The Lost Spanish Galleon
by L. Burr Belden, November 1953 – Calico Print
This story of the lost ship and the map appeared in the San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, February 15, 1953, and are reproduced through permission of L. Burr Belden.
O.J. Fisk, prominent San Bernardino pioneer, who in his younger years prospected and mined over much of the Southwest, believes he has a solution to the century old legend of a Spanish ship said buried under the bottom of the Salton Sea. An account of an early Spanish voyage, coupled with the testimony of a Cahuilla Indian and a Harquehala, Arizona, prospector has satisfied Fisk that a Spaniard sailed into what is now the Salton Sea centuries ago and walked away from his marooned craft. But for the fact that the Salton Sink of 50 years ago is now the Salton Sea, Fisk is confident he could locate the remains of the old ship without too much trouble.
In 1892, Jim Fisk was mining in the Julian-Banner district of San Diego County and doing some prospecting as well. He became acquainted with a Cahuilla Indian, an elderly man who had once lived in the almost forgotten village of Old Santa Rosa on the Imperial Valley side of the mountains.
The Indian, whose name is recalled by Fisk as Harra Chee, told Fisk about the location of some gold north of Banner. Fisk was interested, bought some grub, and the two set out. The Indian took him along the east face of the mountains until the two were about west of the present Borrego settlement.
There the Indian showed Fisk a hole. He found a show of color, but not enough gold to pay working. Following a day’s digging, Fisk and the Indian cooked their meal and then watched the shadows fall on the desert below.
Then the Indian told him a story. His grandfather had seen white men first come to this desert in a white bird. The white bird stayed a long time down there. The bird’s wings fell down and the sand covered it up.
The young prospector returned to Julian the next day and thought little of the Indian’s story until some years later over in Arizona he heard a prospector from the Vicksburg or Harequehala district tell of having stumbled on the remains of what appeared to be a Spanish ship in the Salton Sink, the shifting sand having uncovered part of it.
Fisk pressed the miner for more details, found the location would have been almost east of Kane Springs at the south end of the sink. The two planned to meet later and find the old ship but the Colorado River turned the Salton Sink into the Salton Sea and ended all such plans.
Now retired, Fisk has devoted much of his time to historical study. He learned that the tribe to which his guide of 1892 belonged had no word for ancestor more remote than grandfather and that the “grandfather” Harra Chee told of might well have been a remote ancestor, whose tale of the white man arriving in the big bird on the water was passed down from generation to generation.
Early Spanish writings have indicated a minor Colorado Desert flood early in the 16th century, a flood that abated before making any lake of great dimensions such as the present Salton Sea.
What Fisk believes clinches his theory is the account that in the early 17th century, when Spanish maps showed California as an island, five ships ascended the Gulf of California on a pearl fishing expedition. The ships became separated in a storm, and only four returned.
The fifth ship was captained by one Juan Iturbe who showed up later at Acapulco without his vessel but with a strange tale of having found a narrow passage north which ended in a lake around which he sailed several times, only to find the entry passage gone and no way out.
Fisk believes Iturbe’s ship was the Indian’s white bird and the same ship, buried in the sand noted by the Arizona prospector.