Rio History: Wind, Rain and a Baking Sun

Special to the PRESS

When is the best time to go treasure hunting or beachcombing? If I had an Indian head penny for every time I have been asked that question…

I prefer a windy day, low tide and right after a good November squall. The rain uncovers things near the surface while the wind moves dunes that have been covering a spot for the past 100 years. During the low tides of November and December, the receding surf is so far out in the Gulf that old wrecks, normally submerged, will be visible.

Wind: Randy Baker was exploring behind the dunes north of town when he stumbled across the remains of an old campsite.

“I guess the wind uncovered it,” Randy said as he spilled his finds out onto a table. I easily identified several petrified horses teeth, and a couple of old Civil War bullets.

Other bone fragments appear to be either leg bones from the horse whose teeth I held in my hand, or perhaps the remains of a side of beef roasted over an open fire. Cattle ran freely behind the dunes of Padre over a hundred years ago. John Singer shipped some 1,500 head to market in the years prior to the Civil War; perhaps Randy had stumbled upon an old branding camp or he could very well have found the remains of a Civil War outpost. Regardless, Randy wouldn’t have found the camp had it not been for the wind moving the sand.

Rain: Dwayne Struve of Donna was walking the beach after a summer squall when he found a perfectly preserved bison tooth from the late Pleistocene Epoch (pretty old). Before the day was done Dwayne had also found a Mexican coin from 1973 and several U.S. coins all lying on the surface of the sand.

A baking sun: When Falcon Dam was first finished in the early 1950s engineers estimated a two-year span before the reservoir would fill. This would give residents of Guerrero plenty of time to relocate. No one could have guessed a stalled tropical depression would fill the lake in less than two weeks!

A San Antonio newspaper ran a story about the last man to leave the town ahead of the raging floodwaters. The photo showed a 70-year-old man dressed in just his underwear, wading through waist deep water. All of his worldly possessions were in a bundle carried atop his balding head.

A few years ago, the Rio Grande Valley was in the grip of a drought. The shores of the Falcon Reservoir had receded so far that the old town resurfaced. Tourists flocked to the area to view the ruins of this historic town that had been established by Spanish explorer Jose Escandon around 1749.

The ancient riverbank is littered with campsites of 50 different Indian tribes that roamed the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Collectors had a field day, uncovering numerous arrowheads, scrapers and other tools crafted over the last few thousand years.

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