History

The Billion Dollar Lost Silver Mine of the Hill Country

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By Lloyd Tackitt

Legends abound in the Hill Country. One of the older legends is of Jim Bowie’s lost silver mine near Menard. Bowie moved to San Antonio in 1828. By 1830, he had become a Mexican citizen, spending time as a prospector and land speculator. Famously, he carried the Bowie knife, designed by his brother Rezin and forged from a meteorite. Bowie married the daughter of the Vice-Governor of Mexico, Ursula Veramendi. He discovered Indians trading silver in San Antonio, and leaving his bride behind, he went and lived with the Lipan Apaches to learn the source of the silver.

The Billion Dollar Lost Silver Mine of the Hill Country
Photo: Eliora Henzler (Flickr)

He discovered the source near the Presidio de San Saba – abandoned due to the fierceness of the nearby Indians. The post was abandoned in 1768, reoccupied briefly in 1770, and then permanently abandoned, in what would later become Menard County, on the San Saba River. Gaining the Lipan’s respect as a warrior, he was adopted by Lipan Chief Xolic’s son, initiated into the tribe, and earned the right to work half the silver mine by agreeing to exchange silver for medicine, food, and more importantly, guns.

Bowie returned to San Antonio to get men and equipment to work the mine. One Lipan warrior, Tres Manos, named because he wore a human hand as a necklace, resented the white man’s intrusion and followed Bowie to San Antonio to call off the deal. Bowie and Tres Manos fought, and Tres Manos was nearly killed by Bowie’s knife. Tres Manos was able to return home and recover, a fact that would ultimately lead to the mine becoming lost, and altering Texas history significantly.

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