Hunting for Gold in The Lone Star State

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“A gold mine is a hole in the ground with a liar at the top.” – Mark Twain

When I began doing research for my debut novel, Touch of Texas, I knew I was searching for a special type of location. It needed to be isolated, with a means of support for those who settled in the town. I didn’t want the town to be too prosperous – that eliminates some of the available conflict for a story. Also, the area had to be right for the nefarious to operate – cattle rustling, horse stealing, etc. – and have numerous places for them to hide.

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The hero of the book was a Texas Ranger, the tall, dark and dangerous type, who preferred taking on assignments that sent him out alone, far from civilization. My mental picture of the heroine was his total opposite, a fragile-looking woman with golden hair…

Golden? Aha! A gold mining town. But was gold ever mined in Texas in the 1800’s? I don’t mind making stuff up in the name of my art, but I believe fiction needs to have a basis in the credible.

Silver mining has been going on in Texas since the Franciscans Friars discovered the precious ore near El Paso in 1680. These mines were hidden by the good Friars from the Jesuit brothers and the locations lost for many years. One mine was rediscovered in 1793, then lost again, then found again thanks to church records in 1872. In 1880 the Presidio Mine was discovered. In the ensuing years, strikes were made in all over the western half of the state, and even in the Hill Country.

From The Handbook of Texas Online: “In 1905, 387,576 ounces of silver were produced in the state, and in 1908 the Bonanza and Alice Ray Mines in the Quitman Mountains in Hudspeth County were producing ore valued at $60 to $65 per ton. In 1918 the Chinati and Montezuma mines closed. The Presidio Mine was one of the most consistent producers of silver in the country; from 1880 until it closed in 1942 it had produced 2,000,000 tons of ore from which 30,293,606 ounces of silver, about nine-tenths of the total output of the state, had been extracted, along with a small value in gold and lead.”

There it is. The answer to whether anyone ever mined for gold in Texas. The operations weren’t profitable, but there have been gold mines in Texas since the 1800’s. In fact, there has been a gold mining operation going on in the Hill Country continuously since the expeditioBig Bend National Parkn of Bernardo de Miranda y Flores left San Antonio in February, 1756.

Most gold mining took place in the far southwestern part of the state, in the area called Big Bend. (That’s a picture of Big Bend National Park to the right. Gorgeous, isn’t it?)

There was some mining around Fort Davis and in the Davis Mountains, and also in Presidio County.

 While reseFort Davis, Texasarching the history of Fort Davis, a United States Army post in operation from 1854-1891, I found mention of a wave of gold seekers coming through on their way to California from San Antonio. The need to protect these adventurers and pioneer was part of what helped drive the placement of the fort.

Amateur prospectors have discovered arrastre, granite bedrock milling stones, abandoned by the Mexicans and Spanish in and on the banks of the creeks where they searched in vain for gold.

But since when has gold fever been cured by the words “you aren’t going to find it panhandlerhere”.  To this day, the persistent legends of large veins scattered through the state are enough to keep hopeful panhandlers searching.
 
Panning still turns up small amounts of gold around the ruins of Fort Davis, as well as in the Hill Country around Llano and Mason Counties, where there were mostly placer mines—that’s the mining of alluvial or sediment deposits for minerals. Despite the odds against finding anything, they’re still mining for gold in the Lone Star State.

While no one person or mining company ever got wealthy digging or panning for gold in Texas—the total recorded value of the gold dug out of the ground is less than $250,000—they did and still do hunt for the precious metal. And for a fiction writer, that’s all I needed to create my own little piece of the past.

Maybe Mark Twain had it right – although I’d rather consider myself a weaver of a tall tale rather than a liar.

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History, Texas, cowboys, horses—these are a few of Tracy’s favorite things. Check out her westerns at www.TracyGarrett.com.

30 thoughts on “Hunting for Gold in The Lone Star State”

  1. Hi Tracy, what a wonderful, informative post! I guess folks tried to find gold everywhere, huh? I never imagined mining in Texas, which is why I love Wildflower Junction. I learn something new all the time.

    Thanks..oxoxoxox

  2. Hi, Tracy. I have a gold mine in one of my works in progress. It’s a strange topic because it leads in so many directions.
    I wanted a gold strike. But I wanted a very secretive, greedy man to find gold, then make himself very rich, but not start a gold rush.

    Toward that end, I had him dig into a vein of gold and gather and gather and gather the gold until he couldn’t find anymore. Then sneak away with his motherlode and get the gold to safety, then move away from the site where he found the gold and set himself up as a kingly figure in the remote west.

    This is all sort of secondary since this guy’s main purpose was to DIE and leave a widow with all the wealth but also all the problems the guy had created.

    But even though it’s not the main story, it’s still all got to be figured out. Your blog gives me a few more insights.

  3. Mary, glad I could help. Gold mining is tough, nasty business. Unless you find nuggets in a stream like Sutter’s Mill, CA, you have to hammer the gold out of rock. That’s why the Spanish used arrestras – to grind down the rock and free the gold.

    Good luck with the story!

  4. Congratulations on your great research, Tracy. It’s news to me that there was ever gold mining in Texas. On of my earlier novels (LYDIA) was set near Central City, Colorado, a place that grew out of a gold mining bonanza. Because the gold mostly in hard rock, a lot of Cornish miners were brought in. Their experience in the tin mines of Cornwall gave them valuable experience, and they tended to be delightful characters as well. But I’m rambling…thanks for a great blog, and good luck with your story.

  5. Elizabeth, a very wise writer once said that’s why she kept a book beside her keyboard. When she needed a word, she reached for the book. 😀

    I’ve been in Central City, CO. Neat old place.

  6. Tracy, this is wonderful information! Believe it or not, a writer friend and I were just talking about this yesterday. You didn’t mention this in your blog, but rumor has it that Jim Bowie had a mine (gold I think it was.) I can’t remember the details, but it’s lost. Seekers have been looking for it since the 1800’s. Nothing fuels the imagination quite like finding gold.

    Great blog! By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed Touch of Texas. It’s on my keeper shelf along with my Lorraine Heath and Jodi Thomas books.

  7. He might have. Bowie–and the Alamo–are in the Hill Country, which is where there were some placer mines. Doubt he got rich off of it, but still…

    I’m blushing here, Linda! I’m so glad you enjoyed Touch of Texas. And on the keeper shelf with two of my western writer heroes? I’m honored!

  8. Interesting blog, Tracy! Even this native Texan
    learned something today! Our focus here in the
    state has mostly been on oil and gas, not gold and
    silver!

    Pat Cochran

  9. Mark Twain is one of the writers I’m “rediscovering.” Now that I’m more experienced (read older!) I get his humor a lot more than I did.

    Thanks for dropping by, Charlene.

  10. Hi Tracy, Don’t you love it when research breathes life into a story? You could have made up a place for a Texas goldmine, but having it rooted in fact makes it so much more excitng. Big Bend is beautiful!

  11. Great subject, Tracy. Just yesterday, two writer friends of mine sat in my living room “what if’ing” gold and silver mining in Texas! Okay, Linda, now they know where you were yesterday and who your “writer friend” is. LOL Your post is so timely, because we cussed and discussed the subject but saved the researching for later. Very interesting topic. WOW!

  12. Loved the information you have shared with us, Tracy. I sometimes check out an area after reading a book, even though I know the work is fiction, just to see if it could have been based on fact. This has led me to many wonderful areas that I would not have known about or saw. Thank you to those who research and them blog! I have learned so much.

  13. Thanks for stopping by, Connie. I also like to check out an area that is mentioned in a book I enjoyed. In fact, I was just on line trying to find where Jim Bowie might have been mining in Texas. Turns out it was probably in Presidio San Saba, the old Spanish mining fort in the Hill Country west of Austin.

    I love researching stuff like that!

  14. Hi Tracy!

    Interesting blog. Wow! So many things I didn’t know. My husband used to be a prospector here in CA — a gold miner. Boy, does he have interesting stories.

    And of course there is the legend of the Superstition Mountains.

    Great blog.

  15. Interesting post. Never thought of Texas as a place for mining. We are heading there in October for an Air Force reunion. Unfortunately, We won’t have more than a little over a week. The reunion is in Ft. Worth and we will be going to san Antonio. We’ll be doing day trips, but won’t be able to see as much as I’d like.
    Good luck with your books. I’ll keep my eye open for it.

  16. Hi Tracy! Those small towns are what I like to read too. Its like everyone knows everyone and as I reader I love to know them too. I get a great feel for more characters in those small town reads.
    So neat learning about the mining. I remember that from watching movies how so many were looking for gold to make a better life for themselves and only not to find it or as now I know from the research you found that it didn’t make one rich from it. Too I don’t think I even knew about the ‘Silver’ mines. Most often hear about the Gold Mines. Thanks for this great research info!

  17. Hi Caffey! Small towns are great. After 2 years I’m adjusting to living in a small town again-complete with lots of characters. lol

    Silver was the money maker in Texas before oil and gas were discovered. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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