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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Maher

The Evidence of Buried Spanish Treasure

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Even though the Torqua Cave is labeled as cave by archaeologists today, it is in fact a rock shelter because it is a shallow cave-like opening and is situated directly on the border of a thrust fault between blueschist on the lower plate and greenschist above. The rock shelter is part of a prominent rock outcropping that looks like huge spires. I must emphasize again that archaeological sites are protected by the Catalina Island Conservancy, and it is forbidden to vandalize sensitive sites like the Torqua Cave. If you must visit the site, I highly insist that you approach the rock shelter with humble respect and do not vandalize, destroy, dig, or litter within the parameters of this site. It would be devastating to the Gabrielino/Tongva if the Torqua Cave is disturbed because it is their cultural heritage that connects them to Catalina Island.

The Torqua Cave fits the description of the “cave” in the article, Spanish Gold Lures Them. To recap, the article describes three Spanish Galleons of the 16th century, fleeing from Sir Francis Drake while sailing south along the California coast during a heavy storm. Sir Francis Drake plundered one of the three Spanish Galleons. The remaining two Spanish Galleons anchored at Ben Weston beach and unloaded their treasure.

The Torqua Cave is where the Spanish had buried part of their treasure and marked the location on a chart. They did not mark where all the treasure was buried. The chart and part of the treasure was intended to mislead and discourage Sir Francis Drake from finding all the treasure. Drake inevitably caught up with the two Spanish Galleons while sailing out into the Pacific and discovered that they were empty except for that Spanish chart. Drake did not follow the Spanish chart to look for the treasure because conditions were favorable for travel and his ships were already loaded with treasures from his previous acts of plundering. There was also a chance that Spanish Guardships would be arriving soon since they protected the Galleons loaded with treasures sailing along the Spanish-Manila trade route.

Drake sold the Spanish chart back to the Spanish government where John Ryan, a descendent of Sir Francis Drake, had tracked it down in a library in Spain, after having read through his old family archives. John Ryan followed the Spanish chart to the Torqua Cave and uncovered part of the treasure, the decoy meant to mislead Sir Francis Drake from finding all the treasure. John Ryan connected with Andrew Bolton (a fictitious name meant to conceal the identity of a famous man living in Los Angeles) to find the rest of the treasure buried nearby the Torqua Cave. The two men assumed that the Pimu’gnans, the Native Americans, had witnessed and possibly helped the Spanish bury all the treasure because the Spanish would not have found the sacred Torqua Cave without the help of the Pimu’gnans. Both men assumed that the rest of the treasure is buried nearby the Torqua Cave in the mountains,” as the article "Spanish Gold Lures Them," had described. I realized that Andrew Bolton is Charles Holder after reading his publication about Santa Catalina Island and his descriptions of the Torqua Cave.

The Torqua Cave is first documented as a “cave house” by Charles Holder in his book called An Isle of Summer, on page 20. Charles Holder published his book, "An Isle of Summer," in 1901, before the article Spanish Gold Lures Them was published in 1911. Charles Holder was one of the first to excavate on Santa Catalina and was knowledgeable and passionate about the Pimu’gnans. In the book, Charles Holder mentions the Torqua Cave for the first time as a “twenty-minute walk north-west from the Eagle’s Nest camp brings one to a veritable cave-dwelling of the California Stone Age – a cave house used by one or more families possibly thousands of years ago. It is small with an overhanging ledge of rock, and upon the face can still be seen strange figures in red paint taken from the ledge near the isthmus cave. A small cave or indentation nearby was used for cooking, and traces of smoke could be seen when I first visited it. The floor of the cave has been partly filled in with soil, and in and about it and vicinity I have found number of implements in stone and shell, while in front of the entrance, partly covered by cactus, can be seen a large deposit of abalone shells which must have been brought from the coast a mile or two away, and which were carried up to the cave which stands on the divide high above the canon that winds its way to the sea.”

Charles Holder also mentions the Torqua Cave site twice in his book entitled The Channel Islands published in 1910. On page 28 he states: “I have located many ancient townsites on Santa Catalina. One was at Empire, one at Howland’s; there is another on the coach road, a mile beyond Eagle’s Nest; and not ten minutes’ walk from the latter, up the hill and on a great divide extending down from Black Jack, and near the summit, is a typical cave of the Stone Age. When I first saw it, its entrance was choked with cactus growing on a heap of abalone shells (Haliotis) which had been brought up from the sea a mile or more. The cave is large and deep enough for a small family and faces the south. On the side were red marks, a sign of some kind. Near this cave was a smaller one, doubtless used as a kitchen, and the smoke on the rocks could still be seen. The cave was two or three hundred feet from fresh water. In and near it I found a number of interesting implements.”

The second time Charles mentions the Torqua Cave in his book The Channel Islands is on page116: “Just over the divide running down from Mt. Orizaba, which can be followed to the sea – a mile away – a lofty rock with pinnacle-like top-rises. It would not be suspected as a cave dwelling but as the driver stops the team, the party ascend the slope and find beneath the rocks a most interesting example of the Stone-Age of California. In front of the entrance to the cave is a pile of abalone shells brought by the natives from the sea, and on the floor of the cavern have been found implements – stone arrow heads, spearheads, drinking vessels of abalone, shells, and ornaments of mother of-pearl – in fact, many articles of the chase, and of the domestic economy of the cave-dwellers. The cavern, despite the size of the superincumbent rock, was very small, capable of affording shelter to perhaps ten. How ancient the habitation is cannot be told; but it is one of scores of town sites, mounds, kitchen-middens that mark these islands. They are of profound interest to the ethnologist.”

What is interesting to note, is that Charles Holder explains that the “cavern” had “many articles of the chase and of the domestic economy of the cave-dwellers,” as if he meant to say that there had been articles that would interest treasure hunters, as well as artifacts of the early inhabitants found within the Torqua Cave. This statement supports the article Spanish Gold lures Them, and that “Andrew Bolton” is in fact Charles Holder.

I am suggesting that Charles Holder is describing the “part of buried treasure” that John Ryan had uncovered inside as described by the article "Spanish Gold Lures Them." The Banning Brothers had been the authorities of the island at the time and discussed with John Ryan and Charles Holder the terms of excavation and removal of the riches, like the article describes. Knowing that Charles Holder was a well-known man and writer, it seems logical the Banning Brothers and John Ryan may have had told Charles Holder to keep the findings within the Torqua Cave a secret. This explains why Charles had to go under an anonymous name of “Andrew Bolton” in the article Spanish Gold Lures Them, making it seem like a correspondent of the LA Times was responsible for the leaking of this secret when it was in fact it was Charles Holder himself.

What is more compelling and convinced me that the article "Spanish Gold Lures Them" is real, is when I had read the book The Adventures of Torqua published in 1902, written by Charles Holder. It is a fictional book that describes the Torqua Cave as a place where a Pimu’gnan boy named Torqua, had led two Spanish boys to hide away from Spanish soldiers inside a "cave" on Santa Catalina Island. The Spanish Soldiers had been given orders from the Spanish King to send the boys further north to a faraway mission. That cave described as the hiding place for the three boys in the book "The Adventures of Torqua," is based on the real rock shelter that had first been excavated by Charles Holder now known as the Torqua Cave. In the middle of page 193, of the "Adventures of Torqua," the book describes the Spanish, from a sinking galleon, bringing a box of gold doubloons, “part of the treasure,” into the Torqua Cave with the help of the three boys. According to the book, "Torqua broke open a box filled with doubloons and coin, part of the treasure. They made three or four trips with the canoe that day, piling the goods on the beach, taking them up to the cave at night."

This part of The Adventures of Torqua is irrefutably similar the article Spanish Gold Lures Them. I believe that a small box of gold doubloons (part of a Spanish treasure) was discovered inside the Torqua Cave. Dr. Charles Fredrick Holder had become inspired by the findings and decided to write about it. He concealed his identity as Andrew Bolton in the article Spanish Gold Lures Them because he made a promise to keep the riveting possibility of treasure buried nearby the Torqua Cave a secret.

What also gives me the chills is that there is a curious 13 at the bottom of the page of 193. It is striking that it is on page “I 13” that Spanish Gold Lures them was also published.

Many of the words used in the article Spanish Gold Lures Them was used by Charles Holder in his books such as "leaping tuna", "buccaneers" and even mentions Drake as someone who may have visited the island: “In following years Santa Catalina, from its prominence and beauty, and fine harbor at the isthmus, undoubtedly received many visitors – perhaps Drake, Woodes, Rogers, Shelvocke, and the buccaneers and adventurers of the time…”[1]

Dr. Charles Fredrick Holder wrote Spanish Gold Lures Them to preserve the knowledge that he was instructed to keep secret. Charles Holder was indeed famous like the article describes; a plaque is dedicated to him in Avalon in front of the Tuna club that he had founded in 1898. A box of gold doubloons had been discovered inside of the Torqua Cave and Charles Holder had been part of this discovery.

Charles Holder had sworn to keep this finding a secret. But his death was drawing near, and he didn’t want the chase to die with him, so he left clues in his publications for people to find and to continue the chase.

There is something undoubtedly significant surrounding the Torqua Cave based on Charles Holder’s documentation and its connection to the article Spanish Gold Lures Them, and the recent archaeological discoveries conducted in the 70’s and the pictograph analysis completed in 2016.

Charles Holder had died in 1915, four years after the article "Spanish Gold Lures Them" was published, the same year that the Tuna Club had burnt down in the Avalon fire of November. The fire is believed to have been of criminal origin [2]. The Banning Brothers lost millions of dollars and eventually sold the property of the Island to William Wrigley Jr. 1919, and the search for buried treasure near Ben Weston was forgotten until now.

I have thought about the possibility of the article Spanish Gold Lures Them to be a fake and made up by Charles Holder just to draw in visitors to the island, but it does not seem like that after reading his books. The many intricate details in the article does not seem like it could have just been made up. Charles Holder had to conceal his identity in the article Spanish Gold Lures Them, because he was sworn to secrecy about the Secret of the Torqua Cave

[1] “An Isle of Summer” 1901 by Charles Holder p.10

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