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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

TYRANT'S GOLD

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
When General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna came to Texas in 1836 he left behind death and destruction -- and possibly gold.

Napoleon said an army travels on its stomach, but soldiers have to be paid. Santa Anna was a dictator, to be sure, but even conscripts received coins for their service. Officers netted more.

Beyond having to meet a payroll, Santa Anna was a man of refined tastes. Then, as now, the better things of life did not come inexpensively. No one questions that Santa Anna would have come to Texas with an ample supply of coin.

After Santa Anna's defeat at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the remnants of his army fled south. In their haste to leave Texas, they may have opted to lighten their load by burying silver and gold. Or perhaps they lost it crossing some stream swollen by spring rains.

"How many chests of 'pay money' designed for Spanish and Mexican troops were dropped into Texas streams and left there," wrote J. Frank Dobie in his classic book, "Coronado's Children," "it would be impossible to say."


One of several places in Texas with a story of Santa Anna's gold is Sutherland Springs, a ghost town in Wilson County about 20 miles from San Antonio. The place was named for Dr. John Sutherland, who operated a post office and stage coach stop there beginning in 1851. For a time, Sutherland Springs was county seat, but it lost that distinction to Floresville.

"There has long been a tradition in the Sutherland Springs neighborhood that Gen. Santa Anna's army buried their treasure there on their retreat after defeat at the battle of San Jacinto," the Austin Daily Statesman reported on Aug. 10, 1891. "Various parties have hunted for it."

No matter the rumors of lost gold, the most tangible thing of value coming from the ground was the water bubbling from an estimated 100 sulphur springs in the area. That gave Sutherland Springs a measure of economic vitality as a health resort, especially after the railroad came through in 1877.

Though some residents made money off people looking for a water cure, a young man named Edwards earned his living in a more traditional manner as a farmer. In the summer of 1891, however, he may have realized a different kind of return from the good earth.


According to the article in the Austin newspaper, "a few days since a young farmer named Edwards, while plowing near Sutherland Springs, struck an iron pot, whose top projected a half-inch above the surface."

The farmer thought at first it was nothing but an old cooking utensil, but when he pulled it out of the ground, he realized it was inordinately heavy.

"Under an inch of dust," the story continued, "were many rouleaux of gold. The leather in which they were wrapped was rotten, but save for a greenish mold the coins were uninjured."

Edwards, confronted with the most bounteous possible gift from the soil, loaded the coins into his two-horse wagon and took his find to San Antonio. He made the trip at night, then quickly deposited the coins in the bank.

The find was reported as $17,000. To put the significance of that purported amount into perspective, a Web site run by an academically-supported entity called Economic History Services calculated that $17,000 in 1891 would be worth $335,571.21 in 2002 dollars.

Who knows whether Edwards really found a fortune in his field? Maybe a bored country correspondent for the Austin daily manufactured the story on a slow news day, or perhaps the piece was a plant to bring more guests to the 52-room Hotel Sutherland, a resort that stayed in business until 1923. Or just maybe a young man named Edwards suddenly gave up farming.


Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" March 2, 2004 Column

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