this were a movie - and it could be - the opening scene would show
a former pirate of the high seas leading ten jack loads (mule loads)
of gold and silver bullion from Mexico to St. Louis, there his true
love for to see.
The former pirate is a German native named Karl Steinheimer who,
after he focused his efforts from plundering cargo ships to plundering
the earth's treasures as a miner and prospector in Mexico, actually
found a treasure in the Sierra Madre. The treasure is such that
it takes 10 mules and two hired hands to move it. We learn that
Steinheimer is leaving Mexico with his bounty because he has discovered
that his true love is living in St. Louis and is yet unmarried.
He's on his way to St. Louis to change her marital status.
But, alas, the course of true love and worldly treasures rarely
runs smooth. Close to the Mexican border, Steinheimer falls in with
a couple of dozen Mexican irregulars under the command of Manuel
Flores, a Mexican agent. Flores is a shadowy figure, part of a plan
to roll into Texas, recruit the Comanches and Apaches as allies
and reclaim Texas for Mexico. Steinheimer sees Flores as an agent
of protection for him, his men and his fortune.
Eventually, Steinheimer and two hired hands make their way to a
place "where the three rivers come together to form a larger river."
This is Three Forks in Bell
County, where the Lampasas and Leon Rivers and Salado Creek
Steinheimer is not in a good situation. Aside from the ever-present
Comanches and Apaches are a good number of Texans who won't look
kindly on him a citizen of Mexico. He keeps a small amount of pocket
change from his treasure to tide him over and buries the rest under
To mark the spot he nails a spike to the tree. For whatever reason,
he heads south and east from there - not in the direction of St.
Louis - and onto the Blackland prairie. At a place called Three
Knobs, probably around present-day Rogers,
he and his companions are besieged by a Comanche war party.
Both of his companions are killed. Steinheimer takes an arrow through
the leg. He is taken in by a sympathetic (and honest) traveling
party. Struggling for his life, Steinheimer makes a map of where
the silver and gold bullion is buried and writes a letter to his
true love in St. Louis saying that if he doesn't show up in St.
Louis in three months, the treasure is hers. All she has to do is
Steinheimer never makes it to St. Louis. Once hostilities in Texas
subside, Steinheimer's love sends a group of men to find the treasure
and bring it back to her.
They never find it.
Fade to black.
no. In many ways the story is just beginning because the legend
of Steinheimer's treasure has spawned dozens of versions of the
story and at least that many attempt to find the supposed treasure.
The late Jim Bowmer, a long-time Bell
County attorney and local historian, became involved in the
legend when he was contracted to write an agreement and handle the
legal end of a search for Steinheimer's cache several years ago.
Bowmer agreed but only if he could be present at the dig. They found
The landowner told Bowmer that he and his clients were digging in
the wrong place. He said a young college professor had visited his
uncle to say the treasure was actually buried underneath the house.
The uncle replied, "Young man I don't mind you digging for it but
you will just have to locate it somewhere else." The professor conveniently
decided the treasure was actually out in the middle of the pasture.
Dozens of people have looked for the silver in the intervening years.
Net proceeds from these forays: nada.
Bowmer said an old settler once related that after a winter of burning
wood in his fireplace he found a brass spike like the one Steinheimer
described but he had no idea where the tree it came from was cut.
It probably wouldn't have changed things if he did.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
May 2, 2018 column