for National Geographic News
Treasure hunters digging on a remote bluff overlooking Florida's Suwannee River claim they have found tantalizing evidence that pirate gold might be at the bottom of a muddy, 13-foot (4-meter) hole.
"We've found mahogany wood samples, flecks of gold, and gold all over the diver's dive suit [after diving in the hole]," said Tommy Todd, a St. Petersburg landscaper who owns the property being excavated.
Workers drilling at the site said they also found a sheet of gold wrapped around the drill bit when they withdrew it. Todd was not immediately able to show evidence of these finds.
"We know there's something down there," he said.
Todd and his partners, whom he declined to name, may be closing in on a treasure that—according to local lore—was buried in the area some 200 years ago by Jean LaFitte.
LaFitte roamed the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century as a smuggler and privateer, though he reportedly described himself an entrepreneur and defender of American freedom.
The spot near Fowler's Bluff, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) upriver from where the Suwannee meets the Gulf, was a likely hangout for LaFitte and such notorious colleagues as Jose Gaspar, Billy "Bowlegs" Rogers, and Black Caesar (see map of the Suwannee River).
Todd thinks LaFitte may have left treasure chests on the property.
"We're close to it," Todd said. "There are some interesting things going on. Our goal is to wrap up this year."
Excavations "For Years and Years"
Whatever might be at the bottom of the hole, pulling it out will be tricky.
Beneath the mushy, silt-laden soil lies a "Swiss cheese honeycomb" of limestone, Todd said.
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