For the second time in less than a year, Alexander Dupont set out on Feb. 2, 1789 in search of the storied silver mines of San Saba.
The French-speaking adventurer was born in Flanders in the second decade of the eighteenth century, around the time his native country was conquered by Napoleon and disappeared forever from the map of Europe. That would have made Dupont between 50 or 60 years old, when he wandered into Texas in the 1770’s.
What is known of the footloose Flemish comes from his diary. Although the journal begins in the summer of 1787, it is clear the author had been in Texas for ten years or longer and knew his way around the Spanish province better than most Europeans.
Dupont made his living as a trader with a clientele that included most of the Indian tribes in the eastern half of modern Texas. A natural talent for languages enabled him to communicate with his customers, and a strong instinct for survival kept him alive in a very dangerous environment.
Trading was, however, merely his day job. Dupont was at heart a treasure hunter obsessed with the silver mines of San Saba supposedly “lost” after the Lipan Apaches destroyed the mission and garrison of the same name in 1758.
Dupont went looking for the missing motherlode in 1788 with two guides, a Spaniard called Pacheco and an Indian whose name he did not bother to record. They left San Antonio on March 1 and worked their way northwest toward the San Saba River.
For 11 days, the journey was uneventful, but on the 12th the trio came upon an enormous war party. The terrified travelers cowered in the brush as 400 Comanches passed in review bound for another battle with their ancient enemies the Apaches.
Dupont and his companions reached the ruins of the San Saba fort and mission near present-day Menard on April 3. After a two-day rest, they started searching the countryside for signs of the abandoned mines.
The sudden appearance on April 17 of 200 warriors a short distance from their camp scared the native trailblazer out of his wits. The Indian ran for his life and did not stop until he arrived safe and sound in San Antonio.
Two weeks later, it was the townspeople’s turn to be frightened. Dupont was puzzled by the wide-eyed reception until someone explained that the defector had told everybody he was dead.
Dupont spent eight months making ready for his next treasure hunt. He had plenty of company on his February 1789 expedition — a dozen laborers, four Comanche guides, an interpreter, a cashier and a mule train loaded down with trinkets and supplies.
A month out of San Antonio and already short four helpers and one guide, Dupont was surrounded by a hundred Comanches, who mistook him for a Spaniard. But at the last moment they recognized the trader and escorted him to their principal village.
Despite a warm welcome from the Comanche leader he described as the “Grand Chief,” Dupont picked a fight with his host over the recent killing of four Spaniards. The chief gave his side of the story but refused to be cross-examined by the white guest and cut short the conversation by saying, “This is finished and we won’t utter another word.”
Dupont and the Comanches parted company in early May. On the 26th, according to an excited entry in his diary, he found the elusive silver mines. He headed for the Mexican interior with all the ore the mule train could carry anxious to stake his claim.
But the riches somehow slipped through his fingers, probably because Spanish officials believed the mines belonged to the crown and not to a no-account foreigner. Dupont pressed his case but soon was sidetracked by a new project — a secret plan for the elimination of an entire tribe of Texas Indians.
Why Dupont had it in for the Karankawas is still a mystery. But his hatred of them was so fierce that he petitioned the viceroy for their wholesale slaughter.
“These same Indians are very susceptible to drinking,” Dupont wrote in his chilling proposal, “and once they are in a drunken stupor it would be easy to carry out the destruction of the entire nation without any fuss, particularly if in the same drink there is mixed some ingredient capable of putting them to sleep forever.”
The viceroy had no love for the Karankawas, but wholesale genocide struck him as rash and excessive. He never answered Dupont’s bizarre letter and rebuffed his repeated requests for an audience.
Things went from bad to worse for Dupont after that. He tried to return to Texas, but the authorities demanded that he to stay put in Mexico where they could keep close tabs on him. When the order came from Spain to detain all Frenchmen and confiscate their property, he was one of the first thrown in prison.
By 1803 Alexander Dupont was old, sick and out of his mind. He murdered his best friend and committed suicide by sticking a musket in his mouth and pulling the trigger with his big toe.