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  • The San Saba Treasure: Legends of Silver Creek by David C. Lewis
  • David M. Williams
The San Saba Treasure: Legends of Silver Creek. By David C. Lewis. (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2018. Pp. 240. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.)

The dust jacket of The San Saba Treasure: Legends of Silver Creek by David C. Lewis reveals that its author descends from one of the many individuals prominently connected with attempts to locate a legendary “Lost San Saba Treasure,” a silver mine reputedly located near the San Saba River. This description made me initially suspicious that the pages ahead contained a purely romantic tale; yet, from the opening paragraphs, Lewis reveals that he is more than adequately informed about the various fields of knowledge underlying this historically rich topic. In one of his concluding chapters, “The Ghosts of Silver Creek,” Lewis invites objective examination of his motives and tactfully leaves open doors for unbiased explanation.

Lewis presents nuanced evidence related to the colonial period authoritatively and includes important details of the extended Spanish activity in the area encompassing the headwaters of the San Saba River in present-day Menard County, Texas. Since early colonization of the lands that [End Page 239] became Texas, potential entrepreneurs and settlers have been enticed by rumors and other suggestions of mineral riches there. Spanish colonizers competed for dominion over the San Saba region with Comanche and other Indian tribes. The Spaniards’ Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá operated only briefly, from 1757 until it was abandoned after a massive Indian attack the following year. That, combined with their tightly guarding their knowledge of the area’s mineral wealth, and the fact that the financing for an ostensibly altruistic San Saba Mission came from a successful Mexican silver miner, added fuel to centuries-long speculation about why the Spaniards had arrived and what they had discovered.

Lewis contributes background on the immense societal and folkloric appeal of legend and plausible tales of treasure for nineteenth- and twentieth-century Americans. Future Alamo defender Jim Bowie and his older brother were among the earliest Americans to take up the search for lost treasure on the San Saba. The English name, Silver Creek, implies some connection to treasure. Perhaps most interesting are Lewis’s descriptions of the actions of the most notorious treasure hunters who were attracted to Silver Creek and surrounding counties, like “the San Marcos Men,” William Longworth, self-taught San Antonio lawyer “Judge” Norton, and Vaudevillian rattlesnake-charming “Princess” Wenonah. Lewis credits folk-lorist J. Frank Dobie, in Coronado’s Children (The Southwest Press, 1930), with renewing interest in the lost mines in the Depression era.

All these searches for the mines seem to have been for naught, though. Lewis applies basic principles of geology to assess the probability of finding silver or gold in Menard County. He even examines evidence of smelting at the presidio, supporting his conclusion that economically feasible silver or gold mining never occurred in the area.

This well-organized book is well worth reading.

David M. Williams
San Saba, Texas