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Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Finders Weepers


by Clay Coppedge

One day in 1885 a young man named A.C. Urvin left the Turnbo Ranch near Youngsport in western Bell County, where he worked as a farm hand, to visit his father near Bertram in Burnet County. He crossed the Lampasas River near the McBride settlement and sat down on what he thought was a rock to wring out his wet socks. The rock turned out to be an old stone jar full of gold and silver coins, some dated as early as 1671.

Though Texas history is crammed with stories about lost gold and silver - the Lost Bowie Mine, Steinheimer's silver, Jean Lafitte's buried booty -we don't see a lot of stories about "found" treasures. This turned out to be an exception. Urvin probably knew exactly what he'd found.

Stories of a Mexican treasure buried and abandoned somewhere in that area had been told and retold for so long that most people had long ago quit believing them. Old timers told of how various groups of Mexican miners and treasure hunters had come to this section of the river for many years, looking for something. They never told anybody what they were looking for until one day a blabbermouth revealed that the object of their pursuit was a large stone jar full of coins and three metal chests filled with gold and silver.

The locals kept a close eye on the Mexican treasure hunters as they consulted their compasses and poked holes in the ground, but after several days the searchers went home with nothing to show for their efforts.

Urvin hadn't been looking for the treasure, but he wasn't going home empty-handed. He put some of the coins in his pocket, carefully concealed the jar, and continued on his way. That evening, at his father's house, a neighbor spied Urvin counting and inspecting the coins. Urvin told him he'd won the gold playing poker, but the neighbor was skeptical. He told another neighbor, who was likewise suspicious of thee story. Maybe they believed that people don't play poker with rare and valuable Mexican coins. And the truth was, Urvin was lying.

Urvin returned the next day with his brother to the spot where he'd hidden the jar. The brothers filled a couple of bags with more coins, then again concealed the jar. They returned to Bertram and told Eugene Gahn and a man named McDonald of their find. Soon, Urvin's sudden wealth was a secret all over the region.

From there Urvin probably went to Mexico to exchange the coins for American dollars. Though his fortunes had increased, his reputation suffered. The popular notion in Bell and Williamson counties was that the "young man of industrious habits," as the Belton Journal described him, was actually a thief and a liar.

"At Belton, the story did not go far until it reached the ears of Moses Whitsitt," Harry Christmas wrote in a 1964 edition of Real West magazine. "He went immediately to the Belton Journal, telling the editor that young Urvin was wanted for theft. He (said) that a merchant named Atkinson of Florence, who had been a rare coin collector, was robbed of his collection. He further made the claim that young Urvin's alias was Maxwell."

To defend himself in the court of public opinion, Urvin wrote a letter to the Georgetown Sun. The letter appeared in the August 13, 1885 edition and read: "Dear Sirs; I found $11,300 in old Spanish coins and have it now in U.S. currency. As to my name it is A.C. Urvin. I have both father and mother and two brothers to prove my connections. I am now living in the neighborhood of Holland with G.T. Smith. I am no thief or robber. I will be in Belton this week to see you. I can prove as good a character, from my childhood down to this time, as any man in Texas. Yours truly, A.C. Urvin."

In reporting this, the El Paso paper concluded, "The fact that Mr. Urvin found the money seems to be well documented."

And that, as far as history knows, is the end of the story.

We don't know what became of the three chests loaded with gold or if they even existed. We don't know what happened to A.C. Urvin because he disappears from the historical record after that. It's safe to assume he never worked on the Turnbo Ranch again; his $11,300 find in 1885 would be worth about $300,000 today.

Others may have made similar finds but kept quiet about it to avoid just the kind of trouble and suspicion that plagued Urvin after he claimed finders' keepers on that stone jar. We suspect that any lucky traveler who might have found the lost treasure chests kept quiet about it.

Or maybe the treasure chests are still there.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" January 10, 2019 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • The Walking Arsenal 12-13-19
  • The Invisible Track Highway 11-16-19
  • The Unflappable Flapper Bandit 10-19-19
  • Monroe Fisher's Higher Calling 9-23-19
  • Temple's International Man of Mystery 8-27-19

    See more »

  • Related Topics:
    Texas Buried Treasures
    People

    More Columns
    Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • The Walking Arsenal 12-13-19
  • The Invisible Track Highway 11-16-19
  • The Unflappable Flapper Bandit 10-19-19
  • Monroe Fisher's Higher Calling 9-23-19
  • Temple's International Man of Mystery 8-27-19

    See more »


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