Rio History: A Cure for the Dreaded “Writers Blah!”

By Steve Hathcock

Clouds were feathering along high up where the blue was so intense it…Nah, that won’t work…I was doomed…I had picked up a bad case of the dreaded “Writers Blah!” 

My article was due for the Parade Magazine and I was so out of ideas that I could not even think of a good excuse to tell my editor when he called to see if I was finished yet. This was definitely  worse than simple intellectual indigestion. I needed inspiration.  I emailed my friend Judie Dombrowski, telling her about my dilemma, complaining about being too distracted, or maybe I said I was not feeling good. Either way, I needed help.

“All of the above are admissible excuses for shirking your job,” Judie wrote back. “It’s true! I overheard a group of writers at the Texas Book festival discussing what they did when the screens of their brain went blank. The rotund children’s author snickered when she admitted to robbing her kid’s Halloween  bag of the entire contents before being able to resume her thought pattern.  Kinkey Freidman related that he always went out & kicked one of his dogs & maybe yanked a few kitty’s tails.” ( what a jerk)

I paused in my reading. I don’t have any kids with bags of tricks or treats. Donnie and Sugar, my canine roommates, stared nervously at me. 

Had I been reading aloud? I mumbled my apologies before continuing. “Larry McMurtry said he ordered out for pizza topped with okra & carrots!” 

I eyed the phone. Pizza just might help get the old creative juices flowing. I know the thought of it certainly had gotten the digestive juices flowing! 

About that time the phone rang, it was my human roommate and the love of my life Kay Lay. “Someone wants to rent a metal detector,” she said, “and they want to know where the best places are to treasure hunt.”

The urge for pizza and beer was strong, but no, I sighed, those days of gluttony are long over.

 Downstairs I found Ned and Theresa Lyer of Cataract, Wisconsin. Ned had been reading one of my articles about treasure hunting and decided to rent a metal detector for the day. Now, he needed to learn how to use the machine, and more importantly, have an idea of where to hunt. He was in luck. A record number of tourists had visited the Island over the past weekend. I had been out early Monday morning and had found numerous coins, pop tops, a set of car keys, and several rings. 

I threw a handful of the coins and a couple of the rings into the grass alongside my building and showed Ned and Theresa the proper way of holding the detector. 

“The best places to find coins and jewelry is along the beach within the Town of South Padre Island’s city limits,” I told Ed as I went through the operating procedures of the metal detector. Theresa, who caught on right away, was the first to make her find and we spent several minutes comparing the signal from a quarter with that of a 10-carat ring. 

“What about Spanish coins?” Ed asked. Those are going to be a little harder to find, I replied. Though I have heard rumors of  Spanish 4 and 8 real coins being found near one of the major resorts, I have yet to hold one in my hand. There is some substance to the stories though, old time residents will tell of seeing the skeletal remains of an old wreck that was clearly visible about 150 yards out in the surf for several years after Hurricane Beulah. 

I showed Ed two old Spanish 4 real coins. One, blackened disc, looking more like a flat piece of tar than a coin, illustrated to Ed what such a coin would look like if found in the surf. The second, part of an estate collection I recently picked up from Mexico, is in pristine shape, having spent the better part of the last four hundred years locked away in an ancient strong box buried deep under the dirt floor of an old wine cellar. 

One of my favorite spots, (the stone jetties at the mouth of the Mansfield ship channel)  requires four-wheel drive to reach. It was here that a Spanish galleon was driven ashore during the hurricane of 1554. Survivors of the wreck had thought they were only a few miles north of the settlement at Panuca, Mexico. They were wrong. They and survivors of two other ships beached during the same storm, were hunted down by Karankawa Indians that frequented these areas. 

The Spanish Crown sent a fleet of salvage ships and recovered a substantial amount of the treasure. As the years passed, the remains of the three ships slowly sank into the sands of time and Padre Island. 

A dredging crew ran its dredges right over the Santa Maria De Yciar throwing coins along both sides of a several hundred foot section of channel  during the construction of the Mansfield Cut in the 1960s. Beachcombers and treasure hunters flock to that area after a good storm and I have seen coins reputedly coming from that wreck as recently as a few months ago. 

“One thing to remember I told Ned as he filled out the rental form, is the Texas Antiquities Law. It was put into effect after the discovery of a second ship found north of the Mansfield “Cut”. Though the law seems to be open to interpretation, the courts in effect say any treasure, artifacts or other antiquities found in Texas waters or upon its land shall belong to the State. As an historian, I have a mixed opinion of the statute, the State has not done much to excavate the known sites, so it seems a good idea to me to issue special permits allowing an equal split between private treasure hunters and the States treasury. This way at least part of the known treasure could be recovered and displayed to the public. 

By now, Theresa had found all the test items I had thrown into the grass and was ready to hit the beach. I waved goodbye to the Lyer family and returned to my article. 

Ok, where was I ? Oh yeah, let’s see how this sounds….”It was a dark and stormy….Drat! I hate it when I get the “Writers Blah!”

Editor’s note: A portion of this article appeared in the September 2020 issue of the South Padre Parade, which is on stands now. 

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