As an avid student of history, I love the tales and folklore that have been handed down for generations. They are as much a part of history as dates and facts. Much of what makes up a culture are its oral traditions, those stories past down from one generation to the next over the dinner table or campfire. Some of my favorite stories are those about lost treasure, and I suppose it’s because of my love of a good mystery. Today’s post is about the Los Almagres Mine, otherwise known as the San Saba Mine, or more commonly, the Lost Bowie Mine. The story of this mine, which is purported to contain the largest amount of silver ore ever discovered, is very short on facts and supportable evidence, but long on action and mystery. But after all, isn’t that what really makes a great tale?
Our story begins in 1753, when an expedition seeking a site for an Apache mission, led to the discovery of Los Almagres Mine in what is now Llano County. Lt. Juan Galvan, the leader of the expedition, heard from the local Indians about a hill near San Antonio which contained large deposits of mineral-bearing ore. A group of men from San Antonio was led to the hill by several Apache, but no signs of large silver deposits were discovered, however, reports of the mine spread across the region, and the legend was born.
In 1756, Bernardo de Miranda y Flores led another expedition to locate the mine. Twenty-three men left San Antonio, and after arriving at Cerro de Almagre, they dug a shaft and reportedly found a tremendous amount of ore, though the samples they brought back for testing yielded no positive results. Miranda sought funding for a more extensive dig at the site and to set up a presidio, but his efforts proved unsuccessful.
An Apache mission and presidio was established along the San Saba River. The presidio’s captain, Diego Ortiz Parrilla, in an effort to have his command moved to Los Almagres, had ore samples dug from the mine, which were smelted at the presidio. Treasure seekers found the slag where the ore had been smelted along the San Saba River and erroneously assumed that was the site of the mine, which gave rise to it being called the San Saba Mine. The San Saba Mission was attacked and destroyed by hostile Indians in 1758 and the mine was never officially opened, but interest in it continued to grow over the years due to the reports of Miranda and Parrilla.
In 1788, six prospectors were working where they thought the mine was located, when they were attacked by the Apache. All but one of the prospectors were killed, which ended further expeditions to the area for the next several decades.
Stephen F. Austin included the mine on all the maps he made of South Texas, though this was likely done in an effort to enhance interest in the area and were not intended to be taken as the actual geographic location. It seems that this ploy worked, because many flocked to the area in hopes of finding riches, but most of the prospecting was done along the San Saba River which was where most maps showed the mine to be located. James Bowie and his brother Rezin made several forays into the Hill Country, and though they spoke of Los Almagres and helped build the legend of the mine, there is very little evidence that they ever made any real efforts to find it.
In 1909, members of the United States Geological Survey, using Miranda’s journals, dug along the hill in Los Almagres. They determined that the mine was unproductive, and no further efforts were made to remove ore from the site, though many die-hard treasure hunters and romantics refuse to believe that the actual site of the Los Almagres Mine has yet been found.
The pragmatic historian in me thinks that the lost mine was always more legend than fact, but the part of me that revels in the folklore of Texas believes that just maybe there is a fortune in silver somewhere in the Hill Country just waiting to be discovered. Whatever the truth is, the legend of Los Almagres Mine has given me something I consider to be almost as valuable as treasure, a good plot for a book. The Lost Bowie Mine is the setting for my novel, Bury Me Along Palmetto Creek, and is the basis for much of the conflict in the story.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some of the history of Texas as well as one of our most enduring mysteries. Until next time, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.