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  Texas : Features : Columns : "Letters from Central Texas"

Legends of the Pancake Mine

by Clay Coppedge
Pancake, Texas

Ike Pancake figured he was on to something big when he and his son, Jud, were knocking around their Coryell County property and found a rock with Jim Bowie's name and the date 1832 carved on it. Bowie, of knife and Alamo fame, also engraved the stone with a tale of 3,000 pounds of gold and a Comanche wife buried there in Horseshoe Mountain, near the headwaters of Coryell Creek.

The Bowie rock, and subsequent finds, changed Ike and Jud Pancake's lives, though not in the way they might have imagined at first. Over the years, Ike and Jud Pancake worked what turned out to be a series of old mines. They found gold nuggets, a Spanish lance head, an old prospector's pack saddle and several talismanic stones. They found human remains, arrowheads and treasure maps etched on stone.

Ike Pancake looked for the gold Bowie supposedly buried here for the rest of his life. Jud Pancake spent much of the rest of his life in the same pursuit. Over the years, some of their most dramatic finds fell out of their possession. A friend made off with a silver bar Jud Pancake found. Ditto the Bowie legend rock. Jud Pancake told writer Ed Syers in the 1960s that having those things was not as important to him as finding them.. "That silver that I let my friends take," he said. "Fellow told me I was a damfool because I'd never see it again. He couldn't understand I don't care. I already had my fun, finding it."

Ike Pancake once found the remains of a human being along with a black stone shaped like a human heart and a slab of flint with a strange diagram etched on it. He sent the flint to the chief engineer of the Valencia Mines near Mexico City, who reported back that the flint was a mining engineer's map of ancient Mexican origin. Ike Pancake used the map to find the mining shafts and surface work. Things began to fall into place rapidly after that. Father and son accrued an astounding number of Indian and Spanish artifacts, along with several human remains indicating people had been digging around in that mountain for a long time. Archaeologists might have filled in the many gaps that appear in the story but they never got a crack at it.

The black heart ended up in the possession of Frank E. Simmons, a treasure hunter and local historian. Simmons wrote extensively about he Pancake mine and about the black rock, which Ike Pancake believed had little significance, for the Coryell County News in 1936. Simmons didn't think attach a lot of significance to the black hear until 1935 when a man traveled from Mexico to see Simmons, or rather the black rock in the shape of a human heart.

The man got Simmons' immediate attention by telling him exactly where the black heart had been found. For good measure, he added this tidbit: several human remains were found along with the heart. The man went on tell told Simmons a remarkable story of how his people had once lived a cultured and prosperous existence on the table lands of Mexico until a band of bloodthirsty warriors drove them from their homeland.

"Our King was sacred and our wise men and priests removed his heart and presented it to the sun: it became as hard as stone," he said. The vanquished people took this as a good omen. They believed that as long as the king's heart was unbroken the nation would be divinely guided. The legend endured as the people moved into present-day Coryell County, where they once again became prosperous and cultured nation until another murderous band - Comanches, no doubt - drove them back to Mexico. "Again, our king was killed, and the sacred stone, and some of the great chiefs, were buried in this small cave," the man told Simmons. The man was the last king of that vanquished people; he wanted the black heart but was stunned when he saw that it was broken. "Like my hopes, and my nation, it is broken," the man said when saw it. "It is broken."

An author's note at the end of the chapter tells us that Simmons lost the black heart. He doesn't say where or how, just that it disappeared from a bucket where he kept other large artifacts. All the while, Ike Pancake, and then Jud, kept digging in Horseshoe Mountain but they never found the motherlode the Bowie rock had promised. Some in Coryell County might have pitied the Pancake men their long search, but Syers was not one of them. In his piece on the Pancakes in "Off The Beaten Trail" Syers writes: "If Ike had a dream, it was a happy one. He was beset by neither stroke, coronary or ulcers. He had nothing but friends. He loved his family and that love was returned. Maybe he even figured anticipation beats realization all hollow." Not all writers were as taken with the Pancakes' story as Syers. Dallas columnist Frank X. Tolbert visited the Pancake place in the 1950s and, as he put it, sort of editorially laughed at Mr. Pancake." But he noted in 1960 that a "professional looking mining operation had been installed on that mesa near their ranch house."

In the book "Pancake Memories" Viola Cathey wrote that the mining company's "conclusion what that it would cost more to work the mine than it would pay in dividends." Several generation of Pancakes might disagree with that conclusion. You generally don't find a lot of unhappy treasure hunters.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
- January 1, 2005 column

See Pancake, Texas
 
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