State Treasures - Florida

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 50 of the May, 2010 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2010 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved


Ancient Military Caches
Buried in Florida
STATE OF FLORIDA – A man of strong conviction and vision, Hernando De Soto (c.1496/1500 - 1542) sold everything he owned to finance what was called the “best equipped expedition that had ever set out for conquest in the New World.”
De Soto’s expedition sailed for the New World from Sanlúcar, Spain, on April 6, 1538. Four years later, he died on the banks of the Mississippi River, leaving behind the secret to several buried caches in Florida holding mostly 16th century Spanish military artifacts.
Bestowed upon de Soto by King Carlos V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1536, de Soto held the titles of Governor of Cuba and Adelantado of Florida.
His expedition consisted of 950 soldiers, eight priests, women, horses, mules, pigs and war-dogs. The Armada under his command was made up of 10 sailing ships; their destination was Cuba, where de Soto would establish his headquarters and plan for his expedition into the uncharted Florida wilderness.
While in Cuba, Governor de Soto visited the towns near Santiago where he was well received and did what he could to improve their condition.
But his attention remained on Florida, where de Soto believed he’d find gold and recover his losses for financing his expedition.
Then, on May 18, 1539, de Soto set sail with nine vessels and 1,000 men for Florida, landing at Tampa Bay on May 25th.
The army landed on Friday, May 30th, and so began a three-year exploration of the New World.
De Soto lead his expedition north and, beyond the bay, he found a wild jungle with impassable undergrowth, scum covered ponds and a maze of wetlands.
Passage may have been impossible, or at least heavily restricted, had he not learned of trails of dry ground from the local Indians.
Averaging 14 miles a day, the expedition covered 197 miles in two weeks, arriving in the Tallahassee area.
Along the way, de Soto ordered his men to lighten their load by burying their heavy equipment, such as mattocks, weapons and spare armor.
Since de Soto had engaged some hostile Indians during their journey north, he did not order all of his men to ditch their equipment all at once.
Therefore, the trail became dotted with several caches of military artifacts, which de Soto had intended to recover on his return trip.
But he never did return over this same route, which closely follows present-day Highway 19.

Half-Ton of Gold Lost
in the Everglades
FLORIDA EVERGLADES - A half-ton shipment of gold, reported to have been worth $500,000 at the time, became lost in the Florida Everglades by a detachment of Confederate soldiers.
Following the war, attempts were made to locate the gold but all such efforts failed.
I don’t have a lot of details on this story so local research should help better pinpoint the vicinity where this treasure cache was made.
According to the story, a detachment of Confederate soldiers under the command of a Captain Riley were transporting this shipment of gold bullion, which was to be delivered to Confederate agents in Cuba.
But prior to delivering the shipment, the Confederate detachment was spotted by a Union patrol and soon after the rebel forces realized that a large force of Union cavalry was bearing down on them.
With few options available to him, Capt. Riley ordered his men to fall back into the infamous Everglades.
To keep the gold out of Union hands, Riley ordered a few of his men to bury the shipment while the rest prepared to make a stand.
As Union troopers approached the rebel line, Capt. Riley ordered his men to “Fire!”
Although the Confederates fought like demons, they soon fell to the superior force.
None survived and the whereabouts of the cache of gold became lost; its location today is still a mystery.
The Bowlegs Treasure
WALTON COUNTY – An enormous treasure hoard is said to have been buried in Walton County by a man named Billy Bowlegs.
To clarify, there were three noted men who used the moniker “Billy Bowlegs.” Holata Micco, aka “Chief Billy Bowlegs,” was a member of a ruling Seminole family who fought against the United States during the second and third Seminole Wars.
The second was William Augustus Bowles, who was stationed in Pensacola with the British army.
The third was William Rogers, a pirate who served under Lafitte. It is the pirate Billy Bowlegs that this story is based on.
According to legend, Bowlegs, who is said to have been a humble fisherman during the week and only engaged in piracy “on the weekends,” is also noted for doing quite well for only being a part-time pirate.
Tales say he buried several personal caches of looted treasure in Florida, including one near the mouth of a small river that empties into the Choctawhatchee Bay north of Fort Walton Beach.
This treasure hoard was reported to be valued at more than $5 million in gold and silver bullion, specie and some church treasure when it was buried in four large, brassbound chests during the 1840’s.
Today’s value would be enormous and, so far as is known, the Bowlegs Treasure has yet to be located.

Ghost Town Highlight:
St. Joseph, Florida
GULF COUNTY – Founded in 1835, St. Joseph, Florida, was once the largest town in Florida, boasting a population of around 7,000.
The town has the unique distinction of being the site where Florida’s statehood began.
From December 3, 1838, through January 11, 1839, St. Joseph is where the first Constitutional Convention met and penned the first draft of Florida’s constitution.
In 1841, the “Constitution City,” as St. Joseph was then known, was hit with a case of Yellow Fever brought by a ship that had docked in the Port of St. Joseph.
Within weeks, approximately 5,250 St. Joseph residents were dead.
Panic stricken townsfolk fled; many never looked back for their valuables, as no one knew how the disease spread, leaving their homes and community to the unseen and unholy forces at work there.
The commercial district sat abandoned; churches, the school and homes were left deserted.
For years the town stood empty; ships avoided its port and only a few fishermen braved to enter.
Then in 1844, a hurricane struck St. Joseph Bay and destroyed the town.
Today the site of St. Joseph lies two miles south of present-day Port St. Joe, at the intersection of Florida Highway 30 and Highway 30A.
Although nothing remains of the town itself, the ghost town site is likely to prove a great hunting spot for relic and cache hunters.
The story of St. Joseph has been preserved at the Constitutional Convention Museum State Park located at 200 Allen Memorial Way, Port St. Joe, Florida.

Sources:
Rother, Charlotte, “De Soto’s Florida Caches,” May 1977, Lost Treasure magazine, p. 28
University of South Florida, Hernando de Soto Arrives and Explores Florida, 2002, http://fcit.usf.edu/Florida/lessons/de_soto/de_soto1.htm
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, Hernando De Soto, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04753a.htm
Henry, Bill, “Confederate Gold in Florida,” March 1970, a, p. 55
Marx, Robert F, Buried Treasures – You can find, September 1993, Dallas, TX, Ram Publishing Company, p. 149
Henson, Michael Paul, America’s Lost Treasures, 1984, South Bend, IN, Jayco Publishing Company, P. 23
Wikipedia research, St. Joseph, Florida, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Joseph,_Florida