Corral Harbor, San Nicolas Island

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Corral Harbor, San Nicolas Island
Corral Harbor, San Nicolas Island

Corral Harbor, San Nicolas Island was claimed by Captain Martin Morse Kimberly (1826-1878) on October 1, 1858 when he filed a preemption claim in Santa Barbara County for 160 acres on San Nicolas Island in the vicinity of Corral Harbor.

House at Corral Harbor San Nicolas Island showing drifting sand. July 1897
Corral Harbor, San Nicolas Island, 1907
Coreopsis and lupines grow almost to the water’s edge on San Nicolas Island. c 1986



In the News~

November 13, 1889 [VV]: “…Near Corral Harbor is a fine spring of water, a little brackish, but palatable, springing up through a sandstone stratum… [Steven Bowers]”


1889: “Coral Harbor, located about three miles from the extreme western point, is reached by an opening in the rocks some twenty feet wide. The water in this opening is sufficiently deep to admit a schooner of twenty tons burden. Inside is a quiet little bay about sixty-five yards in diameter, now filling with sand drifting from the island; in a few years it will probably be entirely obliterated… Going westward from Coral Harbor, the rocks lose their angle of inclination, and become almost horizontal… East of Coral Harbor, about half a mile from the ocean, is an exposure of rock presenting a columnar structure… A thin stratum of comminuted or powdered shells occurs in the sandstone at Coral Harbor, but they cannot be easily identified.” [Bowers, Stephen San Nicolas Island (57-61) in 9th Annual Report of the State Mineralogist, 1890].


July 7, 1893 [SFCall]: “San Diego, July 6. The steam-schooner Jennie Griffin arrived this morning from San Nicolas Island. Captain Mullett and crew tell of strange and wonderful meteorological disturbances on the island. The schooner is engaged in the crawfish business for the Pacific Coast Fishing and Packing Company of this city, and a couple of weeks ago left a gang of eight men on San Nicolas to prosecute the work. The Jennie Griffin arrived there last Sunday to load the catch for this point, but received news instead which astounded the whole party, and caused Captain Mullett to take on the gang from shore and leave the island as quickly as he could. The men reported that the island had been visited by a tremendous gale of wind which raised the sea in the nature of a tidal wave, completely filling with sand the only harbor of the island, which is marked 'Coral Harbor' on the government charts. Captain Mullett was dumbfounded to find a stretch of sand where two weeks ago he rode at anchor in his schooner. A big crawfish car holding about five tons of fish, which was moored in the bay, was half-covered with sand and the fish were lost. The foreman on shore kept a logbook, which was seen by the [San Francisco] Call correspondent. In it is recorded everything occurring from the date of the arrival of the men until July 2. The weather for several days was most remarkable. Everything seemed to foretell disaster. Seabirds and other living things acted strangely. On June 26 at 11 A.M. a heavy earthquake was experienced on the island. The oscillation was from east to west, the shocks being of several seconds' duration. The Kanakas and one negro in a separate camp were scared almost to death and became almost crazy, running up and down in terror. The weather was then very foggy with stifling heat. A peculiar light covered the sea in spite of the fog, adding a weird aspect to the scene. So far as the men could tell the fog centered about the island. Next day a tremendous windstorm arose, causing great damage. No attempt was made by the men to work. All expected the island to sink in the sea at any moment. On June 27 at 8 A.M. another violent earthquake was experienced and the weather was heavy and [unreadable] over the island [unreadable] men observed [unreadable] a few yards of the breakers were a peculiar transparency of the [unreadable] for them to see for quite a distance, and Captain Mullett thinks the steamer's compasses were affected by the strange occurrences and the accompanying electrical disturbance. The Jennie Griffin was in the neighborhood in the fog and her two compasses would not work together while near the island. The men could not make out the name of the steamer, which finally stood away from the island. Still another distinct shock of earthquake was felt at noon on June 30, the vibrations being from east to west. This completed the demoralization of the camp, and the logbook says the men became howling savages. A remarkable incident connected with the phenomena is that crawfish and other fish died from some unknown cause, probably the electricity, as the men remembered afterward seeing lights on the water at night. When Jennie Griffin hove in sight the men waded out to meet the small boats, refusing to return to the island. Captain Mullett refused to believe their story, but was finally compelled to accept the foreman's word. All the men were taken on board the schooner, which hastily sailed away. San Nicolas is the most westerly of the group known as the Santa Barbara Islands and is about 150 miles from San Diego. Twenty-five years ago it was covered with grass, which afforded pasture for thousands of sheep, whose owner lived there in a fine residence. [??] A strange transformation has been going on since then. It is now a windy, barren, sandy waste, where but a few hundred sheep without a shepherd eke out a miserable existence. It is but eight miles ling and four wide, but wherever one digs can be found human bones and skulls. In the distant past it must have been rather densely populated or may have been the site of a burial ground or a battle field. Some fifty years ago the last inhabitant was found in the person of a woman. A Santa Barbara otter hunter named Nidever found her and took her to his home, where she died shortly after without being able to make anyone understand her language. She was found in a cave, subsisting on fish caught with hooks made of abalone shells. Her discovery caused considerable interest in the scientific world at the time.”


July 14, 1893 [SBDI]: “A few days ago the San Diego papers gave accounts of a disturbance of the elements at San Nicolas Island. Captain Mullett of the steamer, Jennie Griffin, was quoted as the authority for the statement, but nevertheless the story was given little credence. In the Los Angeles Herald the Captain says that every word of the report was true, and further states: ‘You ought to investigate this matter,’ said the energetic captain. ‘It will no doubt be investigated by the United States Government and scientists in time. Such an event is worth it. It was a tidal wave accompanied by earthquake shocks. The island is partially submerged, and that harbor is wiped out. It was filled up by sand rolling in.’ The captain appeared to be ready to take up the cudgels with anyone who disputes the accuracy of his account of the terrific disturbance on San Nicolas. He says he can be corroborated by thirteen or fourteen men who were there with them. The Jennie Griffen is in the service of a fish company and was at the island at the time of the disturbances for the purpose of getting crawfish for the San Francisco market.”


July 20, 1893 [SBDI]: “The schooner Jennie Griffin arrived in harbor yesterday in command of Captain Chase of San Diego, formerly of Santa Barbara. The Jennie Griffin is the boat in which Captain Mullett and party were on when they witnessed the eruptions, etc. on San Nicolas Island. Captain Mullett and his crew left the boat in San Diego and the Jennie Griffin is now being taken back to San Francisco by other parties. A well known captain of the city who has had years of experience among the islands has no faith in Mullett's story. He says that he has seen the harbor at San Nicolas Island fill up with sand in a remarkable short time, but it was not due to any eruptions of the earth's surface or any electric storms, but to heavy wind storms and the action of water. Captain Mullett and his crew probably saw such changes take place, and imagination added color to the facts.”


July 22, 1893 [LAT/SB]: “The Jennie Griffin, the schooner of Captain Mullett, is in the harbor. Some people here believe that the captain is a fantastic fabricator, and his stories about Earthquake Island [San Nicolas Island], etc. are baseless. It is reported that the captain has been relieved and another man will sail the Jennie Griffin in the future, but it is not known how true this may be.”


December 1, 1895 [NYT]: “On an isle of skulls once the home of a vigorous race of Indians. Filled with scientific treasures. The last survivor on the Channel Islands has now been dead over forty years… The only safe landing ground at San Nicolas is at Corral Harbor, a pretty cove formed by two sandstone arms thrust out from the main barrier of the shore. The entrance is only six or seven yards across, and the water within is as placid as a lake and sufficiently deep to float a vessel of twenty tons’ burden. On the bleak, silvery strip of beach, immense white pelicans are to be seen at almost any season in the year…Further up the slope of the beach there is a dilapidated shearing shed and a weather-worn shanty belonging to Chinese shell-gatherers who haunt these lonely cliffs during the later summer and fall…”


September 25, 1898 [LAST/SCat]: “San Diego party returned from San Nicolas Island… Landing in the surf was difficult and dangerous, and the party did not land at Corral Harbor, owing to the heavy sea. One man is living on the island with two dogs. The latter appeared bright and intelligent, but their master had not heard of the war and did not care whether school kept or not…”


March 27, 1900 [SBMP]: “A tale of suffering and death from San Nicolas Island. Piratical crawfish catchers appropriate the only provisions in an abalone hunter's camp... When the Dawn arrived off Corral Harbor there was no sign of life at the camp. The captain sent a skiff ashore, and in the old adobe house that the late Captain Kimberly built many years ago when he owned the island, were found two Chinamen, lying in their bunks, too weak to walk, and almost too exhausted to speak. But they weakly told of the theft of their provisions, how they had lived three months on abalone meat and what fish they could get, and how they had sickened though lack of proper nourishment. One of them had already died... The dead Chinaman's name was Ah King, a cousin of Ah Jim. The latter does not know what steps will be taken to prosecute the crawfish catchers who robbed the camp...”


July 1900 Blanche Trask noted: “There is an old house built of stones yet standing, half ‘snowed-in’ by sand, at Corral Harbor.” » Blanche Trask Dying San Nicolas in Land of Sunshine 12(2):99, July, 1900


October 13, 1901 [LAT]: “Island of mystery. San Nicolas — little of it known to world. An expedition from the University of California will soon explore the gruesome land that is spread over with skulls and jawbones of a lost race… The only safe landing ground at San Nicolas is at Corral Harbor, a pretty cove formed by two sandstone arms thrust out from the main barrier of the shore. The entrance is but six or seven yards across, and the water within is as placid as a lake… Henry G. Tinsley.”


September 28, 1911 [LAT/LB]: “C. B. Linton, who owns pearl and abalone concessions on San Nicolas and Santa Barbara islands, this morning purchased of Judge A. C. Lawson the launch Flyer, which he will use in transporting his shells to the mainland. Captain George Childs, formerly of the schooner Santa Rosa Island, will be in command.”July 21, 1912 [LAT]: “Cruising in the channel… The yawl Clipper, owned by Ben Weston, visited Santa Barbara Island and San Nicolas Island. The start was made from San Pedro breakwater… San Nicolas is a larger island than Santa Barbara, but only about one-third is good for anything. The rest of the island is composed of mountains of sandstone… The clipper arrived at the east end of the island early in the afternoon and ran into the anchorage that is found there… The place in mind was Corral Harbor, but all hands knew that they would never be able to get into the little pond. Corral Harbor, despite its large name, is only sixty feet in diameter and has a twenty foot entrance… The crew for the trip was Ben Weston, owner, Will Bloeser, Kenneth Cary and Paul Jeffers…”


1916: “While hunting for Indian curios in 1916, I discovered Sanger’s Cove. It was so good that the ranch houses and corrals were later moved from near Corral Harbor to this cove.” » Bruce Bryan San Nicolas Island, Treasure House of the Ancients in Art and Archaeology XXIX: 5 (215-223), May 1930.


March 7, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “The launch Cornell, Captain George Cornell made a record trip from this port to Corral Harbor, San Nicolas Island to bring back the Avalon party of curio hunters who left here November 16, 1915. The round trip was made in 22 hours and during which time over three tons of freight was loaded from the beach and taken out to the launch. Captain Cornell states that he has made the trip to the Channel Islands on many occasions, but he does not recollect any time previous where he was able to land on San Nicolas immediately [when] he arrived at Corral Harbor. The heavy Pacific swells dashing on the rugged coast of San Nicolas usually make landing on the beach very difficult. Several San Pedro old timers have drowned near the place where the curio hunters camped. The relic gatherers are bewhiskered, tanned, and show evidences of a hard winter. Mr. A. B. Chappell will give The Islander an account of the relics collected and which will appear next week.”


March 1927 Bruce Bryan notes, regarding a 1926 trip to San Nicolas Island: “…The first day on the island was spent in transporting our provisions to the shack, which is situated about two miles east of Corral Harbor on the north shore, where the single inhabitant of the island, a seventy-six year old sheep-herder lives. He invited us to stay with him for the duration of our trip, and accordingly we pitched our tent in back of his shack, and rigged up the seven-tube radio set which we took along in his dining room. We earned our keep by doing all the cooking and dishwashing, while the old man, Captain Nelson, read his Bible. In a day or so we were all calling him ‘Dad’…” [Collecting Indian Relics on a Desert Island in Los Angeles Museum, Museum Graphic 1:4 (145-150) March 1927].