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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 Treasure, Inc.

Ferrying, robbery and murder paid well at Yuma Crossing. Much of the ill-gotten loot was buried--and never found!

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 Walker's Dragoons.

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 a fortune.

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 same manner.

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 a mystery.

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 away.

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 Archives.

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