Rio History: Kicking the Can Pays Off

Special to the PRESS

One day a few years back, a couple were hiking along a favorite section of their land they called “saddle ridge” when the woman’s foot caught on a rusty can that had been exposed by erosion. Upon closer examination, she was amazed to discover the can was full of gold coins!
Digging around in the still damp soil, the pair discovered five more cans full of gold coins — 1,427 to be exact.

Dating between 1847-1894 the coins, which were of $5, 10$ and $20 denominations, had a face value of around $27,000, but because of their uncirculated condition the numismatic value could be in excess of $10 million!

Although most of the coins were minted in San Francisco, one $5 gold piece came from as far away as Georgia (the Dahlonega Mint). The coins were stored more or less in chronological order in the six cans with those from the 1840s and 1850s going into one can until it was filled, then new coins going into the next one and the next one after that.

No one knows the identity of the original owners and the finders wish to remain anonymous, as well, only saying they intended on paying some bills and donating some of their newfound treasure to local charities.

Ironically the part of California where the couple found the coins is known as “the Gold Country.”

Of course, finding buried treasure has its own hidden costs. Estimates of the couple’s tax bill is somewhere in the $5 million range.

Burying treasure in such a manner is an age-old custom. People of an earlier day did not have easy access to banks as we do today. As a result, they had to use other methods of safeguarding their valuables. Treasure had to be hidden where the owner could have easy access to it without leaving clues to its location. Creativity was needed to ensure the cache was not easily found or accidently stumbled upon.

Barns, wells and outhouses were all utilized to hide valuables as they were visited on a regular basis during the day so a casual observer would not be curious about your activities. But because they were so commonly used, a distracted person could accidently leave a clue such as a cord dangling under the lid of the outhouse seat or a misplaced brick in a foundation, perhaps a loose plank in the home or some other item out of place to its normal use.

Another option, of course, would be to bury treasure away from the house and sheds. Fence lines were often utilized. A hollow was dug under a post and the can or other receptacle went into the ground and then the post planted atop. In time of need, the owner could sneak out
during the night, find the post under which he had buried his goods, remove whatever he needed and then hide the rest.

The drawback to having your gold buried in the ground, of course, is that landmarks can shift, such as was the case with John Singer, who buried a fortune in gold and silver somewhere under the shifting sands of Padre Island at the onset of the American Civil War. He too had a treasure that needed to be hidden but accessible.

Reputedly, he buried a trove containing over 60,000 Spanish eight real coins each containing almost an ounce of silver. During the war, he and his sons would make periodic trips to the Island to retrieve enough money to see the family through those trying times.

After the war, South Texas swarmed with deserters, thieves and every kind of cutthroat wanted by the law. Being a cautious man John left his loot in the ground where he assumed it would be safe. Well, we all know what happens when we assume. The great Hurricane of 1867 roared ashore in October of that year and washed the Island clean. Hundred-year-old dunes vanished in the storm surge and where once stood hill, now was gully. With no discernible landmarks John and his boys were unable to relocate their fortune. The location of John Singer’s lost treasure remains one of Padre Island’s unsolved mysteries.

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