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spreading oak tree Chapter 1

spreading oak tree Chapter 1

Under the spreading oak tree

Chapter one
South central Texas has some colorful history however it was sparsely populated until after the turn of the century. Not much remains to show folks the earlier history of their area. My metal detecting hobby has opened up an appreciation of our local history and I have to say that early sites are hard to find here and so much is paved over that it is almost a waste of time to look for remains of the older sites. Early in the 1800’s Galveston island was the hangout of Jean Lafitte’s pirate gang. Up to a thousand musketee’s were there and pirated the gold and silver from the Spanish ships that came into the Gulf of Mexico. After Lafitte was forced to leave the island he burned down the Campeche settlement and left little remains. Lafitte fought the local Indians who lived all through the area and reports have indicated that they were savage to the extreme and practiced cannibalism when they tired of their diet of clams. When I grew into a young boy I saw huge piles of clamshells and wondered why someone dumped them there along the water but if I had only known… Early settlers had a difficult time in the earlier 1800’s but as the Texans defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto near here and Texas became a state in the Union more folks moved into the area. The Civil war had some battles in Texas and many Confederate camps were located all around the surrounding area. After the Civil war many more people moved into this area with just a few carpetbaggers among them. Small communities begin to spring up along the railroads and the city of Houston began to grow fast. Lost in the stampede to build more subdivisions were the remains of the earlier settlements and with the spreading population the area was quickly covered with new growth. Not much was thought about preserving historic sites or preventing the developers from paving the interesting old sites.

Today as we drive through the older towns we see so little of the early history and while we live life in the fast lane we cannot perceive the larger picture or gain the perspective that the history provides. When I drive the roads I always keep one eye on the road and one eye looking for older sites. Driving down the road to the area where I was to build my new home I passed by an old church. You always know that its old when there is a graveyard next to it or the trees indicate the age. At this site there was a great old spreading oak tree which was huge and I knew that it must have been the center of activity for this little town. I knew that no one would want someone digging in that fine old church yard and so as I try to follow the Golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” I just wrote off any chance of metal detecting under that fine old oak tree. Later I looked at a local history book at the library which spoke about an early Academy/Church build in 1895 and figured that it must be very near that old oak tree. Sure enough behind the old oak tree was the location of the old building. This was not just a building, but the very heart of this early town. There was some farming in the area and the main business was a fig factory that employed many workers. To my knowledge all of the folks in the town belonged to the old church which had its meetings in the old Academy. I found pictures of this old building and some early pictures of the town. Of course this fired my imagination as to old artifacts and coins that may be found in some of the old sites. Time wore on and I drove past the church and the old tree one day and my wife exclaimed “There is an orange fence there around the tree and they are going to build there”. This was too much to hope for that at last I might have an opportunity to dig near the old tree. I entered the rear of the church and spoke to the pastor and several folks who said that the site was going to be leveled anyway and they didn’t see a problem with my metal detecting it but I was given the name of an elder of the church to call and that evening I received the long awaited permission.

The first day that I could venture out onto the site was dripping rain with impending heavy rains moving into the area. My wife came along and went into the library which was adjacent to the site. I walked onto the place and did not have any idea to what kind of readout that my machine would indicate. Of course the old Academy had been built and torn down on the site and I expected the area to be littered with nails and my expectation was correct. If fact there were so many nails that I realized I would need a very small coil to peek between the nails and see the older coins that may be hiding there. I got several weak peeps that indicated deep coins but was not able to pinpoint or read the depth because of the masking effect of the iron nails. I did find some things though and my first object which read a coin was six inches deep and silver. As I held it in my hands the rain droplets caused the mud to streak across the coin and I was looking for the familiar liberty or seated bust figures but I could not see them. Finally I could see Japanese writing on it and I shoved it into my pocket and was somewhat disgusted…. another foreign coin! I found some newer coins littered around the area and some older wheat pennies although not very old ones. I had hoped for something exciting and was a little disappointed as I drove home. The ground was soaked gumbo clay that stuck on my digging trowel and the wet grass had soaked my shoes. Later I went to see a friend who had a book on world coins and he found the picture of the coin that was made from the mid 1800’s through 1905 wow! an old coin after all. The coin was worn lightly but at least fine condition and as I thought back over the early history I recalled that there were several Japanese farmers who settled near here and this may have been in the pocket of one of the children as he or she attended the school. When you can make contact with the past and hold a piece of it in you hands to realize who held this last you can really feel a closer tie to it. It turns out that the 20 sen silver coin is a type one year 24 or 1891 with a dragon on the front and flower on the back. I had to ask a Japanese lady to read the date for me because my Japanese is a little rusty. I look with excitement at my next visit to the site and I will bring a smaller coil which may be able to see around the masking effect of the rusty nails and locate some other reminders of our history. We are experiencing daily heavy rains now so I can’t go back for several days at least and water is standing everywhere.




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