Judge Norton’s Wife, Dora Loar

Judge Norton’s second wife was Dora Loar. Norton’s son was from his first wife (Maria “Mamie” Bean.) She refused to move with him to Menard in 1930, and instead lived out her life over the next 30 years in their house in San Antonio. Found a photo of her the other day. It is only a guess, but perhaps the photo was taken on Norton’s ranch before he moved into the city.

She refused to move to Menard, to which Julius responded that he was going there and would not come back until he found the treasure. To which she replied that she thought she would never see him again. And she did not.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Wenonah_Snake_1926

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 in the early years of the 1900’s.  One can see the old shaft on the top of Packsaddle Mountain and the remains of the massive, old smelter in the valley below.  Menard (near the legendary San Saba Mines)  and San Antonio are on the map for reference.

Texas_map1

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 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.

van_horn

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.

Texas_map2

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.

Heath_Mine

Gooch’s Folly

In the late 1800’s the treasure hunting around Menard(ville) reached a fevered pitch. People who caught gold fever were convinced that they had found the location of the treasure, or a rich mine, only to be scorned by the locals when they came up empty-handed.

One of the strangest cases was what came to be known as Gooch’s Folly. Ben F. Gooch was a wealthy stock man from the nearby town of Mason, well a nearby town as distances in rural Texas go. Sometime between 1873 and 1876 Ben, and a fellow named Cabinis, became convinced that there was a rich mine buried straight down below a hill north-west of town. The story was that the Spaniards had worked the mine before being slaughtered by the Indians. There was great secrecy surrounding Gooch’s project to sink a hole straight down to the ore. The only thing that was found, according to one of the workers after the project was abandoned, was plug of tobacco that one of them had accidentally dropped down the hole.

Moving forward a decade and a half, to 1894, a J.K. Patterson heard about a mine around Menard(ville). A man named Short told him about it. Short recalled seeing a smelter near the old Presidio when he first came to the area in the early 1870’s and he remembered that the directions to the mine were to travel 3 miles due west from a big spring above town. While they were mulling things over they met up with fellow named Johns who had a map that gave different directions to a mine.  The direction to that mine was to follow a particular dry creek north from the San Saba River. They were all in a mining mood so they set out to see just where the two lost mines were. They formed two groups, each one tracing a different route. They were sure that they were standing above rich ore when both groups converged on the very same spot. If two different maps pointed to the same spot then it had to be a sure thing.

So a project was started to dig down to the mine. After a month of digging they were ecstatic as large timbers and other surface debris were pulled out of the shaft from forty feet down. Someone had been there before! Sure had, they were re-digging the same hole Gooch had dug 15 years earlier. When a local informed them of that, they wondered why that Gooch character had not dug deep enough, and back to digging they went.  Only they did not so much as find a plug of tobacco when they gave up.