"Price Choat, after leading bands of treasure hunters on the plea that [Jean Lafitte's] treasure had been found but could not be had, succeeded in inducing several parties [into] giving between 10,000 to 20,000 dollars to their so-said adventurers to get hundreds [of] thousands of dollars which were to be recovered. Sheriff Lyon ... captured Choat and lodged him in jail in Abbeville, followed by the arrest of the others."
Whatever happened to him, Choat was not the first and would not be the last to lead folk on a merry hunt for Lafitte's fabled treasure. Find a spot near a river or lake where there is an old, tall tree and a little bit of a hill, and you will probably also find an old story that Lafitte buried his treasure at that spot. The fact that most of these places have been searched and searched again by generations of treasure hunters somehow does not diminish the idea that there's gold and silver and diamonds and doubloons still to be found.
When I was a kid growing up on the lake bank in Lake Charles, I was dead certain that the treasure was buried in the front yard of a mansion on Shell Beach Drive. There was a big oak tree near the water's edge, and a hook set into it so long before that the tree had almost grown completely around it. Lafitte was said to have tied his boat to that hook (or maybe I dreamed that up).
Having read my Mark Twain as well as Lyle Saxon's Lafitte story, I was well aware, as Huckleberry Finn was told, that pirates buried their treasure at the point where the shadow cast during a full moon of the tallest tree on the riverbank fell at midnight. Trying to figure out how tall the Shell Beach tree was in Lafitte's day and where its shadow would have fallen stirred my first interest in trigonometry--but uncovered no treasure.
My idea that Lafitte haunted the lake area was supported by an old Calcasieu Parish history that reported "on the river is to this day called Money Hill, and is pointed out as the spot where Lafitte buried his money."
It continued: "For fifty years the people of the country have occasionally been digging for it, but the proprietor has stopped it. Contraband Bayou [which runs through Lake Charles] is also pointed out as having had a depot at its head for the stowing of the goods these pirates smuggled into the country."
In Vermilion Parish, where Choat was arrested, stories have long circulated that untold riches were buried on Pecan Island. If that's true, the booty is buried deep. Treasure hunters have scoured the island for years and found little for their work.
Another tale relates how James Campbell, a trusted Lafitte lieutenant, plundered gold and silver from Spanish ships during a ten-month voyage from February to November 1820, returning to Louisiana only when it ran out of fresh water. But his ship, the Hotspur, ran aground in shallow water near the mouth of the Mermentau River. Campbell and his crew were able to salvage only a small portion of the Spanish gold and silver before the wreckage of his ship was pushed by waves and tides into deep water.
If the story's true, the Hotspur and the gold are still waiting to be found.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.