Treasure Hunters, Heed my Advice and Take a Hike!
© 2012 Steve Hathcock
For centuries smugglers, pirates and ruffians of all sorts have hidden their treasures under the sands of Padre Island. Sometimes they returned to recover their ill-gotten loot…and sometimes, for whatever reasons, they did not. But one man’s loss can be another’s gain, as illustrated in the following tales……..
A few years back, a young man (vacationing on South Padre Island) was walking along the beach near Access 5 when he noticed an odd looking disk shaped object washing in on the morning tide. Upon inspection, he realized the badly corroded piece of metal he was holding had writing on it. Rare coin expert Rod Bates (Rio Bravo Gallery next to the Public Library in Port Isabel) identified the young man’s find as a Spanish one reale coin minted sometime between, 1542-1572. Because the coin was in terrible shape its numismatic value is minimal. But here is where it gets interesting; the coin was found only a scant 20 or so-miles south of where 3 Spanish treasure ships foundered off Padre Island during a great storm that struck in 1554. It’s not improbable to assume the coin came from one of the stricken galleons which makes it a great historical find worth several hundred dollars in today’s market.
One of the most perplexing stories involves a group of workers employed on the beach highway along Padre Beach. They found several hundred silver and gold coins with dates from the early 1700s to 1810. Legend has it that the pirate chief, Jean Lafitte, brought all his valuables to Padre Island shortly after his success in the Battle of New Orleans. Had the workers found such a hidden trove? We will never know as a summer storm blew in off the Gulf obliterating the site and any surrounding landmarks that could lead them back to the site.
Duff’s Thirty Third Texas Cavalry was on a scouting mission up Padre Island from Brownsville to Port Aransas sometime early on in the Civil War. Near Corpus Christi a squad from Company A under command of Lt. Vinton, was detached to look for lost horses. The search took several hours and as a result it was late in the day when the task was completed.
Unable to overtake the regiment that day, the confederates made camp in a live oak grove a few miles west of the head of Nueces Bay. A brisk norther blew in late that night with heavy winds and plummeting temperatures. No one in the party had blankets and the men had to make do with whatever shelter they could find. Ignacio Serna, of San Antonio, threw his saddle amongst the roots of the gnarled oaks and scooped loose soil out of a low spot which he curled up in for the night.
Wanting to catch up with regiment the next morning Lt. Vinton ordered a daylight start.
As Serna withdrew his saddle from the depression he heard a familiar clinking sound. The ground where he had so recently rested his head was littered with shiny silver coins uncovered the previous night when he sought shelter from the weather. Serna had made his bed on a cache of Spanish silver dollars. Discipline was forgotten as men jammed around the hole, all anxious to gather their own coins. Sabers, knives and Sharps rifles were quickly converted to pick and ax as the men dug deeper under the tree. Within a short time over 100 of the silver dollar sized coins were gathered with 1807 being the latest date found.
Sadly, Lieutenant Vinton, the son of an army officer proved to be more of a soldier than a fortune hunter; disregarding the lure of treasure, Vinton ordered his men to fall-in. After about an hour of lambasting and threats, the men were once again gathered into a cohesive if not a happy military group. More than one glum faced man made mental notes of their surroundings before turning their horse northward. One could only wonder at the remaining riches. No one among them knew when they would be able to return, but return is what they intended.
They were way too late though as it was learned later that the owner of a ranch, situated about a half mile from the camp, heard of the find and by digging deeper unearthed a large cache of coins and other valuables.
Then there was the story of Mr. W.H. Wilson, quartermasters clerk at Brazos de Santiago who was taking a stroll on Padre Island looking for shells (July, 1868 issue of Daily Ranchero) when he accidently stumbled over an old iron box about 4 inches square that appeared very ancient. Upon breaking it open it was discovered to contain diamonds, emeralds and rubies with a worth estimated at least $100,000. Needless to say, Wilson instantly became the most popular man on the Rio Grande!
So there you have it folks, the best advice I can give for those looking for lost treasure is “Take a hike!”