Published in the Rains County Leader on February 5, 2019
Last week I mentioned David’s rekindled interest in treasure hunting and our encounter with treasure hunter Keith Wills in Gilmer. I contacted Keith, and he was excited about my sharing some of his stories – and he has lots of stories to share.
Keith has been a treasure hunter for over fifty years. His interest in the hobby that has become a way of life for him began when he was a Boy Scout of thirteen. He was interested in earning an extra merit badge, and he had always wanted a coin collection. When he found a badge that required three collections of some sort, he saw a way to kill two birds with one stone. He already had a collection of business cards and another of matchbooks, but when he approached his parents about buying a coin collection for him, they had other ideas. As parents often do, they thought he would appreciate the collection more if he earned the money to buy it.
For the next three weeks, Keith mowed lawns for the neighbors, and when he had earned what he thought would be enough, he went to the coin shop. He soon realized that $25 wouldn’t buy much of a collection, and he went home discouraged. His dad was apparently a man who thought outside the box though. One day on the way home from work he stopped at a garage sale and used Keith’s earnings to buy an old metal detector. Keith was less than enthusiastic when his dad handed him what looked like part of an old vacuum cleaner. But when he was told he could use it to find coins, he got busy. He soon learned how the detector worked, collected coins and that merit badge, and set a course that would carry him through the rest of his life.
During the next fifty-plus years Keith has searched for treasure not only in the United States but also in Canada and Mexico. He has hunted in historical sites for relics and on the beach for lost jewelry, for gold and silver in the mountains, and for treasures on shipwrecks off the Florida coast. In 1982, treasure hunting became a vocation as well as an avocation, and Keith opened East Texas Metal Detectors and Repair in Gilmer, Texas.
When asked about the most interesting treasure he has found, he tells about the nine-pound meteorite he found outside Azle when he was eighteen. He sent it to various institutions for analysis, but when he sent it to the Smithsonian, he had to fight to get it back. He found out that it contains two as yet unclassified elements, and it is considered to be one of the twenty rarest privately owned meteorites ever found.
He has found many class rings and has returned around forty of them. He has three favorite ring stories that he has named The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. They are very entertaining, but I won’t try to relate them, because I couldn’t tell them nearly as well as he does.
An article in the Jacksonville Progress published on October 5, 2006 quoted Keith as saying he has “done just what I started out to do as a young Scout, I now have a very large collection, but not just of coins, also lost jewelry, relics, gold nuggets and more.” When David and I walked into East Texas Metal Detectors, we saw an amazing array of a very small percentage of his collection – countless rings and other jewelry, coins, nuggets of various ores, tools, and two bugles to name a few. We thoroughly enjoyed looking through the displays and also getting to know the man who was recognized by Life Magazine as one of the nation’s top treasure hunters in March, 2006.
In addition to Keith’s discoveries, East Texas Metal Detectors offers a small selection of metal detectors and accessories as well as equipment for gold panning and other types of treasure hunting. The shop is located in a small building behind the Wills’ home at 1495 FM 49 in Gilmer. The phone number is 903-734-7773.
To see even more treasures and meet the hunters who found them, visit The Texas Treasure Show (sponsored by the Texas Association of Metal Detecting Clubs) in Carthage, Texas on April 26-28. It will be at the Carthage Civic Center at 1702 S. Abrams Street and is open to the public.