| Washed in golden
sunset, from a distance Llano County's Sharp Mountain looks like a giant Paleolithic
flint hide scraper lying on its side. |
At 1,594 feet above sea level,
the landmark barely deserves its mountain designation. Its summit rising 400 feet
above the land around it, the huge pile of cedar-studded rock sits on private
property about five miles southeast of Llano.
Few today know about the long-abandoned mine shafts the mountain hides.
nation's economy rested in a dark, deep hole itself back in 1936, when energetic
promoters touted Sharp Mountain as another American gold bonanza.
in Gold," read a brochure distributed by the Laburma (for Llano, Burnet and Mason
counties) Corp., "Not in Alaska…Mexico…Africa…But right here in TEXAS."
Whoever wrote that Depression-era sales piece would have done any snake oil hawker
proud. The six-page brochure talked of the ancient lure of gold, a quest that
has long attracted man because "GOLD is the measure of empire and with GOLD empires
are made, and lost."
The brochure continued: "After years of prospecting,
opening cross-cuts, sinking shafts, driving tunnels on Sharp Mountain…an enormous
body of gold bearing ore has been discovered. Assays of ore…show high values which
are increasing with the depth."
Indeed, since the days of the Spanish
missions in Texas, the belief persisted that the Hill
Country held gold and silver as well as quartz, pyrite and other minerals.
In the late 1890s, someone did discover a gold ore deposit in Llano County and
mining operations began on the Heath Ranch. Two freight cars of ore shipped to
Pueblo, Colo. for smelting in 1901 assayed at $35 a ton. That's roughly 1.75 ounces
of gold per 2,000 pounds of ore.
Though hardly equivalent to Colorado's
storied Cripple Creek district (which by 1935 had produced $500 million worth
of gold calculated for the most part at $20 an ounce), some production continued
in the Llano area until 1916. A local bank displayed a 32-ounce gold brick made
from Llano County ore that would be worth more than $18,000 today. But that may
have been the most gold that ever came from the area.
The 1936 claims by
Laburma might have sounded promising to some, but many Llano
residents had been previously deprived of their hard-earned money in assorted
unsuccessful mining ventures. Most local folks took news of the latest "find"
with a grain of another mineral -- salt.
"People here have been taken
so many times you couldn't sell stock in Llano
for a-nickel-a-$100-share," one old-timer recalled in the late 1970s. He said
jaded locals came to call mine promoters "snake hunters."
for that cynicism, Laburma brought potential investors to Llano
from San Antonio and other places
by bus, putting them up at the old Southern Hotel. Taken to the mine site after
being subjected to a dog and pony show, the prospects saw armed guards patrolling
the fence around the 800-acre property, examined ore samples and read optimistic
assay reports. Then they got the opportunity to buy shares of Laburma stock.
is the thief of time," the Laburma brochure warned. "THE OPPORTUNITY IS NOW: WISHING,
THINKING, and CONSIDERING! will not develop mines; help to build up the mineral
wealth of Texas, or enable you to share in the millions that should be obtained
from the production of Laburma Mines."
In the end, the only people who
made any money off the Llano County gold mine were the property owners, who got
$1,000 a mile for creek frontage to the center of the bed. Lawrence Bruhl, who
as a young lawyer represented the corporation, later estimated he paid $20,000
to $30,000 in cash to ranchers used to eking out a living back when roast beef
sold for 29 cents a pound.
The Laburma mining operation, Bruhl told a
reporter in the 1970s, "was not a fraudulent deal. The mines were open, they were
digging and sending samples to Denver. The [assay] reports were good."
not good enough. The mine never produced ore in sufficient quantity to make the
members of the Laburma Corp. any money, not to mention all the hapless investors,
left with nothing but fancy stock certificates as reminders of the venerable truth
that "not all that glitters is gold."