name is sometimes spelled Schniveley—was either a con-man, a fool,
or probably the unluckiest man on earth. It’s hard to tell which.
He claimed to be a mining man who’d prospected the Sierra Madres.
He also claimed he’d found one of the richest gold mines on the
continent in the mountains below El
Paso, on the Texas side of the Rio Grande.
The catch is, there is gold out there. Lodes have been found—and
lost—several times. Samples have been produced. A sample in the
possession of retired railroad conductor Lock Campbell, in
San Antonio in the
1920s, was provided by a Seminole Negro named Bill Kelly.
It assayed, in the 1920s, when gold sold for $20 per ounce, at $20,000
to the ton. Another, of wire gold—Kelly’s was not wire gold—assayed
at a similar amount in the same period. A third sample, picked up
somewhere along the original route of the Southern Pacific Railroad,
probably somewhere in Brewster County, assayed even higher. However,
the locations of the prospects were never properly documented. If
they have been subsequently found no reports have been made of the
find. Snively, then, could have found one of those lodes, of which
there are at least three and possibly more.
the fall of 1866 Snively and Col. William C. Dalrymple of
Williamson County started to raise an expedition to locate and claim
Snively’s lode. That year was a very unsettled one in Texas. The
state was under martial law during reconstruction. There was little
money anywhere. Almost any prospect of finding something valuable
would attract the war-impoverished people of Texas.
Snively wanted an expedition of 30 to 40 men. Col. Dalrymple, an
experienced frontiersman and Indian fighter, disagreed. He insisted
an expedition of 10 hand-picked frontiersmen would make a far better
group. Besides, the fewer the men, the larger each man’s share would
be. Snively finally agreed. Col. Dalrymple picked first old Mose
Carson, brother to the famous Kit Carson. Other names are given
as Tom Jones, Tom Holly, John Cohen, Malcolm, Warren, and Abe
Hunter, Temp and W. H. ‘Bud’ Robinson, and A. Whitehurst.
All the men were experienced frontiersmen and excellent shots.
In January of 1867 the expedition was organized and started west.
Every member of the expedition furnished his own mount, weapons,
and ammunition. The group left Camp Colorado well mounted,
with ample provisions and equipment for opening the mine.
On February 3, on the old stagecoach trail along the North Concho—about
where present Sterling
City is—the group spotted a trail of a large number of unshod
horses. Dalrymple and Snively decided the trail was made by mustangs
and were of no concern to the party.
Two of the men, Jones and Warren Hunter, both experienced Indian
fighters, disagreed. After examining the trail they saw signs which
convinced them the trail was made by a party of Indians, either
Comanches or their allies, Kiowas. The trail was a straight one,
made by horses being ridden in single file, a dead giveaway that
the animals weren’t mustangs. Mose Carson agreed. After some discussion
the party tightened their ranks and kept the pack animals under
That night the party camped on what is now known as Kiowa Creek,
a tributary of the Concho River. They kept the horses and mules
close to camp all night in order to prevent them from being stampeded
in the night. The next morning they remained in camp until about
11 AM, allowing the animals to graze, since they’d been unable to
the night before. Since no Indians had been seen most of the party
decided Snively and Dalrymple were right and relaxed their vigilance.
About six hundred yards from where they’d camped the night before
two of the men who were lagging behind suddenly began yelling for
help. The men looked back to see two columns of Indians in hot pursuit
of the stragglers. Jones, Hunter, and Carson were right—the horses
were those of a war party. The Indians were combined party of Comanches
and Kiowas, about 120 in number, outnumbering the frontiersmen 12
The Indians were armed primarily with bows and lances. Hunter remarked
that he saw only four long guns, though several apparently had pistols
or revolvers. Each of the frontiersmen had a rifle, some of which
were 7-shot Spencer repeaters, as well as several revolvers. It
was necessary to carry several revolvers, since once fired a percussion
revolver is very slow to reload.
As soon as the Indians, in particular the Kiowas, came in range,
the rifles began to talk and saddles were emptied. The chief was
the main target, but he had a heavy buffalo-hide shield, probably
reinforced inside with books—that was a common practice—and he was
able to stop or avoid every shot fired at him. Dalrymple, the most
experienced other than Carson, ordered the men to stay in the saddle
and charge the Indians, which they did. The tactic was very effective
any time it was used, and it worked this time, as well. Jones’ horse
was shot from under him. He managed to avoid a lance, grabbed the
bridle of the Indian’s horse, shot the Indian out of the saddle,
and took his horse.
The charge required the men to abandon the pack animals. The Comanches
immediately started after the packs, but seeing the Kiowas disrupted
by the charge, rallied with their allies. Dalrymple, seeing the
pack animals beginning to scatter, ordered two of the Hunters to
round them up and head them for the creek, where there would be
both water and timber for cover. He then ordered another charge.
A number of the white men’s horses were killed in the second charge
and several men were wounded including Dalrymple, who took a lance
wound in one arm. By this time both his pistols and his rifle were
empty. With a lance still hanging from his arm he made a break for
the timber. Several Kiowas got behind him, cutting him off from
the rest of the men, but the two Hunters began to pursue the Kiowas
who were chasing Dalrymple, emptying a couple of saddles.
The chase continued for about 300 yards when the Indians, realizing
they were too far from the main body and were in danger of being
cut off themselves, broke it off. The white men then took cover
in a small creek, where the lance was removed from Dalrymple’s arm.
The wound was bandaged with a neckerchief. In taking cover, the
men had to abandon their pack animals, which the Indians immediately
The Indians settled into a siege. The white men were cautioned to
fire low, shooting for the hips, legs, or lower bellies of the Indians,
which were not protected by their shields. A number of them were
wounded that way and likely later died. A shot at a shield was considered
a waste of ammunition.
The war party
formed for yet a third charge. Dalrymple gave the order to hold
fire until the Indians were within point-blank range, then fire
a volley and begin firing at will. Dalrymple allowed the charge
to get within 10 or 12 yards of the whites before he ordered the
volley, which proved devastating, nearly every round taking out
an enemy. The men with Spencers continued firing their rifles and
carbines, while other men opened up with revolvers. That ended the
charge—but began a siege.
One of the Indians
had an excellent rifle and was apparently a very good shot with
it. He took cover in some rocks and began shooting the white men’s
horses. Warren Hunter waited his opportunity and when the sniper
showed his head to aim Hunter, in his own words, “…took the whole
top of his head off.”
Several of the Indians tried to sneak through the grass, but—upon
seeing a disturbance in the grass—the white men fired at it, which
put an end to the attempts. The Indians then tried to rain arrows
into the defile to hit the frontiersmen, but a strong wind blew
the arrows aside. Most of the horses and mules had been either captured
or killed by this time. During the night the Indians put arrows
into the last two, leaving the whites completely afoot and without
provisions. Finally the Indians, apparently deciding they’d sustained
too many casualties, withdrew.
About 10 PM the whites decided to make their escape in the darkness.
Some members of the group wanted to follow the creek down to the
Concho, but Carson and others said that would be what the Indians
would expect. They would be waiting in ambush. Accordingly, the
party started out across the prairie. Just before dawn they came
to the Concho and took cover in a dense thicket, where they rested
a day. Hunter and Jones spotted a small herd of buffalo. Since the
herd was windward of the men it wouldn’t catch their scent. Hunter
managed to get close enough to kill a buffalo cow, so the men had
their first meal in nearly 48 hours. As soon as night fell they
struck out afoot. At daylight they holed up in another thicket,
rested, and ate more buffalo meat—“…half raw and without salt,”
or so the account says.
The following day the party met with a wagon train headed for the
salt lakes to gather salt. From the wagons they got provisions other
than buffalo meat for the first time since the fight. The party
then split up, half headed for Fort
Mason and half headed home. Dalrymple and Snively told the
men to go home, rest up, and early in the spring be prepared to
set out again. This time the expedition would have 100 men, wagons,
and beef on the hoof.
second expedition actually reached the Big
Bend country, though not without incident. While the expedition
itself was not attacked, it did manage to rescue another party that
had been cut off without food or water for three days. The party
survived only because the people took refuge in roofless adobe along
the road. They lost all their horses and some 400 head of cattle
to the attacking Indians.
On arrival in the Big
Bend, it became obvious that Snively either had never been there
or had never been in the part of the Big
Bend the party hit. Eventually he confessed to having received
his ore samples from a dying US soldier, who described to him where
they were found. He could not connect the description with anything
he saw. While a number of his companions were contemplating lynching
him for having brought them on a wild-goose chase, cooler heads
prevailed. The party returned to central Texas. Snively went to
Arizona where he was killed by Apaches in 1870, never having found
the gold mine he craved.
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
May 29, 2009 column