November 27, 2022

The Jimmy Crossbones Treasure

One man’s story of incredible Spanish treasure recovered on a Florida beach

Chicago, IL (March 17, 2020) – Millions of visitors travel to Florida each year for recreation and fun in the sun, and every year they leave precious items behind. Native Floridians flock to Florida’s beaches as well, also depositing various treasures to be lost forever. That is, until someone else comes along and digs them up.  

Florida is a metal detectorist’s dream. If there are people, there will always be something left on the beaches. Coins, jewelry, and other kinds of valuable items are lost and found every year. On some occasions, the owners of such items can be tracked down and the lost items returned. More often, however, the newly found treasures become the possessions of the people who found them.

Florida is also known for another kind of treasure, which includes Spanish gold, silver, jewels, and priceless artifacts lost at sea. Over the centuries, hundreds of ships have sunk off the coast of Florida and all along the eastern seaboard of the United States. In fact, one region of Florida is famously called The Treasure Coast. This area along the Atlantic Ocean is comprised of Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin counties. The term Treasure Coast began to be used in the early 1960’s, as treasure hunters began to discover the remnants of the now well-known 1715 Spanish Fleet. 

During those early years, a local building contractor named Kip Wagner embarked on a project to conduct extensive research of the 1715 Fleet and where its treasure may be located. In 1966, by then a well-known treasure finder, Wagner co-wrote the book, Pieces of Eight, Recovering the Riches of a Lost Spanish Treasure Fleet. Many other books and articles have since been written about the 1715 Plate Fleet, its treasures, and various salvage efforts.

The fleet was an armada of twelve Spanish galleons fully loaded with untold riches, personal items, contraband and provisions for the ships’ crew. It was sailing north from Cuba along the east coast of Florida back to Spain to fill the King’s treasury with the riches of the New World. Tragedy struck in the early hours of July 31, 1715, when the ships were engulfed in the full fury of the wind and waves of a raging hurricane. The captains and crews fought heroically for hours to save their ships and their own lives, but eleven of the twelve ships were lost to the sea. Over 1,500 sailors perished during the storm, and lost treasure and cargo became scattered along the ocean floor for miles around the area, from south of Fort Pierce to Sebastian in the north. 

For decades, professional and amateur treasure hunters have been searching for the treasures of the 1715 Fleet with some success. Every summer, a dozen or more dive boats set out to search the shallow waters of the area. They do this legally under the auspices of 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels LLC, which owns the salvage rights under lease from the State of Florida. To date, millions of dollars in valuable treasure in the form of gold escudos, silver reales, and valuable artifacts have been recovered by the divers on these boats. It is well known that there is still a large amount of treasure to be found, and that is what drives the treasure hunters to keep going. 

After every major storm or hurricane, treasure hunters and metal detectorist alike hasten to Treasure Coast beaches to search for treasures that may be laying beneath the shifting sands. More than a few have been successful at finding them. The rest of this story is about a man who did just that.

Meet my friend, Jim Tippitt, aka Jimmy Crossbones, who found a trove of Spanish treasure and relics on a Florida beach with his metal detector.

Jim is a friendly sort and easy to talk with. With a slight smile and a reserved manner, he makes you feel comfortable in conversation. His southern drawl immediately gives away his heritage. Jim grew up in Tennessee and is a rugged outdoorsman, tanned and fit with short cropped white hair and a goatee. It would be appropriate to mention that Jim is a distant relative of Davy Crockett, a popular hero of American folklore who also hailed from Tennessee. However, Jim has replaced the famous Crockett coon-skin hat for a Minelab baseball cap embroidered with his custom Jimmy Crossbones logo.

Jim speaks softly and not often, but one should not be fooled. He draws on years of experience and knowledge garnered within the hobby and has multiple displays of relics and artifacts as evidence of his success. He and his wife Linda love being near the ocean and Jim is a certified SCUBA diver. When I think about the Spanish galleons that sailed across the Atlantic, I can almost imagine Jim captaining one of them. He would have made a successful captain or pirate.   

My wife Gail and I first met Jim and Linda in 2016 at a meeting of the Central Florida Metal Detecting Club (CFMDC) in DeBary, Florida. Upon retirement in 2008, Jim and Linda had moved to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where they joined the CFMDC club and quickly made friends. Working and traveling with some of those friends, Jim became very accomplished in the hobby of metal detecting. His favorite kind of detecting is searching for civil war artifacts, closely followed by finding colonial-era relics. In fact, he has quite a collection of both. He often travels back to Tennessee and other states in the south and mid-Atlantic region to pursue his hobby. And thanks to where he lives, Jim spends a fair amount of time metal detecting along the beaches on the east coast of Florida. These days, his detector of choice is a Minelab CTX 3030, considered by many to be one of the best metal detectors ever developed. Jim will tell you that knowing every aspect of the detector is key to being successful in pursuit of coins and relics.

One morning, he was detecting along a stretch of beach that had a significant amount of sand washed out from winter storms. It was just another partly cloudy day on the beach. Jim recovered what appeared to be a flat and blackened, odd-shaped piece of metal. Intrigued but not sure what it was, he put it in his pocket and kept searching. Not long after, he found two more of the unusual, metal objects. He began to wonder if these were silver cobs of Spanish origin. After detecting a bit longer, Jim discerned a good signal on the detector’s headphones, a signal he knew was worth checking out. Could this be a gold ring? Indeed, it was gold, but it was small and unusual. It looked like a gold cuff link, but not just any cuff link. This one looked special. Jim called a friend and received confirmation of his suspicion. This was more than likely a tiny lost treasure from the 1715 Fleet. His excitement overflowed. Could there possibly be more?

Jim was about to embark on an amazing adventure and encounter a few sleepless nights over the next several weeks. Another morning, another signal, and more gold. This time, it was a gold 8 escudo coin and distinctly dated 1712. Now there was no doubt; this was from the 1715 fleet! The almost indescribable feeling of finding a 300-year-old gold coin and seeing that beautiful golden glint in the sunlight was breathtaking. As he continued to search, Jim was finding more escudos, silver reales and other shipwreck artifacts. He quickly realized this was the recovery of a lifetime – a metal detectorist’s dream.

Amidst the excitement, there was a problem, and Jim’s emotions were torn. He knew there was likely a small window of opportunity and he needed to spend as much time as possible detecting the area before the sands shifted. But his mother had fallen into ill health back in Tennessee, and he needed to join her and the rest of his family. Jim didn’t wrestle with the decision long; he left the treasure behind to travel back home to Tennessee to be with his mother and family.

During his time in Tennessee and throughout his drive back to Florida, Jim had a lot of time to think about life, his mother, family, friends, and many cherished memories, but the treasure never left his mind. Was there even more to be recovered? As it turns out, there was. He took to the beach upon his return and continued to add to the total, recovering dozens more gold and silver Spanish coins and a plethora of other shipwreck relics over the course of a few days.

As fate would have it, Jim’s mother soon passed. Strangely, when she did, he was unable to find any more of the treasure, and the adventure was over. Jim had his earthly treasure and his mother was now at peace with her treasure in heaven.

While Jim was blessed to be part of an incredible experience extending beyond his wildest expectations, he knows his real treasures lie in the memories he retains of his mother and his family while growing up as a young man in Tennessee, along with the new ones he’s making every day with Linda and his own family.

Jim still enjoys the thrill of the hunt and looks for every opportunity to get out and use his Minelab metal detector. Today, his special stretch of beach is now covered over with many more layers of sand, and he and Linda find more sea shells than anything else.

But he knows more treasure is there, just waiting to be found.

About the author – Marc Hoover and his wife Gail live in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Marc has been fascinated with treasure hunting since the early days of Mel Fisher’s quest to find the wreck site of the Spanish galleon Senora Nuestra De Atocha. He was first certified to SCUBA dive in 1973 and purchased his first metal detector in 2011. Marc loves history and travels around North America looking for the next adventure. He started his own Facebook group @AdventuresInHistory. His motto is “Have Adventure Will Travel”. Contact him through his Facebook page or via email at marc.hoover@att.net.

ABOUTMINELAB:

Minelab is an Australian, multi-award-winning business that has successfully scaled world markets to command global leadership in its key areas of operation. Based in Mawson Lakes, South Australia, with regional offices in Cork, Ireland, Dubai, UAE, Chicago, U.S., and Itajai, Brazil the company specializes in advanced electronic technologies. Since its origins in 1985, Minelab has been the world leader in providing metal detecting technologies for gold prospecting, treasure hunting and landmine clearance. Through devotion to research and development and innovative design, Minelab is today the major world manufacturer of handheld metal detector products. Over the past 30 years, Minelab has introduced more innovative and practical technology than any of its competitors and has taken the metal detecting industry to new levels of excellence. Minelab is a Codan Limited company (ASX: “CDA”). To learn more about Minelab, visit minelab.com.