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The Huff Journals
&The Lost San Saba Mines

by Ira Kennedy

In the fall of 2000 I received a phone call from David Ewing Stewart asking me to help him find a buyer for two old dairies inherited from his great grandfather William P. Huff and one of the original 300 families to settle in Texas.  I agreed and set up a time and place  so I could  view the documents first-hand.  Arriving at the Schulenburg Auction Barn I discovered the parking lot full as there was a cattle auction in progress.  I had no difficulty in locating Mr. Stewart and before long I was in the coffee room of the auction barn where I could review the diaries and photograph their contents at my leisure.
       I was at a loss as to where to begin. My concentration on the task was interrupted constantly as people wandered through the room while I read and photographed pages from the documents.  All the while the room shook time and again as cattle were driven through the chutes which were, apparently, just on the other side of the wall.
old.jpg (17916 bytes)       Mr. Stewart was a man of contradictions.  Despite his overly protective attitude regarding the publication of illustrations and excerpts, he was nonchalant to the extreme when it came to the ledgers themselves.  For example, when he took a lunch break from the auction and invited me to come along we walked out of the break room leaving the books behind and unattended.   I retrieved them immediately.
       My efforts to satisfy Mr. Stewart's request while dealing with other issues that came up regarding the journals are too complex to relate here.  The books, commonly referred to as "The Diary of William P. Huff" was not immune to controversy.  The Texas State Archives briefly examined the documents and determined they were a work of fiction.
       According to the Berkeley Digital Library, a website which had transcribed and published the text and related material, "In 1986-87, young historians from Van Vleck, Austin, and El Paso, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; and Madera, California, researched and authenticated the Huff Diary. The account of their work made the news throughout the nation, and almost overnight, the entire country was watching 13 and 14 year-olds do mortal combat with the academic community."
       Mr. Stewart had given permission for the Madera Method, Berkeley University, to transcribe the book and publish it on-line.  That was an extraordinary task.  The entire text was published with three illustrations, one of which was alleged to be a map to the Lost San Saba Mine. When Mr. Stewart learned that "the map" was published he contacted the university and demanded that the image be removed.  Within a few weeks the entire publication had been deleted.
       I have never considered the map to be anything close to a "treasure map" because it lacked any specifics.  I was baffled and disheartened by Mr. Stewart's attitude which resulted in the site's removal on-line.
pagesample.jpg (44844 bytes)       Mr. Stewart's expectations regarding the sale price were, in my opinion, too extravagant.  I learned that buyers of Texana material consisted of a very limited group of dealers and it was impossible to actually shop around.  An offer from one buyer regardless of the price would be enough to keep other buyers from examining the documents. They wouldn't bid against each other outside of an auction environment and Mr. Stewart wasn't willing to leave the selling price up to chance.
       Then there was the question of the document's authenticity by the Texas State Archives.  The Stewart family insisted these were diaries kept while on his Gold Rush sojourn to southern California in 1849.  I had my reservations regarding that claim.   I noticed only one strikethrough or mistake, hardly any stains, ink smears or other indications one would expect. [A detail of a page, left, was photographed because the stains shown are what I would have expected throughout.]
        I suggested to Mr. Stewart that the documents were probably written subsequent to his California adventure.  My observation was met with stiff resistance.  I was convinced that Huff, a newspaperman by profession, had transcribed what appeared to be a final draft of the events.  The writing filled the entire page, top to bottom, and side to side, with annotations on the left margins.   I have kept journals, notes and sketches on camping trips and this document was, in my opinion, too "clean" -- that is there was no indication that the ledgers had ever been subjected to the arduous events related in the text.
       My relationship with Mr. Stewart came to an end when he decided I should publish a book of humor he would write.  I had quit the in-print publishing business and wasn't inclined to devote my time to an enterprise which would be all effort and no reward.  Compounding the difficulties was the clear indication that the only venue for the manuscripts would be a reputable auction house which, at the time, out of the question.  Through my academic contacts I found a university that was interested in purchasing the journals for publication.  Mr. Stewart was not interested as they could not pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars he was anticipating.
       Although I was promised an undertermined percentage of the sale I soon came to believe that the document, which was published on-line and should be published in book form would never be sold and its contents never see the light of day.  All along I considered writing an article on spec for Texas Monthly about my little adventure, but I began to realize that Mr. Stewart would be too involved in the project and likely stand in the way of publication once he read my comments and conclusions.
       Understand, I am not an authority on rare books or Texas memorabilia.  However, I am convinced that the journals are authentic "recollections" of one of Stephen F. Austin's original 300 families in Texas and the text is one of the few accounts of the southern overland route used by the '49'ers to get to California's Gold Rush.  This document should be in print and accessible to academics and everyone interested in Texas history, but I doubt this will ever come to pass.
     As a final note, the Huff journals were finally submitted to Dorthy Sloan Books auctions.  The current status of the journals are unknown.  What follows is a reproduction of the map as published by the Berkeley Digital Library with an excerpt from Chapter 2 relating to the Lost San Saba Mines.


ssmap.jpg (29289 bytes)THE MAP

William P. Huff drew this map of which he believed to be the location of the San Saba mine and mission. The dotted line running from left to right is the Huff trail. The lost mine and mission were located at the point near where the trail crossed the San Saba River.

This map seems practically useless to anyone hoping to locate the mine. The dotted line from left to right is the route of the wagon train. The significance of the dotted line just above the word "Mission" is not explained in the text (below).

 


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THE HUFF DIARY: (Excerpt from Chapter 2)

Having omitted to take any notice heretofore of the almost legendary site of the once so much talked of mission and silver mine of San Saba I now refer back to that time and probable place, as perhaps at some future day will identify the long since deserted mission.

The day before yesterday, June 13, 1849 we crossed a rapid stream or ditch of cool pure water. The water was so cold as to make my teeth chatter. It came gushing and dashing down the gentle slope of a gravelly hillside densely covered with chaparral. We all were of the opinion that the water came from the old side of the mission San Saba, and that we were not far off from the silver mine which had been worked or wrought long years past by the Mexicans and Indians. We halted on the bank of the ditch or ravine and in company with Mr. Lippincott about six hundred yards from where we had crossed the ditch, we discovered a moss covered wall about twelve feet high built of stone and cemented together. Other signs presented themselves so unmistakable as to conclude that we had really discovered the site of the long lost Mission of San Saba. We could not find the source of the ditch of bold running water as the chaparral was too dense to be penetrated. John L Smith made similar discoveries with the addition of having found pieces of broken clay pottery. The elder Mr. Schaft exhibited a piece of scinder which he had found. The Mission San Saba was first established by the San Franciscan monks who came from Saltillo three years after the settlement of San Antonio De Bexar, for the purpose of civilizing the Indians and converting them to the Catholic religion. Silver and copper were discovered and were successfully wrought until the Indians, incensed at the cruelty inflicted upon then by their oppressive task-masters, rebelled and waged a treacherous war against the Mexicans until they broke up the Mission San Saba and at one time San Antonio and Goliad came near sharing the same fate. A very rich copper mine was also discovered at no great distance from the Mission San Saba and proved productive and remunerative up to the abandonment of the San Saba silver mine. These statements I have heard made by reliable Mexicans in San Antonio in 1829 and at San Felipe de Austin in 1832, 1833, 1834, 1835 and 1836.

I became acquainted with a Mexican by the name of Alejandro Garcia Ximenes at the town of San Felipe de Austin in the year 1832. He was about sixty-five years of age, and although time had silvered his locks, it had been kind and gentle with him in all other respects. Tall, slim, wiry and muscular, sedate dignified and singularly reticent in manners and address, it took time and considerable acquaintance with him before he would communicate any thing that he knew. He was held in high respect as a man of strict truth and sterling intergrity and was frequently employed by Col., afterwards Gen., Stephen F. Austin, the Empresario of Austin's Colony, to carry written and verbal expresses to San Antonio Monclova, and Saltillo. I have heard Alejandro say frequently that when he was about twelve old he visited the Mission Saba with his father frequently and that the silver mine was very rich but very difficult to work on account of water flowing into the mine.

Juan Delgado, a Mexican who resided on the league of land granted to him by the Mexican Government twelve miles below San Felipe in the year 1831, 32, and 33, and who was about fifty-five or sixty years of age, told me in conversation that he had been at the Mission Saba before it was broken up by the Indians and that he had been both at the silver and copper mines and that both were rich. Juan Delgado was respected as a truthful man and a good neighbor by all who knew him.

Antonio Mancha, a Mexican who resided in Spanish Town below, and consituting a portion of the town of San Felipe, a man of good character, corroborated the statements made by Alejandro and Delgado, stating further that his father had worked in both the silver and copper mines of the Mission San Saba. Col. James Bowie, whose name is immortalized on the pages of Texas history, made two attempts with small companies to find the silver mines of the San Saba. His first trip was a failure on account of the ignorance of his Mexican guide His second attempt resulted in finding mineral and the Mission San Saba. He and his men were surrounded in a Mesquite thicket by Indians, and after a most desperate fight, the Indians retreated, and Col. Bowie and his company, less three men killed, returned to San Antonio. Col. Bowie spoke the Spanish language fluently and having married a Mexican lady who belonged to one of the first families of San Antonio, his means of obtaining information in relation to the silver mine at the Mission San Saba were not only ample but superior to any other American. I conversed with Col. Bowie upon the subject frequently. He stated to me that he believed the silver mine at or near the mission San Saba was rich but for some unknown purpose it had been covered up.

The general appearance of the face of the country at the ravine or ditch is so different from that which we have passed through that the Geologist and mineralogist will be much interested by a close examination of the physical facts presenting themselves. The petrified Mollusca has entirely disappeared. The flora has changed and the surface rocks present some very well marked mineral indications. I now resume my narrative...