Treasure stories are easier found than treasures. A particularly good tale has been buried for more than a century in the longyellowed pages of a bound volume of the Eagle Pass Guide. “An Old Story” is the not particularly revealing headline atop the page one piece in the Sept. 9, 1893, issue of the newspaper.
During the early part of the 19th century, the story begins, San Antonio was “the home of many wealthy Spaniards and the commercial centre of all northern Mexico.”
The claim that San Antonio had many well-to-do residents in the early 1800s is something of a stretch, and Santa Fe was probably more important a city, but San Antonio definitely was the commercial center of what would become Texas.
What gave San Antonio vitality then was one of the same things that makes it flourish today — it was on the main road to Mexico City. The roadway went south from San Antonio to a point above Laredo, then to Monterrey, Saltillo and San Luis Potosi.
On a date not given in this telling, a caravan of 30 mules left Mexico City for San Antonio. Each mule, the story goes, was loaded with 8,000 silver coins and “a considerable amount of gold coin, the total amount being about $300,000.”
The mule train was under the command of one Captain Palacio Flores, “a noted and trusted employee of the government.” The specie shipment was protected by some 50 well-armed guards.
They made it through the “dangerous mountain defiles” south of Saltillo, but their luck would not hold in what is now Dimmit County in South Texas.
Stopping at a well-known camping place on Pena Creek later known as Grand Water Hole, the captain decided to stay for a few days and rest his men and animals. He was only a hundred miles or so from his destination, and he believed the difficult part of his trip was behind him.
The first night he kept 10 men on guard, ever vigilant of bandits or hostile Indians. The men reported nothing suspicious overnight, so the next day the captain decided not to post any pickets.
Flores and his men were taking their mid-day siesta when “a band of brigands suddenly rushed upon the unprotected camp out of a dense live oak thicket.”
The captain and the men put up a good fight, but the raiders prevailed. Not, however, before Flores ordered his teamsters to throw all the silver and gold into deep water at this point of the creek.
The bandits killed all but one man, a driver named Alejandro Lajero. He somehow managed to escape, making it to San Antonio to report the attack.
“His story was discredited until parties to whom the money had been consigned made an investigation and found the bones of the victims and evidences that the bandits had made efforts to recover the wealth from the pool,” the Eagle Pass newspaper story continued.
Those who discovered the massacre scene supposedly searched the hole in the creek, but could not find its bottom, much less the missing coins. It’s hard to imagine a “bottomless” water hole in South Texas, but that’s the story.
While the treasure presumably stayed put, just about everything else changed. Mexico rebelled against Spain and became an independent republic in 1821. Next, of course, Texas revolted against Mexico and began a neardecade of sovereignty in 1836, followed by admission to the United States in 1845.
A few months before the story of the treasure first appeared in print in 1893, “an eastern capitalist” and ranch owner named James L Morgan heard of the supposedly lost loot.
Morgan went to the “mysterious spot” on Pena Creek six miles southwest of town “and became so deeply interested in the remarkable tale that he decided to make a superhuman effort to explore the depth of the hole...and recover the lost wealth if possible.”
As of late that summer, Morgan was reported back east “superintending the construction of machinery and devices to be used in the [recovery.]”
Subsequent issues of the Eagle Pass newspaper are silent on whether Morgan ever found anything.
An award-winning author of
more than 30 non-fiction books, Mike Cox is an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters. He is a long-time freelance writer and public speaker.