Hunter’s Rise and Fall of the Mission San Saba

One of the most important sources for the San Saba treasure legends is the 1905 book The Rise and Fall of the Mission San Saba by John Hunter. J. Frank Dobie used it, a lot, when he wrote the chapter on the San Saba Treasure in his book Coronado’s Children.

It was a limited run print for a Texas Rangers convention held in Menard that year. About thirty years later John’s son Marvin published a reprint of it. It is a hard book to find to say the least.

Well, it showed up in digital form here. That website has a number of scans of works I know are still in copyright, but this book is well out of copyright so no harm in making use of it.

Regarding Hunter’s work, I think where he was right, he was really right. Where he was wrong, well, he was really wrong. He had the Los Almagres mine being next to Menard, which it is not–it is clearly in today’s Llano county. He was not the first to write about the Tres Manos Bowie story, but he was the first to really elaborate on it, and the Tres Manos story was nothing but folklore.

But, he was the only person who saw the original ruins of the presidio before it was taken apart and wrote about it. He also visited the remains of the mission before the location of it was lost for several decades. And if it was not for this book, it may never have been rediscovered. Hunter had moved to Mexico during the Civil War to avoid conscription by the Confederacy, and when he returned from Mexico he spoke Spanish and had heard a number of rumors of silver on the San Saba. He referenced several Spanish era archival documents in his booklet. Hunter is to be ignored at one’s peril, even if not everything he wrote was perfect.

If you are interested in the legend enough to make it this far, then read that book!

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 wrote that the mission remains were on the old Hockensmith place) and sure enough, that lot of land had the remains.  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.