ESPINOSA, José Juan

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ESPINOSA, José Juan (1844-1926) was the second son of Clemente Espinoza (1814-1888) and Maria Teresa de la Luz Ruiz (1821-1870). “El Viejo” [Sp. old one], worked for the Santa Cruz Island company for more than 60 years. At one point he had a run in with a superintendent and was let go. El Viejo did not know his age, but he said he had been born a subject of Mexico in Santa Barbara [pre 1848], and had seen Fremont raise the first American flag in town. He claimed to have known the infamous Mexican bandit, Joaquin Murrieta, and he had driven cattle from Los Angeles to San Francisco many times.

Clifford McElrath described El Viejo: “José was about medium size, slender and wiry, was fast and definite in all his movements. He had good aquiline features, showing his Spanish blood, but his Indian blood showed in his black eyes and many of his personal characteristics. He was an artist with a riata, a fine rider, and knew cattle. He also had a keen sense of historical values.”

Helen Caire described him: “José Espinosa was the kingpin of vaqueros. Though being a Barbareño, José spoke English fluently. As a young man, José was handsome and clever. Not a living soul could pull the wool over Old José’s black, piercing eyes; hawk eyes that could sight anything in line of vision, seemingly no matter how far. He had such a knowledge of medicinal herbs that all the paisanos had unquestioned faith in his skill at healing. Sometime he would bring in wildflowers from the hills and present them to my mother and aunts with a deep bow and flourish. Elegant and gracious, José could also lash a man when aroused. The island perhaps never had a more ruthless and hard working mayordomo than this lone wolf. He kept aloof from the other vaqueros and spoke in a friendly way to only a few.” [1993:86-88].

The 1901 Santa Barbara Directory lists José Espinosa as foreman of Santa Cruz Island with a home address of 220 Palm Ave., Santa Barbara.

Joe Espinosa died on February 10, 1926 at age 82 of an ulceration of the stomach. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery [Section C Block 8 Grave 22] next to his (second) wife, Laurine Carrillo Espinosa.

He left at least three surviving children:

  • Mary Espinosa Lugo
  • Mercedes Espinosa Ward (1895-1974) [m. Richard Ward]
Ethel Ward (1915-1976)
Katherine Ward (b. c. 1918)
Joseph Ward (b. c. 1920)
Dorothy Ward (b. c. 1924)
Ray Ward (b. c. 1933)
  • Charles Anthony Espinosa, (1900-1977) who also worked on Santa Cruz Island.



In the News~

June 22, 1872 [SBT]: “Eloped. Jose Espinosa, the gay Lothario with a nice wife and two or three children, infatuated with an innocent girl of some sixteen years, and encamped with her, leaving his wife and babies to the cold charities and rebuffs of an unsympathizing world. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but unfortunately he was not to be found.”


June 14, 1877 [SBDP]: “José Espinosa, with three vaqueros, lassoed a large grizzly bear last week, about thirty miles from here, over the mountains. In securing him the bear’s foreleg was broken. He was killed and brought to this market. The same party started this morning to capture a large grizzly that frequents a certain locality beyond the mountains. If successful, Mr. Espinosa intends to bring the bear in alive, and procure a large wild bull from Santa Cruz Island and have an old fashioned bull and bear fight on the 4th of July.”


c. 1879: “I became interested in hunting seals and sea otter, and also in gathering abalone shells on the Channel Islands. For these purposes I purchased first the schooner, Surprise, and later two schooners, Keturah and N. B.. George and Jake Nidever, Manuel Cordero, Antonio Cavarillo [Cavalleri], Jose Espinosa, and Charles Brown were employed by me on these boats. Some of the seals were shipped east for exhibition purposes. Others were killed, the hides sold to be converted into leather, the oil used for various purposes, and the trimmings going to Chinamen...” (Rogers, Eugene Frederick Merchandising Memoirs'', unpub. Ms.)


August 6, 1884 [SBDI]: “José Espinosa, who was accidentally shot at Santa Cruz Island some time ago, and at the time thought to be fatally injured, has so far recovered as to be out on the street.”


May 31, 1888 [SBDI]: “Santa Cruz. Santa Barbara’s bold mariners visit the islands… Alex. More, the owner of the sloop Brisk was hunted up and he informed the anxious gentlemen that he would take them over that night at 9 o’clock. A bargain was made on the spot… On board the sloop was the genial Captain José Espinosa, who proved himself an expert in everything pertaining to a cruise and camp life… There was an unusually heavy swell on, but not a breath of wind, and that little sloop stood first on her head, then sat down. They she would lay on one side, and after trying that for a while would roll over on the other… to be continued.”


June 1, 1888 [SBDI]: “Santa Cruz. Further particulars of the celebrated expedition… Puerto de la Papa was made for. This beautiful name translated into every day English means Potato Harbor… The sloop [Brisk] dropped anchor at about 5 o’clock Sunday afternoon in the small cove at the right, and the bold mariners tumbled into a small skiff and were rowed ashore… Captain Espinosa undertook to beach the skiff at the foot of the bay where the waves were highest… Under the captain’s skillful management the little skiff rode the huge breakers like a swan, and came in safe and sound. Preparations were made immediately for supper… Drift wood was gathered from the beach and it was not long before all were crowded around a hot fire, watching with eager eyes the movements of the Captain as he dexterously broiled strips of beef over the fire… A bed of periwinkles was discovered, and those roasted in their own juices, made a dish to tempt an epicure… to be continued”


June 2, 1888 [SBDI]: “Santa Cruz. Return of the venturesome voyagers… Early in the morning after a good night’s rest, preparations were made for starting home… It was about this time that Captain Espinosa came near to losing his temper for once. He had tramped over the rocks to the spring about 300 yards away, and filled a demijohn and a tin pail with fresh water for the return voyage. He brought the water back and placed it on the beach near the other goods. Frank Blake, who had been hunting crawfish and relics to take home with him, spied the pail of water and proceeded to wash his hands in it. Espinosa threw up his hands despair, and the rest of the crowd pounced upon poor Frank with blood in their eyes. His life was spared however, by his agreeing to go after some more water… Leaving Puerto de la Papa [Potato Harbor], the Brisk sailed along the coast toward the west end of the island…”


April 12, 1891 [SBMP]: “Live seals captured at Santa Cruz Island for Rogers Brothers. José Espinosa and party returned yesterday in the sloop Liberty with six live seals captured by them at Santa Cruz Island for Rogers Brothers. The seals were shipped yesterday afternoon on the steamer Santa Cruz for San Francisco, from which port they will be expressed to New York for exhibition in the parks, etc. They are valued at $100 each. The mode of capturing seals is quite novel. The hunters succeeded in getting between the seals and the water when they are lassoed and caged.”


December 25, 1893 [SBDI]: “The schooner San Mateo left yesterday for Santa Cruz Island for another catch of seals to go in the Midwinter Amphibia. Ramon Vasquez and Joe Espinosa are aboard with a party of hunters. The latter will be left on the island while the San Mateo goes south for an overhauling and repainting. It will probably be two weeks before she returns to this port.”


June 19, 1894 [SBMP]: “José Espinosa was brought over from Santa Cruz Island this morning badly wounded by a gun shot. He has been engaged in seal hunting for Mr. Hazard; while getting into a boat day before yesterday... As soon as shot, the wounded man had the presence of mind to tie a cord around his arm to prevent his bleeding to death. He then beckoned for one of the boats out in the channel to come to him, and when it arrived he was taken to Prisoners' Harbor where Mr. Blanchard, the superintendent of the island, rendered the wounded man all the assistance in his power. During all the time, just 48 hours since he was first wounded until he arrived home, his sufferings were almost unendurable. (» Blanchard file)


June 10, 1901 [SBDI]: “Herbert A. Rogers is now negotiating with the directors of the Pan-American Exposition for space at the exposition for a small amphibia, to which he will take several seals from the Channel Islands and train them for exhibition. Mr. Rogers has had much experience in catching and training seals, having been in the business with E. F. Rogers for over 20 years. During the last year his men have captured 45 animals about the islands, which have been shipped to various cities of the east and abroad. New York, New Orleans, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Hamburg, Germany, have seals from the channel waters. Mr. Rogers is now preparing an expedition that will go to the islands soon after 15 large seals for the exposition, if his request for space is granted. The art of capturing the queer amphibious animals is known only to a few. One must be unusually quick and must be very handy with the lasso. Ramon Vasquez, Colice Vasquez, José Espinosa, José Olivos and Hiram Pierce are all experts. It is dangerous as well as difficult work to get them, as they are very vicious and only haunt the roughest shores, where the deep caves are.”


February 10, 1926 [SBMP]: “Aged vaquero of island range ill. C. Espinosa, old time vaquero of Santa Cruz Island, arrived on the schooner Santa Cruz yesterday, in answer to the call of his brother Joe, 83, one of the oldest vaqueros of the island, who is critically ill in the home of his daughter in Santa Barbara. Joe Espinosa has been an active rider on the island for sixty years. About eight months ago his health failed him, and he left the island.”


February 11, 1926 [SBMP]: “José Espinosa, 82, vaquero of Santa Cruz Island dies. José Juan Espinosa, 82 years old, one of the oldest natives of Santa Barbara, died yesterday in the home of his daughter, Mrs. Richard Ward, 1211 Liberty Street. A year ago Mr. Espinosa was an active vaquero on Santa Cruz Island, where he began work as a youth nearly 70 years ago. His father before him worked on the island. Both became foremen. A brother, Cuate Espinosa, remains on the island to perpetuate the two generations of family service. Cuate Espinosa arrived on the mainland Tuesday, a few hours before the death of his aged brother. Mr. Espinosa was twice married and is said by old-timers to have reared a family of 20 children. Only two daughters and a son survive. They are Mrs. Richard Ward, Mrs. Leo Lugo and Charles A. Espinosa, all of Santa Barbara. There are also two brothers, Cuate Espinosa and José del Carmen Espinosa, and a sister, Lola Espinosa. The Espinosa family at one time lived in the old Santa Barbara Presidio.”