Home » Blog » Carvers Lost Ship of the Desert

Carvers Lost Ship of the Desert


In May of 1964, Harold and Lucille Weight conducted an interview with a man named Elmer Carver, the man who knew exactly where the Lost Ship of the Desert was located… He is one of very few people to have actually seen and touched it. Elmer Carver was just a young 17-year-old boy trying to make a living in the early 1900’s, working and traveling from place to place, even “ riding the rails” to get there. These men were classified as hobos or tramps, today we would call them homeless. It’s important to know, that people in general didn’t trust this vagabonds so if they did find work it was extremely short, maybe a couple of days at best. So when he was able to find a steady job for a couple of weeks, he jumped on it. No matter what kind of job it would be, whether it was working on a Donkey Boiler, or even filling sandbags. It didn’t matter what kind of worked needed to be done, a job meant money and money meant food.

jacobson1AAAASometime in 1906 Elmer began working at a mine, near the town of Laguna on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, and he worked hard for a couple of weeks. But when payday came around, the men were not paid in cash, instead they were paid in “script“. Kind of an IOU, that was to be paid after 90 days, so was the life of a vagabond. However, Elmer being completely broke, simply couldn’t wait that long. So he followed some of the other workers to Yuma Arizona, where a shopkeeper would pay you cash for your script, but charged 30% to do so. This was tough to take, since Elmer was only making $1.25 a day, and .75 of that was taken out for daily meals and boarding. Basically Elmer cleared .50 cents a day and was about to give 30% of that away so he could get cash.

While in Yuma though, he heard that a man named Mickey had a place and food for people while trying to find work in the new towns of El Centro and Imperial California, so he headed out. When Elmer arrived, he found out that the place Mickey had was just a wash, and he would have to sleep on the ground. But Mickey did offer him something even more precious than a place to sleep, Mickey had water. It’s important to know that back in the early 1900’s as towns began to spring up, there were no public services, and it wasn’t even really a town yet. And as per Elmer, Imperial Junction had seventeen train cars of water was brought in each day for the townsfolk.

jacobson1BBBBBOnce Elmer arrived he headed straight for the local pool hall, this is where men would hang out in hopes of finding work, and it’s here where Elmer would meet Nels Jacobsen, a local hog rancher.  Soon a big man of about sixty years old with a very thick Norwegian accent came up to Elmer and said “you work for me ja” and off they went.  They traveled in a southwest direction crossing the railroad tracks and wash, that usually had it’s fill of rattlesnakes, then some distance east.

Nels was a local rancher with over seven hundred acres to his name, growing wheat, alfalfa, and raising hogs. When they arrived at that ranch, Elmer was introduced to his wife, a young woman in late twenties, she would always be addressed as Mrs. Jacobsen. Nels then showed Elmer the hogs that were kept some several hundred feet beyond the house, and given instruction on how to feed them. But Elmer noticed that the fencing looked a bit weird, the ends were not nailed to each post. Instead they were hanging on a bolt and they were an odd size. He estimated that each plank was 16-18” wide, 3” thick and about 30 feet long. When Elmer asked Nels about the planks he simply said, “get them from boat” and he had to use a horse to drag them to the hog pens. That night Elmer was provided a cot and allowed to sleep in the screened in back porch that night. But the next morning, Nels gave him further instruction about the ranch chores, and had Elmer take him and his wife to the train station.

Once there, Nels informed Elmer that he was leaving for Los Angeles and should be gone for about a week. The remainder of the day Elmer drove Mrs. Jacobsen around town so that she might be able to do some shopping. When they got back to the ranch Mrs. Jacobsen made dinner while  Elmer finished his nightly chores. She later told Elmer that he should sleep on the sofa in the living room. Apparently living in a shanty near by, was a “crazy Swede”, and she said that he might chop you up with his ax.

Tcaravela portuguesaBhe next day was pretty easy in between doing his chores; Elmer spent the day talking with Mrs. Jacobsen and churning butter while she made cakes and bread. In the evening after dinner Mrs. Jacobsen asked, “Jakie (Mr. Jacobsen) tell you about the Boat? That’s why he went to Los Angeles, to sell the gems he found, I hope he gets a fair deal”. Being inquisitive, Elmer asked what she meant by this, so Mrs. Jacobsen went to the bedroom and returned a few minutes later. In her hand was a small box, about 3×5” and less than 2’ thick. When she opened it, there on top of a black cloth were three small diamonds, an emerald, and a huge blood-red ruby.

Elmer was utterly amazed at what he saw, and listened intently to the story that Mrs. Jacobsen told. “We had a bad windstorm awhile back, and it blew a lot of sand off of one of the dunes near the back of the house. When the storm was done, Jakie noticed what looked like the front of a boat coming out of the ground, so he went to investigate. It took Jakie quite some time to get through all the sand, but when he did he found a small chest full of gems. But when he tried to lift the chest out it fell completely apart.” They ended up sifting through the sands for the gems, first using a common kitchen sifter, but later Nels made a larger sifter out of fine screen from the hardware store. However, the coup de grace was the 2” solid gold crucifix with long blue stones, believed to be blue topaz.

Crucifix similar to this one from Mel Fisher

Crucifix similar to this one from Mel Fisher

The next morning Elmer went out to see for himself if there really was a ship, and there it was. The bow was standing about six feet high and about fifty to sixty feet away, there was the stern coming out of the sand, about four feet high. In the interview,

Elmer does not speculate on what kind of ship it was, Spanish or otherwise. But he did say that there was some kind of writing on the sides of the ship that he has never seen before. This could possibly lead us to believe, that it might have been a Viking ship. But since he did not elaborate on this, it is simply up for speculation. Nels returned a few days later with a big smile, but Mrs. Jacobsen wasn’t so sure, she wanted to make sure that he received a fair deal. While in Los Angeles, Nels had met with a lawyer named Levi, who knew a particular pawn broker named Barney, and since this was to be kept quite, they all agreed on , three-way split. Mrs. Jacobsen was not happy, to her Nels had just lost two-thirds of the treasure.

Later that day Nels took Elmer back to town and handed him $4 for all of his work, to Elmer it was good money. Elmer then went to wherever he could find work, he even found himself in San Diego for a while. Approximately  ten years later, by pure happenstance, Elmer found himself waiting for a train in Imperial ,and at the same time Mrs. Jacobsen was also waiting on a train. She explained to Elmer that Jakie had moved to Highland and that they getting a divorce. It appears she did not want her family to know that she had married a man more than twice her age. The train she was waiting on, was taking her back home to St. Louis. Before she boarded her train though, she handed Elmer two twenty-dollar gold pieces, saying that Jakie did not pay him nearly enough. Elmer politely refused, so she left them on the depot floor and boarded her train.

That was the last time Elmer would ever see either of the Jacobsen’s and the town of Imperial. But it makes me wonder, just how many times he would think of returning and possibly seeing if there was anything left. After all, in 1964, he quite possibly was the only man alive to have ever seen and touched the Lost Ship of the Desert….

2 Responses so far.

  1. admin says:

    Glad you liked it Elizabeth!

  2. Elizabeth Douglas says:

    This was such an interesting article tome, both about the ship and the treasure and to know more about the town of Imperial, CA. Was born not far from there and am always interested in reading stories about the desert.