Buried Treasure at Point Dume?


Buried Treasure at Point Dume?

Buried Treasure at Point Dume? Howard Pyle illustration from “Treasure Island.”

Who among us does not thrill at a tale of buried treasure? The recent news story about the California couple who found a cache of rare, mint condition gold coins while walking their dog suggested this vintage story of Spanish gold near the atmospherically named Point Dume in Malibu.


Discovery of Skeletons Starts Systematic Search For Buried Treasure.

A systematic search for Spanish treasure, supposed to have been cached in the Santa Monica foothills, near the sea, more than  century ago by the shipwrecked members of an exploring expedition is about to be undertaken. The doubloons and rich plate are believed to be within a league of Point Dume, the frowning point of rocks that is observed in the form of a sea lion jutting into the sea about 25 miles westerly from Santa Monica.

The treasure hunters will confine their efforts to an exploration of the cove to the north of Point Dume, in the direction of the Ventura County line, for it is there that landmarks have recently been unearthed which are thought to have been placed by the survivors of the expedition as marking the location of the treasure boxes.

These peculiar guides were stumbled on by a surveying gang that has been busy during the past few months in running lines over the mountains in the interest of the mysterious Hueneme, Malibu and Port Los Angeles Railroad. This is the road that is presumed to be designed to give George Gould’s Western Pacific an entry into Los Angeles—but that is another story. The surveys have covered every possible mountain pass leading in the direction of Hueneme and Ventura. On one survey a mysterious cave was discovered. This had chambers leading in all directions from the main tunnel, and with torches to light the way the underground chambers were explored for a considerable distance. The walls of the main tunnel were found to contain peculiar hieroglyphics, carved in the sandstone, but through the action of time and the elements it was impossible from the superficial examination made to determine whether the work was that of cliff dwellers, Indians, or Mexicans, although the conclusion reached was that the carving had been done by representatives of some Spanish speaking race.

This theory was strengthened several weeks later through the finding of what at first glance had the appearance of being an Indian burying ground. This find was in the same vicinity and consisted for the most part of skulls, bones, stone implements of war, and the simpler devices of husbandry and the chase. These things were discovered through the wearing away of the earth and sand forming the palisades by the seas. They were about 60 feet above the level of the sea and were covered to the depth of about two feet with earth and sand. Several hundred pounds of them were gathered by the railroad workers and have been added to the collections of private museums in the Southwest.

The evidence is that these reminders of a former semicivilization had been heaped in a pile and covered with sand by some conquering foe, possibly the Malibu Indians, who had approached with stealth from the mountain and massacred the Intruders, who were evidently looked upon as encroaching on the ranges, preserves and fishing grounds of the red man. This theory is borne out by the condition of the skulls found, each one showing such a hole as might have been made by a tomahawk or being mashed in, as if from the blow of some blunt weapon. The skeletons furthermore, are not those of the Indians with retreating forehead, but rather partake of the shape generally accredited to the earlier races that migrated from the South, or Spain.

The conclusion of the present explorers is that the mound contained the skeletons of the shipwrecked Spaniards who had buried the treasure. They think that somewhere in the vicinity there is hidden the entire wealth of the two treasure ships that are known to history as having been wrecked somewhere along the shores of Southern California in days long antedating the coming of Father Junipero Serra.

Three ships are known to have sailed from Spain, and after a tempestuous voyage around the Horn made their way up the South American coast. With them were three ships bearing treasure and supplies. A storm along the south coast wrecked two of the treasure boats. The third became a hopeless derelict, and drifted upon the sands of the Tillamook country, in Oregon. It was laden for the most part with bees-wax and for generations the natives have been at intervals unearthing great chunks of this material, and scientists have never yet been able to agree whether the finds are natural or chemical beeswax. Learned and labored arguments have had the run of the scientist press, but all to no effect. The wax continues to be found buried along the shore, and to this day opinion is divided as to its origin.

One story prevalent in the north is to the effect that John Jacob Astor, the early trader and founder of Astoria, Ore., discovered the treasure that had been carried by the beeswax ship and melted it into gold bars. But the fate of the other two treasure ships was never learned. The explorers of to-day claim to have evidence which convinces them that the two ships came ashore with their crews near Point Dume, and that the wealth was buried and the crews slain by the Indians, who had no knowledge of the existence of the treasure. Peculiar rocks of a kind not native to the Malibu country have been found imbedded in the earth, and all seem to have been placed in a position which directs to one centering point. Efforts are now being made to translate the readings of the stones, and with this object in view excavations are to be made for some underground workings or for the cipher tablet that will give the key to the exact location of the treasure.

The existence of the cave has been known since early days. Hunters and prospectors have discovered and rediscovered it times without number, and it has been looked upon as something more important than the effort of some pioneer prospectors to develop a mineral vein. But since history records the prospecting of no miners in this section the treasure hunters have arrived at the conclusion that the caverns of mysterious origin and form have some part in the life of the shipwrecked crew, whose design was evidently to make away with the treasure rather than to preserve it for the commander of the fleet of which it had been a part.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 27 December 1907: p. 4

What do you think—just another “treasure-cave-with-mysterious- hieroglyphics-on-the-walls” yarn?  Spanish treasure caves are found in Arkansas folklore (a cave with ancient inscriptions etched in the rock) and in Missouri. There are other legends of Spanish treasure in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California, and even Vermont.  They run second or third in popularity behind pirate gold and various treasure troves guarded by Native American ghosts.

It’s difficult to know what to make of this account. Logical conclusions do not seem to have been the author’s strong suit. Other versions of the article say that the Spanish ships were being chased by Sir Francis Drake’s fleet when they sailed around the Horn and up the western coast of the US–dragging in a celebrity privateer’s name is always good for circulation.  And where were the doubloons and plate going?

I suspect a gross misinterpretation of that “several hundred pounds” of archaeological evidence so casually distributed to “private museums.” And “former semicivilization?” At this time skull shapes were the standard method of telling the origin of skeletal remains. The determination about people “from the South or Spain” is too vague to be of any value.  

But the story about the Spanish ship with the beeswax seems to be true–with one teensy correction–modern reseach (see this link) has found that the Oregon beeswax ship was on the well-known Manila/Acapulco run, traveling east down to Mexico with a cargo of wax and Chinese porcelain when it was wrecked on the Oregon coast. Researchers have even narrowed down the name of the Oregon wreck to one of two ships. The Spanish kept meticulous maritime records and (depending on what source you read) there are only 3 or 4 vessels missing in this area. If the Point Dume ship was one of those sailing with the Oregon wreck, she probably would not have carried significant gold.  Ships returning to Manila carried South American silver, but if our Point Dume wreck was one of the Acapulco-bound convoy, would the crew have stocked a treasure cave with–china? Perhaps. There was a mania for porcelain in the 1600s and at times china was more precious than gold. But it’s a disappointing image: blue and white bowls and vases carefully packed in straw simply don’t have the swash of a glittering treasure chest of pieces-of-eight.

If there was a treasure of gold, rather than clay, I suppose  it may still be out there, awaiting discovery–perhaps at this sensational real-estate offering.  I’m useless at using Google Earth, so I haven’t located the property in the ad—I don’t think it’s near Point Dume –but when you read about pots of gold stumbled upon by people walking their dog, well, it makes you think that anything is possible.

Any other little-known Spanish treasures just waiting discovery? Mark with an “X” made of peculiar stones not normally found in the county and send to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

Other treasure/mystery cave stories here and here.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.








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