Searching for Jean Lafitte’s Gold in the Sabine River — “And now you know” by Mike Louviere

Published 12:18 am Friday, February 25, 2022

For more than 100 years there have been questions about Jean Lafitte sailing up the Sabine River and leaving a cache of gold buried on the bank or in the river.

In August 1965 Coastal Diving Company of Bridge City started a dredging operation to remove sand and silt from an object that may have been a ship in the Old Sabine River near Niblett’s Bluff.

The site was 19 miles north of Orange and two miles above Niblett’s Bluff.

Coastal Diving took a tugboat, barge and a 70-feet-long lift to the site. The lift was believed strong enough to lift a ship, if there was a ship there, after 20 to 25 feet of silt and sand was removed.

Dick Connally of Coastal Diving said, “Actually we can’t say it is a ship. We just know there is something down there. It is about 45 feet long and about 12 to 15 feet wide. From the depth of the ‘ship,’ we estimate it is at least 150 years old. At least we think it has been down there that long. It is expected that it will take one to two weeks to uncover the ship.”

Sabine Irrigation Company maintained a pumping station near the site. The irrigation company closed its gate and built a fence with ‘Keep Out’ and ‘No Trespassing’ signs displayed.

A barricade was also constructed to keep out the curious, the press and Coastal Diving personnel from crossing Sabine Irrigation property. Those actions made the site accessible only by water.

“I have my orders. We cannot have people coming in here all the time to see the operations. We have nothing against history,”, said Thomas Perkins, spokesman for the irrigation company.

Jack Holstead, manager of the pumping plant said, “I have never gotten excited about this boat, but I would like to see it raised. It would be good for the area. But we cannot have people coming in here and disrupting the operations of the pumping plant. Until we receive orders to the contrary, gates will remain closed and no one will be admitted.”

There was and had been an aura of mystery and suspense about this site and what lay under the sand and silt. Legend said it was a ship Lafitte sunk or said he sunk in the Old Sabine River while being pursued by a federal gunboat.

Another site near Niblett’s Bluff, 40 Gums, had previously been searched. There were a number of gum trees growing in the shape of a ship and it was thought this could be the site of one of Lafitte’s ships.

Part of the speculation about Lafitte being on the Sabine River came from the fact that Richard Ballew, who had been one of Lafitte’s pirate crewmen, had a site on the river where he operated a ferry. Ballew’s site was in the “Neutral Strip,” where law from the United States had no authority.

Some of Lafitte’s ships had brought slaves to Ballew’s land for sale to buyers from Louisiana.

Even though the activities of Ballew were verified, it was never ascertained Lafitte, himself, ever sailed on the Sabine River.

The late Louis Dugas, attorney and historian from Orange, said on several occasions he did not believe Lafitte had ever gone up the Sabine River because there was only one way up and down the river.

Dugas believed Lafitte was too smart to allow himself to be in a situation with only one way out if he was pursued.

Lafitte did sail on the Calcasieu River, Calcasieu Lake and Contraband Bayou. On those waterways he did have several ways to evade those wanting to capture him.

There are numerous stories about Lafitte’s treasure of gold, gold coins and silver bars, but there has never been conclusive evidence of anything being found on the Sabine River.

“And now you know”

— Written by Mike Louviere