CATS ON SANTA BARBARA ISLAND
Cats on Santa Barbara Island:
Buster Hyder lived on Santa Barbara Island with Alvin Hyder and his family after the turn of the century. Cleve Hyder was described by his nephew Buster Hyder: “My uncle Cleve lived in a little house down below us [on Santa Barbara Island], about half-way up from the Landing Cove. It was just one big room—the bedroom and kitchen was together. He was over here mostly for lobster fishin’. Just Cleve and Margaret, his wife, lived here. They never had any children. Cleve was the youngest of the litter of twelve kids. All Missourians. He was quite a guy. My Aunt Margaret taught school—taught us kids school there… Cleve had tanks around his house to catch his water. He caught it off all the roofs. In the wintertime he had trouble with the water comin’ down around his house because it was built in a gully. He used to have a great big ditch for runoff. You can still see a rock pile where his house was. He had a clothes line right across the gully, and one time, my dad and I came down one day, and Cleve had two rabbits hangin’ on the line that he had skinned. My dad jumped on him and says, ‘I don’t mind you getting’ one rabbit, but you got two of ‘em. What are you goin’ to do with the other?’ Cleve says, ‘Just take a look. They ain’t two rabbits there. It’s only one.’ So I remember my dad says, ‘What—do you think I’m crazy?’ One of ‘em was a cat. And you can’t tell a cat from a rabbit when it’s hangin’ on the line skinned. My uncle, he ate the cat, too. He ate it.” [Daily, Marla, ed. Santa Barbara Island. Santa Cruz Island Foundation Occasional Paper #6, 1993]
“…They carried two by fours, them big eagles. When we got to the nest, it was made out of driftwood, ol’ seaweed, and there was a lot of rabbit bones in there and cat bones. Everything they caught. Lot of fish—the nose of the fish where the eagles couldn’t eat it — the little babies…” [Buster Hyder interview, 1986, by Marla Daily]
In the News~
June 28, 1863 [J. G. Cooper]: “As before remarked there is no water on Santa Barbara Island except in winter, yet sheep thrive there probably supplied by the moisture deposited by fogs and by eating succulent plants. Even a cat has lived there for four years alone, subsisting on birds and multitudes of mice…” [Report of Explorations of the Islands off the Southern Coast of California, 1863, unpub. manuscript].
July 26, 1892 [LAT/SB]: “The Ruby returned Saturday morning with a cargo of abalones from Santa Barbara Island. Captain Stevens verifies the statements recently published in the Examiner concerning the large number of the feline tribe which live upon this island and which so closely resemble the ordinary domestic cat.”
February 1958: “...Al [Hyder] told me about one of his experiences on this island that may bear repeating. It was said that a schooner was wrecked here many years ago and that several cats aboard had escaped to the island where they multiplied until they were quite a colony. They ate everything in sight and then began to eat one another, until finally the fishermen thought they were all gone. This was almost, but not quite true. Those cats had become smart. They would not show themselves in the day time, but would hide in small caves and crevices, only coming out at night. Thinking like the others, that the cats were gone, Al built a house, the cement cisterns and then brought several hundred rabbits from the mainland to raise for the market. He turned them loose to feed on the vegetation, expecting to catch them as needed. Everything went fine for about three weeks. Then he noticed that the small bunnies were disappearing, until one evening when he was out looking around, he saw a large wild-tame cat grab a small rabbit and carry it off to the cliffs. Poor Al tried every way he could think of to exterminate those cats. He tried shooting, poison, traps and enticements, but they were too crafty for him. They killed all the baby rabbits, then began killing the older ones. Al could see nothing but ruination; so he caught the remaining rabbits, crated them and returned to the mainland, a much wiser man about habits of cats. The last three times I visited the island this island I hunted for some evidence of the cats, but either they have really disappeared or they were too crafty for me as well as for Al...” Sanger, Arthur. Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands Sea. Western Yachting and Boating 50(2):83-83, 94-97, February 1958]