Lost Treasure of Travertine Pt.
It was near the close of 1750 when a group of French and Spanish renegades headed north, after plundering silver and gold artifacts from churches in Mexico. But the local Indians were not willing to part with their treasures so easily, with each theft the group trailing the renegades got bigger and bigger. It was somewhere near Travertine Point that the French and Spanish realized they were being followed and decided to fight off their trackers. So they hid the gold and silver in a cave and prepared for battle, but in the ensuing foray they had all perished and the treasure has been lost since.
But I had questions, If all the renegades were dead, how did they know the treasure was in a cave? Did someone survive and if he did tell them where it was hidden? If so, then why didn’t the Indians just take back their treasure? Another thing that struck me as odd, was the fact that there, as far as I know, were no known Frenchmen renegades in Mexico in the late 1500’s.
The first large group of Frenchman occupied the area when Maximilian tried to take over Mexico in the 1860s. Besides, Cortes had just invaded only 51 years before, so just how much “treasure” could a church or churches gather in that short of a time? To a treasure hunter, facts can sometimes hinder a hunt, but not sway you from it. I think Philip A. Bailey author of Golden Mirages (1941) said it best with his statement:
“History should not interfere with legend, it is a grave breach of etiquette to do so. These frail strands have a far stronger hold on the imagination than any dry-as-dust historical fact.”
But since Travertine Point was always on my way to the desert I thought I would stop by and at least give the once over.
A good friend of mine, Bruce Harrington, and I were on our way to spend a couple of the days in the Anza Borrego State park, and it was on our way. I was armed with the the Ford article from Desert Magazine (Feb 1971), plenty of food and water, and off we go. Bruce was not familiar with the story so it made for good conversation on the 2 1/2 hour trip and when we arrived the first clue was the marking that the renegades had left, the Cross of Lorraine and the Papal Cross.
In Fords original story he talked about searching countless washes that led up to Travertine Point with only one that possibly fit the story. It was in Graves Wash that a cave was found and inside this cave there was a gold nugget, however Walter was not on the right trail. Judge Routhe, who was a friend of Walter, was not with him when he did that particular search, Routhe was away on business. So two months later Walter Ford and Judge Routhe met at Travertine Point, and that the Judge showed him the inscriptions. Judge Routhe explained that these were carved by the bandits to mark were the treasure was left. But it’s hard to believe that with a battle looming over ones head they had the time to cut out these symbols. But that was my starting point and we had already arrived at the Point.
Travertine Point is really not made of travertine, instead it is covered in a chalk like surface of calcareous rock called Tufa, which was left there by the receding waters of the ancient Lake Cahuilla. This was also a special place to early travelers and explorers, from Anza up to and Including Blake’s railroad survey in 1853.
So as we approached the Point, which is located on the Torres-Martinez Indian Reservation, the first thing we noticed was a low stone wall that divided the point between the reservation and private land. But we were not to be deterred, I pulled out the article and Bruce and I were scouring the hillside in search of the rock formation in Ford’s article. After only about 15 minutes, BAM! There it was! “No way, ….did I just find a true lost legend?”, I thought to myself. I then yelled, “BRUCE! OMG, there it is!”. He replied back, “no way. It can’t be that easy”. But there they were, the same rocks as in the article. So here we are a couple of middle aged men looking like giddy school boys climbing up the rocks, searching for lost treasure. It was not a tough climb, but I was carrying a camera with two lenses and a camcorder, so you could say it was a bit awkward. When we arrived at the rock formation I was amazed that the the symbols were still there. “Wow!”, I thought to myself. Here are carvings that may have been done by someone as early as the late 1500s and I was able to find them.
There was some more vandalism to the site though, in the original story there was a L shape cut out of the tufa, and now it has become even bigger. As I looked over the carvings I wondered if the Cross of Lorraine was just a dragonfly possibly made by the local Indians some days past. Dragonflies were thought to have the meaning of supernatural powers and the Papal Cross may have been placed when the Padres of old came through. The local Torres-Martinez were simply telling of the day when the first visit of the Spanish Padres had arrived. But that could be those pesky facts getting too involved. So we both took a quick look around to get a lay of the land, and this could be a vantage point for someone trying to get ready for battle. I really wanted to believe this story now!
Ok, so the next item was a cave, and there were many of them. But most of them were small or only about five to eight feet deep. Then I heard Bruce yell out, “Cave!” As I climbed up a bit from where we were, there I saw it. This cave looked big enough to store just about anything inside and Bruce was about a good twenty five feet inside. Being the brave explorer I am, the first thing I yelled out was, “do you see any snakes?” To which Bruce then stated something about just be a man and get in here. As he began walking out of the cave I laughed and thought, “you did see a snake”, but he had not. What he did see was another entrance and he wanted to check it out. So I summoned up enough courage and went in, stepping only on high rocks, Bruce entered from the other end. The cave was of a horseshoe shape and about fifty to sixty feet in length. Finally, we found the symbols and the cave, now it was time to see if there was any treasure in here.
In Ford’s story he talked of a large slab of rock that they had ran a metal detector over causing it to pinged off the charts. That is when we realized we did not pack out detectors. An important note to add is that if you are caught within the state park system with a metal detector you will be hit with a huge fine. With this in mind, we decided not to pack them. We did see a “huge slab”, though.
For nearly a hundred years people have been coming out to this location for camping or just relaxing. Other then beer cans and other assorted trash there must have been at least a billion pull tabs scattered everywhere. Besides all of this, we were on private property and we did not have permission. So maybe one of these days, with time permitting, we will go back and hunt for the lost treasure. For now it is left there for the next generation.