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Mystery of the Desert (GUTHRIE)


Chief Cabazon 1883, courtesy of museumsyndicate.com

Chief Cabazon 1883, courtesy of museumsyndicate.com

What is the greatest unsolved mystery of the Southwest desert?” asked W.W. McCoy.”It is whether 300 years ago three ships sailed up the Colorado River and into the Salton Sea,” the old man of the Yuma Trail answered his own question.

“My old friend Herman Ehrenberg, of the Colorado River, found in Arizona an Indian tribe, members of which had blue eyes and red hair. He spent his life seeking to solve that mystery, for the Indians of red hair were born long before white men reached that region.

“Ehrenberg took me to the Salton Sea and there we talked to Big Chief Cabazon. I was interpreter, and Cabazon told us of the history of his tribe as it was handed down to him by chiefs before him. To be a big chief, a man must be able to tell his tribe the stories of many big chiefs before him. These recitals may take days.

“Cabazon told us that as near as he could judge three hundred years before, two ships had sailed into the Salton Sea. The men had landed and taken timber out of the mountains. That was the story handed down to him.

“Ehrenberg spent many years investigating that story, and it was his conclusion that three ships loaded with exiles from some country in Europe — he knew all the historic facts about the sailing of the ships — had reached the Pacific and sailed up the Colorado. He believed that one of the ships had been captured by a tribe on the Arizona side and that the men had been killed and the women carried into captivity.

“In the late sixties there were stories, even printed in the frontier newspapers, of the sighting of an ancient ship in the hills in the Salton Sea region, and expeditions were organized. The story vanished with the explanation it was a mirage and there are among the old desert travelers still alive men who actually saw the mirage of the desert ship.

“I have seen wonderful mirages from the Salton Sea Sink,” said McCoy. “From one spot on the same day I saw in the early days, the city of Tucson; an emigrant party on the Gila River, and so complete was the detail that I could see the whip on the arm of the driver; and when that faded away I saw Fort Yuma and last the harbor of San Diego.”

Whether the story of Big Chief Cabazon had in actual fact been based on a mirage seen by the Indians as the Spaniards were exploring the coast of the Pacific or whether the ships of ancient times actually sailed into the desert sink which in the centuries past has receded and risen again, the oldtimers on the Yuma Trail say will never be known.



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