In 1982, I was writing The Beat of the Drum and the Whoop of the Dance, my first biography of the painter Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953). It was a wonderful and fulfilling experience for me. My friends complained that the story had consumed me. Maybe so, because a note written to myself at the time, reads “I am drawn to Mr. Sharp like smell is drawn to a daffodil.” (that unfortunate comment is the by-product of too much wine, and working too late at night).
Sharp wanted to spend his winters at the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana where he could record a culture on canvas that he felt was fading from our national view. It was not uncommon for Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Blackfeet Indians to visit the Crows, and Sharp wanted to paint all of them.
My preface to “Beat of the Drum” reads, in part:
I journeyed four times to Crow Agency, Montana, where the artist spent the happiest part of his life. I swam the Little Big Horn River, and walked the Custer Battleground as Sharp had done. I saw many of the things that he had seen, and thought many of the thoughts he must have thought. Present reality faded as I saw hundreds of teepees that populated the valley while painted ponies grazed along the river.
As my knowledge of Sharp expanded, I found a growing parallel in our personal philosophies and interests. We both revered the life the old-time Indian lived, and bemoaned the bureaucratic overcast that suffocated the very spirit of his dead.
In 1905, with the blessing of the Indian agent, Sharp built a log cabin on the reservation adjacent to the battleground. Seventy-nine years later, I purchased the cabin for $15,000.
The problem was that an Indian school teacher was living in it, and I certainly wasn’t going to throw her out. We made a deal, she could live in the cabin, rent free, as long as she wanted to if she would notify me when she moved out. I was told it would be vandalized if it stood empty.
A few months later she called to say she was leaving, and I flew up to look at the cabin I had never seen on the inside.
In 1926, it had been the headquarters for the 50th reunion of the Custer Fight. A few of the old battle-hardened troopers and Indian warriors who had fought in the fight, signed the guest register in the cabin. That number included General Edward Godfrey, who was with Captain Benteen in the fight and later received the Medal of Honor for his action in the Indian skirmish at Bear Paw Mountain. I was thrilled to own such an important piece of history.
Soon after, I gifted the cabin to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, 164 miles away.
I knew it would safely rest there in perpetuity.
But there were two rules. They had to go pick it up intact, and install it within the museum complex. And if there was anything under the floorboards, it had to stay under the floorboards. I had learned from a Montana old-timer that tradition required the builder to leave some kind of “thank you” token under the floor, a talisman of sorts.
Sure enough, when the cabin was lifted, there was a claw hammer laying in the dry dirt among a host of spider webs and doodlebug swirls. It was vintage-old, but in good condition. I thought that was pretty well-ordered because an interesting footnote to history had unfolded right there in front of me.
A few years later, when I was a trustee of the museum, I enjoyed touring the many artifacts in the basement storage areas.
Well, there on a shelf was the hammer, horribly out of context, forlorn looking, and totally forgotten. To make matters worse, someone had affixed an ugly, sticky label to the hammers handle. I was sure that both the cabin and the hammer felt maltreated.
I asked the curator to gather up a shovel and the two of us headed to the museum alcove where the cabin was installed. It didn’t take much effort to dig a small tunnel below the footing and slide the hammer in under the floor.
The curator and I were joking as we walked back to his office. At the next board of trustees meeting he made an announcement about what we did. They all smiled.
Sometimes you have to just grab a misplaced tradition by the tail and rearrange it back like it’s supposed to be. f
*There is some reason to believe that the hammer was later retrieved and placed inside the cabin. I don’t know. f
*My treasure chest is not associated with any structure, and it has not been retrieved or moved since I first hid it. f
*The email below confirms my story about the hammer at the Sharp cabin. Maybe it is time for me to give another hint. The Fenn Treasure chest is not hidden at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, or any property owned by them. f
I wanted to make you aware that lately several people looking for the Fenn Treasure came by/contacted the Center of the West hoping to gain access to the Joseph Henry Sharp Cabin to view the hammer kept in the crawlspace under the floorboards. One gentleman spoke to several staffers on the phone and then proceeded to misrepresent our conversations in a YouTube video.
I wonder if we can request your help with this and other inquiries by confirming to the public that the treasure is not buried at the Center? And/or, may I make an image of the hammer available to the public, and explain that the hammer resides below the cabin at your request, by verbal agreement?
Thank you in advance.
Karen B. McWhorter
Scarlett Curator of Western American Art Whitney Western Art Museum