Recently, hiker, historian and claimed archaeologist Jerry Freeman, from
Pearblossom, California, claimed to have found a trunk in a cave in the
Panamint Range bordering Death Valley. Items contained in the trunk
included coins, photographs, a pistol, holster, ceramic bowls, a hymnal
and a hand written letter. The trunk was reportedly left by a member of
the Jayhawker party of emigrants, who had taken a shortcut to the mine
fields of California in 1849. Mr. Freeman reportedly found the trunk
while tracing the route that the band of emigrants took as they left
Death Valley.

When Mr. Freeman discovered the chest, he apparently took steps to
“protect” his find, and did not take measures that satisfied the
officials of the US Park Service. He did not report the chest and
contents to them for a time after his location of the chest. The Park
Service is “concerned” with the way Freeman handled the finding, and they
state that there are “laws which mandate certain procedures.” It is
illegal to take items of historical significance from Death Valley
National Park.

Members of the public has also expressed speculation over Mr. Freeman’s
finding and his treatment of it. Mr. Freeman has denied claims that he
has planted the artifacts, claiming in a recent press release that he
would have had to spend quite a sum of money to buy the stuff to fill the
trunk and then put it inside the Park. It is also reported that Richard
E. Lingenfelter, noted author and historian, has expressed concern
regarding the usage of the word “grubstake” in the letter found within
the chest, an expression not coined for a few years after the trunk was
reportedly left by the emigrants.

On Wednesday, January 27, 1999, the Park Service issued a statement
saying that several items in the trunk had been examined by experts and
found to date later than 1850. National Park spokesman Tim Stone
confirmed that experts representing the Western Archeological and
Conservation Center and the Smithsonian Institute had proved that the
items contained within the chest had originated from a later period of

Examples: test on three items showed that adhesives were used containing
polymers not used before this century; two photographs were tintypes, not
patented until 1856; one of the ceramic bowls carried a manufacturer’s
mark used after 1914.

It is still unclear if Park Service officials will press charges against
Freeman. They are also concerned about the publicity of this affair,
fearing a rush of treasure seekers coming into the Park.


Reference Sources: The Daily Independent (Ridgecrest, CA) January 17,
1999; The Valley News (Palmdale, CA), January 24, 1999; The Inyo Register
(Bishop, CA), January 28, 1999; radio news reports on KDAY-FM (Bishop,
CA) January 28, 1999; various correspondence.

David A. Wright
Great Basin Research