Rio History: Research and Treasure Hunting

Special to the PRESS

The metal detector itself is just one of the tools used by the successful treasure hunter.

One of the more common questions I get asked is, “How do you know where to look for treasure?”

My response is always along the following lines; look for booklets, postcards and other writings that deal with local history. There is a great store in Port Isabel (Rio Bravo Gallery) which maintains a large inventory of books on Texas history. Most libraries will have a collection of local newspapers on microfiche. Scan through them looking for events such as fairs or big family reunions or old stories about structures that are no longer there. These are great places to hunt for buried caches.

Take Clark and Dyer Islands for example, which were located just across from the southern tip of Padre Island. During the Civil War both sites were home to Union soldiers. The two were only separated during high tide. The west end of Clark Island, which was comprised of two square miles, was about twelve feet above sea level. Small skiffs were able to approach within 100 feet of the land here and a wooden pier extended out over the water. Soldiers pitched their tents upon the higher points and built a latrine somewhere close by. A short distance from there, another trench served as a dump for any trash originating in the camp.

After the war the site served as quarantine camp. The facility itself consisted of a large hospital tent and seven smaller “pup” style tents for use as needed. The usual quarantine time was three weeks. A half dollar “fee” was collected before each quarantined person was given a clean bill of health.

Places like this had very little security and thieves were common. The safest hiding spot would have been at the base of either a cactus or a stunted mesquite, both of which covered a goodly area of the site. One friend of mine, let’s call him “Q,” told me that after a “norther” he had been metal detecting in “that general area” when he found a 20 Franc (French) gold coin from the mid-1800s. How did it get there?

Perhaps one of the “quarantined” travelers had won it in a game of poker and buried it for safe keeping… or maybe it was “emergency money” that had been sewn into a shirt collar upon a soldiers enlistment only to be forgotten when the garment wore out and was tossed upon the garbage pile.

Today, Dyers and Clark Island are both buried under layers of sand and clay dredged from the bottom of the Laguna Madre when the Brownsville Ship Channel was first built in the 1930s.

Remember; always have the landowner’s permission before conducting a hunt on private property.

Good luck!

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