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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"
OLD ARMORY
by Mike Cox

Is there really an historical treasure trove beneath downtown Austin?
Mike Cox
The story sounded suspiciously like an urban legend, but the teller clearly believed it without question.

It goes back to 1840, when Austin was capital of the Republic of Texas. The government had been there less than a year when an armory was built near the point where Waller Creek flowed into the Colorado River.

As Gerald Pierce said in his well-researched study of the republic's military, "Texas Under Arms," no description of the arsenal is known. But, he speculated, it was "doubtless a small log and frame building much like the Houston Arsenal." The installation likely also had barracks, corrals, horse sheds and a blacksmith's shop.

The armory also had a small shop where weapons could be repaired and tested. Machinery was powered by a waterwheel in the nearby creek, which constituted the eastern edge of the town.

"Here was the real center of day-to-day army activity in...Austin," Pierce wrote, "and the only place in the town that was constantly occupied by Texan soldiers from 1839 to 1845."

Because of that, the creek and the few undeveloped spots around it are of considerable interest to modern-day metal detector enthusiasts who like to look for old buttons, buckles and bullets. And from one of them, a man who has been listening to the whine of a radio signal bouncing up from buried metal for more than three decades, comes this story.

"When they were excavating for a new building at the site several years ago," he said, "the workmen found a tunnel underneath where the arsenal had stood."

That is interesting enough, but what he said next borders on the incredible: "Inside the tunnel were stacks of rifles and swords."

When the heavy equipment crew reported the find to the contractor, his reaction was not one of historical fascination, the metal detector said.

"Fill it up with concrete," the boss man supposedly ordered.
The contractor was afraid that if he reported the find, the project would be delayed by archaeologists and all the associated governmental red tape. So, on penalty of losing their job, the workmen poured concrete into the tunnel.

Supposedly, the weapons were left inside so word would not get out, but that's pretty hard to swallow. How could anyone resist getting their hands on a vintage firearm or sword?

If there really is an historical treasure trove beneath downtown Austin, maybe the next time someone gets the site ready for a new building, someone will wonder about an unusual, tunnel-shaped core of buried concrete.

More likely, it's just a legend.

Mike Cox

Austin, Texas
February12, 2004
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