There was a book written in 1982 by C. K. “Charlie” Eckhardt titled The Lost San Saba Mines, One Man’s Search for the Ancient Treasure in the Hills of Texas. It was apparently widely printed by Texas Monthly Press and is readily available used. Seeing as how there was a book printed on this subject, why write a new one?
First, a little about Eckhardt himself. He ran a barber shop in Seguin, Texas. Out of his unending interest in Texas history he wrote a newspaper column on Texas tales and also wrote several books on Texas history and folklore. Treasure stories fascinated him just as they do many other people. He personally knew the grandson of one of Jim Bowie’s men who were at the epic battle in 1831 when Bowie attempted to locate the mine.
It was anything but a scholarly work, and it was not supposed to be one. There are no citations and J. Frank Dobie’s Coronado’s Children was listed as a “primary source”. Dobie’s book was, most of it, second or third hand folklore and was not a primary source in the academic sense. It is not meant to look down on Eckhardt’s book by referring to it as mostly folklore. He recorded a few new stories that he heard, and it is a good thing that someone recorded them least they be lost forever. It was a book for a wide audience and good stories were what that audience wanted.
Eckhardt correctly points out that there are two major San Saba legends, that of Los Amalgres and that of the Broken Metate / Silver Creek. Regarding Los Amalgres, he placed those mines, correctly in my opinion, in the Llano County area (others claim that Los Amalgres and Silver Creek are one in the same). He followed up the Los Amalgres story with a tale about Harp Perry, supposedly an Anglo who came to Texas when it was Mexican territory and illegally mined and refined silver. The Harp Perry story was in Coronado’s Children, but Eckhardt added to it and included a surprise ending.
The story about Harp Perry was interesting. But regarding Los Amalgres in general, information has come to light since the book was written. On James Stotts’s Llano County ranch some old Spanish Colonial era mines were found after brush was cleared several years ago. One can read about it here and here. Those may well be the Los Amalgres mines. James Stotts took an interest in the history of them and did some research. That research included arranging for a painstaking professional translation of the Miranda papers (the colonial-era reports of a Spanish official who was sent to find and report on silver deposits in that area–Eckhardt included earlier translations of them in his book). That new translation cleared up some confusion about the reports, and changes the story, in my opinion. That translation and other materials were in a book that Stotts wrote. A year or two ago one could buy that paperback book, The Los Almagres Mines: Lost in Texas 250 Years, from his ranch’s website, but the site appears not to be operating now. Could try a used book store. I prefer Barnes and Noble for used books these days (have had some recent bad experiences with used book sellers on Amazon, not so with Barnes and Noble and the prices seem to be the same). The point is, what Eckhardt wrote about Los Amalgres is somewhat out of date and there are better books on that subject out there.
The portion of the book about Silver Creek (the main legend of interest around Menard) is disappointing. Like many other writers he mostly copied what J. Frank Dobie wrote in Coronado’s Children. He wrote that he heard stories from a Menard local about Wenonah, and those stories seem to align very well with the book The Free State of Menard, a book written in 1946. The local may have done little more than read that book.
Regarding Silver Creek he got as much wrong as right. He wrote that Wenonah was buried near the mine–she was not. He wrote that Norton died in 1948–he did not. He wrote that the San Marcos men went to Silver Creek in 1866–they did not. He gives the impression that he was at the mine site at Silver Creek. But even to me, someone who only spent a few hours at the site, he simply got too many details wrong. The area was protected by armed guards in those days, and apparently he could not get past them. A person I spoke with, who has spent as much time as anyone at the site, did not think much of Eckhardt’s book at it related to Silver Creek.
On the history of the mission on the San Saba he apparently wrote about the stories he heard or assumed, and not about the established history of the mission. By 1982 The San Saba Papers were in print as was The San Saba Mission by Robert Weddle and those sources contradict Eckhardt over and over again. The bottom line is that what ever he added to Dobie’s story was incorrect. And Dobie’s story was not all correct to begin with.
Eckhardt’s book is valuable in its description of mining stock sold in Texas in the olden days. Those colorful, pretty, but worthless, mining stocks were eventually relegated to out-house duty. The selling of shares in mining or treasure projects figured into the development of treasure legends. Some of the legends may have come about from stock sellers attempting to gain investors. It also made treasure legend evangelists of the stock buyers, at least for a little while.
The book makes a lot of Matthew Doyal’s grandson, whom Eckhardt knew. Matthew Doyal (or sometimes Doyle) was one of Bowie’s men when he searched for the mine in 1831. The grandson told a unique story about the Bowie mine, or more accurately the lack thereof. There is, however a good cause to discount that testimony entirely for a reason probably unknown to Eckhardt through no fault of his own.
Overall, it is an entertaining book with some good stories. If one liked reading Coronoado’s Children one will like this book as well. Reading it is like being the fly on the wall in Charlie’s barbershop when an old timer came in for his yearly hair cut and a good story got started about what so-and-so claimed about a lost mine out that way. The book has been out of print for years, but used copies are still available on-line for not much money. As opposed to attempting to sort out the history from the legend, it goes over the legend and adds more too it. Nothing at all wrong with that. The book I have in the works is focused foremost on the history behind the legends, and then on the folklore and legends.
By the way, anyone from the southwest who sees the cover of Eckhartdt’s book will immediately note a silly mistake: it shows a Texas cowboy in front of some saguaro cactus. We who grew up in the desert can usually tell where a picture was taken from the type of brush and cactus in the image. And a saguaro cactus east of the Arizona state line is a howler. But in his defense, according to newspaper article at the time, Eckhardt did not see the cover until after the book went to press and it was too late to do anything about it.