hunting is one of those things which tends to stir the imagination
of most folks – and the thought of looking for buried treasure has
always fascinated me, as well.
I remember back in the early 1960s, I was a teenager and lived with
my family in Angleton,
Texas. I recall that my dad and I were quite intrigued with the
idea of hunting for buried treasure. So much so that Daddy drove the
45 miles into Houston and
purchased a metal detector from an old boy who was making them in
We couldn’t wait to try the new gadget out – so, we made a beeline
for Surfside Beach to search for pirate’s treasure and the like. But
alas, all Daddy and I discovered was that there probably wasn’t a
square foot at Surfside that didn’t have a beer can buried in it.
I’ll have to admit that we never found any real valuables, but we
sure had fun trying.
Over the years, I have spent some time reading a number of books about
lost bounty and none are more interesting than W.C. Jameson’s, Buried
Treasures of Texas. Many of the stories in his book are considered
only legends – yet there is factual information surrounding the creation
of this folklore. And there is little doubt that the events leading
up to the “treasure tales” are factual.
One of my favorites is the story about John Singer and his buried
fortune on Padre Island. Singer was part of a famous family which
was highly thought of as businessmen and inventors. His brother, Isaac,
had created a fortune with his Singer Sewing Machine Company – but
John was more of an adventurer and he was happiest when exploring
the vast coastline of
In 1847, John Singer was in Port
Isabel. He was on another of his adventures, traveling the waters
of the Gulf of Mexico – this time his wife, four sons, and a hired
hand were along for the ride. This would turn out to be a trip that
would be remembered forever by the Singer family. Not long after they
left the harbor at Port
Isabel, sailing a three-masted schooner known as the Alice Sadell,
the family started to encounter some bad weather. Although not an
experienced seaman, Singer had traveled the region before and he was
of the opinion that the storm would soon blow over. But as the winds
got stronger and the waves begin to crash over the vessel, he decided
that he must somehow make it to shore. The squall helped him with
that decision, and the huge waves promptly lifted the boat and smashed
it onto a deserted island.
The family spent the night in the ship’s cabin and the storm had ceased
by sunrise. Singer, along with his hired hand, explored the narrow
island where fate had cast them. And after some discussion they came
to the correct conclusion that they were on Padre Island – a narrow
strip of land which extends some 100 miles, along the coast, from
the Mexican border to Corpus
Singer and his group were not the only ones who had wrecked at this
place. It seems that over the years dozens of Spanish vessels, while
transporting gold and silver from the rich mines in Mexico,
had found themselves in the middle of violent storms which blew the
crippled ships onto Padre Island. Many of the ships sank offshore
and the tide would wash the wreckage onto the sandy beach. Many stories
were told of pirates burying vast amounts of gold, silver, and other
ill-gotten gains under the sands of Padre.
The Singer family had no idea that there might be a fortune buried
under their newfound residence. Fact is, they soon fell in love with
Padre Island and decided to make it their home. And when a rescue
vessel finally came for them, they refused to leave and instead went
to work to build a life in this tropical paradise.
They used the wood from the shipwreck to fashion a frame house and
crude furniture. Mrs. Singer planted seeds and raised a garden. John
made a small boat to travel back and forth to the mainland. He purchased
cattle and had them delivered to the island. They fished and harvested
other food from the sea. You might say life was going great for the
Singers – but that was all to change when the children came across
some Spanish coins during one of their beachcombing endeavors.
John and his family went on to find more gold coins and eventually
they came across a wooden chest containing about $80,000 in jewelry
and coins. According to legend, the Singers continued to find pirate’s
treasure and John became highly successful in the cattle business.
Singer decided to keep the bulk of his loot in a large sand dune which
he named “money hill” – the story goes that he would go to his secret
dune and retrieve money when he needed it. Other accounts say that
he also buried another cache between two small oak trees.
With the start of the Civil War, John Singer’s fate changed again
– and when Yankee gunboats appeared off the coast of Padre Island,
he decided to move his family to the mainland where they remained
until the war ended, four years later.
When Singer returned to the island, he found his house had been torn
down by the Union sailors and used for firewood. He also discovered
that the place had been hit by a hurricane and when he searched for
his “money hill,” it was nowhere to be found – the storm had changed
the entire landscape of the isle, as well as completely destroying
the two small oaks that he used for landmarks.
The story of the John Singer’s treasure ended in 1877, when he passed
away. It is said that he died a pauper with no funds whatsoever –
a far cry from the riches he had enjoyed while living in his Padre
Island paradise – and today’s treasure hunters are still searching
for his lost gold.
Star Diary December
11, 2004 column
| Columns | Texas
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