Mentone’s Gazebo Gazette
The Buried Treasure of Mentone
Have you heard the legend?
First, I should lay a little background foundation for the story…
Years ago there used to be a saw mill up in Mill Creek Canyon near where Forest Home is now. The original mill works, machinery, and all, came from Maine, along with some of the original lumber. The mill was built by the Mormons in 1849. The Mormons operated it for three years before Brigham Young called all of them home and the mill was abandoned.
But during the three years of operation, some of the lumber produced was used to build the old mission in San Bernardino. The exact location of the mill was not discovered until after the flood of 1862. There also was a stone quarry in Mill Creek canyon as well. In fact, the stones used for the building of the San Bernardino Court House came from the Mentone stone quarry.
Mill Creek was much bigger than it is today, and it was a great fishing resource. When the Zanja was built it diverted much of the water away.
It’s interesting that Mill Creek canyon was covered with pine trees until the flood washed most of them away. It rained for forty days and nights (Biblical to say the least!). The whole San Bernardino Valley was under water. Houses were swept away, and everything was carried downstream. One observer stated that he saw a hay-stack sailing downstream with a big pig standing on top of it (Maybe this was the first “surfer”).
Prior to the flood, Santa Ana Canyon was filled with beautiful groves and meadows along each side of the river. The flood left it piled up with sand and boulders.
Many Indian relics and artifacts were unearthed by the flood and folks gathered them up. Marian Cram Jones and the family had quite a few of them. When she passed, they were donated to the San Bernardino County Museum.
The Piute Indians would venture into the San Bernardino Valley from the Mojave Desert and often the white settlers paid the price with their lives. This was around 1850-1865. The Cahuilla Indians who lived in this area were peaceful and many of them were also slain by the Piutes.
It was the mission fathers who used the Cahuilla Indians to originally dig the Zanja. The Greenspot area was originally called “The Bench”. The “Bench” or “high land” between Mill Creek and Santa ana River is now known as “Greenspot”. It received its name because the area was swampy, and willow trees grew everywhere. The willow trees grew in “spots” that made them visible to the naked eye from miles away, and they made up the original “green spots”.
On one such Piute venture into the San Bernardino Valley, they attacked the mission between San Bernardino and Redlands. The Spanish priests gathered up all of the valuable artifacts which included gold vessels, coins, and various other treasures, and fled with them up into the Mill Creek area and buried them in soft clay. Over the years, however, the clay hardened into rock. When the priests made their way back to the Mission, they were slain by the Indians. The legend says that one priest fled towards the San Diego Mission but was killed before he left the valley. The other priest fled towards the Mojave Desert but was slain before he got half- way up the mountains.
No one knew where the priests buried the treasure, except an Indian that accompanied the two priests. The Indian later confessed that the priests buried it up on the “Bench” but he could not recall exactly where. Whether or not he later bought a condo in Laguna is unknown.
Well, that’s one story….but there’s another:
Some say a new priest came to the Mission and he stole all the treasure, and with the aid of two Indians as guides, made his way to the Bench, where he buried it. The legend then says that he killed the two guides so they wouldn’t disclose the exact location. But he didn’t get far before an Indian war party captured him, and before they killed him, he confessed that he had buried the treasure in the Greenspot area (apparently they understood English). Do the Piutes have their own Casino?
Well, no one left a map, but that hasn’t stopped many a folk (who believe in the legend) to dig for the treasure. Many a prospector has spent many years, equipped with metal detectors and such to find the buried gold, but no one, as of yet, has been successful. So maybe you, dear reader, will be the one to find it.
Around the year 1884, Greenspot was settled by a colony of German immigrants. They planted peaches, apricots, and other deciduous fruits. They watered their trees with water that they carried in buckets from Mill Creek. Later, orange trees were also planted.
A school house was built in 1893. It was located half- way between Mill Creek and the Santa Ana Canyon.
Prior to a road being built, the only way up to the bench was by horseback or walking.
The first real road to the area was built in the early 1900’s, and remained a dirt road until the 1920’s. It was originally paved only up to Barton Flats.
Many nationalities have contributed to the area growth since the early years. Among the most notable are the Portuguese people. They first gathered in this area in 191, along the Santa Ana Canyon area.
In 1921 they began celebrating a Fiesta in honor of Queen Isabella of Portugal. Queen Isabella was a saintly woman who fed the poor and hungry. The Portuguese people still gather in May for the celebration of the Feast in her honor, which coincides with the Feast of Pentecost. They originally celebrated the Fiesta along the banks of the Santa Ana River but moved it alongside the Zanja in Mentone in open fields. The land was very primitive but it was a joyful and happy gathering.
In 1922, the Portuguese people bought the property on Crafton Avenue in Mentone which is now called The Portuguese American Club. The building had previously been a grocery store and the original Crafton post office.
In May of 1923, they instituted their first charter for the Club and included Portuguese folk from the surrounding areas. Many of them had originally migrated to this area as early as 1889. The Portuguese people have contributed to this area in farming, dairy, agriculture, orange groves, etc. They have shared their love of the land in producing, growing, charitability, and are a very proud people. We have been blessed by their presence.
So whether or not you believe the legend, a lot of folks do. If the treasure has not already been uprooted (either by an over-eager Indian, years ago) or by a lucky prospector over the last 100 years or so…it still might be up there, just waiting for the right person to come along.
On the other hand, it may be buried under Mill Creek Road, covered over by twelve inches of asphalt. In any case, it’s a colorful story. Kind of goes along with the other colorful stories of our little community.
By the way, many a gold prospector mined the Crafton Hills during the 1800’s. Along with the gold, there was a Mentone Opal Mining Company which was located in the mountains just a few miles up the road from the present Ranger Station.
One of their discoveries was “the Mentone Opal” which was a beautiful stone, unlike any other opal. Be proud Mentonites! You live in a great and colorful area.