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By Dr. Fred Potato
Radio Free Ozarks Editor
May 19th, 2022

Interest in the hobby of dowsing for gold has vastly increased since the start of the pandemic in 2020. I’m not really sure if that’s true but I’m saying it anyway. Northern Arkansas has proved to be a fruitful searching ground for hobbyist gold dowsers, given the historical tradition of the impoverished and rugged hill-folk burying their gold in their yards and nearby fields rather than putting it in a bank safety deposit box or using it to fund crypto purchases.

The rocky slopes and small pastures of northern Arkansas are thought to be a relatively rich hunting ground for those who know the proper techniques. But the iron content in the rocky hillsides of the Ozark Plateau interferes with even the most expensive metal detectors. Positive detection of buried gold stashes must rely on the time-honored practice of gold dowsing. Similar to dowsing for water or unmarked graves, and relying on similar scientific principles, dowsing for gold relies heavily on the skill and experience of the dowser. Carefully holding a stick, also known as a divining rod, in front of them, the dowser will walk around outdoors until receiving a subtle “tell” sensed through the stick. I’m not making this up.

Jim Gallanton, age 25, is one such dowser. Originally from Gassville, Arkansas, Gallanton has spent most of the last three years wandering the Ozarks in search of tranches of buried riches. Living out of a camper pickup he inherited from his uncle, Gallanton claims no permanent residence and just says that he is “from Arkansas.” Unlike many other would-be gold dowsers, Gallanton lives very simply and donates nearly all of his discovered wealth to various in-state churches and charities. Radio Free Ozarks caught up with Gallanton as he hopped out of his camper on a sunny Tuesday morning and prepared to dowse some fields and hollers near Elm Springs.

“I’m an orphan,” Gallanton said to us after a morning prayer. “My parents were Baptist missionaries in countries like Yemen. I graduated from Grace Baptist School in 2016 and I lived with my uncle and took care of him all through high school. He died from emphysema my senior year. The seminary seemed like where I was headed after graduation.”

Gallanton continued his story as he used a pole trimmer to cut a short Y-shaped branch from a nearby oak tree. “For a senior trip that summer I went along on a church humanitarian mission high up in the mountains of Chile, near some old gold mines. I’d never been so cold. I met some of the old gold prospectors up there, the pirquineros, who still look for small deposits of gold using the simple old-fashioned tools. A dowsing stick, a hammer and chisel, and sometimes a stick of dynamite. I stayed with them in their camp and learned their ways of dowsing for gold. And I witnessed the Lord before them and took care of a couple of them as they died from silicosis.

“When I got back home I had a deep intuition, a calling, if you will, that my I could best serve the Lord by seeking out the gold that was lost and using it to help our area churches fund their work. My uncle had left me the camper and his pickup truck. I sold his little house and his few belongings and climbed into the pickup truck and I’ve been wandering the Ozarks ever since. I consider it my job, not my hobby. When I find something I usually have to split it with the land owner. But I keep just a little bit of my share, usually just enough to eat that day and the next. And I donate the rest.”

With that, Gallanton climbed over a nearby fence and started to walk through a pasture, his dowsing rod held before him. “The Arkansas native trees work best. This fresh cut oak will do nicely. I wear only natural fibers as well. And I keep a gold coin under my pillow to stay grounded.”

Dowsing Rod
Gallanton demonstrates his dowsing rod
(Radio Free Ozarks)

Gallanton paused briefly in his walking and took a deep breath. “There, I can feel it. The farmland radiates the Gaia natural frequencies. The Schumann resonances make it ring like a bell. The whole earth’s interconnectedness with God and the heavens. It can find things when no other way works.

“I’ve been wanting to dowse these fields for some time. This area had Confederate troops passing through right before the Battle of Pea Ridge. Some of them must have off-loaded some wealth before the fight. I stopped by to ask the land owner last week. Turns out he knew my dad from some church youth camps back in the 80’s. We prayed together and he wished me good luck.”

The burying of gold in the Ozarks certainly had its first peak in the days of the Civil War, according to historians, when soldiers in northern Arkansas buried their bullion ahead of battle. Many of these soldiers never returned, leaving only handwritten letters to their loved ones that attempted to describe where they buried their moolah. These letters used flowery and confusing directions and descriptions, like something straight out of a Ken Burns documentary. An estimated 80% of stashes from the Civil War era remain lost and buried in them hills.

The burying of gold hit its second peak in 1933 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned the private ownership of gold as part of his depression-era executive orders. The burying of gold likely entered into a quiet phase in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s because no new gold could be purchased. President Gerald Ford once again legalized gold ownership in 1974, certainly leading to a renaissance in the buying of gold coins destined for chucking into below-dirt storage. Some percentage of these modern buried stashes have certainly been forgotten about or otherwise lost.

Gallanton spent the next 50 minutes wandering back and forth across a field, before seeming to narrow his focus to a line of trees near the edge. On his fourth pass along the line of trees, Gallanton suddenly stopped. “Here,” he said, pointing down. “I need to go get a shovel.” We will return to Gallanton’s narrative shortly.

Another would-be gold dowser is Lance Gufason, 21, of Greenland. “I just about got kicked out of my parents’ house for playing video games when I was supposed to be in class,” Gufason said. “Christ. I’m working to get my Twitch channel established and they’re all yammer yammer about getting a job and a career. But I saw a few TikTok videos on YouTube about looking for gold and I thought I’d give it a go. I was digging once when I was a little kid and we found a garden sprayer, so I’m sure I have some latent talent for it.”

Lance Gufason, unlucky gold dowser
Lance Gufason acts like he knows what he’s doing (Radio Free Ozarks)

At a wooded area out past Elkins, picked at random, Gufason grabbed “his stick” from the back of his Jeep and hopped a fence marked with a “No Trespassing” sign. “Yeah, sometimes I go at night, sometimes I go out when I’m supposed to be working remotely. I just go on people’s land. I’ve only been yelled at once. One time I played dumb and the guy was sort of threatening. So now I just run.

“I haven’t found any gold yet,” Gufason noted while inadvertently stepping in cattle poop, “but I think I’m due. I know the old prospector guys used dynamite and I’d like to get some of that. I’m talking with a few guys I met on twitch. Not sure what I’d do with it yet. Maybe blow up an outhouse if nothing else. That’d be cool. I’m going to get rich, bitches! Sell that tired old gold and be a crypto baller! I can’t wait to rub it in people’s faces.”

After about 20 minutes, it became clear that Gufason had no (expletive) idea what he was doing. We took our leave of Gufason rather than be shot at or chased by a bull. We followed up later with Gufason via Twitch and learned that he had fallen into an old septic pit and sprained his ankle and would need to relax in his parents’ basement while playing video games. Surprise.

At his Elm Springs location, Gallanton retrieved a shovel from his camper truck and walked back towards his dig site. “We’ll see how this one goes,” Gallanton said. “On a good day I’ve found in more than $100,000 in liberty eagles, buffalo coins, bullion, jewelry, dental bridges, and what-not. Some days the hunting’s been bad, and I’ll only find a grand or two. Civil War stuff is usually just straight-up stuck in the ground. For Depression-era, they’re in some rusted-out coffee can or Prince Albert tin or a jar with a rusted-out lid. Lots of the old Eagles, both Liberty Heads and Indian Heads. Small bars. If there was any paper it’s disintegrated.

1839 Liberty Head gold coin
1839 Liberty Head $10 gold coin
(National Numismatic Collection)
1907 Indian Head gold coin
1907 Indian Head $10 gold coin
(National Numismatic Collection)

“The modern stashes are usually in plastic, like a piece of PVC pipe with the screw-in plug. One time they were in a Yeti mug. Usually Walking Liberty coins. Jewelry. But anything below about 80% purity, I’ll leave that for the next guy. Purity is important to me, whether it’s my mind, my body, my soul, or my future wife.”

Gallanton stuck his shovel in the ground, and with five good turns uncovered approximately twenty $10 Liberty Head coins with dates ranging from 1878 to 1894. Depending on their condition and the spot price of gold, Gallanton’s find was likely worth between $15,000 and $20,000.

Jim Gallanton digs for gold coins
Jim Gallanton digs for gold
(Radio Free Ozarks)
Jim Gallanton uncovers gold coins, closeup
Close-up from the previous photo, with gold seen to the right of center (Radio Free Ozarks)

“The digging is actually the easiest part. It’s knowing where to dig that’s the hard part,” Gallanton laughed. “Not Civil War this time. Maybe moonshiners hiding it from the revenuers.” Gallanton scooped his find into a clay pot he had found. Satisfied that no more gold remained in the ground, he then knelt in prayer.

Jim Gallanton kneels with gold coins
Jim Gallanton scoops up his find
(Radio Free Ozarks)

Walking back to his truck, Gallanton explained that he was headed to Fayetteville to sell his find to a trusted dealer. He would then spend the afternoon distributing the cash proceeds to several church-sponsored food banks and homeless shelters, before washing up at the mission and retiring for the night in the Walmart parking lot. Gallanton added that he might keep a coin or two and put them in the Salvation Army kettles at Christmastime.

1890 Liberty Head gold coin, tarnished
An 1890 Liberty Head $10 gold coin from Gallanton’s find (Radio Free Ozarks)

Asked about his future plans, Gallanton would only say that he planned to keep traveling Arkansas, looking for gold where he could, donating most of the proceeds to charity, and keeping just enough to keep himself fed and his pickup truck running. Here, Gallanton paused and his brow furrowed.

“There’s something going on down at Hot Springs that I haven’t quite figured out,” Gallanton said, in a bit of ominous foreshadowing. “Gold dowsing simply doesn’t seem to work like it should in that area. Not how I’m doing it, anyway. It’s not that my divining rod doesn’t trigger. It’s like it’s triggering all the time, all around the area. Like there’s a really big strike nearby that’s overwhelming everything. [I] can’t detect the regular gold in the ground.”

2013 Walking Liberty gold coin

Photo Attributions:
1890 Coin in Hand – Kagin’s Inc.CC BY-SA 3.0