Dead Man’s Island, San Pedro Harbor

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Dead Man’s Island, San Pedro Harbor (El Moro; Isla de los Muertos) was a landmark piece of land located at the entrance to the Los Angeles harbor channel. At least ten people are known to have been buried on Dead Man’s Island, some long before California statehood in 1850. Despite the island’s historical significance, it stood as an obstruction to the improvements of the harbor and was destroyed.

USE ALDEN VIEW! Double eagle Russian? Plaque found.


In the News~

February 16, 1887 [LAT]: “…The coast and bottom in this locality are further described in the Coast Pilot of California, the standard nautical authority published by the government… round Point Fermin within half a mile, in from six to ten fathoms, and open the small island called El Moro [Dead Man’s island]; run for that island, and when abreast of the landing, about one mile north of Point Fermin, anchor in three fathoms, hard bottom, and half a mile offshore…”


March 13, 1901 [LAT/SP]: “The lighthouse tender, Madroño, is operating offshore preparing the new light beacons north and south of Dead Man’s Island for service.”


August 24, 1907 [LAT]: “John C. Wray, deputy Fish and Game warden, this morning caused the arrest of Lewis Rugard, steward of the steam schooner Cascade, charging him with having twenty-two pounds of crawfish in his possession, caught out of season. Rugard claimed to have purchased the fish from local fishermen, and was not aware of the existence of the law. He was fined the nominal amount of $10 with the understanding that he would make an attempt to find the fisherman who sold him the crawfish. Deputy Wray states that within the past ten days he has destroyed fifteen crawfish traps located between Dead Man’s Island and Portuguese Bend, that have been taking the product unlawfully… Wray has made arrangements to patrol the coastline and Channel Islands for offenders.”


March 1, 1914 [LAT]: “Dead Man’s Island comprises, or ‘Isla de los Muertos,’ comprises about half an acre of ground and appears like a pile of sandy soil in the ocean when viewed from the mainland, but many islands of far greater dimensions are of less value to history or to science. Historically it is identfied with the taking of the capital of California, at that time the Pueblo de Los Angeles, and scientifically it has a national reputation on account of its fossil shells. At one time it was possible to wade in the low lands water from the town of San Pedro to the island, but the building of the inner harbor between these two places has brought on a stretch of water that can only be spanned by a skiff or boat… The island got its name from the fact that a sailor who died on a vessel trading on the coast was buried on the island… There have been ten persons in all buried on the island — nine men and one woman — namely: The lost sailor; the English sea captain; five of Mervine’s crew; two passengers on a Panama ship in 1851; and the last, a Mrs. Parker in 1855. Mrs. Parker was the wife of Captain Parker of the schooner Laura Bevan… When the government dredger began operations for widening the channel of the inner harbor the large steel crane dug open the graves, and as the tumbling earth fell down the sides, occasionally the sight of a skeleton or a wooden box was uncovered. These were removed to a more suitable place…”


September 22, 1914 [LAT]: “Dead Man’s Island is of the past. Reservation Point is the new name bestowed by the government upon the historic old rock pile at the mouth of the inner harbor…”


September 12, 1919 [LAT]: “Los Angeles Harbor… The last survey of the harbor was made five years ago at which time Col. C. H. McKinstry, then in charge of the engineer’s office, recommended a number of projects, most of which have already been provided for. Two of the most important projects recommended by Col. McKinstry were not carried out as Congress failed to make the necessary appropriation. One of these is the reclamation of Dead Man’s Island as a site for a permanent immigration station…”


October 2, 1921 [LAT]: “…The shaded areas at Reservation Point or Dead Man’s Island, is the proposed site of the permanent United States immigration station…”


November 4, 1923 [LAT]: “Naming Dead Man’s Isle… The first interment on Dead Man’s Island is said to be that of Chief Black Hawk, the last male survivor of the San Nicolas Island Indians…”


May 25, 1926 [LAT]: “…The government must first build bulkheads and jetties to accommodate the earth when Dean Man’s Island is moved from its present location…”


October 7, 1927 [LAT]: “…By the removal of Dean Man’s Island the entire length of the main channel will have a width of 1000 feet. The earth moved will be deposited east of the island, reclaiming approximately sixty-two acres for the government as a future site for immigration and quarantine stations and the like…”


February 5, 1928 [LAT]: “Dead Man’s Isle near to passing. Dead Man’s Island in Los Angeles, off the end of the Terminal Island industrial district — isle of romance made famous by Richard Dana’s classic Two Years Before the Mast—soon is to be a memory. It has become an obstruction to the growing maritime commerce of Los Angeles, and the United States government is spending approximately $1,150 to have it removed… Dead Man’s Island, according to Dana’s narrative… received its name during the early days of Spanish pioneering in California. A brutal sea captain whose ship was anchored near the island, loading hides — then principal product of the state, died from a mysteriously administered dose of poison. His body was hurried to the island and buried there.


March 30, 1928 [LAT]: “Dead Man’s Isle gives up its dead. Dead Man’s Island yesterday proved that its legends of dead men were more than mere myths. A suction dredge engaged in removing the famous promontory, unearthed three skeletons, each contained in a redwood coffin. Origin of the remains could not be determined. Although patches of hair still clung to one skull and bits of leather were found with another, the great preservative qualities of redwood might have kept them in that condition for many years. First authenticated burial on Dean Man’s Island occurred in 1849, when several members of the crew of the British brig Boxer, which put into San Pedro after a siege of disease, were buried on its slopes. Almost a score of seamen and others have been buried on the island since…”


May 27, 1928 [LAT]: “Lost Isles of San Pedro… Although the island bore no name until about 1810, when some fishermen happened to find on its shore the body of an unknown white man, who had apparently reached the island alive, but had been unable, possibly through weakness, to cross the wide channel which then separated it from the mainland. And here he had perished, from hunger, thirst and exposure, as no one then dwelt along these shores.Who this mysterious white stranger was—where he came from — or how he got to this small barren peak of an islet, no man knew; nor has the mystery ever been solved. Howbelt, the pious California fisherman buried this white stranger on the top of this isle, to which thereafter they gave the name of La Isla del Muerto. This was later Americanized into Dead Man’s Island… It was on this historic Dead Man’s Isle that the first joint celebration of Fourth of July by both native Californians and Americans was held, on July 4, 1853…”


January 2, 1929 [LAT]: “Dead Man’s Island, so named for the deaths here at various times of a sailor, a sea rover, an Indian, six naval men, a ship passenger and a woman, is a low mud bank at the east edge of the mouth of the main channel. It is being dredged away to form a rectangular plot there for customs and immigration offices.”


May 26, 1929 [LAT]: “The last vestiges of Dean Man’s Island, for centuries a landmark at the port’s entrance, were wiped out yesterday in a submarine blast which shattered the last ledge of rocks on the channel bottom. The $1,137,000 contract for removal of Dead Man’s Island and construction of a new sixty-two acre island beyond the 1000-foot channel line with the material, on which the San Francisco Bridge Company has been engaged since November 29, 1927, will thus be completed on the 30th inst… Removal of Dead Man’s Island gives the port a main channel of full 1000-foot width and a depth of 35 feet, the bottle-neck entrance having been eliminated thereby…”