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Treasures of the Yuma Ferrymen
By Thomas Penfield
From page 60 of the April
1977 issue of Lost Treasure magazine.
Copyright ©1977, 1999 Lost
Ferrying, robbery and murder
paid well at Yuma Crossing. Much of the ill-gotten loot was buried--and
The discovery of gold by James Marshall in the tailrace of Sutter's mill at Coloma,
California, in January, 1848, released a flood tide of humanity bent
on reaching the gold fields by any possible route. The great mass
of the westbound gold seekers crossed the mountains from Fort Laramie.
Other thousands braved the nine months trip around the Horn on sailing
vessels, while tens of thousands made the journey across the great
southern land route, crossing the Colorado River by ferry at Yuma
Crossing, Arizona, at the confluence with the Gila River.
It was at Yuma Crossing, three miles west of the present city of Yuma, that
the stage was set for one of the most hizzarre episodes in gold-rush
history--a story of intrigue, of murder, massacre and of buried treasure,
the likes of which can rarely be dorumented so thoroughly.
When the Argonauts reached the Colorado in those gold-mad days, the river halting
their progress was a q uart er mile wide and 30 to 40 feet an obstacle
requiring a ferry to cross. And there was a ferry--at times two ferries.
The name of the man who built the first ferry at Yuma Crossing is a subject
of controversy. Local legend has it that a raft-prairie schooner was
built in Michigan and drawn across the country by oxen to a point
on the Gila River in central Arizona, from where it was floated down
to the Colorado and placed in service as a ferry in 1849. In October,
1849, a Lt. Couts reached the Colorado River at Yuma Crossing with
The troop built a raft of cottonwood logs and pulled it back and forth across
the river by rope. A sergeant was placed in charge of the ferry and
it was made available to civilians for a reasonable fee--probably
the first commercially operated ferry at this site.
During the latter part of 1849, or early 1850, Lt. Couts established Fort Calhoun
on the west side of the Colorado, on a hill overlooking Yuma Crossing,
to protect the hundreds of emigrants heading for the California gold
fields. Even at this time, throngs of Mexicans who had struck it rich
in California were returning to Mexico by way of the crossing.
It is said that a Col. Collier with the Couts party extracted a considerable
fortune from the Mexicans by informing them that Congress had passed
a law levying a 10 percent tax on all gold going out of the United
States, and that if anyone attempted to conceal his gold) all would
be forfeited. Col. Collier was possibly the first to realize that
travelers, both going to and coming from the gold fields, could be
a rich source of income.
Shortly after establishing Fort Calhoun, Lt. Couts left Yuma Crossing, abandoning
the raft-ferry, which was then moved down the river a few miles to
Algodones, on the Mexican side, and placed in operation by Yuma Indians.
Their price for crossing the river was $3 per man and their trade
was mostly with Mexicans.
Sometime in late 1849, a Dr. Abe Lincoln arrived at Yuma Crossing and it is
with him that this strange odyssey begins.
Although Dr. Lincoln signed his name "A. Lincoln," and came west from Illinois,
no family relationship with Abraham Lincoln was claimed. Actually,
while he was called Abe, his name seems to have been Able.
When the War with Mexico began, Abe Lincoln joined the medical corps. Whether
he was a graduate physician is not known, but he was later referred
to as "Doctor" Lincoln. With the forces of Gen. Winfield Scott, he
marched into Mexico City, where he was mustered out of service in
1848. Possibly to avoid walking back to Illinois, Abe Lincoln hiked
to Vera Cruz, where he bought passage on a small ship bound up the
Gulf of Mexico for New Orleans. On the voyage, however, the vessel
touched port at the mouth of the Rio Grande River, where evervone
heard for the first time the exciting news of Marshall's discovery
of gold in California. Imbued with gold fever, Lincoln joined many
others in deserting the ship. He bought horses and an outfit and joined
the hundreds of persons rushing west across the southern route. He
eventually reached Yuma Crossing, where crowds of men were clamoring
to cross the Colorado on the single ferry available. Lincoln was impressed
with the money-making possibilities of establishing a second ferry,
but the call of the gold fields was too great and he proceeded on
to San Francisco. Whether or not he did any prospecting in California
is not clear, but he did turn back toward the Colorado River, reaching
Yuma Crossing again in January, 1850.
Lincoln may have purchased the ferry already in operation at Yuma Crossing, as
some claim. Or he may have cut logs up the Gila, rafted them down
to Yuma Crossing and built a ferry and placed it in operation. The
point is controversial. But at any rate, he soon had a ferry, transporting
emigrants across the Colorado, and was on his way to accumulating
About all that is known of Lincoln's early operations at Yuma Crossing is gathered
from a letter he wrote to his parents in April, 1850. It was a letter
filled with news of his success as a ferry operator, his plans to
return East-and the portent of disaster to come.
"I have located a ferry at the junction of two rivers," he wrote, "the Gila
and the Colorado . . . I have been here some three months, during
which time I have crossed over 2,000 Mexicans . . . and I am still
carrying some 100 per day. During the three months I have been here,
I have taken in over $60,000 . . .
"As regards my stay at this point I can give you little satisfaction at present.
I shall not remain longer than six months at all events and perhaps
not more than a month . . . I shall sell at the first opportunity
and make you all a visit if I meet with no misfortune. This is an
unsafe place to live in . . ."
In his provocative letter, Lincoln did not state whether he was as yet involved with
John J. Glanton, one of the bloodiest characters in Arizona's history.
But it seems likely that he was, and that Glanton was the danger implied
in his letter.
Like Abe Lincoln, John Glanton was a product of the Mexican War, being a member
of the Texas cavalry in General Taylor's army. Glanton's military
career seems to have been one in which he was in constant trouble,
culminating in his being placed in irons for the murder of a helpless
Mexican. He was mustered out in 1848 and went to San Antonio, Texas,
where he soon made himself so obnoxious that he was lucky to flee
to Chihuahua with his life after killing a soldier.
Only sketchy accounts are known of Glanton's bloody exploits during his second
stay in Mexico, but he soon found a lucrative source of income in
hunting Apache scalps. At that time there was great enmity between
the Apaches and the Mexicans, and the governor of Chihuahua offered
a bounty for Apache scalps of from $50 to $500 per scalp--including
women and children--depending upon what kind of a deal could be made.
Glanton soon formed a band of cut-throat renegade Americans, and before long he
was delivering Apache scalps by the bale. When Apaches became scarce,
Glanton found that he could trim Merican scalps to resemble Apache
headpieces--and he began selling the Chihuahua authorities the scalps
of their own people. This continued until the Mexicans began to wonder
why they found so many scalped Mexicans in a land where there were
no longer any Apaches.
The finger of suspicion pointed at Glanton (a reward was later placed on his
head) and Glanton fled north to the United States, arriving at Yuma
Crossing about a month after Dr. Able Lincoln had established his
ferry there, according to most accounts. With his arrival at Yuma
Crossing there is little doubt that John Glanton immediately sized
up the opportunities for making another fortune in the business of
ferrying emigrants across the Colorado.
In just what manner Glanton became a partner in Able Lincoln's rich ferry operation
is not clear. Some accounts suggest that he muscled in by offering
"protection," backed up by his gang's guns. This seems doubtful in
view of Lincoln's own written statement that he employed 22 Americans,
all armed with Colt revolvers, 16 U.S. rifles and a small artillery
piece. Other accounts relate that Glanton went to work for Lincoln
and in some unexplained manner soon shoved Linooln aside and took
over. It was at this time that Lincoln probably became apprehensive
and wrote to his parents that "this is an unsafe place to live in.
While Lincoln's fee for crossing the Colorado was $3 for a man and horse or mule,
Glanton soon raised prices to $10 for those going to California and
an ounce of gold, or about $16, for those going east. He abused the
Indians operating the ferry at Algodones through an Irishman named
Callaghan, who was hired to run it for them. He is also accused of
robbing and murdering emigrants who displayed wealth while paying
their ferry tolls.
Not content with the exorbitant profits from Lincoln's ferry, Glanton decided
to put the Indian ferrv out of business. One night someone shot and
killed Callaghan and cut the ferry loose, allowing it to drift down
the river. The Yumas, heretofore considered an inoffensiye and harmless
tribe, suspected Glan ton of the deed.
When the Yuma chief and a delegation came to confer with Glanton, he berated
the Indians, attacked the chief with a club and threatened to kill
one Indian for each Mexican they `ferried across the river, if thev
put the ferry back into operation. This was the beginning of the end
as far as the Indians were concerned.
Shortly after the murder of Callaghan, Glanton and his gang went to San Diego for
supplies. During their absence the Indians convened and planned their
reprisal. According to a Yuma tribal story, Glanton and his men, upon
returning from San Diego, were met in friendliness and invited to
a feast, an invitation which they accepted. As a hundred Indians danced
around four campfires fed by long poles, a signal was suddenly given.
The dancing Indians grabbed firebrands and set upon the guests. Glanton
fell at the first onslaught.
Racing to the cabins, where the other Americans slept, the Indians attacked
and annihilated all except three, who managed to escape across the
river by boat.
The second version has it that Glanton and his men, upon returning from San Diego,
threw a spree in which all got drunk. As they slept off the effects
of their party in the cabins--Lincoln was already asleep in his, having
taken no part in the brawl--the angered Indians meted out their vengeance
in a surprise attack. John Glanton's head was split open by the chief
whom he had insulted and clubbed. Dr. Able Lincoln was killed in the
Able Linclon's dog and two others were tied to the bodies of Lincoln and Glanton
and set afire. Thus, on that April night, the brief and bloody rule
of John Glanton at Yuma Crossing came to an end, and the danger portended
by Able Lincoln materialized.
Of the three men who escaped the fury of the Yumas, one was William Carr, who was
in the employ of Lincoln before the fateful arrival of John Glanton
Carr made his way to Los Angeles, where he spread the first word of
the massacre. In a deposition made before Don Abel Stearns, first
alcalde for the District of Los Angeles, Carr told his version of
the slaughter of the ferrymen. This document is still in existence
in the Los Angeles city archives and was reported in full in the Publication
of the Historical Society of California, Volume VI, pages 52-62.
Carr state& that he knew Able Lincoln had $50,000 in silver and between $20,000
and $30,000 in gold at the time of the attack by the Indians. He did
not mention the fortune reportedly hidden by John Glanton under a
mesquite tree on the west bank of the Colorado. Edward Pancoast, an
emigrant who crossed the Colorado shortly after the massacre, reported
that the entire west side of the Colorado was a thicket of mesquites.
A few days after the massacre at Yuma Crossing, Jeremiah Hill, an emigrant, reached
there and got his report from one of the Indians --that the Indians
had found three bags of silver, each of which was three feet high
and two feet thick,0 and one bag of gold a foot high and a foot thick.
The chief could not count, but indicated the size of the bags with
his hands. He claimed to have distributed the coins and gold among
the members of his tribe.
Later, travelers reported that about $15,000 of the looted money. was spent with emigrants
for clothing and trinkets. What happened to the remainder is still
No one can estimate the size of Glanton's fortune, but in all likelihood it was
larger than Lincoln's. He not only had his profits from the Apache
scalping venture in Mexico, and his share of the profits from the
ferry, but his gains from his sideline of robbery and murder.
It was reported in a story appearing in the Tucson Star in 1891 that Charles Brown,
then operating a bar in Tucson, had been a member of the Glanton gang
at Yuma Crossing, leaving Glanton's employ shortly before the massacre.
At the time of his leaving, Brown's share of the ferry proceeds was
$10,000. Strangely, he did not take it with him, but left it in Glanton's
care, and never returned to pick it up. Brown stated that he left
Yuma Crossing because he had been tipped off by a friendly Indian
that the attack was coming. It seemed unlikely that Able Lincoln left
all of his gold and silver in one spot, or in any snot where it could
be easily located. He was well aware of the danger surrounding him,
and it doesn't seem nossible that he would not have hidden most of
his wealth. It seems unlikely, also, that Iohn Glanton's treasure
was ever found. These are guesses, of course, but it is no guess that
the state of California took official note of this treasure and tried
to recover it!
The depositions given by William Carr and Teremiah Hill before Alcalde Abel Stearns
were forwarded to Governor Burnett in Sacramento, together with the
testimony that the Indians declared to the Mexicans that they would
tolerate no more Americans at Yuma Crossing, and that they wanted
to fight the Americans. This, and the general excitement in southern
California over news of the massacre, caused Governor Burnett to order
a military expedition to Yuma Crossing. It was one of the strangest
expeditions ever, and it ended in a farce.
Gen. Joseph C. Morehead of the California State Milita was placed in charge of
the "Gila Expedition." He issued orders to the sheriffs of Los Angeles
and San Diego counties to raise a militia of 60 and 20 men, respectively,
a figure later raised to a total of 100. The force was instructed
to proceed to Yuma Crossing to protect travelers, to punish the Yuma
Indians involved in the massacre, and to recover as much as possible
of the treasure of Glanton and Lincoln were supposed to have stashed
Marked with bungling from the start, Gen. Morehead was supplied with no funds,
but was ordered to take what he wanted, wherever he found it, and
to issue drafts on the state treasury in payment. The organization
was months in the forming, but finally 142 mounted men left San Diego
for Yuma Crossing. It was probably the best paid army in U.S. history
up to that time. Privates received $5 a day and rations. Corporals
received $6, sergeants $7, and lieutenants $10. Every man who furnished
his own horse received $1 a day extra. When Gen. Morehead and his
forces finally arrived at Yuma Crossing, the ferry again was in operation
by Americans. Morehead called for a parley with the chief of the Yumas
and informed him that he wanted $60,000 and 11 hostages. There was
no choice in the matter, Morehead said--it was either that or fight.
The Indians chose to fight, and obliged by doing so almost immediately, driving
the expedition into such a position that only the guns gof the ferrymen
saved it from being wiped out.
After the Yumas were brought under control, Gen. Morehead and his men settled
back to relax in months of idleness, their chief concern being the
consumption of their rations and the robbing of homeward-bound Mexicans
of their gold and guns. The Gila Expedition lasted four years and
cost a great deal of money, but not until it returned to California
was the full story of its mismanagement learned.
William Foster, Morehead's paymaster, was charged with paying claims that were illegal,
unjust and even non-existent--of paying claims twice, and of paying
claims for which there were no vouchers. All of this is revealed in
the 72-page report of the Gila Expedition in the California State
In the end, the Gila Expedition, which accomplished nothing, cost the state of
California $113,482.25, which was more money than was in the state
treasury at that time--$99,000 worth of bonds had to be issued to
meet the cost.
The state of California found none of Lincoln's nor of Glanton's treasure. Neither,
so far as it is known, has anyone else--unless it was found and never
reported, a circumstance which sometimes happen.
-- Tom Penfield