Published on March 3, 2020

From ‘martins’ to pirates, San Bernard reveals its treasures

By Janice Edwards / The Bulletin

From purple martins to pirates, folklore and shrimp, the San Bernard River offers up its treasures in bountiful forms.

We heard the purple martins were in the state early this spring and got our birdhouses up early, but they haven’t shown yet. When the scouts of the flock start showing up, they take stock of what housing is available before the rest of their extended family follows.

I am always glad to see them because it means the end of gray days and the beginning of their cheerful good mornings. I just can’t be ‘blue’ when the martins are around. The little birds come back every year to the place they were born, bringing with them their gifts of catching bugs and chirping cheerful songs. It almost seems like they take our ‘blues’ on their backs (maybe that is what turns them purple) and take to the sky, carrying them off to who-knows-where, but always returning with a cheerful greeting.

Once a purple martin family has accepted the housing arrangement you offer, they always return each spring, raising one or two clutches of babies, bringing even more life and joy to the river – and that, my friends, is just a little river treasure you can find if you look for it.

Pirate Jean Lafitte’s treasure

We live on a river that just oozes with treasure. I have already written about the pirate, Jean Lafitte. Legend has it that the famous pirate has left some of his treasure in the banks of the San Bernard. There are a couple of versions to this legend.

Around the time Stephen F. Austin and company were colonizing this part of Texas, the Mexican government thought having a pirate on Galveston Isle was bad for their public image. So, they forced him to leave his home. Being the pirate that he was, he had a lot of gold to get off the island. He was known to take a strong-backed, weak-minded sailor in a skiff up various local rivers and relocate parts of his treasure. He’d make note of the location and bury the treasure – and the sailor.

Another version of this tale has one of Lafitte’s captains sailing up the San Bernard River to escape the hurricane of 1816. In this version, the captain of the pirate boat knew the hurricane was going to be a bad one, so he ordered his men to bury the treasure to protect it from the storm. None of the pirates survived this storm, but the clue to where the treasure is hidden is said to be found in another one of Lafitte’s treasure holds.

The interesting thing about this version is that it perfectly lines up with the evidence of the Theodosia Burr legend – that she was found in a wrecked pirate ship after a bad hurricane just up from the mouth of the San Bernard River by an English-speaking Karankawa Indian chief. The treasure on Theodosia’s boat was supposed to have been great, but the Indian chief did not find it.

In one or two of the stories I’ve been told, some of Lafitte’s treasure was buried at Music Bend in the San Bernard. That’s where River’s End is today. In fact, we live on Music Bend. While watching the silver trout jump in the river, it’s nice to fantasize that there is still pirate’s treasure near at hand, just waiting to be uncovered.

Music Bend

And the mysterious music heard at Music Bend is a local treasure. Legend claims that this music has a ghostly origin.
The story of the music has been told orally and written about since Stephen F. Austin’s colonists heard the creepy strains. There are numerous ghost stories associated with this music – all of them have a fiddler being mysteriously killed and dumped into the San Bernard.

There have been various scientific attempts to explain the phenomena, but no theory has become a definitive explanation. But I’ve heard the ghostly strains. If you hear the music, it’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, and you’ll find goose pimples inexplicably crawling up your arms. And the fact that the music still plays, and is still a mystery, is a treasure.

Shrimp and DuCross City

Back in the early days. River’s End shrimpers often took 5,000 pounds of shrimp a day from these waters - a treasure, a fortune, in tasty morsels, seemingly in endless supply.

But, too much of that fortune was withdrawn before deposits were made in the account, so it might take an open mouth, a little time and some river feeding to bring back that overdrawn account.

My husband, Roy, talks about a treasure he experienced down here in the 1970s, when, if you were lucky enough to be invited, you could find yourself fishing in DuCros City. It was on the beach between the mouth of the San Bernard and Sargent - behind Cedar Lakes. In the late summer, DuCros City would be built each year, and by the weekend before Thanksgiving, it would be gone.

Someone would bring in port-a-cans and travel trailers, while someone else would bring in food and libations, and a little fishing community would be born.

Fishermen would come in and enjoy time fishing, relaxing, eating fresh fish, shrimp and oysters, and telling the stories that only “old salts” could tell younger men. These moments were treasure.

One vivid, golden moment was a memory of one of the fishing elders. He spoke of a time when redfish were so plentiful that when the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, the waters would turn gold from the tailing of the redfish. Gold in the water – untold treasure. But this was before the river closed the first time.

There’s still treasure at River’s End. Roy and I have been fortunate enough to get to know some of our neighbors. Some of them grew up here and have seen the glory days of our community, and some of them are newly transplanted. But best of all, they have endless stories to tell about this river, and every one of them is pure treasure, just like their friendship.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)