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Columbus of the Pacific, Part 2

The Humboldt Connection



Last week, we saw how the monk-navigator Andrés Urdaneta was summoned back into the service of his native Spain to find an easterly route from the Philippines to New Spain, present-day Mexico. The first land sighted by Urdaneta on his groundbreaking (seabreaking?) voyage of 1565 this side of the Pacific was almost certainly Cape Mendocino, the most westerly point on the coast of California. The headland had been named 20 years earlier by its Spanish discover, Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, to honor the first Viceroy of New Spain, Don Antonio de Mendoza. Now the landmark was to be a vital point of demarcation for trade galleons following Urdaneta's passage en route from Manila-to-Acapulco. (Much later, navigators, fearful of northern California's coastal fog and rocky shoreline, tended to turn south earlier when they were about 300 miles out to sea.)

From 1565 to 1815, between two and four large Spanish galleons built of Philippine hardwood made four-to-six-month eastbound voyages from Manila to Acapulco each year. They brought rich cargoes of porcelain, ivory, silks, wax, chinaware and spices until the Mexican War of Independence put a stop to the trade in 1815, six years before Mexican finally seceded from Spain after a long struggle.

The Manila galleons stayed at sea during the lonely four-to-six month voyage from the Philippines to Acapulco, but some of the 30-odd ships that were lost without trace may have inadvertently ended up on California's North Coast. Which could explain the legend of King Peak. In the July 1963 issue of Western Folklore magazine, local writer Lynwood Carranco re-tells an Andrew Genzoli tale. Genzoli was a historian and Humboldt Times columnist (and, according to those who knew him, something of a storyteller). He claimed, in turn, to have heard the following when he was a youngster from Johnny Jack, a Mattole and Wiyot Native American who lived at the mouth of the Mattole River: A ship carrying a rich cargo of gold, gems and silk was wrecked on the Lost Coast; the crew either drowned or were killed by local Native Americans, who recovered the cargo and stashed it in a cave below King Peak; and an earthquake subsequently sealed up the opening of the cave, and (you have to take my word on this) the loot is there to this day.

Does this tale, passed down through the years by Mattole tribal members, explain the disappearance of one of the missing Manila-Acapulco galleons? Get out there, locate the cave, and we'll find the truth!

Barry Evans ( would have found the treasure by now if not for the notorious Lost Coast poison oak.

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