Jim Bradshaw: William Harguder's search for a pirate's treasure
William Hargruder was 83 years old in 1910, when he finally figured out where Jean Lafitte had buried treasure that Hargruder believed to be worth $32 million. Luckily, he was still a vigorous fellow who had the wherewithal to put together a big expedition to find it.
There are missing pieces in accounts in newspapers and magazines (there always are in stories about buried treasure), but Captain Hargruder, “a sailor of many years’ experience.” had “given the lost treasure of Jean Lafitte a lifetime study,” according to the St. Landry Chronicle. He’d already spent “large sums of money” on three expeditions that turned up no treasure, but they uncovered clues that made him sure he was closing in on his goal. And, besides, he figured, it’s worth spending a sizable amount of money to get a $32 million reward.
According to the sketchy accounts, Hargruder’s father sailed with Lafitte and left his son some old charts “with strange markings on them.” They apparently gave some clues about where to look, but it wasn’t until the spring of 1910 that the son discovered the key that unlocked the mystery.
“In addition to the records which have been in the possession of Captain Hargruder,” the news account said, “he has recently come into possession of another original chart which describes the position of the lost treasure so definitely, and gives such well established landmarks, that it will be but very little labor and expense to get (to) the exact location described, where it is expected, from figures on this chart, the $32,000,000 … will be found.”
It was a big mystery about exactly where he was going when Hargruder, who lived in Church Point at the time, left Opelousas by rail on April 10, heading for Mermentau, where his expedition was expected to “embark on a specially equipped steam launch” and travel via the Mermentau River to White Lake, “in which vicinity it is supposed the search will be made.”
The captain may have expected to need “but very little labor” to find the hoard, but he still took with him “a geologist, a mining engineer, a civil engineer, and a large corps of laborers,” according to Americana magazine. And, even though it appeared to be perfectly clear where to look, he told the magazine he was “willing to spend the rest of his life on his quest.”
An article in the Orange, Texas, newspaper a month later said the people there were “greatly interested in the search,” and that Hargruder was indeed investigating White Lake, with plans to “make a thorough search of all … places adjacent to the lake where it is thought likely that the wily pirate may have secreted his treasure.”
Alas, the new-found clues were not as precise as the captain believed them to be, or, more likely, Lafitte never had $32 million to bury. If he did bury his treasure near White Lake, it’s still there. Americana magazine reported in early 1911 that “up to the end of 1910 they had not yet achieved success . . . though they were still persevering.”
A newspaper article some time later tells about “an old citizen” in Vermilion Parish who ran off a band of men who turned up one night to secretly dig for treasure on “the old LeBlanc place” near the Perry community.
The old citizen said that about 25 years earlier he was shown a chart written in Creole French “which gave the location of buried treasure in a lake a certain distance from a bend in the Mermentau River.” He said he didn’t know what became of the chart, but speculated that it might be the one Hargruder used.
The old-timer said he didn’t pay close attention to the chart, but remembered that the description was “very vague.” He pointed out “there are many bends in the river and several lakes in Vermilion Parish.”
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.