four years after thousands of Forty-niners flocked to California in
search of riches, a wave of Fifty-threers headed for the Hill
Country in a little known and short-lived Texas gold rush.
Word of potential wealth in newly created Burnet
County spread across the nation as fast as sailing ships could
make it from Indianola
to New York with Texas newspapers.
“Important from Texas – The Gold Discoveries
Confirmed—Great Excitement,” read a one-column headline in the April
20, 1853 edition of the New York Times. That report had been abbreviated
from the New Orleans Picayune of April 18. According to the item:
“The news fully confirms the previous reports received of rich discoveries
of gold on the Upper Colorado River, and also above Austin.
Large amounts had already been collected by those who proceeded to
the ‘diggins,’ and the greatest excitement prevailed throughout all
Of course, the shining belief that gold – and silver – could be found
in the Hill Country
dated back to Spanish Texas. Later, colonizer Stephen
F. Austin bought into the idea, as did the adventurous scalawag
Jim Bowie. While his dreams of wealth ended at the Alamo,
the notion persisted that the mineral-rich hills north and west of
Austin held untold riches.
And for a few months in 1853, it looked like Texas
would be the new California.
A week after its first report, the Times offered its readers more
details on the Texas bonanza. Reprinting a story from the April 15
Galveston News, the New York newspaper said:
“The steamer James L. Day arrived this morning from Aransas and Matagorda
Bays. The most important item of news is the discovery of gold mines
in Hamilton’s Valley, above Austin.
We have heard rumors of these mines by gentlemen from the interior,
but we had occular proof of their existence in a specimen which Captain
Talbot exhibited to us this morning. It is a piece of quartz rock,
a little larger than a common-sized marble, with pieces of bright
gold attached to it. The color of the gold is much clearer than California
The newspaper went on to report that “rumors are rife of large quantities
of gold being found throughout the western portion of [Texas]”
with “great excitement prevailing at Austin,
San Antonio, Seguin,
Gonzales and other
points.” Indeed, several "companies" (used in the 19th century as
a synonym for "parties" or "groups") were organized and en route to
search for gold.
Though longer, this story offered no further detail on the location
of the reported gold find other than in Hamilton’s Valley “and various
other places.” Still, the final information in the story doubtless
contained all the information seekers of wealth needed to read: “One
person sold a piece of quartz in San
Antonio for $25.” Back then, $25 had the purchasing power of $780
A month later, the Texas gold rush continued
to make national news.
“The latest news from Texas will excite
all those who desire to make money in any other than the natural way—by
hard work of the hands and brain,” began a piece in the Alton, Ill.
Weekly Courier of May 20, 1853. The Illinois newspaper went on to
reprint an item from the Lavaca Commercial (a long-extinct Port
Lavaca sheet) that actually offered some detail on Texas’
new-born mining district.
“There are now from 300 to 400 persons at work in the mines, and we
learn that they are averaging from $5 to $10 per day each, and some
few of them have already succeeded in gathering as much as $1,500
to $2,000 worth of gold.”
Austin’s Texas State Gazette
weighed in with a report that up to 500 people were hard at work digging
for gold “in our neighborhood,” including one operator who in two
days “obtained $500 worth of gold.” Noting that the gold play was
“easy of access from this city,” the newspaper continued that “we
shall not be surprised to hear soon of discoveries equalling in importance
the golden stories of California.”
On July 3, 1853 Burnet
County pioneer Logan Vandeveer, a Kentuckian who had fought in
the Texas Revolution, wrote his father that there was “some excitement
in this country about gold mines and other minerals.” He continued:
“I cannot see how it will turn out. The people come here in great
quantities. Some of them return and some and others remain. It could
be the means of selling this country.”
Despite all the hoopla, at least one out-of-state newspaper editor
had his doubts about the purported gold discoveries in Texas.
“This reads very much like a hum,” the Milwaukee’s Weekly Wisconsan
had observed on May 18. By “hum,” the writer meant humbug, as in hoax
even if all that glitters IS gold, that particular precious metal
has to be available in real plentitude to sustain a boom. While some
apparently did find some gold, by summer of that year reports concerning
the great Texas gold fields had disappeared
from the newspapers.
Though the Hill Country
did not prove to be the new El Dorado, gold has been and can be found
in the beds of various streams feeding into the Colorado above Austin,
including Hamilton Creek in Burnet
County. But while geologists have long since concluded that the
mineral-rich region (with Llano
County being the epicenter) does have gold deposits, it does not
exist in commercial quantity.
Still, with the current price of gold being $1,400-plus an ounce….
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" July
14, 2011 column