In 1884, four Reagan brothers set up a cattle ranch in the south part of Brewster County. Most of the land in that area was unclaimed and the brothers named the place Reagan Canyon. In one of their trips with their cattle to the new Southern Pacific railhead at Dryden, they met a young African American Seminole named Bill Kelly who spoke broken English and indicated that he had experience in working with horses.Inquiry Online
One day when Kelly was herding some stray horses which had crossed the Rio Grande River, he came across what he thought was gold ore. On returning to the ranch he narrated the incident to the Reagans who refused to believe him.
The next day Kelly was with Lee Reagan near the earlier spot once again and offered to show Lee the place where he had found the gold. Despite showing Lee a quartz rock containing gold which he had picked up earlier, Lee refused to listen any further and told Kelly to concentrate on his work
Kelly however was sure of his find and took a train trip to San Antonio a few days later. He befriended the train conductor named Campbell and told him his story. Kelly gave Campbell a portion of the quartz who promised to get it examined and inform about the results. Kelly himself sought out a person who would assay the sample and mail him the results at the Reagan ranch. A few weeks later when Bill Kelly was away somewhere on the range the letter was received at the ranch.
Assuming that Kelly did not know how to read or write the Reagan brothers read the letter and came to know that the gold which Kelly had found was very rich in content. A cook had seen them open the letter and told this to Kelly on his return to the ranch. Kelly was scared that the Reagans would force him to tell the location of the mine and even kill him after that.
That night, Kelly took one of the horses from the ranch and rode away to the south. The Reagans tried to follow him but abandoned the search when they found that the tracks led them to Rio Grande River where Kelly had crossed into Mexico
The brothers had a fair idea from Lee about the location of the mine and desperately looked for it. However they could never locate it. Kelly started working on a ranch in Coahuila in Mexico where he lived for several years before he finally moved to San Antonio where it is believed that he died. Kelly himself had never attempted to look for the gold as he feared for his life
In the meanwhile the train conductor Campbell happened to meet Jim Reagan and they talked about Bill Kelly and his gold mine. They decided to look for the mine together and thoroughly searched the area where Kelly and Lee had been, but failed to find the mine. It is believed that the Reagans spent a fortune looking for the mine for many years but they could not trace the Lost Bill Kelly Mine.
As with most lost mine stories, there are a few things about this famous story that are hard to believe. One issue is the description of the ore as being quartz with veins of visible gold in it. In the past century, there have been very little in the way of gold discoveries in Texas. In fact, Texas is probably one of the poorer states in the U.S. to search for gold.
What are the odds of a rich lost gold mine in Texas? I suppose that is the fun about lost mines stories, you just don’t always know fact from fiction. Certainly you would expect that other rich gold discoveries would have been made over the past 130 years, yet there have been no significant gold discoveries in that time.
Many lost gold mines are believed to be in the heart of rich gold country like The Lost Dutchman Mine in Arizona, or The Lost Goose Egg Mine in California. That is not the case with the Lost Bill Kelly Gold Mine
If legend is to be believed, the Bill Kelley Mine wasn’t just one of the richest mines in all of North America – it was also a mine burdened with a horrible curse that would ensure a violent death to anyone who found the gold
Billy Kelley was a Seminole-African American man who, in the 1880s, trekked from the old Seminole settlement in northern Coahuila in Mexico to West Texas in order to find work at any of the ranches. During his journey, he met with the Reagan brothers who decided to hire the 19-year-old Kelley. Kelley couldn’t read or write, but the brothers were impressed with his knowledge about horses
The Reagan brothers – John, Jim, Frank and Lee – had established a cattle ranch in southern Brewster County in 1884. Their ranch was close to the canyon that we today know as Reagan Canyon. After establishing their ranch, the brothers frequently drove cattle to the Southern Pacific Railroad at Dryden, a journey of approximately 75 miles. It was during one of these trips that they met Billy Kelley and diced to hire him to care for their horses
Billy Kelley soon turned out to be a really good ranch hand and the Reagans often allowed him to care for the stock on his own. One day, when he was rounding up strays on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande River, Kelley found a gold mine. When he returned to the Reagan ranch he told the brothers about his discovery, but they just laughed it off
The following day, Billy Kelley and Lee Reagan went back to the same area to round up stray horses, and Kelley told Reagan that the mine was close by and offered to take him there. Once again, Reagan just laughed at Kelley and didn’t believe in his tales about a gold mine. To prove that he was right, Kelley fetched a fist-sized piece of quartz from his saddlebag and showed Reagan the gold vein that ran through it. Reagan didn’t know much about gold, so he just threw the quartz to the ground and told Kelley to focus on his ranch duties instead of running around looking for mines
A few weeks after finding the gold mine, Kelley took the train bound for San Antonio and befriended a train conductor named Locke Campbell. Kelley told Campbell about the mine and showed him a piece of quartz. Unlike the Reagans, Campbell didn’t laugh at him. Instead, he offered to take the piece of quartz to someone who could analyze it. Kelley agreed, but he also independently took a piece of quartz to an assayer who was instructed to send the results to Reagan Ranch
Kelley returned to the Reagan Ranch, waiting to hear something from Campbell and the assyer. After several weeks, a letter from the assayer arrived while Kelley was out on the range. The brothers opened it and red it – and this is how they found out that the gold found by Kelley was valued at $80,000 to the ton
Kelley didn’t return to the Reagan Ranch until three days later, and when he arrived, the cook warned him that the brothers had read his letter. Kelley immediately realized that the brothers might force him to show them where the mine was and then kill him, so he stole on of their horses and left in a hurry
After his narrow escape from the Reagan brothers, Kelley found work on George Chessman’s Piedra Blanca Ranch in Coahuila, Mexico. As he got to know and trust his new foreman Stillwell, he told him about the gold mine and showed him a saddlebag containing gold nuggets. He also explained to Stillwell (some sources call him John, others Will) that he feared for his own life and that he might be forced to return to his relatives at the Seminole settlement in Coahuila to be safe
A short time after this talk, Kelley disappeared after having driven a herd of cattle to Mexico City together with several other ranch hands. It was later revealed that he had done exactly what he had told Stillwell about – Kelley was hiding out in the Seminole settlement in Coahuila. After laying low in Coahuila for a while, Kelley eventually moved north to Oklahoma. We know this, because there are records of him being imprisoned in Oklahoma for illegal bootlegging. Once he got out of prison, he travelled to San Antonio, Texas where he settled down
Kelley never returned to the Piedra Blanca Ranch, but Stillwell started looking for the god mine on his own and kept at it for many years. In 1915, he told his younger brother Roy that he had finally found it. What happened next is unclear. Stillwell might have been working the mine secretly, but at the same time we know that he joined the Texas Rangers and carried out missions for them. In 1918, he died after being shot in the back by a Mexican outlaw while assigned to a post in the Big Bend area
After Will Stillwell’s death, his brother Roy Stillwell came into possession of the directions to the mine. Several men implored him to lead an expedition into the mountains looking for the mine, but Roy refused – saying that Billy Kelleys gold mine was cursed and pointing out that a long string of violent deaths was associated with it. Anyone who claimed to have found the gold or who were close to discovering it seemed to meet with a sudden and violent death, and Roy didn’t want to join that group of unfortunate gold seekers
Several months later, another group of men offered Roy Stillwell a large amount of money in exchange for directions to the mine. This time, Stillwell didn’t flat our refuse; he just told them that he needed a few days to think it over. Two days later a truck overturned on Roy and ended his life
In a strange twist of fate, the train conductor Locke Campbell met Jim Reagan at a cattlemen’s convention in San Antonio and the two stroke up a conversation. Eventually, it became clear that they both knew about Kelley’s alleged goldmine and they began to compare stories. Soon, Campbell and the Reagan brothers was looking for the mine together
The search party investigated several miles of land in each direction from the place where Lee Reagan had been rounding up strays with Kelley, but were unable to locate the mine. But the men had been bitten by the gold bug and continued their search for years, investing thousands of dollars in the process
One day, while the Reagan brothers were still busy looking for gold, a dark skinned man visited a store in Eagle Pass, Texas, trying to convince the shop keeper to give him $1,000 in exchange for a bag of gold nuggets and information about the mine from whence it came. The shop keeper declined the offer and the man left. Several months went by before the shop keeper became aware of with whom he had been talking – Bill Kelley
In June of 1899, Jim Reagan partnered with the ranchers D.C. Bourland and O.L Mueller, and a prospector named John Finky, to continue the search for the gold mine. Bourland and Mueller provided financing, while Finky was the one who would go out in the field and do the actual looking
After several weeks of searching, Finky arrived to the Bourland ranch with some good news. He had located the mine and he brought several large chunks of gold with him to prove it. Finky also explained that he had found the corpse of a black man in a canyon approximately 300 yards below the mine. Based on the condition of the corpse, the man must have been dead quite a long time
That same night, Finky was stung by a scorpion and became gravely ill. He was taken to Sanderson where he was hospitalized. Both Bourland and Jim Reagan visited him in Sanderson and asked for directions to the mine, but Finky didn’t trust them enough to divulge it. He also told his partners that the group must obtain permission from the Mexican government to work the mine, otherwise it wouldn’t be legal to commence the gold extraction
Finky eventually recovered enough to set out on a journey to Mexico City, where he aimed to solicit the proper paperwork from the Mexican authorities. On his way to the capital he stopped in El Paso, where he spent two days getting drunk at a local saloon. While drunk, he befriended the bartender, told him about the mine and asked him to come with him to Mexico City. Two days later, Finky’s body was found
Shortly after Finky’s untimely death, Jim Reagan died as well. The remaining Reagan brothers moved their ranching operations from Texas to Arizona, and only Campbell continued to search for the mine – a pursuit he would keep at until his own demise in 1926
In 1909, a man arrived to the Big Bend area carrying a map that he claimed showed the location of a gold mine in the Ladrones Mountains. The man’s name was Wattenburg and he said that he had gotten the map from his nephew who had been sentenced to death and was currently imprisoned in Oklahoma
According to Wattenburg, his nephew was stealing horses in Mexico together with a bunch of other outlaws when they came across an old man burdened with two leather sacks. Upon inspection, the bags turned out to be filled with gold-laden quartz rock. The horse rustlers threatened the man and he reluctantly took them to the mine. The thieves were in a hurry since they were followed by a posse, so after murdering the old man they just dumped his body in a canyon, before fleeing across the border
In 1910, Wattenburg was no longer searching for the mine alone, since he had partnered with John Young and Felixe Lowe. Soon, however, the little group was forced to abandon their quest since the border area filled up with armed men due to the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution. Several months after the start of the revolution, Young was interviewed by a newspaper journalist in San Antonio and spilled the beans about the lost gold mine
A while after the interview with John Young in San Antonio had been published, Young received a letter from a man named Jack Haggard. Haggard explained that he was a rancher in Coahuila and that Kelley had worked for him on his ranch for several years. According to Haggard, one of his foremen had managed to find the mine, using directions provided by Kelley. The foreman had returned to Haggard’s ranch carrying several ore samples that were assayed as rich in gold. Shortly after his return, however, the foreman was killed in a gas explosion. Haggard was now searching for the mine himself, but had so far failed to find it
Towards the end of the 1940s, two mining engineers from the east travelled to the area of the old Reagan Ranch were they hired a local guide to take them around. They never told the guide exactly what they were looking for, so he assumed that their intentions were to find Billy Kelley’s mine
According to the guide, the two engineers returned one day very excited over something and told him that his services were no longer needed. He received his pay and left, believing that the engineers must have finally found the long lost mine
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