The contents of Clyde Longworth’s bucket of beach finds will vary on any given day from pocket change to pull tabs and from bottle caps to engagement rings. He has also found his share of weapons on Galveston beaches including knives, bullets and, most recently, a stripped-down gun with the serial numbers filed off.
“I figure the knives can easily fall out of someone’s pockets, but the gun was tossed to get lost, in my opinion,” he said.
Longworth, 66, is a native Texan and a long-time Galveston resident. In an effort to find a hobby that he could enjoy with his daughter, Longworth bought her a metal detector and they went foraging together for her 12th birthday.
“After a few hours, 42 cents, and a pound of pull tabs and bottle caps, she was done. She got bit by mosquitos and ants, but I got bit by the hunt for treasure.”
Over the next 13 years, Longworth spent a lot of his free time sifting through island sands, searching for the “big find.” And he’s found quite a few.
“On your best days you strike gold, literally. And on the worst days you can run into jellyfish, jagged pieces of metal, fishing hooks, and alligators.”
Longworth is not surprised at the amount of jewelry he finds buried, both in and out of the water, on beaches on Galveston Island, the Bolivar Peninsula, or at the San Luis Pass.
“If you love it, don’t wear it to the beach. The water is colder than your body temperature and this will make your fingers shrink. On top of that, you’re all greased up with lotion, making it even easier for jewelry to slip off,” Longworth said.
“It’s simple, basic science. Your body wants to maintain a core temperature of 98.6 degrees. You get into 80-degree water, and you can lose up to three ring sizes. Or you take a ring off and leave it wrapped in a towel for safekeeping, and then one of the kids comes over and shakes it off into the sand. Best to leave your jewels at home.”
If there are identifiers - like inscriptions or dates - on a piece, Longworth will make every effort to find the owner.
“If I find a high-value piece, or a piece that has obvious identifiers, I will place a classified ad in the daily paper and search social media sites to see if someone has posted about a lost ring.”
Oftentimes the owners of lost rings will contact Longworth or his business partner, Scott Pearse, directly. A few years ago, the two treasure hunters opened Galveston Metal Detecting Services and their return rate has been pretty favorable.
“We have found all but three rings on calls we got in 2023,” Longworth said. They charge a flat fee to come out and search an area and a recovery fee if the item is found. “Grateful owners have been very generous when their rings are returned.”
Over the years, Galveston beachcombers have found skulls and bones of dolphins, whales, turtles, and birds. Longworth said skeletal discs from dolphins are fairly common but ribs from whales and shells from sea turtles are rare.
Dolphins, turtles, and whales are federally protected species, and it may be illegal to keep any part of these skeletal remains. It would be best to check federal sites before removing these items from the beach.
The bones of the sail catfish, also called the crucifix fish, named for its cross-like carcass, have no such protections and are typically found on the beach in spring, said west end homeowner John Rothbauer.
“I was walking the beach on Easter morning, shortly after my son passed away, when I found a crucifix fish carcass. I marveled at the timing and felt it was a sign from my son,” Rothbauer said.
Rothbauer has also collected hundreds of sharks’ teeth from what they have identified as seven different species on Galveston beaches. He and his wife Maggie are an adventurous couple that makes “yard art” out of little treasures that wash ashore - like using hard hats from the rigs that wash up on beaches to make ladybugs that adorn the trees at their hill country home.
The sand is also rich, Longworth says, with odd finds like World War II brass pieces and other antiques, after dredging is done from deeper seabeds and placed on the shore of our island beaches. And, as for buried treasure from pirates like Jean Lafitte, Longworth says he is confident that caches of pirate gold are non-existent.
“Pirates are criminals. Criminals don’t bury their treasure. They spend it,” he said.
If you’re going to dig for treasures on Galveston beaches, beachcombers ask that you please fill in any holes to avoid injury to others. They also remind everyone that you are not allowed to dig on private property as you can be fined or lose your equipment.
If you are interested in learning more about beachcombing, the Galveston Island Treasure Club meets every third Tuesday of the month at the Lighthouse Charities Building, 6918 Broadway in Galveston, at 6 pm. Or you can contact the Texas Association of Metal Detecting Clubs or visit the Galveston Island Treasure Club Facebook page.