Folklore in Fiction

Yoachum Dollar Sprinkle CoinsI’m an “up close and personal” kind of researcher. So when I’m working on my regional series, that means I’m often out in the hills, meeting people and listening to the stories that have been handed down, one generation to the next, keeping the old legends alive. The story of the Yokum Dollar is one of those legends that I heard on multiple occasions, with each storyteller claiming some connection with the families involved. I stayed true to the heart of the tale when writing the legend into my own book, while fictionalizing elements as needed to suit the plot. Here’s the excerpt from Deadly Ties:

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….Maggie wandered among the exhibits, watching craftsmen make brooms and baskets, tapping her foot to the dulcimer music, and listening to the storytellers who had drawn a sizable crowd in the shade of tall oaks. She stopped to listen to a woman dressed in a style Maggie imagined was common among frontier women long ago. Sturdy boots peeked out from beneath the hem of her skirt, and the simple cotton blouse she wore looked homespun. Her steel gray hair was tucked beneath a bonnet.

“This here story has been handed down through my family ever since 1826,” the woman told the audience. “That’s about the time the first Yokum—that’d be Jamie Lee Yokum—settled along the big river herabouts. My family farmed the land down-river from the Yokum place, which is how I come to know this tale.”

“This land belonged to the Chickasaw tribe, and they were good neighbors, always sharing what they had. They were good traders, too, and pretty near famous for their beautiful silver jewelry. They always had plenty of silver but nobody knew—’cept the Indians, of course—where it all came from. Some said it was from a silver mine, and some claimed it was Spanish silver, but nobody knew for sure.

“When the government decided they wanted the Indians’ land, the Yokums traded some of their wagons and supplies in exchange for information about the source of that silver. As the story goes, the Indians shared their secret with Jamie Lee. They told him where he might find some of that silver, and he told his brothers. Times being what they was, and money being about as hard to come by as an honest politician, the Yokums decided to use that silver and make their own coin. They minted their own dollars with that there silver. For years, people all over the Ozarks used the Yokum dollars as legal tender.”

The storyteller looked across the crowd. “Well, you can probably guess what happened next. The federal government didn’t take too kindly to somebody else making money. They didn’t like the competition, my granddaddy said.” There were chuckles and murmurs of agreement from some in the crowd.

“The federal agents confiscated all the Yokum dollars they could get their hands on. What they really wanted was the source of that silver, but Jamie Lee wouldn’t tell ‘em where to find it. After a while, the agents gave up and went back to Washington.”

The storyteller paused for a sip of lemonade. “It wasn’t long after that when Jamie Lee Yokum passed away. His two brothers died soon after, crossing the Rockies on their way out to California. Those men were the only ones who knew the Indians’ secret and they took that secret to their graves, but they did leave some clues in letters they’d written to their cousins. Over the years, a lot of people have searched high and low for that silver, but nobody’s ever found it. But who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one to learn the truth about the Indian Silver Legend.”

Deadly Ties © 2013

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To this day, people continue to search for the famed silver, with many a treasure hunter convinced a mine or cave does indeed exist somewhere in the hills. Some believe the answer lies near or under Beaver Lake in Arkansas while others argue the location is Table Rock Lake in Missouri. And so the legend lives on…

Fact, Fiction, and Folklore

Books Image croppedI’m honored to have been invited once again to the Fayetteville (AR) Public Library for a book discussion and signing of Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series. If you’re in the area, please join me from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, October 11th. This presentation will explore the art of blending fact, fiction, and folklore when writing a regional mystery series, with a focus on the Ozarks where I’ve set my books.

In honor of that event, I’ll be running posts through the month about the Ozark legends and folklore which inspired my series. You’ll also find stories and information about dogs—after all, this is dogmysteries.com! At the end of the month, I’ll share a teaser from Dangerous Deeds, the next in the Waterside Kennels mystery series.

Enter to Win iconEven better—through the end of October, I’m running a special giveaway here on my site. Leave a comment and you’re automatically entered into a drawing for a 3-for-1 Deadly Ties package prize: a Kindle edition of the book, the audiobook (narrated by the top-ranked voiceover artist Robin Rowan), and a signed paperback. Keep for yourself or give as gifts! You’re welcome to comment as often as you like from now through October 31st; every comment equals one entry for the drawing. On November 1st the winner will be selected at random and announced here, so stay tuned!

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Being a total research geek, I loved digging through the archives for stories about the region, and was thrilled to have regional historians like Phillip Steele share their knowledge with me. In addition to helping me sort through stories, Mr. Steele kindly introduced me to others, including some whose families settled here a century ago. One of the stories I came across repeatedly involved the famous Yocum Dollar. I should note there seem to be almost as many variations in spelling of Yocum as there are versions of the tale!

I first came across the Yocum Dollar in a 1985 article published in the White River Valley Historical Quarterly whose author, Lynn Morrow, suggested that “for the past 150 years various folk legends about silver have circulated in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.” Morrow notes:

Beliefs in secret mines and buried treasures form a substantial part of the folklore of the Ozarks and the Ouachita Mountains….From the 1880’s to the Depression, regional newspapers reported numerous silver and gold “discoveries”; and the “Legend of the Indian Mine” in Arkansas’ Boone County tells of a mine which contained “such an abundance of silver that the Indians shod their horses with it.” Petroglyphs in Ozark caves have been reported to be codes for the location of gold and silver bullion, and as late as 1882 a family owned business—the Yocum Silver Mine Corporation—purchased a clam-shell crane with a six-ton bucket and a bulldozer to dig out the “famous Yocum mine.”

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Another version of the Yocum Dollar story comes from the genealogical records of H. Ronald Gines and Wanda Lee (Brink) Gines. While I haven’t yet discovered their connection to the Yocums, their narrative, like Morrow’s, refers to a government agent’s description of an “outlaw character” named Solomon Yocum who devised a plan involving Indians, liquor, and silver:

 

Making peach brandy, while perhaps providing Solomon and the Yochums a bit of local, short lived infamy in connection with their Indian “clientele”, somewhat pales on a historical note compared with the most popular bit of Yoachum, and Ozark history. While some may take slight exception in referring to the Yocum silver dollar as history, and not strictly as mere “legend”, enough has been told, and written about it to qualify it as a true icon of Ozark history. Perhaps no other legend, (as we might as well refer to it), in American history has yielded a more profitable return than that of the Yocum dollar. An entire industry, theme park Silver Dollar City, and its off shoots have now “mined” the legend for what must surely be billions of dollars.

Many people have searched away countless hours, days, months, and even years looking for the source of the legend, the famed Lost Yoachum Silver Mine. Some people believe that it is a canard, or hoax, the typical tale told often by the evening fire, usually with the sure knowledge of someone who knows someone that once saw one of the dollars, or the molds that made them, or knew of someone that knew of someone that had a map. Enough interest has been raised at various times to attract persons schooled in geology, mining, and formations, and reports of a professional nature seem to suggest that there is very little likelihood of silver being found in an quantity and quality to justify believing that a mine actually existed.

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Stories of the Yocum Dollar persist to this day, as evidenced by a 2006 post by Tom Maringer in the ‘US Coins Forum at Cointalk.com. Details included in the post and many of the comments match other accounts. One comment in particular sums up many of the tales I heard myself while visiting with families across the region:

Many people in that area believe wholeheartedly in the Yocum Dollar legend. In fact, I was taken to task by an elderly Yocum descendant for my analysis of the legend… and was told in no uncertain terms that her uncle actually had one, and as a child she’d seen it. But of course she couldn’t remember exactly what it looked like, and nobody in the family knows what happened to it after he died! Sound familiar?

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Thanks to the success of Silver Dollar City, the legend of the Yocum Dollar is alive and well today. I’ve adapted the stories I’ve collected for use in the series and hope readers enjoy the tales as much as I did. Tune in next time for an excerpt from Deadly Ties which tells the tale of the Yocum Dollar as it’s known among the storytellers inhabiting my fictional Hogan County, Arkansas.