Google Earth, Lost Treasure and a Musician’s Dream of Wealth Untold

Seemingly straight from the annals of a Hardy Boys adventure story, comes this tale of lost treasure buried in a South Texas creek.

It differs from other treasure tales however, as the main character is not a truculent swashbuckler in colorful pantaloons sporting a patch over one eye and brandishing a sword. Rather, this concerns a musician and a locator known as Google Earth.

But is it true and what does it mean to Nathan Smith who may have found his very own pot of gold?


Nathan Smith is a musician who hails from Los Angeles, California. Using Google Earth as a guide, he believes he has found a lost treasure ship that sank in 1822 somewhere north of Corpus Christi during a hurricane.

The legend claims that it veered away from the storm and sank into mud about 160 miles southwest of Houston. As the story goes, a barkentine ship (a vessel with three masts) was lost in a deep creek near Refugio, Texas, and the Mission River. Half the crew died en voyage and the rest lost their lives at the hands of a local tribe of cannibals. Supposedly, a pot of gold and silver that got bigger with each retelling of the tale, was left behind.

The legend goes on to say that part of the boat remained above the ground and was made into a home by local settlers. Comanche Indians later discovered the gold on board the ship and it is said that they buried some of the estimated three million dollar treasure, but were interrupted by the cannibals who were getting hungry again.


Adding to Smith’s convictions is the fact that the creek in question is named Burgentine or Barkentine. The lost Spanish (or perhaps Mexican) ship is a tale twice told around local campfires, but there is no actual proof that the wreckage even exists. The owners of the land in question will not let Smith dig unless a court deems that the muddy creek is “navigable waters.” Should that occur, it then becomes the decision of the federal government.

Smith’s quest was inspired by a recent book, Lost Treasures of American History and the hit National Treasure movies starring Nicolas Cage. So spurred on by what he read, Smith drove non stop to the treasure’s alleged location with a metal detector in his hand. He told a Houston federal judge, David Hittner, last December:

“Where we walked, your honor, there was gold, there was silver. When you step off that area, you got nothing.”

Ron Walker, the attorney representing the estate of the family of the late Marie O’Connor Sorenson that owns the land had this to say:

“It was offensive that somebody could go on Google Earth, look down under the ground and see a ship and come in and say, ‘I want to dig up your property.’ They have no proof anything is there and no experience.”


Whether or not Smith gets permission to dig and even if he does find something, he might be in for more legal hassles. The state of Texas is already preparing to file a claim, and the Spanish government recently sued professional treasure-hunters over another long-lost military shipwreck.

Will Nathan dig or won’t he?

If so, what will he find?

Only time and the ghosts of some rather irritated pirates will tell.

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