Sunday, February 3, 2008

Ben Sublett

Odessa: City of Dreams, Velma Barrett and Hazel Oliver, 1952, The Naylor Company, 125 pp. Excerpt from Chapter V, "Trees and Clouds," pages 33-35:

Perhaps the very first resident of Odessa was a man commonly known as "OLD BEN SUBLETT." He had many other titles, such as "The Old Miner," or, with less kindly thought, "That Crazy Old Prospector." Where he came from no one knows. He arrived at Odessa (then non-existent as a town) via Monahans, it is said, seeking civilization for his two children. His wife, apparently, had succumbed to the hardships of their nomadic way of life, leaving him with a teen-age daughter and an infant son. The responsibility for their care seems to have rested very lightly on Ben Sublett's shoulders. He would go off for days and weeks at a time, searching for gold, that elusive will-o'-the-wisp that has lured many a man to his ruin and often to his death. The children would have starved, had it not been for the kindliness of the railroad men who were laying track through Odessa who shared their food with the little waifs. Occasionally Ben would take odd jobs on the railroad but he could never be depended upon to have stayed very long. Although his daughter, an attractive dark-haired girl named Jenny, begged him to take a job and let them live like other people, the vision of suddenly "striking it rich" in some long lost vein of gold was stronger than any other call. When the girl was big enough to take in washing, her father's last sense of responsibility vanished. Old Ben took off in his buckboard to search the Guadalupe Mountains for the lost mine which has haunted the dreams of many a prospector.

To shelter his children, Ben had built a dugout and tent combination close by the well of good water put down by the railroad. When he would come back to his makeshift home from his frequent trips into the unknown, he sometimes would bring a nugget or two of gold, or sometimes he would take a brief job, to relieve the direst need of his children. The legend is that once he came home with a buckskin pouch full of nuggets and declared that at last he had found the "richest gold mine in the world." He boasted that he could "build a palace of marble and buy the whole of Texas for a playground for his children." Needless to say, he built nothing, his children continued to be dependent on others for their food and clothing, and what became of the sack of gold is not known — except that what passed over the bar for the liquid refreshment served to all present. There is no doubt that he had found a mine because periodically he would leave home, as he always had done, but when he returned, after perhaps a few days, perhaps a few months, he would have gold. He was offered money, good hard cash, if he would disclose the location of his mine, but Sublett loved the notoriety that his secret trips brought him more than he cared for riches. He hungered for fame of a sort and the tantalizing knowledge he hid in his own breast brought him a measure of satisfaction. Many people tried to follow him — and succeeded up to a point — then his trail would vanish into thin air and the trailers would come home half-believing that Sublett himself was a figment of the imagination. He was real; his children lived in Odessa, waiting hopelessly at times for his return. There is at least one early resident [Footnote: Julius D. Henderson] of Odessa who remembers Ben Sublett, remembers that he used to haul wood into town and sell it, that he even gathered bones off the prairie to sell, that kind women of the town used to give his children clothing and food, when their father was away or drunk. The same one remembers that he was present when Old Ben died, and that he helped to bury him in Odessa. All the money to be found was forty dollars in a buckskin sack under his pillow.

Even in death, Ben Sublett succeeded in having his dream of notoriety come true. He left this part of Texas something to talk about, for he kept his secret to the last, not even revealing to his own son the location of the lost mine.

From Historical Marker located at 220 N. Grandview Avenue in Odessa, Texas:

Site of Homestead of William C. Sublett

Born 1835 in Alabama, moved to North Texas before the Civil War, in which he served as a Confederate.

After his wife died in 1874, he went to the Texas frontier to hunt Buffalo, taking his three young children with him. In 1881-1882 he supplied game to Texas & Pacific Railroad construction crews. (Such hunting was important to development of West Texas and to transcontinental railroad construction.)

Settling later in Odessa, Sublett built near this site a dugout-and-tent home, and homesteaded a 160 acre claim. To support his family, he hauled wood and "water-witched" to locate wells for settlers.

In the 1880's he attracted notice by using gold nuggets to trade for supplies. In explanation, he said an Apache Indian had directed him to a mine in the Guadalupe Mountains, about 150 miles west of here. Periodically he disappeared and returned with gold, but efforts to follow him to the mine always failed. He once took his young son there, but the boy could not find the way later. In 1889 Sublett sold his Ector County property. He died January 6 1892 in Barstow, without disclosing the location of his mine. However stories of his treasure still lure explorers into the Guadalupe Mountains.

Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. [Date not legible.]


The Legend of "Old Ben" Sublett's Gold, truth or fiction? Sublett came in the early 1880's in an old wagon with his pretty daughter, Jennie, his son, Ross, and faithful dog, Pete. He built a dug-out shelter on a 160-acre claim near the section house.

Old Ben had tried his hand prospecting for gold in the Rocky Mountains and searching for the "Lost Dutchman Mine" in Arizona. He went from there to the Texas Guadalupes.

Sublett was the first "town character." He left town frequently on prospecting trips, supposedly to the Guadalupes. The railroad workers and good women of the town saw that his family didn't go hungry. He didn't provide for them much better when he was here. He frequented the saloons and did odd jobs; "witching" for water, collecting bones and day work on the railroad to make a grub stake to go back to the mountains.

Then, one day he came into the saloon and tossed a bag of gold nuggets on the bar and bought drinks for the house. He also promised his family the moon.
He made several more trips of 3 or 4 days duration and brought back nuggets each time. Nobody knew where he went; he wasn't gone long enough to get to the Guadalupes on muleback. Townspeople tried to bribe him with both whiskey and cash to disclose the location of his treasure, but he wouldn't tell. He didn't even tell his own son.

He died in January, 1892, leaving less than $50 in gold nuggets under his pillow in a buckskin sack. He was buried in Odessa Cemetery.

"Old Ben's" son searched for the cache for years. "Authentic" maps appeared off and on and individuals and groups made frequent treasure hunts.

That site also includes the pictures below, one of the William C. Sublett historical marker and another of Sublett's headstone.

Below the photo of the headstone on the Odessa History site is this caption:"Photo of Ben's Grave marker. Born: 9/25/1838; Died 1/5/1892. THEIR BODIES ARE BURIED IN THE DUST, BUT THEIR NAMES SHALL LIVE TO RENEW Inscribed on the Head Stone. The Marr family graciously donated one of their grave sites for Subletts burial according to records at the Odessa Cemetary. A wonderful demonstration of the charitable pioneers of early Odessa. Those were the days you shared what you had with your neighbor."

Also from the Odessa History site, is
is a long account of the life and gold of Ben Sublette written by J. Frank Dobie, "The Sec
ret of the Guadalupes," Coronado's Children Published in 1930, Grosset & Dunlap.

According to this genealogy site for the Sublett family,

4002. William C. (Old Ben) Sublett (born September 25, 1834, Franklin County, Tennessee; gold prospector; died January 6, 1892, Odessa, Texas) married Laura Louisa Denny.

Olive N. (Ollie) Sublett (born May 1870, Montague County, Texas; died February 20, 1900, Hood County, Texas) married Samuel Lyon Knight on May 31, 1885, in Hood County, Texas.

Jenny (Jessie) Cornelia Sublett (born January 2, 1872, Montague County, Texas; died December 6, 1944, El Paso, Texas) married Sidney D. Pitt on December 28, 1887, in Midland, Texas.

Rolth (Ross) Sublett (born May 5, 1873, Montague County, Texas; buried October 14, 1953, Eddy County, New Mexico) married Bertie Boron on July 18, 1931, in Eddy County, New Mexico.

From the PermianGen site,

Back to Cemetery page Ben Sublett Biography:
by Patrick Dearen,
Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1988).

SUBLETT, WILLIAM CALDWELL (ca. 1834-1892). William Caldwell Sublett, West Texas pioneer who discovered gold in the lower Pecos River region, the son of Caldwell and Nancy Sublett, was born on September 25, around 1834, in Tennessee, possibly in Franklin County.

He grew up in what was then Belton County, Alabama, where his father served as sheriff in the 1840s and 1850s, and nurtured a dowsing ability as a youth. He first moved to Texas after the winter of 1857 and served as a Texas Ranger in Capt. Edward Burleson'sqv company from January 20 until September 9, 1860.

After eighteen months somewhere on the frontier he returned to the settled part of Texas to find the nation torn by the Civil War.qv He joined Gordon's Regiment, First Arkansas Cavalry, Confederate States of America, on August 4, 1862, and was cited for gallantry in the battle of Fayetteville, April 18, 1863.

After the war he married Laura Louisa Denny and moved to St. Louis, Missouri. He returned to Texas by July 1870 and took up residence in Bowie County, where he farmed intermittently the next four years. His wife died in 1873, leaving their three children in his care.

After late 1874 he moved them to West Texas and took up buffalo hunting.qv About 1880 Sublett became an advance water scout and supplier of game meat for the Texas and Pacific Railway, which was pushing westward from Fort Worth.

In early 1881, while operating from the temporary railhead at Colorado (later Colorado City), he discovered gold dust and nuggets somewhere in the Pecos River country at a site he contended was a mine; he would not divulge the location.

He lived briefly in Granbury in the early 1880s before becoming one of three men to settle Monahan (Monahans) in 1883. By 1887 he had moved to Odessa, where he assumed two Ector County homesteads in the next two years; he sold one and fulfilled occupancy requirements for a patent on the other.

Throughout the 1880s and early 1890s Sublett made periodic trips to his gold source but continued to live frugally enough that he paid taxes on only $265 in possessions in 1891.

Repeated attempts to track him to the site of the mine or wrench directions from him failed, and the location of his gold went with him when he died in Barstow, Ward County, on January 6, 1892.

His son, Rolth (or Ross) Sublett, became chief among the many who later searched for the Lost Sublett Mine. Rolth claimed that as a boy he once accompanied his father to the site, which he believed lay in the Guadalupe Mountains or in the Rustler Hills of Culberson County. All efforts at finding the mine have met with failure.

Patrick Dearen

data courtesy: Tom Hill

Laura Louisa Denny Sublett
Wife Of William Caldwell Sublett
Rolth Sublett in early 1950s at El Paso Home
Son of William Caldwell Sublett

Charcoal sketches of William & Laura drawn prior to 1900
from miniature photos they exchanged early in their marriage.

Photographs from Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier
Texas Christian University Press
Author Patrick Dearen
ISBN 0-8765-030-9

2008 Phone Book:
John Sublett, 6 Dest Drive Suitet 5600, Midland, 664-1891
Alan Pitt, 1724 Petroleum Drive, Odessa, 367-4851
Amber Pitt, 312 E 43rd Street, Odessa 362-1680
Michael Pitt, 400 E Avenue G, Penwell, 335-9706

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