From DNA testing to the Dixie Mafia, we bring you new stories of true crime in American history. Join writer & host Benjamin Morris for exclusive interviews with authors from Arcadia Publishing, writing the hottest books on the most chilling stories of our country’s past.
Lost California Treasure: An Interview With Author W. Craig Gaines Pt 2
Tales of California’s hidden treasures and lost mines span the state from the Pacific Ocean to the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sunken cargo from the steamship Brother Jonathon is rumored to still be out there, awaiting discovery, as is the location of the famous lost Breyfogle Mine. Outlaws like Three Finger Jack and Joaquin Murrieta were said to have stashed their loot while evading law enforcement, and Sir Francis Drake’s English pirates buried treasures all along the coast. Deep underground and underwater, a bounty awaits for some lucky prospector. Join author W. Craig Gaines as he unearths stories of legendary and historic lost treasures yet to be found in the Golden State.
W. Craig Gaines is the author of several books, including Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasures, Lost Oklahoma Treasure and Lost Texas Treasure. Craig has been interested in lost treasure ever since seeing the film Treasure Island when he was very young. He has written lost treasure stories for a variety of treasure hunting magazines. Craig is an engineer, geologist and writer who has been in many of the areas mentioned in this work. He currently resides with his wife, Arla, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Craig, welcome back to Crime Capsule. So, glad you could join us.
Craig Gaines (00:05):
Thanks for having me here.
Benjamin Morris (00:08):
So, we're going to look at some cases here in your encyclopedia of Lost California Treasure. But first, before we dive into those, I just had to ask you really quick. I was charmed, Craig. I was absolutely charmed by the names that ran through this book of the lost sites.
Benjamin Morris (00:34):
I mean, you have some fantastic monikers for digs, and veins, and loads and so forth. You have the Jackass Hill Mine, you have the Lost Volcano, Lake of Gold, you have Three Fingered Jacks Loot.
Benjamin Morris (00:54):
I mean, did you feel like you were kind of reading an adventure novel from the early 1940s, this whole time as you were researching?
Craig Gaines (01:03):
Well, that's where the early 1940s got the names because everything was colorful out in the West, and people had unique names. Again, Three Fingered Jack or Rattlesnake Dick, or just all sorts of nicknames.
Craig Gaines (01:23):
And nicknames I think were more common back then than we encountered today. But everybody had a nickname. And a lot of times it didn't have anything to do with shortening a name or something.
Craig Gaines (01:40):
And again, they're rural population, so they're out in the desert or in the mountains and lots of bears and critters out there. So, you end up with really western names, I think.
Benjamin Morris (02:00):
Oh, yeah. There's one that was something like Boroughs Run, which basically tells you that that particular guy probably didn't make it out of that part of the valley with the transportation that he came in with.
Craig Gaines (02:15):
Right. It's pretty common to have your livestock run off in the middle of the night.
Craig Gaines (02:22):
And again, there's several of those tales about finding gold while hunting down the borough. And then you're lost, you can't find anything because you're going up some arroyo that you didn't plan to go up.
Craig Gaines (02:44):
And you're in a hurry, you're not thinking about getting back. You're hunting your transport in and out of that area.
Benjamin Morris (02:52):
Your campfire's gone out. So, you don't have a smoke trail to follow. And you're just up a creek. You're just up a creek.
Craig Gaines (03:00):
Benjamin Morris (03:01):
So, let's take a look at Don Tiburcio Tapia. Who is this really interesting fellow that we meet, born in 1789. He was a Spanish soldier and local politician, you write.
Benjamin Morris (03:20):
And I wanted to look at the lost treasure of Don Tapia, because it's interesting you write extensively in your book about the shifting political wins of California in the early to mid-1800s. Of course listeners will remember that California only became a United States formal state in 1850 prior to which it had been under Spanish control.
Benjamin Morris (03:47):
But there was, as part of Don Tapia's story, what listeners may not always remember is that there was actually a revolt of the Californians against their imperial overlords.
Benjamin Morris (04:02):
And I was wondering if you would just take us back to Don Tapia's moment and tell us what happened to him and what happened to his treasure.
Craig Gaines (04:14):
Yeah. Originally, California was part of the Spanish territories, and Mexico had a series of revolts in late about 1820. And eventually broke away from Spain.
Craig Gaines (04:36):
But in that period, California was kind of by itself because the Spanish couldn't get there with cargo. And the rebels, which formed Mexico, were too busy fighting the Spanish down in Mexico to go there. So, they were kind of left on their own. And a lot of the people that had land grants in California had been soldiers early on, like Don Tapia.
Craig Gaines (05:09):
And there weren't a lot of people, but those that had served in the military got involved in politics, and they ran the place. And Don Tapia was one of those people that kind of ran the place.
Craig Gaines (05:26):
And there were several revolts. And if you've ever seen the Zorro and the story of Zorro, it's kind of in that time period. Not the last movies, the last movies are different. But the old Disney movies kind of depicted the conflict between Spain and it's colony and Mexico.
Craig Gaines (05:54):
And Don Tapia again, he was one of those guys, kind of like John Sutter, who was Swiss, the guy at land grant in Sacramento. And there's a whole bunch of these really smart, powerful characters that accumulated wealth.
Craig Gaines (06:17):
Again, California had Indians, and a lot of times they manipulated — the Indian population, did a lot of the work. And so, they would have big estates. Don Tapia had a big estate in the LA area.
Benjamin Morris (06:40):
And he was a smuggler too, wasn't he? I mean, his business was not just in sort of mercantilism, but I mean, he was trafficking goods that were prescribed by law at the time. Yeah.
Craig Gaines (06:54):
Right. And Spain had cut off trade from any other country. You had to be on Spanish vessels, they were colony, kind of like you had to buy their goods and their goods were hard to get and very expensive. But you would have American and British ships up and down the coast, and they would bring in goods and smuggle them in on the coast.
Craig Gaines (07:23):
And so, you have smugglers coves up and down the coast of California from those days. And he was involved in getting some of these goods to sell.
Craig Gaines (07:37):
And again, the police force and the military are all tied into him and these other locals. So, they pretty much did what they wanted, especially during the Mexican revolt period.
Benjamin Morris (07:55):
So, these Americans show up.
Craig Gaines (07:58):
Right. And John Fremont, you have Kit Carson was a scout. Bear Flag Republic was formed from these immigrants. And it's kind of like what happened in Texas during the Texas Revolution. You have a group of immigrants come in, they're a different society. They're wealthier than the local folks. And the resources were under exploited.
Craig Gaines (08:29):
Meaning they came in and they thought, “Ah, I can irrigate this land and it'll be great for raising crops.” And that's what they did. But when they did that, they upset the political climate.
Craig Gaines (08:43):
And so, the original Californias, there was conflict between the people who were there first and these other people that came in and took over.
Craig Gaines (08:58):
And Don Tapia was like that. And since he was wealthy, he didn't want his money taken. He thought the Americans would come in and confiscate it. So, he hid his wealth, he and his family.
Craig Gaines (09:14):
And again, in this time period, there's several stories about people hiding the family treasure because they didn't really have banks like we do today. It was pretty much the rich folks had a treasure chest and it was hidden somewhere in the house, or maybe out in the barn, or someplace they could get their cash.
Craig Gaines (09:41):
But a lot of things were done by trade, because there wasn't a lot of cash. But if you were trading with people, like folks on shifts, they didn't really want cows. They wanted gold or silver. And so, you had to have some cash on hand in order to buy that stuff from them.
Benjamin Morris (10:04):
So, Don Tapia, I mean, I love the stories about his particular treasure because they're just so dramatic. I mean, one story has him hiding it in these massive steel caskets, which are then sort of lowered down into a cavity.
Benjamin Morris (10:22):
Another tale has him burying it at the site of … what was it? Large rocks that formed a cross under a valley. Then there's some other treasure chest, which is also, part of the tale on his ranch. And you just think very likely maybe none of these things actually happened, but the stories are too good to let go.
Craig Gaines (10:45):
They are. And today, you have Malibu, which was part of his land grand, or next to it, Rancho Malibu. And you think all this wealth that's in Malibu now, it is all preceded by these ancient Dons who had their haciendas and large ranches in the area. Everything's changed.
Craig Gaines (11:15):
And that still gets to you never know with the construction site or something, the bulldozer may turn up something long buried. And so, that's why a lot of people keep their eyes open when there's construction in some of these old areas because you never know what they might turn up.
Benjamin Morris (11:36):
You never know. You never know. So, what happened to Don Tapia’s treasure? There's this kind of interesting sidebar to the end of his story, which I thought was kind of like, “Hey, somebody finally got a lucky break after all of the bad maps and murdering from last week.” Someone finally catches a break here.
Craig Gaines (11:54):
Right. Because he died and he gave instructions on his deathbed about, “Okay, dad, where's the money?” Because you want a limited number of people know where your stashes are because otherwise somebody is going to kidnap one of them and force them to tell you, “Okay, where's the family wealth?”
Craig Gaines (12:19):
So, a lot of times they just had one or two people know where the treasure actually was. So, that's not unusual to me.
Craig Gaines (12:28):
And the type of people that have wealth generally don't share knowledge because if they share knowledge, they'd be afraid somebody'd knock them off and the son or the son-in-law would take over.
Craig Gaines (12:42):
I mean, it's human nature. I keep saying that, but we still see some of the same problems today in dealing with people.
Craig Gaines (12:56):
But in 1877, a couple of workers were digging in this arroyo near Monterey Park, and they found a chest, they stumbled into something. And again, there's a lot of stories of people digging post holes for fencing and uncovering somebody's cash of gold coins.
Craig Gaines (13:24):
And I love these stories because they're true. They found something and now, the question is, did they find all of the Don's treasure or was it's somebody else's treasure?
Craig Gaines (13:38):
And when you examine stories about how much was buried, a lot of times it's exaggerated or it's converted into dollars today. But several thousand dollars in silver back then was a lot of money.
Benjamin Morris (13:55):
Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Craig Gaines (13:58):
And again, somebody that has a lot of money, I think typically wants it in several different places. I've done a lot of research on various treasure stories and usually there's a couple of cashes around it.
Craig Gaines (14:17):
These guys found it and I don't know if they lived happily ever after, but I don't think they were out digging ditches anymore after they found it.
Benjamin Morris (14:29):
Probably safe to say that their fortunes changed as a result of that. Well, nice to see somebody actually get a little windfall there in the middle of all of these stories of the guy dies, the map doesn't work, the cabin burns, et cetera.
Benjamin Morris (14:47):
So, I want to ask you about there's this kind of interesting element in your account where you describe quite a lot of naval traffic in California in this period. Naval traffic that involves either the coastline directly or rivers and lakes that don't exist anymore, that have been either diverted or drained or what have you.
Benjamin Morris (15:13):
And I think for a lot of us today, who know and love California for the state that it has become, I think it's a little hard sometimes to remember, or to imagine what the actual landform was like 200 years ago when all of this was kind of really at its peak. It was just a very different terrain.
Benjamin Morris (15:37):
And that actually led to some opportunities for exploration, for navigation, and for discovery that just wouldn't be there now.
Benjamin Morris (15:46):
So, two cases that I want to ask you about kind of back to back. I mean, number one, it's always good to see Francis Drake show up in any book that you read.
Benjamin Morris (15:58):
And I was just delighted to see Sir Francis Drake appear on the west coast of California and with his massive hall of pirate treasure. Of course he wasn't a pirate, he was a gentleman. He was knighted by the queen. But good to see him because he is circumnavigating this part of the coastline in very productive ways.
Benjamin Morris (16:21):
And then you also, have another ship, which is a more intriguing, I think topographically, you have what's called the lost ship of the desert, where there was a drained sea.
Benjamin Morris (16:32):
And of course, we know that naval traffic was much more efficient than overland traffic. Sure, we got that. No problem. But the specific pressures of naval traffic and the perils that boats carrying treasure, cargo, gold, and silver, and bullion and so forth.
Benjamin Morris (16:51):
I mean, those were very real and it was very dangerous activity if you were not prepared or didn't know the coastline.
Benjamin Morris (16:59):
So, tell us just a little bit about these ship born roots for treasure and whether all of them ended so well. Spoiler alert, they didn't.
Craig Gaines (17:10):
Well, Sir Francis Drake again, he was I think the first pirate or privateer to go up the west coast of South America. And he had the good luck to run into a galleon that was just full of treasure, that they were moving to another location in South America so it could be transported back to Spain.
Craig Gaines (17:41):
And they had so much gold and silver that they put on their little ship that they were afraid it was going to sink. And again, they'd been out on the ocean for a long time and they still were going to be out on the ocean for a long time to get back home.
Craig Gaines (17:58):
But he ended up going north to California and he put in, and they had to repair their ship. And so, they unloaded the cargo gold and silver. And after they scraped all the barnacles off the keel and did whatever repairs, they sailed off to England. But they went around the globe to get back to England.
Craig Gaines (18:28):
So, there are several stories about the crew not thinking all that weight was going to get them back to England, and that they cashed some of their treasure in the Monterey area or some of those areas up north of San Francisco where they had put in.
Craig Gaines (18:50):
So, these are really fascinating stories because you can imagine you got a little ship and part of your cruise already died and you still got a long way to go home and it's all Spanish territory. So, whatever they buried, they didn't go back for because it was Spanish territory.
Benjamin Morris (19:16):
They would've been putting their lives at risk yet again. Did we know, just out of curiosity, whether when they seized the Spanish galleon from which they obtained all of all of this treasure, did they sink that galleon? Did they scuttle it? Do you have any idea what they actually did with that vessel?
Craig Gaines (19:32):
I can't remember. Normally, they wouldn't sink it because it had a lot of people on board and they didn't want to kill everybody and you had to have enough small boats to transport the people off the ship.
Craig Gaines (19:47):
And so, I think they left the ship, but I could be wrong. I don't remember off the top of my head, but-
Craig Gaines (19:58):
But typically, they were out after the gold and they needed the people on the ship to help them move the gold and silver onto their ship.
Craig Gaines (20:10):
And then normally, they would turn them loose. They might cut the mask so they couldn't sail very good or damage the ship that it would take them a while to repair the ship so they could make it to shore or wait for some other ship to come by and save them. But they weren't.
Benjamin Morris (20:31):
Yeah. Drake wanted a clean getaway there.
Craig Gaines (20:33):
Yeah. And plus, he was a privateer, and I think the queen had invested in the expedition, so you didn't want to too black of a name when you got back home. So, he needed some sort of cover. So, I don't think he murdered or killed a lot of people in his exploits.
Benjamin Morris (21:00):
So, his treasure is potentially somewhere around the Monterey area or portions of it. And yes, we have never conclusively determined whether this is the case, but some reports suggest there might be something out there still to be discovered.
Benjamin Morris (21:18):
Now, around this same time, you did have this other Spanish ship along the Salton Sea. Which kind of doesn't really exist anymore. Although there was an article in the New York Times recently about how the recent rains had almost kind of revived the Salton Sea.
Benjamin Morris (21:39):
And that's one of the reasons that I wanted to ask you about it is because the landform changes so quickly and can change almost overnight that when you have a dead sea come back to life, suddenly we can travel back in time to the era in which these Spanish explorers are actually sailing in inland California with their galleon laid in with gold.
Craig Gaines (22:02):
Yeah. And again, I think that galleon was more pearls. There's stories of gold and stuff, but it made sense they had pearls on board because there's pearls in the Gulf of California and they had been exploiting that resource.
Craig Gaines (22:20):
And today, the Colorado River has all these dams that have held backwater and changed the landscape because the Colorado River would overflow near its mouth and go into Southern California. And that's why the Salton Sea is there.
Craig Gaines (22:41):
It used to be much, much bigger before they put in canals to divert water and these upstream dams to hold the peaks of downstream flow for irrigation primarily.
Craig Gaines (22:55):
And again, to me, it's plausible that they were able to enter the Salton Sea. The question is, in my mind, of what kind of treasure would you have on board?
Craig Gaines (23:11):
Typically, you're going to have all your wealth on board. So, they had some people that were fairly high up in the Spanish aristocracy on board. So, I would think they would be carrying their loo on board because back then they didn't know if they were going to return or start a new colony or whatever once they got on one of these ships because it all depends.
Craig Gaines (23:39):
And again, this story is fascinating because you have numerous reports of old timbers or ships arising out of the sand dunes over many years. So, I don't doubt there's some sort of a ship out there. Is it a modern ship, modern 1800s or 1900s type ship? Or is it a very old Spanish galleon that ended up there?
Craig Gaines (24:10):
And as the floodwaters would recede, the area would be too shallow for the ship to sail out. So, that's how the story of the lost ship of the desert came about.
Craig Gaines (24:27):
But it has a ring of truth to me, but it's hard to believe some of the descriptions that some of these old prospectors had about an intact ship sitting in the desert and nobody can find it.
Benjamin Morris (24:43):
That is the stuff of every pulp novel that I've ever read. Just eat it right up.
Benjamin Morris (24:50):
Although it is interesting because if you think about the plausible Spanish belief of the sort of 1600s and 1700s, not knowing the topography of the area conclusively, you write that they thought it was an island. They thought that California was actually just a very large island, and that they'd found another channel into the Pacific.
Benjamin Morris (25:12):
So, of course they're going to sail into it if they find that particular waterway. I mean, why wouldn't they?
Benjamin Morris (25:17):
So, the fact that they were being blindsided by something they could not otherwise have known, it lends credence, it lends credibility, and makes you … I mean, you can't blame them. This is one of decision. They didn't do anything wrong. Right?
Craig Gaines (25:34):
Benjamin Morris (25:35):
Craig Gaines (25:36):
Well, and they're on voyages of exploration because they're always trying to claim new land for the king. And that's how you get wealth in a society run by the king at the top and all this aristocracy. You go out and find new lands, make the king richer and you get richer. So, that's basically their goal.
Benjamin Morris (26:03):
Yeah. Now, you write in this particular instance of the lost Spanish galleon that there were over the course of the 1800s and early 1900s, a couple of I'm not going to say sightings, but a couple of potential sort of guys coming back on a horse saying, “Hey, I was in the desert and I saw something that looked like it might have been a ship.”
Benjamin Morris (26:30):
But there were several, which is interesting. It wasn't just kind of one isolated old drunk guy. And so, as you were kind of taking a look at this particular case, I mean, how did you rate the credibility of these sightings?
Craig Gaines (26:47):
Well, the later one's not too high, but the sightings by Spanish travelers through their … they saw something, and that gives it credibility that they actually saw what looked to be a ship in the desert where the Salton Sea had receded. So, I give that a lot more credibility.
Craig Gaines (27:15):
Prospectors not as much because they're always looking for grub stake to go out and keep hunting for treasure or gold deposits, because they have the attitude I don't have anything to lose by telling this story, and at least I'll get a good meal and I might actually find something.
Craig Gaines (27:36):
I think that's the problem with some of the lost treasure stories, were you would have these old prospectors.
Craig Gaines (27:44):
The lost ship of the desert's really interesting from the standpoint you have multiple sightings. They describe it differently in some of these sightings, but there very well could have been a Spanish ship that got stranded in the desert long time ago.
Benjamin Morris (28:08):
That's a perfect segue. Yeah, no, and maybe one of these days some lidar or some spectral imaging done from bird's eye view, might reveal that some archeological structures that we were not previously aware of. You never know what might turn up. You never ever know.
Craig Gaines (28:29):
Benjamin Morris (28:30):
But that's a really good segue into a little subsection of cases I wanted to ask you about, as far as these old prospectors making up a story in order to get a grub stake, that sort of thing.
Benjamin Morris (28:42):
You have a couple of hoaxes in your book. You have some frauds, which you call the spade a spade and I don't blame you one bit.
Benjamin Morris (28:55):
So, the one that I wanted to ask you about in particular was in Death Valley. And that was a kind of an intriguing one because you actually have very recently in living memory in the mid-1980s, a state archeologist who discovers a literal treasure chest in Death Valley, which is very exciting.
Benjamin Morris (29:23):
But there's an asterisk to the story, isn't there?
Craig Gaines (29:26):
There is. The National Park Service, it was in Death Valley, so they were all upset that they touched it. But again, he turned everything over to them and they had some indications that it was a fraud.
Craig Gaines (29:46):
For one thing, there wasn't very much money in the treasure chest because it had vintage coins and some tin types and other material in there, but I think it was like $52 and some change or something like that. And it was like, “I would expect more money.”
Benjamin Morris (30:07):
Yeah. Why go to all that trouble for 50 bucks?
Craig Gaines (30:10):
And the other thing was they founded, he's on some of the cups that were modern, if he sees indicating whoever put the treasure chest in there, probably bought him at an antique store of this right vintage and put him in the chest.
Craig Gaines (30:31):
And the guy that found it, I mean, I think he was honest and meant well, but it always looked to me like he was set up by his friends or something as a joke. And the joke got out of hand and made national news and everything.
Craig Gaines (30:51):
I mean, the other way to look at it is you have people in the park service saying there's an adhesive on there and there really wasn't. But I would tend to believe the folks in the National Park Service were upright and honest about the chest. So, I think that-
Benjamin Morris (31:10):
Yeah, I've worked with a few federal archeologists, rangers from over the years and they tend to be pretty straight up guys.
Craig Gaines (31:20):
They are, they are.
Benjamin Morris (31:22):
Because there's no motivation to come up with anything there. There's just none. It doesn't help anybody. So, yeah.
Craig Gaines (31:27):
No. And they're usually out to tell the truth. They just want the facts and they're very scientific. And again, I worked with archeologists at the core and engineers, so I know the type.
Benjamin Morris (31:44):
Well, let me ask you very briefly, before we get to our sort of grand dome of the case, which I'm so excited to hear directly from you about because you were involved in it.
Benjamin Morris (31:55):
I want to look really quickly at one, which I'm sure will ring a lot of bells for our listeners, which is the Donner Party.
Benjamin Morris (32:02):
And you have a couple of mentions of some of the treasure, I guess you can call it, but I mean, when the Donner Party was crossing over the mountains, they did have to bring gold and silver with which to pay people for different services. And of course, we know how that story ended.
Benjamin Morris (32:24):
But in particular, you talk about one member of the Donner Party, Elizabeth. Who just has a really kind of interesting wrinkle to her story. And would you just help us to kind of see what she's doing there? Because that part doesn't often get told.
Craig Gaines (32:43):
Yeah. Basically, the Donner Party got stranded in winter at Donner Pass. About half the party ended up dying. They had to resort to cannibalism and she was one of the people that were still there when the rescue parties came in.
Craig Gaines (33:08):
And the early rescue parties had to come in on snowshoes. There's still lots of snow in the mountains and they tried to bring in some food and take some of the survivors out.
Craig Gaines (33:22):
And she was one of the survivors and she had a cash of money that they were aware of. And so, they made some jokes about getting her money, et cetera.
Craig Gaines (33:37):
And again, these guys that came in, they had been promised a percentage of the goods that the Donner Party carried or they were getting paid by the day for the risk coming up. So, it wasn't all in their good heart that they came up there. Some of them very much so, but some of them not so.
Craig Gaines (34:02):
And so, she was going to leave with them and head back to the Central Valley and get out of the mountains. But she was sick, she'd been through lots of problems. So, she hid her money before she left.
Craig Gaines (34:21):
And again, I talk about all these different groups having money and some of the money we know was taken from the camp. And then some of it probably is maybe still buried there.
Craig Gaines (34:40):
But interesting enough, she died while heading to the Central Valley and the group she was with, they resorted to cannibalism and she was one of the victims. So, I mean, it's really tragic.
Craig Gaines (34:55):
But the interesting thing was, many years after the Donner Party, there was a group of people up there kind of picnicking and knocking around and they found coins on the ground. And it's well documented. It ended up in a lot of newspapers.
Craig Gaines (35:14):
And normally, you would think the coins would be all U.S. coins, but it was a mix of a wide variety of coins because coinage was real sparse in the West.
Craig Gaines (35:28):
And so, you would end up with Spanish coins or coins from Europe or South America in the mix. And that's what they had in this cash. It's makes it, you know it was her money and the-
Benjamin Morris (35:43):
You have this incredible line where it really struck me, Craig, that the ingenuity and the foresight that she had preparing for this particular voyage. I mean, she knew she was at risk. This is Elizabeth Graves, we should have said. Not Elizabeth Donner, Elizabeth Graves.
Benjamin Morris (36:04):
And she knew that any number of things could possibly happen, but one of which would be robbery or what have you.
Benjamin Morris (36:13):
And you have this direct quote where you say, “Elizabeth Graves's wagon carried her coins to California hidden in auger holes board in cleats nailed to her wagon bed to hold a table inside her wagon.”
Benjamin Morris (36:31):
And for anybody who does woodworking, much less without power tools, to construct that kind of hiding spot and then fill it with the exact right diameter and in a place that won't get like jostled and loose, I was amazed to think that someone had done this.
Benjamin Morris (36:57):
And it seemed to have worked until many years later when these coins began appearing. But I just thought, “Wow, she really knew what she was doing to protect herself and her investment.”
Craig Gaines (37:10):
Well, and back in those days, there are a lot of hiding places in houses, secret compartments and things like that. And people don't think about it today. You have a safe room or a safe in the wall or something. But back then you didn't put money in the banks. There was no FDIC in case the bank failed.
Craig Gaines (37:35):
So, if you had cash, you had to do something with it. And again, they were smart people, they were educated. They had businesses back in Missouri and … yeah, it was Springfield, Missouri. And so, they even had goods on their wagons to sell in California to help pay for the trip. I mean, they were entrepreneurs.
Craig Gaines (38:03):
But yeah, it's amazing to think about the steps that you need to take in order to hide your money back then.
Benjamin Morris (38:13):
Yeah, yeah. Well, there's some folks out there who I'm sure probably still think that your bed mattress is the safest place to put your hard-earned winnings at the end of the day compared to some of the banks that are out there.
Benjamin Morris (38:28):
But before we wrap up, we have got to talk about this extraordinary case, which you write about from Del Norte County, which you yourself were a part of the sort of assessment, the recovery, the analysis of.
Benjamin Morris (38:49):
And I'm just going to say this, Craig, I almost didn't believe what I was reading when it came to the shipwreck of the Brother Jonathan that as I was going through your account of it, I just thought, “No, no, no, this can't be the case.”
Benjamin Morris (39:07):
And then at the very end when you say, “Oh, and by the way the author was involved.” I said, “No, it is true.”
Benjamin Morris (39:15):
So, please, please just tell us all about it. It was incredible. And congratulations on the work that you did there. I mean, wow.
Craig Gaines (39:23):
Well, I didn't do much work. I had done a lot of research. I got a book Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks that I had been writing at the time. And so, I had done a lot of research on the Brother Jonathan.
Craig Gaines (39:39):
And it's really tragic because the ship was overloaded with people and the navigation line forced the captain to go ahead and head north being overloaded. And basically it ended up sinking in a big storm. It hit a rock.
Benjamin Morris (39:59):
It was built in 1851, and then it sank of about 15 years later. It was kind of right at the tail end of the Civil War that was making this journey.
Craig Gaines (40:08):
Yeah. And it had money on board for the military, but it was in cash. But it also, was conveying gold, and silver bars, and coins up north. And again, most of the passengers I think died in the storm because they hit a ledge in the ocean. They tore open the ship.
Craig Gaines (40:37):
I mean, it's wasn't real far from shore, but it wasn't close enough. And the lifeboats that they had on the vessel just couldn't survive in the stormy sea.
Benjamin Morris (40:54):
And this was a little north of San Francisco, is that right?
Benjamin Morris (40:57):
Benjamin Morris (40:58):
Left out of San Francisco Bay and it was just a couple miles north of there. And as we all know, I mean, the area around the bay is incredibly treacherous anyway. And then without modern navigation, it's 10 times as treacherous.
Craig Gaines (41:12):
Right. You had to know where the reefs were or the ledges. And again, the storm was so bad they couldn't make any headway, and they were trying to return back to the little port there and they were driven into the rocks.
Craig Gaines (41:32):
And I kind of think it took a long time to find the wreck. People looked for it for a number of years. And a group finally found it. And then they had to have a battle with the state of California over the rights of what they recovered.
Craig Gaines (41:52):
But there's still a lot of documented treasure. They had a safe that nobody ever recovered that we know of. So, the people that found the treasure cut a deal with the state of California after many years of lawsuit and divided up the gold and silver that they had recovered.
Craig Gaines (42:17):
But I'm convinced there's still more out there, but it could be that when the ship hit the rocks, it started breaking up and part of this material might be in a field along the path that the ship took. And you find this on treasure galleons, et cetera, in the Florida is there will be a field of debris from the ship that leads finally to where the ship is actually sunk.
Craig Gaines (42:54):
So, I kind of believe that's what happened. The State Lands Commission claims all the old shipwrecks off the coast of California. And again, they've discouraged people from hunting for treasure ships, et cetera. And they have a listing of sunken ships in their jurisdiction on one of their websites.
Craig Gaines (44:06):
And they're real aggressive on shutting people down from doing things as far as shipwrecks and other things.
Craig Gaines (44:15):
And I dealt with them in the Corps of Engineers. So, they're a difficult group from the standpoint of treasure hunting or doing anything on state lands. But-
Benjamin Morris (44:33):
Well, tell us about your involvement with this particular case. Because you write that you were coordinating with federal attorneys in the San Francisco area while you were at the Corps.
Craig Gaines (44:45):
Right. They have Admiralty attorneys, there were a couple in San Francisco. The US government had shipments on the ship, so they had an interest. And the part of their question was whether or not any of the gold and silver recovered was government property.
Craig Gaines (45:07):
It was documented, or there's stories that there was cash to pay U.S. Army officers and their enlisted men in I think it was Fort Vancouver in Washington. And also, there was supposedly some Indian money for the Indian agents in Washington.
Craig Gaines (45:34):
And I had done some research but I found an article written by someone who had done research in the National Archives, but the material that he had seen had disappeared from the National Archives, or they couldn't find it. But according to his research, it was in cash. It was in bank notes.
Craig Gaines (45:59):
And again, bank notes may not do well in saltwater unless they're in a safe, sometimes they'll survive. But the gold and silver that was recovered was either private or bank related. It was commercial, it wasn't federal government.
Craig Gaines (46:21):
So, my part was saying, “This is the material I found.” The U.S. government doesn't need to stake a claim on recovery. And so, that was my part of the story. Was just I had done all this research and the attorneys were wondering, “What's going on?”
Craig Gaines (46:47):
And plus, when you have material in the National Archives or somewhere, it's often hard to find because it hasn't been cataloged. And sometimes they'll pull it out of the research bins and it'll be misfiled under something else. And because hardly anybody does that.
Craig Gaines (47:11):
But research is getting better because with computers, they're starting to catalog things. So, you can actually research it. And sometimes you can research it online and see these incredible letters written in the early 1800s that nobody's really talked about or you haven't run across elsewhere. But he Brother Jonathan, it's a true treasure ship that was lost. And there have been several California treasure ships lost in the gold mining period. One of them was in Mexico, and one of them is the Central America off the East Coast, off Charleston that was found a few years ago.
Craig Gaines (47:58):
But I mean, these were the type of ships when the ship sank, stock and bank notes dropped in New York because they're waiting on that gold to come and fulfill consignments, et cetera. It was a different time period. But yeah, the Brother Jonathan is just really tragic.
Benjamin Morris (48:22):
It's interesting, the stakes in this one are not small. I mean, you have a lot of accounts in your book of old miners who come home with literally a pickle jar full of flakes. And they say, “I hit it big.” And you're kind of like, “Alright, grandpa. You hit it medium is what you hit it.”
Benjamin Morris (48:42):
But in this particular case, you're describing the first recovered amount of gold that came up from the Brother Jonathan was valued around half a million dollars in today's money. That was just the first batch of gold that came up.
Benjamin Morris (48:59):
And the rest of, you described, one settlement alone of about a thousand gold coins sold about 25 years ago. And that went for over $5 million. I mean, we're talking an enormous haul here, and that's just a fraction of it.
Craig Gaines (49:19):
Right. And a lot of it were privately minted ingots that they were the only copy in the world. I mean, people knew that you had a mint and it minted these gold or silver ingots, but there weren't very many. They're stamped with the assay-mark and everything else. So, they're unique.
Craig Gaines (49:45):
And some of these coins, again, are hard to find because they didn't produce very many. And when we went off the gold standard, a lot of the gold coins were melted down from all the periods. So, to have gold coins is a rarity. I mean, they're expensive to buy from this time period.
Craig Gaines (50:08):
And again, I think there's still some more stuff out there, but because of the litigation between the salvage group and the State Lands Commission, they had to shut down and not really spend a lot of time looking for the rest of the treasure of the ship.
Benjamin Morris (50:30):
We can dream of the next time that somebody can get out there, maybe with a submersible or what have you. And our butts will be on the edges of their seats until then, won't they?
Craig Gaines (50:46):
They will. I think there's treasure to be had in California, it's the golden state. It's got a long legacy of gold, and silver, and interesting happenings. And again, I tried to cover that in my book and give flavor to the great state of California.
Benjamin Morris (51:14):
Well, I have to warn our listeners who I absolutely encourage to go and pick up a copy of your book, but have to warn them with one very specific admonition. This book will keep you up at night because you will begin making notes on the claim that maybe somebody hasn't checked out in a while.
Benjamin Morris (51:41):
But you just might be that guy to find where X marked the spot in Alameda County or wherever it might be.
Benjamin Morris (51:49):
It is really something to kind of go through and realize just how much there is that has been forgotten, that has been misplaced, that was discovered, but never brought up out of the ground to begin with and is still there.
Benjamin Morris (52:08):
I mean, it's kind of a head trip a little bit to consider how much wealth is still under the soil or in the creek beds and so forth.
Benjamin Morris (52:19):
So, just reader be warned, you're going to get some daydreams out of this that will send you down some curious mental roots.
Craig Gaines (52:32):
Well, and just recently, a few years ago, a family discovered a cash of gold coins on their property. And at the time I wrote the book, I couldn't find anything real hard about it. They'd been published just kind of a few lines here, a few lines there, there's no more about it.
Craig Gaines (52:58):
But it was a substantial amount of gold and I think maybe silver, I'm trying to remember. But they stumbled onto it on their property. And so, it tells you there's still treasure out there.
Craig Gaines (53:16):
And again, the gold miners that were rich or the merchants, they had to hide their money somewhere because they didn't trust the banks.
Benjamin Morris (53:32):
Well, you have told us how to find this lost treasure, but tell us how our listeners can find you, Craig, and if they want to chase up your books not just California, but your other books as well. What's the best place for them to come across your work?
Craig Gaines (53:50):
Oh, Amazon has a lot of my books. I think I've got 15 books that I've written or co-wrote, and Amazon has most of them. And I'm working on Lost Missouri Treasure now. Before this book was completed, I did Lost Oklahoma Treasure and Lost Texas Treasure.
Craig Gaines (54:14):
And again, those are areas that I've spent a lot of time in and I've used my metal detector, et cetera. And Lost Missouri Treasure, my family's from Southeast Missouri and I was born in St. Louis. So, it's another area near and dear to my treasure hunting heart.
Benjamin Morris (54:35):
Well, thank you for taking us on this incredible journey and happy hunting. I don't know what else to say, but happy hunting when you're out there.
Craig Gaines (54:46):
Okay, well, I appreciate it. It's always a lot of fun looking for lost treasure, because you always learn something or see something you wouldn't have seen. So, even if you don't find gold and silver, there's treasure out and looking for things.
Benjamin Morris (55:05):
Well, I couldn't find a better place to end it on. When you find something, you come back and tell us about it. Okay?
Craig Gaines (55:09):
Okay, if it's substantial. If it's a penny or two, probably not.
Benjamin Morris (55:14):
Or the other way around. If it's substantial, you won't tell us because you'll be laughing all the way to the bank.