Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More Shelter Cove legends

Image of Shelter Cove from Google earth.

I recently had a long-time visitor / property owner of the Shelter Cove area e-mail me about the Shelter Cove Indian legends. The legend that he referred to is one that many of us have heard many times and I just wrote it off as something that probably happened, but the story went on to get better at each telling.

I'm going to print his letter here, but leave his name off, because I don't have his permission at this point to give it out. But, I love these old stories and I really like hearing all of the versions. Here is the question posed by the reader of this blog.

"Hello Ernie,

I just today tripped over your blog on the 'net and I wanted to thank you. To me, this sort of information is like a treasure chest full of priceless gems.

I live and work in Sunnyvale CA but my parents bought a lot in Shelter Cove in 1969 and we vacationed there every summer from 1969 to 1979 (I was born in '67). I have done a lot of tramping around that region myself as a young man and now middle aged adult and I can tell you it stole my heart long ago.

A lot of heavy vibes there, too, but that's a long story.

Anyway, along the way I remember hearing or reading a story about 'The Cove' being cursed by Indians who had escaped from' the res' or perpetrated some other offense, been recaptured and then buried up to their necks at low tide on the Big Black Sand beach and drowned as the tide came in. Before they died, they cursed (or their wives did) the white man and the cove, dooming it to never be a success in any way.

I heard this as a young boy and I can tell you it left quite an impression on me.

Later when I tried to find a written account of this story I could not.

I have a feeling many, many variations of this story exist and I am wondering which version your might have heard and if you have any other information about if this actually happened?

Many thanks and warm regards,"
(name not printed here)

Another Shelter Cove Legend is the one about the Spanish Galion that crashed near there. The Indians ended up with the Gold, they buried it on the slopes of Kings Peak and it was lost in a land slide. Many people have searched for the lost gold, but it has never been found. The local Indians had a few Spanish Gold coins that may have come from the Spanish presence along the Pacific coast of California....  or was it that the Indians had a treasure chest filled with Spanish Gold and they buried it.

Another Coastal Indian story with great truth and validity is the wreck of the Frolic at Point Cabrillo. Cloth and China from the wreck is found all over the north coast, also, many other items are found, traded and packed there by the Indians that swam out to the ship and salvaged what they could before it became completely destroyed in the rocks.

I know that each tale gets better at each telling, so I always welcome new stories with a healthy dose of skepticism. Do you really think that anybody would go to all the trouble to bury Indians up to their necks in sand? That sounds like a lot of work for nothing. I don't see that really happening. But, that's just me, being skeptical and practical.


J2Bad said...

I think you're right about the "burying" story. I've read an awful lot of primary sources documenting actual contact, and that strikes me as out of character, though it's entirely in keeping with the sentimental literary tradition on Anglo-Indian encounters that proliferated during the 19th century. (It's much easier to imagine digging a hole in wet sand than to actual dig a hole in wet sand.)

suzy blah blah said...

The cure for a curse is to hit it really really hard with a hammer.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Works for me...

suzy blah blah said...

UPDATE: be careful, there's also the legendary 'Double Whammy'. This curse has psychic software that programs you to hit yourself smack between the eyes with the hammer, ouch!, when you swing it back to try and ka-blam the evil curse. But the good news is, there's now a brand new foam forehead pad available that comes in a variety of sizes, styles, and colors. Suzy recommends the xtra heavy duty model. If that doesn't work try burning some patchouli incense. It'll get rid of just about anything, mosquitoes, gophers, maybe even yourself.

Anonymous said...

Patchouli got hippies out of the Blue Room, so to speak!

Ernie Branscomb said...

Worked for me...

suzy blah blah said...

Patchouli got hippies out of the Blue Room

Maybe, but there are other versions of the story too. The one about the curse and the one about the rapture.

olmanriver said...

Mendocino county oral history has passed down an account of a party of whites (from down the coast) whipping Indians into the surf in response to the death of a white rancher in the summer of 1861. A lifelong Shelter Cove local has heard of a version of that battle where Indians were driven off a cliff. A different member of that same family shared the story of Sally Bell playing in the gold from that Spanish flat wreck. As we have posted elsewhere on Ernie's, there is a Humboldt Historian article from the 60's (i think)that reveals three different tribes passing down the story of a wreck, and cave burial for the loot.

That's what I have heard or read.

olmanriver said...

The one about the curse and the one about the rapture.

Do tell!

lodgepole said...

Being raised in that neck of the woods, we were taught that The Cove had been cursed, true or not. And like your letter writer mentioned, the vibe out there is way heavy.

suzy blah blah said...

Do tell!

Well, you already know what a curse is, and the rapture is what happens on Easter as explained in the song, 'White Rabbit Talking Backwards'. But it's typical that most people are more interested in the many different versions of the 'story', or the 'legend', rather than getting down to brass tacks and using the practical workable solution these myths give us to disable a curse.

You will need two things:

Ernie Branscomb said...

The reason that I don't think that the whites buried the Indians in the sand is, because it is more work than can be imagined to do that. The Indians, at the time, were thought of as nothing more than animals, and "not trainable". Just like animals, the white people thought that you had to catch an Indian at a very young age before they could be trained. So, the thought of going to that much trouble to teach them anything was probably not considered by the whites.

I think that a likely scenario was that they killed the Indians on the beach and the waves washed them up, half-buried them in the sand, and the tall-tales grew from there.

The Spanish gold buried treasure story was probably from some contact with the Spaniards where the Indians ended up with some gold coin, through either killing them and taking their coin, or finding a dead Spaniard with coin on his body. Contact with the Spaniards goes back to the 1500s so they had plenty of time to acquire some gold coin.

One thing that would make me highly suspicious that there was no large amount of treasure is that the Spanish ships, actually based in Manila Philippines, would follow the trade winds around the Great Pacific Gyre. The winds would be taking them south to Mexico when they came down the coast of California. The ships would load up with Mexican Gold then sail to Manila. When they were on their return trip back to Mexico they would only have provisions for the missions along the coast, mostly Beeswax for the church candles, and various durable items. If they wrecked at Shelter Cove they would have had just a few coins on them.

Today, the real treasure would be to find the wreckage. But, I think “The Kings Peak lost Spanish Gold” is just wishful thinking, made up from the fact that the Indians had a few Spanish coins.

The stories about the Frolic are pretty much verifiable. Many cloth and China stories abound on the north coast. Most come from the wreck of the Frolic that was loaded with items that were to be sold in San Francisco.

olmanriver said...

"A Sioux Legend

The Rabbit and his grandmother were in dire straits, because the rabbit was out of arrows. The fall hunt would soon be on and his quiver was all but empty. Arrow sticks he could cut in plenty, but he had nothing with which to make arrowheads.

"You must make some flint arrowheads," said his grandmother. "Then you will be able to kill game."

"Where shall I get the flint?" asked the rabbit.

"From the old bear chief," said his old grandmother. For at that time all the flint in the world was in the bear's body. So the rabbit set out for the village of the bears. It was winter time and the lodges of the bears were set under the shelter of a hill where the cold wind would not blow on them and where they had shelter among the trees and bushes.

He came at one end of the village to a hut where lived an old woman. He pushed open the door and entered. Everybody who came for flint always stopped there because it was the first lodge on the edge of the village. Strangers were therefore not unusual in the old woman's hut, and she welcomed the rabbit. She gave him a seat and at night he lay with his feet to the fire.

The next morning the rabbit went to the lodge of the bear chief. They sat together awhile and smoked. At last the bear chief spoke.

"What do you want, my grandson?" he said.

"I have come for some flint to make arrows," answered the rabbit.

The bear chief grunted, and laid aside his pipe. Leaning back he pulled off his robe and, sure enough, one half of his body was flesh and the other half hard flint.

"Bring a stone hammer and give it to our guest," he bade his wife. Then as the rabbit took the hammer he said, "Do not strike too hard."

"Grandfather, I shall be careful," said the rabbit.

With a stroke he struck off a little flake of flint from the bear's body. "Ni-sko- ke-cha? So big?" he asked.

"Harder, grandson; strike off bigger pieces," said the bear.

The rabbit struck a little harder. "Ni-sko-ke-cha? So big?" he asked.

The bear grew impatient. "No, no, strike off bigger pieces. I can't be here all day. Tanka kaksa wo! Break off a big piece."

The rabbit struck again--hard! "Ni-sko-ke-cha?" he cried, as the hammer fell. But even as he spoke the bear's body broke in two, the flesh part fell away and only the flint part remained.

Like a flash the rabbit darted out of the hut.

There was a great outcry in the village. Openmouthed, all the bears gave chase. But as he ran the rabbit cried: "Wa-hin-han-yo (snow, snow) Ota-po, Ota-po--lots more, lots more," and a great storm of snow swept down from the sky.

The rabbit, light of foot, bounded over the top of the snow. The bears sunk in and floundered about helpless. Seeing this, the rabbit turned back and killed them one by one with his club.

That is why we now have so few bears."

olmanriver said...

sorry for the double post...blogspot said it didn't work... feel free to delete one blogmeister Ernie. and this.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Okay, I removed the "stutter comment" but I left your apology. I wanted other people to know that even us old-timers have problems with blogging. I get numerous emails from people that say they can’t place a comment. I always tell them to click on “anonymous”, it’s much easier to make a comment. You can always sign it if you like. I like to be able to tell one commenter from another. It makes for a much more logical conversation.

suzy blah blah said...

I see. The bears were buried up to their neck and the rabbit returned like the tide. And that is why there are so few indians. Good point.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Actually, my next post will be about "why there are so few Indians".

posibly tomorrow

e. said...

Fascinating legends concerning the Cove. That area is one of my favorite parts of the California coast. I used to surf up there from time to time when I was younger and the place definitely had a vibe to it. Happened upon the Cove late last year and was surprised by how much its grown. Almost seems like a bedroom community than a "rugged" North Coast outpost.

Anonymous said...

Ernie, you must not have been to the Yakama Nations. Several Indians around here.


Ernie Branscomb said...

Don't jump to conclusions. Check out the quotation marks...

olmanriver said...

How do you see so well suz? Do Geminis
...( spelled with at least two "i"s, and maybe three, referring, op cit, to words out of your mouth {oh goddess please let me remembering this right and not be putting words in her mouth again, so as to avoid chastisements deserved and not})...
having a symbol composed of two humans, have four eyes with which to see different angles and fresh perspectives?

I tried to find flaw with your wisdom and innocense advice but actually found a great deal ofsupport for what you say, even the linking of easter and hammers and bunnies.


olmanriver said...

even us old-timers have problems with blogging what on earth are you talking about?



somebody else said...

Ok, I give up. It's extra metamucil for me tonight.

Anonymous said...

Dang, I hate it when I jump to conclusions.


olmanriver said...

Be grateful that you can still jump at all young fella. I got no hops.

suzy blah blah said...

... a great deal of support for what you say, even the linking of easter and hammers and bunnies.

The Legend The Rapture of the Carpenter at the Blue Moon links them all to the cursed patchouli.

olmanriver said...

The Legend of Kings Peak by Joseph J. Bognuda, Humboldt Historian, May-June 1976. The story goes that around the year 1800 a Russian trading vessel was wrecked and the Indians 'harvested' furs, metals, and gold from Alaska and hid it in a cave.
Shortly afterwards an earthquake buried the cave entrance. The existence of the cave was later verified by white people. The 1906 quake buried it further.
"Indians in the Mattole valley were interviewed. Among these were Major Clark, Joe Duncan and Jack Harris. They told of having heard their parents tell of the big cave in the mountains and the shipwreck.
'Ke-Ve-Lata', chief of the Weeott tribe of the Eel River valley passed the story along to his children, among them Mrs. Josephine Buddick Beach of Little River and 'Humboldt John' of Eel River, but neither of these knew much about it.
'Churi', chief of the Indian tribe at Trinidad in about 1800 had never made any statements about the story. My notes read that he was a great Elk hunter, had many wives and many hunting dogs.
'Trinidad Pete', who lived at Trinidad, often stated that his father took a long trip down the coast along the ocean past 'Weka', now Humboldt Bay, 'Weott' now Eel River, 'Metol' now Mattole River, and that he had heard the story there. It was all about a big mountain and big cave used as a hiding place.
Some day in the distant future, I believe, some great slide or earthquake will again open the cave at King's Peak to reveal the truth of the story, but until then we must only reliy on the word of mouth of occurrences that slowly become lost legends".

olmanriver said...

Any ideas how patchouli got cursed?

suzy blah blah said...

The Patchouli curse is a legendary aspect of our area's hammerings.

Anonymous said...

Do not seek the treasure!!!

Ernie Branscomb said...

From: maps to buried lost treasure

Shelter Cove Treasure
Humboldt County, California

Shelter Cove is a hamlet off Point Delgada in the extreme southwestern corner of Humboldt County. Tradition says that a sailing ship carrying a large amount of gold to the mint in San Francisco sailed into Shelter Cove to ride out a furious storm, but ran aground and washed up on the beach. Indians and renegade whites are said to have seized the gold and to have carried it up the cliffs to a small flat where it was buried. As a marker, they placed the ship's bell in a nearby tree. When they returned to the wrecked vessel, alerted troops had arrived and a fight ensued in which all the Indians and whites except a few women and children were killed. Many years later, a party of deer hunters found the ship's bell and carried it away, not knowing that it marked the treasure site. It was some time before they heard the story of the wrecked treasure ship and the bell's relation to it. Although a search was made for the tree in which the bell was found, it could not be located.

This one looks like a treasure hunter's dream. The top of the cliff is heavily treed, there are no buildings visible, and there is both a road or hiking trail for access.

Ernie Branscomb said...

from: Back country adventures

Somewhere in the vicinity of Shelter Cove in Humboldt county lies a cache of gold. A mining companies ship, which was transporting a fortune in gold to the San Francisco Mint, ran aground at Shelter Cove. Instead of aiding the crew, the wreckers stole the cargo.
Because the gold was very heavy, the theives found that they could not carry the loot very far. They took as much as they could and buried the rest under a tree on a flat near the shore. They marked the spot by hanging the ships bell in a tree. Some days later, the bandits returned to recover the gold, but a squad of soldiers sent to look for the ship confronted them. A firefight ensued, and the looters were killed. Women associated with the wreckers refused to disclose the location of the gold. Years later, an old woman finally revealed the story about the ship’s bell. Unfortunately, deer hunters, unaware of the bell’s significance, had removed it a long time ago. To this day, no one has admitted to finding the buried treasure. It probably still lies hidden somewhere near Humboldt county’s Shelter Cove.

spyrock said...

read about the St. John slave revolt of 1733 ... one plantation owner's favorite leisure-time activity was burying slaves up to their necks in the sand and using their heads as bowling pins. ...

so there you have it, nobody was surfing back in the 1800's, but every friday night was bowling night at the beach for all the shelter cove locals. lots of chinese and japanese glass balls used to float nets washed up on the beach in those days so there were plenty of bowling balls available. of course, this pastime was short lived as they soon ran out of bowling pins.

Ben said...

I have heard a story similar to OMR's. I have also heard that the Spaniards were the ones who buried the Indians and that it happened at Spanish Flat not the Cove. Of course I have also heard the Cove is cursed and I had one Indian friend who would not go there. I worked at Big Flat and that place is fabulous. Like another world. Huge shell middens at the north end and lots of rattlesnakes. I mean lots!

Anonymous said...

I heard they were actually killed by having numerous live seagulls shoved up their keesters until they exploded which is how the old timers explained the red sunset and brown waters of early spring.

Ernie Branscomb said...

From Ernie's place: Conquistadors

I started looking up shipwrecks on the north coast. I ran across at least two verified(?) wrecks of Spanish Galleons. One at Spanish Flat north of Shelter Cove and one at Gold Beach Oregon. The Galleon wreck at Spanish Flats comes with the story that the Spaniards mistreated the Indian people, and the Indians killed them. The Indians had some Spanish Gold that verified their story. The Twice-Told-Tale is that there was a treasure chest aboard the Galleon that the Indians hid. The tale goes on to say that a landslide buried it, and has never been found since. Many people have looked for it, but it has never been found.

( i don't recall where I looked this up, but I believe it was in a search for galleon wrecks)

Anonymous said...

What is it about stories about buried treasure that piques our interest so? And in Shelter Cove?? If we're referencing Shelter Cove, I'd like to read recollections of those who remember the plane crash from circa 1966 (if it hasn't been covered already) which appeared in the Redwood Record, complete with the pictures of the rescue of those plucked from the waters by a helicopter. I lived on Briceland Rd then, and there was a non-stop procession of speeding emergency vehicles in both directions for hours that day. One photo that appeared in the Record was of the gouged marks in the airport runway from the plane's propeller before it tumbled over the cliff into the ocean. Only 12 died, miraculously. The plane contained members of a real estate consortium, who were seeking their own treasure in more conventional means: through the acquisition of huge chunks of pristine land to develop.

kenteroo said...

Hello Everyone,

It was my email to Ernie. My name is Kent Johnson.

In my opinion the cove is cursed.

Maybe it's a "Land's End" thing or maybe it's just the culmination of our conquest of this continent. Heck, it could be anything.

So many things have come and gone in that area and left no trace. The mill at the mouth of Usal Creek, for example, or the port at Bear Harbor. A long history of extraction of material from the interior as quickly and irresponsibly as possible.

Not much left but a raped landscape and a lot of ghosts.

But that's me judging the past from the present. I'm sure the folks who stole the forests and wiped out the fish had their reasons at the time.

I have to shake my head because in the end it's the locals who got screwed out of their resource base to make 7 or 8 fat white men wealthy.

I remember our family mourning as each new house appeared at Shelter Cove. We cursed the "newcomers" too! LOL

My dad told me about the plane crash. I can just imagine those greedheads being flown in and out. Apparently the pilot was distracted that day and didn't properly prepare for takeoff.

My folks had a dream of building and retiring there but it never happened.

I have many, many memories from those visits in the 70's and later, most of them good ones despite the very heavy vibe there.

Anyway, I don't think you could dig a hole 5 feet deep in the black sand beach in less than 3 hours, if at all so doubt that actually happened.

Thanks to everyone for this wonderful resource. I have been reading non-stop for days.

swallowtail said...

Having just landed here from Kym's, I agree with Mr. Kenteroo: there is enough reading here for a month or so, depending.

So then I will be back with more scintillating comments. Nice blog, Ernie. I have to organize my thoughts a little. My little bro shares your name, and I always knock him off his barstool... need to find my manners.

Not that I would ever consider such behavior in the present day! Heaven forbid.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I’m not very superstitious, so I don’t much believe in “curses”. Shelter Cove by it’s very nature would draw tales of shipwrecks, gold and murder. But they would have to prove to me that the place was cursed.

The plane crash official investigation revealed, (to the best of my recollection), that the controls were locked on take-off. There were two Douglas DC-3 aircraft landed at the Shelter cove airport. The aircrafts were transporting company officials, salespeople, and investors. The first DC-3 landed, and the pilot waited for the second plane to land, he then took the passengers to the Shelter Cove Development Office at the old Shelter Cove Ranch house. The second pilot was left with the aircraft. The wind came up and was moving the control surfaces about, so the second pilot placed the locking pins in them. The locking pins have long red streamers on them and they are highly visible.

After the sales meeting, for what ever reason, the first pilot loaded his passengers back on the plane and took off without checking his control surfaces. He gained airspeed, but was unable to lift the aircraft of the ground because the elevator was locked. The right propeller made cut marks in the road across the north end of the airport. The left engine cut through the sewer plant, and the plane fell into the sea. The rescue was aided by surfers with surf-boards. Only twelve(?) people died.

suzy blah blah said...

What is it about stories about buried treasure that piques our interest so?

The symbolism.

Inner Spelunker said...


Anonymous said...

after spending a beautiful day out fishing in the cove, I have to say that if it is cursed, then curse away, Of course put me out on a boat when the winds are gusting up to 40 knots and the curse would swallow me up pretty quickly.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Just throwing this in since I see NO activity here.
They caught the barefoot bandit in the Bahamas. How did they do that since I am sure every place he went including an island he would blend into society. He is young, 19 or 20, 6 feet 5 inches tall, white, male, maybe barefoot. Hell, he might even be hard to pick out of a herd of chickens. Anyway, after two years he was picked up by the authorities.


Ernie Branscomb said...

First off, it's not a "herd" of chickens. Herd is spelled "heard".

Contractors only get paid for what they produce. The police get paid the same whether they solve crime or not. Lawyers get paid by the hour to find solutions.

So, that means that contractors will work their butts off to produce. The police really don't give a rats ass about catching anybody, unless there is some extra glory involved. Lawyers will keep things in court as long as there is any money on the table.

Things would change if people only got paid for what they produced.

Anonymous said...

Don't jump to conclusions Ernie. I didn't mean that it needed to be you that created activity here.
One other thing, I heard that it was a herd of buffalo, not a heard.
Okay, now get back to work.


Anonymous said...

Correction to my post at 1:04am:
17 killed, 7 survived. (sorry) Had to dig out the July 1, 1971 copy of the Redwood Record to be sure.
Excellent recollection of the story at 10:07am, Ernie. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post as usual. There is
a book called Gem of the Lost Coast. A Narrative History of Shelter Cove by Mario Machi. He
believed in the treasure and looked
for it many times. The book also
mentions the Indian lore, early
pioneers, and a play by play of the
plane crash as Mario was one of the
rescuers. Much info on the early
development of the cove. It's
available on Amazon books but is
expensive now.

Anonymous said...

I have vague memories from somewhere regarding a lost treasure from a shipwreck near the cove, but what is left of the memory is that the gold was hidden in a cave on water's edge accessable only during very low tide. I believe that (a)Sally Bell's name was connected to the story. Does this information ring a bell?

Sacred Goddess said...

hmmmmmmmmmmmm....gots to go find me some gold.

Mary Ann Machi said...

Check the Shelter Cove General Store for a copy of Gem of the Lost Coast by Mario Machi.

Expat in Bali said...

@ Anonymous. The air crash you are referring to was on June 27th, 1971. I lost my husband Jim Stevens and my father-in-law in that crash and it is still as fresh today in my mind as it was then, almost 41 years ago.
Date / Time: Sunday, June 27, 1971 / Time 7:00 p.m.
Operator / Flight No.: Sea Park Ltd. charter service / Non-Commercial
Location: Shelter Cove, Humboldt County, Calif.
Details and Probable Cause: The vintage Douglas DC-3 (N90627) was on a return trip to Los Angeles, with an intermediate stop in San Jose, from a private airstrip at Shelter Cove, a coastal resort and real estate development, and was carrying members of the resort company’s executive and sales staffs.
Prior to takeoff, the pilot failed to remove the wind-gust locks that secured the aircraft’s rudder and elevator. With these control surfaces immobilized, the aircraft was unable to gain height during its takeoff roll.
The plane, with 21 passengers and three crew on board, bounced several times along the runway, struck an electrical transformer and a building, became briefly airborne, soared over a cliff and plunged into the Pacific Ocean 150 yards offshore.
Two crew members and 15 of the passengers died in the crash. The surviving crew member and three of the passengers received serious injuries in the mishap; the remaining three passengers sustained minor injuries.
Pilot error.
Fatalities: 17 -- 15 passengers and 2 crew members.