener one, was found by two 13-year-old boys on a hill in Poteau, then miles away. In 1969, another runestone was found face down by a small stream in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The small Shawnee Runestone and the Poteau Runestone, broken from a ledge, are displayed at the Kerr Museum near Poteau.

In 1986, Dr Richard Neilsen, who obtained his doctorate at the University of Denmark but resides in California, began working on all the American Runestones, including the famous Kensington Runestone of Minnesota which is dated 1362. He added positively to its authenticity, then turned his attention to the Oklahoma Runestones. Starting anew in the Scandinavian countries, he not only studied the actual runestones there, some of which are seldom seen, but he had access to the earliest literature on the subject. He also interviewed runeologists at the University of Oslo.

With this understanding of the disputed runes, Dr. Nielsen was able to offer translations for both the Heavener and Poteau Runestones. Both bear a version of the same name, one being a nickname of the other. The Heavener stone says GLOME ALLW (Alu), which means "Valley owned by GLOME," a boundary marker or land claim.

It may be significant that two other stones carved with runes were found near Heavener. One, with the Runic R and a bindrune (a combination of runes) was found on Morris Creek. The other, with three runes in a triangular pattern, was found on Poteau Mountain southeast of Heavener Runestone. There are rumors of still more runestones in the general area, although many were destroyed in the 1940's by treasure hunters.

It is requested that knowledge of any other runic inscriptions in Oklahoma, Arkansas, or the area be reported to the author at 310 West 3rd Street, Heavener, Oklahoma 74937.

Persons interested in detailed discussion of the grammar, spelling and many examples of ancient usage of the runes may find them in the reference below.

Nielson, Richard, THE RUNESTONES OF OKLAHOMA, Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications, Volume16, 1987, 6625 Bamburgh Drive, San Diego, CA, 92217.