Chinetti (c. 1845-c. 1919) [Chennetti], San Clemente Island occupant for many years. He lived in a shack on the south west side of the island. Buster Hyder found him dead in his shack.
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.”
1910 Charles Frederick Holder wrote: “[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."
"Pleasure? ah, there is lots of pleasure if you are alone; it is to have a contented mind, eh? After the work I take my dog and my colt and we go down on the beach and run races; they like it. In the afternoon I take a ride over the range to see if the sheep are all right, then I cook my supper; and my friends, the wild foxes, come around. In? Sure. First they came only near the house and cried; then they came to the door; now they come in and take bits of meat from my hands. Fine little animals." On the wall hung an olive bottle filled with what I supposed to be gin or gasoline, so clear and crystal - like was it. I asked him what it was. "Why, water," he replied. "I hang him there, he 's so beautiful." A bottle of clear, pure water! Who but Chinetti would have thought of using it as a picture? A bottle of water! I began to see that my companion was a poet. "And what do you do after dinner?" I asked. "Oh," replied Chinetti, "I go out sometime and look at the stars and listen to the wind and sea. You hear him?" We both listened, and the strange weird roar was like the deep notes of an organ, the requiem of the sea; it shook the very house.
"You like the sea, eh?" "Yes," I repeated. "I like it, and I see how you make company out of it." "It not always good," laughed Chinetti. Then he told me how he was nearly wrecked here, and finally blown away to San Diego. And I told him of a cyclone I hammered out once in a full-rigged ship when we expected to have to cut away the masts.
"Then," said Chinetti, "I play my guitar to the foxes, yes, and then, before I turn in, I read my books. Yes, look at the pictures and laugh. It's a good thing to laugh, senor." I agreed with Chinetti on this; also, that there is music and companionship in the surf, and that a bottle of water makes a very good picture. Then Chinetti took out his library, and we pulled up to the table. There were two large volumes; one was the bound history of one "Willie Westinghouse Smith"; the other, the life and adventures of a colored gentleman who was continually applying for a position with the remark, "I seen yo' ad in the paper." There were pictures which had appeared in lurid colors in some Eastern Sunday paper, and which constituted the delight and perennial joy of Chinetti, who began to laugh at the very sight of the book, roared as I opened it, and laughed himself almost into hysterics as I read the lines. Then I began to laugh at Chinetti 's pleasure, and forgot that I had been nearly twelve hours in the saddle; forgot that I was away out on the end of a lava bed, nearly a hundred miles from anywhere; forgot that my friends were down in the alfalfa, and laughed with Chinetti at the laughter of the dark person in the book. At times Chinetti would look behind him at the open door and jerk his thumb at it, and say "Foxes laugh too."
This free public library of San Clemente is not much to look at, but I doubt if any collection in the country affords more delight to its patrons than does the two-or-three-volume library of Chinetti. Previous to this I confess I never could exactly see the value of such works of art, but I am a convert. They make joyous the life of a man cast in one of the most desolate and barren of regions. My compliments, and apologies, to the authors of "Willie Westinghouse Smith" and his colored colleague.
At last Chinetti laughed out. All night I heard the cry of his foxes up the canon, and I could fancy, as he said, they were laughing too. In the morning our host took us up a canon, which we named after Chinetti (the raven), a crack in the lava worth going to see, as a marvellous and weird freak of nature. I believe at no point is it over eight or ten feet wide, as far as we went, yet so deep that the sky above, when we could see it, appeared like a blue river. It wound about reaching upward, and everywhere its walls were perforated with weird caves of large size, drooping from which were masses of the snake cactus (Cereus Emoryi), which fell down in clusters like gigantic green serpents. One could well imagine that some Medusa lay sleeping in the cave, with sea-green hair unfolding and writhing over the edge. So wholly unnatural was this cave, that one could not shake off the impression that it was a part of some weird scene in a play. When we came out into the sunlight again Chinetti was loading our saddles on the pack horses, and later took them down to the landing, a lava-flow that reached out into the sea. Mexican Joe, one of the best surfmen in California, was lying off with the launch, and came in, riding the surf with his skiff, to take us off. For an interval of ten minutes the landing was safe, and the men were rushed down, and with flying leaps made for the boat. As I reached her I saw a big roller coming in followed by others, and when we boarded the launch our landing had disappeared from sight under a smoking mass of foam, the big seas making a clear breach over it...
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.