Chinese on San Clemente Island

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CHINESE: SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND


In the News~

November 23, 1883 [LAT]: “A Chinaman who drowned at San Clemente Island last Saturday, was brought up from Wilmington, and after a coroner’s inquest was held, the body was buried from the undertaking establishment of Mr. Albert Brown. The Chinaman was with others, engaged in fishing on the island, and accompanied by his brother, on the fatal day were plying their vocation when their little boat was overturned and both thrown into the water. One regained the boat and was rescued. The other drowned.”


February 14, 1892 [SBMP]: “The schooner Ruby was at the wharf yesterday, discharging her cargo, which consisted of ten tons of abalones from the San Clemente Island consigned to some Chinese merchants of this place.”


March 14, 1892 [LAH]: “Was he murdered? Captain James Posey, who owns the schooner Lou, returned a few days ago, says the San Diego Sun, from a voyage to San Clemente Island. At the time he reported that he had seen a dead Chinaman on the island, but as another Chinaman was near the spot he concluded there was nothing unusual about the affair. It now transpires that there is a mystery surrounding the matter. Ah Gin and Lee Duc had been fishing together for several months. One day last week Lee returned from a fishing trip of long duration, alone. He was asked what had become of Ah Gin, and replied that he knew nothing about him. Soon after this Mr. Duc disappeared, and has not been seen in the city since. A reporter made inquiries in Chinatown last night and today, but no definite information could be obtained. The Chinamen all seem to know Ah Gin and Lee very well, but they won't say much regarding the disappearance of either. Captain Posey says that when he saw the dead Chinaman the body was lying on the rocks about a quarter of a mile from shore, and that he supposed the man had died of disease and was being got ready to bring back to San Diego or to be buried on the island. Two Portuguese fishermen who arrived yesterday report that they also ran across the body of a Chinaman, but that the birds and beasts had eaten the flesh off the bones until it was only by the clothing that the nationality could be established.”


May 3, 1892 [LAT/SB]: “The schooner Ruby left for San Clemente Island yesterday morning, taking down four Chinamen who will remain on the island for four months gathering abalones. The Ruby will bring a load of gravel from the island.”


July 12, 1892 [SBMP]: “The Union Mill & Company’s schooner, Ruby, has not been heard of for two weeks. It left San Clemente Island in charge of Captain Libbey and Cremon Meesia. They intended to bring back a load of Chinamen from the island, but the owners fear the government officials have seized the boat on suspicion.”


[1890] 1910: “Twenty years ago I landed at San Clemente Island and found that a clever old Chinese genius was carrying on a twofold business, making it pay both going and coming. The old Chinaman was a smuggler, but on the surface he was an abalone fisherman. He made his headquarters on San Clemente Island, a place rarely visited in winter. Some one who owned a little schooner brought Chinamen up the coast from Mexico and landed them at San Clemente — an easy thing to do when the Government had only one revenue cutter on the coast, and that up north all the time. As soon as the men were landed they began to collect abalones, and the day I stumbled on their camp they had hundreds piled up in heaps — shells and meat. Upon seeing me a number of men ran for a big tent. I ran after them, and when I reached the tent I threw open the fly. They were a demoralized lot of smugglers. I laughed, and that raised their spirits; they had taken me for a revenue officer. The abalone shells were shipped to Germany, the meat went to China. Every week, I fancy, a few Chinamen were sent over to the mainland in an old Junk that was always drifting up and down the channel. At night she would drift inshore; a boat would be sent into some convenient spot, the Chinese would land, and by the next day they would have walked the twenty miles to Los Angeles and were lost in the local Chinatown. The old junk would run into San Pedro in the morning, and her Chinese crew, with certificates, would land the crop of abalones, after which they would set sail again for San Clemente.” [Holder, Charles F. The Channel Islands of California 1910:356].


May 1, 1894 [SBDI]: “The sloop Restless, Captain Burtis, made the run from Santa Barbara to San Clemente Island, a distance of 145 miles, in 19 hours the other day; the Restless took a cargo of Chinamen to the island to hunt abalones. The sloop is expected back tonight.”


August 30, 1894 [SBDI]: “The sloop Restless arrived from San Clemente Island last night with a cargo of abalones and shells, being the catch of a party of Chinamen who have been at work there for some time past.”


September 17, 1895 [SanDU]: “...San Clemente [Island] is frequented by Chinese abalone fishermen from Santa Barbara and San Diego, and on the second night we came upon a camp of five Chinamen from San Diego, who treated us with great hospitality...”


January 2, 1896 [San Diego Union]: “The schooner Alta, Capt. Farwell, has returned from Clemente Island where a party of Chinese abalone fishermen was left.”


March 1, 1896 [LAT/SP]: “Collector John T. Gaffey, with some deputies and assistants, started yesterday on a cruise to San Clemente Island to look for contraband Chinamen. Before his departure, Mr. Gaffey swore all of the newspapers to secrecy, representing that his object might be foiled by premature publication, but the secret has leaked out… Mr. Gaffey suspects that Chinamen are being landed at San Clemente, whence they are brought to California shores in fishing boats, and he proposes to break up the traffic…”


March 1, 1896 [SFC]: “Los Angeles, February 29. Collector Gaffey, Deputy Harkness and Major Harry Patton left this morning on the steamer Hermosa for San Clemente Island on a hunt for smugglers. Collector Gaffey heard some days ago that an attempt would be made to land a number of smuggled Chinese and opium on the island from an Asiatic steamer. It was reported that a San Francisco yacht was hovering about the island waiting for a chance to take the coolies ashore. It was said that the yacht had a large crew on board, and some reports had it that a Maxim gun was seen glittering back of the rail. Gaffey’s force consisted of eight men, all well armed, for, as a matter of fact, the trip is not at all a joke. The success of the smugglers in landing their Chinese means a profit of upward of $100,000, as there are supposed to be about 100 coolies as well as a large amount of opium. Mr. Gaffey was informed that the San Francisco men were a determined lot, and he was warned to take no chances with them if they offered the least resistance. The expedition will, on arriving in Catalina, be transferred to Hancock Banning’s yacht, La Paloma, and will sail at once for San Clemente.”


March 4, 1896 [LAT]: “John T. Gaffey, the Collector of Port, is still over across the San Pedro channel hunting for a band of seventy-five unregistered Chinamen which is said to be at San Clemente awaiting a favorable opportunity to slip into the country. It is reported that there really is a party of Chinamen on San Clemente, but that the men are merely Santa Barbara fishermen...”


March 4, 1896 [SFC]: “Los Angeles, March 3. Fred Harkness, one of the party which left with Collector Gaffey for San Clemente Island in pursuit of opium smugglers, returned to this city this morning. He reports heavy seas between San Pedro and Catalina and San Clemente. He stated that it was impossible for a small boat to go from Catalina to San Clemente. Collector Gaffey and posse are still at Catalina, and will remain there until it is possible to get to San Clemente, or until they get definite information as to the number and character of the Chinese at San Clemente.”


March 5, 1896 [LAT]: “Weather too rough to capture Chinese smugglers. John T. Gaffey, Collector of the Port, returned yesterday from his attempt to reach, with his expedition, San Clemente Island, believed to be a point from which unregistered Chinamen have been landed on American soil…”


March 5, 1896 [LAH]: “The report from Los Angeles concerning secreting illicit Chinamen on San Clemente Island is not believed here. A party of Santa Barbara Chinamen has been on the island several weeks, gathering fish and shells. The schooner Restless is now on her regular trip to Clemente with provisions.”


March 9, 1896 [LAT]: “Unexplained presence of schooner at San Clemente. Reports indicating the presence of contraband Chinese on San Clemente, and perhaps on San Nicolas Island, also continue to be heard. From the captain of a boat which makes frequent trips about the islands and to San Pedro it has been learned that a four-masted schooner was seen about ten days ago in Smugglers’ Cove, which indents the coast line of the southeast end of San Clemente…”


March 11, 1896 [LAT/SB]: “Three Chinamen held by customs officers at San Pedro, suspected of being smuggled from San Clemente Island, are well known here, where they have resided twenty years, and been engaged a long time abalone gathering on Channel Islands. Their certificates are in the hands of an attorney.”


March 28, 1896 [MD]: “Three Chinese who are held by the Customs officers of San Pedro, suspected of being smuggled from San Clemente Island, are well known at Santa Barbara, and their certificates are there in the hands of an attorney.”


April 15, 1896 [LAT]: “Southern California has an interesting case concerning the deportation of a Chinaman. The wily Celestial lived in this section. He sailed to San Clemente Island in a fishing smack, and when attempting to return to these shores he was opposed by Uncle Sam’s officers on the grounds that he was a laborer who had left the country and was therefore debarred by law from again entering it. The claim is set up in defense that San Clemente Island is a part of Los Angeles County. On the other hand, when the Chinaman sailed beyond the three-mile coastline he was on the high seas and beyond Uncle Sam’s jurisdiction. The bewildered Chinaman wants to know where he’s at, anyway.”


September 9, 1896 [LAT/SD]: “The junk Acme has returned from San Clemente Island with Chinamen and abalone shells.”


September 17, 1896 [SanDU]: “San Clemente is frequented by Chinese abalone fishermen from Santa Barbara and San Diego, and on the second night we came upon a camp of five Chinamen from San Diego who treated us with great hospitality.”


December 9, 1897 [LAT/SD]: “The revenue-cutter [Thomas] Corwin returned to port this morning after a trip supposed to have been taken for the purpose of capturing some vessel or vessels engaged in smuggling Chinese into the State…”


December 31, 1897 [LAT/SCAT]: “The twenty-two ton schooner Minnie, which capsized in a squall early last week, compelling the captain and crew of two to row all day and all night to San Clemente Island, is the craft that the revenue cutter Corwin was in pursuit of the week before, suspecting that she was engaged in smuggling Chinamen from Mexico…”


November 13, 1898 [LAT/SCat]: “The little schooner Amy, Captain Jenkins of San Diego, dropped anchor in the bay late Thursday night, party laden with guano. When interviewed, the captain stated that he had put in here in distress, having lost his skiff and tools, and that on replacing them he would return to Clemente Island, where he had a gang of Chinamen gathering guano and would complete his cargo and return home…”


August 24, 1900 [LAH]: ”Santa Barbara, Aug. 23,—One of the two men arrested here a day or so ago, charged with stealing abalones from Chinese fishermen on Santa Cruz Island, was seen in the county jail this morning. He refused to admit his guilt of the theft, but when closely questioned said that he knew who the parties were who some time ago caused the death of a Chinaman on San Clemente Island by stealing his provisions. The man may yet be brought to the point of telling who these provision thieves were. If they can be located the most serious charges will be brought against them, as their victim perished of starvation.”


September 16, 1903 [LAT/SP]: “When the little powerboat Leone arrived from San Clemente Island Sunday evening, she had on board four Chinese fishermen, who were arrested on the island by Fish Commissioner Hall, charged with having taken lobsters under size. They will appear for trial in Justice Downing’s court tomorrow.”


September 17, 1903 [LAT/SP]: “In Justice Downing’s court this morning the four Chinamen charged with having fished lobsters under size, pleaded guilty and were fined $30 each, which they paid.”


September 20, 1903 [SBMP]: “Violations of State Fish law… Four Chinese fishermen were fined $30 each in Judge Downing’s court this afternoon for violation of the state fish law. These are men arrested by Deputy Fish Commissioners Hass and Morrison at San Clemente Island. Their fines were paid by their employer A. C. Tetzin of San Francisco, owner of the sloop Ethel…”


July 25, 1908 [LAT]: “Sensational charges of smuggling Chinamen into the United States from Mexico are made against Captain John Iverson of San Diego, master of the schooner Lou by Andrew B. Nelson, one of the crew. The sailor is at the Angelus Hospital, suffering from severe wounds, said to have been inflicted by the captain during a quarrel Thursday on board the schooner as she lay at anchor off San Clemente Island… Nelson said the Lou had been anchored for three weeks off San Clemente, awaiting the arrival of the Helen from Ensenada, with a load of Chinamen, who, it was said, were to be transshipped to the Lou and brought to the coast near San Pedro… According to a late report last night, the schooner was still at anchor in Mosquito Harbor, San Clemente, the master being unable to set sail. The launches Juanita, Captain Michaelis and San Toy, Captain Mathews, left Avalon for San Clemente at midnight, with officers on board…”


July 25, 1908 [LAH]: “Avalon, Catalina Island, July 24. Captain George Michaelis’ gasoline launch Juanita, shortly after midnight this morning, brought to Avalon Andrew B. Nelson, bleeding profusely from deep cuts inflicted with a razor. After two surgeons had sewed up the ghastly wounds and stayed the flow of blood, he was sent to the marine hospital at San Pedro for treatment. The man said he had been attacked while acting as crew aboard the schooner Lou of San Diego, and that her captain, Iverson, had wielded the razor with murderous intent. In consequence of alleged admissions by the victim to the effect that the boat’s business at San Clemente was seal catching, and, possibly, taking some Chinese to the mainland, the United States authorities have become interested in the case, as they have for some time been on the lookout for the leaders in the underground scheme by which Chinese are smuggled into the United States from Mexico…”


May 12, 1909 [SDET]: “That a large schooner, having aboard more than 200 Chinese to be smuggled into the country, is lying off San Clemente Island, about sixty miles north of this city, has been reported to the revenue officials. The vessel is said to be flying the British Union Jack, but a sail cloth has been swung across her stern to hide the name written there. R. S. Howland, one of the lessees of the island, is said to have reported the matter to the authorities. The vessel arrived off the island yesterday afternoon and a boat containing several English-speaking sailors, apparently Englishmen, put our for the shore. The inquired if they could lay in a supply of water at that place, but were informed that there was no water to be obtained. They then went back to the schooner, which lay at anchor in plain view of the island for several hours. It was seen that her decks swarmed with Asiatics, who were enjoying to the fullest the opportunity of breathing the fresh air after their long voyage under cover.”


May 16, 1909 [LAT/SP]: “The United States revenue cutter McCullough arrived this afternoon and anchored in the outer harbor. She left San Francisco Thursday and the cruise down the coast is supposed to have some connection with the report that a mysterious schooner, flying the British Union Jack, has been seen off San Clemente Island with a load of Chinese that might be smuggled inland…”


July 11, 1912 [LAT]: “In the arrest tonight of Ah Chuck and Lee Gip Sam, Immigration Inspectors Adolph R. Nielsen and Ralph Conklin of the southern Federal district with headquarters in Los Angeles, believe they have in custody the agents who were to dispose of the ten contraband Chinese seized on San Clemente Island as they were preparing to start northward on the launch Starlight. The arrest was made after the inspectors had caused the Chinese to believe that the inspectors were engaged in the smuggling affair and had been instructed by Ah Chuck with a letter to the coolies held aboard the vessel. William Gerald and Harry Lloyd, arrested at San Clemente Island, have been formally accused of conspiracy to smuggle Chinese as have Ah Chuck and Lee Gip Sam. Further arrests are promised by the immigration officials.”


July 25, 1912 [SFCall]: “Information was placed yesterday in the hands of the immigration officers here that another boatload of Chinese contrabands is hovering in Southern California waters awaiting an opportunity to land. The information was conveyed to the authorities by Captain Archie Paschall, master of the launch Panama, who has returned from San Clemente Island. When Paschall approached the island the launch immediately departed from its anchorage in Smugglers Cove, but not before the boat owner caught sight of seven or eight Chinese. He claims that the Mexican launch transfers the cargo to a sloop rigged yacht. The information is being verified by government officers.”


September 7, 1912 [LAT]: “Grand jury has smuggling case. Violation of immigration laws is charged. The Federal grand jury heard a half-dozen witnesses yesterday afternoon in the case of Billy Gerald and Harold Lloyd, charged with bringing aliens into the country… If Gerald and Lloyd are indicted, there will be twenty-two counts in the instrument, for that is the number of contraband Chinese captured by Inspector Miller and his assistants on the island of San Clemente, where it is alleged they were landed by Gerald and Lloyd…”


October 16, 1912 [LAT]: “Avalon. The Flyer, a fast powerboat out of San Pedro, and officers from the customs office who were aboard her, quietly dropped into Avalon Bay at 9 o’clock last night preparatory to a fast run to San Clemente Island for which place they left at 2 this morning. Among the meager information gained from two of the officers who came ashore last night would not warrant a positive statement, it is very evident, however, that the expedition is for the purpose of capturing smugglers of Chinese coolies who are supposed to be operating in the vicinity of San Clemente Island, apparently using the place as a relay base in transporting their cargoes of Chinamen from Mexican territory into the United States.”


October 19, 1912 [LAT/SCat]: “With their ships anchored in Smugglers’ Harbor, San Clemente Island, the officers and men of the torpedo destroyers Whipple, Stewart and Hull scoured the hills thoroughly last evening in search of a band of men reported to be smugglers… Almost as soon as the tenders struck the beach at Mosquito Harbor, on the east side of the island, Lieut. Metcalf of the U.S. destroyer Whipple, sprang from the boat and was soon lost in the hills. A number of men have been left on the island to look for any strange craft… It is claimed by the custom officers that a large amount of opium found in Southern California has been brought in first to San Clemente, then carried into mainland ports by small launches. It is also believed that many Chinamen have been brought through after they have been changed from Mexican boats to boats plying in northern waters.”