Aug 12, 2006, 07:48 PM
THE LEGEND OF JOHN FLETCHER'S BURIED TREASURE
THE LEGEND OF JOHN FLETCHER'S BURIED TREASURE
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, January 2, 1979.
Sources: "A Hidden Treasure," Galveston DAILY NEWS, April 21, 1898, reprinted in Block, EMERALD OF THE NECHES, pp. 420-423, 478, 483.
A century ago, treasure tales were a dime a dozen in Southeast Texas although the most of them are extinct today. Many of them centered along the coastal streams and lagoons frequented by the buccaneers of Galveston Island. By 1900 every bayou and shellbank along the Sabine or Neches Rivers or Sabine Lake had its own tale of buried gold, but the Lafitte treasure tales, having been passed down orally, were never recorded and are lost to posterity today.
Less well known are the treasure tales that once thrived at inland points in Jasper, Newton and neighboring counties, but these stories were widely circulated around 1890. In Aug., 1891, a Jasper "Newsboy" story was reprinted in a Galveston paper, as follows: "There is a great deal of buried treasure in Jasper County which can easily be obtained by industrious digging. There is a peculiarity about these buried treasures. They are never found in the poor hills, but always in the rich creek bottoms. There is a chance for a fortune by digging."
The source of this wealth was always mule trains of gold and silver in the old Coahuila trade days of Spanish Texas. This trade was anchored in the east at Nachitoches, Louisiana and in the west at San Antonio, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo and Piedras Negras, Mexico. Between 1800-1820 robbers from the Neutral Strip of Louisiana often lay in ambush in Jasper and Newton counties in an effort to waylay the pack trains moving east, who carried bullion to pay for their hardware purchases at Natchitoches.
On Oct. 2, 1891 the Galveston "News" carried a reprint from the Colmesneil (TX.) "Times," entitled 'Mexican Treasure Tale.' It described the efforts of many gold seekers to unearth these fortunes, but apparently only one factual account of hidden wealth can be verified. In 1867, while workers excavated log pilings for a steamboat wharf at Stark's Landing, ten miles south of Newton on the Sabine River, "the diggers unearthed a deposit of silver bars, the aggregate weight of which was 214 pounds avoirdupois. Extensive digging followed, but no other deposits there were found." The same article carried a report of a primitive silver smelter around Stark's Landing where bullion was re-melted and cast into smaller bars or coins. But the main treasure tale of the region received notoriety in 1898 in the neighboring county.
Beneath some lonely creek bank in Jasper County, however, there may still rest one of the biggest treasure hordes imaginable -- 12 jack loads of Spanish silver and 30 jack loads of Spanish gold. At least that was the story believed by W. S. Glenn of Palestine, Texas, and his associates of the Palestine Prospecting Company.
The nucleus of the story stemmed from on old letter and a crudely-drawn map of the year 1816 which had been passed down through Glenn's family. His lineal and collateral ancestors, John, James, and Duke Glenn, had settled in Bevil's Municipality, now Jasper County, before the Texas Revolution. How the letter and map came into their possession was unknown. The letter follows:
"Nolan's Trail, Nov. 17, 1816"
"On the trail a deposit was made in the year 1813 by a company of twelve of us, who were captured by a hundred of Jackson's Cavalry. Nine of our squad were killed dead on the ground. There were three of us left who were carried to New Orleans and put in prison. One man died in prison. The fight (Battle of New Orleans)coming off, we were given our choice to go into the fight, and if we survived, we were to go free, or else stay in prison for life."
"We chose to go in the fight, and Nathan Perkins, the eleventh man, was killed in battle, which left me the only living man who knew where the deposit was made in 1813 on Nolan's Trail, leading from Natchitoches on Red River to San Antonio, running in a southwest direction from Red River."
"The deposit is in a small, clear-running little creek, which runs the year round, 15 or 20 miles west of the Sabine River. It was taken down the creek 160 yards and put under a waterfall. We could pass through the water and it would fall clear over us, a high backbone ridge making right up to the bank on the east side."
"The first capture was made on April 7, 1813, twelve mule loads of silver, and on the 26th of October, we captured thirty mule loads of Spanish gold, and between these, we captured five other small lots which we put in the same place just about where the ridge points up to the creek at the lower end."
"We were very careful not to mark the site. We always passed down to the place through the water so as to leave no sign. We never stayed around the place, but would pass there once in a while to see that all was all right."
"John E. Fletcher"
"Nolan's Trail" was also the name sometimes given to El Camino Real, or the King's Highway, which covered the route from Natchitoches, La., via Gaines' Ferry to Nacogdoches and San Antonio. A southern and less often-traveled varient route of Nolan's Trail from Natchitoches crossed the Sabine River near Toledo Bend, at a point later known as Bevil's Ferry, and proceeded to LaBahia (Goliad).
The trail's name stemmed from the expeditions of Philip Nolan to capture wild horses in Texas. In March, 1801, Nolan was killed during a battle with Spanish soldiers, and the survivors, including Peter Ellis Bean, were later imprisoned in Mexico.
Fletcher's letter, with minor discrepancies, had two precedents from the early Texas histories of Henerson Yoakum and Homer S. Thrall, which certainly lend to it some aura of authenticity, and in turn inspired Glen and his associates, who were some of the leading businessmen of Palestine. Both events occurred between 1810 and 1814, a period when Natchitoches-based filibusterers were invading Texas, and the "Neutral Strip," between the Sabine and Calcasieu Rivers, was infested with robbers.
According to Yoakum, a pack train of Mexican traders arrived at the Lanana, "a small creek west of Los Adaes," about 1812, where they were met by Lt. Augustus Magee and two other soldiers, who were to lead the Mexicans across the Neutral Strip to Natchitoches. The pack train was attacked by bandits who robbed the Mexicans, later sending them back to Salitre Prairie near the Sabine, but during the melee, Magee escaped.
The latter soon encountered United States troops, who the following day attacked the robbers, killing many and and capturing two who were later imprisoned in Natchitoches and New Orleans. According to Yoakum, the prisoners were later offered pardons if they enlisted during the War of 1812 against England.
Also in 1812, Magee and Bernardo Gutierres led an expedition of American and Mexican republicans (anti-Royalists) against Spanish Texas, and within a few months they captured both La Bahia and San Antonio. The Americans were soon disenchanted with Gutierres' cruel execution of Royalist officers, and when another Spanish army from the Rio Grande threatened to retake San Antonio in 1813, a number of Americans deserted and returned to Natchitoches. But before leaving, they sacked San Antonio and dispatched a number of pack trains of captured gold and silver toward the Sabine.
Magee died during the expedition, and his command was assumed by Col. Kemper. According to Thrall, the filibusterer's pack train of loot fell into the hands of robbers before reaching the Sabine Riber. Some of the American survivors of that expedition, including Capt. McKim, whose journal of those frontier adventures survives, Samuel Kemper, Warren Hall, Joseph Talor and Henry Perry, all of whom lived in the Neutral Strip, later joined the filibustering enterprise of Capt. James Long, or else pirated with Jean Lafitte on Galveston Island, or joined up with the robber bands along the Sabine River.
From the crudely-drawn map, which offered no creek names that he could identify, Glenn ascertained that Fletcher's treasure was buried on the creek which passed through his parents farm in Jasper County. There was no longer a waterfall there, as mentioned in Fletcher's letter, but there was a high ridge on the east bank as well as the remains of a creek dam, a mill trace, and the ruins of an early-day grist mill, which family traditions asserted, had belonged to Glenn's great grandfather before the Texas Revolution.
The meager evidence was sufficient to convince some of Glenn's friends and neighbors as well. They organized the Palestine Prospecting Company early in 1898, and the firm's directors read more like a list of conservative bank officers rather than those of a treasure-hunting enterprise. The president was the Hon. A. L. Bowers, who was also the mayor of Palestine and a division superintendent of the International and Great Northern Railroad. Vice president of the firm was A. F. Seymour, who was the local agent of the Pacific Express Company, and the secretary-treasurer was D. B. Thompson, who was likewise an official of the International and Great Northern.
The officers voted to raise $5,000 for operating expenses by selling 100 shares of stock at $50 a share, payable in three monthly installments by May 1, 1898. All shareholders were slated to share the profits, if any treasure were found, after one-fourteenth had been reserved as a royalty for W. S. Glenn.
During the summer of 1898, Glenn superintended the search for Fletcher's gold, utilizing some of the best treasure-hunting devices that were available as of that year. He hired a gang of laborers who slowly excavated every inch of the high ridge on the creek's east bank. By October, 1898, the firm's funds were totally expended, the search was called off, and so far as is known, no one else has continued the search for the 42 mule loads of Spanish gold and silver.
The exact location of the Glenn family farm and the name of the creek which passed through it are still unknown to this writer. And perhaps it is just as well, for he has no desire to trigger another gold rush, that is, a stampede of pot hunters, on some one's private property in Jasper County.
A check several years ago with Ms. Eulys Hancock of the county clerk's office revealed that there was no record of a grantee deed to W. S. Glenn for any farm in Jasper County during the 1890's. Of coourse, the family farm may well have been in estate status, or for some other reason, in some other person's name. Likewise, as late as 1914, there was no grantor's deed on file involving any land sale in Jasper County by W. S. Glenn, although there are many deed records on file for other members, near and distant, of the large clan of Glenn relatives.
And so the Fletcher treasure legend remains to the present day, virtually lost to posterity since the original telling in 1898. Glenn's evidence was sufficient to entice cautious and conservative businessmen, so possibly he failed because he identified the wrong creek. And who knows, perhaps on the east bank of Sandy, or Thickety Creek, or some other of the clear-running streams of Jasper County, a vast horde of Spanish silver and gold may still lie hidden, awaiting the shovel or pick which strikes it first.
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