Hunting for treasure
Passion more about the search than the result
Bill Burns picked okra for two summers to earn $200 to buy his first metal detector.
He was 12 years old and living in a small Oklahoma town. Burns headed straight up to Buzzard’s Roost. He’d heard stories about the James gang’s hideout most of his life, including tales about the rock where outlaw Jesse James had carved a six-shooter, a knife and two crossed Winchester rifles. It was signed “J.J.”
“When I heard that story, I couldn’t get there fast enough to see for myself,” Burns said. “I was amazed that someone sat up there long enough to put that landmark there, so it had to be something significant. It wasn’t just initials, it was real important to that man that that be there.”
Not until later did Burns read a book about the infamous outlaws Jesse and Frank James, which mentioned the carving as a landmark to one of the gang’s hiding places for “booty.”
Buzzard’s Roost was the first place Burns took his metal detector, convinced he knew exactly where the James gang had hidden its treasure.
He found a horseshoe, which now hangs over the door of his business, but no treasure.
“When I first got my metal detector, I was greatly disappointed,” the Craig resident said.
Burns, 46, has been on a treasure hunt for most of his life. The hobby of his youth still plays a major role. His business, Old Colorado Trading Post, 543 Yampa Ave., sells treasure-hunting tools, including metal detectors and gold-panning equipment.
And Burns can match customers story for story.
“Treasure hunting isn’t just grabbing a metal detector and waving it over the ground,” he said.
“Treasure hunting is taking a piece of history and proving it or disproving it.”
About 85 percent of treasure hunting is research, he said. At 16, he spent hours in a courthouse attic searching through civil and criminal dockets after someone told him that Woodward, Okla., lawyer Al Jennings buried $50,000 in the area.
He followed the story of Jennings, who defended a man he believed to be the innocent target of a crooked prosecutor and judge.
Jennings responded to a guilty verdict by going on a crime spree that included robbing a train — with little success — and a bank with a bit more.
“It was a little crime spree,” Burns said. And when his research led him to that conclusion, it saved him hours in the field.
All in the hunt
“Jennings never even had that much money,” Burns said.
Burns has found rare coins and small caches of money, but said his first significant find was a small lapel iron he found about eight months after he purchased his metal detector.
“Don’t ask me where or who, because a good treasure hunter never tells,” he said.
The attraction to treasure hunting isn’t so much the treasure, but the hunt, he said.
Burns graduated in 1977, in a class of 29 students. It was the school’s largest graduating class. He played center for the AAA basketball championship team.
In 1984, Burns went to work for Delta Faucet, eventually becoming an industrial automotive technician in a company with 2,700 employees.
Leaving the rat race
“It’s a corporate rat race bar none,” he said.
He retired in 2002 and met, for the second time, the woman who would become his wife.
He and Sue first met on a blind date when they were 17. They dated for a while before her father was transferred and the family left Oklahoma for Craig.
After failed marriages and separate lives, they met 26 years later through the Internet.
Sue, a Craig Police Officer, is what brought Burns to Colorado in what can be considered another treasure hunt.
“Women have a strange effect on men,” Burns said with a laugh.
Sue is a “gold-panning fanatic,” Burns. She got her husband hooked on the hobby.
“It has the same aspects of treasure hunting, and when you do find a little here and there, it just adds to the drive,” he said.
Panning for gold
When the two travel, they take five-gallon buckets. It isn’t unusual for them to stop, fill the buckets with dirt and pan them when they get home.
“There’s nothing wrong with bringing dirt home,” Burns said.
He even sells dirt from the Alaska gold mines in his shop.
“I guarantee you’ll get more out than you paid,” he said.
Although he said he doesn’t think there’s much chance of anyone striking the motherload in Northwest Colorado, it doesn’t stop many from searching.
For Burns, it’s a marketing niche.
Burns said he opened the Trading Post to get out of the rat race and work with products he feels passionate about. He works his to make his store relaxing for shoppers.
“I want people to be able to come in and visit and have a pleasant experience and feel like they’re at home.”
Burns, who also practices woodworking, built the shelves and tables in the store and plans eventually to display the bed frames he makes.
The store isn’t all for treasure hunters. He also sells camping and hunting equipment.
“I’m trying to stay competitive on a national level with prices,” he said.
“I don’t make as much money, but I make a lot more friends and, in the end, more repeat customers.”
In what little spare time he has, Burns is building a house on the 40 country acres he and his wife bought.
Burns also is a licensed plumber, heating, venting and air conditioning contractor, electrician, vibration analysis technician, oil analysis technician and a hydraulic pneumatic technician.
In his 18 years with Delta Faucet, he took advantage of the continuing education opportunities the company offered, he said.
Burns said Craig reminds him of his hometown, a small community where people say “hi” when he passes them on the street.
He said he’d like to stay here but wouldn’t mind becoming a “snowbird” — living in Craig in the summers and traveling to warmer climates during winters.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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