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2017-05-18

The Difference Between Legend And Fact

By Raymond V. Carter, Jr. BCHC Research Historian ©2017

The definition of "Legend" according to the Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary", 1960, second edition, page 480, is "3. Any story coming down from the past, esp. one popularly taken as historical though not verifiable; also, such stories collectively." Now from the same source, page 296, gives the definition of "Fact" as: "3. The quality of being actual; actuality; as, the realm of fact is distinct from that of fancy," and "5. Law. Specify: Usually in pl., any of the circumstances or matters of a case as alleged; also, that which is of actual occurrence; reality as an event."
I love and relish a good story about the past, especially one that has been handed down from my grandparents or aunts and uncles. I am also very partial to J. Frank Dobie's legends, along with other authors who have written about Texas history. They say truth is stranger than fiction and in the case of Texas history it seems that is sometimes a fact. Texas was built by "Big Pioneers", both men and women and sometimes the very young. In any case, I have found that most legends are more factual than fiction, at least when it comes to my family's stories. If you remove the generations of embellishments and the little stretching of the truth by hard detailed research, the core facts do emerge. The fact is their names are "ink stains" on the pages of our history books.
I have been researching history of the gold and silver mines in our area and what I have come up with is that the stories, people, incidents and places are real. It is just that the treasure or the mineral wealth is in the "wrench in the machinery." On the other hand when it comes to ghost stories that is a little harder to prove. It is more a person 's choice to believe or disbelieve. Even with pictures or videos it can be hard to believe, but again strange things have happened to many people and many people have seen and heard things that are just unexplainable.
What I love about my research, is I’m taking the legends and stories and squeezing the truth or facts out of them. When you take a legend and you start finding out that the people, places and incidents occurred, it turns my work into an adventure. Many people over the years have hunted treasure or silver mines, some chasing fraudulent claims and some chasing the real deal. Even if the wealth wasn't there, it makes great reading. But, like with some, there is legitimate reason to hunt for lost moneys or what we call treasure. Treasure can be anything of intrinsic value: guns, coins, silver/gold bars, meteorites, mineral deposits, lost family members, and yes, any kind of cache of antiquities.
Having a good story or legend to go by is a good start, but uncovering the facts about the legend is more important than having a map. Maps can be forged, mistakenly copied, etc. Uncovering the facts will eliminate a lot of wasted time and energy. Understanding and being able to read the signs and decipher what they mean is also very important. Placing the facts of the times and the events of the time to the legend also eliminates fact from fiction. Some things just did not or could not have occurred at the time of the legend. Then, there are always those that want to take advantage of a gullible soul. You know, an easy mark for easy money. Gathering as many facts is helpful when separating the wheat from the chaff.
Fact is that the Spaniards were in what is now Bandera County and the surrounding counties. Fact is artifacts of the 1750's and audits, of an even earlier period, have been located here. Fact is there were gold and silver rushes that occurred in 1756 and 1853 through our area and central Texas. There were a few mines active in the late 1880s and early 1890s. There were many attempts to find silver during the depression days of the 1930s. The country was desperate and broke. The problem is that assay reports only show traces of gold and silver and only in certain geological locations. You would have to move enough dirt/rock the size of the courthouse to maybe even get an ounce of metal and then the cost of removing the precious metal from the dirt/rock would be cost prohibited.
I have heard and read many local legends of buried treasure, but have only had time to research one of them. As it turns out, that the one I read about, does have some historical fact connected to it and would be worth further research. These researches are time consuming. It takes between 40 and 80 hours of research to write my historical articles, but these treasured legends may take a year or years of research. The problem is trying to find more than one source to the legends. It is better to find as many versions of the story as possible, so they can be compared and studied in detail. Then, there is that point where you just say this is more legend than fact and resources are turned to legends that have more "wheat than chaff."
One other important thing to remember is that most of the land in Texas is private property and these treasures are the property of the land–owners. If you don't own the land, get permission. If the land–owner says "no", then respect their wishes.
Researching legends is a lot of fun and is very entertaining, that is if you like that sort of thing. But, on the other hand, you must take them for what they are, legends and stories. To me it beats the "stuff" on TV, well, unless it is a good old western!