Monday, July 25, 2016

A Fortune in Gold

Last week I shared the story of a group of men searching for the lost San Saba silver mine -- and from the responses I've received, that story of a lost fortune piqued the interest of more than one reader.
I suppose there's something about the thought of buried treasure which encourages one to wonder if the stories are true, and if the fortune is still out there to be found. The following story, from my files, is likely true:
Occasionally one finds a mystery when reading about Kerr County’s history. I was reading about two of Kerr County’s earliest families, the Burney and Rees clans, when I stumbled upon a story about buried gold.
The two families came to Kerr County from the same county in Tennessee, McNairy County. McNairy County is in the southwest part of the state, and borders Mississippi. It’s still rural; the population there in 2000 was under 25,000 people.
And both families, when they came to Texas, were headed by widows with three sons. According to Bob Bennett’s excellent history of our community, “each of the three sons in both the Burney and Rees families participated in the organization of Kerr County and all of them eventually served as county officials. Succeeding generations of the two families became related through marriage and 100 years later, descendants of both families were leaders in business and civic affairs of Kerr County and elsewhere.”
A quick check of today’s telephone directory shows both of the family names are still listed here.
Of all of the various members of the family, this story focuses on Hance McCain Burney, or rather his wife, Mary Tatum.
Hance Burney was Kerrville’s first postmaster, serving for eight years after the post office was established here in 1858. He also served as county judge – twice, once during the Civil War and later in the late 1870s. He was president of the First National Bank of Center Point, and he died in the spring of 1915.
His wife, Mary Tatum Burney, moved from McNairy County, Tennessee, to Washington County, Texas with her parents in 1853. She married Hance Burney three days after Christmas that same year in Washington County.
Soon thereafter the Hance Burneys and Mary’s parents moved to Kerr County. Her parents were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Tatum, and they settled on a homestead “across the Guadalupe from Joshua D. Brown.”
Henry Tatum served as a county commissioner from 1863-65 (while his son-in-law was county judge). I imagine that proved interesting, especially when their votes were different.
Now for the gold.
According to Bennett, “Henry Tatum is said to have brought along $10,000 in gold which was buried on his farm during the Civil War days. In 1872 a smallpox epidemic broke out in Kerr County and both Mr. and Mrs. Tatum were stricken. Both died within a week’s time without revealing the hiding place of the gold.”
$10,000 worth of gold – in 1870-era dollars – would be worth considerably more today. It would be worth a fortune.
There is evidence more than one person believed the gold was buried on the property. According to Bennett, “A. P. Brown, a son of Joshua D. Brown, recalls that during his youth, holes about six feet deep were dug all over the old Tatum farm.”
You know, Gentle Reader, that gold might still be buried out there on the Tatum farm. Who said history books can’t be interesting?
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks he knows where the Tatum farm was, and there are holes still visible there. He does not know if the gold was ever found.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 23, 2016

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