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The gold nugget at his fingertips would baffle succeeding generations. As large as a robin’s egg, it gave bulk to a chamois bag of gold coins, perhaps eight hundred dollars worth. Undeniable evidence of an enigmatic treasure he had found where such was unlikely to have existed, the nugget nevertheless could not pay the ransom demanded by pneumonia, here where he lay in a rented room above a restaurant operated by a Chinese immigrant in Barstow, a small community in sparsely populated Ward County, Texas. It was the sixth of January 1892, and outside the window the winter wind howled a melancholy dirge in unison with a Texas and Pacific locomotive bound for the nearby Pecos River. Except for his eighty-acre, $160 homestead sixty-eight miles away near Odessa, and a rickety five-dollar camp wagon and hundred-dollar team thirty-one miles distant in the Monahans wagon yard, all the possessions he had claimed in his fifty-seven years crowded near: a suit of clothes, the straight-bladed skinning dirk at his belt, and a .50-caliber Sharps rifle, a sixteen-pound single-shot breechloader which had felled countless buffalo and fended off Comanches. No one attended him, and only his children and a few friends would mourn him. Indeed, some would even curse him, for William Caldwell Sublett would carry to his grave the secret of the Lost Sublett Mine of Trans-Pecos Texas or southeastern New Mexico.1 The story of Sublett and his lost diggings epitomizes the blending of history and folklore that is common along the Pecos in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Few “historical” accounts have been more debated in the region, or any lost treasure sought more fervently, with the possible exception of Maximilian’s wealth. Yet, unlike the latter treasure, whose very existence is questionable and for which documentation is sketchy at best, Sublett’s source of gold undoubtedly existed; eyewitnesses, Sublett and His Lost Mine Sublett and His Lost Mine 97 including his children, saw the ore. But as the last breath passed his lungs, the guarding spirits eighty miles northwest in the Guadalupe Mountains, or in the Delawares or Rustler Hills or another range, must have rent the earth and buried the last vestiges of a gilded oasis. And swore never to reveal it again. Will’s twenty-year-old daughter Jennie and her husband Sidney Pitt, notifiedbytelegramofhisillnessbyaWardCountylawofficer,immediately booked passage on a train from their homestead near Odessa. There in Charcoal sketch of William Caldwell Sublett drawn prior to 1900 from a miniature photo. Courtesy Ethel Pitt Harris. 98 Sublett and His Lost Mine that lonely little Barstow room sentineling the West Texas frontier and its secrets, they found him, claimed by the ages yet destined to live forever in the folklore of the Pecos. Ironically, he was without a cent for his own burial, for desecrating thieves had ransacked the room and taken the nugget and chamois bag, the dirk, the Sharps rifle, everything except what they may have sought the most—a waybill to the mine. And so this man who apparently discovered such golden wealth, and who launched generations upon obsessive quests for it, would have been buried in a pauper’s grave but for his children, who returned his body to Ector County Cemetery in Odessa. There his flesh became a part of the earth, marking the ultimate end to a life which easily could have joined countless others in oblivion. Yet the epitaph on the three-foot tombstone, chiseled at Granbury, Texas, and shipped west by his older daughter Ollie and her husband Sam Knight, speaks volumes, in consideration of the succeeding century-plus: Their bodies are buried in the dust, But their names shall live forever. Indeed, whenever tales of lost treasure and mystery are woven, Sublett’s name invariably surfaces. Around the campfires of Pecos River nights, he has become known as “Old Ben” Sublett, a hard-drinking and crusty prospector who, virtually abandoning his motherless children, limped off year after year into the Guadalupe crags or another canyon-slashed range and ultimately found gold where it should not have lurked. But what about William Caldwell “Will” Sublett, the man of history? And his mine of history? For more than a hundred years, the two have been loath to break the seemingly eternal silence, swallowed up as they are in the folk tales of the region’s natives and of credulous gold seekers from afar. But listen to the...


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