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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

The Lost Llano Lead Mine

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

In June 1939, on the occasion of his golden wedding anniversary, 75-year-old Henry Smith reflected on the happiness he had found in life and something else he had not found — a lost mine.

He'd spent a fair amount of time in his younger years looking for it, but he never found it. Smith had not wasted his time seeking the granddaddy of all lost Texas mines, the Spanish silver works Jim Bowie supposedly discovered in the early 1830s somewhere near the old mission in Menard County. Folks are still searching for that mine, but the other old mine pretty much has been forgotten. It was a lead mine.

Lead is not the most precious of minerals, but along the Texas frontier it was pretty important when muzzle loading rifles and pistols fired homemade lead balls. Lead for bullet molding was available commercially, of course, but a handy vein of ore saved money and time.

Llano County pioneer Billy Nard discovered the vein and began working it in the 1860s. With the Indians taking advantage of the fact that most of the menfolks were off fighting Yankees, lead was particularly important in areas prone to moonlight raids. In fact, when Comanches came calling, lead was worth more than silver or gold.

No prospector, Nard made a simple living as a bee and commercial deer hunter. He wasn't interested in bees per se, but they led him to honey combs. He gathered and sold honey along with venison.

His wife later recalled that he usually left their cabin with a sack over his shoulder, a hatchet and his muzzle loader. He came home with honey and deer meat often enough to make ends meet. Less frequently, based on need, he returned to their homestead with a sack full of lead ore.

Nard molded bullets from the melted ore and shared the lead with his neighbors at no cost. A man could live without honey, but at this stage of Texas' history, bullets were no luxury.

Despite his willingness to share his ore, Nard carefully guarded the location of his mine. He varied the routes he took to and from his diggings to make it hard for anyone to follow him. He didn't even tell his wife, though he promised to reveal the location of the lead deposit to his children before he died.

TX Llano County 1920s Map
1920s Llano County map showing Sandy Creek
From Texas state map #10749

Courtesy Texas General Land Office

Unfortunately, that death came sooner than Nard or anyone in his family expected. Indians killed him, but not directly. With one of his boys and his brother-in-law (Henry Smith's uncle), Nard was hunting wild hogs on Silver Creek, a tributary of Sandy Creek, when Indians surprised the party.

Grabbing up his nine-year-old son, Nard ran hell-for-leather toward his cabin. In doing so, he slogged through deep sand in the creek bed. Stout to the point of fleshiness, Nard escaped the Indians red faced and panting. For whatever reason, he had opted flight over using some of the bullets from his secret lead mine.

Two days later, untouched by arrow or bullet, Nard died, probably of a heart attack triggered by the shock of the encounter coupled with the exertion of his run.

The location of his lead honey hole died with him.

As a youngster Smith had helped his father mold bullets from the ore supplied by Nard. He recalled that the lead made suitable bullets, but it was not of as high a quality as commercially available lead.

After Nard died, his widow and children moved in with the Smith family. When Henry Smith got old enough to prowl around by himself, he tried without success to find the mine. His best guess, based on where Nard had his cabin, was that the ore vein was somewhere near Sandy Creek. Others said it was near Cedar Mountain while some maintained the mine was along Honey Creek.

Smith wasn't the only one interested in finding the mine. Llano County rancher Tom Moore had a standing offer of $500 for the person who found it, but no one ever collected.

Too bad no one ever thought to look at a 103-page U.S. Geological Survey report published in 1911, "Mineral Resources of the Llano-Burnet Region, Texas." Written by Sidney Page based on field work he and several other geologists did in 1908-1909, the report is not ambiguous on whether lead ore (galena) could be found in Llano County. Not only did the geologists locate deposits of galena, they noted evidence of old mining activity at each of the two locations they discovered.

One of those well could have been the mine Nard had succeeded so well in keeping hidden.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" November 14, 2018

Mike Cox's "Texas Tales" :

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  • California Jim 11-1-18
  • ButterKrust Bakery 10-24-18
  • Llano Flood of 1935 10-17-18
  • Chunking Rocks 9-27-18

    See more »

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