How a treasure believed to be worth at least $300,000 came to be buried within sight of what is now the famed Hollywood Bowl, and how its approximate location is thought to be so well established, is the result of a remarkable series of eventsall widely separated.
The origin of the treasure, its size and approximate value, came to light while the author was researching Maxmilians TreasureFact or Fantasy (see the July 1970 issue of Treasure World).
There was reason to question the existence of any treasure belonging to the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico and reportedly buried near Castle Gap in west Texas. This was not the case, however, with The Cactus Patch Treasure. Information pertaining to its origin, which relates to Maximilians rule in Mexico, its first burial in the hills south of San Francisco, its recovery and ultimate burial along the old road that led through La Nopalera or The Cactus Patch, as Hollywood was once knownby the Brea Tar Pits and into the City of Angels (Los Angeles), is well documented.
The best source of information on the Cactus Patch Treasure can be found in the memoirs of Major Horace Bell, a prominent Los Angeles attorney, and Gumisindo Correa, a longtime employee of the City of Los Angeles. They made the last concentrated effort to locate the elusive treasure.
And it was through Major Bells acquaintance with Major Henry Malcolm that the origin of the treasure came to light some eight years after it was hidden, and then lost, in the hills across from the Hollywood Bowl.
The true perspective of the treasure and the events leading to its ultimate loss cannot be related in chronological order, but should be told in the sequence by which the overall picture can be visualized.
In 1866, Diego Moreno, a native of Mexico, was working as a herder on a ranch near San Bruno, not far from San Francisco. Early one afternoon, Diego was resting in a small grove of trees while watching his flock grazing on the nearby slopes. Much to his surprise, he saw three horsemen riding leisurely in his direction. Looking for some place or for some thing, they did not appear to be in any hurry.
Within a quarter of a mile of Diego, they stopped and dismounted at the edge of a clump of live oaks. The three men made a careful survey of the surrounding countryside, appeared satisfied, and removed six packages from their saddlebags. With a small shovel they proceeded to dig a hole and bury the six bags.
After refilling the hole, the men gathered firewood and built a fire where the hole had been to hide the signs of recent digging. Then they sat down, ate a leisurely meal, smoked and talked. After the fire died down, they remounted, made a careful check of landmarks, and departed toward San Francisco. Not once did the men spot Diego lying motionless on a nearby slope.
Diego was filled with a sense of growing mystery during the entire time. Although the actions of the three were not hurried, nevertheless, they aroused his suspicions. After he had penned his flock in the small corral near his cabin that night, he returned to the spot where the packages had been buried.
When he dug up the six packages, he found them to be extremely heavy, yet quite small in size. Not knowing what they might contain, but being certain they were of considerable value, Diego carried them to his cabin. Due to their great weight, it was necessary for him to make three trips, carrying two of the packages each trip.
Carefully covering all windows, Diego lit a candle and opened one of the buckskin-wrapped packages. He was not prepared for what be sawgold doubloons, gold watches and pieces of fine jewelry, as well as many un-mounted diamonds, rubies and pearls. Since each of the packages was of the same approximate size and weight, he did not open the others that night. But he knew that he now had a fortune in his possession and that he could return to his native Mexico a wealthy man.
Sleep came hard that night for Diego and, with the coming of morning, he began making plans to return to his homeland. It was almost a month, however, before he was able to get enough American money together to buy pack animals to carry his few meager, possessions and his newfound wealth to Mexico,
In the meantime, he had opened the other five packages and found each to contain about the same treasure as the first; of interest to Diego was the fact that each buckskin package contained exactly 100 gold doubloons and that all of the jewelry appeared to be of Mexican origin. This puzzled him, as he was deep in an American state and the Mexicans living in the area were just as poor as he was. Diego was convinced that the treasure had been brought from below the border, but he had no idea for what reason.
Having secured a pair of pack animals and a good riding mule, Diego left Sans Bruno for his native Mexico with the six buckskin bags buried deep within his camp gear. Slowly his journey brought him near the Pueblo de Los Angeles, passing along the southern slopes of Cahuenga Pass. With night approaching and many days and several hundred miles behind him, Diego stopped at a roadside jacal (tavern) near where the old road crossed an arroyo.
Diego found the tavern operated by a fellow countryman and decided to rest there for a few days before continuing on to Mexico. Desiring security for his precious packages, Diego chose a site about halfway from the tavern to the summit of a hill across the road. The bags were buried with great care in six locations, each an equal distance from a Fresno tree (western ash) growing on the slope. (Note: The tavern stood near the present junction of Cahuenga and Highland Avenues. With such a landmark, Diego did not foresee any problem in returning to the place when he was ready to continue his journey home), but he was to be deprived of his treasure.
Diego had not led an easy life. The long days of labor and poor nourishment had left him in a rather poor physical condition. This, plus the days of drinking in the local jacal, further weakened him to the point of becoming quite ill. Although few people living in the area would take anyone of apparent meager possessions into their home, it was the good fortune of Diego that Don Jesus Martinez, without promise of monetary return, took him home and nursed him back to health.
So it was, following the apparent recovery from his lengthy illness, that Diego, wishing to repay Martinez for his kindness, related how he came to be in possession of the six buckskin packages of coins and jewels. Diego expressed his intention to recover the treasure, share it with Martinez, then continue to Mexico.
Diego Moreno, however, was not to recover either of his two valuableshis wealth or his health. The illness, which had first stricken him suddenly, recurred, and he died before either a doctor or a priest could be summonedor the secret told of the site of the hidden treasure. Diego was buried in what we now know as Los Angeles. Don Martinez erected a small marker, which, until recent years, marked the final resting place of one Diego Moreno.
Shortly thereafter, Don Martinez and his stepson, Gumisindo Correa, then about 14-years-old, went to Cahuenga Pass and searched for the deceased Morenos treasure under the pretext of being woodcutters. Eventually, a Fresno tree, believed to be the right one, was located, but before any of the six buckskin packages was found, Martinez suffered what was apparently a stroke and died within a few days without uttering another word.
His stepson, now filled with superstitious terror, would not return to seek the hoard. It was many years before Correa would return to search for the six caches. When he did return, it was with well-known Major Horace Bell.
During the intervening years, newly found facts would bear out Morenos story as related to Matinez. It was the chance acquaintance of Major Bell and Correa, the stepson of Don Martinez, coupled with a news story of the death of a Basque sheepherder, which brought together all the elements of the story presented here.
In 1885, a Basque sheepherder was grazing his sheep on the slopes of Cahuenga Pass where Diego had buried his treasure. As always, the sheepherder had his faithful dog with him and, when the sheep were grazing peacefully, the dog would often entertain himself by digging in the numerous animal burrows on the slopes. On one occasion, the dog became quite excited over something he had uncovered. Upon investigation, the sheepherder discovered a rotting buckskin package containing a large quantity of gold coin and jewelry.
Since the story of the buried treasure had not been revealed to anyone except Don Martinez and his family, the Basque was unaware of the other five packages. Not being of the same temperament as Diego, he went directly to the tavern keeper to display his find. The sheepherder and the innkeeper had been friends for some time. Therefore, the Basque had no trouble selling part of his new fortune to his friend.
The tavern was the same one at which Diego had stopped, but was now operated by a different man. Lest he be robbed, the sheepherder pledged Etchepare, the tavern keeper, to secrecy. Now the Basque could make plans to return to his home in the Pyrenees of Spain. In order to be able to travel and still keep his fortune on his person, he made himself a full-length coat,into which he quilted all the remaining coins and jewels.
But the Spaniard was not to reach the land of his ancestors. He was standing at the rail of the steamer approaching dock in Barcelona, according to the ships log, when, for some unknown reason, he either was pushed or fell overboard. Whether the weight of his treasure-lined coat was sufficient to pull him under or whether he was dead before he hit the water was never known, as his body did not return to the surface.
In his personal effects left on board, the ships officers found the name and mailing address of Etchepare, where the steamship line sent news of his death.
The tavern keeper was no longer bound by oath to keep the Basques secret, and the tale became quite a conversation piece at the tavern and eventually made a small news story in the Los Angeles paper.
It was this newspaper item which eventually brought all the strange pieces of this treasure puzzle together. The missing link to the chain of events actually fell into place in 1874, but the story as related by Captain Henry Malcolm and told to Major Bell was not disclosed until after the death of the Basque sheepherder.
Captain Malcolm came to Los Angeles in 1874 to visit his old friend, Major Henry Bell. Major Bell and Captain Malcolm had been messmates during the Walker Filibuster War in Nicaragua, when Captain Malcolm commanded a battery of howitzers. Now, in Major Bells office, they fought the Nicaraguan campaign and exchanged stories of their activities since their separation. Major Bell had become a well-known and respected citizen of Los Angeles, and Captain Malcolm had continued as a soldier of fortune.
Malcolm told of his part in the sacking of the Spanish churches of Granada under direct orders of General Walker and of how he barely missed death at the hands of his commander. The General had succeeded in murdering all those who had assisted in the sacking of the churchesexcept Malcolm, who received word in time to flee the country. It was General Walkers intention to keep all the treasure for himself. The loot included more than two tons of silver and gold plate, holy images in gold, as well as the offerings, which were still in the churches at the time. General Walker was killed in battle before he could recover the treasure of the churches and, according to Malcolm, it was still in Mexico where it had been hidden.
But Captain Malcolm told Major Bell that he wanted no part of the church's gold, as he had no luck with treasure. He told of helping to bury a treasure near San Francisco and strange circumstances surrounding its disappearance.
And now we learn the origin of the Cactus Patch Treasure. During Maximilians rule in Mexico, Captain Malcolm was a trusted aide to General Placido Vega, a great Mexican patriot fighter of Sinaloa. General Vega had held Mazatlan against Maximilians forces, but in 1865 the Maximilian siege had reduced the Mexican cause to desperate straits. It was imperative that funds be raised to purchase arms, ammunition, and supplies from outside sources. Vega appealed to the entire state to contribute toward a fund to be sent to San Francisco for the purpose of buying the necessary supplies to continue the fight against Maximilians forces.
A very wealthy woman of Mazatlan set the example by contributing her entire family fortune in jewels. Suddenly, the contribution of jewels as well as gold became a patriotic craze, and all the wealthy families turned over their heirlooms to further the cause toward the ultimate defeat of Maximilian.
The patriotism was without precedent. Women with rings amounting to no more than a dollar in gold were rushing in alongside the wealthy aristocrats with diamonds, rubies and pearls to throw them into a common heap. More than $300,000 was accumulated.
Geperal Vega chose a personal friend, a man of great character, as the special agent to convey the fortune to San Francisco. Captain Malcolm, a Mexican captain named Davila, and an Englishman whose name has been lost in history, were chosen as escorts.
On the voyage by ship to San Francisco, the special agent died and was buried at sea. This left Malcolm, Davila and the Englishman with the sole responsibility for the treasure, yet only the special agent had the information as to who the contact in San Francisco would be and for what the collected wealth was to be spent.
The remaining three had to be especially careful of the hoard, since Mazatlan, their initial point of departure as well as San Francisco, were infested with Maximilians moles. In all probability, there were also Maximilian spies aboard the vessel who had knowledge of what had been recently collected and its intended use.
Upon reaching San Francisco, the three went directly to the Russ House where a conference was held to determine exactly what course of action should be taken. It was decided to send word back to General Vega by return ship and to hide the treasure in a safe spot until word had been received from the General as to its disposition. The presence of so much gold and jewelry of Mexican origin would have raised many questions, therefore, they decided to take the treasure a short distance outside of San Francisco, bury it in a location which could be easily relocatedyet not conspicuous to a chance passerbyand await word from General Vega.
Captain Malcolm, in his explanation to Major Bell of what was done with the valuable assortment and what happened when they returned for its recovery, told of how they had secured enough buckskin to wrap the treasure in six individual packages, keeping out only enough to defray expenses until word was received from General Vega. The Captain told of riding by horse to an area just outside San Bruno and burying the six buckskin-wrapped packages each one containing exactly 100 gold doubloons along with an equal mixture of jewelsat the edge of a small grove of live oaks. He told of the care taken to smooth over the ground and of building a large fire over the spot to hide any evidence of the cache.
The urgency of the message to General Vega was such that he embarked to San Francisco on the next available steamer to personally make the necessary purchases.
Upon his arrival in San Francisco, the four departed immediately for the place where the six packages had been hidden. When they arrived at the exact spot, they found only six holes and the treasure gone.
All were speechless. The Mexican suddenly turned on the Englishman, accusing him of taking the treasure and simultaneously drawing his knife. The Englishman answered with a bullet through the Mexican, but not before he had been stabbed through the heart. In an instant, both were dying. The Mexican captain died without uttering another sound, but the Englishman gasped, I die an innocent man.
Captain Malcolm related that he was without words. Never before had he been in such a situation. General Vega was crushed by the bitter turn of events, but exonerated Captain Malcolm and held him above suspicion.
Captain Malcolm did not stay long in Los Angeles, and shortly after his visit with Major Bell departed for the Tombstone gold rush country. It was there that he was killed by a claim jumper, adding another aspect to the mysterious tale of the treasure of the Cactus Patch.
Eventually, Gumisindo Correa, the stepson of Don Jesus Martinez, overcame his superstitious fear of the location of the cache and renewed his search to locate the Fresno tree and, hopefully, the treasure. In a chance meeting, Major Bell became acquainted with Correa and, during one of their conversations, he told of the six buckskin bags his old friend, Captain Malcolm, had hidden, then lost, near San Francisco. Gumisindo immediately told Major Bell of Diego Moreno, whom his stepfather had cared for during his final illness. By now, both had heard of the find made by the Basque sheepherder, and suddenly all the pieces fitted together. The treasure hidden by Diego, one package of which had been found by the Basque and that hidden by Captain Malcolm were one and the same. The discovery by the Basque had verified that the treasure was hidden on the side of the hill opposite the tavern, and the remaining five packages were doubtlessly still there.
Although the land was now privately owned, Major Bell and Correa agreed that the Major would negotiate for the right to hunt on the property. While Major Bell was still negotiating with the owners of the property, Gumisindo Correa was murdered on a street in Los Angeles. Dying with him was the only knowledge of where the Fresno tree had been located; without this information, further search would be fruitless.
As far as it is known, Major Bell, who died in Oakland in 1918 at the age of 88, and Gumisindo Correa, an honorable citizen of Los Angeles and a man with a record of great honesty, were the last to plan an intensive search for the buried coins and jewels.
The treasure must still be there, hidden somewhere above the old road which led down through the Cactus Patch to the tar pits and the City of the Angels. The place of the burying site is in no living mans memory, but with todays modern metal detection equipment. . .who knows?