DALLAS MORNING NEWS
SEPTEMBER 8, 1991
Edition: HOME FINAL
Section: TEXAS & SOUTHWEST
COST CHISOS MINE
Legend of Lost Chisos Mine is a treasured tale
Author: Kent BiffleTHE DALLAS MORNING NEWS (DAL)
Dateline: LOS CHISOS
LOS CHISOS -- Day was breaking over the legend-laden mountains of the Big Bend as I pulled into the abandoned quick-silver mining town of Terlingua. There a few buildings squat among the ruins.
Nothing stirred. But I spotted a Mexican boy in the distance.
He stood at a table beneath the sotol-thatched porch of a little rock cabin.
Ignoring the sign that said "Keep Out,' I headed that way. The Mexican boy, on closer look, became a slim woman. At a table she was getting up breakfast -- coffee, English muffins and peanut butter.
She introduced herself as Karen Moore, a video producer for Real-to-Reel in Austin. "They're everywhere,' I said. "I'm not here to work,' she said, smiling. "I've been coming here for years. My friend Betty owns this place and lets me stay.
Betty Moore, her name's Moore, but we're not kin. Betty runs Far Flung Adventures. They do those float trips on the Rio Grande.' She said she'd been living alone in the one-room cabin for a week. She'd decorated the dump with Indian blankets and strings of chili peppers. "It's so remote out here,' she said. "You either love it or you hate it. And it's quiet. You hear a pounding in your ear for the first day or two. Then you realize it's your heart beating. "I'd like to move here when my daughter gets out of high school,' said the 41-year-old mother of an Austin eighth-grader named Sara. She pointed. "That tall mountain over there is Casa Grande. Betty and I climbed it yesterday -- 7,300 feet.' She spoke of other peaks she'd conquered in the Big Bend National Park. She'd done a lot of hiking. When she mentioned that she'd been over Lost Mine Trail near Panther Pass in the Chisos Mountains, my ears perked up. "Do you believe that stuff about lost mines and buried treasure in the Chisos?' I asked.
this supposedly rich vein of silver or gold is now two centuries old and involves four cultures -- Indian, Spanish, Mexican and American. And though historians may dismiss the story as legend, documented history does hold suggestions that the mine may well have existed.' I've heard and read several twists in the tale. The Lost Chisos Mine is so popular in the Big Bend that the National Park Service sanitized one version: "Of many romantic legends which abound throughout the West, few match the lost mine story from which Lost Mine Peak takes its name.
Is it true? Did the mine exist? Or was it a camp-fire fabrication handed down from generation to generation? "Early Spanish explorers of the Southwest discovered and developed many mines, some yielding silver and gold. According to legend, a rich ore body was discovered near the summit of Lost Mine Peak. Prisoners were forced to work the mine. "These men were blindfolded on several occasions, in their march from Presidio San Vicente, to prevent them from learning its location. The ruins of this presidio are about 20 miles southeast of this peak. "The story relates how Indians who resented the Spaniards' invasion of their homelands, attacked and killed them to the last man. The final act, according to the story, was to seal the mine entrance to prevent further exploration. "The legend states that if a man stood in the door of the chapel at Presidio San Vicente on Easter morning, he could see the sun's first rays strike Lost Mine Peak on the exact mine entrance.' I'm fond of this National Park Service version because it resists saying -- as others sometimes do -- that the captive miners were Apaches.
The story's better without the Apache miners (even if the National Park Service is merely sensitive to political correctness).
Imagine trying to catch a young Geronimo or Victorio to force him to meet your ore production quota.
Patrick Dearen states: "Those mountains long had been the homeland of a particular Apache tribe known as the Chisos Apache.
The viejos (the old ones) along both sides of the Rio Grande still tell a tale when the sun drops behind the western crags: how the soldiers of San Vicente enslaved the Chisos Apache -- or, perhaps, Indians of a friendly tribe -- and marched them into the mountains to work the mine. Subjected to cruelties and death, the Indians supposedly rebelled, massacring their captors and sealing the entrance. "Several versions of the story have been passed down.' Alpine's Elton Miles tells it similarly in his Tales of the Big Bend. And he quotes an earlier story-teller, Walter Fulcher: "Men were forced to leave the Chisos Mountains and leave behind a large amount of gold. The details are not clear as to whether these men had stolen the gold or whether thi s is connected with the more famous story of the Lost Chisos Mine. It seems more clear that they had to leave because of the danger of the Indians. "Now one of the men was a brujo or hechicero, that is, a wizard who could cast spells and charms. Invoking the powers of darkness, he fixed it so that no one could take the gold away until he returned. "One old Mexican told me, with a perfectly straight face, that - once while hunting deer he found the cave with stacks of gold bars, but when he stooped to pic k one up he was almost paralyzed and couldn't straighten up. In terror, he managed to creep out of the cave and never went back.' Treasure hunters and prospectors continually chip away at the Big Bend's trove of fabulous treasures. Big Benders call them "rainbow hunters' or "Coronado's children.' One of the late J. Frank Dobie's treasure books was titled Coronado's Children. Mr. Dobie knew all about buried booty and misplaced mines.
Like other tellers of treasure tales, sadly, he never instructs you exactly where to dig. I'd tell you, if I knew. That's the kind of guy I am. The late Texas A&M and University of Texas publisher Frank Wardlaw liked backyard visits in Austin with Mr. Dobie and their mutual friend, Jack Daniel.
Mr. Wardlaw recalled: "Once we were joined by an ancient and bedraggled treasure hunter who had read Frank's tales of lost mines and buried treasures and who wanted more specific advice about how to find them. Dobie greeted him warmly and engaged him in extended but indeterminate conversation before sending him on his way to El Dorado. "On another occasion, Frank told me, a treasure hunter turned up with a map of an area discussed in Coronado's Children and demanded that Dobie pinpoint the location of the lost mine. "Dobie told him sadly that he didn't really know where it was, but the prospector persisted. Finally Frank closed his eyes and marked a spot on the map with his pen; the old man left happy.'
PHOTO (The Dallas Morning News: Kent Biffle) Karen Moore of Austin watches the sun rise over Big Bend country while preparing breakfast at a rock cabin in Terlingua.