By David Kier
The subject of this story is an old time Baja California cowboy. He was first written about by none other than ‘Perry Mason’ creator, Erle Stanley Gardner. Jesus (pronounced “Hay-sus”) had a ranch about 25 miles south of Bahía de los Angeles called Los Paredones. It was many miles beyond any mapped road of the time. Erle Stanley Gardner was so fascinated by Jesus, he wrote a chapter about him in his 1962 adventure book, ‘The Hidden Heart of Baja’.
The story is that Jesus found an old mine whose entrance was walled up and then concealed by a landslide. Over time, maybe 200 years, the mine’s entrance wall was exposed from erosion. Because the area around Bahía de los Angeles was rich with gold discoveries in the late 1800’s, the idea of an older, Spanish mine seemed plausible.
Jesus did not have the means to open the mine, but instead tried to sell the location for a reasonable sum ($300 dollars, originally). Gardner was tempted, but postponed the transaction until a following trip. Alas, he could not locate Jesus Flores to purchase the directions, even though he learned the price had gone up! In Gardner’s 1967 book, ‘Off the Beaten Track in Baja’, he again mentions Jesus. The Gardner expedition of February, 1966 was making a road south of Bahía de los Angeles to El Barril. Near the ranch of Los Paredones, they saw Jesus again. Gardner wrote that he planned to
Jump forward to July, 2001:
On one of my expeditions to locate some mysterious walls, that may have been a lost or forgotten mission, I hired Jesus as a guide. Now, the really ‘epic’ part was I didn’t realize it was the famous cowboy of Erle Stanley Gardner’s books, almost 40 years earlier. Jesus was introduced to me as “Chuy”, an old rancher who spoke very little and very softly. Chuy led us to the Tinaja de Santa María, a historic water hole on the Golfo Camino Real.
A tinaja (“tee-nah-ha”) is a water source, usually a pool in the shadow of large boulders protected from evaporation. Sometime the water is below the surface of the sand or gravel, and requires digging to reach. This is known to desert buffs as a “coyote well” because coyotes will dig down to get a drink. That was how we found Tinaja de Santa María. And so did Arthur North who filled his canteens here in 1906. North wrote about the tinaja in his 1910 ‘Camp and Camino in Lower California’, calling it ‘Santa Marita’.
While it was an interesting trip that Chuy led us on, it wasn’t the mystery wall location I was seeking (which I found eight years later near Las Animas). Returning to Bahía de los Angeles that day, we stopped at the ghost town of Las Flores where I photographed Chuy ‘talking’ to some of the graves there… perhaps old friends?
Later, I would learn that Chuy was indeed the Jesus Flores of the 1962 Lost Spanish Mine story. I hoped to have more luck than did Erle Stanley Gardner, and find Jesus again on my next trip to the area. Thanks to ‘Doc’ Abraham, owner of Camp Gecko, I was alerted to Jesus riding by on his way south from Bahía de los Angeles. I had brought my copy of Gardner’s ‘The Hidden Heart of Baja’ in hopes to get Jesus to sign his picture in it. To have met, and then obtain the signature of such an interesting character was indeed my ‘gold mine’.
The beauty of Baja California travel adventures is not only the land, but the interesting people and their stories, too. Thank you Baja California for being such a fascinating place with so many interesting people!
Click to read more on Las Flores
Click to read more on the Mystery Walls
David Kier is a veteran Baja traveler and the co-author of 'The Old Missions of Baja and Alta California 1697-1834. Visit The Old Missions website.