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2017-08-03

Grandpa's Treasure Story

By Raymond V. Carter, Jr. Research Historian ©2017

Around the mid-1800's a group of men — Texas bandits — made a daring run into Old Mexico and raided a camp and silver mine in a remote mountain area. They evidently made good of their mission and returned to Texas with some 30-odd mules loaded down with precious cargo.
After crossing the Rio Grande, they followed an old trail that would lead toward San Antonio. They were making their way across rugged, South Texas caliche country when they realized that Indians were fast approaching.
Having little time to respond and no way of making a run for it with mules loaded down with heavy treasure, they had to make a fight of it. They hastily built 2 rock fortresses at the head of an arroyo, burying the treasure in one of them. Then they made their stand. Heavily out-numbered, the bandits were all killed. Save one, as "rock pens" legend has it.
The most popular location to search for this treasure is in McMullen County, just south of Tilden, Texas, where Hwy.16 crosses the Nueces River.
Another spot, the old Henry Shiner Ranch, once encompassed more than 45,000 acres. It too, has been extensively explored.
Some say the treasure is buried in the old Guidan pasture, somewhere in the neighborhoo of 30,000 acres. No one has ever reported finding the loot. Some believe it is haunted, taboo.
It was in the winter of 1915 that my grandfather, Vernon Robert "Pete" Coffman got his first job away from home. He was 14 years old and worked for James M. Martin on the "Pony Jim" Martin ranch for $15 a month. The "Pony Jim" Martin Ranch was on the west side of Hwy.16, south of Tilden and the Nueces River. Grandpa worked there from 1915 to 1917, during a 3-year drought.
"I didn't work too hard,” Grandpa said. “They had me riding the bogs. The river was dry and we had dug two or three wells in the river about 12 to 15-feet deep. And believe me or not — the water was running down there in the sand."
While working on the Martin Ranch, Grandpa was shown a headstone on a grave surrounded by a small iron fence. Tommy Stringfield had placed this headstone at the site of the Stringfield massacre, which occurred in 1909.
Stringfield, or “Two Braids” as he called himself, ran a little horse show, which is where Grandpa first met him in 1908.
Two Braids went around trying to raise money to put up a headstone and fence at the massacre site. He claimed to be the kidnapped son of Thomas and Sarah Stringfield and brother to the only true survivor, Ida A. Stringfield. Ida would later marry William Hatfield and live in Medina, Texas, where they ran a general store. Two Braids proved to be an imposter.
During this time, Grandpa said he came upon what he later thought might be the "rock pens." He was out on one of his normal rides, but with the severe drought and the prickly pear and mesquite trees dying, it opened up the country and revealed what would normally been hidden.
“All the pear died and half of the mesquites died," Grandpa said. "The deer and coyotes come in on that Nueces River by the tens of thousands."
As he rode up an arroyo he discovered an area with rocks built in two circles about a half-foot high. Thinking this odd is the only reason he remembered it.
Later, his grandfather, John Whitley, who loved to tell treasure stories, told him about the rock pens.
In 1928, Grandpa Pete worked on the Henry Shiner Ranch, but never mentioned discovering rock pens on that ranch, but he did mention seeing them on the "Pony Jim" Martin Ranch.
I visited the old Martin Ranch in October of 1977 and saw the massacre site where "Two Braids" placed the headstone. Everything — the Nueces River, the tall hill and massacre site fit Grandpa's story.