CHINETTI

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Chinetti (c. 1845-c. 1919 ) [Chennetti]

In an oral history interview with Buster Hyder on August 1, 1986, he described Chinetti: “To me he looked like he might be half Spanish or maybe half Mexican. I wasn’t sure. He was a guy about 5’ 10”—a very jolly sort of fellow. I met him about a year before we found him dead. I took him to the island when he went to work for Mr. Blair. He always stayed on the east end. He would get on his horse and come up every two weeks to this camp—ride up—and get supplies, see the fellows and visit, and go back on down to Red Rock [Chinetti Canyon]. At that time there was a little house, a little corral and a windmill sticking up. So the last time he went to the beach [town] he stayed about three days and I brought him back. He was drunker than $700. and he used to call me ‘Busso’ all the time when he got drunk. He had his arms around me when I walked up the pier with him, and that was the last time I ever saw him alive. The next time I went and got him as a skeleton. He was a watchman on the east end to keep the fishermen off. That’s what he did. He was down there with his horse and he had a little dog—a little tiny dog. He had his horse saddled, had his lunch in a paper bag tied to the saddle, and the horse was in the corral. It had plenty to eat and drink. So, he didn’t show up. They let a whole week go, and they thought there was something wrong. The foreman—he was kind of a sissy sort of a guy—kind of timid. He rode down there and he got there just after it got dark, and figured he was going to stay all night. Well, as he goes into the door, the bed was over here and in the corner there was a little shelf where there was a lantern. So he lit it and he looked down, and boy, he rode all night long clear back up to the ranch to Gallagher’s. Well, they send word over with a fisherman for me to make a pine coffin and go down there and get him. So I go down there, me and this other fellow, Louie Ross, who was with me. So we go down there figuring we were going to find a lot of—it didn’t sound very good to go get him. When we got there, that building was nothing but green flies all over the whole side of the house. We go in there, and here he is. He’s laying in the bed—a little bed in the corner. It had two army blankets. He’s laying there kind of crossways and one leg was hanging over the bed. He had a red t-shirt on with a pair of woolen underwear below. The foot that was hanging over—the bottom of his feet—the calluses on his toes had hit the floor and it looked like the mice had started eating on some of it. Anyway, I thought, heck, man! Here we had just carried that coffin out there. He wasn’t heavy, and so we just took him right from the bed like that and off we went. Put it all in the dory and took him out there and just stuck him in the coffin after we got there. Took him to 5th Street in San Pedro and the coroners were there and they took him away. That was the last I saw of old Chinetti. That was about 1919.”

1907. “…A few more climbs, a few more drops, a sand-dune, a beach or two, and the cavalcade ascended a mesa and was at Chinetti’s ranch. Chinetti himself came out to greet us and bid us welcome. Here we uncinched the saddles, led the horses down to the corrals, and then watched Chinetti prepare a meal for four men he had not expected. San Clemente is a great sheep ranch, eighteen miles long as the raven flies. The Chinetti ranch includes about ten miles of the most God-forsaken country I have ever seen… Chinetti lived alone in a little shanty, which was that rare a thing for a Mexican herder, immaculate. The shanty was just large enough for a stove, a table, a bed, and some chairs. This man did not see a human being perhaps once a month. He did not leave the island but once or twice a year, and then but for a few days. He could not read or write, but he had the virtue of neatness. The ground for yards about the cabin was swept as clean as if it were a floor; the bed had a covering of white…”

1910 “[San Clemente Island] ...From here for eight or ten miles the country grew more difficult, wilder, with more lava, but at last we came out on a mesa, beyond which through the dusk we could see a long line of beating sea, gleaming in silvery phosphorescence, and away inland a light. How the horses found the way is a problem, but we had kept up the regular Mexican fox-trot since eight in the morning, and it was now seven-thirty. A few more climbs, a few more drops, a sand dune, a beach or two, and the cavalcade ascended a mesa and was at Chinetti's ranch. Chinetti himself came out to greet us and bid us welcome. Here we uncinched the saddles, led the horses down to the corrals, and then watched Chinetti prepare a meal for four men he had not expected. San Clemente is a great sheep ranch, eighteen miles long as the raven flies. The Chinetti ranch includes about ten miles of the most God-forsaken country I have ever seen, and I know the Mohave Desert in various parts, — have ridden over it when the thermometer indicated 130 degrees in the shade, when it would have taken a sixth son of a sixth son to discover shade — not to speak of the drier and arid portions of Arizona and Mexico. Chinetti lived alone in a little shanty which was that rare thing for a Mexican herder, immaculate. The shanty was just large enough for a stove, a table, a bed, and some chairs. This man did not see a human being perhaps once a month. He did not leave the island but once or twice a year, and then for but a few days. He could not read or write, but he had the virtue of neatness, which covers a multitude of sins. The ground for yards about the cabin was swept as clean as if it were a floor; the bed had a covering of white, and over it hung in graceful folds an American flag made from a woman's dresses, which someone had given him. Later, when the rest of our cavalcade had turned in, in the hay at the corral, after Chinetti had cleaned up, I sat down with him and asked if he was every lonely. 'Lonely?' repeated the vaquero. 'No, indeed. Why listen, señor.' The sea was pounding on the long sandy beach with a deep and ominous roar that had never ceased since time began. 'Sometime,' he said, 'he shake the house; he talk, he growl, he get mad. Then my home — ' he continued, looking around, 'I sweep, I cook, take care of things, I look out for the sheep all day; they come in from five or six miles every morning to drink. I watch them; take care of the stock.'

Smugglers’ Cove near Cape Paez, which I named after one of the officers of Cabrillo, is the port of Chinetti’s station or ranch, and lies under Mount Cortez (Pyramid Head). For about two and a half miles west on the south shore a long sandy beach extends from the east end. Midway there is a sunken rock over which the sea shows. Chinetti’s house is seen, up from the beach, and the landing anchorage lies about a mile north — close under the cliffs in water forty or fifty feet deep. At Christmas, in 1907, Mr. [Gifford] Pinchot gave Chinetti a fine American flag to take the place of the pathetic one he had made of pieces of dresses; and in 1908, when the yacht rounded to, up went the big flag, and it will doubtless greet all comers. Also from Washington at this time came the latest editions of those remarkable books which constitute the only library on the island…” [Holder, C. F. Channel Islands of California, 1910, p. 136; 147.]


October 1942 [USNIP]: “…The other hidden treasure on San Clemente Island was left by Chennetti, who worked for Mr. Holland in the early eighties. Mr. Chennetti received $40 per month in gold and buried his wages somewhere in the vicinity of Pyramid Cove; he worked for Mr. Holland for many years and never went to town. He could neither read nor write and had no relatives. Mr. Chennetti was found dead at Red Canyon by Mr. Holland and he took his secret hiding place where he had buried his savings with him. Treasure hunters have often dug about Pyramid Cove for his small fortune, but to date the gold is still there…” » Flynn, S. E. The History of San Clemente Island in U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings 68(476):1417-1426 October 1942.