Heirs Find Texas Masterpiece Missing 100 Years

Strange Inheritance painting

It was a long-lost piece of Texas history, missing for nearly a century. Until it was found in a dusty West Virginia attic.

“I nearly fell out of my chair,” said historian Sam Ratcliffe, of Southern Methodist University, when he learned of the discovery

The story is featured in the latest episode of Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby. It airs Monday, February 6 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox Business Network.

The missing masterpiece was painted by Harry McArdle, an Irish immigrant who became fascinated with the battle for Texas independence.

“He was the first artist to thoroughly research the sweep of the Texas revolution,” said Ratcliffe. “He talked to many of the surviving veterans of San Jacinto. He did a lot of research on flags, on uniforms, and was just fanatical about getting the revolution commemorated properly.”

The revolution’s climactic clash -- the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto -- was the subject of McArdle’s greatest work:  a 14-foot long, 8-foot high mural that depicts the exploits of legendary Texans such as Sam Houston in their fight against Mexico’s Santa Anna.

It’s one of six McArdle paintings that hang in the Texas capitol to this day.

But public archives indicated that in 1901 McArdle had painted a second San Jacinto mural -- assumed to have been lost in a 1918 house fire.

Almost a century later, McArdle’s great-great grandson Jon Buell was rummaging through his grandmother’s attic in West Virginia. He found a five-by-seven foot canvas slipped between the rafters.

“It was just kind of leaned against a wall, underneath a tarp and it was very, very dirty,” recalls Buell, who asked his grandmother about it.

“She said, ‘Oh, your great-great grandfather did that.  It’s not worth anything, that’s just a working drawing.’”

Buell, however, got her permission to contact a Texas auction house to see if it was valuable.

“My heart stopped,” says Atlee Phillips of Heritage Auctions in Dallas, who determined the work was indeed that second mural of the Battle of San Jacinto.

The painting sold for $334,000 to a Texas buyer.

“It’s what anyone in the business is looking for, something that no one has ever seen before,” says Phillips. “These things just don’t happen.”