in golden sunset, from a distance Llano
County's Sharp Mountain looks like a giant Paleolithic flint hide
scraper lying on its side.
At 1,594 feet above sea level, the landmark barely deserves its mountain
designation. Its summit rising 400 feet above the land around it,
the huge pile of cedar-studded rock sits on private property about
five miles southeast of Llano.
Few today know about the long-abandoned mine shafts the mountain hides.
The nation's economy rested in a dark, deep hole itself back in 1936,
when energetic promoters touted Sharp Mountain as another American
"Profits in Gold," read a brochure distributed by the Laburma (for
and Mason counties)
Corp., "Not in Alaska…Mexico…Africa…But right here in TEXAS."
Whoever wrote that Depression-era sales piece would have done any
snake oil hawker proud. The six-page brochure talked of the ancient
lure of gold, a quest that has long attracted man because "GOLD is
the measure of empire and with GOLD empires are made, and lost."
The brochure continued: "After years of prospecting, opening cross-cuts,
sinking shafts, driving tunnels on Sharp Mountain…an enormous body
of gold bearing ore has been discovered. Assays of ore…show high values
which are increasing with the depth."
Indeed, since the days of the Spanish missions in Texas, the belief
persisted that the Hill
Country held gold and silver as well as quartz, pyrite and other
minerals. In the late 1890s, someone did discover a gold ore deposit
in Llano County and
mining operations began on the Heath Ranch. Two freight cars of ore
shipped to Pueblo, Colo. for smelting in 1901 assayed at $35 a ton.
That's roughly 1.75 ounces of gold per 2,000 pounds of ore.
Though hardly equivalent to Colorado's storied Cripple Creek district
(which by 1935 had produced $500 million worth of gold calculated
for the most part at $20 an ounce), some production continued in the
Llano area until 1916. A local bank displayed a 32-ounce gold brick
made from Llano County
ore that would be worth more than $18,000 today. But that may have
been the most gold that ever came from the area.
The 1936 claims by Laburma might have sounded promising to some, but
residents had been previously deprived of their hard-earned money
in assorted unsuccessful mining ventures. Most local folks took news
of the latest "find" with a grain of another mineralsalt.
"People here have been taken so many times you couldn't sell stock
for a-nickel-a-$100-share," one old-timer recalled in the late 1970s.
He said jaded locals came to call mine promoters "snake hunters."
To compensate for that cynicism, Laburma brought potential investors
from San Antonio and
other places by bus, putting them up at the old Southern Hotel. Taken
to the mine site after being subjected to a dog and pony show, the
prospects saw armed guards patrolling the fence around the 800-acre
property, examined ore samples and read optimistic assay reports.
Then they got the opportunity to buy shares of Laburma stock.
"Procrastination is the thief of time," the Laburma brochure warned.
"THE OPPORTUNITY IS NOW: WISHING, THINKING, and CONSIDERING! will
not develop mines; help to build up the mineral wealth of Texas, or
enable you to share in the millions that should be obtained from the
production of Laburma Mines."
In the end, the only people who made any money off the Llano
County gold mine were the property owners, who got $1,000 a mile
for creek frontage to the center of the bed. Lawrence Bruhl, who as
a young lawyer represented the corporation, later estimated he paid
$20,000 to $30,000 in cash to ranchers used to eking out a living
back when roast beef sold for 29 cents a pound.
The Laburma mining operation, Bruhl told a reporter in the 1970s,
"was not a fraudulent deal. The mines were open, they were digging
and sending samples to Denver. The [assay] reports were good."
Just not good enough. The mine never produced ore in sufficient quantity
to make the members of the Laburma Corp. any money, not to mention
all the hapless investors, left with nothing but fancy stock certificates
as reminders of the venerable truth that "not all that glitters is
by Mike Cox - Order Here