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By process of elimination, therefore, it had to be the Santo Cristo de Burgos.
Within that almost-certainty lies a fascinating story that we’ll never fully know: The wreck of the ship may have been essentially caused by the Spanish officials in Manila. When it left Manila in 1693, the Santo Cristo de Burgos was actually making its second try at crossing the Pacific. The previous year it had tried to make the crossing, but was dismasted in a sudden storm. After limping back to Manila, the ship’s officers found themselves in hot water with the local authorities, who promptly got busy trying to find someone to pin the blame on. The ship’s builder was accused of messing up the mast steps; the rigger, of not connecting the ropes right. Finally the authorities settled for charging the galleon’s skipper, Don Bernardo Iñiguez del Bayo, with negligence, and demanding a large payment from him.
To avoid paying this, del Bayo cast off in the middle of the night (metaphorically speaking, although a literal midnight departure does seem likely) leaving a large amount of food and other supplies behind, along with 30 sailors (out of a full complement in the 110-120 range, including gunners but not including cabin boys). It certainly can’t be assumed that this short-staffing situation caused the wreck; but, given that those 30 sailors represented about 25 percent of the crew, it’s certainly a strong possibility. It’s also very likely that, if the Santo Cristo de Burgos had gotten into serious trouble as it had the previous time, turning back would not even be considered as an option.
Nehalem Bay wasn’t on the galleons’ regular trade route; the Santo Cristo de Burgos would not have come to the north Oregon coast on purpose. In their Oregon Historical Quarterly article on the wreck site, Beeswax Project investigators Scott Williams, Curt Peterson, Mitch Marken and Richard Rogers write that most likely the ship was disabled in a storm and drifted before the wind, wallowing in the trough of the sea, until it fetched up on Nehalem Spit.
SO: WHAT ABOUT treasure? One of the more appealing parts of the San Francisco Xavier hypothesis was the large amount of personal wealth that was being transported on that ship. But that doesn’t seem to have been the case with the Santo Cristo de Burgos. Researchers Cameron La Follette, Douglas Duer, and Esther Gonzales dug into the actual records of the old Spanish colonial empire looking for the answers. There, they were able to learn most of it; and it appears that, in addition to the beeswax, the vast majority of the cargo was textiles and fabrics: silks and cottons. There was a fair amount of carved ivory, and quite a bit of elemental mercury that was to be used in the silver mines of New Spain; but, alas, no chests full of doubloons and pieces of eight.
The full report on the beeswax wreck, of course, includes lots more information than can be laid out here. To learn more about the wreck, and the galleon traffic between Mexico and the Philippines that it was a part of, you should grab a copy of the Summer 2018 issue of Oregon Historical Quarterly.
But the bottom line on the whole thing is, the identity of the mysterious beeswax ship is now solved, with more than 99 percent certainty. And the next time you stumble across a little chunk of wax on the beach after a winter storm, you’ll know you’re holding in your hand a piece of history nearly a century older than the United States of America itself.