TexasEscapes.com  
HOME : : NEW : : TEXAS TOWNS : : GHOST TOWNS : : TEXAS HOTELS : : FEATURES : : COLUMNS : : BUILDINGS : : IMAGES : : ARCHIVE : : SITE MAP
PEOPLE : : PLACES : : THINGS : : HOTELS : : VACATION PACKAGES
TEXAS TOWNS
Texas Escapes
Online Magazine
Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Palo Duro Gold Rush

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Once 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 “goldine.”

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.

On 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.
Palo Duro Canyon view from top - Texas State Park
View of Palo Duro Canyon
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson
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.

Park officials 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 www.palodurocanyon.org
The  Lighthouse, Palo Duro Park, West Texas
"The Lighthouse"
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.

“The Palo 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.

Six 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.


© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
March 18, 2011 column

See: Palo Duro Canyon State Park | Amarillo | Texas State Parks |
Books by Mike Cox - Order Here
Related Topics:
Columns | People | Texas Towns | Texas
Custom Search
TEXAS ESCAPES CONTENTS
HOME | TEXAS ESCAPES ONLINE MAGAZINE | HOTELS | SEARCH SITE
TEXAS TOWN LIST | TEXAS GHOST TOWNS | TEXAS COUNTIES

Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast
TRIPS | STATES PARKS | RIVERS | LAKES | DRIVES | FORTS | MAPS

Texas Attractions
TEXAS FEATURES
People | Ghosts | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Texas Centennial | Black History | Art | Music | Animals | Books | Food
COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

TEXAS ARCHITECTURE | IMAGES
Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Rooms with a Past | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Stores | Banks | Drive-by Architecture | Signs | Ghost Signs | Old Neon | Murals | Then & Now
Vintage Photos

TRAVEL RESERVATIONS | USA | MEXICO

Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes. All Rights Reserved