Jim Bradshaw: Find treasure when the rooster crows
In the days before Powerball and scratch cards began to inspire visions of instant wealth, the best way to get rich quick in Louisiana was to find buried treasure.
Every old Louisiana family had a story: Beneath this huge oak … on such-and-such a cheniere … along the bank of this bayou … near the old plantation house … someone saw and old map. Many of them came from deathbed tales: An old relative, near death, whispered a long-kept secret heard from the deathbed of another, who had heard it from the of a son of one of Jean Lafitte’s men.
The tale persisted for many years that a Texan named Wooten found a stash of Lafitte’s booty in 1914. But Wooten’s grandson said his grandfather and some friends made up the whole thing. He said they repented and tried to tell everyone that the story was a hoax, but nobody believed them. People thought they were just trying to protect their riches.
There is another story of how Lafitte captured six wagonloads of pure silver from a Spanish ship and was trying to sneak it inland when Mexican soldiers caught up with him near Hendrick’s Lake in east Texas. As the story goes, Lafitte’s men drove the six wagons to the rim of a steep bank and let them roll into the water. That inspired an attempt in the late 1800s to drain the lake and uncover the treasure, but the lake filled again as fast as the treasure hunters could drain it and the silver — if it was ever there — has never been found.
Lafitte is supposed to have scuttled a schooner in a place called Bottle Neck, near Niblett’s Bluff on the Sabine River. Nobody’s ever found any trace of it. Maybe he buried it near the river; at one time, there was a billboard on Highway 90 near the Sabine River bridge telling folks arriving from Texas that “Lafitte Buried His Treasure Here Near 40 Gum Trees.”
As a matter of fact, the places in south Louisiana once rumored to hide Lafitte’s gold probably outnumber those without a treasure tale.
His horde might be on Kelso’s Island in Calcasieu Lake, or buried on Pecan Island, or Grand Terre, or Grand Isle, or along Contraband Bayou in Lake Charles (so named because a few doubloons once washed out of its banks), or on Jefferson Island (where a worker once dug up a handful of Mexican coins), or on the grounds of any of the plantations Lafitte is said to have visited.
While digging around on the plantations, you can also look for the gold coins or old silver or priceless jewels the family is supposed to have buried to save them from looters during the Civil War. Some of those tales probably are more authentic than stories of pirate treasure. In my family, the story is that $30,000 in gold coins was buried somewhere near an ancestral home to hide it from roving bands of bandits. We’ve dug. Nobody’s found sudden wealth.
There is some folklore that might help if you’re inclined to go treasure hunting. The best day to find treasure is on the second day of the full moon, and the best time to dig is between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
You will never find anything if you talk, spit, curse, or sweat while you’re digging. If you dream about a beam of light focused on a certain place, treasure is buried there. But a light bobbing up and down in the swamp means nothing, it’s just the mischief of a feu follet.
Or maybe you can hope that grandmere remembered to bury a rooster’s head with the family jewels. Everybody knows that the rooster will crow if the treasure’s rightful owner comes near.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.