Before I started to work on the story running in the July 2009 issue (“ Sleeping Booty”) about California musician Nathan Smith’s quixotic attempt to find a lost Spanish treasure ship near the town of Refugio, north of Corpus Christi, I assumed that there was no buried treasure at all in Texas.
I made, um, a slight miscalculation.
Texas, I learned, is full of buried treasure—or, to be a bit more accurate, full of stories about buried treasures that no one has been able to find. In one Internet posting, I read the following: “Texas has more buried treasure than any other state, with 229 sites within the state’s borders. The total value? An estimated $340 million.”
And as I write, the treasure hunters are out there, hunting, hunting, and hunting. Many of them are wandering through the beaches and backlands with nothing more than metal detectors. Others have mounted full-scale salvage expeditions with backhoes and monster trucks and whatnot. “They are convinced that booty galore is waiting to be found,” J. Barto Arnold, the former marine archaeologist for the Texas Historical Commission, told me. “I once made a scientific study of all the known shipwrecks, from ancient to modern, that occurred off the Texas coast. I determined that there were maybe five that might have contained some sort of treasure. But all the treasure hunters declared that I must be hiding the truth. No matter the evidence, they knew there were more ships filled with riches.”
Let’s be honest, everybody loves a good treasure story. Is there anything better than the tale of someone discovering a hidden clue, figuring out an obscure reference, finding the final piece of the puzzle, and then discovering a fantastic stash of gold or silver?
Well, my beloved fellow Texas readers, though I have no idea whether anything I’m about to pass on to you is the slightest bit accurate, here are six of the supposedly great Texas treasures still waiting to be found. The information comes from books and treasure hunting Web sites (the best of which are legendsofamerica.com and treasurefish.com).
So read this, get up, and go after your pot of gold. Just let me know if you find anything so I can break the story first.
1. The Sam Bass Loot In perhaps his greatest venture, Texas’s legendary stagecoach and bank robber Sam Bass traveled to Big Springs, Nebraska, with his sidekick Joel Collins and held up the Union Pacific Railroad. They got away with three thousand freshly-minted 1877 $20 gold pieces. Although $25,000 worth of coins and jewelry have been accounted for, no one knows where the rest of the loot went, and Collins and Bass were killed before they revealed anything. Legend has it that Bass’s part of the money is in Cove Hollow, about thirty miles from Denton.
2. East Texas Gold From Mexico In 1839 Mirabeau B. Lamar, the newly inaugurated successor to Sam Houston as President of Texas, sent the Texas Army out to get rid of the Cherokees. A huge battle ensued between the two groups near what