The 1920’s Map

This map shows up from time to time in the San Saba legend, often as a translation of a Spanish waybill.  It shows a lot of mines around Menard.  Unfortunately, no paying mine has ever been opened, and not for a lack of looking.

This map was actually drawn by an Emmett Sarver in 1927 in an apparent attempt to put all the alleged mines one map, based at least on part on an engraved rock said to have been found buried at the presidio.  George Collins, of Kansas City, gave a copy of the map to J. Frank Dobie in late 1930, probably in response to the publication of Coronado’s Children. 

Incidentally, George Collins was good friends with the treasure hunter William Longworth, and, in fact, it was Collins who wrote to Dobie to inform him of Longworth’s death.



What would a treasure legend be without maps?

Probably the earliest map that references a mine is seen above, it was drawn up by Stephen Austin in the late 1820’s.  Just below the “Rio San Saba” there are the words “mina de plata”, Silver Mine.  He had heard rumors of a mine, and silver mines sure would help draw people into Texas.  There is no doubt that James Bowie and his brother Rezin Bowie saw this map before they went looking for the mine.

This next map was printed in 1841, the target audience was German settlers.  A good number of Germans moved to the Texas “Hill Country” in this era.  Here the “old fort” is noted and the “Silver Mine” is on the other side of some mountains in the upper left hand corner.  Again, it may have been designed to entice settlers to Texas.  Note that there is no town of San Marcos yet–it did not exist until several years later.  That goes against the story recounted by J. Frank Dobie and others that “Dixon” (one of the 1868 treasure hunters) was living in San Marcos in about 1840.   A German naturalist toured the area around the old fort in the later 1840’s and noted that the land consisted of limestone, and minerals like silver in limestone would be without precedence.


The next map, an earlier one, was from a a team of Spaniards, led by Nicolas de Lafora, who undertook a survey of all the frontier presidios north of Mexico in 1767.  Due, in part, to that inspection the post was later officially abandoned.  The Spanish officials believed that it served no purpose.  The outline of the presidio matches the (partly) reconstructed presidio in Menard, TX.  There are fences of some sort to the East and West that connect to the river.  It was thought that horses were kept there.  The remains of a smelter and at least 15 pounds of slag were found near the fort in the 1900’s.  That could have been from smelting silver, or maybe from testing samples.  In 1937 the remains of an assay lab were found near the chapel, in the north-west corner.  The irrigation canal is in the lower part of the map.   The irrigation canal was dug to support the mission that existed to the south-east of the fort.  It existed until it was destroyed by the natives less than year after it was founded.

The Spaniards kept livestock to the west, at least until the Comanche made stepping out of the presidio hazardous at all times.   The area to the west has the most interesting treasure legend.  The Camino del Canon road led to a mission somewhat South West of the presidio.


Old Man Mullins


Frank Mullins appeared in Menard in 1913 with $15,000 to invest. With $6,000 the 43 year old bought what was thought to be the oldest house in town, a log cabin believed to have been built in the 1860’s. The cabin was on a seven acre plot of land a block away from downtime. The land had been used for parking wagons brought to town by the area ranchers.

Instead of developing the land near the growing town, he developed a case of gold fever and dug holes in it. He never had a map, instead he would dig holes wherever his fancy led him. They were four feet deep and each day a new hole was made.

It once occurred to him that there might be something under the cabin, so he removed the floors and dug, then removed the cabin entirely. Thus was the oldest building in Menard lost.


After seventeen years of apparently fruitless searches he actually found something, a jar of coins. In pioneer days banks were few and far between and people often buried their life savings in glass jars somewhere out of sight, maybe under the second fence post to the right of the barn—something like that. If they died unexpectedly then the coins stayed there. The jar of coins was worth $2,000. It was enough to keep him going for the next fifteen years.

Old Man Mullins passed away in 1945, his $15,000 investment yielded one very dug up plot of land and $2,000. Compared to other treasure hunters in the area he did well.

The San Saba Mine in Fiction

I am aware to three fictional stories about the San Saba legends, that is, stories that concede that they are only stories.

The first San Saba-ish story from the Texas Hill Country is popularly reckoned to be Burred Treasure, a short story O. Henry wrote in 1908.    He may have pondered the local treasure stories while he was living in Austin, Texas in the 1880’s.  It did not mention the San Saba treasure by name, but had elements common with the San Saba stories: a man writing down the directions to ten mule load of Spanish treasure in the 1860’s, for a twentieth century treasure hunter to pursue.

The earliest story that refers to the San Saba mine by name is The Red Paper, by C.C. Hotchkiss, a 1912 novel.  No meaningful information on the legend (it actually put it some distance away from Menard and had the Texans covering it up), but it shows how wide-spread the legend was in pre-WWI America.

More recently is The Bowie Secret, by Bob Balch, a 2013 novel that goes from Jim Bowie up to the present.  A work of fiction, but included some real people and places from around Menard.  Some of the same people I met with a couple of years later.  Mr. Balch is a Texas attorney and his take on how messy things could be, legally, if someone ever found a stash of silver is enlightening.

Of course, there are many books out there that are de facto works of fiction, and some of them have influenced the folk lore and legend concerning the story.  Most of the books about Jim Bowie are, frankly, works of fiction where an ounce of history, if even that, was spun into a pound of book.  Jim Bowie’s Lost Mine by M.E. Francis (1966) is a prime example.

Will finish this post with a cartoon from 1945.  J. R. Williams was a popular cartoonist in his day.  He drew cartoons about his experiences, from being in the cavalry to working in a machine shop.  The cartoon below shows how wide-spread the San Saba legend was in those days.


The San Saba Mission: Lost and Found, then Lost and Found Again

The San Saba presidio (at Menard, TX) is oftentimes mistaken for the San Saba mission. They are separate compounds, more than a mile apart. When the mission was established in 1756 the missionaries wanted the mission to be a good distance away from the fort (the presidio).  One might ask how a presidio with 100 Spanish troops was to protect a mission if it was not even in sight of the mission.  The answer is not very well.  The reason for the distance had to do with a disastrous experience with a Texas mission a few years earlier where the  presidio captain was anything but a good example for the newly Christianized Indians.  In fact the captain was excommunicated by the mission priest, then the captain had the priest murdered.  The mission Indians had enough and melted away.  A previously successful mission failed.

With this new mission the presidio was placed out of sight, on the other side (the north side) of the San Saba River.  After various northern tribes (mainly the Comanche) destroyed the mission in 1857 the presidio, that survived the attack, was rebuilt into a stone fortress.  It had no mission to protect, and instead of moving the command to the east to protect the fledgling Los Almagres mines, it stayed where it was to defy the northern tribes.

The stone fortress was occupied for several years but abandoned in the later 1700’s.  It remained for years, and was then mostly dismantled and used for building materials by the new town of Menardville (that later became Menard).  The large fort took a long time to even partly dismantle and there is no doubt where it was located.  Around 1937 a public work’s project mostly rebuilt it, but it was not rebuilt very well, or according to sketches that exist from the colonial era.  It began to crumble.  Much more recently it has undergone a better restoration and the original outline of the building has been reestablished.

While there was never any doubt as to where the fort was, where was the mission?  It seemed to be a case of everyone knew, everyone lost interest, then no one knew and wished they did.  Several archaeologists had a go at locating it, but without any success.  It was supposed to be one and a half leagues away from the fort, but just how long is a league? It was more a measure of how far one could travel in an hour–in an era of sun dials.  The location was lost, perhaps forever.  The old timers saw traces of it before the turn of the century, but no one thought to ask them before they passed on.

One of the reasons for the renewed interest in the mission was the book The San Saba Mission, that was printed in 1964.  It was printed by a person who has much to do, by what he did not do, with the treasure legend.  It was written by the local newspaper editor, a man named Robert Weddle.

Weddle was interested in Texas history–he more interested in history writing than in newspaper editing.  He wrote the aforementioned book and it put him on the map in Texas academia.  He went on to become a respected writer of Texas history.  He passed on a couple of years ago.  His 1964 book did much to popularize the San Saba mission and presidio.

What he did not want to popularize were the the San Saba treasure legends.  From reading many of his newspapers of that era, he had nothing but scorn and ridicule for the treasure legends.  Part of that could have been altruistic.  People were selling mining stocks and none of it ever paid off.  Every reader he dissuaded from the silver lode lottery was another reader who did not throw their money away.

But part of his disdain for the legends could have been that he was trying, really hard, to become a historian.  A small town newsman talking about Jim Bowie and stacks of silver bars would not be taken seriously.  So, perhaps, that has something to do with his newspaper not reporting on any of the treasure hunting goings-on in Menard in the 1960’s.

He may have, perhaps, realized that he had gone too far later in life.  While in the 1960’s he wrote that “tradition, and nothing else” claimed that Jim Bowie was after silver when he made an expedition to somewhere in the area in 1831, the reality was that Rezin Bowie and Caiaphas Ham both stated in unmistakable terms that they were indeed after a silver mine they thought was in the area.  Weddle, well, basically wrote a lie when he wrote those words.  Perhaps he thought it was a white lie.  Well, in what was probably the last academic paper he authored (co-wrote actually) he wrote about historical myths.  He mentioned the myth of silver mines around Menard, but added something curious in a foot note.  He wrote that when he first arrived in Menard that he found a chunk of slag near the old presidio.  Slag is a by-product of silver smelting.  He sent a sample of the slag off to UTEP.  The report came back that the slag contained silver.  For slag to contain silver the ore that was smelted must have contained even more silver.  Perhaps that foot note was a way to make amends for stretching the truth about Bowie, and for a complete press blackout of the very interesting goings on around Menard decades earlier.

Another newspaper editor is part of the story.  John Warren Hunter.  He was a fascinating individual, the sort that were rarely born after 1900.  He was an uneducated youth, a cowboy, who caught the  attention of a young lady back east.  The young lady resolved to civilize the young man and marry him.  So she did.  He took to learning what his educated wife was teaching very well.  He learned so well that he became a school master.  One school he mastered was in Menardville before the turn of the century.  Then he became a newspaper editor in the nearby town of Mason.  In the very early 1900’s the Texas Rangers were having a reunion in Menardville.  Hunter printed up a little souvenir booklet for them titled The Rise and Fall of the Mission San Saba.  The booklet was one part history of the area, one part treasure legend (Hunter held that Los Almagres was a real mine and that it was somewhere around Menardville), and one part biography of interesting early settlers to Menard County.

A couple and a half decades later J. Frank Dobie leaned heavily on the booklet when he wrote the San Saba legend part of Coronado’s Children.  Hunter had spent time in Mexico and could read and write Spanish (during the civil war he refused to join the confederacy and he lived in Mexico for the duration).  While in Monclova he heard tale of silver mines around the San Saba River.  He thought there was a mine, or perhaps mines, in the area, but he did not know just where they were and apparently expended no effort in finding out.

Weddle thought that Hunter’s book was anything but real history.  But years later someone saw something in that little book that probably made Weddle wish that he had read it more closely.  In the early 1990’s a San Antonio architect named Mark Wolf discovered that he was related to one of the soldiers stationed at the presido.  Mark took an interest in the story.  He asked an archaeologist to show him the mission site, where his relative saved many lives during the massacre.  The reply was that no one knew where it was for sure.

Mark developed a strong interest in the history.  He happened upon a yellowed old booklet, The Rise and Fall of The Mission San Saba.  Hunter wrote that the mission site was known to the locals and that artifacts could still be collected there.  It was on the “old Hockensmith place”.  Mark inquired with the county office as to what property had ever been owned by someone named Hockensmith.  There was only one such property–on the south side of the river, a distance from the presidio.  Long story short, that property was the place.  It just so happened that the field had been plowed for alfalfa, and sure enough Mark and some archaeologists he was with that day found one artifact, then another, then another, in the freshly turned soil.  A proper field study held by Texas Tech confirmed beyond a doubt that the mission site, lost when the first generation of Menardville residents passed on, was now found.  It is on private property, but there is a marker nearby.

The irony was that Bob Weddle could have found that site himself, and become a hero to academia, when he was living in Menard and writing his book about that mission in the early 1960’s.  It goes to show that one should never be too proud to read even tacky little booklets when researching history.

McFadden’s Treasure

In the book The Free State of Menard, printed in the 1940’s, Wenonah was quoted as saying “Mr. McFadden, the publisher, asked me some years ago to write a story for his magazine on what I had accomplished because of sheer determination to succeed. But I told him I was too busy to write it.” Wenonah, AKA Martha Learn, was a very unique lady from San Antonio who lived next to the San Saba mine site from 1929 or 1930 until her death in 1943. Judging by a sample of her writing, when she wrote a poem promoting war-bonds for the local paper, she was a perfectly capable writer.

But who was McFadden? Brenarr McFadden (1868 – 1955) was one of those people who are relatively unknown today, despite exerting a tremendous influence on the twentieth century. He was first and foremost a heath enthusiast. He himself was a sickly child with failing eyesight and he resolved to become healthy. So he did.

As work began to move to offices, people began to suffer from inactivity and poor diet. McFadden was Johnny on the spot with programs of exercise and diet. Some of his ideas were a little odd, but most of them have stood the test of time. He was actually ahead of his time in many ways. He was really the first body builder and without him perhaps there would have been no Charles Atlas, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. At first he published books, including an encyclopedia on health. He later began printing a magazine named Physical Culture. One feature in that magazine was stories from readers who followed his programs to good health. Those stories were a hit. Stories from the common man had never been printed before—it was entirely a new concept. Readers liked hearing interesting stories from their neighbors, people just like themselves. He took that concept and branched out into printing reader-submitted stories, worked over by his editors, that were not related to health.

Those magazines created an empire, with magazines like True Stories that had its start in 1919. Later on True Detective and True Romance were added. The stories were sensationalized and sometimes on the risqué side. He built up a publishing empire that had a profound influence. One of the editors of Reader’s Digest had his start with McFadden’s magazines. A story of how a poor little German girl from San Antonio became a fearless snake charmer, and then ran a thriving rattlesnake business, would have made a great story. It is unfortunate that she passed up the opportunity.

While he was a visionary on matters of health and publishing, he had no head for finance. He made lots of money, and he spent lots of money. He did not understand that a business owner could not sell company stock and then use the company bank account for various personal projects. He built health spas, tried running for office, attempted to start his own religion that combined the Bible with health food and exercise, and went through a string of wives who all demanded alimony. He was often threatened with bankruptcy and lawsuits.

The story is that when he was facing court problems he placed large sums of cash, millions of dollars, in old cartridge boxes and buried them on various properties that he owned. Such cash hordes would escape plaintiffs, regardless of the court outcomes. And, indeed, in 1960 someone found an old cartridge box on McFadden’s old estate on Long Island. They claimed to have found $89,000 in it.

So while Wenonah was looking for buried treasure out west, McFadden may have been burying treasure on his properties back east. The real treasure would have been a biography of Wenonah’s life, and that was right in front of them both.

For more information on Brenarr McFadden click here.

Wenonah, 1926

A prior entry showed a picture of Wenonah, AKA Martha Learn, from around 1920 and during her vaudeville days around 1912.  Wenonah was one of the most colorful characters to look for the treasure, living near the mine site from 1929 or 1930 to 1943. She spent her last days living, when she was sick with cancer, in the Bevans hotel in Menard.  While at the Bevans hotel, to try to cover expenses, she pawned her Indian artifacts and the supposed McCaslin artifacts (a knife and a bridle), to a Mr. Volkman, who had an office in the hotel.  McCaslin was one of Bowie’s men who were killed in the 1831 expedition to find the mine. It is unknown what Mr. Volkman did with the items. Supposedly, the rifle barrel found near the grave ended up in San Angelo, Texas.

Here is a photo of her from 1926.  She was still running her snake business / pet store in San Antonio.  By this time the process of creating anti-venom for snake bite was taking hold and Martha was one of the first people in America to provide snake venom for that process.  She even obtained poisonous snakes from the Eastern US so she could milk venom from them too.

Three or four years later she was living in a tin shack next to the mine site.


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.



Silver Mines in Texas

There were real silver mines in Texas.  On the west side of the state there was the Shafter mine district and the Van Horn area.  Those were honest silver mining areas that produced much silver.   There was also at least some mining, on a much smaller scale, at Los Amalgres, off and on in secret.  Menard and San Antonio are on the map for reference.


The Shafter mines were the most important, with 90% of the silver and 70% of the gold ever mined in Texas coming from there.  One can read about them here.  One of the mines in the Shafter mine district even reopened  briefly a few years ago when silver prices spiked, but a drop in prices closed it.  Hopefully it will reopen some day.

The Van Horn mines were smaller and not as productive as the Shafter mines.  Work there ceased during WWII.


The next map shows some of the geological features of the state.  The igneous areas are pockets of ancient volcanic activity amongst what is otherwise a sea of sedimentary rock. Those areas line up very well with the silver mines.  The one to the east is known as the Llano Uplift.  Around these areas it sometimes happened that volcanic activity pushed out into sedimentary areas, even into the usually barren limestone, and left behind minerals.  Even gold and silver sometimes.


Geologists call it replacement when igneous rock protrudes into something like limestone.  However, it appears that those replacements do not reach out scores of miles. For silver, or gold, to have made it to near the old Spanish fort on the San Saba in present day Menard, it would have had to have reached out a few score miles.

There are traces of silver in sandstone about ten miles to the east of Menard.  There have been claims that at least trace silver and gold was recovered from bore samples from around Menard, but it seems that whatever has been found, no one found it worthwhile enough to sink a proper mine.

Regarding the area around Los Amalgres, there were other mines in the Llano Uplift area as well.  One well known mine was the Heath mine, which mined at least some gold. There is a good write up on it here.  There is some question as to what portion of the revenue was from gold, and how much was from the sale of stock.  The owners seemed to have the art of finding investors down to a science.  It closed during WWII.