There doesn’t seem to be any end to the subjects you can find in REH’s stories – and letters – that springboard a search for more detail. I’ve barely even started on the peregrinations and evil influence of that cursed ruby of pre-human origin, the Blood of Belshazzar. Its history in the Achaemenid Persian Empire and temporary place of honor on Alexander the Great’s breastplate, until he lost it in India, were only the beginning. The early rulers of the Mauryan Empire wore it on their turbans. After the Kalinga War it was stolen and taken to the regions of Burma and Thailand, then found its way north to China. The fearsome first emperor of the entire nation, Shi-Huangdi, came by it when he was merely a king of one of the Seven Warring States. Details may follow in a couple of future posts, but after devoting three in succession to the ruby, I’m afraid of making the subject tedious; if I haven’t already.
That frontier fighting man, captain of rangers, merchant, and all-round adventurer James Bowie, is regarded by most as anything but tedious. He was the subject of a series back in the golden age of television, with Scott Forbes as Bowie. In John Myers Myers’ great book Silverlock, the universal poet Golias (whose other names include Widsith and Orpheus) in one scene gives a larruping Viking-style alliterative and rhythmic account of Bowie’s death at the Alamo to Hygelac and his Danes just after Beowulf has killed the monster Grendel for them. “I’m giving you ‘The Death of Bowie Gizzardsbane,’” he announces:
Fame has its fosterlings, free of the limits
Boxing all others, and Bowie was one of them.
Golias sweeps on to describe Bowie as
Wielding a long knife, a nonesuch of daggers,
Worthy of Wayland.
Winning such wealth that trolls, it is said,
Closed hills out of fear that he’d frisk them of silver.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s an oblique reference to James Bowie’s association with the lost San Saba mine, a fabulous source of silver. The Lipan Apaches had it in Bowie’s day, but for the benefit of his Viking audience Golias uses literary license to modify the Lipans into trolls.
REH held forth to Lovecraft about San Saba and Bowie in one of his letters – of April 23rd, 1933.
He was a Lipan by adoption. He had seen the red men trading silver and gold armlets to the merchants near the Presidio. For months he fought and hunted with Tres Manos’ braves. At last they showed him the cavern stacked with golden bars that caught the beams of the sun in a net of flame. Tres Manos was brave. He followed Bowie into San Antonio, met him and called him a traitor. Only his quickness saved him when Bowie’s knife flashed from its sheath. They went back into the hill country but the Indians were waiting them. They never reached the mine.
Well, that’s close. The lost San Saba mine contained silver and only silver, so far as I’ve been able to find out – not gold. It had quite a history before Bowie and Tres Manos (Three Hands) clashed over it, too. It’s a famous legendary lost treasure of Texas – and it seems, no mere legend. The Spaniards sent three expeditions at least into the area in the 1750s. Juan Galvan, Lieutenant to the Governor of Texas, led the first one, in 1753. Pedro de Rabago y Teran, who had been Governor of Coahuila, headed a second in ’55. They both reported silver deposits in the area of Los Almagres, and a third expedition was dispatched there in 1756. Lieutenant-General Don Bernardo de Miranda left San Antonio (then called San Fernando), charged by his superiors to look for minerals and report on the strength of the local Indios. Seeking precious metals and converting the red pagans went together like ham and eggs; had since the days of the great conquistadores.
Miranda is generally considered (by those who believe – and maybe they’re right) to have been the first white man to behold the fabulous silver mine itself. Near the Llano River, he and his men came upon the San Saba River and “a low, red-colored hill. Curious, they explored the canyons and ravines extending from the hill and found a natural cavern in one of them. Lighting torches, Miranda and a few soldiers entered the cave and discovered several thick veins of silver.” (Buried Treasures of Texas, by W.C. Jameson, published 1991, August House, Inc.)
Miranda’s enthusiastic recommendations to his superiors that the silver deposits be worked were largely ignored. Perhaps his bosses dismissed his descriptions of the silver wealth he’d discovered as far-fetched and self-serving. (It’s possible they were.) Then Miranda went on another military expedition, from which he never returned, nor did his fate and his men’s ever become known.
A mission was established in the area to convert the warring Lipans and Comanches. The mission priests are believed to have begun working the rich silver lode in short order. Once they discovered it, they spent more time extracting silver than preaching the Gospel or converting pagans. It wouldn’t be coincidence that the mission was largely funded and backed by one Pedro Romero de Terreros, a wealthy Mexican whose line of endeavor was – mining. He was also a cousin of one of the mission priests.
The mission was known as Santa Cruz de San Saba. The local Apaches befriended the Spaniards, whom they hoped would be valuable allies against the Apaches’ bitter enemies, the Comanches. The Comanches didn’t care for that development. The mission had existed for barely ten months before an attack by about 2,000 Comanches destroyed it.
The mine had become a legend, like the Golden Cities of Cibola, by the time Jim Bowie was born – probably in 1796, and probably in Kentucky. His father was Rezin Bowie senior, a farmer and miller who moved to Louisiana with his wife, Elve ap Catesby Jones. With that name she was clearly of Welsh descent. (Bowie senior had fought in the American Revolution and been wounded; he met Elve when she nursed him back to health, and married her in 1782. James was the ninth of their ten children.)
The Bowie boys, Rezin junior, James, and John, made a name as they grew as tough, wild young fellows. Rezin and Jim at least were intelligent with it; besides English, they could speak, read, and write fluently in Spanish and French. They acquired a reputation for fearlessness that was well-deserved. Jim became proficient early with rifle, pistol and knife. He hunted panthers and fought alligators in the Louisiana bayous. Part of his legend relates that he took to using the famous Bowie knife after a lesser sort of blade broke in his hand when he was fighting a bear. (And possibly that was REH’s inspiration for Cormac Fitzgeoffrey’s disgusted comment in “Hawks of Outremer” about the swords he had used in former battles: “They break in my hands.” James Bowie, at six feet tall and 180 pounds in weight when fully grown, strong and swift, wasn’t unlike Cormac physically, either, except that his hair was light in color.) Jim evidently didn’t design that huge knife with the cutaway point, but his brother Rezin, for Jim’s protection in future emergencies.
When Jim was sixteen, he and brother Rezin joined the Louisiana militia (Second Division, Consolidated) to fight in the War of 1812. They and their brother John were headed down the river to join Andrew Jackson’s forces in New Orleans when the war ended. No, they didn’t fight in the Battle of New Orleans, commemorated in the popular Johnny Horton song, and it’s a shame. Of course, if a movie ever rewrites history the way “The Untouchables” and “Braveheart” did, the Bowie boys will be there beside the cotton bales with Andrew Jackson, and Jim will kill seven hundred British redcoats hand to hand with his flashing great knife. I’m not sneering, I’d rewrite it that way myself. Particularly since the five American gunboats that blocked access to Lake Pontchartrain to a much larger British fleet, under Cochrane, were commanded by Thomas ap Catesby Jones, a young lieutenant, later to become a commodore.
That American naval lieutenant had to be closely related to Jim and Rezin Bowie’s mother. How common is a name like ap Catesby Jones? There were two brothers, Thomas and Catesby, who served in the Second Virginia Regiment during the Revolution. They both died in 1800. One of their younger brothers, Meriwether Jones, achieved some prominence as a political writer. He founded and edited the “Richmond Examiner” newspaper until he was killed in a duel in 1806. Skelton Jones, a Richmond lawyer and also a writer of talent, took over his brother’s newspaper until he died in a duel himself. Maybe people took violent exception to their political views as expressed in editorials. It’s obvious they weren’t a tame or mediocre breed, and that the Bowie boys inherited some of their rambunctious natures through their mother, a kinswoman – maybe sister – of Thomas, Catesby, Meriwether and Skelton, fighters all.
Out of the militia, Jim made a living sawing logs and floating them down the river to sell, but for a lad of his spirit that was bound to be a mere temporary expedient.
The next noteworthy incident in his life came when he joined the “Long Expedition” of June 1819. One James Long thought the boundaries set by the Louisiana Purchase weren’t as they should be, and that Texas ought to be independent of Spain. He gathered some men who agreed with him. Setting out full of enthusiasm and fight, they captured Nagocdoches from the Spaniards and declared Texas a republic. Lacking sufficient numbers to make their victory stick, badly organized, badly supplied, they soon scattered, and were driven out of Texas by reinforcing Spanish troops. This early involvement in the Texan cause foreshadowed Jim’s last days in the besieged mission of the Alamo.
Back in Louisiana, Jim and Rezin decided it was time they became men of substance, and took to heart the dictum of the shrewd first century B.C. poet Horace (a favorite author of Captain Blood’s, by the way) – “Si possis recte, si non, quocumque modo rem.” Meaning, “If possible honestly, if not, somehow make money.” Land prices were rising and the brothers wanted to get rich through speculation, but they hadn’t the cash to start the process. They raised it in association with that colorful character, the pirate Jean Lafitte. Lafitte ran looted goods from shipping in the Gulf of Mexico into the port of New Orleans, through the bayou country he knew intimately. The cargoes he stole included African slaves.
With the moral inconsistency that has characterized the slave trade in all times and places, the infant United States had made importing slaves illegal – but not owning them. Most southern states paid informers against slaver sea-captains a reward. The standard was half the price the illegally landed slaves would fetch at auction. The resourceful Bowies made regular trips to Lafitte’s slave market on Galveston Island (not his main base), and bought slaves which they took to a custom house in New Orleans. When the slaves were offered for sale, the Bowies would inform on the dealers, thereby getting back half their purchase money! Sweet!
Now $65,000 richer, they purchased a plantation, ran it efficiently, by the most modern methods, including a steam mill, and sold it at a handsome profit six years later. They also speculated in Louisiana land, without much success; in fact Jim Bowie became desperate for money and was refused a loan by a bank director, Norris Wright. The famous knife-fighter took this as a personal insult. Now, Wright wasn’t the stereotypical money-grubbing, craven banker by any means. Fearless and a crack pistol shot, he had fought several duels himself, and in at least two of them, killed his adversary. In a quarrel with Bowie in Alexandria, Wright had shot at him, for once without serious effect, but Bowie had taken his pistol away and tried to kill Wright bare-handed, despite a minor wound; he was barely prevented.
He didn’t forget things like that.
In 1827 the famous “sandbar fight” occurred. Samuel Wells and Dr. Thomas Maddox were fighting a duel at Natchez, Mississippi. Bowie and Wright were among the witnesses and supporters present. It’s ironic, but the two principals in the duel came away unhurt, while a savage brawl developed among the others. Attacked by Wright and another man, Bowie disemboweled Wright and badly slashed the other. As Myers put it through the mouth of Golias in Silverlock:
“Who has not heard of the holmgang at Natchez?”
Shortly afterwards, Jim and his brother John were involved right up to their hairlines in a major court case over land speculation deals. They had peddled land in Arkansas to a large number of, well, let’s not be coy, suckers. The land hadn’t really belonged to the Bowies and the documents that purported to show the original land grants were as phony as a lead dollar. Nearly a hundred and thirty people went to the Arkansas Superior Court to complain.
Jim Bowie moved to Texas.
That is what happened. I don’t intend to denigrate a man I regard as a genuine American hero. Bowie had flaws; who doesn’t? He was an adventurer, a speculator, a gambler, by nature. Besides, while the date and even year of his birth is uncertain, it’s considered most likely to have been the 10th of April, 1796. That would mean he was born in the sign of Aries. Now, to quote Tarzan, in Philip Jose Farmer’s “An Exclusive Interview with Lord Greystoke”, “I have read much about astrology, though I believe in it about as much as I do in the speeches of politicians. However …”
Natives of Aries are said to be forthright, enterprising, daring, hot-tempered, impulsive, to have vivid imaginations and whether they act it out or not, to cherish a fantasy image of themselves as a bold rebel, freedom fighter, pioneer and outlaw; to detest restriction. I’m thumping the obvious to write that Jim Bowie didn’t leave his cravings in the realm of fantasy. He acted them out in no uncertain way.
Fire sign types are considered irresponsible by more down-to-earth characters. Liz Greene is the best psychological analyst of the different zodiac types around. Of fire signs she says that they “appear to have a lot of luck. They are the ones who win the races and the pools, invest in the one stock which climbs when the market is collapsing … write books, make films, design fashions that are a prophecy rather than a reflection of now. And what happens when it goes wrong and the business collapses, the market crashes, the deal doesn’t come off? Never mind. Somehow, some way, a solution will appear. There is an infuriatingly unquenchable trust in the future with fiery people.”
The people who lost their shirts on Jim’s land deals no doubt saw it otherwise. They would have called him a goddamned swindler and worse. Just not to his face. Myself, I wouldn’t be amazed, if I could raise his ghost and ask, to find he never intended to swindle anybody; that he absolutely believed all those who invested with him would make fortunes, and if he’d been right, would have paid them – generously, even. I regard deliberate swindlers and con artists as the lowest of the low. It’s requirement of their game that they be callous and mean. Whatever Jim Bowie’s faults – and fierce arrogant pride combined with inability to tie himself down must have appeared high on the list – I doubt mean-spiritedness was among them.
Of Aries specifically, Greene points out that this type all but patented the “knight in shining armor” syndrome. They cannot resist a mission, a cause, a battle, especially on behalf of the underdog. “The ideal justifies the battle, brings out his courage, draws forth his genius at quick action.”
This is how he came to die facing colossal odds in the cause of Texan independence at a certain besieged mission, of course.
The future Lone Star State was Mexican territory then. Only Catholics could be citizens in Mexican dominions. Bowie was duly baptized into the Catholic faith, sponsored by Juan Martin de Veremendi, first alcalde of San Antonio de Bexar, whose daughter he eventually married. On New Year’s Day of 1830, Bowie left Louisiana for permanent residency in Texas. His sponsor Veremendi became vice governor of Coahuila and Texas on the sixth of September that same year. Taking the oath of allegiance to Mexico, bold Jim settled in Bexar and was shortly elected commander of the Texas Rangers, with the rank of colonel. (He wouldn’t have mentioned to anybody that he’d been with the Long expedition of 1819.)
A high-stepping, handsome and engaging devil, Bowie fought Comanche Indians as a ranger officer and went into partnership with his sponsor, Governor Juan de Veremendi, in a project to build textile mills. His Mexican citizenship gave him the right to buy up to 11 leagues of public land in Texas, and he went for it, convincing over a dozen other citizens to apply for grants through him. They couldn’t have known about his Arkansas deals or the court cases he’d left hanging there. Bowie claimed to be worth well over two hundred thousand dollars, and he married Veramendi’s nineteen-year-old daughter Ursula with a promise to pay her 15,000 pesos as a dowry within two years of their marriage. (He probably had no doubts at all that he could raise it.) He also told her he was thirty instead of thirty-five.
Once married, he spent a lot of time away from home, on business ventures and out with the Rangers. Since he fought Comanches a good deal, he became persona grata with the Lipan Apaches, who were under considerable pressure from the encroaching Comanches and hated their guts. He grew particularly friendly with a tough old chief by the name of Xolic. He also saw the silver necklaces and armlets the Lipans wore, and heard about the Los Almagres mine. As REH wrote:
Under the grim San Saba hills
It sleeps the years away:
The gold that Don Miranda found
When unnamed woods and nameless ground
First heard the Spanish trumpets sound
Like doom on Judgment Day.
But waving plumes and flying flame
On shrieking winds were brought;
Over the hills war-bonnets streamed,
The lances flashed and the horses screamed;
On Lipan arms the bracelets gleamed
That Spanish hands had wrought.
Bowie’s imagination no doubt caught fire. Adventure! Buried treasure, the stuff of legend! Danger! He could pay his debts and keep his promise to Ursula! (And have a bloody good time doing it.) As REH says, “For months he hunted and fought with Tres Manos’s braves. At last they showed him the cavern stacked with golden bars that caught the beams of the sun in a net of flame.”
Actually, he became friendly with, and trusted by, Chief Xolic – not Tres Manos, who was a younger Lipan warrior, and didn’t seem to trust Bowie or any other paleface. Tres Manos means Three Hands. He evidently had that moniker because at one time he’d killed an enemy in single combat, cut off his right mauler for a trophy, cured and dried it and worn it around his neck on a thong. One scary bastard, as many Apaches were. The name Apache may come from a Yavapai word that means simply “the enemy.” I’ve also read somewhere or other that it was derived from the Spanish phrase apachueros dos heusos, “crushers of bones.” Okay, that may be perpetuating a hostile stereotype that goes back to the Apache Wars, and Edgar Rice Burroughs in his two novels of Shoz-Dijiji (Black Bear) gave a very different picture of the Apaches, although even he didn’t deny that most of them tortured their enemies.
Tres Manos didn’t frighten Bowie.
(Chief Xolic and Three Hands are both depicted in the 1950s TV series, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, starring Scott Forbes. Xolic was played by Richard Hale, and appeared in several episodes. Three Hands was played by craggy-looking George Keymas and also appeared more than once. So did other historical characters like Juan Martin de Veramendi and his daughter Ursula, Jefferson Davis, Andrew Jackson, and Jean Lafitte.)
In his letter to Lovecraft, REH doesn’t mention Xolic. In his account it was Three Hands who initially trusted Bowie and showed him the store cavern of precious metal the Spanish padres had mined – though REH describes it as gold, not silver. “His sight was stunned and dazzled by the immensity of the treasure – Bowie, I mean. He reeled, and his wits went from him like light flicked from a candle by a rifle bullet. His mind was numbed by what he had seen. Not the main vein; only the store room; gold bars stacked in a cavern from floor to roof, catching the sunlight glinting through the leaves and reflecting it like a sheet of pulsing flame.”
It appears from the other sources I’ve read that Xolic didn’t suspect Bowie of being after the silver. Bowie, after all, had lived with the Lipans for months and fought their bitter enemies the Comanches with them, risking his neck. But REH does seem to have it essentially right when he describes Bowie as leaving the tribe to organize an expedition to come back and lift the treasure. “He rode all night; his horse fell under him, and he staggered on afoot. Tres Manos missed him from the tribe and was on his trail, but Bowie won that race. Tres Manos was brave. He followed Bowie into San Antonio, met him and called him a traitor. Only his quickness saved him when Bowie’s knife flashed from its sheath.”
That was surely one of the few times Three Hands ever ran from an adversary. He moved quickly to get out of San Antonio (called Bexar in those days) and returned to his people with a warning. Whether Xolic believed it or not I don’t know, but Three Hands found enough Lipan warriors who did. When Bowie returned with his treasure hunting party, they were ready and waiting.
Probably not all the party’s names are on record. James Bowie and his brother Rezin led it. Cephas (or Caiaphas) K. Ham, played in the series by Chuck Connors, and depicted as a boyhood friend and schoolmate of Bowie’s, was one of their companions. Others were named Armstrong, Buchanan, Doyal, Wallace, McCaslin and Coryell. There were two servants as well, a Mexican named Gonzales and a colored youth, Charlie, who may have been a slave.
There are at least a dozen places you’ll hear touted as the site of the battle with Tres Manos’s furious braves. You can also find assertions that Bowie and his fellow Texicans didn’t seek the lost Los Almagres mine at all, but were out to rob a mule train laden with silver that belonged to the Mexican government, and did actually get away with three of the mules. That they never stood off a Lipan war party or had a showdown with Tres Manos.
By God, I can imagine REH’s vehement denial of that bit of debunking!
“They never reached the mine,” he wrote succinctly. “They fought all day and all night. Three or four Texans fell, fifty Indians. The white man retreated. They were far outnumbered. They fell back to San Antonio.”
Going into a little more detail, Bowie’s treasure hunters realized they were being trailed by a large Lipan war party led by Tres Manos. Somewhere about six miles from San Saba, they halted in an oak grove, made camp, and tried to arrange a parley with the Lipans. “Don’t want any, I’ve had some,” was Tres Manos’s response, and led the attack with blood in his eye, silver armlets flashing, the dead dried hand at his throat completing his wild aspect. After a battle lasting thirteen ferocious hours, the Lipans withdrew, having lost about forty dead.
Myself, I believe the battle took place all right, about fourteen men in the Bowie party against – maybe – one hundred and sixty Lipans, led by Three Hands, in November 1831. Whether Three Hands died in the fight, or if not, what became of him eventually, I can’t say. Jim Bowie made another attempt to find the mine in January of 1832. Ostensibly scouting for hostile Indians, he searched for almost three months with twenty-six men. He wasn’t successful. The mine stayed lost.
As for the battle itself, I couldn’t write anything about it to match REH’s verses.
White men and red men, breast to breast,
In the birth throes of a state,
Blind in the gun smoke, slashed and thrust,
Screaming mad with the slaughter lust,
Grappled and died in the bloody dust,
With a frozen grin of hate.
The moccasin left a bloody track
From shore to mountain crest;
From roof and beam the red sparks rained;
But the plow bit deep and the oxen strained,
And the red war-bonnets dimmed and waned
Into the lurid West.
Like dim and ghostly caravan
Of painted shapes astride
Phantasmal mustangs, pass the years.
A crest of plumes each rider rears.
With sinking reins and drooping spears
The phantom horsemen ride.
Scant are the relics Time has left
To set men wondering.
A flint by careless boot heel spurned.
A skull by straining plow upturned.
A shattered kiln where once was burned
The ransom of a king.
And men forget the maddening lure
Which cast men’s lives away;
Gaunt specters guard the gleaming tills,
The gold which seven caverns fills,
And under blue San Saba hills
It sleeps till Judgment Day.
It may well be there, somewhere. Different versions of the legend abound, as always. Caiaphas K. Ham, sometime associate of the Bowie brothers, told another tale, and he was in the thick of the fight with Three Hands and his bronco Apaches. Not that it’s a guarantee of his perfect veracity, of course. Still, Ham also believed in the silver treasure. He continued searching for it for years. He never found it.
Jim Bowie himself went home with the white survivors of the battle – and found he had nothing to which he could return. A cholera outbreak had killed the entire de Veramendi family, his wife Ursula and her baby included. Perhaps he realized he’d been chasing dreams while the reality waited, and waited, and that it was too late to make anything up to Ursula now. In any case he began hitting the bottle.
Only a few years afterwards, in March 1836, he died at the Alamo with Crockett and Travis. The Los Almagres, or San Saba, mine has never been found again. Many since Caiaphas Ham have searched for it in vain. REH made it abundantly clear in his letter to Lovecraft that he believed in it, strongly. Let the last word be his.
Gold – tons of gold. Enough gold to sink a battleship. No, it’s not the liquor talking now, though this San Antonio booze kicks like an army mule. Gold. Los Almagres, Las Amarillas, La Mina de las Iguanas, the Lost Llano Mine, the Lost San Saba Mine, the Lost Bowie Mine. They won’t find it, not if they blast apart the hills till the sky splits like Judgment Day. But it’s there.