J. Frank Dobie’s Coronado’s Children

The book that recorded, and in part formed, the modern legend of the San Saba treasure was J. Frank Dobie’s Coronado’s Children.  It was published in 1930.  Google Books has a preview of the San Saba related section, including the Broken Metate story: Coronado’s Children.  Worth reading by anyone with an interest in the story.

Dobie was the premier Texas folklorist of his generation.  He spent time at UT Austin as an English professor.  It took more than skill as a writer to write folklore.  One had to have a ready source of folklore, and Dobie was skilled at finding people who had stories to tell and were willing to tell them.

The Broken Metate story was unique in many ways, and was really the best story of all the San Saba tales.   It had a great back story that reached back into the 1700’s and it stretched all the way to the present: digging was ongoing when the book went to press.  It was also incredibly unique in that the location of the alleged mine was not lost.  The only mystery was how exactly to find the horde of silver bars inside the old mine.  That separated the legend from many other treasure tales and placed it into an exclusive group of tales where the basic treasure site is firmly established.  Oak Island comes to mind.  As per the tale, one knows, as per extremely unique geological features, when one is within about 50 yards of the treasure.  It is those last 50 yards that bedeviled treasure hunters for more than a century.

There is a map in Dobie’s tale and the basic directions down the river and up the creek to get to the cave are correct.  However, Dobie simplified the story from there.  He did not really invent anything out of thin air, but he left out several important details.  It is certain that he knew those details as they were in his notes.  What he included and left out, and what the person who told the tale to Dobie had to say are an interesting glimpse into a folklorist who not only recorded folklore but, in the end, moved the legend along and added to it.  Peoples’ lives were changed because of what Dobie wrote.

Nearly every book written about the San Saba Treasure since 1930 (in regards to The Broken Metate / Silver Creek) merely copied Dobie.  C.K. Eckhardt seemed to take Dobie’s story and turn one sentence of Dobie into three sentences of Eckhardt.  In the legend back-story Dobie wrote that Major Dixon went to a church in Monclova, Mexico to look for records about mines around the San Saba.  Eckhardrt took that sentence, fertilized it, and and came up with Major Dixon visiting the “great cathedral” in Moncolva.  Only, there was no great cathedral in Monclova in that era, none great and none small.  There was no cathedral at all.  And that is a clue–why would records of colonial era mines be stored at an ordinary parish church?

 

Academia and the San Saba Legends

There are only a few recent scholarly treatments of the San Saba Legends or events related to them.  Those being The Archaeology and History of Spanish Colonial Mining Efforts in Central Texas  by Nancy Mayo (Masters Thesis, Texas Tech 1995), and Ruin of ruins: (re)building myth and memory in Menard, TX by David Weir (Masters Thesis, Texas Tech 2004).

Nancy’s paper has to do with the rumors of silver on the San Saba and the mines at Los Amalgres.  It is a long, generally well-researched paper with a good number of archaeological  investigations.  She accepts, uncritically, the Bowie / Tresmanos tale (where Bowie was adopted into a tribe of Apaches to learn the secret of their silver).  And she worked off of the same old translation of the Miranda documents that historians had used since the beginning.  The more recent translations made at the direction of James Stotts were better and would have been of benefit to Nancy.  Otherwise an interesting paper for anyone interested in colonial era mining efforts.

David’s paper is mainly about how the townspeople of of Menard and the Apaches have approached, or created, the legends around Jim Bowie. In 2004 the “deconstruction” movement on campuses was in high gear.  As usual in such papers, more is learned about the biases of the author than of the history in question.  The cultural connection that some Apaches have with the Presidio was interesting, but the author leaves unquestioned how much of the oral history of the Apaches was handed down from their elders and how much, if any, of it was appropriated from books like Dobie’s Coronado’s Children. Instead of asking hard questions about the legend of Bowie living with the Apaches, he had to take it on faith as fact as he could not question recent Apache folklore.  But he could disparage Menard’s connection to Bowie.  In the end, such papers tend to say more about their authors than their subjects.

A few decades earlier Duane Hale, now a history professor at Cisco College, wrote two papers.  For his Masters thesis at Abilene Christian University in 1972 he wrote Evidence of Mining in the Big Country of Texas.  Five years later at Oklahoma State University he wrote Prospecting and Mining on the Texas Frontier.  These papers are not available on-line, and short of finding them in a university library they may be hard to fine.  But, some of the material from those papers made it into a multi-part series of articles that showed up in Treasure magazine in 1991.  Back issues of those magazines are still available if anyone is interested in them.