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
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
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
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
Or maybe the treasure chests are still there.