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Interview with W.C. Jameson

W.C. Jameson holding guitar.

August House started working with Jameson over 30 years ago when he wrote his Buried Treasures series. Each of the 12 books in the series focused on lost treasures in a specific region like the southwest or the mid-atlantic. The series was an instant classic and continues to be read by anyone interested in treasure caches from the shores of New England to the arid mountain ranges of the Southwest.

In his latest collection of swashbuckling tales of cutthroats, buried treasures and sunken ships, Jameson sheds new light on stories that have long been shrouded with mystery and danger for generations. Jameson’s richly, detailed narrative transports readers to another time in our history when people were struggling to build a life in the “New World”. With detailed accounts of each pirate’s exploits, readers will find themselves deeply immersed in the settings and the colorful lifestyles and eccentric personalities of these unique characters.

W.C. has been a professional treasure hunter for most of his life, and his unique experiences have continued to inspire his writing of both stories and songs. We were lucky enough to interview him about his expeditions. We’re even more honored to be publishing his latest anthology North American Pirates and their Lost Treasure on October 5th.

When did you discover your love of treasure hunting and adventure?

When I was eleven years old, I was conscripted by four professional treasure hunters to accompany them on a search for a cache of 100 gold ingots hidden somewhere in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas. I served as a chore boy, camp cook, dishwasher, and errand boy. I did get to go with them on the search as they followed directions on a map in their possession. I was even with them when they found the gold. I assisted in removing the ingots from the cave and transporting them down the slope to the campsite. There was something magical about the feel, the texture, the weight of those gold bars, and I knew somehow that I would be involved with adventures like this for the rest of my life.

When did you realize that treasure hunting could actually become a career for you?

When i was in my late teens, I found a small cache of gold. This was back when gold was going for $32.00 an ounce. Today it is somewhere around $1,200.00 an ounce. I converted the gold into cash and purchased a guitar. There was a thrill associated with the discovery, as well as a corresponding thrill associated with the quest, the adventure. I’ve been on over 200 treasure expeditions in my life. I’ve experienced some successes and many failures, but regardless of the outcome, I always had an adventure.

What sort of resources does it take to become a professional treasure hunter?

Commitment and patience, mostly. If it is done correctly, a great deal of research must take place prior to mounting an expedition. A lot of time and concentration goes into analysis of the potential site and the situation surrounding the caching of the treasure or the location of a lost mine. Since some of my expeditions have been as long as six weeks, endurance is another quality that comes in handy, as well as possessing some first hand knowledge and wilderness skills for surviving in wild and remote areas.

What's the craziest thing you’ve found while treasure hunting?

I don’t know about crazy, but I have seen some very unusual things.

In a canyon in a little known mountain range in the Mexican state of Coahuila which held a hidden fortune in silver ingots, we encountered hundreds of rattlesnakes, some of them of astonishing size. While most fell within the range of three to five feet, we came across nine-footers on a couple of occasions, and one that we caught and measured taped out at thirteen feet. It’s head was the size of a dinner plate.

In this same canyon we found an ancient burial ground that had been ravaged by a recent flash flood, exposing about two dozen remains. Some were little more than skeletons, but most were mummified. The mummies were adorned with jewelry made from gold and silver and precious stones, as well as with feathers we later learned came from a species of parrot indigenous to a region far to the south in Mexico. They also had necklaces made of shells from a type of snail that exists only on the east coast of that country. We carefully carried the remains to higher, safer ground and interred them in a shallow cave that was well above the flash flood-prone region.

How did you get started writing about treasure hunting?

When I was in my twenties I read an article in a magazine about a hunt for a lost treasure. The writer got all of the facts wrong and it was a poorly written piece. I thought I could do better. Over the next couple of weeks I drafted and edited an article about a lost mine, one I had some experience with, sent it in to the same magazine, and much to my delight, it was accepted. The editor asked for more articles, so I provided them. A publisher – August House – contacted me and asked me if I had enough of those kinds of pieces for a book. I allowed that I did, and that first book was the beginning of a series that now numbers something like thirty-six books and counting.

I found I enjoyed writing about as much as I enjoyed searching for lost mines and buried treasures, so I stayed with it and writing keeps me busy to this day.

You’ve written a number of books, appeared on multiple television shows and even consulted for National Treasure. When did the public begin to realize that you were really good at treasure hunting?

I think I got a lot of exposure from the books, from the movie, and from a number of television appearances. I began to get offers to lead treasure hunting expeditions, to appear on more TV shows, and to write more books. I receive queries on one lost treasure or another on an average of 6-8 times per week. I also speak with a TV producer on the average of once every two weeks or so, but I turn most of the offers down.

You express your adventures through song and writing stories. How do those creative processes differ for you?

I think the creative process comes from the same place in one’s DNA, and can expressed in a number of ways. These days, I manifest my creative needs and urges through writing books and songwriting. Performing my songs is part of it also. I never considered myself a performer, but the stage is the place where one gets to present one’s songs to those willing to listen. Eight CDs later, along with contributing to several film soundtracks, I’m reasonably assured that people are listening and enjoying what I do. I hope so.

How do you sit down after a treasure hunt and “unpack” that experience and put it on paper or into a song?

An intensive treasure hunting expedition requires a lengthy recovery time, especially for someone my age. Writing and performing music is relaxing and fulfilling. In addition, by the time I return home from an expedition, I can’t wait to get busy on an ongoing project or a new book. I’ve never thought of my writing pursuits as work – I find it relaxing, and once in a while I get lucky and sell a manuscript or somebody records one of my songs.

How did you get involved with August House and the Buried Treasures series?

My first book with August House was published in 1988 and it’s still in print, along with the other titles from the original Buried Treasures series. I had written a couple of academic books prior to that publication – but that was my first commercial book. It did well, and the August House folks were receptive to a series, which I was delighted to be involved with so August House started my publishing career. Other publishers came along and wanted me to write for them, too. I got so busy with book projects, and I was having so much fun, I quit my faculty position at a university so that I could have more time to focus on writing and conduct expeditions.

We’re preparing to release your latest pirate book with August House, North American Pirates and their Lost Treasure. Is there a pirate that you feel the closest kinship to? Why?

Jean Lafitte. He was a rule breaker, did things his way, and was successful at it. Importantly, he seemed to have a lot of fun at his chosen occupation. He was more than a pirate, however. He was a prominent businessman, and he fought against the British during the War of 1812.

Lafitte was a man of mystery. No one is certain of where he was born or where he spent his youth. When his days of piracy came to an end, Laffite simply vanished, leaving no trace of where he might have gone, and leaving another layer of mystery and intrigue over his remarkable life.

Of all the buried treasure mysteries you’ve written about, what is the one that you’d love to solve?

The one that had attracted me for nearly a half-century was the famous Lost Adams Diggings, allegedly located somewhere in west-central New Mexico. For years, I researched and explored the area but had no luck. I decided to stop taking other people’s descriptions of the location at face value and approach the search for the diggings as an investigator might take on a cold case. I applied scientific method and a huge dose of logic. In the end, I found the diggings, and am currently in the process of harvesting gold from the location. In addition, I wrote a book about the story, my search for it, and the discovery. The title of the book is The Lost Canyon of Gold.

There are probably dozens of lost treasures that still call out to me so I’m currently in the process in settling on my next major search.

You live a life of adventure, write about it, sing about it. What advice would you give to kids today, especially in the age of smartphones, who want to explore and live a more adventurous life?

I have people approach me on an average of several times a week wanting me to assist them with, or take them on an expedition. Undertaking any kind of wilderness travel can be dangerous and extremely challenging so I only take along experienced outdoors persons that possess certain skills related to geology, geography, minerals, and treasure hunting. Unfortunately, the majority of people who are interested in going on an expedition have no idea what it is like or the challenges they might face. They are not prepared or equipped to spend more than a day or two away from civilization. Most people are just not in good enough physical or emotional shape to adequately cope with the inevitable challenges of a wilderness expedition.

That being said, I would encourage any and all to undertake an expedition, a treasure hunt, within the realm of their capabilities. It takes a certain level of commitment and patience, as well as physical conditioning, at least for the kinds of rigorous expeditions I conduct. So prior to undertaking an expedition, do the necessary research with thorough planning and preparation, then go out and have an adventure.

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