Austrians on the California Channel Islands

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Austrian fishermen were involved in a number of conflicts around the Channel Islands in the early 20th century. In addition to clashs with Japanese fishermen, Austrians poaching privately owned stock on Santa Cruz Island were reported to be an ongoing problem. COnflicts escalated to violence in 1920.

October 29, 1920 the Santa Cruz Island superintendent reported:

“[We] were riding in the Potrero Norte when a purse seine boat, which I believe to be the Unity, put into Aguaje Escondido, landed four men [Austrian fishermen] who climbed the bluff, shot a sheep and then we opened fire from the top of the first slope above. They all ran for the edge of the cliff, but one man crumpled up before he reached the trail, lay a few seconds in the dirt, and then crawled over the edge and got away with the others in a boat. If we did not get him, we scared him into a faint.”



In the News~

September 26, 1891 [SBMP]: “Wrecked on Anacapa. A sloop from San Pedro cast away on the rocks. The schooner Santa Barbara, Captain Ellis, returned from Ventura via Anacapa Island on Thursday evening, bringing with her Captain Troop of the sloop Pearl of San Pedro which was wrecked on the island on Wednesday night, says the Santa Barbara Press. The Pearl left San Pedro for Anacapa Island to capture a few live seals, having on board Captain Troop, and a man and his wife whose names are not known, but who are supposed to be Austrians. The island was reached in safety, and on Wednesday night all hands were on shore. A heavy gale was blowing, and the Pearl got adrift, and was cast away on the rocks and totally destroyed. The party on the island were without provisions, and had to kill a sheep for food. They flew a flag of distress, which was seen by Captain Ellis, who was taking over a band of sealers from Ventura. The Austrian and his wife decided to remain on the island with the sealers from until they were taken back to Ventura, and Captain Troop ame on to Santa Barbara, where he still is. The Pearl was a sloop thirty-three feet long, and was owned by Captain Troop, and was the only property he owned. It was not insured, and the captain has lost all.”


October 24, 1915 [SBMP]: “Two Austrian fishermen who came up to Santa Cruz Island from San Pedro on the Little Tony, got started on experiences that may be going yet. At the island, they got the notion they wanted some fresh meat, and with a dog and armed only with clubs they started off searching for wild boar. They found one that weighed about 250 pounds and immediately tackled the animal. One of the men gave the boar a crack over the snout that partially dazed it, and the other Austrian piled on to the animal. The boar recuperated, but the Austrian was gored in the fleshy part of the left hand and with its tusk inflicting a bad wound in the leg. The men managed to escape the angered animal and the wounded man was given attention at the ranch house. They then started from home and near Redondo their craft went ashore and assistance had to be sent to them. As nothing more has been heard, it is supposed they escaped from their second predicament.”


June 27, 1917 [LAH]: “Six Austrian fishermen, who were arrested at Avalon, on Catalina Island for alleged illegal seining, were held by the authorities under suspicion as alien enemies. An investigation will be made to determine whether they have registered. Other alleged activities on their part were also investigated. When they were arrested five tons of deep-sea fish were confiscated, as well as a thousand-foot net, a revolver, two rifles and a long knife. Using this arsenal, it is charged the fishermen attempted to prevent their arrest by the officers.”


August 7, 1917 [LAH]: “To make test case of six fishermen. When the case of six Austrian fishermen, charged with violation of the fish and game laws, was called in Superior Judge Willis' court today it was announced that the matter would be made a test case to determine whether fishermen may use the waters close to the shores of Catalina Island.”


December 4, 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “A San Pedro boat said to be manned by Austrians, was reported at Johnson’s Cove Friday afternoon.”


May 21, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “Austrians accused of destroying fish. The first prosecution in Southern California under the Wood Act, passed by Congress on August 10, 1917, ‘to provide further for the national security and defense by encouraging production, conserving the supply and controlling the distribution of food products,’ was instituted Wednesday when a complaint was sworn out… charging four Austrian fishermen with willfully and feloniously destroying twenty tons of barracuda…”


July 28, 1920 [Red Bluff Daily News]: “Fishermen violating concession Catalina. Los Angeles, July 28. — Deputy sheriff's were sent today to waters off Catalina Island, following reports of alleged violation of fishing laws by Japanese and Austrian fishermen. The fishermen were said to have defied state game and fish warden Harrington. They were reported to be fishing within the three-mile limit and to be heavily armed.”


July 29, 1920 [Red Bluff Daily News]: “Fishermen to be arrested poaching limit. Avalon, Catalina Island, July 29. — Deputy United States Marshal Glover today was preparing to serve fifty or more warrants for the arrest of Japanese and Austrian fishermen for alleged poaching within the three-mile limit.”


August 4, 1920 [LAH]: “Fishermen battle. Vessel blown up. San Diego, August 4.— The police today expressed the belief that ill feeling among the Japanese an Italian and Austrian fishermen operating off the Southern California coast, has led to a sea battle in which the Japanese fishing schooner Yomato was blown up or sunk and her entire crew slain. Bits of wreckage from the Yomato were found today. Recently four bodies were washed ashore. How many lives were lost is unknown.”


August 7, 1920 [LAH]: “Hunt Austrians as Jap boat wrecks. Nets on Japanese fishing craft were tucked in lockers today and the smacks themselves idled back and forth in zig-zag courses over the fishing lanes while the expressionless faces of their owners searched the sea for sight of certain Austrian boats, wanted in connection with the sinking of the Jap boat Itzumato. Government patrol boats are plying over fishing banks in Southern California waters on the same mission, trying to find the craft and its crew believed to be responsible for the ramming of the Itzumato and the probable murder of its crew. Working to end the feud prevailing for weeks between Japanese and Austrian fishermen, Fish and Game Warden Paul Anderson, on board the patrol boat Albacore, came on the wrecked Itzumato off Catalina Island last night. Coincident with the report of the finding of the Itzumato, it was reported in San Diego by American fishermen that the crew of a wrecked Japanese boat had been picked up by an Italian fishing craft. Word of the Phrone Rose, an Austrian boat, has not been received for the past 10 days and authorities are now confident that this boat has meet the same fate as the other, being sunk with her crew on board. The fishing boat Wanderer of San Pedro, abandoned by her crew because of a broken propeller shaft, is now believed to be a derelict at sea, according to the latest reports. With the finding of the wrecked Itzumato, four boats are now missing in Southern California waters, only one of which has been fully accounted for. Besides the Wanderer and Phrone Rose, a Japanese boat named Yamato disappeared last month and is believed to have been swallowed up by the sea and hew crew murdered in the Jap-Austrian warfare.”