The Pirates of Commanche Bluff
"Tell me a story, Grandpa!" I asked, trying to delay bedtime as long as possible. We were camping, just the two of us, out at Granger Lake the week before I was going to leave for college. Grandpa wasn't usually in a story-telling mood but tonight he relented. We were sitting by the campfire after a long day of hiking and exploring the area around Granger Lake, Grandpa's favorite place to visit.
"Well, let's see. A story, eh. I guess I have a story for you. I told your father this tale once, a long time ago when we were camping here, just like you and I are now. It's a tale of pirates, and Spanish soldiers, and buried treasure!"
Our family had lived in the rolling black earth prairies of east central Texas for generations so I was a little surprised that he would come up with story like this. That and he had a strange, far-off look in his eyes, so I sat up a little straighter and paid rapt attention as he settled into his camp chair across the fire from me.
"Many, many years ago the Spanish king sent adventurers off to explore the New World across the seas to the west of Europe. These explorers brought back stories of people living in these wild lands far across the seas that had cities made of gold with streets paved with jewels and rivers flowing with wine. The king listened eagerly to these stories and started sending more ships to these strange lands to conquer these people and plunder the riches for himself. So much treasure was flowing back to Spain on these ships that soon pirates heard the stories of treasure as well and started to attack the King's treasure ships. This angered the king so he started sending better armed ships and soldiers to protect his treasure."
"Well, the pirates were no match for the well armed Spanish Navy so they changed their tactics and simply followed the king's treasure fleets looking to pick off stragglers or for any other opportunity to strike. Soon, rumors leaked out that a particularly large convoy of treasure ships was about to leave for Spain. The pirates laid in wait along the coastline and watched the fleet of treasure ships sail past. Then they started their pursuit. The fleet headed east for Spain in tight formation and no stragglers appeared but the pirates continued to follow along. After several days of this chase a large, violent storm appeared on the horizon and soon all the ships were in danger. The Spanish Navy ships and the soldiers worked hard to keep the treasure ships together and safe but when the storm overtook them it was every ship for itself and they were scattered far and wide across the seas."
"The storm raged for days. Finally a calm settled over the area and the Spanish worked to gather their fleet back together and continue on to Spain. After several long days they located all of the treasure ships, save one. The commander of the Spanish Navy sent all the rest of his ships off to protect the remaining treasure ships on their way back to Spain while he took the largest warship and continued the search for the lost treasure. That night while patrolling a few miles out from shore the ship's lookout spotted a light on the beach. Drawing closer they discovered that a ship had been tossed up on the shoreline and it was on fire! It was too dark to investigate further so they dropped anchor and waited for the dawn."
"The next morning the commander had soldiers put ashore to see what there was to salvage and if there was any survivors to rescue. When the soldiers arrived they found the burned out hulk of the Spanish treasure ship and lying nearby was the wreck of another ship - this one still flying the tattered remains of a pirate flag high up in the rigging. At first it appeared that no-one has survived the wrecks but soon sailors started appearing over the dunes from a small camp they had set up nearby. They told the soldiers that they had gotten separated from the fleet during the storm and then a pirate ship had appeared out of nowhere to attack them and drive them into the shoreline. The storm was still growing and soon the pirate ship was caught in the fierce winds and currents as well and it slammed into the shoreline just down the beach from their ship. The battle for the treasure continued on the beach as sailors and pirates fought in hand to hand combat in the growing wind and rain. The pirates soon overpowered the sailors, who retreated into the dunes as the pirates looted their ship. Soon after that, the sailors heard a great explosion and saw flames rise up from their ship."
"The next morning the fire had burned out and the pirates were gone but then another ship appeared so the sailers hid back in the dunes to see who had arrived this time. It was the commander's soldiers and now they had enough men and weapons to fight back so they descended on the treasure ship. It was a sorry mess. A lot of the ship had burned right down to the waterline and many of the ship's supplies and cargo was scattered around, including several large chests of gold and silver that were far too large to be carried off. However, much of the treasure was gone. Dozens of smaller chests and some carts and wagons as well as several horses were missing. The soldiers soon found tracks leading off down the beach to the north."
"When the commander on the Spanish warship heard all of this he flew into a rage. He had been given the assignment to guard the treasure ships at all costs by the King, himself. Being quite full of himself at the time, he proudly boasted that he would return with every single bit of gold or he would not return at all!"
"Gather all the men we can spare. We are going to pursue the pirates and retrieve the King's gold!" he bellowed as he stared off to the north into the unknown, wild lands ashore. Thus began a months-long pursuit as the pirates fled north into the hills and the Spanish followed them. Time and again the Spanish would catch up with the pirates and each time they recovered a little more of the treasure when the pirates would leave some behind and flee. Finally the Spanish had the the pirates surrounded in a hollow formed where a small stream flowed thru a valley surrounded by series of tree-covered hills. At dawn the soldiers attacked from all directions and this time the commander swore that none of the pirates would escape and the last of the treasure would finally be recovered. The battle raged all day and into the evening but as darkness slowly fell a strange thing started happening - the Commander's men started to fall from a silent enemy! Arrows were raining down on them from the hills around the hollow. Driven by the Commander the remaining soldiers pressed their attack on the pirate's camp until at last they reached it, deep in the valley. There the Commander found that the last pirate had fallen. Turning to his men he looked on in shock as the last of his men fell ground also, a victim of the hidden foes firing arrows down on them. Quickly turning, he searched the camp for the last chest of gold but all he could find were some old shovels. The pirates must have buried the treasure before attack! Just then he was struck down by an arrow, himself."
It grew quiet around the campfire. "Is that it? Grandpa, is that the end of the story?" The silence grew. "Grandpa!"
Finally, he continued. "No. There is more to the story. I haven't told this last part to anyone else but I am growing old and it is time someone else knew the whole tale."
I had heard stories of Spanish gold hidden in these hills for as long as I could remember buth nothing had ever been found so this really got my attention.
"You may be wondering how I know so many of the details of the story. Here is one of the secrets I have been keeping for so many years. The Commander of the Spanish soldiers who fell all those years ago near this very spot - he didn't die, not right away, anyway. He was found lying in the pirate's camp wounded from an arrow in the back. A Commanche arrow. The Commanches lived in this area back then and they did not take kindly to strangers invading their lands. They had seen the pirates crossing thru the area weeks before and were about to attack when they noticed the Spanish in pursuit of the pirate. The Commanches watched and waited for weeks as the Spanish would catch up with pirates and fight and kill off a few before the pirates would make a run for it and the Spanish would follow - deeper and deeper into Commanche lands. Finally the pirates stumbled into sacred lands - an old indian burial grounds deep in the hills near a little stream of fresh clear water that flowed thru a hollow between the hills. The Commanches could not tolerate this final intrusion into their sacred lands and they silently worked to surround the pirate camp just as the Spanish soldiers arrived. They would kill them all and rid their land of these invaders!"
"When the fight was over the Commanche found the Commander, gravely wounded but alive, cornered, and holding an empty musket like a club. Before anyone could finish him off, the Commander slumped to the ground. The Commanche chief, an old warrior himself, saw how bravely the Commander stood up to his warriors and took pity on him. He had the Commander brought back to their village and his wounds treated. When the Commander finally woke up, he found himself a prisoner of the Commanche. He was very surprised as he had heard that the Commanche do not take prisoners. No one who had fallen to them in battle had ever been heard from again."
The Commanche chief recognized the clothing and weapons of the Commander as Spanish and he had heard of these strange pale people who had been arriving in ever-increasing numbers to these lands so he kept the Commander as a prisoner for the rest of his days to learn of this new threat to his people and how best to defeat them. The Commander lived for years with the Commanche, slowly learning their language and gaining the trust of these people but he never revealed the secret of the lost treasure. He had sworn an oath to his king return to Spain with all the king's treasure or to die trying. For years he continued to search in the valley and surrounding the hills for the last remaining treasure chest but to no avail. He died without ever finding it."
Again the night grew quiet as I waited for Grandpa to continue. Finally, I couldn't take it any more. "Grandpa, I've heard some of these stories for years. Everyone has looked for that gold. I think it's all just a story to keep kids busy or to tell around the campfire like tonight!" Slowly, he got up out of his seat and came around the fire to me and reached into his pocket. "Hold out your hand." Then he placed a coin in my palm - a large gold coin with strange markings. It was so old and worn that I could not make out any of the details on it but it was very heavy for it's size!
"What! Where? How did you get this?"
"Here is another secret I haven't told anyone else before." he said as he settled back into his chair. "You know our family is from a long line of English farmers and ranchers. We have worked this land here for generations. What you don't know, and nobody else living knows, is that my grandmother was Spanish! Her father gave that coin to her on his deathbed and told her this story. That coin had passed down thru the generations to him and now to her. She, in turn told it to her son when she was dying. He past all this on to me, right before he died back in 1952. I was 20 years old then and the story changed my life. For the next 20 years I ranged all over these hills looking for that last chest of gold! I finally gave up, got married, and started raising a family. I got a job with a construction company driving a bulldozer. I kept looking whenever I could but I had a wife and kids to feed and so I couldn't spend nearly as much time looking as I would have like."
"Then one day we got word that the Army Corps of Engineers was going to come to this valley and build a dam to control the awful floods that raged thru these hills each spring. My company won the bid to clear the land for the lake that would form behind the dam and I spend the next two months with my bulldozer knocking down the trees and scrapping away the soil for the new lake."
"One day as I was eating my lunch in the shade of some old oak trees down by the stream I noticed that there was something strange about the last tree that I had knocked over. There in the roots was something shiny and reflecting sunlight right into my eye. I figured it was an old bottle but I wandered over anyway and found a single gold coin, sticking out of the ground. Looking around quickly, no-one else had seen what I was doing so I dug with my hands and soon uncovered another coin."
"I spent the rest of the week digging under that old tree, whenever I could sneak away, and after work was done and the other workers had gone home. Finally, I found the rest of the lost chest of gold. The tree had grown up right next to it and one root had grown right thru it, busting it all apart and scattering the gold."
"I didn't know what to do. I couldn't tell anyone about this. Most people wouldn't believe me and the others would just try to steal it from me so I cast about for a place to hide it all again. I couldn't bury it there because the new lake was going to flood this whole valley so I carried the gold up the hill - this very hill we are camping on - Commanche Bluff - and buried it again under a large slab of rock in the woods."
I didn't know what to say. I didn't even know what to think! Spanish gold! The coin in my hand felt like it was on fire! "Really!?! Is the rest of the gold still there? How much was there? Is there any left?"
Grandpa smiled and stared at me for a bit before continuing, "Well, over the years I have taken some of the gold and used it when times were tough. Our family owns some of the best farm land around here now and your dad and his brothers all were sent to some might fine schools when they were growing up, but there is still a little left. You want to help my get the rest of it? I hear that school you picked out is quite expensive!"
"What, now, here, now, really?!?"
Grandpa smiled and nodded. "The land around here has changed a lot over the years. The Army Corps of Engineers built this campground on the Bluff and then cut trails thru the woods and along the shoreline of the new lake but I have been keeping an eye on the place and the treasure is still safe, for now."
"I'm getting tired and it is getting dark and cold out. We will go look for it in the morning. Good night!" With that he threw the rest of his coffee in the fire and headed off to his tent, leaving me there, staring after him and holding the gold coin. How was I supposed to sleep now? Somehow I must have fallen asleep because the next morning I awoke to find that Grandpa was gone! Laying on his pillow was a note.
"Thought I'd go into town and get some breakfast. If you want to start searching without me here are the directions to that container we were talking about last night."
"Head over to campsite number 45. There is a trail at the back of the campsite that heads off to the southwest. Go a couple hundred yards to a trail junction with the Commanche Bluff Trail. Turn right and head north. After a quarter mile you will come to another trail junction at what looks like a dry streambed. You will know when you get there because the other trail comes down a set of rough wooden steps and then joins this trail from the right. Continue north. After about 250 feet you will pass thru a dip in the trail and then climb slightly and then descend to another dip in the trail. Stop head and get out your compass. Look uphill to the right thru the trees at 120 degrees for a group of large stone blocks. Climb up to the blocks and you will find one leaning against a tree. The container is between this block and the tree."
To others looking for this treasure: Taylor Park has a day use fee area of the Army Corps of Engineers, however you can approach the treasure from a free parking lot and trailhead if you are willing to walk a little further to get there. Just to the west of the entrance road to Taylor Park is County Road 496. Take this road north, following the pavement as it turns this way and that, to reach the parking lot, bathrooms, and trailhead in about a half of a mile. There are actually two trailheads here. Take the one on the north side of the parking lot and it is 0.6 miles northeast along the Commanche Bluff Trail to that junction with the short trail from campsite #45 mentioned above.