- On 01/03/2012
- In General Maritime History
By Murphy Givens - Caller
Probably every place on the Gulf of Mexico from the Florida Keys to the Yucatan Peninsula has its lost treasure legend. Certainly the Texas coast has its own legends, including some that are true and some that are romantic fantasy.
One true story started on April 9, 1554, when a fleet of Spanish galleons set sail from Veracruz for Spain loaded with the plunder of the conquistadors. It was said to be the richest treasure fleet that ever sailed.
When a storm scattered the fleet, several galleons went down, three reached Spain, and one limped back to Veracruz. Three ships — the Santa Maria de Yciar, San Estebán, and Espíritu Santo — wrecked on Padre Island.
Three hundred survivors, including soldiers, sailors, priests, women and children, were attacked and killed by Karankawa Indians as they fled down the island. Only two men survived, a Spanish friar and another man who hid at the wrecked ships.
In 1904, Alex Meuly of Corpus Christi claimed he found the remains of one of the Spanish galleons 420 feet from shore, 35 miles down the island.
He claimed it held a vast fortune in gold. He built a special trailer to transport the treasure, but for some reason he could never find the ship again.
But ancient and encrusted Spanish doubloons were found so often in one sand dune on the island that it was called Money Hill. Some of the coins were dated 1525.
One story told of a man going egg-hunting on the island and returned with his pockets filled with Spanish coins. Another man, an Englishman known as "Buttermilk" Bill, found $4,000 in gold coins near Devil's Elbow.
Many of the treasure tales along our section of the coast are connected to the pirate Jean Lafitte, who was driven from Galvez's Island in 1820 and established two bases in this area, at Cedar Bayou and at the south end of St. Joseph's Island, across the pass from today's Port Aransas.
The wife of one of his pirates, a woman known later as "Grandma" Frank, told the story that Lafitte's treasure — more than $500,000 he took away from Galveston — was buried in a mott of live oak trees at False Live Oak Point.
After the last of the treasure was buried, and Lafitte came back alone, he supposedly told Mrs. Frank, "There is enough treasure in those woods to ransom a nation."