This is a story of a legendary Big Bend area mine. It is sometimes referred to by other names in newspaper accounts, books and articles. Since Bill Kelley figures into the story, more recently it has been called “Bill Kelly’s Mine.” Mrs. Eugenia H. Chandley wrote about it in the March 22, 1939 edition of the Alpine, Texas Sul Ross Skyline. According to the legend, a young man named Bill Kelley was from the Black Seminoles in Coahuila, Mexico and told some of his relatives of finding a treasure on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. Kelley had told his employers, the Reagan brothers, of coming across an outcropping of stone that shined like gold, while he was holding a herd of horses for them. Kelley chipped off some of the rock, put it in his pack and relayed the news of his find to the Reagans.
According to Mrs. Chandley’s account, believed to be relating events that occurred in the mid 1890s, the Reagan brothers set about to find and claim the treasure. She relates that at some point, Kelley had fled the area in fear of his life after another employee had told him of a plot of the brothers to kill him. Kelley had become acquainted with a Southern Pacific or Texas and New Orleans railroad conductor named Lock Campbell who was said to be somewhat knowledgeable about ore. (There are more variations to the story in other accounts.) In this account, Kelley left the ranch on his way to connect with Campbell. He left on a stolen or borrowed horse which he later released at some point. He is then said to have continued on foot. On his way, he stopped for food at a ranch owned by a family named Stillwell and told them of his treasure. After that, Kelley is not prominently mentioned in the account except that he returned to Mexico, possibly on a cattle drive with the Stillwells, and also eventually was reunited with his family who still resided there in Mexico. Kelley is said to have later died, either by being murdered or by succumbing to a fatal illness. There Mrs. Chandley’s account comes to an end.
Lock Campbell (1855 – 1926) in the story is said to have submitted Kelley’s ore and obtained a report from an assayer’s office that the sample appeared to be valuable. The Reagans somehow learned of this and continued to try to locate the mine. Despite spending time and money to locate it, they were unsuccessful. There have been numerous other attempts to locate the find.
There are some additional variations to the legend. In the following account, written up in the book “Singers and Storytellers” (1) numerous individuals had tried to locate the mine when one of them, D. C. Bourland, attempted to seek out Bill Kelley. Bourland traveled to Austin where Kelley is said to have also had relatives. Upon finding the kinfolk, he was told that some prospectors from Colorado were currently looking for the mine and that they were using a map that was given to them by Kelley. Bourland then returned to the Big Bend, found them and made a deal to furnish supplies and equipment in exchange for a share of the loot. Bourland went away to acquire the supplies and equipment, but when he returned, the Colorado men were gone.
In another variation from this book, even before the Kelley days an old prospector named Corbitt was looking for gold in the area later to be owned by the Reagans. Corbitt was living in a tumbledown shack and had brought with him samples of gold ore from other prospecting trips. Corbitt was taken ill by “consumption” and died there in the cabin. Time and weather took their toll and the old cabin finally fell in on itself, along with what remained of Corbitt’s ore and any other belongings. As a prank, two neighboring ranch men came across his gold ore and scattered it around for later visitors including Kelley and the Reagans to find.
Yet another variation in this book involves the Stillwells. In this account a Stillwell relative is said to have related that Kelley found the gold not on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, but rather across the river into Mexico. In this tale, Kelley had found ore on an old Indian trail but was prevented from returning to exploit it due to the volatile political situation in Mexico at the time. The writer also tells of still another expedition for the treasure by Dr. D. B. McCall, a chiropractor originally from San Saba, Texas. McCall, the writer says, searched for the treasure for over thirty years.
On one occasion in the 1920s, a man who McCall believed was of Mexican descent came to his medical office then located in San Antonio. The man was a patient named Solito who McCall treated for a hearing issue. Later the man returned wearing a handmade looking gold ring, telling him of the source, which he referred to as an Indian mine in the same general area as the Kelley mine. Solito offered to accompany McCall to the mine. Solito expanded on the story to say that he had been taken and raised by the Apaches for about nine years, which was when he heard of the treasure. According to this variation, Solito and McCall went to the area, but Solito was taken ill by food poisoning. The two returned to San Antonio where Solito soon died. McCall continued to search for the mine every year for several more decades, but never found it.
The location of the mine remains unresolved, if in fact it ever existed.
(1) Boatright, Mody C. “Singers and Storytellers,” book, 1961; Dallas, Texas. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc67655/: accessed April 1, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.
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