For those who have traveled through the Texas Panhandle, no doubt you thought there’s nothing but prairie with yucca and mesquite splattered along the way plus windmills, wind generators, oil wells, and millions of cattle. If you’re lucky you might see a longhorn or a buffalo or two. Of course, if you’re near Amarillo, where I live, you might well have received a welcoming whiff of a feed yard, which in the summer time isn’t all that pleasant.
If you have spent any time in the area you most likely have visited the most astonishing natural phenomena in the Panhandle known as the Grand Canyon of Texas—the Palo Duro Canyon. It was formed by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The water deepens the canyon by moving sediment downstream. Wind and water erosion gradually widen the canyon.
The Canyon itself is 120 miles long and in some places is twenty miles wide with a depth of more than eight hundred feet. Its elevation at the rim is 3,500 feet above sea level. The Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the United States behind the Grand Canyon, which is 277 miles long, eighteen miles wide, and six thousand feet deep.
Early Spanish Explorers are believed to have discovered the area and gave it its name, which is Spanish for “hard wood” in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees. Humans have lived in the canyon for over twelve thousand years. Over the centuries it has been home to the Comanche Indians, trailblazers, outlaws, and the famous Father of the Panhandle, Col. Charles Goodnight.
On July 4, 1934, viagra online pharmacy Palo Duro State Park was opened and contains over twenty-nine thousand acres of the scenic, northern most portion of the canyon. The Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930′s constructed most of the buildings and roads still in use by park staff and visitors. The individual cabins, known as the Cow Camp facilities, are still in existence and can be rented for a wonderful, rustic retreat.
But there’s nothing that fires up the imagination about what all went on in Palo Duro Canyon like the tales of the lost treasurers that is supposed to have been buried there. Historians have documented stories of gold being hidden by the Commancheros. And, then there’s an Army payroll that is supposed to have been absconded by outlaws and buried in their hideout. There’s more than one story about gold prospectors vanishing and their loot disappearing in the canyon. Another story has Indians killing Fergus Dooley, taking his horses, and finding some $40,000 in gold coins lying on the ground. Four of the coins are thought to have been found. The rest have not. So, did they steal all but a few coins or have these just resurfaced from being buried deep in the walls of the canyon? Another tale alleges that pioneers traveling through here long ago lost a cache of $20 gold coins that have never been found.
But, the most famous documented story didn’t take place when the Panhandle was wild and unsettled except by buffalo hunters and Indians, but took place when shiny gold coins fell from the sky over the canyon.
In the spring of 1949, a decade and a half after the scenic and history-rich park opened, gold coins literally fell from the skies deep into the canyon to a large crowd, estimated to be about a hundred thousand, who had gathered to take their chances at winning an all-expense-paid vacation to Havana, Cuba. Now, I must note here that at the time Havana was a wide-open party town and purportedly controlled by the American mafia.
Oh yes, and the ten thousand coins that rained down were “goldine” which is brass with gold-looking plating. One side of the prize coins bore the legend “Texas Palo Duro Canyon Treasure Hunt 1949”, while the other side featured the raised image of the park’s most famous landmark, the towering rock formation called the Lighthouse. A number had been stamped across the lower part of the Lighthouse and if it ended in a seven the finder could claim their prize by Labor Day 1949. Of the ten thousand dropped, only a thousand could be redeemed for prizes collectively valued at $10,000.00.
Of interest, the driver of each car that entered the park that day had to pay $.42 plus $.24 for each additional occupant except for children who only paid $.12 each. Today the rate is $5.00 per person, but educational groups are granted waivers.
Once the coins were dropped, then Governor Buford H. Jester cut a ribbon that triggered the twentieth-century “gold rush” and the earliest large scale effort to bring attention to one of the Panhandle’s major tourist destinations.
As soon as the visitors could drive down the steep road into the floor of the canyon, the treasure hunt began. Other than the grand prizes, finders had a shot at season passes to Amarillo Gold Sox Baseball team home games, a $250 diamond ring donated by a jeweler, and two registered quarter horses from Panhandle rancher, Glenn L. Casey.
An organization called the Palo Duro Canyon Booster Club sponsored the event and there was a publicity campaign in advance of and after the affair. I don’t believe it was ever revealed whose brainchild it was, but they hit a public relations home run. It has been reported, but I couldn’t find confirmation, that the organization’s Chairman, F.W. “Fist” Ansley thought up the idea.
Another explanation might be that since Braniff Airlines put up the top prizes, the pioneer aviation company no doubt played a role in the publicity campaign. In fact, it was later thought that the promotion came about because 1949 marked the centennial of the great California gold rush.
Over six decades later, park visitors occasionally find one of the coins; but unfortunately, though nice collectibles, they are no longer redeemable for prizes.
Have you ever visited Palo Duro Canyon or the Grand Canyon?