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The Mysterious Lost Ship of the Laguna Salada Baja Ca. (Grasson)

Colorado Basin map 1933

The hardest thing to do when researching old legends, is the long tedious time spent in libraries and historic societies looking for clues. But while pouring over huge volumes sometimes you find just a tidbit of info, or while talking to like minded people someone says “hey did you hear about this?” and then BAM it all comes together. This just happened a few days ago…

Over the years, I have been intrigued by the Laguna Salada (AKA Laguna Macuata) area of Mexico. Located just south of the border, in the Sonoran desert of Baja California near Mexicali. This lake is not as deep as the Salton Sea, it’s only 30 feet below sea level and hardly ever full. But at 37 miles long and 11 miles wide, it’s nearly the same size as the current Salton Sea. However, this lake does have a clear advantage, it may have at one time or another directly connected to headwaters of the Sea of Cortez. This would make it about seventy five miles closer than the Salton Sea. Could the Lost Ship legend really be about a ship in Mexico and not the US? It’s a good possibility.

Ok, so whose ship was it and how did it end up just south of the border?  In a previous article I did explain how the English pirate/privateer Thomas Cavendish and his fleet (he started with three ships, The Desire, Content and Hugh Gallant, but by this time he had lost the Hugh Gallant) captured the seven hundred ton Spanish galleon Santa Ana in 1587. This happened near the the tip of Baja California close to present day Cabo San Lucas. Cavendish and crew attacked and subdued the ship, then towed it into the port. When they boarded the Santa Ana they were surprised that a ship of this size did not have any cannons on-board, and the booty was the largest they have ever seen. It took them nearly two weeks to commandeer the best of her cargo, there was simply way more than they could carry. Some reports state that Cavendish had loaded nearly five hundred tons of merchandise on his two ships and burned what was left of the ship and the remaining cargo. Leaving the Spanish captain along with his crew and passengers on land, then sailed for the Philippines.

However, shortly after setting sail, one of his ships, the sixty ton galleon Content, which should have been near the flagship, was never seen again. I find it interesting that the below quote states that the ship had “not as yet come out of the road,” which to me means that the Content was not spotted as they rounded the edge of Baja. It’s also interesting that Cavendish did not even turn around and try to look for the Content. What kind of captain would not even go back to check on the crew? Was it because of the haul he was carrying? To date there is no known report of either a sighting, or capture of a English ship of this size, so where did they go? If the crew was stealing the craft, they would have looked for an easy way out and they wouldn’t followed Cavendish’s route. They also wouldn’t have headed towards all of the Spanish controlled south or east, there really was only one direction to go, north. The prevailing belief at this time, was that California was an island and that the Straits of Anian lay just north of Cabo San Lucas. So with this in mind, they likely headed due north. After all, you just pilfered a seven hundred ton galleon full of silks, damasks, spices, cotton, ivory, jade and cigars, I’m sure Cavendish stored all the gold and silver aboard his ship. But meanwhile you have just become rich beyond your imagination and needed to get to a safe place, and fast. Otherwise if you’re caught, you surely would be swinging from the yardarm.

…night growing near, we left the Content a stern of us, which was not as yet come out of the road: and here, thinking she would have overtaken us, we lost her company, and never saw her after.

An excerpt from “An historical account of all the voyages round the world, performed by English navigators; including those lately undertaken by order of His present Majesty. The whole faithfully extracted from the journals of the voyagers. … In four volumes.: [pt.1] Henry, David, 1710-1792

1570 atlas/map courtesy of Portuguese nautical cartographer Fernao Vaz Dourado

Now comes the “leap of faith,” because no one knew for sure if there was a quicker way back to Europe via a northern route. In fact the Spaniards called the northern end of the Sea of Cortez, “The Northern Mystery,” because they weren’t exactly sure what was there and if any of it was navigable. The maps of the day are the best resource one could find and there is nothing said about Cavendish finding a map on the Santa Ana. Then again, it also doesn’t state if he didn’t find one either. Which brings to mind the  curious 1570 atlas/map of from Portuguese nautical cartographer Fernao Vaz Dourado,  which shows two waterways at the head of the Sea of Cortez. The one that is heading northeast would have clearly been the Colorado River, but what about the one headed northwest? Could this map be showing that at one time European explorers were aware of water in the Laguna Salada and does this also mean that the English were just as aware, or found out after they sacked the Santa Ana? Either way, if one of the mutineers were able to take a look at this map, then they may have thought they have a way to escape.

So far we have a suspect in the crew of the Content, along with the Dourado map and now we have the diary of Father Ascension, who accompanied Sebastian Vizcaino on his 1602 expedition of the California coast. This would have been only fifteen years after the Content and crew escaped. While Vizcaino and Ascension were anchored in what is now San Diego Bay, they were greeted by a local Indians who told them of other people living inland, people like the Spaniards, who “sported beards and wore collars and  breeches, and other fine garments like ours.” As Father Ascension wrote in his diary, he also surmised that these people were most likely Dutch or English and that they had settled on the western coast of the Laguna Salada. The Indians even extended an offer to take Father Ascension to where they were living, a distance of less than 100 miles. You have to think about this for a second, if you stole a ship loaded with the wealth of Manila, you were a very rich man, a very rich man indeed. The amount of trading you would be able to do with all the local Indians could be mind boggling. I am sure that word among the Native Peoples probably spread pretty quickly.

Ship Petroglyph courtesy of Robert Marcos

This all sounds great and is a wonderful idea, but is there any proof that a ship actually sailed into the Laguna? Possibly, near the northwestern end of Laguna Salada is a place called Pinto Canyon where a well known petroglyph was found. Most people consider this petroglyph to be a rendering of what appears to be a European style ship, perhaps a galleon. Some people say, it is simply a First peoples interpretation of Cabrillo’s discovery of San Diego Bay in 1542. Today this area is a hotbed for drug and immigration smuggling, so it’s best not to go without being accompanied by a couple of the BLM boys, or Border Patrol and they will just tell you to stay away. If you do want to get a close look without the hassle, there is a copy of the rock in front of the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

Let’s quickly recap, we have a ship, a map, a rock, and a diary, but then we have the incredible story of W. Morlin Childers, a local rancher in El Centro California who became a noted archaeologist. His collection of early man artifacts, some over 20,0000 years old, now resides at the Imperial Valley Museum in Ocotillo California. Somewhere along his travels, he came upon a ship’s bowsprit with a “metal” collar, protruding out in the middle of the desert. This is an smaller mast usually at the front or bow of the ship. Morlin and two friends probed the ground to see if anything was below. What also intrigued Morlin, is that the collar appeared to be very old and worked by hand, it was not made by a machine.

While investigating the site of a buried ship in the Mexicali Valley, Jim Atkins and Jim Bailey probe the surface with a metal bar while Morlin Childers looks on. An object was struck, attesting that the remainder of the ship lay below.

Morlin returned to El Centro and somehow word had reached Bill Fitch, the former editor of the Imperial Valley Press. And Bill thought the find was a big enough story to dedicate a full page article about it in 1968. According to the article, complete with pictures. Fitch theorized that the ship may have arrived there due to a occasional tidal bores, which we know happens in the Colorado River as well.

Okay, so to wrap up the whole story, we have the possibility of a ship, a recorded sighting of possible Europeans living inland by the Native Peoples, a petroglyph and finally a possible ship find. To me the collar is a extremely important piece, but where it is today is completely unknown. I would venture to guess that someone, somewhere in the Imperial Valley, may have seen it at one time, or even might know where it is today. Or maybe a family relative of Morlins friends might just know where they found the ship, or where a map is that they may have used.

If you or anyone you know is aware of this collar, or any other artifact, please send me a private message, I would love the opportunity to see/find this collar and have it professionally examined. Not sure how we could date the metal that was used to make the collar, but how great would it be if it was found to be from a sixteenth century English ship!!! This could be the ONLY documented find from a ship that could be considered the Lost Ship of the Desert…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments (15)

  1. I’ve finally got access to the old records
    From the church., the Tribal accounts are making more sense than ever, I still believe
    One ship is the Content, but can now say
    I have record of name and location of a hull
    Abandoned in the desert in 1751, this is starting to decipher, and match with all of The petroglyph locations, the early accounts of
    Discovery and the tribal oral accounts. There is indeed three separate events. One ship (likely the content) Wrecking into the desert on the tidal bore 1589, one ship abandoned in the desert in 1751 And the first ship that sailed into the Salton Sea at least a century before The second.
    The voayage of the First ship is why the
    sea was Called Naval Lac, it is also why
    Kino’s Teacher knew that Alta California
    Was a peninsula and not an island when the rest of the world believed it an Island.
    It was also Father Kino’s knowledge of this
    Fact that lead to the events of the 1751 ship.
    All that will remain of these ships is the woods
    And spikes. The type of wood will coincide with the ships, for instance the 1751 ship will have
    Nearly no iron and it’s wood is American.
    The Content will have iron, and English wood.
    The first ship will have Arsonic bronze, high carbon iron, and likely no surviving wood.
    There is no evidence that Alercon crossed the bar in 1540 and then there is at least three vessels from the 1910 tidal bore event and possible others from two or more tidal bore events in the 19th century. This leads me to believe that the
    Hull encountered in the Mormon Party event was either the Content Or one of the19th century tidal bore vessels, two of which we have already located. And the vessel reported on the present day farm will likely prove to be the 1751 ship, this will explain why nothing was found during the Magnetometer study.
    The Mast and tackle photograph has to be either the Content or the first vessel because we know the 1751 ship had no standing mast when abandoned.

  2. Joseph says:

    Get a ground penetration radar in that area. You may find billions of dollars.

    • admin says:

      True, however I think a different type of system used via an airplane would be better. The ground is so soft and wet, I’m not sure one could use GPR in a useful way.

      • JASP says:

        an airborne (mounted on a drone) magnetic survey would be ideal, and relatively quick and easy to do.

        The difficult part might be to get permission and the funding to carry out the magnetic survey

        • admin says:

          I agree, but I also think it would probably take a good month to cover the old seabed and the coastal areas… But I love the idea!

  3. Iain Gately says:

    I’m writing a biography of Thomas Cavendish for my PhD and wonder if nay new evidence has come to light.

    • admin says:

      Not at this time Lain, but once your done, please send me a private message.. I would be very interested in what you can find… Thx John

    • I have some information on Cavendish that you will find fascinating. T Grabowski,uwcsi In Search of Uncle Sam (501c3 nonprofit History
      Foundation)

  4. Marc Strigle says:

    Anyone ever see this in Google Maps? It’s clearly the remains of a ship in the LAGUNA SALADA BAJA CA. area, but looks in too good of a condition. Possibly more modern?

    https://www.google.com/maps/place/32%C2%B019'57.7%22N+115%C2%B036'08.6%22W/@32.332689,-115.6029392,154m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d32.332689!4d-115.602392

    Interesting find Marc, but I do not see the quarterdeck or bow spirt. It appears to be more like a row boat or small fishing boat. However I do want to commend you for finding it in the middle of Laguna Salada… Good eye!!!

    Thx
    John

    • I reported that hull to INHA in Mexico several years back, it is already a protected wreck and lies in an ecological preserve. We believe it is evidence of the last tidal bore event of 1911.
      with the dams upstream of the Colorado tidal bores are not possible today, historically though they happened nearly every decade
      Or so. The last one killed many in Mexico and
      Tribal accounts of a ship coming in on the bore gain a significant credibility because of them.
      That wreck while remaining in today’s Mexico is still 70 miles inland and proves evidence of such events.

    • Marc says:

      Yea, John,

      After posting, I was looking at it again and I felt that the tracks near by it were out of proportion to it’s size. Leading me to also believe it was smaller than I first believed. However, I have another spot to look at.
      https://www.google.com/maps/place/32%C2%B019'57.7%22N+115%C2%B036'08.6%22W/@32.3475006,-115.5990322,61m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d32.332689!4d-115.602392
      This may just be a land formation, but shape wise, it looks like sand built up around a shape similar to a ship. Plus, if you look at the south side, there appears to be a bit of “feathering” in the image that could be oars if you put your imagination to it.

  5. Erma says:

    I don’t know if I told you
    That when my husband was a little boy, he and his brother found a very old sword. The were east of the Elmore ranch in a old river Wash in layers of dirt. His dad was picking up a load of hay there, my husband and his brother Wonder off. He gave it to his dad and in turn he gave it to a friend.

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