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Horses on Santa Rosa Island
Photo by Marla Daily

Horses have been a part of the cultural landscape of the Channel Islands since the mid 19th century. They are first recorded as having been introduced to Santa Cruz Island in 1830. Horses today are found only on Santa Rosa and Santa Catalina islands.

April 6, 1896 [SBDN]: “…The Philadelphia had hardly cast anchor before the Restless swung to within the kelp. She was loaded with horses from the islands, and the visitors on the beach were treated to quite an amusing spectacle as the horses, one by one, were made to jump into the surf and swim ashore. The work was done quite systematically and no trouble whatever was experienced in getting the horses to terra firma.”

Horses: San Clemente Island

December 22, 1878 [NYT]: “The Lebanon (Penn.) Courier prints the following extract of a letter from Stehman Forney of the United States Coast Survey, dated on the Island of San Clemente in the Pacific, December 1, 1878:

‘I am at present engaged in making a survey of San Clemente Island. It is 40 miles from the mainland, and is 22 miles in length and 2 miles wide. It is a wild, dreary place, with no water on it, except in immense natural tanks, which are so deep and precipitous that the water in them is inaccessible. I transport the water for my men and horses from the mainland. There is no wood, either, on the island, which is of volcanic formation, and composed of lava and conglomerate. The top of the island is covered with an abundance of grass, which sustains about 10,000 sheep, and, strange to say, they live, grow very fat, and are very profitable to their owners, and yet in the summer season get no water, except in the form of dew on the grass. There is, however, a peculiar plant on the island, called the ice plant, which is filled with moisture and is eaten by the sheep to quench their thirst. They are very fat, and make the finest mutton I have ever eaten.”

December 25, 1897 [LAT/SP]: “The Wilmington Transportation power yacht La Paloma, Captain Smith, arrived from San Clemente Island this morning. She had on board the crew of the schooner Minnie [Minna], which was wrecked last week. The Minnie, a small schooner of twenty-seven tons, Captain William Gerald in command, belongs in San Diego. She left that port some three weeks ago with a crew of one seaman and a cook. On the morning of Saturday, December 18, a squall was encountered and the Minnie was overturned. Fortunately as small skiff was being towed at the stern of the vessel. The captain and the crew swam the heavy sea to the boat and with the greatest difficulty freed it from the schooner. They had scarcely got into it when the Minnie went down. She was about thirteen miles east-southeast of San Clemente Island at the time, to which the shipwrecked crew pulled their way. They reached the island in such an exhausted condition that they could not pull the skiff ashore, so they left it in the shallow water on the beach. After resting a few hours the men walked about the island until they came upon some Mexican sheepherders who fed them. They learned that they had walked fourteen miles from the east end of the island. They went from there to Gallagher’s place, a distance of seven miles, on horses that the Mexicans had lent them. They remained there for four days and as good fortune would have it, La Paloma put in to Gallagher’s landing and they were brought here in that yacht. The men were barefooted, and their feet were full of cuts and bruises from the long walk over the island. They left here today for San Diego on the steamer Alexander Duncan.”

March 31, 1908 [LAT]: “Mile after mile of sheep ready for shearing, not to mention mile after mile of goats for butting, was the sight that greeted Superintendent Zimmer of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, when he visited San Clemente, from which Island he returned yesterday... Horses are being bred on San Clemente however. In formation the island is very like the rolling country around San Pedro...”

February 15, 1918 [LAT]: “John Lane, a deputy from the County Assessor’s office, has returned from San Clemente Island, which forms a part of the county, and which he visited to make assessments of the livestock. Mr. Lane reports that because of the scarcity of feed sheep are dying on the islands at the rate of forty to fifty a day. He found 10,000 head of sheep and ninety horses. It was also learned that there had been shipped from the islands 200 tons of hay, which sold in this city at a good price. Because of war conditions and the desire to conserve food, and also from a humanitarian standpoint, the alleged facts were reported to Ralph C. Merritt, Food Administrator for this state, and he is giving the matter attention.”

April 28, 1918 [LAT]: “Lewis Penwell, principal of the lease of San Clemente Island and of 25,000 sheep pastured there, has been appointed a director of the War Industries Board, with control of the acquisition of the American wool clip, according to a dispatch received at Helena, Montana, yesterday from Washington. Mr. Penwell and associates purchased the lease, sheep, horses and other stock on the island two years ago from Charles T. Howland of Los Angeles and others, the deal involving about $335,000. The San Clemente sheep ranch is larger than any in California and has fine blooded stock. Mr. Penwell is one of the biggest sheep men in the country. He is owner or part owner of twenty-five ranches in Montana. At the time he purchased the San Clemente flock it was announced that 105,000 sheep had been sheared that year on his ranches.”

Horses: San Miguel Island

1850: “For two weeks in 1850, Nidever piloted the U.S. Coast Survey ship Quickstep and assisted in the mapping of the Santa Barbara Channel. Later that year Nidever acquired an interest from 'a man named Bruce' in the northernmost of the Channel Islands – remote San Miguel Island. He brought to the island 17 cattle, 45 sheep, two hogs and seven horses and built an adobe in an arroyo up from Cuyler Harbor. Within ten years Nidever's holdings had increased to over 200 cattle, 6,000 sheep, 100 hogs and 32 horses. After seventeen years Nidever sold his interest in the island to the Mills brothers for $10,000.” [Ellison. The Life and Adventures of George Nidever, intro., 1984 edition]

November 1, 1873 [SBDP]: “Real Estate Transactions. E. H. Kettredge to the Pacific Wool Growing Company, undivided one-third interest of San Miguel Island, also the undivided one third of all the cattle, horses, sheep and other personal property on the Island, and an undivided one third of the schooner Active; consideration $1.”

July 24, 1877 [BowsersFN]: “Hayden, Mr. Mills and the Indian spent the forenoon in trying to catch two horses Mr. Mills has on the island. They finally succeeded, and in the afternoon brought up the remainder of the food, etc. from the landing.”

June 22, 1881 [SBDP]: “The schooner Convoy sailed for San Miguel Island last night with calves and horses. On her return the latter part of this week, she will make a trip to Anacapa Island seal hunting.”

June 1886: Ornithologist Clark P. Streator visited the island and commented “By following a steep trail to the mesa we observe a fine pasture almost as far as the eye extends, but on reaching other parts of the Island I found it barren, and half of the area drifting sand. It altogether contains 13,000 acres, and is stocked with the choicest horses, cattle and sheep. At one time the island was densely populated with Indians, which is well proven by shell heaps that cover hundreds of acres, and in some places to the depth of ten feet or more.”

April 14, 1895 [SFCall]: “One of nature’s convulsions. San Miguel Island, April. It has fallen to my lot [Flora Haixes Loughead] to present the readers of the Call with the first accurate and reliable account, from the testimony of an eye witness, of the mysterious convulsions that have taken place at Cuyler’s Harbor on San Miguel Island, completely changing the aspect of the harbor along its inner shore… furrows are in places parted and crossed by deep fissure, and the footing is so uncertain that even ‘Jen,’ the 45-year-old mule who years ago was in the employ of the Coast Survey during the original mapping of these islands and who scents quicksands or a sand–slip as a horse will scent a grizzly, stopped short in the steep ascent and protested against bearing your correspondent further. In order to secure Kodak shots it became necessary to dismount and kneel on the quaking earth…”

July 28, 1896 [LAT]: “As to kingdoms, an unmerited attack upon the United States marshal. What Marshal Covarrubias got for doing his duty. Maintained the government’s authority on an island and ousted a squatter… San Miguel Island yields a comfortable income to its owner, supports great herds of horses, cattle and sheep and is inhabited by a number of people. The records show the owner, Captain Waters, interfered with the work of the United States surveyors, and claimed the government had no right to land its officials upon his domain. A threat was made to resist with force any attempt of the surveyor to carry out his orders. The surveyor asked for support. The matter passed through the proper channels and at last President Cleveland wrote on the back of a bundle of papers dealing with the case autograph instructions for the United States marshal to furnish support in person or by deputies. Marshal Covarrubias obeyed the orders of his superior officer…”

October 3, 1911 [SBMP]: “The cargo and rigging of the wrecked lumber schooner Comet will be brought from San Miguel Island to this city if the plans of Captain Henry Short of the Charm and Captain Waters, owner of San Miguel Island, will be carried out. They are now the owners of the wreck, Vail & Vickers, owners of Santa Rosa Island, having abandoned their option some days ago, after a careful investigation of the stranded schooner. Waters and Short are in the best possible position to handle the wreck, by reason of the facilities at their command. Captain Waters has a number of mules on San Miguel, and they can be utilized in carting the lumber from the shore to Cuyler’s bay, a distance of two miles, where it can be made into rafts, and towed across the channel when weather conditions are favorable...”

1950: [Don Butler interview June 11, 1992]: “The Rio Grande was the tugboat we pulled the barge with... It [barge] was a landing craft but no engine in it, so we had to pull it. We decked it so we had two decks — a lower deck that we could put sheep down below and up above. [When we vacated San Miguel Island in 1950] we took the decking and we had three or four horses and the jeep and whatever we could gather on this place. Pulled them into Santa Barbara...”

Horses: San Nicolas Island

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

June 1, 1860 Santa Barbara County Agricultural Census Schedule recorded Martin Kimberly as having ten horses and 800 sheep on San Nicolas Island. Annual wool production was listed as 2000 pounds.

February 19, 1876 [VS]: “Delinquent Tax List—Year 1875-6. The following is a list of the names of the persons, and a description of the property delinquent by reason of non-payment of State and County taxes in the County of Ventura, for the year 1875-6… Interest, claim and possession of, in and to the island known as San Nicolas $4000; also Island of Anacapa $1500; Improvements thereon $400; Three mixed horses $90; 3000 improved sheep $6000; 400 lambs $400 = $9390.

April 11, 1897 [LAT]: “For sale — Sheep ranch on island a few miles off coast in Pacific Ocean; 1500 head fine sheep, cottages, outbuildings, boats, horses, corrals, etc.; 22,000 acres of land, $1600 worth of abalones sold from the island this year; healthiest place in the world; numerous springs of fresh water; greatest elevation 400 feet; annual net profits have been nearly $4000; will sell for one third actual value; Owner retiring from business to travel in Europe. See Van Cranken, 114-1/2 S. Broadway.”

May 25, 1897 [SBMP]: “Captain Burtis’ schooner Restless left yesterday with a gang of Chinese abalone hunters for San Miguel Island. On his return he will take a band of horses for Mr. E. Elliot to San Nicolas Island.”

July 23, 1897 [LAT]: “For sale — Large sheep ranch of upward of 22,000 acres, on an island off the coast, with 1200 head of blooded sheep, no diseases, no herding, no expense except for shearing, buildings, corrals, horses, boats. Complete outfit for making money… Owner going to Europe and will sell for one-third cash…”

September 1933: Robert L. Brooks sold his interest in San Nicolas Island to Roy Agee, Margaret Agee, Lyman Elliott and Edna Elliott. The sale included about 1000 sheep, horses, cows, equipment, sheds, fencing, and houses located on the island (Brooks 1933).

Horses: Santa Rosa Island

1844: “According to testimony later given in the United States District Court, [Alpheus B.] Thompson, in September, 1844, took 270 head of cattle to Santa Rosa. Most, if not all, of these cattle belonged to Don Carlos [Carrillo] and had the Rocking Horse brand on them. Later in the year fifty-one ewes, two rams, and nine horses were transported over.” [Holland, Francis R., Jr. Santa Rosa Island: An Archaeological and Historical Study in Journal of the West, 1(1) July 1962.]

June 1858 [Santa Rosa Island inventory]: About 8000 bullock, large and small, of which 1600 to 1800 were termed “ganado rodeaus” or semi-wild cattle suitable for rodeo; about 1600 to 1800 castrated cattle; 6000 to 7000 sheep “all in a very wild state”; 250-300 horses, 25 of which were saddle horses, 25 broken mares, 50 to 60 colts, the remainder mares and small colts. None of the stock had been castrated since 1855.

June 14, 1858 [SFH]: “Notice to rancheros and stock dealers. John C. Jones vs. Alpheus B. Thompson, in the District Court of the 3rd Judicial District, State of California, Monterey County. The undersigned, receiver in the above case, hereby gives notice that, on and after the 13th day of July, 1858, he will receive proposals for and sell at private sale, so many of the horses, sheep, and cattle, upon the Island of Santa Rosa, in Santa Barbara County, or some of one of those classes, as may be deemed most advantageous, as will be sufficient to bring the sum of $7370.80 and interest at the rate of ten percent per annum, from August 26, 1857. The undersigned will consider proposals for purchases, to the above amount, of either horses, cattle or sheep, or of two or all of said classes, according to convenience of purchasers and benefit of the parties interested owning said stock. The proposals to be either personal, or addressed to the undersigned at Los Angeles. Abel Stearns, Receiver. Los Angeles, June 10, 1858.”

July 23, 1858: “This indenture this day made by and between John C. Jones of the County of Norfolk, State of Massachusetts, by his lawful attorney Alfred Robinson, of the city and county of Santa Barbara, State of California party of the first part and T. Wallace More, of the city and county of Santa Barbara, State of California, party of the second part, witnesseth: That the said party of the first part for and in consideration of the covenant and agreement hereinafter contained to be kept all and singular, by the said party of the second part, and in consideration of the sum of money hereinafter mentioned to be paid by the said party of the second part, has sold, transferred and assigned unto the said party of the second part all of the right, title and interest of the said party of the first part, of, in and to all of the horned cattle, sheep, horses and mares, or livestock of whatsoever there may be, more or less, now on the Island of Santa Rosa, in the channel of Santa Barbara, County of Santa Barbara; and the said party of the second part in consideration of the promised covenant and agreed to and with the said party of the first part to pay him therefore, the full sum of $35,000 lawful currency of the United States of America, in payments as follows… The said party of the first part hereby gives and grants into the said party of the second part, the right to enter upon said Island of Santa Rosa for all necessary and lawful purposes connected with the rights hereby sold and transferred for the term of two years thereafter, in consideration of the sum of $250 per annum to be paid by the party of the first part in two equal payments in the months of July in each of the last two years… J. C. Jones per A. Robinson, Attorney in fact. T. Wallace More.” [Huntington Library, Stearns Collection, Box 87, Folder 12]

October 21, 1859 [HL]: “Transported by steamer Goliah, Captain George R. Barclay: 3083 grown cattle @ $3; 1200 two year olds @ $2; 1170 yearlings @ $1; 1062 calves @ 0; 100 tame horses @ $4; 30 tame mares @ $4; 51 colts @ $2; 2118 sheep @.50; 200 lambs @ 0. Expense of driving said animals to pasturage and ground from beach $1000; Hire if the Rancho called San Julian for the pasturage of said animals, $3000; Total $18,988. Sworn by T. W. Wallace. [Huntington Library. Stearns Box 87, Folder 12. 1858-1860].

1860 [The Cattle on a Thousand Hills, p. 120]: “In 1860 the property of T. Wallace More, one of the largest rancheros in Santa Barbara County, was assessed as follows: one-fourth interest in Isla de Santa Rosa value $3,125; 1,000 head of cattle $3000; 2000 sheep $1500; 100 horses $500.”

December 18, 1878 [SBDP]: “I. K. Fisher has just bought one of the finest-looking young horses in the city—large, clean-limbed, and well muscled. He was raised by the More brothers on Santa Rosa Island, and as soon as he is broke to harness will throw dust in the faces of some of our roadsters, or we miss our prediction.”

March 10, 1880 [SBDP]: “The island of Santa Rosa… is a perfect paradise for stock, and has proved to be a bonanza to the owners…The More brothers have made a number of substantial improvements thereon… The place contains at present some 40,000 head of sheep, 250 head of Durham cattle and 150 head of horses and mules, besides a number of deer and elk that roam at will…A force of twenty men are employed in their farming and stock operations…”

August 4, 1900 [SFCall]: “Mrs. Eliza M. Miller, as administrator of the estate of the late A. P. More, applied to Judge Coffey yesterday for instructions regarding bringing horses belonging to the More estate from Santa Rosa Island to San Francisco for inspection by agents of the German Government with a view to their purchase. Judge Coffey investigated the matter and instructed Mrs. Miller not to ship the horses to this city, but to endeavor to sell them where they are on Santa Rosa Island. An order to this effect was made and if the German government wants the horses it must inspect and purchase them as stated in the order.”

August 19, 1891 [SBMP]: “Schooner Santa Rosa arrived yesterday from Santa Rosa Island with a load of horses which were landed at Goleta.”

June 8, 1895 [SFCall]: “Santa Barbara, June 7. C. E. Sherman of this place, appointed by the Superior Court to examine the condition of cattle and sheep on Santa Rosa Island, being one vast holding of the estate of the late A. P. More, today rendered his report. Sherman states that Administrator John F. More, a brother of the deceased, and a lessee of the island, threw every possible obstacle in the way of his examination, and not until May of this year did he succeed in visiting the island and making an investigation. He found 25,000 sheep, one-fifth scabby, poor, and showing great neglect. There were only 1200 of this year’s lambs, whereas with proper care, there should have been fully 10,000. Three hundred and twenty-five sacks of this year’s clip of wool, and the clip of last fall was so commingled with the property of John F. More as to render impossible a separate account. The fences about the wharf were in good condition, but the fence across the island, which should have been built according to contract, has not been constructed. Sherman said that it was impossible to make a proper examination of the great island, as all horses there are under the direct control of John F. More, who refused to let him use them. More, according to the report, forced Sherman to sleep with Chinese and sheepherders on a mattress made of jute sacks with old woolsacks for bedding. The 1523 cattle on the island were the roughest band Sherman ever saw in thirty years’ experience as a cattleman. There were 155 horses, mules and colts, the greater part useless and valueless through careless breeding and handling. The report indicates great degeneracy in the condition of affairs in the short time since A. P. More’s death.”

July 22, 1897 [SBMP]: “E. R. Den returned from Santa Rosa Island yesterday where he has been to look at one hundred head of horses that the estate of A. P. More have for sale. The stock for sale includes mares, geldings and colts, all well-bred, good size and finely broken.”

June 27, 1903 [SBMP]: “Yesterday morning the schooner Santa Rosa, belonging to Santa Rosa Island, arrived at the wharf with a load of horses and mules which have been raised at the island. Forty-two head were brought over and most of these will be shipped this morning to Los Angeles for sale. The work of getting the entire band off the boat onto the pier was not was easy, and a large number of people collected at the pier to see the fun. Most of the stock came up the chute without urging, but one old mule refused to budge and had to be literally dragged up the incline. Half a dozen vaqueros were required to look after the band, and more than once they showed signs of stampeding while on the dock, and the men had great difficulty in making them quiet again. The stock belongs to Vail and Vickers, the lessees of the island, and the work of unloading the band was under the superintendence of Jim Cox of Los Alamos.”

'November 23, 1908 [LAH]: “The power schooner Santa Rosa Island, Captain Widing, arrived from Santa Rosa Island with a cargo of horses, mules and cattle.”

April 15, 1910 [LAH]: “Live stock receipts. Two cargoes of live stock arrived today. The power schooner Edith brought 266 head of sheep from San Clemente Island for the San Clemente Wool Company, and the power schooner Santa Rosa Island brought three cars of horses from Santa Rosa Island for Vail & Vickers. The Edith sailed for another cargo today.”

May 24, 1916 [SBMP]: “The American Film cowboys are going right ahead with their rodeo plans for the 4th of July. This will be the afternoon feature. C. P. Morrison will have general charge and seven mustangs are already on hand and four more may be brought over from Santa Rosa Island. As there will be other local horses the best kind of sport is assured. These island mustangs are the real thing, as Art Acord already knows. He tackled one the other day just as a matter of diversion, and the result is that he is laid up with a badly sprained ankle. The mustang got the better of him, but Acord says he is just the one he will ride on the 4th.”