Rio History: Treasure Hunting on Padre Island

Special to the PRESS

I received the following email.

Mr. Hathcock,
While I was studying up on treasure hunting on the Texas coast I came across an article from a guy you took out treasure hunting and found it very fascinating and interesting and it really got my curiosity going. I am a North Texan (South Texan wannabe) who spends most of my spare time in the Corpus Christi area. I read about a man named Eugene French who is a famous beachcomber in the Corpus area, a few years back before it burned he used to have a restaurant under the JFK Causeway called French’s. Inside he had quite an impressive assortment of artifacts that he had found walking between Port Aransas and Port Isabel. After seeing the wonderful things he has found, and reading on your website about some of the interesting things you have found I was wondering if you had ever searched in the Corpus Christi area and if so if you could give me a few pointers on what to look for when looking for artifacts.

PS: I really enjoyed your site!

Brian Christian

Hi Brian,
Yes, I do know of Eugene French and his treasure finds on North Padre Island. I first met French in 1986 when my own beachcombing career was still in its infancy. Carl Phillips and I were publishing the Texas Beachcomber Magazine.  Carl had known French for years having sold him sea shells and novelties for his restaurants gift shop. I remember crossing a little footbridge spanning a moat before entering his restaurant. I ate a cheeseburger and listened to Gene and Carl horse trade for the load of shells.

When the two were finally done Gene insisted upon giving us a tour of his museum, the whole time spinning stories of lost treasure, cannibalistic Indians and mammoth elephants, extinct in these parts for over 10,000 years. Weird tales, enough to whet my own interest in the mysteries of Padre Island.

Gene was a bit of a showman when it came time to talk of his collection and how he acquired it.

I remember him pondering my question for several minutes before carefully replying when I asked him to tell me about some of his more memorable experiences “I walked from Port Aransas to Port Isabel and back  three times,” Gene told me, “I’ve found over 100 silver Spanish coins and twelve gold doubloons. I even sold one gold coin for over $3000.00.”

His most unusual display? I remember Gene walking unerringly past an opium pipe, a sword, an old pistol, display cases filled with all sorts of coins, shells and odd bits of flotsam until he stood in front of an artificial leg leaning against the glass of one of the display cases. Perhaps this limb served as the inspiration for the famous lamp portrayed in the movie A Christmas Story?

Gene sold the restaurant in the early 1990s.

A fire in April, of 1999, totally consumed the historic restaurant. Fortunately, the artifacts had been removed to a storage facility at a much earlier date.

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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