Rio History: Beachcombing

Special to the PRESS

When is the best time to go treasure hunting or beachcombing? If I had an Indian Head penny for every time I have been asked that question.

Let me share some stories I’ve heard over the past 30 years.

Local handyman Randy Baker had been walking behind the dunes north of town a few years back when he stumbled across the remains of an old campsite.

“I guess the wind uncovered it” Randy said as he spilled his find out onto a table I easily identified several petrified horses teeth, and a couple of old Civil War bullets. Other bone fragments appear to be either leg bones from the horse whose teeth I held in my hand, or perhaps the remains of a side of beef roasted over an open fire a hundred years ago. Cattle ran freely behind the dunes of Padre over a hundred years ago. It was said that John Singer shipped some 1500 head to market in the years prior to the War Between the States; perhaps Randy had stumbled upon an old branding camp or he could very well have found the remains of a Civil War outpost. Regardless, Randy wouldn’t have found the camp had it not been for the wind moving the sand.

Another man showed me several bison teeth, sharks teeth and fragments of bone from minute in size to a piece that weighed several pounds. Though he was reluctant to reveal exactly where he made his discovery, he did say it was about twenty miles up the beach which would have put him in the same general area that “Amazing Walter” found a fossilized mammoth tooth lying just under the sand back in 1987.

Bill Bieker of McAllen, has a small collection of brass nails and spikes he has found during a lifetime of exploring the Island. These spikes are typical of what one could expect to recover from an ancient shipwreck.

A twenty foot beam, found a few years back, was converted into a primitive bench by Eldon and Matt Foeckler, while several nice rough cut boards were made into table tops in the outside smoking section of our (now closed) coffee-pub.

I have also found many varieties of trees including a huge white oak that washed up near the Regency Condominiums. Using a bulldozer, South Padre Island’s beach maintenance crews pushed it up to the high tide line. In a few short years it will be the base of a new dune.

Exploring the beaches north of town, I almost ripped my oil pan out on the stump of an enormous cypress. I wished then, that I hadn’t sold my old winch truck.

The branching roots from these swamp giants make excellent bases for glass topped tables.

I’ve heard of people finding teak and mahogany logs after a good storm. That’s why I have made it a habit to examine the bigger trees in an effort to identify them. A beachcomber once  gave me the location of an ancient pecan he found about twenty miles north on the beach.

“It looks as if it was a live tree caught by rising flood waters,” I was told.

Unfortunately, no sawmill would want to cut such a find. The salt and sand embedded in the wood could quickly dull the sharpest mill saw. It would be different if it was found in fresh water, though.

I once read a story of divers salvaging an old wreck in the Great Lakes. The cargo of bird’s eye maple planks, preserved in the icy cold lake waters for over 100 years, had developed a most interesting coloration. As a result, the shipment was worth over a million dollars in today’s market.

Not all beachcombing is done on the beach. A friend who worked at AMFELS in the Port of Brownsville routinely finds dozens of spiny clams, corals and other marine life adhered to the legs of the oil rigs that are towed into the port for refurbishing.

These shells are usually only found in the nets of commercial fishermen, so it is an unusual find for the average beachcomber. I have seen them priced from $40 in some of the local shell shops. The man showed me about twenty of the spiny clams and a box full of nice sized corral heads. The corral heads are kind of in a gray area for actual possession; some of the Texas corrals are now on the endangered species list.

Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.

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