Jesse James and the Lost Templar Treasure:
Secret Diaries, Coded Maps, and the Knights of the Golden Circle
Daniel J. Duke | July 9, 2019 | Destiny Books | ISBN: 9781620558201 | 150 pages | $16.99
Generally speaking, if a book opens by thanking God for his help and assistance, it’s not a very good book. Somehow, God’s literary output has declined markedly in quality since his first few bestsellers. Really, after the Qur’an, it was all downhill, even when he is just consulting, as he did with this book. Our inspired volume under consideration today, Jesse James and the Lost Templar Treasure, begins with the unpromising revelation that the author and his mother and sister were disheartened when the James Farm and Museum refused to endorse their family legend that their alleged ancestor, the outlaw Jesse James, faked his death and lived out his life in Blevins, Texas as James Lafayette Courtney—the man who is Daniel J. Duke’s actual ancestor. Our author describes becoming progressively more strident in his beliefs because of the “many rude encounters” he had with experts who declined to embrace his family’s oral tradition that Courtney was James, traditions detailed in his mother Betty Dorsett Duke’s book, Jesse James Lived and Died in Texas, which Duke expects readers to presume to be both true and correct, mostly because the scholarly elites say no.
Duke claims that the 1995 DNA testing of the body buried in Jesse James’s grave proved that the body did not belong the James, but standard accounts from the time state that mitochondrial DNA tested were consistent with a known member of the James family.
Duke offers no evidence that his great-grandfather was Jesse James other than the opinion of some police detectives that the two men’s photographs look similar, as do photos of their respective mothers. It’s not terribly convincing.
From there, the narrative branches off briefly to follow Courtney’s life, which Duke imagines to have been guided by James’s experiences. Courtney was a Freemason, and after his death, it was discovered that he had squirreled bundles of cash and precious metals around his farmstead. Duke speculates that Courtney / James was a member of the pro-Confederate Knights of the Golden Circle, though he admits to having no evidence to support the claim. Nevertheless, he believes that using “treasure templates” created by the Knights, he can locate more of Courtney’s buried treasure. By coincidence, no one can quite figure out how these templates work or how many of them are needed to find treasure.
Many of the chapters in the book are … pointless, really. Even though I knew from the book description that it would touch on esoteric and occult material, I wasn’t expecting the book to be an amateurish analysis of Kabbalah that quickly forgot all about Jesse James after only a few pages, so that was… unexpected. That it turned out to be esoteric Confederate revaunchism that reimagined the Scott Wolter Templar Mythos as secret Southern science was also something I did not wholly anticipate.
Duke structures the first third of the book around his quest for what he believes to be Courtney’s remaining treasure, which he also thinks is a fortune that James had gathered, perhaps under the auspices of the Knights of the Golden Circle, and buried somewhere in the United States. To this end, he investigates—by which, I mean, copies from reference books and encyclopedias—a series of local treasure stories related to such myths as the Seven Cities of Gold, sometimes localized in the desert southwest, and Bruton Parish Church in Virginia, which Manly P. Hall’s wife Maria Bauer speculated was a front for Rosicrucian secrets.
Incidentally, the Bruton Parish Church “treasure” is said to be the same treasure as on Oak Island—Shakespeare’s lost plays, secret codes, ancient wisdom, etc., placed there by the same person, Francis Bacon. The two stories also share hidden vaults and secret tunnels, as well as Masonic symbolism. (Duke ties Oak Island into his conspiracy, though in a different way.) The localization of the same myth in two locations is interesting on its own, particularly in the way Oak Island absorbed Bauer’s and Hall’s speculations about Bruton Parish Church wholesale. I hadn’t heard of this particular version of the story before, and it puts the Oak Island myth in a new light.
Most of the stories in the book, however, were familiar to me only from appearing on History Channel pseudo-history shows like America Unearthed and treasure hunting programs, and few seem to have more than local currency in the towns and counties where they are centered. “As I stated before,” Duke writes, “very few treasure stories seem to be useful for anything other than entertaining campfire tales.” He might have taken his own advice, since nothing in his discussion was of more than passing interest.
Having outlined several stories of buried treasure, Duke moves onto his real topic: a fantasy that America is a giant embodiment of Kabbalistic diagrams organized by Freemasons and Rosicrucians even before the founding of the country. He assumes that the “templates” used by the Knights of the Golden Circle (allegedly, anyway) are connected to Freemasonry, which he sees as the only force powerful enough to have drawn a treasure map across the continent and buried caches of gold and historically important documents at locations important to sacred geometry. This involves an effort to view Freemasonry as an extension of Kabbalah and therefore to use the cabalistic Tree of Life as a map to overlay onto the southern United States as a guide to treasure locations. He found it amazing that a template laid over part of America worked for other areas and at different scales, suggesting that America is laid out as a fractal grid. Instead, he discovered a not-so-secret secret: Cities and towns tend to be laid out at fairly regular distances from each other because there are limits to how far people can travel in a day.
He therefore concludes that the Knights of the Golden Circle simply appropriated Francis Bacon’s cabalistic mapping system and that the treasure caches were actually planned out in Elizabethan times. He alleges that the Tree of Life, overlaid on sixteenth century maps, matches… well, nothing, really. But he claims that the symbol overlays onto both North and South America. He says that the matches aren’t perfect but are “close enough to convey a message.” Well, I’d say that it wasn’t much of a message then, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.
If true, it would be especially amazing since America hadn’t been thoroughly mapped then, longitude couldn’t be accurately calculated, and locations in the interior of America would have been difficult or even impossible to precisely locate. He defends his logic with numerology, multiplying numbers like the square root (!) of the number of years it takes the stars to complete a circuit of the zodiac by random integers and using the resulting figure to look up passages in the Book of Genesis, and comparing such numbers to the numerology of Kabbalah. To make it all work, he happily fudges the numbers to get the digits he wants. For example, he claims that axial procession moves the stars 1 degree every 66 years, or the diabolical 666 years after 10 degrees. Ten times 66 is not 666, and axial procession takes about 71.6 years per degree, not 66.
And what would an occult conspiracy be without Scott Wolter? Duke claims that proof of his assertions can be found in a Renaissance illustration accompanying one of the maps depicting a man seated in a chair. The legs of the chair and the curved seat cross in the shape of an X, and the back of the seat is crossed by the arm of the chair. Duke said that after watching America Unearthed he came to believe that the chair was a “Hooked X®” and therefore proof that a Holy Bloodline Masonic conspiracy lay behind the entire project to map America in the image of cabalistic diagrams. Proof, he said, can be found in the fact that placing a template over Minnesota marks a location “very near” to where the Kensington Runestone was discovered—though not the actual site.
It is through Scott Wolter that Duke determined that the Knights Templar and “the Jews” were working together to subvert the Catholic Church and claim North America in the image of Kabbalah. A large portion of the book is devoted to trying to find connections between Renaissance polymaths and Enlightenment-era Freemasons in the hope of tracing them all back to Templars. There is no documented connection between Freemasons and Knights Templar; indeed, the claim of one emerged only after the French Revolution. Originally, the Masons claimed no extraordinary connection to chivalric orders, and the first claim was to the Knights Hospitaller rather than the Templars.
From there, Duke’s speculations descend into a grab-bag of cable TV-influenced Templar conspiracies tying in everything from Rosslyn Chapel and Rennes-le-Chateau to Et in Arcadia Ego, King Arthur, and the constellation Cygnus. He speaks of the Masonic symbolism in the street grid of Washington, D.C. and the claim that Jacob’s Pillow is a sacred stone known to America’s Founders, and even the hoax Los Lunas Decalogue Stone. Most of these claims are straight out of America Unearthed. In fact, no part of his web of conspiracies and coincidences is anything you haven’t heard on the History Channel before, and he even cites the dubious work of the authors of Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as fact. The only real difference is that Duke moves the center of the Templar conspiracy from Wolter’s Minnesota to the former Confederacy, implying that Southern elites are the true inheritors of an ancient wisdom tradition that descends directly from the divine to Duke via the criminal outlaw Jesse James and a secret society of slavery enthusiasts. The map of “sacred” locations Duke produces targets areas primarily in the old Confederacy and a few in conservative areas of the Midwest. It pointedly excludes the traditional centers of American political power and social prestige in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. In case it is too subtle, Duke appears to liken the Knights of the Golden Circle (i.e. Southern racist imperialists) to the Knights Templar and to see the Confederacy, like the imaginary empire of the Templars, as the victim of persecution and execution by unjust and reviled authorities who failed to understand the real beauty of their ideology.
Ultimately, Duke’s 130 pages of speculation are based, according to his own bibliography, on a limited set of fringe history books, a few websites, and some Wikipedia articles. There is almost no attempt to use scholarly sources, and the confusing and inconsistent speculation reads as though no one other than Duke ever gave it more than a glance before rushing it to print. But what I can’t figure is why Duke hands his readers the key to fabulous lost treasures, including, he thinks, the Ark of the Covenant, Shakespeare’s plays, and the secrets of Hermes Trismegistus, but says that he didn’t ever quite get around to going to the nearby sites where he thinks they are buried to go get them. It’s funny how so many fringe types have the time to write books about ancient treasures but not to actually find them, despite claiming to know exactly where they are. Surely it would be a better testament to the “truth” of their claims than a poorly researched and badly written book.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.