The Bowie Mine
A Literature Review by Bill Townsley

 

 

 

 

The search for the legendary Lost Bowie Mine has been the topic of conversation and controversy for over a century and a half. Today, treasure hunters mine the sources in history to narrow the search.

Did the Spanish really mine silver and gold during the 1700’s in the red hill country of Central Texas? Or, did they use explortory shafts to store silver bars mined somewhere else? Did Jim and Rezin Bowie truly search for legendary mines? I don’t know for sure, some say they did, some say—not. There’s a considerable amount of written documentation, oral accounts, and some outright lying, surrounding the legendary Los Almagres or Lost San Saba Mine (or mines). Some historians contend there was more than one mine, while others argue there was but one. Because of Jim Bowie and Rezin Bowie’s alleged search, in later years, the mine has also come to be known as the Bowie Mine.
       Charlie F. Eckhardt, of Seguin, Texas, spent some years researching his book The Lost San Saba Mines. Published by Texas Monthly Press, Inc. in 1982, it’s one of the best I’ve read on the subject. Then in 1991, Treasure Magazine published a six-part article that was equally informative. Dr. Duane K. Hale and Robert Kyker, co-authored those articles. Ed Syers’ book, Off The Beaten Trail, published by Texian Press enlightened me too. Harry Sinclair Drago’s, Lost Bonanzas, devotes an entire chapter to the San Saba Mines and another to the Lost Bowie Mine. Of course, you can’t do any research without a copy of Coronado’s Children, written by J.Frank Dobie, back in 1930. Also, Lesley Byrd Simpson’s book, The San Saba Papers, translated by Paul Nathan contains many documents pertaining to the mission and the presidio near Menard, Texas.
       On February 28, 1758, Colonel Diego Ortiz Parrilla (commander of the presidio), wrote the following account:
            "A quantity of ore was brought to me by Don Jose de Guzman, who stated that it had been taken from an outcropping discovered near the Chanas (Llano) River. I examined and tested this greenish silver ore mingled with lead." (The 25 pounds of ore yielded one and one half ounces of silver).
       Ila Mae Davis, of Menard, Texas, will mail you a book written by her cousin, My Search for Los Almagres Mine—later called Bowie’s Mine. Ms. Davis’ cousin wrote under the pseudonym H.A. Desmond. Ms. Davis owns property in the area which is one of many search sites. Possibly the Bradford family, from Menard, could contribute additional information. And if you can find it, C.L. Yarbrough, published a little magazine in the 1980’s from Bee House, Texas, entitled, Vanishing Texas. The single issue price then, was $1.25. I paid $2.25 in 1994, and was happy to do it. (By the way, I suspect these magazines will be worth a small fortune someday...You may still be able to purchase back issues from Larry Walker of El Paso, Texas. Walker told me, Yarbrough only printed 2000 copies.) The first time I phoned Yarbrough, we talked for well over an hour. He provided some valuable leads and sent me in directions, I might otherwise, not have taken.
       Many other reference materials are available concerning the mission and the mine or mines associated with it. Additional references that should be reviewed by anyone attempting to undertake an extensive study, are listed as follows: San Saba Gold and Silver Mines, J.A. Quintero, Texas Almanac, 1868; Mineral Resources of Texas, A.R. Roessler, Texas Almanac, 1872; Miranda’s Inspection of Los Almagres: His Journal, Report, and Petition, Roderick Patten, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, LXXIV, October, 1970; Texas: Original Narratives of Texas History and Adventure, Mary Austin Holley, Steck and Company, 1935; The San Saba Mission, Spanish Pivot in Texas, Robert S. Weddle, University of Texas Press, 1964; History of Texas 1685 to 1892, John Henry Brown; Texas in the Middle Eighteenth Century, Herbert Eugene Bolton, University of Texas Press, 1970, originally published in 1915 as Volume 3 of The University of California Publications in History; and many documents on microfilm in the Bexar Archives.
       The list of references cited above, are certainly not all that is available. But they will get you well on your way and enable you to draw your own conclusions. There’s been equally as much written about Jim and Rezin P. Bowie’s search for the Los Almagres or San Saba Mines, as the mines themselves. Did the Bowie’s, really search? That’s a tough one to reply yes or no to as well. Almost always, you’ll find reference to the Bowie Party’s encounter and ensuing battle in 1831, with some one hundred and sixty Indians (the number differs depending on who’s account you’re reading, but for the sake of this article it is really of little importance). There’s a lot of physical evidence to consider—like the inscription carved on the gatepost of the Persidio San Saba. The inscription reads "BOWIE MINE 1832". Eckhardt and others claim the inscription originally read "BOWIE CON SU TROPA 1829". Sometime between 1895 and 1910 it was altered by an unidentified vandal. (ref. The Saga of San Saba, by Jalon Escuriex, Long John Latham’s Treasure World Magazine, September, 1974.) Mrs. H.H. Wheless furnished a photograph that proved the inscription had been altered. The word "mine" does not appear in her photograph, but has been superimposed over a date 1829.) "CON SU TROPA" translates to, "AND HIS MEN". And what about the trail that led from some burnt rocks, adjacent to the north side of the Persidio San Luis de las Amarillas? Menardites say it led to an area northwest of the persidio, where oak trees had been used to make charcoal.
       Were the rocks, remains of an old silver smelter, or something else? Professor Ferdinand Roemer, visited the ruins of the persidio, west of present Menard, Texas, in 1847/8. Roemer neglected to mention slag or a smelter in a book he published some two years later. He, on the other hand, didn’t mention the old irrigation ditch, either. The ditch could then, and can still, be seen. At the time of Dr. Roemer’s visit, the fort had been vacant for approximately 76 years. He took measurements of the existing structures and recorded the following inscriptions carved on the gatepost: "PADILLO 1810, COS 1829, BOWIE 1829, MOORE 1840". And shouldn’t you consider what Rezin Bowie said? "On the 2nd of November, 1831, we left the town of San Antoniplaino de Bexar for the silver mines on the San Saba River."
        Then there’s Caiphas K. Ham, occasional companion to the Bowie brothers. He lived with a band of Comanche Indians for a while and claimed he (not Jim Bowie) was told of a mine rich in silver. Ham claimed, Rezin Bowie, not Jim Bowie, saw Spanish bars of silver tucked away in a mine. Caiphas Ham continued to search long after Colonel Bowie’s death at the fall of the Alamo.
        You have to ponder over that letter, penned in Galveston, Texas, by E. McLean, on December 8th 1880. Writing to C.K. Ham, McLean warns Ham, to keep the matter to himself, as though he had abandoned the hunt. In McLean’s letter to Ham, he references another letter, from somebody named Hays (possibly the famous Texas Ranger). You can find a copy of it, in that little, hard to find magazine of Yarbrough’s, that I was telling you about earlier. The letter was furnished to Yarbrough by Ms. Joan Speer of McAllen, Texas.
        You’ll need to take a look at Doctor Herbert E. Bolton’s book, Spanish Explorations of the Southwest. Start somewhere around page two hundred and eighty-three, read until the subject changes. The archives in the University of Texas has a Spanish transcript entitled Expedition to Los Almagres and Plans for Developing the Mines, 1755-1756. It’s better known as, The Miranda Report. Oh yea—remember it’s written in Spanish. Mrs. Margaret Kenney Kress, instructor of Spanish at the University of Texas, translated it for Frank Dobie. Dr. Bolton, literally using the Miranda Report as a map, placed the Los Almagres Mine, the mine that Don Bernardo de Miranda, lieutenant-general of the province of Texas, opened in 1756 near Honey Creek, in Llano County.
         You’ll need to read...John Warren Hunter’s pamphlet, Rise and Fall of the Mission San Saba. They wouldn’t let me leave with it, but I read a copy of it at the Moody Library Building on the campus of Baylor University, in Waco, Texas. Again,you almost always, find reference to that Monday, November 21, 1831, battle between Indians and Bowie’s company of treasure hunters. The exact date may be questionable, but it’s certainly close enough. Jim Bowie, Rezin Bowie, Ham (some writers spell the name with two m’s), Robert Armstrong, David Buchanan, Mathew Doyle (sometimes spelled Doyal), Jesse Wallace, Thomas McCaslin, James Coryell, and two servants, a Mexican named Gonzales and a mulatto boy called Charles, are known to have been participants.
         The site of the battle is as much a mystery as the mines and the Bowie’s involvement. The speculation is endless. There’s accepted history and, well, there’s legend. Circumstantial evidence exists too, but when history, legend, physical, and circumstantial evidence is co-mingled, it’s difficult to separate. Rezin Bowie said the battle occurred "six miles east of the old fort" which would place you near Jackson’s Creek. Some Menard citizens will point you in the direction of Silver Creek, which is nine miles west and three miles north of the old presidio. In the 1860’s Dixon, G.B. Ezell, Wiley Stroud and Sam Fleming came into possession of a map showing the location of a mine tunnel on Silver Creek. The area is commonly referred to as the Egg-Shaped Basin. In the early 1900’s Judge J.R. Norton and a woman, billed as a Comanche Princess in wild west shows and circuses also dug at this site. There’s a wash known as Turkey Creek, that some consider to be the proper location of the fight. The State prefers a location near Calf Creek, a tributary of the San Saba River, as the official site. The Calf Creek site is south and a little west of Brady, Texas, in McCulloch County. Texas erected a Historical Monument along the side of the highway, near the community of Calf Creek.
        Some people will tell you that Bowie didn’t search for the mines at all—instead he and the other Texicans were searching for a Mexican caravan to rob. It has been widely believed the Mexican Government transported silver from mines in Sonora to some point in the United States or possibly New Orleans, for payment of goods and supplies.
        In 1948 Charlie Eckhardt was told by Ralph A. Doyal, grandson to Matthew A. Doyal, who was with Jim and Rezin P. Bowie at the Calf Creek Fight (or wherever, it really took place), that his grandfather said the Bowie party stole three silver-laden mules from the Mexican Government. Historians have concluded that Thomas McCaslin was the only causality (not including the Indians). Most have reasoned McCaslin was buried near a breastwork of rock, hastily placed by Bowie and his men to defend their position against the Indians. Matthew A. Doyal was shot in the chest but survived his injury. Years later, Matt Doyal told his grandson the three mule-loads of silver was buried about waist deep and the cache marked by triangular shaped rocks, placed in the formation of a triangle.
        I asked 87 year old, Ms. C. Harlow, who lives near Brady, Texas, about the Calf Creek Fight. She told me some things I had not read or heard:
        "Yes, the Indian Fight, the Bowie Fight, the Calf Creek Fight, took place in a live-oak thicket, in a big pile of rock, near a spring of water, in the corner of the Harlow and adjoining farm. My husband, Mr. Harlow, found one of the boy’s grave. We believe, he was sent for water at the spring and was killed by a Caddo or Lipan Indian arrow." During one of several interviews, Ms. Harlow revealed that in 1925, two men came to the ranch house and asked if they could look around near an old structure that had once stood on the property. She granted them permission. After all, they just wanted to look around.
        Several days later the Harlow’s noticed a large stone had been moved. In the hole, left by the men’s digging, was the imprint of a three-legged pot. "I don’t know what was in the pot, but I know we never saw those men again," she added. "The structure, near where the men dug up the three legged pot, was built by old man Fiddler around 1900." Ms. Harlow said, there used to be an old rock fence, "that reached from the Habey fence, from the Habey ranch, from Calf Creek, all the way to the highway that goes to Junction, Texas." The Harlows tore the rock fence down in the 1930’s. Another interesting fact revealed by Ms. Harlow, was the 1920s discovery of a flint rock, partially embedded in the forks of an ancient Live-oak tree. It is located near the farm, approximately 300 yards from the circle of rock (what some believe to be the breastwork used by Jim Bowie and his men to defend themselves against the Indians in 1831).
        You have to know exactly where the tree is located or you’ll find it only after a great deal of difficulty because the tree has completely grown around the rock. Is this one of the rocks Matthew A. Doyal told Ralph Doyal would help lead the group back to the three mule loads of silver they cached? Hard to say, but then it seems to fit. I mean, you have a live oak thicket, a rock breastwork, a spring, a grave, and a flint rock embedded in the forks of a tree. You also have two men who dug-up a three-legged pot, left with it, and were never heard of or seen again. (Ms. Harlow told of another Live-oak tree, at Traveler’s Well, in San Saba County, that has a flint rock embedded in the forks of it and still another rock embedded in the forks of a third oak tree near Rochell, Texas.) Ms. Harlow said she thought the rocks marked some type of trail. She told me about B. Wright, who lived near Menard, and had known several persons who hunted for Spanish silver near the presidio. I phoned Wright, who told me about an old man who searched for years near Hext, Texas. The last time I spoke witplainh Ms. Harlow, she said, "I don’t think they’re going to find that pot of gold or silver, it’s been gone, a long, long, time." Perhaps she’s right...
         As recently as 1995, much activity and attention was centered around the old well at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. The nationally syndicated television program, Unsolved Mysteries, filmed the excavations being performed by treasure hunters and archaeologists. And although nine pages were dedicated to the subject in the 1996-1997 Texas Almanac, few people know the site of the the "lost mission", Santa Cruz de San Saba (not to be confused with the stone presidio) was located in an alfalfa field 3.95 miles east of the presidio, in September of 1993.

My research is ongoing, if you have any additional information, I’d enjoy discussing this topic with you!
Bill Townsley, 943 Ivystone Way, Newport News, VA 23602

FOR MORE ON TEXAS HILL COUNTRY GOLD CLICK HERE
FOR 1800S ARTICLES ON THE LOST SAN SABA MINE CLICK HERE
PANNING FOR TEXAS HILL COUNTRY GOLD CLICK HERE

 

 

 

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