Sunday, January 08, 2006

Buddha Head figurines at Cape Horn


I'm ... writing ... to inquire about historic artifacts that were recently unearthed in the Cape Horn area. These artifacts are: NUMEROUS (hundreds?) Buddha Head figurines all ranging in size from a dime to a silver dollar. These Buddha heads were obviously poured from original carved castings, the material is extremely dense and polished and has the consistency and finish of fine porcelain or polished ivory. There are several hundred artifacts most of them Buddhas, but also there were other figures approximately the same size, these other figures included porcelain "seashell shapes", conical shapes, "button shapes" with colored enamel overlays including red, blue and emerald green.

We are attempting to identify, date and determine their origin and what these pieces were used for. It is speculated that they were used by the chinese for gambling since they were not allowed to possess gold?

No one has been able to identify them or even show other examples of like pieces in the Chinese camps during the gold rush era.

ALL of these pieces were found very near the Cape Horn area and would be very interested in any information or help that you might provide in further investigating or identifying these very old and historic artifacts. ...

Here are a couple of photos of the pieces that I have. So far I have identified approximately 8 different unique pieces. Each of these pieces is complete and unbroken (not part of a larger piece), except the "half" Buddha face piece in the picture which represents the largest shape of the "set." The one that is next to the "1" is a complete piece and is the largest of the pieces.

The backside of each piece clearly indicates that these pieces were "cast" or poured from porcelain or a similar very dense hard material. ... Out of the several hundred pieces I've looked at, it appears that that there are dozens of "original" molds for each shape.

In my opinion, it appears that these may have been used by the Chinese as "gambling money" or for trading ... the questions i have though is ...

1) Origin: Were they cast here or in China. How old are they?
2) Did other Chinese camps in the gold country use these same pieces or were they exclusive to the Cape Horn camps / area?
3) Historical significance?
4) Are there others out there?
5) Value?
6) The Chinese buddhas were historically the "fatter, happier Buddha" – Is it possible that these are Japanese? Cambodian? (My guess is that they must be Chinese because of their locale.)

—Jim Bowers, Colfax, California

Buddha at Cape Horn.

Buddha at Cape Horn.

Buddha at Cape Horn.


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The notion that "Chinese ... were not allowed to possess gold" is not consistent with the fact that the Central Pacific Railroad paid the Chinese Railroad workers in gold coin:

"Their wages, which are always paid in coin, at the end of each month" ... "They are paid from $30 to $35 in gold a month".

1/09/2006 6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These were found way down by the American River in Robbers Ravine.

1/09/2006 8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is no chinese writing or inscriptions on ANY of the artifacts found. The back side of each piece is flat or has a slight depression similar to pottery or slip castings after it has dryed and baked. No markings. I do however find it interesting that this buddha is not the traditional "fat happy buddha" typically found in Chinese religion. But It's possible that the happy buddha became popular later and this "japanese style meditative buddha" was cross cultural in the 1800's?

1/09/2006 9:49 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


What a valuable find and in such large quanities. I have forward this information to a Mr. Paul Chase a known expert for Chinese artifacts and member of CHSSC. It may be possible that the "Buddha" figures may be Quan-Yin, Goddess of Mercy? I will discuss this with others.

—Bill Chew

1/10/2006 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Bill -
Looking forward to any other info. Just an update, the person who found the original cache graciousley took me back to the location this morning. Since Northern California has recently had a huge storm, the American River shows signs of high water being 15-20 feet higher in the past couple of weeks, altho it is back down now, but still running very fast and COLD.
I searched downstream from the original field of buddhas and found one more of the small buddhas in three hours. So, I do believe the find to be authentic. But just hyow long these artifacts have been in the river and their origin is still a mystery.

1/10/2006 5:01 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Another observation! There appears that the green stone is high quality Chinese Jade with a gold rim. Very valuable considerating age and quality.

—Bill Chew

1/10/2006 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


no gold....there are only three "styles" in the collection that have anything at all on them. But, those little blobby shapes ( I call button shapes) are just little "domed" blobs with a "blotch" of green or red enamel glaze on it. some of the enamel blobs are big, some are small. Indicating they were applied by paint brush or something similar and then fired.
SO - there is NOTHING else on any of the artifacts.

1/10/2006 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have received information that an east coast collector has identified these artifacts as "possibly" 12th century ivory and porcelain pieces originally from Thailand. They are allegedly from a game that was played with over 800 pieces and that only two other complete sets are known to exist in the world. There is also supposed to be a book that talks about this game with photos... if anyone knows of this book, I'm trying to locate it. This collector who is coming to Colfax from the east coast presumably has placed a value of approx $2000 for the small pieces and over $7000 for the large Buddha heads. Again, any further info or insight is appreciated.

1/13/2006 8:40 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Caveat Emptor! – Caveat Venditor!

1/13/2006 12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just to bring ya'll up to date... still no answer on what these artifacts are, or how old they are. the "collector" turned out to be bogus, so i am continuing my hunt for the truth. I am going to meet with dick hilton at sierra college today, he's an anthropologist and expert on northern calif. but he has shown interest in helping me find some answers. I'll keep ya posted...


1/30/2006 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting "find.' It amounts to theft, and if the Burea of Land Management finds out what has happened, they may become interested.

I for one am very tired of people looting archeological sites.

The Chinese were, of course, allowed to own gold, in fact, in the immediate vicinity of the discovery, and before the CPRR arrived, there were major Chinese camps all up and down the North Fork, and other rivers in the Sierra. They were mining gold.

In the debris piles left by the shameless looters of Dutch Flat's Second Chinatown, one often sees little black or white or green dollops of porcelain, exactly like some depicted in your photos, and I have always assumed that they are gambling tokens of some kind.

Paul Chace may indeed be able to shed light on these artifacts.

So far as the appearance of the Buddhas, there were many conventions followed in depicting Buddha, in China of the 1860s. Not just one fat and happy Buddha. It is an error to characterize your Buddhas, stolen from Robbers Ravine, as Japanese, unless indisputable evidence confirms that.

The Chinese Historical Society might be a worthy organization to donate these finds to. Or, the Placer County Museum.

I will inform the Bureau of Land Management of the "find" immediately.

2/08/2006 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NEW THEORY! I have recently learned about a man by the name of Louie Sterla (sp) that lived ON the american river in the dutch flat areas in the 1940's and 50's. He was known to have travelled to China where he reportedly married a Chinese woman and brought her back along with her family heirlooms, furniture etc. (Machao Province). In (about) 1956-57, the American river flooded, destroying Sterlas home and drowning his wife and one child. I have spoken with Sterla's caretaker who cared for him until he died five years ago. She confirmed that he did have alot of Chinese art, furniture etc...
I am looking into the possibility that these artifacts may have been part of Sturlas lost possessions. I may not be able to prove it coclusively, but if I can prove that these were manufactured in the Machao Province in the 40's or 50's.. it would be the most likely scenario.
The mystery continues....
(this would make a great discovery channel or The History Detectives program!)

2/16/2006 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Towle,
I take great offense at your assuming that these artifacts were looted or stolen. Before you go making such accusations, maybe you should do some serious investigation of your own.I cannot postively confirm the exact location of the find, because I wasn't there when he found them. But I would never accuse anyone of theft or looting unless I could prove it.
I am convinced however that these pieces were discovered while legally searching for gold. The person who found them has already offered to donate or loan them to an appropriate museum if they are in fact of historic or cultural significance.
Also - I didn't say that these were Japanese. I was making the point that they were similar to ancient japanese style buddhas. Being married to a japanese woman myself, i travel to Japan and have seen similar ancient likenesses. See;
the Big Buddha in Kamakura JAPAN is similar in every aspect to these artifacts. So, my point was that they "could have been" or that it was cross cultural (japanese/chinese) in the 1800's or pre-1800's...

Fact: Where would these pieces of art & history be if they weren't discovered when they were? Gone Forever?

Fact: I wonder if Mr Sturla (also a prospector) may have LOOTED them from Dutch Flats second China Town in the 50's??? In light of your information about the "porcelain blobs" found there, it makes me wonder. Maybe Mr Sturla was the thief!!?


2/16/2006 10:39 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Jim Bowers"

... The Sacramento Bee is going to print a story sometime next week. I am hoping that by going public with the Mystery that someone might recognize and be able to identify the artifacts. As this mystery grows in all of it's complexity and potentially dark and mysterious possibilities, I think it could make for a great discovery channel or history detectives program....

I'm luvin it and I suppose every good story needs at least one villain.


2/17/2006 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I guess I should have seen that coming! Yesterday afternoon (2/22), federal agents, BLM archaeoligists and the sheriff raided my store and seized (without a warrant, court order, nuthin) the 15-20 artifacts (buddhas), that I had aquired from the prospector. It seems that Mr Towle convinced "the feds" that they had been looted... So without any proof or conclusive evidence of that EVER have happening, they turned ME into the bad guy thanks to Russel Towle. In any case, i hope that now I will be vindicated as the guy who was in search of the TRUTH as to where these originated, and thanks to mr Towles confession that he had located blobs of porcelain in the dutch flat chinese camps "exactly like" these, I am confident now that the 500+ buddhas that were recently discovered came down river in the 1950's (in a container of some sort) from Louie Sturlas house that was destroyed in the flood of 57 (56?).
Louie Sturla collected these just like Mr Towle has... and I'm out to prove it.
Hey Russel, did you turn yours over to the feds? Are they in a museum where I can check them out to compare?
Be careful what you find in your own back yard...If it is a "fossil or any artifact of historic or cultural significance" the United States government can walk into your home and take it" without any court orders or seizure order or anything.... just "probable cause".... I didn't even get a receipt!

2/23/2006 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suggest consulting with an attorney.

2/24/2006 12:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"The Federal Government, as well as every state in the Union, has numerous laws governing the status and protection of historically significant lands and objects within their jurisdictions. Objects over 50 years old come under this definition, and so care must be taken when treasure hunting, or laws may be inadvertently violated. It is wise to familiarize yourself with these laws before beginning a treasure hunting adventure. Here is a good source for the 1906 Antiquities Act. I suggest doing a search for "Antiquities Act" for the particular state you will be working in to get the proper information."

Antiquities Laws and Regulations

Antiquities Act, 1906


2/24/2006 8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re the little buddhas found swimming in the American River: the lesson here is to button your lip lest busybodies sic the Feds on you to confiscate your find!

2/24/2006 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a nasty creature that Towle thing is. Overgrown tattletale and busybody who accuses without evidence, troubles without conscience, harasses without decency. I wish him the worst.

2/24/2006 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today (2/26) I visited Dutch Flat where the friendly locals put me in touch with Russell Towle by phone. I asked if there was any chance that I might meet up with him or someone else that would allow me to compare those artifacts found (2005) with the artifacts that he claims to have been discovered in the Dutch Flat China Camp #2 (see previous post).
He said good luck & hung up...
I was however welcomed by Mr Ricker (another local historian) who drove up and met me at the Dutch Flat Museum.
(neat place - lots of history) He was kind enough to open up the museum and go through several chinese artifacts on display there and dozens of textbooks and articles written about the Chinese in the area. In the time i spent there, we were not able to find anything that eluded to evidence of these artifacts existing in the Chinese Camps. If there has indeed been artifacts found, I would hope that Mr Towle would be willing to help in this investigation to prove or disprove it since a man was arrested over it.
While I am still optimistic that these artifacts may still be circa 1800's or older, I am now having serious doubts about the Dutch Flat connection.
While it is still possible that the artifacts did "migrate" ten miles down river (since the largest Chinese community resided in Dutch Flat) , it may be more likely that they originated in the Robbers Ravine/Cape Horn Chinese Camps. Maybe they were buried in the hillside and got washed into the river.... maybe they were thrown off the Iowa Hill Bridge by a bunch of Hippies.....
The State is currently conducting there own tests to determine the approximate age of the artifacts. If I hear anything, I'll let you know.
I do have an objective pro's and con's paper that I wrote if anyone's interested in reading it ( You might better form your own opinion after reviewing it.

2/26/2006 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See: "Colfax man arrested as authorities probe figurine finds" Auburn Journal, March 1, 2006 (News Article)

"A Colfax man who said he found hundreds of small Buddha figurines of unknown origin last summer while he prospected for gold in the American River was arrested Friday on two warrants, according to the Placer County Sheriff's Department. George Herman Henry, 57, was booked at Placer County Jail and released on $9,500 bail, according to the Placer County Sheriff's Department. ... Henry's arrest came two days after Bureau of Land Management officials raided a Colfax T-shirt and gift shop and confiscated 24 Buddha figurines from shop owner Jim Bowers, according to Bowers and BLM. Under federal law, it is illegal to remove artifacts from public land. ... Under [California] state law, it is a misdemeanor to remove objects of archaeological or historical interest from a state park. Maximum penalty is a 90-day jail term and $1,000 fine, according to the State Parks Web site." [More]

3/01/2006 3:00 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Chris Graves says that tomorrow's Sacramento Bee will report that the actual source of the Buddha heads is a Sierra College professor who made 500 of them and littered them all over the canyon in order to "spread some karma around."

3/03/2006 1:07 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The Sierra College's Ridley Art Gallery had an exhibit, "Short Order: Ceramic Work by Casey O'Connor & Richard Shaw," Oct 26 - Nov 18, 2004.

Casey O'Connor is Department Chair of the Sierra College Art Department.

3/03/2006 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also see this website.

3/03/2006 4:43 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"
Subject: Mystery of the Chinese figurines – SOLVED

You may recall that in January, 2006, Mr.Jim Bowers, owner of a T-shirt shop in Colfax, Cal. posted a note on the blog re: 'Chinese porcelain Budda heads' that were found in the bottom of Robbers Ravine, where that Ravine meets the American River.

Mr. Bowers was attempting to find a reason for the Budda heads being there.

Mystery solved! In the March 4, 2006 Sacramento Bee, (tomorrows edition) it will be revealed that an art teacher from Sierra College, Rocklin, Cal., had an idea that it would be nice to spread good karma, and to do this, he would sprinkle a few hundred Budda heads in the bottom of Robbers Ravine, this where that ravine meets the American, Pilgrims, we now have a new definition of 'good karma'.

I fear that the Budda heads will join the legion of legends that already surround Cape Horn, joining in such company as the Baskets of Stephen Ambrose; the sudden deaths of Chinese workers scrambling away from black powder explosives, and the Lost Locomotive that is yet to be found in Burnt Flat.

Ah, the perils of history.

—G J Chris Graves, NewCastle, Cal.

3/03/2006 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is this the year of the rat or dog i cant remember but mr towles family way back in the day moved historical trails around there property this guy is makes abig fuss unless its in his backyard watch out russ when you trespass in the diggings

3/04/2006 9:05 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"

Story is out, front and back pages of todays Bee, complete with pictures.


3/04/2006 2:42 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"

"Art professors are creative, but they don't have the most common sense in the world."
—Placer Co. Sheriff's Office.

3/04/2006 2:44 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "jim bowers"
Date: March 3, 2006 6:34:38 PM EST

I had heard this rumor a couple of days ago... this morning i tracked down Casey O'Connol [sic] art professor of ceramics at Sierra College. After asking him about 20 questions that ONLY the person that created these pieces would know. After a half hour of "explanation" and evidence. I am 100% satisfied that these were made by O'Connol. He said he wanted to spread around his art and karma for "future generations" to discover his mysterious art. He has scattered them at Laguna Beach, Davis, Portland Oregon and our very own American River...

To tell ya the truth... I'm a little impressed.

jim bowers

3/05/2006 5:09 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "jim bowers"

Working on a tip, I contacted Sierra College early yesterday morning. They put me in touch with the art dept who put me through to Mr O'Conner. Up to that point, he had not been contacted by the feds or anyone to confirm that he had in fact created the Buddhas. I asked him if I could ask several very specific questions that only the person who created the artifacts would know.
#1) Describe in detail all eight unique artifacts. - (He described all eight including the "eyes" in the peach pit)
#2) Where exactly did you disperse them - ("Above the Iowa Hill bridge next to the campground in the tidal pools")
#3) Do you still have the orginal molds? - ("Yep")

It was soon obvious that we had "The Real McCoy" (anyone know where THAT term comes from?)
So, I warned O'Conner that he was about to get ambushed by a flood of reporters and then I invited him to create some art with me at an annual art festival I attend. The Bee story was incomplete and made it sound like I was still unconvinced and had bad feelings toward O'Connor. Quite the contrary, I was excited as hell, to find the creator of these pieces. Altho, he probably could have thought it through a little, I don't fault the man...
The only people that deserve any blame (or shame) in all of this are the Feds and State for treating me like a criminal when I was very public about my attempt to protect the find if in fact they were historic. (and they tore Henrys home apart more than once looking for buddhas). A few reporters that left important facts out and printed innacurate details. And finally.... Mr Towle who, put an innocent man in jail and cost taxpayers a ton of money only to find out.... there never were any of these artifacts in the dutch flat chinese camps.

Thanks for all your patience and help in the last several weeks

Jim Bowers

3/05/2006 5:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm giving a talk on the whole Buddha story at Camp 20 Coffee House - April 7th at 7:30 PM in Colfax. It's a free event.
The prospector is going to be there and O'Connor will be givving a "small gift" to all those in attendance.
The story is quite interesting with all of it's history, mystery, deceit, lies and greed...
A lot of the facts were never reported in the papers, but now that it's over, i can tell all...
Some of it will blow your mind..
Hope you can make it. Please introduce yourself if you can.

3/25/2006 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have given two lectures on the Great Buddha Mystery so far. I've agreed to a third fundraiser for,

The Miners Foundry
Nevada City Ca.
Friday - June 2nd - 6:30PM

It is quite an interesting story of Mystery, Greed, Government Power, Lies and deception. In the end, you too will be truely enlightened and you might come away from it with a gift from the professor O'Connor.

I hope you can attend!
Jim Bowers

4/16/2006 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"500 Buddhas" Film Project. After my last lecture at the Miners Foundry in Nevada City, i was approached by Jim Weber from SFMOMA. (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Jim approached me about doing a documentary film about the Buddha story. They have since been up to Colfax to scout locations and "meet the players". The project is moving ahead!
I am doing another (filmed) lecture on July 14th at the VFW hall in Auburn.

6/24/2006 7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are interested in hearing the REAL story of the 500 Buddhas of Placer County, I'll be doing another free lecture at the VFW Hall in Auburn on August 11th Friday at 6:30 PM. Film crews will be present to document the lecture for an independent film/documentary being made for PBS, film festivals etc.
Depending on the number of attendees, I will be "gifting" Buddhas to all.

7/23/2006 12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Jim,
What is the status of the PBS doc? I am a film student in Monterey, Ca who works for a non-profit film studio and find this entire story very interesting. I am developing some projects currently and would like to go ahead with telling this story in a short 15 minute film. I think I've only scrathed the surface with my research online and would love to hear one of your lectures or set up a time in the future to meet with you and the others involved. Do you have any lectures upcoming? My email address is derek (at) or william.dockendorf (at) If you get the chance to write me back it would be much appreciated. Thanks,

10/12/2006 12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Art professors are creative, but they don't have the most common sense in the world." — Placer Co. Sheriff's Office.

Yes, and sometimes "well-meaning" law enforcement can come out looking dumber than dirt.

11/13/2010 12:22 PM  
Anonymous layana said...

These Buddhas that they have unearthed look more like the Buddhas found in Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia. How it got there will be hard to explain. Unless there were traders that sell these to the people in Cape Horn.

3/27/2012 1:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, you are being gullible about a hoax that is already solved: they were created and put there by an art professor.

3/27/2012 7:43 AM  

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