San Antonio’s ‘Pearl Rush’

Sam Brown Jewelry Worker

Sam Brown Jewelry Worker

The only items you might find in today’s San Antonio River are garbage, maybe some fish, and if you’re close to the River Walk: silverware, the occasional chair and some change.

However, according to a July 12, 1937, story in the Light, around “the turn of the century some carefree youth using a river mussel for fish bait discovered a pearl imbedded in the unhappy bivalve.”

It set off a “Pearl Rush” where locals panned the river mud for the shellfish. “Piles of dry shells lined the river banks between Hot Wells and Berg’s Mill….Old settlers report many jewels were found.” Hot Wells was near Mission San Jose while Berg’s Mill was near Mission San Juan, which puts this stretch of the river south of downtown (and part of today’s Mission Reach improvement project). At this point in time, Hot Wells would have been an area of tourist cottages and Berg’s Mill was a tiny community.

However, supply soon ran out and the rush was over. “There have been but a few spasmodic revivals in the ensuing 30 years.”

The reporter interviewed Joe C. Bettencourt Jr., one of the pearl “divers,” who said the mussels were drawn to the warm waters of that section of the river.

Article by Julie Domel at

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