Plunder In The Pines
East Texas is full of legends, mysteries, and folklore. Just beneath the surface of the Pineywoods, buried treasure is said to be scattered. There may not have been pirates roaming about the region, but over the years plenty of booty was left behind in East Texas.
One of the many fortunes left behind is believed to be in southern Anderson County. Mexican gold bars, gold coins and jewels have eluded treasure hunters for well over a century, but some still believe there is buried treasure in Elkhart, Texas.
Today, little remains of the pre-Civil War settlement known as Pilgrim Community just outside the city limits of present day Elkhart. An old church and an even older graveyard bring back dim memories of days gone by. A replica of a Spanish mission has also been erected on the property in recent years. Pilgrim Church was reputed to be the first Protestant church in Texas.
The tales of buried treasure in Elkhart originated deep within the heart of Mexico. A powerful and wealthy Mexican landowner and politician had a beautiful daughter named Felicia. Felicia had fallen madly in love with a peasant boy, which her father found to be a disgrace to the family name; Cortez. Felicia’s father was furious after learning of her love affair with the peasant. He was so angry that his own daughter had defiled his family name and embarrassed him that he tied the boy to a fence post and beat him to death and banished his daughter from his home land.
To ensure that Felicia could no longer bring shame upon him or their family he sent her to a convent within the Mission San Francisco de la Tejas, near the Neches River in East Texas. The mission had been established to convert and serve the local Indians. A convent had also been added, and approximately a dozen nuns resided within the mission.
Cortez financed his daughter’s journey to the north with a chest of jewels, and the remainder he ordered to be donated to the mission upon her arrival.
Felicia did not have any interest or desire to become a nun and live at the convent at the mission in East Texas. She had already formulated a plan to make a new life for herself, not her father, in Texas. She envisioned herself building a fine home on some land in Texas and raising horses. She believed she could become an influential force in Texas as her father had been in Mexico.
The night before she left Felicia took enough of her father’s gold bars and gold coins to load down five burrows. The next morning she set out on her journey with five faithful servants, five pack mules, and her new wealth.
The journey was long and hard. Day after day, Felicia and her small party trudged across the rugged desert terrain. After several weeks of hard travel Felicia and her crew crossed the Rio Grande into Texas; however, the journey was far from over. Soon they would have to cross the Nueces, San Antonio, Guadalupe, Colorado, and finally the Trinity rivers.
Not long after Felicia and her band of followers crossed the Trinity River she ordered her servants to set up camp. The next day when Felicia awoke she informed the group that a search for the perfect place to settle would begin. The group was in no big hurry after their long journey and wandered slowly through the Pineywoods searching for a perfect site for their future home.
According to legend, the group was weary from their long journey and decided to stop and take a little nap. As the group was basking and napping in the warm Texas sun, they suddenly fell under attack by a band of Indians.
The Indians emerged from the nearby woods. War whoops and screams filled the air, along with dozens of arrows aimed for Felicia and her crew. One of the servants was killed immediately by an arrow through his neck. Felicia and her remaining servants returned fire on the Indians with their muskets and drove them back into the woods.
The Indians began to rally in the woods to launch a second attack on the group. The Mexicans quickly began to gather rocks and logs to construct a crude fort to shield them from the Indian’s arrows. As Felicia’s servants hurried to build a structure to protect them Felicia was searching frantically for a place to hide her fortune.
The Indians attacked the group again, but were repelled once more. This time one Mexican was severely wounded, and two Indians perished. As the Indians retreated, Felicia ordered one of the remaining servants to help her bury her fortune near the edge of their camp.
Felicia and the servant knew the clock was ticking as they hastily buried the treasure in a shallow trench. Just as the two were covering the gold bars and jewels with pine needle and other forest debris, the Indians attacked for the third and final time. Felicia disappeared into the pine forests as her servant rushed to the aid of his friends. Felicia fled quickly knowing her few servants could not hold off the large force of Indians. Felicia knew that she had to find the mission. As she ran deeper into the pines, she could hear the screams of her faithful servants as they were slaughtered by the Indians.
Felicia wandered eastward through the Pineywoods for three days, until she finally found the Mission of San Francisco de las Tejas, located in the area known today as Weches.
The senorita stumbled into the mission with tattered, blood soaked clothing and frightened out of her mind. She had waded through deep creeks, through the thick dark pines, undetected by other Indian tribes in the area, and finally arrived at her original destination.
For three months, Felicia could not speak of the attack and did not mention the buried treasure. Some believed Felicia had no memory of the bloody tragedy she witnessed. Others believed she was waiting to recover in the safety of the mission until she could return to the area where she had buried her fortune, then carry out her original plan to build a home and start the finest horse ranch in all of East Texas.
Legend holds that Felicia found true happiness at the mission while she was waiting to recover. After living at the mission for several years, Felicia entered the order of nuns at the convent where she spent her days.
Eventually Felicia returned to Mexico and reunited with the family she had been estranged from for all those years she was in East Texas. She lived out the rest of her days in Mexico as a nun. Before Felicia died, she confided in one of her relatives about the events that took place after her father banished her to East Texas. She also told her relative about the buried treasure and sketched a detailed map of its whereabouts far away in the pines of East Texas.
Felicia’s relatives stored the map away with other family treasures and keepsakes. It was many years before someone stumbled upon Felicia’s treasure map stored away in an old family trunk. As the descendants studied the map and the descriptions scribbled on the map, the old Cortez buried treasure story they had heard their entire lives took on a new meaning. The family was excited and immediately formed a search party to travel to East Texas and reclaim their family fortune.
Felicia’s map told of a land far away in East Texas that was a wild unsettled pineywood wilderness. Yet, when the Cortez family finally arrived, at the turn of the century, in the early 1900’s, it was now a settled location full of homesteads and farms. Much had changed in East Texas since Felicia had buried her fortune in the shallow trench in Elkhart.
While the Cortez family did not have hostile Indians to contend with, the curious eyes of settlers who had established the area stared holes through them as they wandered about looking for the areas Felicia had described. They excavated and argued for several days around the area believed to be the site Felicia described. Their dig yielded no Mexican gold bars, coins, or jewels. The Cortez family left East Texas empty-handed and disheartened.
Stories of Mexican buried treasure spread like wildfire throughout East Texas. People came from miles around with shovels in hand to dig for the Mexican fortune; however, Felicia’s fortune was never found.
Locals tell tales of a ghostly nun who roams about the old historic Pilgrim Cemetery near Elkhart. Some say this feminine apparition is Felicia Cortez and she is guarding her fortune of gold bars, coins and jewels. No one has ever taken credit for the discovery of Felicia’s fortune, but area residents still reminisce about the buried treasure near Elkhart and those who visit the old Pilgrim Cemetery are always on the lookout for a determined seniorita who guards her family fortune.
By Dana Goolsby