By J. Chism
Note: South Padre island is an 80 mile long barrier island just offshore of Brownsville, TX.
It was in 1554 that a Spanish treasure fleet was blown ashore on south Padre Island. Three ships running aground were wrecked and their contents scattered. The fourth ship of the fleet escaped to tell the story. Shortly afterwards the Spanish sent salvage ships to recover the gold, survivors, cannons and freight. Called the wreck of the 300 because that many people died in the wrecks. It was reported that the Spanish recovered 38, 500 lbs of precious metals and jewels, leaving almost 50,000 pounds of unaccounted treasure. This area today lies just off shore of Port Mansfield, Texas.
The story continues 250 years later in 1857 when the John Singer Family was shipwrecked on south Padre Island. They used the timber of their boat to erect a cabin and furniture. Enjoying the tropical location, they took up residence there, fishing and cattle ranching for a living. Soon, the Kids began finding gold coins on the beach and thus a family collection began. Soon a small chest full of Spanish gold coins was found and re-buried at a secret sand dune they nicknamed “Money Hill”!
One day a trader stopped by and dropped off a letter from the Singer brother who lived back east. He needed $500.00 to start a sewing machine company. The South Padre Island Singers obliged. It was no time before the Civil War broke out and Singer’s sewing machines were sewing tents, uniforms, shoes, bags, hats and tents for both the Union Army and the Confederate Army The future of the Singer Sewing Machine Company was secured.
After the Civil war broke out, the Union blockaded all of the Confederate Ports. It was then that the Union Navy moved the singer family inland and any other families living on the island. This move was probably to prevent blockade runners from getting information about Union ship movements. After the Civil War, John Singer returned to the island to look for his “Money Hill”, but a hurricane had leveled the whole area, taking the family cabin, two trees and his gold laden sand dune!
John Singer died broke in 1877, having returned to South Padre Island many times to look for his chest of gold.
In 1960, The State of Texas took control of the three ship wreck sites. The University of Texas was designated to recover archaeological items. The area is now State Land and metal detectors are prohibited. Locals still report finding gold coins washed upon the beeches!
Note: The Spanish ship wrecks, the existence of the John Singer family and the Civil war events are documented history. The part about the Singer Family gold is local legend as are many buried treasure stories of Texas!