Searching for Pirate Treasure and Lost History on the Oregon Coast

Kind of like if "The Goonies" was real, but far more complex

Manzanita, Oregon
For centuries, there have been rumors of buried treasure in and around Manzanita, Oregon.
Another Believer/Creative Commons

Is there pirate treasure to be found on the Oregon coast, in and around the town of Manzanita? A long article by Leah Sottile at The Atavist Magazine chronicles Sottile’s exploration of this piece of local history — and of the way it’s prompted obsessions and permutations over the course of several centuries.

Sottile’s narrative begins around 1694, with the shipwreck of a Spanish galleon near what is now the Oregon coast, and was then occupied by the Nehalem-Tillamook people. Rumors and legends of buried pirate treasure have endured, due in part to evidence from the Lewis and Clark expedition, who saw things that would be consistent with this piece of history.

In the second half of the 20th century, this led to numerous efforts to dig up tracts of Oregon coastal land in search of treasure, including one decades-long effort to unearth this mysterious (and possibly nonexistent) treasure.

If this sounds a little familiar to you — as in, it sounds not unlike the plot of a certain 1980s movie that starred a young Josh Brolin and Sean Astin — you’re not wrong. It’s a point that Sottile returns to repeatedly over the course of her article.

Though as it turns out, many of those who sought treasure up and down the coast there were inadvertently disrupting lands sacred to the Nehalem-Tillamook. It’s one of many ways that legends of treasure led many people into a more morally grey region than they might have believed themselves to occupy.

But the full scope of Sottile’s investigation goes far beyond the pull that treasure can have on local residents, and gradually grows to encompass an even larger historical dimension. It’s a fascinating journey into the past, and a fine example of how the past can still reverberate.

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