Rio History: Treasure Hunter’s Tip

Special to the PRESS

If you are searching for Civil War artifacts, the north end of Boca Chica Beach is where you will want to take your metal detector. Stand at the jetties in Isla Blanca Park, now, gaze directly south and a little to the west. About 100 yards due west of the beach is the site of the U.S. Army’s depot at Brazos Santiago. Built at the start of the Mexican American War (1846) this small outpost was home to as many as 1,200 Union troops during the Civil War.

The Union soldiers saw little action during the war. Every once in a while, the Union troops would capture the lighthouse on the famous point. The Confederate forces, under Rip Ford, would recapture the towering structure within a couple of days. Eventually Ford would remove and bury the lens of the lighthouse making it a less strategic target.

Life there was very grueling for the mostly black troops. Their days were spent performing so called “fatigue duty,” practicing maneuvers or doing maintenance on equipment and government roads that wound their way towards Brownsville. Squads of men were assigned the task of procuring fresh water from the wells in Point Isabel (present day Port Isabel). Others marched up and down the length of Padre Island in search of old wrecks that lie in the surf. These would be salvaged for their timbers which were then used in either the construction of housing for the troops or for the campfires over which the meals were cooked.

The Brazos’s depot was destroyed by the hurricane of 1867. There was virtually no warning of the storm’s approach and the men were barely able to escape with their lives. Over the years, treasure hunters have recovered buttons, fire arms, bullets by the bushel basket, a shoe with foot bones still encased, a barrel of bacon, wrapped in period newspapers and all the other daily items to be found in a Civil War Era Army Post.

The best way to get there is drive towards Brownsville, turning south at State Highway 511 to State Highway 4; then east to Boca Chica Beach. From there drive north along the shore until you can see the southern tip of Padre Island.

Stay out of the dunes as much of this area is off-limits to metal detecting.

Good hunting and good luck!

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