Was There Gold In Castor Creek? Maybe, or not
By Mary K. Hamner
School was out for the day and a band of Huck Finn types were making their afternoon trip to the Castor Creek swimming hole. They had whiled away their summer hours playing in this "Cool Stream That Never Goes Dry" (legendary Indian name) and anticipated yet another afternoon of blissful splashing and swimming. The young boys noticed muddy water as their bare feet skipped along the bank of the creek. They were startled and a little frightened when they met a stranger with a gun. He told them they could go no further. Some say that the swimming hole was a crossing on one of the Sparta-Campti wagon roads and legend is that a strong box was tossed into the creek just before a hold-up. Others remember maps that pinpointed the site of buried gold. They believe that such a map was the reason behind the man with a gun who turned the boys away from the swimming hole that day.
Many decades after the incident this local story keeps coming up. It takes one back to the early beginnings of Bienville Parish when the town of Sparta was the parish seat of government. It was the time of reconstruction after the Civil War had ended. Lawlessness was rampant and often groups organized to try and protect their own. Other groups banded together to rob and murder those traveling the network of roads along the Neutral Zone of El Camino Real. One such group operating along the roads from southern Winn Parish to Sparta, was called the Nightriders, or the West and Kimbrell Clan.
It would be a large stretch of the imagination to think that the Nightriders were in any way connected to the tale of the robbery incident long ago on Castor Creek but knowing their story helps to fill in the gaps of local history in the 1862-1870 time period. The story of the West Kimbrell Clan has been chronicled in two books, one by Richard Briley III, Nightriders: Inside Story of the West and Kimbrell Clan, 1963, and another by Jack Peebles: The Legend of the Nightriders, 2005.
Greggory E. Davies, former Chief Deputy Sheriff Winn Parish, writes this in his Foreword of The Legend of the Nightriders, "When Jack Peebles contacted me regarding the West-Kimbrell Clan, I was hesitant to talk to him about some of the private things that had been related to me by other relatives. I have yet to share some of those things and probably never will." Davies goes on to explain the similarities in his and Peeble's backgrounds causing him to assist him in reevaluating Briley's work. "Richard Briley had taken the time many years ago to record some of the important happenings of Winn Parish in a time period that seems to be lost. Jack does not attempt to convince the reader that his or Mr. Briley's work is fact. He has simply taken Mr. Briley's work, dissected it, added to it what has become available, and attempted to give those interested as much information as possible in order for them to make their own judgement as to what is or is not true as far as the West and Kimbrell Clan is concerned." Greggory Davies is now retired after thirty years in law enforcement and is currently "State Coordinator" for Regional Organized Crime.
Both books are compelling reads although the content is very gruesome. The gang headed up by John West preyed upon settlers in wagons pulled by oxen and mules. The hapless travelers were robbed of whatever they carried with them that might be of value just before they were murdered and their bodies stashed in one of the system of wells the gang dug alone their routes. Merchants transporting goods to and from the surrounding rivers were prime targets. Horses, wagons, and other goods were moved by the Clan at night into Texas for resale. Gold and currency of value was buried, maps were drawn, and tree notches, and other signs known only to leaders of the Clan marked the sites.
In the end, justice prevailed for most, if not all of the criminals, the Nightriders, on an Easter Sunday, April 17, 1870, but...
WAS THERE GOLD IN CASTOR CREEK? My source thought not. "The strangers with the map spent several weeks at the swimming hole," he said. "They dammed the creek above the hole and ditched below to drain the water out. They uncovered the bottom of a large rock and used dynamite to blast it out. Our swimming hole was never the same after they blew up that rock. We had used the rock for 'safety' when we played 'gator.'"
"I don't believe they found anything," the folklorist continued. "Later inspection of the site revealed no evidence of a box of any kind having been found. "My father," he continued, "was an avid seeker of the gold that was reportedly buried in the area. He would work all-day and then dig for treasure long into the night. An improvised metal detector and I, though unwilling, would aid him in his quest. We dug all around that creek and never found a thing."