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Samuel Prentiss and the Santa Catalina Island Treasure

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Samuel Prentiss and the Santa Catalina Island Treasure
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Spring 2004 and Revised 29 Nov 2009

We received an interesting communication from Clint Prentice about buried treasure.

Returning from Santa Catalina Island, off the southern California coast, Clint Prentice brought with him a story about Samuel Prentiss, said to have been b. c. 1782 and who died in 1854 on Santa Catalina Island. According to the story, Samuel was a sailor who served on, and then deserted from, an American ship of war in Lima, Peru. Later he signed onto the bark "Danube" as a ship's carpenter. About 1824 Samuel Prentiss was shipwrecked on the bark "Danube" off what is now San Pedro in Los Angeles County, CA. Leaving the wreck, Samuel then walked to the San Gabriel Mission, met an elderly or dying Pimungan indian Chief, Turia, who gave him a map marking buried Spanish gold on Santa Catalina Island (see Footnote 1) which, at that time belonged to Spain or Mexico. The Pimungan indians had lived on Catalina island, but by the mid-1820 they had mintrated to, or were removed to, Mission San Gabriel on the mainland.

How did the buried gold get there? it is rumored a Spanish treasure was buried by an English pirate, possibly Thomas Cavendish See Footnote 3. It is known that Cavendish captured the Spanish treasure galleon, "Santa Ana," and its treasures off the coast of Baja California, and he may have then sailed north and landed at a southern Channel Island where part of the treasure and loot was buried.

Samuel returned to San Pedro, built a makeshift boat from the wreckage of the "Danube" and sailed back to Santa Catalina Island, losing both his map and his provisions in a storm enroute to the Island. Samuel is said to have spent the next 30 years digging, fruitlessly, for the buried treasure (see Footnote 2).

As the first non-native resident, he was accorded a grave marker stating he was a native of MA, came to Califorina in 1824 and died in 1854 at the age of 72. Other accounts have him a native of RI and CT and that his relatives tried to get him to return home. Unfortunately, the name "Samuel Prentiss" was a common name in the general period in which he is said to have been born and a search of our database is inconclusive.

If you have any additional information about Samuel Prentiss or about the buried treasure, please send your information to us at the Prentice Newsletter. Be sure to give the full title and date of this article in the Subject line of the email.

Caution: If you don't use the above email link, your email to us may be deleted as spam by our email filter.


Footnote 1: There are a number of "Buried Treasure" legends in which a man meets a dying indian (or miner, highwayman, prospector, Mexican, etc.) who, on his death bed, produces a map of buried treasure which he wants this person to have, and the person then loses the map and spends the rest of his life looking for the treasure. Here, it is puzzling why an indian chief would tell a white stranger where the gold is rather than providing that information to the other members of his own family or tribe.

Footnote 2: It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the dying indian was playing a little joke to get even with the white men overrunning his land.

Footnote 3: Thomas Cavendish was. b. 1560 and d. 1592. He sailed with Sir Richard Grenville’s expedition to America in 1585, and upon his return to England began to plan for his own circumnavigation of the globe, this time modeled on sir Francis Drake’s voyage.

Cavendish sailed from Plymouth England with three boats in 1586, and generally followed Drake’s route of 1577-80 and reached the Cape Verde islands before starting to head West. He discovered Port Desire (now Puerto Desaedo) in Argentina. After passing through the strait of Magellan, he looted Spanish ships and settlements as far north as California before crossing the Pacific.

Cavendish stopped in the Philipinnes, Moluccas and Java before crossing the Indian Ocean. He rounded the Cape of Good Hope and arrived in Plymouth in the Fall of 1588 with only one ship left, but it was loaded to the brim with treasures. Cavendish had successfully circumnavigated the globe in 26 months, 7 months less time than it had taken Sir Francis Drake in 1591. Cavendish undertook another grand expedition, this time to China, but died en route in 1592. On this second "expedition" Cavendish is said to have used Ilhabela as a base harbour for four months, during which he took advantage of the available time by looting the town of Santos for Christmas, and heating up a little bit the village of São Vicente by scrupulously setting everything on fire. A mutinity caused by different viewpoints about how to split the loot, is said to be the motive for a preposterous crew to hang their captain on the main yard of the galleon Leicester, in splendid view of the bay of Castelhanos.


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