Radar showed a possible treasure
“Remember the Alamo!” The famous battle cry was immortalized in history. But for some, the full story of the Alamo has yet to be told. Legend has it that in the shadow of the Alamo’s old mission, a treasure remains buried, a secret which dates back to 1836, the year of the famous battle. That January, a group of rugged frontiersmen made their way across southern Texas. By some accounts, they were loaded down with a fortune in silver and gold. It was called the “San Saba Treasure,” and it’s said to be worth millions of dollars.
The men, led by Colonel Jim Bowie, were headed for the Alamo. The treasure was intended to finance the Texas revolution for independence from Mexico. Two months later, Bowie and 188 other men, including Davy Crockett, made a courageous stand at the Alamo against 6,000 well-trained Mexican troops. Not one of the defenders survived to tell the tale, but the legend of the treasure lived on.
Professional fortune hunter and historical researcher Frank Buschbacher, along with a team of archaeologists and researchers, excavated the street in front of the Alamo. Frank first heard about the mysterious treasure at the Alamo during a trip to Mexico. There, he was introduced to Maria Gomez, a respected museum curator who also had a reputation as a psychic. Bushbacker says it was she who first informed him of the treasure:
“I’d never heard of any treasure surrounding the Battle of the Alamo. It was just a valiant battle that was lost. Then she went on to describe the treasure as gold coins, silver, religious artifacts is what she described them as.”
Frank spent 3½ years acquiring the permits
Frank was told that some of the treasure had been removed by Mexican soldiers, but that most of it still remained hidden at the Alamo. Maria would later draw him a map. The map claimed that the treasure would be found at the bottom of an old well. Even though Maria said she had never been to the Alamo, she had indicated the spot where a well was dug, just before the siege.
At the time, the chapel was located in the rear of the fort. The well was in the plaza, which was surrounded by 12-foot tall stone walls. It was within these walls that the Texans held out for a full thirteen days. The defenders valiantly put down one advance after another, but in the end, 189 men could not hold off 6,000 Mexican soldiers. Frank believes that in a final desperate act, Jim Bowie ordered that the treasure be hidden at the bottom of the well:
“The only way they preserved was to all stick together and fight the battle out to whatever outcome it has. This really is the first bank of Texas, the first cache of precious metals that would have bought them the arms and uniforms they needed. The reason it’s remained there is because everybody died.”
A 15 x 15 foot area was excavated above the well
Frank believes that this treasure is located beneath the road in front of the chapel. But to many native Texans, his theory doesn’t hold up. Gail Loving Barnes of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas doesn’t believe in the treasure:
“The people of the Alamo, I don’t think they were guarding a treasure. When your life is on the line, like it was in the Battle with Juno Santiana, I don’t think you’re thinking about silver or gold bullion. I think you’re thinking about your life. And I don’t think you would be polluting your water well, because you don’t know how long your siege is going to be.”
Despite the controversy, Frank was determined to prove his point. He obtained permission to survey the area with ground penetrating radar, yielding some intriguing results. To their trained eyes, the radar display showed several irregularities beneath the surface. The largest, which Frank believed to be the site of the well, was in the exact location where Maria Gomez predicted the treasure would be found. Says Frank:
“It kind of brought all my research to fruition at that point, because I knew that with the map, her story, and then plugging it in to Texas history, that I was on a hot trail and any dissention that I had within my own mind about whether I should follow this any further was gone.”
Gail Barnes has other theories:
“The anomalies could be caused by many things. I think it could be debris, equipment left by the Texans, I think it could be something several years later that was deposited there. You know, as time marches on, dust and dirt accumulate and cover very gradually, so that could be part of what they’re picking up out there.”
It took Frank three and a half years to acquire the necessary permits and financing to excavate the site. The Archaeology Department at St. Mary’s University agreed to oversee the project. For project director Thomas Guderjan, anything that turns up during the excavation will have historical value:
“Whether it’s treasure, as in gold and silver and that sort of thing, or whether it is materials that were thrown into the well during the battle, materials that were thrown into the well during the clean-up after the battle, it doesn’t make any difference to us what we’re looking at in a historical perspective. Whatever it is, it’s a time capsule.”
The plans called for excavating a 15 x 15 foot area directly above the well. A work crew needed to first remove three feet of flagstone and roadbed to reach the top of the filled-in well. Four feet beneath the surface of the courtyard, the team began to find artifacts … fragments of Native American pottery, the bones of butchered animals, and primitive cooking utensils. Each relic had to be carefully unearthed and properly catalogued. Even without the San Saba treasure, Guderjan’s excitement was obvious:
“While we haven’t been able to move as quickly as we originally intended to, the reason is because we found something no one expected to find here, and that’s intact 18th century materials.”
The items are a valuable treasure in themselves, rare artifacts that help piece together a history of the Alamo from the 1750’s right up to the final battle nearly a century later. One of the finds that most excited Guderjan was some ammunition used in canons, called grapeshot:
“We think it’s from the actual battle. We also have what looks like the headpiece to a Mexican soldier’s hat. This would signify his unit. And we found what may well be part of a saber from the battle.”
As the archaeologists inched closer and closer to the irregularities picked up by radar, the discoveries they‘d already made gave them hope. But optimism soon turned to disappointment: they found no sign of the treasure. Yet some remain convinced that the gold and silver still exists somewhere deep beneath the Alamo. And for them, the search will continue.