Thursday, September 18, 2008

Breton Island, A Really Big Treasure Hoax?

Is it possible that someone would go to all of the trouble to make up a treasure story just to get his or her name in the newspaper? It’s a rhetorical question folks, we all know people would and have. Should I mention some names? OK, on with the article.

This story comes to us from a man in Portland, Oregon, a shoe salesman no less, who claimed to be the only person alive that new the location of sixty-two million dollars of gold bullion. Now that’s 62 million dollars in 1862 money, I haven’t added anything for inflation!

According to L. R. Blackwell, sometime around 1900 he was sailing around the area that today is known as the Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge (conspiracy buffs are grinning right now) when he pulled into a small sandy island to look for game. According to Mr. Blackwell he took a small boat from his sloop to the island and just happened to land at a spot where an iron post was sticking out of the sand six feet high. Mr. Blackwell and his dog stepped onto the island at which time he spotted a rabbit and shot at it with his shotgun. He must have not been that great of a shot because the rabbit took off running to hide under some brush.

In searching for the rabbit Mr. Blackwell crawled into the brush and came across a large stone with some strange markings on it. He had know idea at the time what the markings were but he supposedly made a point of drawing them out and plotting the location of the island before sailing away, apparently without his rabbit. From this point Mr. Blackwell headed for New Orleans where he was going to sell his boat.

According to Mr. Blackwell the man who bought his boat wanted him to pull it out of the water so he could see the bottom of the boat so Mr. Blackwell sailed the boat across a small inlet and beached it on the sand. After pulling the boat out of the water Mr. Blackwell was tired and wondered into a vacant home. Once inside he found several old newspapers lying on the floor and in reading one of those while resting he came upon the story of a British steamship that was marooned during a hurricane in 1862. The steamship was supposedly named the Breton and was not marooned once but twice during two separate hurricanes just a few weeks apart.

According to Mr. Blackwell the steamship Breton was carrying sixty-two million dollars in gold bullion from Mexico to London for reparations to several European nations. Remember, this was supposed to have happened in 1862.

The story goes that the Captain of the steamship Breton knew that bad weather was coming but thought his ship could make it through because it was just going to be a storm. Unfortunately his storm turned out to be a hurricane. I guess he could forecast the weather about as well as the weathermen can today! Once the hurricane had passed the captain and crew, a total of 62 men, found themselves marooned on a sandy island with the ship completely out of water and several hundred feet from the shore. The Captain decided he wasn’t going to be able to get his boat back in the water and for safekeeping; he and his crew buried the gold bullion on this small sand island.

Once the Captain and crew buried all of the gold the Captain sent a group of several men in a small boat towards the closest settlement they knew of. It was supposedly about “sixty miles” away up the canals and bayous of Louisiana. OK, lets re-cap, we have 62 men on a boat in 1862 with 62 million dollars of gold stuck on an island after a hurricane and they are about sixty miles from the nearest settlement. Am I detecting a pattern here?

Sometime along the trip to the settlement one of the men decided he wanted out of the boat because he just couldn’t take it anymore, I know the feeling! This man was found several days later wondering the bayous “crazed with fever”. He was taken to a hospital in New Orleans where after a “couple of weeks in a delirium” he recovered consciousness and told the story of the gold and the others that were still shipwrecked. This very unlucky man died in the hospital just a few hours after telling his story.

Unbeknownst to the man in the hospital a second hurricane came along and washed the steamship off of the first island it was on and onto another island a little over a mile away. A rescue was mounted to save the other crewmembers but none were found. They supposedly found the ship on a sandy island and this is supposedly where the name of Breton Island is said to originate from. The group of men in the small boat that had dropped off our storyteller all supposedly perished.

Several searches were said to have been made on this second island for the massive treasure however it was never found. Apparently nobody looking for the treasure paid attention to the fact there were two hurricanes, one right after another and the second one moved the ship from one island to another.

This whole story comes from Mr. R.L. Blackburn of Portland, Oregon. He said that he hadn’t returned to retrieve the treasure because he couldn’t find a boat crew trustworthy enough to take on such a recovery.

When I first read this story in the Galveston Daily News (September 8, 1907) I thought “holy crap, this is great” but then my logical side kicked in and I started doing just a little more research and thinking. And for that guy in Hutchinson, I didn’t read the newspaper article on September 8, 1907, that’s when it was published. I’m old but not that old!

First, I tried to find mention of a British steamship named Breton. When that failed I looked for any ship, British or not and steamship or not named Breton and couldn’t find one. I also couldn’t find any corroboration of this story in any Louisiana newspapers where Mr. Blackwell said he first read the story. I also wondered just how Mr. Blackwell knew that the ship was moved from one island to another if none of the crew was ever found and the crewman who made it to the hospital didn’t know the second hurricane came along.

Does this treasure really exist? I will leave that up to you to decide. If you are interested in this treasure tale it will take some more research on your part to prove or disprove the story.

Breton Island actually consists of two adjacent islands, north and south. The two islands have a combined length of approximately three miles and they are about one mile wide. The two islands are part of a chain of barrier islands that include Chandeleur Island.

There are several other stories of treasure being buried in this chain of islands, especially on Chandeleur Island, mostly by pirates. It is said that in 1942 a fisherman found a cache of several thousand silver coins on the northern most island in this group of islands. The other stories appear to be a more legitimate than the one of teh steamship Breton.

If you are thinking about searching for any of these treasures you have just a few obstacles ahead of you.

To start with, all but one of the islands is part of a national wildlife refuge. As with most refuges, you can be on certain parts of the property but what you can legally do while there is limited, especially to us treasure hunters. If you are wondering (conspiracy theorists) the chain of islands were turned into a federal wildlife refuge in 1904 to save the nesting areas of several species of birds. Yea, right, who believes that? They just don’t want us getting any of that treasure!

Your next problem will be the islands themselves. They are made up of sand and silt (from the Mississippi River) and they change shape constantly due to the weather and especially hurricanes. Hurricane Katrina really did a number on them a few years back.

After that you have to worry about settling. Burying anything heavy in constantly shifting sands is going to make that heavy (and expensive) pile of metal continue to settle or sink in the sand. How far will it go in a century or two? How long is your probing rod?

There will be several more headaches if you decide to go playing in the sand but I’m sure you get the idea.

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