Author William Sidney Porter lived in Austin from 1884-1896. Later known by his pseudonym O. Henry, he wrote in 1894, “It is a well-known tradition in Austin and vicinity that there is a buried treasure of great value on the banks of Shoal Creek, about a mile west of the city…”

During the 1890s, Austin was swept by gold fever. While the rumors of buried treasure had long existed, Porter claimed to have heard the story from a reliable source. As the story goes, in 1836 a Mexican general, a paymaster and a few soldiers stole a Mexican army payroll of gold coins and buried it along the banks of Shoal Creek. The loot was to be retrieved at a later date, but the thieves never returned.

These rumors of buried Mexican gold compelled treasure hunters, including prominent locals, to dig in the area for years. Large holes were dug along Shoal Creek in the hopes of finding the treasure.

A.J. “Dad” Jernigan, the well-known and respected Travis County Treasurer, was one who was swayed by the rumors of lost gold. Duped by a courthouse janitor who claimed to know where the treasure was buried, Jernigan borrowed over $4,500 from the county coffers to help fund digging. The ruse was exposed, no gold was found, and unable to repay his dues, Jernigan committed suicide in his courthouse office on December 31, 1896. 

A.J. Jernigan Inquest, Travis County Archives
A.J. Jernigan Inquest, Travis County Archives

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