• Stephanie Maher

Spanish Gold Lures Them: The Mysterious Article of the Torqua Cave

Updated: Sep 13

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In the summer of 2018, when Chad and I had been living in Kauai, I happened to stumble upon an article entitled Spanish Gold Lures Them, that was published by the LA times in 1911. The author is unspecified. It is on page I13 that the article explains that a man named John Ryan, who claimed to be a direct descendant of Sir Francis Drake, had found “claim” or “part of buried treasure” inside a “cave” about a mile from Ben Weston Beach, on Santa Catalina Island by following a “Spanish Chart” that he had tracked down in an obscure “European Library” after having read an old journal entry in his family archives. The journal entry was written by one of Sir Francis Drake’s crew members. Sir Francis Drake is the famous English “privateer” or “buccaneer” of the 16th century who had plundered Spanish Galleons along the Spanish Trade Route and circumnavigated the oceans between 1577 and 1580[1].


The article “Spanish Gold Lures Them” is hard to read in its original form so I typed it out word for word (the picture displayed does not depict the entire article):


Spanish Gold Lures Them.: Santa Catalina Island the Scene of Exploration

Los Angeles Times (1886-1922); Aug 21, 1911; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. I13

Spanish Gold Lures Them.

Santa Catalina Island the Scene of Exploration.

Descendant of Francis Drake Holds the Key.

Ancient Chart has Unlocked Secrets of the Past.

Avalon, Aug 20 – A hunt for $30,000,000 in Spanish gold is about to begin on Santa Catalina Island. The greatest secrecy has been preserved by those concerned in the negotiations which have been carried on concerning the removal from the island of the treasure trove, if found, but the fact that these negotiations are proceeding is established.

Markers shown on the alleged ancient Spanish chart possessed by two men in Los Angeles already have been located. The Times correspondent, in following the, as yet dim trail of the story, found the hole, in an old Indian cave high on a mountain side above the canyon which leads up from Ben Weston’s Landing, on the seaward side of the island, from which one of these markers had been freshly unearthed.

The names of the two men who held the interesting old chart, found in Spain, are given as John Francis Drake Ryan, an Englishman, claims to be a direct descendant of Sir Francis Drake, the famous British buccaneer, and Andrew Bolton. The latter is generally believed to be a fictitious name given to conceal the identity of a well-known Los Angeles man who has become convinced of the authenticity of Ryan’s quant old document, which if the story its faded parchment outlines is true, will show Santa Catalina to contain the most precious deposit of treasure ever dreamed of.

Are Enthusiastic

The men who hold the chart are like, all hunters, after buried treasure, very enthusiastic over their prospects, and their discovery in the cave in the interior of the Island proves at least the partial correctness of the chart. They do not wish to raise any money on their claims, or receive any aid in their work other than the furnishing by local interests, on contract, of transportation facilities for the removal from the mountains of the $30,000,000, which they fondly believe lies – and indeed, actual claim is already located by them – in the brown hillside, which looks down the pretty stream that flows into the open Pacific at Ben Weston’s.

They have approached the island authorities to find out on what terms they will be allowed to remove the treasure, and, it is said, an agreement has been reached. Further information is refused.

One of the men, said to by Ryan, has been leaving Avalon twice of late, with pick and abbreviated shovel attached to his saddle. He turned up at Middle Ranch once, where he claimed to be a relic hunter. On the other occasions he stated he was a prospector.

It was after the “relic hunting” trip, during which the marker was uncovered in the cave some three miles west of Middle Ranch, that negotiations were opened with the authorities for the removal of the alleged riches.

Romantic Tale

The tale of the discovery of the old chart is one of the most romantic which has ever developed on this Coast, where treasure romances thrive. Ryan’s attention was drawn to the Channel Islands of California by an ancient family document which he ran across in tracing his lineage back to the times of Sir Francis Drake. It is well known that Drake harried the California and Mexican coast in the sixteenth century, descending hawk-like, with his light English ships, on the magnificent but clumsy Spanish galleons that plied in the rich Philippines and New Spain treasure trade.

Tradition has long hinted that our Channel Islands were often used as refuges by hard-pressed galleons, but documentary evidence that cargoes had been actually cached in the island soil never was produced before Ryan took up the clew (clue) with his researches uncovered.

The clue was found in an old account of one of Drake’s expeditions written, it is said, by one of his crew. It recounted an attack Drake made on a fleet of Spanish galleons which had been driven well inshore toward the California Coast by a storm. One of the galleons was cut off by Drake’s ships and plundered. Of the rest, two were known to have escaped toward the southern Channel Islands. Sometime later when Drake cruised southward again, he fell in with these two Spaniards, beating them offshore. They were overtaken and, after weak resistance on their part, were captured. Much to the surprise of the Englishman, a search showed them to be empty of gold or silver. Their companion galleons had been well laden. Evidently some trick had been played. A more thorough search revealed, it is said, the chart which is now in the possession of Ryan and the Angeleno whom he has interested in his proposition. The old buccaneer’s account concluded with the statement that “the wind being exceeding favorable, our plunder exceeding rich and attack by Spanish guard ships exceeding sure should we remain thereabouts, we proceeded without consideration of the isle depicted on said document of trickery.”

Document of Trickery.

He added that the “document of trickery” whereby it was evident the galleons had put their treasure ashore on one of the islands in fear of pursuit by Drake, had been later purloined from the admiral’s quarters by one of the crew and sold, he believed, to the Spanish government.

The mention of this chair fired Ryan’s imagination, and after a wearisome search through old archives he traced it to one of the more obscure European libraries. “The chart depicts, without a doubt, it is said, Santa Catalina Island, the landing place of the treasure being what is now known as Ben Weston, although the formation of the cove, according to the old Spaniard mapmaker, was of some-what different formation then, with the present Middle Ranch Creek forming a lagoon behind the beach before cutting out into the sea. The debouchment was such as to give a more favorable landing than is now possible at this romantic wave-swept spot, where the savage sea thunders and bluffs at the determined little stream that dares its hissing wrath.

The Englishman negotiated for the use of the chart and came straight to Los Angeles with it. After satisfying himself as to the general accuracies of the map with reference to Santa Catalina, he interested the Angeleno in his romantic project, and they are now arranging the terms of excavation and removal of the neat little pile of $30,000,000.

The men keep themselves in the background and move with the greatest secrecy. The person in authority here whom they approached laughed at them in the beginning, but when they produced their document, and further made it plain that they were not trying to float a company, or seeking any sort of financial aid, their story was taken seriously.

Now, perhaps, Cocos Island and other traditional pirate resorts will have a rest, and Santa Catalina will take the brunt of treasure trove excursions, with Los Angeles harbor the world’s chief fitting-out port for treasure trips! What’s the harm? The more the merrier. Let the leaping tuna give way before the Spanish doubloon, and the boatmen turn pick men![2]


Up Next: The Plundering of Sir Francis Drake along the Channel Islands


To view Previous Blog: The Forgotten History of Santa Catalina, CA


To go to main page: The Secret of the Torqua Cave

[1]Herman, Arthur, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, New York, 2004. [2] Spanish Gold Lures Them.: Santa Catalina Island the Scene of Exploration Los Angeles Times (1886-1922); Aug 21, 1911; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. I13

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