Legends of Lost Ships in the Desert began to percolate up through the desert sands almost the instant Spanish conquistadors and their ship-borne emissaries were shunted aside by the oncoming rush of other than Spanish European explorers, settlers, prospectors, et al, that began sniffing into and around the desert southwest in ever increasing numbers. Especially so, or at least lost ship wise, the environs associated with the Colorado River, it's basin, the Salton Sea, and the Gulf of California. As it is, lost ship legends from old continue to surface and carry as much deep seated interest for many right up to this day.
In 1540 AD, twenty years after the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez first landed in Mexico and militarily vanquished the region's powerful overlords known as the Aztecs, another Spanish conquistador, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, headed north out of Mexico City with a full expedition under his command in search of the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola.
At the same time Coronado marched north from Mexico City with hundreds and hundreds of armed men and horses, plus a 1000 Indian bearers, three ships left port on the Pacific side under the command of Hernando de Alarcon, loaded to the gills with additional stores and materials for Coronado's march. Alarcon sailed up the Sea of Cortez with all intentions of meeting up with Coronado --- without anybody of note fully realizing it wasn't likely to happen, not because the river was unnavigable in any way shape or form, but because the distance between the inland city or Cibola and the gulf continued to widen as Coronado's army marched north eastward.(see)
After his conquest of the Aztec empire Cortez fell out of favor with the crown, or at least the powerful higher ups between him and the crown. To satisfy his continuing demands and more-or-less get rid of him, and admittedly a little more complicated and lengthy, but simply put, Cortez was granted the exclusive rights to explore and exploit the lands on the Pacific side of Mexico and northward. His first expedition was launched June 30, 1532. Cortez sent Diego Hurtado de Mendoza to explore the islands and coasts of the Pacific Ocean, then known as the Sea of the South. The expedition ended in a shipwreck.
The second expedition left October 30, 1533 under the charge of Diego de Becerra and Hernando de Grijalva. De Becerra was killed during an uprising of his troops with the person who took over continuing the expedition. Under the new leader they arrived at an island they called Santa Cruz across the bay from present day La Paz with most of them being killed by natives with one ship escaping across the gulf to the mainland. Cortez himself led the third expedition leaving in April of 1535, setting his sights on settling, with the whole expedition ending in a total disaster.
Several years later, after returning to Mexico proper, Cortez dispatched Francisco de Ulloa to explore the northern coast of Mexico. Ulloa left with three ships on July 8, 1539 entering the Gulf of California six weeks later, naming it the “Sea of Cortez.” One ship was lost or destroyed in a storm and with the other two in need of repair Ulloa holed up, resuming the voyage on September 12, traveling up the Baja Peninsula western coastline as far as the Isla de Cedros.
During the upper portion of his trip around Isla de Cedros on the Baja Pacific west coast Ulloa sent back a document with maps, drawing, and information about what he had experienced. The information arrived just in time to help Hernando de Alarcon, who was departing with three ships as mentioned above, to re-supply Coronado by sailing up the Gulf of California then entering and navigating up the Colorado River if necessary. Sources differ about what happened after that. Some reports say Ulloa returned to Mexico, but stabbed to death. Other reports say his ship was lost without a trace during the return voyage, swept inland in the gulf by a huge tsunami, later becoming is said, the basis for most of the Lost Ship of the Desert legends. An Uncle Scrooge comic called "The Seven Cities of Cibola" (issue #7, September 1954) referring to the Lost Ship of the Desert and Ulloa and his lost ship says it best:
THE DESERT SHIP, SEASON 1, EPISODE 35. JULY 15, 1959
On July 15, 1959 in Season 1, Episode 35 of the Bat Masterson TV series, an episode titled "The Desert Ship" was presented. The following is written regarding that episode, as found at the source so cited:
"(It) has all the classic lost in the desert treasure cliches. A treasure map, in this case an engraved watch, from an unknown source that gets transferred back and forth between participants. Often the map is in two or more pieces with each party having to put parts together to find the treasure. In the Masterson case it's a watch with secret engravings. Good guys and bad guys with the bad guys usually following or trailing the owners of the map right up to the end or vice versa where the treasure is taken away only to lose it, usually falling out of the grasp of not only them, but both sides. A sand storm, flood, or earthquake or some such thing that covers up not only the treasure and all the landmarks and clues indicating where it is, but usually taking out those in the know by mysterious disappearing or ending up dead. Typically, in the end, nobody gets any significant amount of the treasure except maybe some small trinket or nugget proving it existed with both treasure and location returning to it's previous untouched status."
Desert Ships, Spanish Treasure, and Colorado River Floods
The following one-page illustrated story on the legend of desert ships was published in The Westerner, Issue No. 31, December 1950 seven months before the Bat Masterson episode aired. Although a lost treasure story, it is also a lost ship story as inferred by the title. However, as far as legends of lost ships are concerned take a look at the ending. A tad bit different than the usual Lost in the Desert ship story as found on the net, but perhaps not that unusual otherwise:
SHIP IN THE DESERT GENE AUTRY COMICS, JUNE 1951 ISSUE #52 ---------
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LOST SHIP OF THE DESERT UNCLE SCROOGE COMICS, SEPTEMBER 1954 ISSUE #7 --------
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DESERT SHIPS, SPANISH TREASURE, AND COLORADO RIVER FLOODS
LOST SHIP OF THE DESERT: DESERT MAGAZINE/USA TODAY
EARLY COLORADO RIVER STEAMBOAT LANDINGS
THE COLORADO RIVER: WAS IT NAVIGABLE?
SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE DESERT SANDS
VIKINGS OF THE DESERT SOUTHWEST
THE KENSINGTON STONE
THE CASE FOR NORSEMEN IN AMERICA
ON THE RAZOR'S
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