Published February 12, 2009
Is there golden treasure buried in a South Texas creek?
Using Google Earth, a Los Angeles-based musician named Nathan Smith thinks he's found a lost treasure ship that sank somewhere north of Corpus Christi during a hurricane in 1822.
But the owners of the land won't let him dig — unless a court rules that the muddy creek is indeed "navigable waters," in which case the federal government decides.
A recent book called "Lost Treasures of American History" got Smith to noodling around on his computer — and an intriguing pattern near the small town of Refugio spurred him to drive nonstop to the Gulf Coast, metal detector in hand.
"Where we walked, your honor, there was gold, there was silver," Smith told a federal judge in Houston in December about his initial visit to the site, according to the Houston Chronicle. "When you step off that area, you got nothing."
Adding to Smith's convictions is the fact the creek is named Burgentine or Barkentine Creek. The lost Spanish (or maybe Mexican) ship was said to have been a barquentine, a type of three-masted sailing vessel.
Ron Walker, the attorney representing the family that owns the land, is having none of it.
"It was offensive that somebody could go on Google Earth, look down and see what they think, I guess see, under the ground and see a ship and come in and say, 'I want to dig up your property,'" he told ABCNews.com "They have no proof anything is there and no experience."
The judge plans to rule next month on whether Smith can ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to dig.
But even if he does find something, he might be in for more legal fights. 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.