|THE BOWIE MINE
A Literature Review by
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 1700s 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 dont
know for sure, some say they did, some saynot. Theres 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
Bowies alleged search, in later years, the mine has also come to be known as the
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, its one of the best Ive 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
Dragos, Lost Bonanzas, devotes an entire chapter to the San Saba Mines and
another to the Lost Bowie Mine. Of course, you cant do any research without a copy
of Coronados Children, written by J.Frank Dobie, back in 1930. Also, Lesley
Byrd Simpsons 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
Ila Mae Davis, of Menard, Texas, will mail you a book
written by her cousin, My Search for Los Almagres Minelater called
Bowies 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 1980s 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; Mirandas
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. Theres been equally as much written about Jim and Rezin P.
Bowies search for the Los Almagres or San Saba Mines, as the mines themselves. Did
the Bowies, really search? Thats a tough one to reply yes or no to as well.
Almost always, youll find reference to the Bowie Partys encounter and ensuing
battle in 1831, with some one hundred and sixty Indians (the number differs depending on
whos account youre reading, but for the sake of this article it is really of
little importance). Theres a lot of physical evidence to considerlike 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
Lathams 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, didnt mention the old
irrigation ditch, either. The ditch could then, and can still, be seen. At the time of Dr.
Roemers 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
shouldnt 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
Then theres 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 Bowies 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 McLeans
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
Yarbroughs, that I was telling you about earlier. The letter was furnished to
Yarbrough by Ms. Joan Speer of McAllen, Texas.
Youll need to take a look at Doctor
Herbert E. Boltons 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. Its better known as, The
Miranda Report. Oh yearemember its 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.
Youll need to read...John Warren
Hunters pamphlet, Rise and Fall of the Mission San Saba. They wouldnt
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 Bowies company of treasure
hunters. The exact date may be questionable, but its certainly close enough. Jim
Bowie, Rezin Bowie, Ham (some writers spell the name with two ms), 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 Bowies involvement. The speculation is endless.
Theres accepted history and, well, theres legend. Circumstantial evidence
exists too, but when history, legend, physical, and circumstantial evidence is co-mingled,
its difficult to separate. Rezin Bowie said the battle occurred "six miles east
of the old fort" which would place you near Jacksons 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 1860s 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
1900s Judge J.R. Norton and a woman, billed as a Comanche Princess in wild west
shows and circuses also dug at this site. Theres 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
didnt search for the mines at allinstead 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
"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 boys 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 Harlows noticed a
large stone had been moved. In the hole, left by the mens digging, was the imprint
of a three-legged pot. "I dont 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 1930s. 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 youll 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 Travelers 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 dont think theyre going to find that
pot of gold or silver, its been gone, a long, long, time." Perhaps shes
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, Id enjoy discussing this topic with you!
Bill Townsley, 943 Ivystone Way, Newport News, VA 23602