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The McCaslin Relics

There are about as many sites for where the 1831 Bowie battle with the Indians took place are there are sites for the legendary lost mine.  The State of Texas decided it was far east of Menard when they were passing out roadside historical markers.  Personally, I think it was a few miles east of Menard, north of the river.

But some people think it was to the north west of town, near the egg-shaped basin.   In the 1930’s Judge Norton and Princess Wenonah found a skeleton to the north of where their main diggings were.  There was a knife, a horse bridle, and a rifle barrel near the corpse.  Norton and Wenonah concluded that they had found the grave of Thomas McCaslin.

Thomas McCaslin was a mechanic brought out west by Jim Bowie.  Jim had promised the Mexican government that he would set up an agricultural mill, and McCaslin was to help set it up.  Before setting about on the mill, the Bowie brothers made a trip north to the vicinity of the San Saba river to look for a mine that was supposed to be within a mile of the old presidio.  Apparently, a guide had taken Jim’s brother to it previously.

Part way through the trip, the group was warned by the Comanche that a band of Indians was after them, so they made full speed to the old Presidio to take shelter.  They forded the San Saba, and then…got lost.  Eventually they headed further north to take shelter for the night.  They had their legendary battle next day at dawn.  Many were injured, but McCaslin was the only fatality in the group.  McCaslin was buried near the location of the fight.

Besides the historical curiosity of where the fight occurred, many treasure hunters believe that the fight took place near the supposed mine. So, find the make shift “fort” and/or McCaslin’s body, and you are close to the mine.  Supposedly.   Jim Bowie’s account made it clear that the mine was supposed to be within a mile of the Presidio.  Many were confused by the more commonly printed account by Jim’s brother.  His brother said that the camp was six miles from the fort, and the mine was a mile distant.  So, was the mine one mile distant from camp, or one mile distant from the Presidio?  Jim Bowie’s account was clear that the mine was supposed to be one mile from the Presidio.

Back to Norton and Wenonah, they never had anything to say about what they were doing at the mine site over the thirteen plus years they stayed there.  All except for one thing: the McCaslin body.  They even erected a cross made from oil field pipe over the body and fixed a brass plaque to it, proclaiming it to be the body of McCaslin.  Perhaps they promoted the find as a way to help sell stock in the mine.  Or, as one person who knew them suggested, it was a distraction to throw other treasure hunters off the track (supposedly they found yet another body a distance away, and it was the real McCoy, or at least the McCaslin.)

Some concluded that bridle, knife, and barrel were grave goods that proved the body was an Indian, buried according to their customs.  But the accounts at the time were that the items were near, but not necessarily in the grave.  It is unfortunate that archeologists were not consulted to date the artifacts and to give an opinion on the race of the skeleton.

So what did happen to the artifacts?  Years later Wenonah was sick, and out of money.  She moved to the Bevins hotel in Menard.  She was a trend setter–today it is the Menard Manor, a rest home.  She needed money, and it just so happened that a collector of old west artifacts had an office in the hotel.  She put up the bridle and the knife as collateral for a loan.  She died without ever reclaiming them.

The new owner, according to a newspaper from the 1960’s, was Bill Volkmann.  The image below shows him, with the knife resting on a book to his side.  He is holding the bridle.  The article claimed that the barrel made its way to a lady in San Angelo.

Volkmann

There is also an account that the artifacts were briefly owned by a local attorney before being stolen.  Those artifacts could help clear up the mystery, but they seem to been lost forever.

Rise and Fall of the Mission San Saba – Hunter and Dobie

In 1905 there was a Texas Ranger’s reunion in Menardville, TX.  A local newspaper man and former teacher named John W. Hunter printed up a booklet about the area, The Rise and Fall of the Mission San Saba.  It had three parts–43 pages on the history of the Spanish involvement in the area, especially in regards to the mission and presidio.  22 pages on the legendary mine.  And the remainder of the book was on notable citizens (in the first printing), and a sketch of the area (in the second printing).

There is a lot packed into those first 65 pages.  The focus here is not so much what Hunter wrote, but what Dobie copied.

From Dobie’s Coronado’s Children:

Sometimes the name of the fabled source of wealth is Los Almagres; sometimes Las Almagres; again La Mina de las Iguanas…oftener the name is simply the Lost San Saba Mine or the Lost Bowie Mine….It changes its place like will-o’-the-wisp…

From Hunter’s The Rise and Fall of the Mission San Saba:

History and tradtion all attest the existence of a silver mine so often referred to by the old chroniclers as “La Mina de las Almagres,” “La Mina de las Amarillas,” and in modern times as “The Bowie Mine.”…It was the will-o’-the wisp…

Dobie obviously read the book and borrowed not just the stories, but some of the literary flourishes as well.  Most of what Dobie wrote about Silver Creek was straight from William Longworth (and that includes the La Mina de las Iguanas part), but the Bowie section in Dobie’s book is very close to the book by Hunter.

That is not altogether a bad thing.  Hunter, in my opinion, was either really right, or really wrong, on everything he wrote.  An example of where he was really right was his little book listing where the lost mission was, while professional historians and archeologists scampered about the countryside in a futile search for decades.  It was found in the 1990’s when someone simply read his book and looked up property records.  Hunter showed up in the area in the late 1800’s.  He saw the presidio mostly as the Spaniards had abandoned it.  He saw the debris of the mission.  He spoke to people who had spoke to Bowie, et al.

But at other times, he was really wrong.  He did talk to a lot of old timers, and sometimes they knew what they were talking about, and sometimes they really did not.  Or they had picked up idle gossip along the way, and made it respectable by telling it as a card-carrying old timer.   That includes the account of Bowie being adopted by an Indian tribe and so discovering a cave full of silver bars.  That is, properly, folklore, and Dobie was, well, doing his job as a folklorist by including it in his book.

Back to Hunter’s book, it is not an easy book to find.  But well worth reading if one finds it.

Paper read at the 2018 Texas Folklore Society

The following paper was presented at the April 2018 meeting of the Texas Folklore Society held in Lubbock, TX

   “J. Frank Dobie’s San Saba Treasure Story – From History to Legend to History”

If any one person comes to mind when the subject of Texas Folklore comes up, it is probably that of J. Frank Dobie. I know it is for me, as many years ago, my introduction to Texas folklore was through one of his stories. The story had to do with one of the San Saba treasure legends, from his 1930 book Coronado’s Children.

The story started in the 1840’s, and involved a farmer named Dixon, who was living in San Marcos, Texas. He heard about a cave full of silver near the San Saba River. Three of his neighbors thought that if there was a mine there, records of it would be at the old Spanish colonial capital of Texas, in Monclova, Mexico. So, the three neighbors, Greenberry Ezel, Wiley Stroud, and Sam Fleming, pitched in for Dixon to go to Monclova to find a map. Dixon went there, but the church would not let him see the archives. However, a friend of his was living in Monclova, and, luckily, his daughter worked at the church. She found the map and, in 1858, she met Dixon in San Antonio and gave it to him. She said that the map led to a mine where thousands of silver bars were stored. If his group would go there and get the silver, and give her a one-fifth portion, then she would give them another map, a map to a dozen or so silver mines hidden around the San Saba.

They were about to go look for it, but the Civil War broke out, and it was 1868, one hundred and fifty years ago this year, before they went.

They were to start at an old Spanish fort, near today’s town of Menard, then go three leagues west up the river, then one league north up a creek, called Silver Creek these days, and look for a pile of rocks. Under the pile was half of a metate, a Mexican corn grinding stone. They were then to look for a series of copper pegs to the south, and then to the west. To the west they were to find the other half of the metate buried between two trees. They found them all, and then they were to dig where some lines from those landmarks crossed. They were to dig straight down to get to an old mine shaft.

They dug, and they thought the earth had been dug before. As they dug deeper, they could not hoist out large rocks. The men argued with each other, and they gave up. They returned to San Marcos without any silver.

They never returned, but others took up the project. In particular, a treasure hunter from San Antonio named William Longworth. He reopened the mine during the first world war, but it flooded with water. Longworth’s partner, a lawyer from San Antonio, brought in new pumps to try to get the water under control. And that was where the story ended.

It was a story of general interest because the supposed mine shaft was actually discovered. Most lost mine stories leave the location of the mine lost, but this is one of only a very few stories where the location of the mine was, and is, known. It was only a question of finding, and then reopening, one particular tunnel in the mine.

And the story was of particular interest to me as Sam Fleming, one of the four men from San Marcos, was my great grandmother’s grandfather. He lived with her family in San Antonio for a time. That great grandmother lived to be almost a hundred years old, and I remember her well.

I had heard the story when I was young, and for some reason, the day before Thanksgiving, four years ago, I did an internet search to see what had happened in the 84 years since Dobie’s book was published. There was no news regarding the mine, but the search found a preview of Dobie’s book.

The book included a description of where the mine was, and a rough map of the area around the mine itself. I had last read the book in the early 1990’s, before the internet. Now, using satellite imagery, I was able to locate the starting point of the treasure hunt, the old Spanish fort at Menard. Converting leagues to miles I was able to follow the route. It did not take me to the site, but it got me into the general area. Hearing about the legend was one thing, but actually seeing the land was something else. Seeing the land made the story real to me. I resolved to find out what was behind the legend, and what happened there after Dobie’s book was published.

Before I go on, after much study I do not think that there is, or was, a large stash of silver buried near Menard. But the history behind the legend, the legend, and the things people did because of the legend, were too good to keep to myself. The result of that research is a book that the Texas Folklore Society will be printing this Fall.

Dobie recorded a lot of treasure folklore. Texas is full of lost treasure stories, and no wonder, given all the Spanish, and then wild west, history of the state. There is much Spanish history near Menard. And there actually was some silver mined in the Spanish era, perhaps not on the San Saba River, but a couple of days to the east at the Los Almagres mines in today’s Llano County. That is in a mineral bearing area known as the Llano Uplift, while Menard is in a limestone area and only trace silver exists anywhere nearby. Probably stories of mines north of San Antonio mixed the two together.

It is often believed that, if there was a Spanish fort, or mission, in an area, it could only mean one thing: the Spaniards were, obviously, enslaving the Indians to mine silver or gold. And, in fact, in 1757 a fort and an Apache mission were established on the San Saba River. But, the mission was destroyed by the Comanche shortly thereafter, and very few Indians had ever lived at the mission in the first place. Why the mission was founded there is a stranger-than-fiction kind of story that had to do with a rivalry between the Apache and the Comanche, and had little or nothing to do with silver.

The fort survived, but was abandoned in 1772. The area around the San Saba River was Comanche territory. Rumors of mines on the San Saba River circulated, after Mexican independence, but few were brave enough to go looking.

One person brave enough was Jim Bowie. Along with his brother, and several companions, they made an expedition in 1831. They did not find a mine, but did find an epic battle with the Tonkowas. An account of the fight was widely published in the 1800’s. So Bowie’s search, even a failed search, strengthened the legend. It is sometimes called the lost Bowie mine.

The area around the San Saba River was off limits until German settlers made peace with the Comanche in 1847. The first generation of settlers were amazed at the easy living the Texas Hill Country had to offer. They saw no reason to hunt buried treasure when fertile land, plentiful game, free timber, and practically self-raising livestock were a treasure compared to what they had left in Europe. The next generation, however, only knew the hard work they had grown up with, and they were ready to hunt for treasure.

Nearly all of what Dobie wrote of this particular legend was from the treasure hunter William Longworth. Longworth was a life-long treasure hunter and Dobie used his stories in other books and articles through the years. Longworth had met a relative of my ancestor in San Antonio in 1902. That relative told Longworth the story of the San Saba mine. Longworth then devoted years of his life to reopening it. He took out a long lease on the site, removed a lot of dirt from the tunnels, and thought he was within a score of feet from the silver and that he only needed to dam off some water to get to it. But, circumstances caused him to relinquish the lease to his partner from San Antonio. After that, he was happy to tell the story to Dobie. And a few years later, Longworth wrote a book of his own that had a chapter about the mine, but, it was never published. I suspect that Longworth pieced together the story from a bare outline of historic events and people, and the story sort of evolved over time.

Yes, in late 1868, four men from San Marcos really did travel to the San Saba near Menard and they found what they thought was a mine. There is an unpublished Fleming family history that confirms that and gives some detail not found in Dobie’s account.

From an affidavit that Fleming’s son-in-law made out to Longworth, in 1868 the San Marcos men found a large limestone hole that was partly filled in with dirt. And they thought that was a filled in mine shaft. There was no mention of metates and pegs. In my opinion, they did not follow a map with pegs and metates. They probably found the limestone basin because the location ties into some possible locations for the mine, as implied by Jim Bowie’s brother in his story about their 1831 search for the mine, and as suggested in a book written by a German settler to the Hill Country. And they probably went looking in 1868 after one of them, a confirmed life-long treasure hunter, read a story about the San Saba mines in the 1868 Texas Almanac.

However, an account made by Jim Bowie, to the Mexican Government (the expedition was prior to the Texas revolution), narrowed down those possible locations to one area near the fort. While his brother’s account was widely printed in the 1800’s, Jim’s account was almost unknown for many decades. If the San Marcos men did their homework, given what was available to them, it would have led them three leagues up or down the river, and then up or down a creek.

There is a limestone basin there. Popularly called the egg-shaped basin. It has dirt in it, and a pecan tree grows from it. At one end of the basin is the entrance to a limestone cave. Not a mine shaft, but a natural cave.  Much of it is flooded with water, including the entrance from the basin. It may connect to the nearby Powell’s Cave—the second longest cave in Texas.

That basin is significant for two reasons. First, it definitively locates the alleged mine. There is only one such basin in the area, and Longworth’s written account of the treasure refers to it. Second, Dobie knew of the basin because a drawing of it was in his San Saba notes, yet he left it out of his story as it would have minimized the importance of the supposed secret location of the vertical shaft that led to the very same cave. By that omission, Dobie made the map, with the copper pegs and such, central to the story and “proof” that “something had to be there”.

After Coronado’s Children was published, the San Antonio Lawyer, that Dobie wrote about, left his wife, took over the project, and worked there until his death 13 years later. A lady popularly known as Princess Wenonah, who had owned a San Antonio reptile business, and before that had been a vaudeville rattlesnake dancer, was at the site during that time as well, until her death the same year.

Between the 1940’s and 1990, other people worked the site. Those people were almost certainly inspired, at least in part, by Dobie’s story. In the 1960’s, professional mining engineers were brought in. One of them even managed to get a bulldozer into the cave–it is still there. The person who worked the lease the most was a construction site foreman named Hardy Merrick, from Abilene. He was usually joined by an attorney from Del Rio.

They finally got the water under control with modern pumps. The next step, according to a supposed map, was to find a hidden tunnel leading to the north-east.

Holes were drilled from within the cave, looking for that tunnel, but none was found. So holes were drilled in other directions, thinking that maybe the Spaniards had their directions wrong. But nothing.

So they started sinking vertical shafts from the surface. By now the legend was that there were five different treasure rooms, so odds were that they would hit at least one of them. Somewhere between 50 and 100 vertical shafts, several feet in diameter, some 50 feet deep or deeper, were sunk all around the creek. But nothing.

In the 1970’s, a son of Hardy Merrick bought the land. That son, Wallace Merrick, retired to the area and took up the search. Wallace partly financed the land, and his mining efforts, through a company he had started years earlier in Texas. That company produced the shrimp processing machinery that he invented. It is still active today. It made shrimp affordable for the masses. So, the next time you eat some shrimp, consider that the machinery that processed it was invented to raise money to look for the treasure popularized by Dobie.

Eventually, all that could be done, was done. Some thought the silver had been found years earlier—there is a local legend about an armored car driving to the site when Norton was there. Others suspected that it was a scam to sell shares in the project. But most of the locals thought it was a silly legend. For decades wild-eyed treasure hunters had been digging all around the town—around the turn of the century there was a cottage industry in San Antonio that created fake treasure maps, almost always centered on Menard. So failed treasure hunts were nothing new.

Wallace Merrick died not long after purchasing the land, and when Hardy Merrick died in 1990, the hunt was over. Even before Wallace’s death, he seemed to have given up on the site and was looking into other treasure legends around Menard.

Researching treasure legends is very difficult, because the people in the past usually tried to hide what they were doing, and people in the present tend to assume that anyone interested in treasure legends is delusional at best, and dangerous at worst. But a relative of mine is a personal friend of the current land owners, and that opened doors. I was allowed to visit the site, and it was exciting to look through the cave, and to stand at the basin where my ancestor stood so many years ago. But it is, really, just a cold, wet cave. If given permission to visit it again, I am not sure that I would. The land owners raise cattle there now, and they share the opinion that there never was any silver.

So, one afternoon, a few years ago, I took a quick look to see what came of the story. That moment of curiosity led me through a story that began with a 1750’s Spanish mission, led to an Indian massacre, to Jim Bowie, to supposed Mexican treasure maps, to post-civil war expeditions, to a rattlesnake dancer, to J. Frank Dobie, to the inventor of the modern shrimp industry, and to other interesting eccentrics that Texas is so good at producing. It led me to the bottom of a cave in Menard where lives and fortunes were lost, and it led me to be here in front of you today. I am sorry to say that it will not lead anyone to a pile of silver bars, but the history behind the folklore, the folklore itself, and the history that resulted is treasure for us all.

 

Jim Bowie’s 1832 Expedition

The 1831 expedition of the Bowie brothers to search for the lost mine somewhere around the San Saba River is well known.  Less well known is the 1832 expedition.  Rezin Bowie, James’s brother, was not part of it.

A newspaper from January 1832 states:

Permission having been granted by the Political Authorities of the country, to Mr James Bowie to make an expedition against this horde of thieves, and marauders, of our frontier, a Volunteer corps, to be commanded by officers of their own election, will go out in the coming month of January.  The present is believed to be a favorable moment to strike a final and fatal blow to those distorters of our peace…information has been received that the Tahaukanos…All that feel disposed to go and chastize these murderers of our wives and children, and plunderers of our property, are invited to meet at Gonzales on the 20th of next month, the time and place appointed for a general rendezvous, whence they will proceed on the campaigne.

The stated purpose was to go punish the Tonkawa Indians.  That was the main group that had attacked Bowie’s group not long before.  It was widely suspected then, and now, that the main purpose, or at least a purpose, was to go back to the San Saba and have another look for a silver mine.  Jim Bowie went on the expedition, and found no silver, and apparently saw little sign of the Tonkawa either.

Rezin may have visited the San Saba with a guide before the 1831 fight and been shown an alleged mine.  In a twist of fate, Rezin’s eye sight was failing.  In the 1831 fight he used a shotgun instead of a rifle.  After the 1831 fight he headed back east to visit an eye specialist.  He also told the story of the Indian fight to the Saturday Evening Post, and it was widely printed and reprinted for years to come.  How cruel that he had seen the mine, or at least what he thought was a mine, then, perhaps, could not see well enough to lead the way to it.

After the probable search in early 1832 for the mine, it is likely that Jim Bowie never looked for it again.

 

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.

Map_Mines

Maps

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.

Hunt_and_Randel_1841

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.

sansaba-map

Old Man Mullins

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.

First_House

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 of 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.

San_Saba_Cartoon

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 (Charles was discovered in a sort of body building competition that McFadden put on in the 1920s), and by extension, no 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.