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Ranger Silver

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

When A. S. Lowery signed on with the Texas Rangers in 1875, the state paid its frontier lawmen $30 a month.

At some point during Lowery’s half-year of service with famed Capt. Leander H. McNeely, an old Mexican man came to him seeking help. His son had been stabbed to death, the man told the Ranger. If Lowery could catch the killer, the old man continued, he would make the lawman rich.

Back in those days, peace officers routinely supplemented their pay with rewards offered for the arrest of wanted criminals. But the grieving father offered the Ranger another sort of incentive: a map leading to a horde of lost silver.

The old man told the Ranger the treasure dated to 1825, when as a youth of 13 his family and a few others came from the border to what is now Caldwell County (the closest community back then was Gonzales) to mine for silver. He said the second shaft they dug revealed a vein of silver ore near the later community of Iron Mountain.

The miners had produced 43 bars of the precious metal when a rider informed them that hostile Indians had been seen in the area. Knowing they did not have enough manpower to defend themselves, the miners sealed the shaft with two large flat stones they covered with smaller rocks and brush and then started packing to leave the area the following morning.

Unfortunately for the miners and their families, the Indians attacked their camp that night. All the men died and the women and children were taken captive. He had been one of the captives, the “viejo” continued in his account to the Ranger.

The 13-year-old eventually escaped from the Indians and settled near El Paso where he married and raised a crop of children, including the son who got murdered.

Just how seriously Lowery took the old man is not known, but the Ranger’s descendants later claimed he caught the killer. Lowery made the arrest when the man identified as the murderer crossed the Rio Grande into Texas near Del Rio to attend a Diaz y Seis celebration.

When he learned that the Ranger had apprehended his son’s killer, who reportedly got life in prison for his crime, the old man looked up the lawman and handed him a crudely drawn map to the old mine.

Lowery (state records show he served from June 22 to Dec. 20, 1875) must not have put much stock in the document. His nephew, Harvey King, said in a 1937 newspaper interview that Lowery never made any effort to find the treasure. But in his dotage, the former Ranger got to thinking about the long-ago incident.

In the early 1930s, King told his uncle that if he would give him the map, he would try to find the treasure. If he succeeded, he said, he would split it with him 50-50.

“He refused,” King told the reporter, “saying he would visit me in a few weeks and we would make the search [together]…but about the time he was to arrive I received a telegram he had died.”

The wire came on Oct. 1, 1930.

King either got the map from someone else in the family, or got an oral rundown on the vicinity of the supposed mine, because he visited the site in 1935.

He had no trouble finding a rock smelter and an old mine shaft that had been closed with dynamite. He saw signs that someone had been digging in the area, but found nothing.

King died in 1951. Various people have tried to find the silver since then, but if anyone ever succeeded, it went unreported.

While the story of the supposed Caldwell County silver mine is probably just another folk tale, there is one major difference in this one. Most treasure stories lack any physical evidence, save for the holes dug in search of supposed caches, but in this case, there are traces of the mine. Or something old. I got permission to visit the site back in the mid-1970s and found a few pieces of slag, the waste product of a smelting operation.

A researcher who gained access to the site in 2002 documented what appeared to be a horizontal shaft called an adit and the remnants of an L-shaped smelter constructed of cut sandstone. Someone using a metal detector found a few pieces of metal in the area, but no silver bars.

The major problem with the site has to do with metallurgy. It would have taken tons of ore to produce 43 bars of silver. All the slag from that would have been near the smelter, but there is very little.

Even though it does not appear that any precious metal came out of the mine, no one has been able to determine the purpose of the smelter. Since some iron ore can be found in the area, it might have been an early-day iron works. But again, where’s all the slag?

Unless someone stumbles on the silver, the real treasure of Caldwell County can be found in nearby Lockhart – the barbecued brisket and sausage at Kreuz Market.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
June 18, 2009 column


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