Rio History: Treasure Hunting On South Padre Island

By STEVE HATHCOCK
Special to the PRESS

Tom Brandt sent me the following email:

Hi Steve,

My parents have been visiting the Rio Grande Valley every winter for years and usually set up their RV in a park near Harlingen. They sent me a copy of one of your articles on treasure hunting tips. I am an avid treasure seeker and have hunted numerous water and land sites in Minnesota and Wisconsin but have never had an opportunity to hunt in the surf. In your article, you mentioned one of the students in your metal detecting class found an old Civil War button on his first hunt! Is this a common occurrence on South Padre Island? (Finding old artifacts?)

I have lost the article you wrote, but would appreciate it if you could send me a copy so we can use the information to help plan our treasure hunting. We would also appreciate directions to some of the areas that would be good to hunt.

Thanks for your time and keep writing those stories!
Tom Brandt

Hi Tom,
Congratulations on your decision to vacation on South Padre Island. Let me answer your questions as best as I can.

The article you mentioned was one I wrote about Roger Violet’s experience during one of my metal detecting classes. On this particular day, I had assembled the group on the beach in front of Padre Grande Condominiums.  It was along here that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dumped mud and bottom sand during a scheduled dredging of the Brownsville Ship Channel. Five minutes into his first hunt, Roger found a button from the Civil War.

Undoubtedly, the button had come from the dress uniform of a Union officer who had been assigned to the depot at Bravos Santiago, across from the jetties in Isla Blanca Park. This outpost was established during the Mexican-American War. The Union forces maintained a presence here during the Civil War. In early May 1865, troops from this encampment marched on Brownsville. A counterattack by Confederate forces, under the command of Rip Ford, routed the Union forces. One man was killed and several hundred men were wounded or captured by the Southerners. A couple of days later, the men in gray received the news that Lee had surrendered five weeks earlier. The war was over and the men of Ford’s command surrendered to their own prisoners. This was the last official land battle of the Civil War.

Boca Chica is a good place to metal detect. There are lots of snakes behind the dunes in the grassy areas, so bring a pair of snake boots or leather leggings. The laws governing metal detecting are pretty simple. It is illegal to dig in the dunes. The Park Rangers will give you a ticket and the fine could be several hundred dollars or more. Always ask permission to hunt on private land. It is ok to hunt along the beach, but always remember to fill the holes you dig.

Have a safe trip and hope to see you on the beach.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.portisabelsouthpadre.com/2018/06/29/rio-history-treasure-hunting-on-south-padre-island-3/

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