Lost Treasure of the Texas Ranger

A three-masted schooner

It was the last day of August, 1874 and the three masted schooner Texas Ranger was only a few days out of the Port of Vera Cruz when she first encountered the hurricane. Somehow, the captain of the ship managed to stay ahead of the tempest, but near dusk of the third day the storm caught up to the Texas Ranger. Twenty five-foot waves and a rising wind forced the boat near the shore. Somewhere north of the mouth of the Rio Grande, the craft struck a sandbar. Amid the screaming wind, a loud crack rang out as the foremast violently snapped and fell onto the pitching deck. Several men attempting to launch a lifeboat were knocked off their feet and crushed to death. The little wooden ship spun madly as wave after wave crashed against her hull. This time the Texas Ranger rolled onto her side and was pushed several yards farther onto the sandbar. The mainmast gave way and as darkness fell, the Texas Ranger rolled completely over. Two sailors tossed overboard by the shock of the initial grounding, lashed themselves to planks. The captain himself was briefly seen clinging to a crate in the waning light. After floating all night in the thick of the waves, the men were washed ashore at Point Isabel more dead than alive.

(Newspaper accounts of the time tell how one sailor was so badly shaken he momentarily lost all semblance of sanity and ran into the prairie. Fearing for his safety the townspeople organized a search party. He was finally located under a bush about four miles from where he had washed ashore 48 hours before.

The other sailor that came ashore at Point Isabel, later recalled the captain was, “cool and collected” during the entire ordeal and when the boat struck the sand bar, warned them to; “look after themselves as the vessel would capsize.” His dire prediction proved correct and the captain was last seen clinging to a crate.)

Meanwhile on the nearby Texas shore, those inhabitants who remembered the hurricane of 1867, heeded the warnings signals of this storm and fled. Teresa (Clark) Clearwater was in Point Isabel teaching in a private school that day the storm came ashore near her childhood home. Her father, a sister and her child, who were in Clarksville at the time, were saved but the town was totally destroyed. Every house was swept away in the storm surge, even the ones whose owners had taken the extra precaution of piling sand around the base of the pilings that raised the little shanties a few feet higher from sea level. Bagdad, only a short jog to the south across the Rio Grande, suffered the same fate as Clarksville, with her citizens fleeing with little more than the clothes on their backs.

(It’s reputed that much gold and other valuables was thrown into privies before the citizens evacuated.)

By morning, the surge was running into the homes and the wharves were almost covered by water. A huge surf was breaking on the beach and its thunder could be heard above the storms roar. Two ships tied up to the docks, the Sellers, and the Rudd, began taking on water. One by one, the little houses succumbed to the fury, their shattered boards becoming wind driven missiles that split asunder any remaining building still standing.

An 18th Century Strongbox

Finally, in desperation, Morgan’s life boat was launched. The women and children were put aboard the craft and borne through the jaws of the breakers, across the flats which now had four feet of water flowing over them to the sand hills that lie to the south. A tiny shack, much too small to accommodate any but the women and children, provided scant shelter against the storms fury. The men remained outside and at times had to hold the building down to keep it from blowing away. The storm raged for two days before it finally moved on to the north where it laid waste to Corpus Christi before dying out. The body of Captain Buchanan was found several days later on the beach of Padre Island and was buried by the customs inspectors. Nine other men were trapped in the cabin when the Texas Ranger rolled and presumably their corpses still guard a strong box containing over $200,000 in gold and silver coins.

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