story and I go back a long way. Back to the 1940s, in fact. We were
living on East 42nd in Austin
at the time. Our next-door neighbor was a WW
I vet named Ralph A. Doyal. His grandfather was Matthew A. Doyal,
whose name is on the Calf
Creek historical markermisspelled as ‘Doyle’because
he was with Jim Bowie at the Calf
Creek fight. Incidentally, he’s sometimes referred to as ‘Matteo
Diaz’ for reasons unknown, but his name was Matt Doyal.
According to Ralph’s granddaddy, the Calf
Creek marker, where it was originally placedin a field
east of the roadwas ‘pretty close but not right on’ where
the fight took place. Old Matt told Ralph the story of the fight.
It’s not the story the Bowie brothers told. It’s not even close.
It was, however, told by someone who was a participant in the fight,
long after the Bowiesand most of the other participantswere
According to Matt Doyaland remember, he was therethe
Bowies never had a silver mine. Well, they did, sort of. Their ‘silver
mine’ had legs.
virtually no international credit. It did have, however, a number
of silver mines. Silver is moneybut only if you can get it
to a destination. Mexico
also had no real navy, nor a viable merchant marine. Even if the
silver was already coined, there was no way to get it safely to
the countries Mexico
needed to trade with. The best way to handle it was to purchase
letters of credit from stable banks in a third nation, a nation
with a stable government. Fortunately for Mexico,
there was one right next doorthe US.
There appears to be no paper trail for this. However, save for the
original US mint in Philadelphia, the US has always established
mints near the source of coinable metal. There was a mint in Atlanta
in the 1820s, following the Dalonegah County, Georgia gold rush.
There was a mint in Carson City, Nevada, for the Nevada silver rush.
Mints still exist in Denver and San Francisco, established for the
Colorado, Black Hills, and California gold rushes. Why was there
a mint in New Orleans in the 1820s and 1830s? There was no coinable
metal being mined in the US anywhere close to New Orleans. However,
the New Orleans mint stamped out a lot of silver coinage during
According to Matt Doyal, the Mexican government sent mule trains
loaded with tres quintalesa quintal equals 101
lbsper mule of bar silver eastward across Texas. The obvious
destination would be New Orleans, where the silver could be traded
for letters of credit in the local banks. The letters of credit
insured Mexico could make purchases from overseas suppliers. The
banks, in turn, sold the silver to the US government, which turned
it into coinage at the New Orleans mint.
Jim Bowie was the son-in-law of the Vice Governor of Coahuila
y Tejas. He had an ‘in’ there. His father-in-law would know
about the pack trains, their schedules, and their routes. Bowie
would have had no trouble finding out when a pack train was due
to start for New Orleans and what its route would be. He simply
took several men with him, waited in concealment alongside the trail
the mules would use, and cut off the last three or four mules. That’s
why his silver was so pureit was already refined in Mexico.
The story about James Bowie living with the Lipans to get knowledge
of the location of a mine was simply a cover. There simply isn’t
enough time not otherwise accounted for during Bowie’s sojourns
in Texas for him to have gained the
trust of the Lipans, an Apache band, be adopted into the tribe,
and be shown the ‘closely guarded secret’ of the silver mine.
In fact, one of the men who was with Bowie at Calf
CreekCaiphas K. Hammtold an almost identical story
about living among the Comanches. It’s so nearly identical that
Bowie’s story of living with the Lipans exactly parallels it at
many points. According to Hamm, his best friend in the band once
pointed to a hill and told him “Other side, plenty silver,” but
he was never shown the exact source of the silver.
according to Doyal, as the party waited in the rocks the mule train
came by. Typically, the muleskinners and their guards were at the
head of the train. It was a simple matter to cut the tether for
the last three mules and make off with them, which is what they
did. If you doubt the story, remember what Bowie told his men when
he saw the mule train that resulted in the Grass Fight. “Boys, those
mules carry enough silver to buy everything Texas needs.” Why would
he think that? Well, almost certainly because he’d previously raided
such a pack train and it was carrying silver.
The party was headed back to Bejar with the loot when a friendly
Comanchethere were a few of thosewarned them that a
large war party was on their trail. Bowie chose a spot near a spring
to fort up. The silver packs became part of the fortification.
According to Doyal, there really wasn’t all that much of a fight
Creek. The party had three excellent riflemen. The Indians worked
themselves up for a charge. Finally one of them stood up and hollered
“Let’s go get ‘em” or something similar. He then went head over
heels with a rifle ball through his totem paint. You do that a few
times and the other guys are going to figure it’s not a good idea
to stand up and holler “Let’s go get ‘em.”
The Indians then resorted to crawling through the brush and weeds.
It was November, but a warmish November. Anything large, crawling
through weeds, is going to cause an eruption of insects. Every time
the Bowie party saw such an eruption it brought a rifle ball. How
many they actually got we don’t knowIndians never left their
dead on the field if they could remove them.
One got close enough to poke a musket barrel through the defenses
and fire. His first round took a chip out of Buchanan’s shinbone.
His second hit Matt Doyal in the chest. The third time the musket
barrel came through, it was grabbed and shoved down violently. The
head of the man on the other end of the musket popped up over the
parapet. A large horse-pistol’s muzzle was the last thing he ever
Eventually the Indians decided the game wasn’t worth the admission
price. They took the party’s horses and mules and left.
This left Bowie’s party in a dilemma. They’d lost only one manTom
McCaslinbut they had two wounded. Doyal’s wound was a serious
one and Buchanan couldn’t walk. They also had 909 lbs of bar silver--eighteen
half-quintal bars. Those things are about the size of two
packs of king-size cigarettes laid end to end, but they weigh 50½
lbs. With two men on littersaccording to Doyal there were
originally fourteen men and a servant in the partysix men
were essentially out of action. They were Doyal, Buchanan, and the
four men it would take to carry the improvised litters. That left
only seven to do any fighting or carry any silver. Sensibly, they
decided to bury the silver and come back for it later. According
to Doyal, the silver was buried “waist deep on a tall man” in the
immediate vicinity of the improvised fortification. That would be
about three feet deep. Marks were left to guide them to the location,
McCaslin was buried in the same area, and the party started home
after swearing an oath that no one or group would ever return to
get the silver unless all were present. The following spring Bowie’s
beloved wife died in Monclova and he took a headlong dive into a
whiskey bottle, from which he didn’t emerge until 1835. After that
he was too busy with the revolution to go back for the silver. Doyal
told his grandson that, so far as he knew, nobody violated the oath
and the silver was still where he watched Bowie and the other able
men of the party bury it.
F. Eckhardt July 7, 2013 column
Author's Note: Since this story was told by an actual participant
in the Calf Creek fight, a man who made no attempt to aggrandize
himself, & a man who, according to his grandson, was not one who
'spun windies,' I consider this likely the most accurate account
of what occurred at Calf Creek in November of 1831--far more accurate
than the 'blood and thunder' tale the Bowie brothers told. - CFE,
July 05, 2013
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