Benjamin Rush Milam was a native of Kentucky, born about 1789. He was one of the earliest US immigrants into Texas Milam helped plan and personally led the assault on Bejar (San Antonio), and almost lived through it. The battle was mostly over when he stopped next to a tree in the back yard of the de Veramendi house, and peered over a fence. A Mexican sniper shot him through the head. Trouble is, it couldn’t have been a ‘Mexican sniper,’ because the Mexican army had no snipers. They did have hired mercenaries, including one from Indiana named Johnson, but history does not record the name of the man who shot Ben Milam. Ben was buried where he fell, in the back yard of the de Veramendi house. There his bones lay for many years. Eventually he was disinterred and his remains removed, with appropriate Masonic ritual, to a corner of a Protestant cemetery on the site of what is now San Antonio’s Milam Park. The gravesite was marked with a limestone monument inscribed, simply, MILAM. It was assumed that no further identification would ever be needed. When the cemetery was dedicated as Milam Park, it was decided that, instead of being relegated to a corner, Ben should rest in the middle of the park. He was again disinterred—once more with appropriate Masonic ritual—and re-interred precisely in the center of the park that bore his name. In 1936 the by-then-badly-weathered limestone marker was replaced with the granite monument you’ve seen if you’ve ever visited Milam Park. Over the years Milam Park’s neighborhood changed to one you wouldn’t care to enter after dark. San Antonio has been trying to revive the area and arrest its decay for a long time, and just a few years ago San Antonio’s Mexican sister city, Cuernavaca, offered to donate a gazebo-like bandshell to be erected in the middle of Milam Park as part of the rejuvenation. Immediately objections were voiced—“You can’t put a bandshell there—it’ll be right on top of Ben Milam’s grave!” In fact, old Ben had been so thoroughly ignored or forgotten in that, officially, San Antonio officials had no idea where his bones lay. The late Dr. I. Wayne Cox, together with Dr. Anne Fox, both of the UTSA anthropology/archaeology department, began researching Ben’s posthumous perambulations. Sure enough, they found long-forgotten newspaper accounts of the removal and second reburial of the forgotten hero “in the middle of Milam Park.” Those who objected to the bandshell said “See—we told you so! Ben’s right under the monument.” Still, nobody knew for sure. Even if there was a grave there, nobody really knew if it was Ben Milam’s. A dig was organized to discover if there really was a grave under the monument, and if there was, to determine—if possible—whose grave it was. Nobody really expected much success in the latter. There was a grave, exactly where the objectors said it would be. In the ground the archaeologists found the outline of an old wooden ’toe-pincher’ coffin, by then so deteriorated that the only trace of it was a discoloration in the soil. Inside the outline were the considerably deteriorated remains of a Caucasian male between the ages of 45 and 50, who stood about 5’7” in life. Could these be Ben’s bones? All descriptions of Ben put him “six feet tall or a little better.” In fact most such descriptions were exaggerations. We have ‘eyewitness’ accounts describing Daniel Boone as ‘over six feet’ when he stood only about 5’6”, David Crockett as ‘a giant of a man’ when he stood only about 5’7”, and Sam Houston as ‘six feet six’ when he actually stood 6’2”. Other evidence was needed to say yea or nay. The skull was badly shattered and much of the facial structure was gone, but enough remained for the cranium to be reconstructed. In the left rear aspect of the skull was a large hole, which a forensic anatomist identified as an exit wound caused by a bullet of approximately .65 caliber. According to eyewitness accounts, Ben was shot in the front of the head from the right, with a Mexican rifle-—which, remember, was .64 caliber—and “the ball went plumb through his head.” There is little doubt that the remains found in the middle of Milam Park are those of Texas’ great—but almost-forgotten—hero, Ben Milam. The leg bones of the skeleton unearthed in Milam Park were well preserved. On examination by competent physicians, they were determined to show evidence of a debilitating arthritic condition. From forensic evidence the man buried under Ben Milam’s monument in Milam Park probably couldn’t have bent his right knee at all, and bending his left knee would have been painful at best. Ben Milam—for there’s little question now of the identity of the original possessor of that skeleton—was crippled by arthritis. He could barely get around. He certainly walked with a cane if not a crutch. Without one or the other he probably couldn’t have walked at all. Milam’s bones were at UTSA for several months, under study to determine the many things bones can tell about the people who once possessed them—diet, disease, habits, and abilities. Once UTSA completed its study, the Smithsonian requested a short-term loan of the bones for study. Ben did what no other hero of the Texas Revolution has ever done—he boarded a jetliner and flew to Washington and back. Of course he—or his bones—did it in a specially-designed suitcase, but it was still a first. Milam Park has been renovated. Ben has been re-interred—hopefully for the final time—with full Masonic ritual and honors, together with an honor guard from those Texans who owe much of their history to him. But—how thoroughly has Ben Milam been forgotten? There’s a county named for him, a street in Seguin bears his name, there are schools called ‘Milam,’ and then of course there’s Milam Park in San Antonio. In the most comprehensive if not the most monumental novel ever written about Texas, James Michener’s TEXAS, Ben Milam is the only major participant in the Texas Revolution who is never mentioned at all.
Directions: Ben’s Bones (the letterbox) is interred in Alamo Masonic Cemetery in San Antonio, since there is no adequate hiding place in Milam Park for the box. Go east from I-35 in downtown San Antonio, on E. Commerce St. Turn north on N. Pine St., then right on Paso Hondo, then right on the first road into the cemetery. Turn right again and park in an open dirt area.
To the box: You’ll see, on your right, a white columnar marker for Thomas Hall. From this colun, walk 45 steps west to the corner of a concrete curbed area, then right 8 steps to a live but gnarly tree. Ben’s Bones are buried inside that tree. From this spot, Ben can look north across Paso Hondo and see the lost burial place of the Alamo defenders.