Jim Bowie and Silver Mine Pass
By Elaine Padgett Carnegie
Mexican Texas was a wild place. Folding hills and bubbling rivers, raw escarpments and buttes, dotted with feathery mesquite, boulders, and cedar brakes. Great towering cypress lined the rolling rivers, while proud live oak and mature pecan trees offered their cool shade in the full sun of the crystal skies over the canyons. However, there were no electric lines or roads, no corner store… not even an automobile in sight. Jim Bowie, well-traveled, charming and experienced was in his prime at 35 years old! He was a born leader, they say of him, a rambler, explorer, and also a shrewd opportunist.
In 1831, he led a small expedition into northern portions of Uvalde County in search of a lost Franciscan Silver Mine. It has been said that Bowie was fond of hunting and fishing. His family said he caught and rode wild horses, alligators, and trapped bear and when grown, Bowie was described by his brother John. “A stout, rather raw-boned man, of six feet height, weighed 180 pounds.” He had light-colored hair, keen grey eyes “rather deep set in his head,” a fair complexion, and high cheekbones. Bowie had an “open, frank disposition,” but when aroused by an insult, his anger was terrible. Stories of him as a fighter and frontiersman, both real and fictitious, have made him a legendary figure in Texas history and a folk hero of American culture.
Born in Kentucky, Bowie spent most of his life in Louisiana, where he was raised and where he later worked as a land speculator. His rise to fame began in 1827 on reports of the Sandbar Fight. What began as a duel between two other men deteriorated into a melée in which Bowie, having been shot and stabbed, killed the sheriff of Rapides Parish with a large knife. This, and other stories of Bowie's prowess with a knife, led to the widespread popularity of the Bowie knife.
The discovery of silver in Texas is attributed to the Franciscan Friars who discovered and operated silver mines through the 1700’s in Texas. The historical marker at the intersection of Hwy 83 and 127 at Concan says, “Named for silver mine opened near pass by Spaniards in 1700s or earlier. Ore was inferior, and the
mine was abandoned; but 14 shafts (some interconnecting) remain. Near the mine are remnants of a fortification made by 30 men under the leadership of James Bowie, later a hero of the siege to the Alamo. In 1831.
Bowie's reputation was cemented by his role in the Texas Revolution. After moving to Texas in 1830, Bowie became a Mexican citizen and married Ursula Veramendi, the daughter of the Mexican vice governor of the province.
At the outbreak of the Texas Revolution, Bowie joined the Texas militia, leading forces at the Battle of Concepción and the Grass Fight. In January 1836, he arrived at the Alamo, where he commanded the volunteer forces until an pneumonia left him bedridden. Bowie died with the other Alamo defenders on March 6. Despite conflicting accounts of the manner of his death, the "most popular, and probably the most accurate" accounts maintain that he died in his bed after emptying his pistols into several Mexican soldiers.
Prior to the Alamo and failing to find the San Saba Mine, Bowie staked out the Silver Mine Pass in 1831. Bowie’s men repulsed a Comanche attack in a fierce, all-day battle. Hero of the fight was Bowie’s slave, “Black Jim Bowie,” who risked his life by leaving the fortification to bring water to the besieged.” Some people say if you stand near the old ruins on a quiet night under the Hill Country canopy of stars while staring silently into the infinity of the night sky, you can hear the voices of yesterday. Whispers at first, then boisterous laughter and the clang of shovel against rock and sometimes even the vibration of an eerie hammering deep in the ground.