TeXas Marks the Spot

Tales of treasures both real and mythical draw hunters to the state

By Peter Warren

A man uses a metal detector in a green and brown field

Stories of buried treasure and hidden riches abound in Texas, from gold in the Guadalupe Mountains to pirate caches at the bottom of the boat-filled waters of Galveston Bay. But most casual hunters aren’t after gold ingots and undiscovered mines; they are focused on finding coins and other small artifacts. As vice president of the Texas Association of Metal Detecting Clubs, Byron Whitaker knows that finding something little can mean a lot.

“For every [major] treasure, there are 100,000 small ones,” Whitaker says. “It may just be $10 worth of stuff, but there’s a lot of that stuff out there.”

West Texas author and journalist Patrick Dearen, who has written multiple books about treasure, including Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier, Revisited, says hope is key to a treasure hunt. Dearen points to the life of Cliff Newland, a treasure hunter who searched for the Castle Gap fortune—a reported collection of valuables from 19th-­century Mexican emperor Maximilian hidden in West Texas. Newland spent 40 years seeking the treasure before dying empty-handed at the age of 94.

“I’ve had people who knew him tell me that he probably wouldn’t have lived nearly as long had he ever found the treasure,” Dearen says. “It’s kind of a metaphor for life. Our journey can be more important than ever getting to a certain dream we try to obtain.”

A simple illustration of a treasure mapThe Texas Association of Metal Detecting Clubs’ annual Treasure Show, which features a treasure hunt, a banquet, and treasure displays, is scheduled for April 16-18 in Canton. tamdc.org

Eureka!

In addition to the standard boots-on-the-ground searches for treasure, these three methods can help you maximize your finds when you’re out in the field.

Metal Detecting: All you need is a metal detector. One member of the Texas Association of Metal Detecting Clubs says he has found over 400,000 coins over 42 years, just through metal detecting.

Gold Prospecting: People across the country search for rock outcrops that contain veins of ore and pan for gold in places like the Llano River.

Underwater Hunting: This method runs the gamut from donning a scuba suit to find a lost wedding ring to scanning for a sunken ship on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

A bright golden nugget

22

Number of groups in the Texas Association of Metal Detecting Clubs

12-40

Depth in feet of Hendricks Lake, rumored to contain six wagonloads of silver

1781

Year the still-undiscovered Chisos Mountains mine was sealed, according to legend

Treasure Tracker

A white-haired man in a baseball cap looks out of a window

Photo courtesy W.C. Jameson

W.C. Jameson, based in Llano, is one of the most famous treasure hunters in recent history. He got his start as a chore boy on a successful hunt for gold ingots in the Guadalupe Mountains almost 70 years ago, and he has since been a consultant for shows on the History and Discovery channels.

In addition to his career searching for treasure, Jameson has written over 100 books, more than 40 of which are about treasure hunting. These include Buried Treasures of Texas and a memoir called Treasure Hunter: Caches, Curses, and Confrontations.

What was your favorite Texas treasure hunt?

When I was 11 years old and I got to participate in recovering those 100 gold ingots. This was back in 1953. At the time, it was actually illegal to own gold. Of course, I didn’t get any of it. I was just a kid.

What do you remember about finding the gold?

I was standing outside the cave when they were inside and started to bring it out. They wouldn’t let me come in, but my job was to stack them up, and I got to hold each one of them. I felt some sort of weird sense of accomplishment. This seemed like great fun to me and something I wanted to be a part of for as long as I could.

What do people misunder­stand about treasure hunting?

A lot of people, they watch too much television or film. They don’t realize that in many cases, it takes days. It takes traveling by foot over some rugged country and can be demanding. We have had to overcome obstacles like rattlesnakes, cave-ins, landslides, and flash floods.

A Texas Historical Marker at Castle Gap

Fabled Finds

These four legendary Texas treasures are yet to be found.

Castle Gap Treasure: The riches of soon-to-be-executed Mexican emperor Maximilian were on their way to Galveston in the 1860s, but guards protecting the treasure stole it. The guards hid the gold and jewels near Castle Mountain south of Midland.

The Lost San Saba Mine: After hearing rumors of an abandoned silver­ mine, Stephen F. Austin sent soldiers to search the San Saba River for caches of silver, but they came back empty-handed. Jim Bowie also struck out in his search, and the mine remains undiscovered.

Hendricks Lake: Pirate Jean Lafitte stole six wagonloads of silver from a Spanish ship. Spanish forces closed in on the wagons, which were pushed into the East Texas lake to avoid capture.

The Lost Chisos Mine: What Dearen calls the chief legend of Big Bend involves a mine full of gold and silver hidden in the Chisos Mountains.

The February 2021 cover of Texas Highways Magazine, The Return of Car Culture


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