Baldwin County is full of tales of buried treasure. Every creek and bayou, the banks at the fork of any two streams, all lonely sand spits with one tree, have their special stories and sometimes their special ghosts. Among these are the most dedicated ghosts in history, for legend tells of many that have been guarding spots for two hundred years or more. Men have told remarkable tales. Hands have come out of partially dug holes and pulled the digger into the cavity. Men have tripped on nonexistent ropes and fallen into snake and alligator infested creeks, with no sign of a wound others have mysteriously died in old houses thought to contain treasure.
Baldwin County treasure hunting stories can top any treasure story ever told. Some persons have located treasure, found it too heavy to move, left it in the hole and gone for oxen to pull the container out and never been able to find the spot again. Chests have been hoisted onto gang planks, then slipped back into the water to be lost forever. The most engaging tales of all are about the men who have torn treasure maps in half, each has taken one half, and one of the pair has been lost in various gruesome accidents complete with his half of the map, of course.
Some people insist that treasure actually has been found, but no news story on this has ever been filed. Many persons have enjoyed sudden wealth, mysteriously acquired, but so far the Treasury Department has not been able to prove that it was from hidden treasure. Neighbors have told tales, beginning with a man who plowed up a treasure chest, and running the whole gamut of marvels. Treasure is supposed to have been found in wells, graveyards, old chimneys, caves, swamps, and on shell mounds.
This abundance of treasure stories is founded on several facts of history. At Dauphin Island English and Dutch buccaneers lay in wait for the Spanish galleons. In the Gulf and along the Eastern coast of Florida Spaniards sailed as close to shore as was practical for they cooked with wood, saving charcoal for the Atlantic voyage, and the water carried in wooden kegs had to be renewed frequently.
From Tampico to Pensacola ships sailed along the Gulf shoreline.
Once they docked at Pensacola they were back in Spanish waters, but the wild Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts were entirely unpoliced by anyone's fleet, and their absentee owners did not prosecute buccaneers. Thus ships of the treasure fleet often met with regrettable accidents in those waters. So true was this that when D'Iberville stopped in Cuba on his voyage to colonize the Louisianas, he hired a retired pirate named deGraffe to pilot him to the Mississippi Coast. No one else knew the waters well enough to do it.
A treasure-laden ship is a constant temptation to mutiny; so canny captains cached their share of the loot in many secret places known only to themselves. If the captain left the ship with a trusted lieutenant, two of the most disliked crewmen and a heavy chest, it was held by the crew to be a private execution combined with a visit to the bank. Occasionally, the captain came back alone, but more often the lieutenant accompanied him, since his function had been to guard the boat and, even if he knew the general location, he did not know the signs by which to identify the hole after it had been filled.
Baldwin County close to Dauphin Island was outside Spanish Territory and had a long coast line with lagoons, bays and creeks, and high ground for it is the last of the Appalachian highland. In many places a sailing vessel could anchor close to shore, and in other places tie up directly to the bank. Its terrain made it the answer to a pirate's prayer.
In the early years of the nineteenth century this was made even more interesting by the fact that Jean La Fitte was supposed to be a native of the Mobile Bay country and to be familiar with all the terrain adjacent to the Bay.
Originally Mobile and New Orleans were closely knit. Many of the people of French and Spanish descent left Mobile to live in New Orleans at the time of the English occupation (1764). It had formerly been illegal for Protestants to own land under the French rule, and when the British came they reversed this order and made it illegal for Catholics to do so. Thus, this emigration began forty-six years before the battle of New Orleans and was in progress for at least ten years. Catholics living in Baldwin County were not seriously affected by this order, so far as eviction was concerned, for none wanted their property but themselves. After twenty years the Spanish returned and removed the ban on Catholic ownership, so all the old deeds were valid again. The result was that many Mobile and Baldwin County people had close relatives in New Orleans.
La Fitte may easily have been born in Baldwin County and ended in Barataria. If so, he and the members of his crew would have known of the terrain of Baldwin County, which is like nothing else along the Gulf Coast. Legend says that he often visited in the old Weeks home on Weeks Bay.
The one treasure story, I know to be true, was told me by a minister in whose veracity I have confidence. It occurred in 1896 or 1897. My father related the story in a record of his ministry in Bon Secour. He went to and returned from his mission stations on schooners, and on this occasion he was traveling on the schooner OLIVE. Because the captain had freight to deliver, the OLIVE put into Weeks Bay. Half a mile on the inside of the bay on the south side, was a blind point on which stood a shell mound and a live oak grove and, to his amazement, a New Orleans Barataria lugger lay at the bank, with her red-tanned sail raised to dry. He asked the captain about it and the captain told him that they came two or three times a year shrimp-seining, but that they were a drunken lot well armed with knives, and didn't belong in Mobile waters. Moreover, he said, that the lugger was not aground, that there were three or four feet of water at the bank.
The men were dancing about waving bottles and calling something which the captain interpreted to mean "wine and a party" but which my father thought was "Vin et La Fitte" and "d'or de La Fitte" which meant "Wine and La Fitte's gold". The captain responded that it made no difference. If they had found La Fitte's gold, they certainly would not share it with strangers, for they were a mean, clannish lot. Drunk or sober he declared them to be as dangerous as rattlesnakes, so he sailed indifferently by; my father remained curious.
He asked questions after church in Magnolia Springs and left more curious people behind him, but he could not investigate further since he had to hurry off to Point Clear. After the New Orleans shrimp lugger left, a group of boys went to see where they had been on the blind point. A huge cedar post marked H - R, which was supposed to stand for Hispaniola Rex, had always stood under the oaks and was used as a survey marker. Now it was lying by a hole where it had been thrown aside, and a cavity a fathom deep and two fathoms wide, still stained with rust on the white sand bottom, was where the post had been. In the middle of the hole, winking gold in the sunlight, lay a single Spanish doubloon!
My father heard this story even before he reached Bon Secour on his next trip and, when he met the captain at church, asked him about it. The captain said that he had seen the hole and the doubloon and it must be the truth because no New Orleans fishermen, drunk or sober, would dig a hole that deep unless they knew something was there.
"How did they know?" my father asked.
"I guess it took four men to bury it when it was hid", the captain responded slowly, "and the head devil shot them when they finished and threw the bodies into the hole. I wonder if they found three skeletons? For some reason he never could get back again, but he left a map among his papers, and somebody has just found it and read it right."
"You are wrong about one thing," my father responded slowly. "He didn't shoot the men; somebody had to fill up the hole and captains didn't do work like that. He must have poisoned them on the way back, probably put it in their last meal before Barataria. He needed them to sail the lugger; they must have counted on that, and they knew he couldn't kill three men on shipboard without the last two double-teaming on him, so they thought they were safe."
"Whew!" said the captain, looking with amazement at my father, "You would have made a pretty good pirate yourself."
Written in 1965 by Charley and Meme Wakeford for their book “Food, Fun, and Fable.”