upon a time, a shower of shiny gold coins fell from the sky over Palo
Duro Canyon State Park south of Amarillo.
No, really. This isn’t a fairy tale. That actually happened one Saturday
in the late spring of 1949, a decade and a half after the scenic and history-rich
Panhandle park opened to the public on July 4, 1934. Of course, the coins that
rained down on the canyon that day were only brass with gold-looking plating called
Even so, the metallic manna-from-heaven-style event drew a big
crowd to the rim of the canyon and may have netted two lucky people all-expense-paid,
eight-day vacations to Havana, Cuba. That was back during the long dictatorship
of President Fulgencio Batista when Havana was a wide-open party town controlled
by the American mafia.
May 28, 1949, an airplane flew over the nation’s second-largest canyon
and dropped 10,000 coins over the park,
which then covered some 16,000 acres and now includes nearly 30,000 acres. A thousand
of the coins would be redeemable for prizes collectively valued at $10,000.
|Once the coins had
been dropped, Gov. Beauford H. Jester cut a ribbon at the entrance to the canyon
to trigger a 20th century “gold” rush and the earliest large-scale effort to position
the canyon as a major
Panhandle tourist destination.
were bracing for a turnout of 100,000 people that day, but whether that large
a crowd actually showed up was not reported. No matter the number, the driver
of each car entering the park had to pay 42 cents, plus 24 cents for any additional
adult in the vehicle. Children got in for 12 cents.
As soon as the visitors
could drive down to the floor of the canyon
and get their cars parked, the treasure hunt began. What they hoped to find was
a coin that on one side bore the legend “Texas Palo Duro Canyon Treasure Hunt
1949.” The other side featured a 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 near the bottom of the
coin. All the coins with numbers ending in seven netted the finder a prize if
claimed by Labor Day 1949.
Courtesy rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
| Other than the grand
prizes, finders had a shot at season passes to Amarillo
Gold Sox home games; a $250 diamond ring donated by an Amarillo
jeweler; and two registered quarter horses from Panhandle
rancher Glenn L. Casey. |
An organization called the Palo Duro Canyon Boosters
Club sponsored the effort. Contemporary newspaper coverage in advance of and after
the event doesn’t reveal whose brainchild this campaign had been, but whoever
dreamed it up hit a public relations homerun. It might have been F.W. “Fist” Ansley
(1899-1979), chairman of the club.
Since Braniff Airways had put up the
top prizes, that pioneer aviation company doubtless played a role in the publicity
campaign. In fact, some PR type at the company’s Dallas
headquarters may well have come up with the idea of cashing in on the fact that
1949 marked the centennial of the great California gold rush.
Duro ‘gold rush’ is being held by the boosters club to solicit membership
and appropriate funds and gifts to advertise Palo
Duro Canyon attractions throughout the country,” read a news release widely
published in Texas newspapers before the event. “A program of events will be scheduled
to attract people to this region and to draw steady tourist trade to the Panhandle.”
The organization hoped to gain as many new members as the number of coins
dropped from above, each membership costing $1. Whether that happened was not
reported, but given that people are generally more interested in getting something
for nothing than spending a dollar when that much money could buy nearly a quarter-tank
of gasoline, it’s hard to believe the boosters reached their hoped-for number.
decades later, park visitors still occasionally find one of the coins from the
Palo Duro Gold Rush of 1949. Unfortunately, though nice collectibles, they no
longer are redeemable for prizes.
March 18, 2011
Palo Duro Canyon
State Park | Amarillo
| Texas State Parks |
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