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Elmer Carver Finder of the Lost Ship of the Desert? (Grasson)

In May of 1964, Harold and Lucille Weight held an interview with a man named Elmer Carver, and boy did he have a story to tell. According to Carver he knew exactly where the Lost Ship of the Desert was located, and according to the story, is one of very few people to have actually seen and touched it.

Elmer Carver was just a young 17-year-old boy trying to earn a living in the early 1900’s, working and traveling from place to place, even “ riding the rails” to get there. These men were classified as hobos or tramps, today we would call them homeless. It’s important to know, that people in general didn’t trust this vagabonds so if they did find work, it was extremely short, maybe a couple of days at best and for very little money, usually less than a dollar a day. When Elmer was able to find a steady job for a couple of weeks, he immediately jumped on it. No matter what kind of job it would be, whether it was working on a Donkey Boiler, or even filling sandbags. It didn’t matter what kind of worked needed to be done, a job meant money, and money meant food.

Elmer Carver

Sometime in 1906 Elmer began working at a mine, near the town of Laguna on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, and he worked hard for a couple of weeks. But when payday came around, the men were not paid in cash, instead they were paid in “script“. Kind of an IOU, that was to be paid after 90 days, so was the life of a vagabond. However, Elmer being completely broke, simply couldn’t wait that long. So he followed some of the other workers to Yuma Arizona, where a shopkeeper would pay you cash for your script, but charged 30% to do so. This was tough to take, since Elmer was only making $1.25 a day, and .75 of that was taken out for daily meals and boarding. Basically Elmer cleared .50 cents a day and was about to give 30% of that away so he could have cash in hand.

While in Yuma though, he heard that a man named Mickey had a place and food for people while trying to find work in the new towns of El Centro and Imperial California, so he headed out. When Elmer arrived, he found out that Mickey’s was just a wash, and he would have to sleep on a cot, if one was available, or on the ground. But Mickey did offer him something even more precious than a place to sleep, Mickey had water. It’s important to know that back in the early 1900’s as towns began to spring up, there were no public services, and as per Elmer, Imperial Junction had seventeen train cars of water brought in each day for the townsfolk. I’m not sure if this is true, but it is what Elmer stated. But I haven’t been able to verify this at all.

Nels Jacobson

Once Elmer arrived he headed straight for the local pool hall, this is where the men would hang out in hopes of finding work, and it’s here where Elmer would meet Nels Jacobsen, a local hog rancher. Nels was a big man of about sixty years old with a very thick Norwegian accent. He walked up to Elmer and said “you work for me ja,” Elmer agreed and off they went.  The directions Elmer gave, were that they  traveled in a southeast direction crossing the railroad tracks and wash, then some distance due east.

Nels was a very successful rancher with over seven hundred acres to his name, growing wheat, alfalfa, and raising hogs. When they arrived at that ranch, Elmer was introduced to his wife Annie, a young woman in her late twenties, she would always be addressed as Mrs. Jacobsen. Nels then showed Elmer the hogs that were kept close by, and given instruction on how to feed them. But Elmer noticed that the fencing looked a bit weird, the ends were not nailed to each post. Instead they were hanging on a bolt and they were an odd size. He estimated that each plank was 16-18” wide, 3” thick and about 30 feet long. When Elmer asked Nels about the planks he simply said, “get them from boat” and he had to use a horse to drag them to the hog pens, but more on that in a few. That night Elmer was provided a cot and allowed to sleep in the screened in front porch. The next morning, Nels gave him further instructions about the ranch chores, and had Elmer take him and his wife to the train station.

Once there, Nels informed Elmer that he was leaving for Los Angeles and should be gone for about a week. The remainder of the day, Elmer drove Mrs. Jacobsen around town so that she might be able to do some shopping. When they got back to the ranch Mrs. Jacobsen made dinner while Elmer finished his nightly chores. She later told Elmer that he should sleep on the sofa in the living room. Apparently living in a shanty near by, was a “Crazy Swede”, and she feared that he “might chop you up with his ax.”

The next day was pretty easy, in between doing his chores, Elmer spent the day talking with Mrs. Jacobsen and churning butter while she made cakes and bread. In the evening after dinner Mrs. Jacobsen asked, “Jakie (Mr. Jacobsen) tell you about the Boat? That’s why he went to Los Angeles, to sell the gems he found, I hope he gets a fair deal”. Being inquisitive, Elmer asked what she meant by this, so Mrs. Jacobsen went to the bedroom and returned a few minutes later. In her hand was a small box, about 3″×5” and less than 2’ thick. When she opened it, there on top of a black cloth were three small diamonds, an emerald, and a huge blood-red ruby.

Elmer was utterly amazed at what he saw, and listened intently to the story that Mrs. Jacobsen told. “We had a bad windstorm awhile back, and it blew a lot of sand off of one of the dunes near the back of the house. When the storm was done, Jakie noticed what looked like the front of a boat coming out of the ground, so he went to investigate. It took Jakie quite some time to get through all the sand, but when he did he found a small chest full of gems. When he tried to lift the chest out it fell completely apart.” They ended up sifting for days through the sands looking for the gems. At first he used a common kitchen sifter, but later Nels made a larger sifter out of fine screen from the hardware store. They did find all kinds of gems, however, the coup de grace was the 2” solid gold crucifix with blue stones, believed to be topaz.

The cross may be similar to this one from Pinterest.com

The next morning Elmer went out to see for himself if there really was a ship, he headed out about 200 feet behind the house, and there she was. The bow was standing about six feet high and about fifty to sixty feet away, there was the stern coming out of the sand, about four feet high. Through the years most people have believed that the ship was most likely either Spanish or English, due to all of their activity during the 16th and 17th centuries. But during the interview, Elmer was asked what kind of ship he thought it was, in fact he was asked point blank if he thought it might be a Viking ship. He answered, “yeah, but why would that be there?” He also said that there was some kind of writing on the sides of the ship that he has never seen before. Could this have been Viking runes??

Nels returned a few days later with a big smile, but Mrs. Jacobsen wasn’t so sure, she wasn’t very trusting of the people Nels was working with, and she wanted to make sure that he received a fair deal. Nels own lawyer named Levi knew of a pawn broker in Los Angeles named Barney, and since this was to be kept quite, they all agreed on three-way split. Now must people would wonder why all the secrecy, and it’s because of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Which meant that taking any cultural items, and or treasure would be a crime, but Nels did not want the government involved. When he returned and told Mrs. Jacobsen of his deal, she was not happy, to her Nels had just lost two-thirds of the treasure.


circa 1920: The remains of a Viking longship found at Gokstad in South Norway. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

Later that day Nels took Elmer back to town and handed him $4 for all of his work, to Elmer it was good cash money. Elmer then explained how his his job searching took him nearly everywhere in Southern California. However,  approximately ten years later, by pure happenstance, Elmer found himself waiting for a train in Imperial, and could believe it, there was Mrs. Jacobsen also waiting on a train. She explained to Elmer that Jakie had moved backed to Highland and that they getting a divorce. It appears she did not want her family to know that she had married a man more than twice her age. The train she was waiting on, was taking her back home to St. Louis. But before she boarded her train though, she handed Elmer two twenty-dollar gold pieces, saying that Jakie did not pay him nearly enough. Elmer politely refused, so she left them on the depot floor and slowly boarded her train.

That was the last time Elmer would ever see either of the Jacobsen’s and the town of Imperial. But it makes me wonder, just how many times he would think of returning and possibly seeing if there was anything left. After all, in 1964, he quite possibly was the only man alive to have ever seen and touched the Lost Ship of the Desert….


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Comments (10)

  1. James Kerber says:

    when you purchase land it has to be surveyed and registered so where are the records to this.

    • admin says:

      The issue at hand is that the files are incomplete, I have the earliest record of Jacobsons land. But all the “Desert Land Act” records are missing… National Archives should have them, but that’s a nightmare to work through.

    • admin says:

      That’s true James, but some of the records have been lost over time. Jacobson owned over 720 acres in the Imperial Valley and I have been able to locate it. But the first land he owned was via the “Desert Land Act” and those records are gone. I was told a copy should be at the National Archives in DC, and I have contacted them, but it will be a lengthy process.. That’s for your interest James, once I know something I will post it… Also, sorry about the delay in answering your comment..

  2. chase says:

    stumbled apon an interesting article but even though it does lack sourses it does have pictures of Jacobsen.

  3. Mike says:

    Hey John,
    MuddyMike here again.

    The Jacobsen Ranch was North of El Centro. It is long gone today, after having sold it in 1910 to move back east. The property was split into several different farms. Today, the spot where his house once stood is occupied by a row of smaller houses. The Sand dune was likely bulldozed to level and grade the field for modern agriculture. I have walked the property can there is tons of old wood. I wouldventure to guess though than ay traces of the ship were lost by ignorant workers thanks to modern farming practices.

    With the money from the black pearls and gold crucifix , Nels did puchase property on the corner of 8th and Imperial Ave. Today this is a Circle K and the Post office. Back then it featured the only two story brick building in Inperial, and also housed the poolhall on the north corner. He bought the whole block for $30,000 in 1908, then left town two years later, after divorcing his wife. Sounds to me like he found something even better than cheap jewelry, below deck. A Spanish cannon, muskets, more gold? We may never know. . .

    • admin says:

      Hi Mike,
      I’m curious as to how you know where the house was located… This has been the hardest thing to factually determine. And it could be in the row you talk about, I’ve been there many times. But it could also be on just about any corner of his property. When I first started searching that area that’s what I thought as well. But after a couple of trips to the recorders office, it appears that those properties where not Jacobsens… According to the office, the maps were realigned awhile back and if you compare them to a new map his property would start on the north side of that street. So they say… Also when I heard the recording of the Carver interview, he did not state that any black pearls were found, he did say there were, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and gold cross made with a blue stone, possibly topaz… Jacobsen was pretty well off when he came to Imperial from Highland, where he had other business interests and owned a good sized orchard.

  4. Rey says:

    Does anyone know of a map showing the Sea of Cortez going up to and behind San Diego, Los Angeles and Bakersfield. Always heard that the Sea of Cortez was used by Spain and Portuguese sailors before it dried up.

    • admin says:

      The Sea of Cortez is the present day Gulf of California and yes Spanish and Portuguese, now called Mexican people have and still use it today, but it certainly has not dried up. As far as a map showing a water up to and including Bakersfield, I have never seen one, but it wouldn’t matter much anyway, since it would have been thousands of years before the Lost Ship story took place. Here is a link to a very cool site that shows California during it’s “forming” http://www.bldgblog.com/2006/04/assembling-north-america/

      Thx for spotting by my site, I hope you enjoyed it!

  5. A very nice story. I’ve read other reports of wood being harvested off a landlocked ship by a hog farmer. And the description of the plants used for fencing is compelling. May I ask about the location? It sounds like they began at “Imperial Junction”, obviously a rail stop. Then they headed southeast, and then more directly east. Did I get that right?

    Thank you – Robert Marcos

    • admin says:

      They began at the “pool Hall” which is pictured in the story and located a bit north of the Imperial post office. From there they went southeast “for a bit” and the directly east. There are a few more clues, but I have omitted them for now….

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