DAVIS, Charles E. (1877-1933), born in Massachusetts, he was “the son of wealthy parents. Servants took care of his every need, and he was expected to follow a gentlemanly career. Described as close to seven feet tall with a baritone voice, he shocked his family by signing on as an ordinary seaman with Sol Jacob's Atlantic fishing fleet. By the time he was eighteen, he had won the rating of captain, and he used that title for the rest of his live. When the fishing industry went into a decline, Captain Davis wandered went in search of adventure.
The Alaska gold stampede of 1898 took him to the Klondike. Evidently he was not particularly lucky, for he returned to the states, going first to Texas, and losing everything except his life in a disastrous flood at Galveston in 1900. In 1905 he was back at his old campsite on the volcanic butte where he had first camped in 1898, idway between Yuma and San Jacinto Peak. His nephew, Walter Davis, said, "Uncle Charles had just gotten nicely located and was recovering from the effects of the Galveston flood when the Colorado River decided to leave its banks and flood the Salton Sink." [Laflin, P. The Salton Sea. California's overlooked Treasure (1995)]
Captain Davis settled on Mullett's Island, a volcanic butte at the Salton Sea, where he opened Hell's Kitchen Cafe, Dance Hall and Boat Landing. He once tried to populate the Salton Sea with captured sea lions and also bought a large San Pedro fishing barge and trucked it to the inland sea to make it a showboat attraction—but it sank.
On 08/08/1913 Captain Davis complained of a “sea-elephant swindle” and on 08/29/1913 he returned from Guadalupe Island and reported the slaughter of the entire herd of elephant seals. (Los Angeles Times, 08/08/1913; 08/30/1913);
1913: Davis' expedition from San Pedro to Guadalupe Island to film sea elephants ended with the film stock being seized by San Pedro customs and the entire herd being wiped out by hunters before the film crew could return and attempt a capture; N.C. Parkhurst’s Ocean-to-Ocean Motion Picture Company 1st left San Pedro on 06/14/1913 to film the south coast islands for 2 weeks on the fast motorboat O. D.; on 07/14/1913 they left again for Guadalupe Island (Los Angeles Times, 06/14/1913; 07/13/1913);
1914: Documentary movie The Capture of a Sea Elephant and Hunting Wild Game in the South Pacific Islands (IMDb; TCM; AFI) is released (July 1914 according to TCM); filming locations included Point Fermin Park, San Pedro harbor, Santa Catalina Island and the South Pacific; produced and distributed by Albert Blinkhorn, of Blinkhorn's Natural History Travels; film traces voyage through the South Pacific tracking the path of the almost extinct sea elephant; team captured and brought back several smaller specimens—which apparently perplexed customs officials in San Pedro who didn’t know how to classify them under the new Underwood tariff law (Los Angeles Times, 10/08/1913; 11/06/1914);
- 1919 Gordon, P. R. Filming the Sea Elephant Wild World Magazine 43(258):485-491 October, 1919.
- How the author was led to invest money and take part in an expedition to secure moving pictures of the sea elephant. Although luck favored them and striking films were secured, the investors in the enterprise failed to reap the promised reward. "The story is true in all details," writhes the Author, "though for obvious reasons the names given are fictitious."
- [original in SCIF archives]
- Article re: Capt. Charles Davis
- [original in SCIF archives]
- 2009. Bush, Diane. Thaw: A Memoir. Utah State University unpublished Masters thesis with biographical information about Capt. Charles Davis.
In the News~
November 11, 1910 [SBDNI]: “Ira Eaton, of the launch Sea Wolf, is said to have been stopped by a German cruiser, while going from Santa Cruz Island to San Pedro. He says the war boat bought from him 900 pounds of smelt at a good price. Eaton reported the affair at San Pedro, where Captain Charles Davis, formerly humane officer here, is now located. Davis has a sea elephant on exhibition at Venice.”
June 14, 1913 [LAT]: “Reel Sailors. Film crew is now on high seas. Ocean-to-Ocean Company is seal hunting. Fast motorboat is being sailed among islands of south coast and moving picture men expect to get great natural history feature scenes. Eight members of the Ocean-to-Ocean Motion Picture Company left San Pedro at an early hour this morning on a two weeks' cruise in the fast motorboat O. D., among the islands of the south coast. Two cameras and 5000 feet of film were taken on the cruise. The reels to be made are educational features and natural history subjects. On the Santa Barbara Islands pictures are to be made of the sea lions. After a few days on the Santa Barbaras the party is to visit the north end of San Miguel, which is said to be the only place where the Stella [sic] seals are to be found on the south coast. Scenes are to be made showing the habits of the sea lions and seals. Special attention is to be given to scenes showing the young. From San Miguel the O. D. is to run over to Santa Cruz, where the great pelican rookeries are located. As this is the nesting season some rare pictures should be made on this island. N.K. Parkhurst, manager of the Ocean-to-Ocean concern, expects to return and work three cameras on the Panama-Pacific road race, July Fourth, and then return to San Miguel and try to capture some Stella [sic] seals for the Panama-Pacific Exposition Commission. These Stella [sic] seals are said to weigh 2000 pounds and more, and are rarely ever captured. Charles Davis, who was at one time well known as a game warden, is on board the O. D., and should be of great assistance to the manager of the motion picture company. He knows the islands thoroughly as he has been in the lighthouse service and has spent much time among the islands of the south coast. The O. D. was selected for this cruise on account of her speed. She is forty-two feet long with a six-foot beam, and is claimed to be the fastest craft of the kind on the Pacific Coast.”
July 13, 1913 [LAT]: “Daring. Sea elephants are rare game. Motion pictures of animals now almost extinct. Ocean-to-Ocean Motion Picture Company off for Guadalupe Island in peculiar outing which may mean rare specimens of sea denizens of which little is known. Equipped for a sea hunt that may mean rare motion pictures never before exhibited, the N.C. Parkhurst Ocean-to-Ocean Motion Picture Company will leave tomorrow for Guadalupe Island in Lower California. The goal of the expedition is the home of a colony of sea elephants in the outer waters of the island. Specimens of the sea elephant are to be captured and brought back to Los Angeles for exhibition purposes. The yacht Nora of San Pedro has been chartered and Capt. Charles E. Davis will be in charge. Several local sports will take the trip and enjoy some of the thrills with the "movies." Fishing and hunting will be enjoyed on this unique vacation trip. The island of Guadalupe is seldom disturbed by hunters and the cavalcade of sportsmen will invade the recesses of "No Man's Land." The company is prepared to remain three weeks on the island. Dramatic scenes will be depicted in this country so seldom visited by man. The first pictures ever made of the sea elephants, animals now almost extinct, should be of especial interest. About 5000 feet of film will be made under the personal supervision of Parkhurst. This elephant home is the only one in the world known to science. Government charts of the sea and of the islands near where the elephants are found are now in the possession of Parkhurst. These charts were made by government engineers who have recently returned from the San Miguel Islands, where a search was made for the body of the explorer Cabrillo. Sea lions and other animals will also be photographed and a graflex machine will be used to advantage. Snap shots will be made, if possible, of the shy animals as they dart about in the clear waters. The habits of these animals can be studied from the pictures and it is expected that much will be learned from the observations of the men in charge of the expedition.”
July 14, 1913 [SF Chronicle]: “Sea elephant sought on Desert Island. Moving picture company's agents leave Los Angeles for the coast of Mexico. Los Angeles, July 13.—An organized hunt for a sea elephant, a species of giant walrus and a creature rarely if ever taken captive, will be staged on Guadalupe Island, a mountainous and little-known uninhabited desert island off the west coast of Mexico. The hunt will be conducted by an expedition of twenty men sent out by a motion picture company under command of N. K. Parkhurst. Captain Charles E. Davis, an expert on matters pertaining to fish and game and formerly in the employ of the government, will personally direct the hunt. The expedition will leave San Pedro tomorrow morning on the schooner Nora and will return in two weeks.”
July 19, 1913 [LAT]: “After sea elephant pictures. The launch Nora left Wednesday night for Guadalupe Island, which is said to shelter the last herd of sea elephants existence. She took a moving picture concern which will endeavor to secure pictures of the herd as well as features. Newspaper correspondents swelled the party to eighteen. The trip will take two weeks.”
July 30, 1913 [San Pedro News Pilot]: “Launch Nora seized by Customs officials. Sea Elephant Expedition ends in confiscation of Al Hyder's craft upon return from Guadalupe Island. Seizure by the United States customs officials of the launch Nora, Capt. Al Hyder, at San Pedro Sunday, marked the return of the Ocean to Ocean Motion Picture Co. expedition to Guadalupe Island, off the west coast of Mexico, where the first moving pictures of sea elephants, an almost extinct species of giant seal, were obtained. The Nora was seized on the allegation that she had put into San Pedro last Wednesday after she had cruised to Guadalupe Island, and after lying in the harbor a few hours had again out out to sea without taking out clearance papers. N. K. Parkhurst, manager of the moving picture company who commanded the expedition, declared that there had been no intention to violate the law. He stated that the Nora had put into San Pedro harbor because of the ill health of several of those on board. The expedition was remarkably successful in the taking of pictures of sea elephants. These immense animals are found only on the shores of Guadalupe Island, which is one of the least frequented spots in the world. They pass past of their time swimming close in toward the shore and part of it in basking on the sands. The grown sea elephants are from fifteen to twenty feet long and their weight is estimated at from 2000 to 4000 pounds. Mrs. Hyder accompanied the party and is probably the first American woman to see the elephants.”
August 30, 1913 [LAT]: “Sea Elephant species is all but wiped out. Charles E. Davis, naturalist and soldier of fortune, returned yesterday from Guadalupe, a large island off the coast of Mexico, bringing with him a story of the slaughter of practically all of the sea elephants this side of Mars. Guadalupe, otherwise uninhabited, is the stamping ground of these pachyderms of the sea; the only place in the world, in fact, where they are to be found, according to Davis. He says that upon a previous visit about six weeks ago 200 of the animals were there and that this time all but sixteen have been killed. He thinks their hides have been smuggled into the United States, and laid his charge and evidence before Collector of Customs Pendleton yesterday afternoon for an investigation. The sea elephant is a very rare animal, a sort of a connecting link between the days of mermaids and the beginning of evolution, and Davis declares that the killing of so many means the practical extermination of the species. In his opinion the reports of his previous trips to the island induced hunters to visit the place immediately to realize commercially upon the hides. Museums all over the country he says, will pay good prices for them. The sea elephant is docile and no trouble is experienced in getting close enough to photograph whole families of them, and a family takes up some considerable room and runs into weight alarmingly, for each grown specimen weighs from four to seven tons. Davis says they are supposedly protected by the laws of Mexico, to which country the island belongs. The sea elephant is reputed to be among our oldest inhabitants, often living 400 years [?], which makes his violent and sudden taking-off particularly pathetic. Eons ago he was "at home" all along the Pacific Coast as far north as the Arctic Circle. He is not carnivorous nor "fish-destroying," and the few in captivity like peanuts. In the party with Davis making the 300-mile journey down the coast in a gasoline launch were "Si" Lewis, Capt. Henry Short, Raymond Short of Santa Barbara, Peter Gordon and Henry Vallejo of Los Angeles, Edward Gaylor of Santa Monica, and Stanley H. Clawson of Salt Lake City, all of whom, Davis says, will corroborate his findings. He charges further that the hides have been illegally brought into the States through the ports of San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and that there are some, even now, at the latter place awaiting disposition.”
September 7, 1913 [LAT]:
September 27, 1913 [San Pedro News-Pilot]: “Santa Barbara launch seized by custom officials released. According to recent reports from Santa Barbara, Capt. Harry S. Short has been absolved in the case growing out of the recent trip to Guadalupe Island. Captain Short was recently married and started south in the Charm on his honeymoon. Arriving at San Pedro customs officials seized the boat, the contention being the law had not been complied with. Mrs. Short yesterday informed Santa Barbara friends that nothing had come of the case and that it had been dropped. The Charm has been tied up at the plant of the San Pedro Ship Building and Transportation Co at Terminal while Capt. and Mrs. Short are enjoying the southland. They are preparing for another trip to Guadalupe Island in search of live specimens of sea elephants to be exhibited at Venice. Charles E. Davis will accompany them. Davis, who has been making a determined flight against the threatened extermination of the seals on the Channel Islands, claims in an interview in the Examiner that his life has been threatened.”
October 7, 1913 [San Pedro Daily News]: “Sea elephant brought in. With what is said to be the only sea elephant in captivity in an immense crate on the after deck, the launch Nora this afternoon came in from some strenuous experiences at Guadalupe Island. The bull cub elephant captured is about ten feet long and weighs about a ton, is brown in color, and covered with coarse hair. He has big brown eyes and has ot yet become accustomed to the society of humans, as he roars his displeasure whenever approached. The capture was made last Saturday. A lasso was thrown over it and then began a fight to subdue it, which lasted six hours. Wickersham states that he saw at least 150, old and young, and that the old ones were 25 to 30 feet long.”
Condor. November 1913: “Note on the Guadalupe Caracara.—During the past summer Captain Charles E. Davis, of Los Angeles, has made several trips to Guadalupe Island, off the coast of Lower California, for the purpose of taking moving pictures of the sea elephants found around the island, and also to capture alive some of the younger animals. In a conversation with writer he made a statement which seems of sufficient interest to repeat. Hearing that the island had been visited by two men who had killed several of the sea elephants, which he had been at some pains to protect, he at once hastened to the spot to ascertain the amount of the damage. On landing on the beach where the killing had been done, he found the place reeking of decomposed remains of five or six of the animals. He had already remarked to me upon the noticeable scarcity of birds along the shore of the island, as compared with the abundance of water birds elsewhere, but he further stated that as he landed he described as apparently crosses between an eagle and a turkey buzzard. This remark coming from a man ignorant of a caracara, without prompting from myself, and not dwelt upon by him afterward, is at least suggestive of the possible persistence up to the present time of the supposedly extinct Guadalupe Caracara (Polyborus lutosus). —H. S. SWARTH p. 228. ”