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In the News~

1540: Francisco de Ulloa names the island Isla de Cedros

October 1846: “On the 22nd we passed San Geronimo Island, finding the channel between it and the mainland five miles broad, and on the 25th anchored under the east coast of Cedros or Cerros Island. This island presents extraordinary features, looking as if some deluge had swept the low lands, leaving them smooth and level as a newly made road. "Cerros" is certainly the most appropriate appellation for the place; it is a mass of hills piled on hills; and although here and there groves of cedars are met with, yet they are hardly in sufficient numbers to give a name to the island. Wild goats are abundant.* The extreme dryness of the atmosphere is remarkable. We found two graves of the year 1819; one of John Brown Sinclair, who was drowned when belonging to the Harriet, the other of Justin Finch, of the Shakspeare, both London ships. The head-boards were of slight deal, yet the wood was undecayed, and the inscriptions were quite legible. The bay of thei sland was surveyed, and its position proved to be long. 28 degrees 3' 0" north, lat. 115 degrees, 11' 0" west (south point). Two of the officers ascended to the summit. "The march," says Mr. Henry Troppole, "was rugged and more fatiguing than we had anticipated. In going up, hardly a drop of water could be found, though occasionally traces of where it had been were observed; in coming down we struck upon a ravine with a stream in it, which in many places was four or five feet deep. If we had had sufficient daylight we could have followed it to the sea, where it might have proved serviceable for shipping. The sides of this watercourse were lined with beautiful shrubs, and even trees, which formed a pleasing contrast to the utterly desolate and barren nature of the surrounding country. The stream had nearly led us wrong. It appeared to wind round to the west side of the island. Expecting a change in its direction, we followed it until sunset surprised us, well-nigh exhausted, at the edge of a precipice which we could not descend. We were obliged to climb up the side of the ravine, and fortunately were able to distinguish the ship at the anchorage before darkness had set in. Though the way was still rugged, we had now a more level space. The sight of the sea and vessel renewed our strength; but we were thoroughly tired, and whenever we stopped to rest we were asleep almost immediately. Awakened by the coldness of the night air, we trudged on again, and when we reached the beach we were still upwards of three miles from the ship, and it was ten o'clock before we arrived on board, thoroughly fagged out. Unfortunately we had with us no compass nor barometer; but a rough trigonometrical measurement gave the height of the island 2500 feet. Having left Cerros...”

  • Mr. John Goodridge, surgeon of the Herald, discovered in this island a curious cactus, which, on being submitted to Prince Salm-Dyek, the best authority in these matters, was called Mammalaria Goodridgii, S. Dyck. Afterwards this rare species was found at Guaymas, Gulf of California, but the last specimens died before reaching England.” [Seemann, Berthold. Narrative of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Herald during the Years 1845-51 Under the Command of Captain Henry Kellett London: Reeve and Co. (1853) Vol. 1.]

August 14, 1852 [SDU]: “Arrived. Schr Columbia. [Captain] Phillips, 35 days from Cerros Island; 200 bbls elephant oil to master.”

March 18, 1862 [SDU]: “By telegraph from San Francisco, we learn that two men, named Beatty and Kelly, arrived there on Sunday from Cape St. Lucas, with an account of a terrible tragedy and marvelous escapes. They had been to Cerros Island, off Lower California, in company with E. B. Thompkins in the night, and was finally killed himself by one of the survivors. St. Patrick's day was celebrated in grand style at San Francisco. The trial of Schell for the murder of Gordon excites great interest there; but as the principal witness has been excluded, on the ground of being a quadroon, the chances of conviction are seriously diminished. No business of importance was transacted in the Legislature yesterday.”

March 18, 1862 [SDU]: “The steamer Panama, from Mazatlan, brings an account of the murder of E. B. Tompkins, late of the firm of Walker & Tompkins, of San Francisco. He was killed at Cerros Island, San Sebastian Bay, Lower California, where he went in December last on a prospecting tour with J. S. Beatty, L. Kelly and a Chileno. On the morning of February 5th last the Chileno murdered Tompkins and wounded Beatty badly. The Chileno was shot. Tompkins leaves a wife, mother and other relatives in Santa Clara County. He was a brother-in-law to William M. Lent.”

March 19, 1862 [MDA]: “The Murder on Cedros Island.—The Bulletin gives the full and dreadful particulars of the late murder on Cerros Island, noted in our dispatch of the 17th, when E. B. Tompkins, formerly of San Francisco, was killed by one Don Juan, a Chilean. The account says:

On the 25th of December, 1861, an expedition sailed from this port, sent by Lent, Sherwood & Co., for Cerros Island, for the purpose of exploring in search of copper and other minerals. The party consisted of Lawrence Kelley, Elisha B. Tompkins, (brother-in-law of W. M. Lent,) John S. Beatty, an old man, some 62 years of age, and commonly called Don Juan. They sailed on the schooner Wild Pigeon, on last Christmas Day, and without anything remarkable occurring, arrived at Cerros Island on the 6th of January. Cerros Island is situated on the coast of Lower California, in latitude 28 deg., about 320 miles south of San Diego and 40 miles from the mainland. It is about 30 miles long and 15 broad. The party immediately formed their camp, prospected through the mountains, and pursued their daily avocations without the occurrences of anything peculiar, until the night of the 4th and 5th of February. The whole party of four occupied the same tent. Concerning the speculations as to what instigated the Chilean to the deed, the same paper says: As to the motives which actuated Don Juan in attempting to massacre a whole party, no one can certainly say. He had been befriended by Mr. Lent and the members of the expedition; during the entire time they were together, no quarrel or hard feeling had on any occasion ever arisen. He was a well-informed man, particularly well versed in matters concerning minerals, the discovery and search for which had been his favorite pursuit. Neither Kelly nor Beatty can give any decided opinion of the cause of his attack. Wither [which seems most probably] he was laboring under a fit of insanity, or had in his rambles discovered a rich vein of metal, and wished to murder his companions and then denounce the mone for his own benefit. These are but surmises of the truth of which we can probably never be positively assured.”

March 29, 1862 [LAS]: “Frightful Massacre at Cerros Island. Messrs. Lawrence Kelley and John S. Beatty arrived in this city day before yesterday from Cape St. Lucas, bringing intelligence of a bloody [line deleted in original] may be remembered that on the 25th of December, 1861 an expedition was dispatched from this port by Lent, Sherwood & Co., to Cerros Island, on the coast of Lower California, with the object of exploring for copper and other minerals. The members of the party were Lawrence Kelley, Elisha B. Beatty, and a Chilean named Juan Jose Mison, an old man 62 years of age, commonly called Don Juan. The party had been nearly a month encamped on the island on pursuit of their regular avocation, when about midnight on the 4th of February, Don Juan, having previously got up and dressed himself under pretense of not feeling well, made an attack upon Beatty, first stabbing him in the side and then cutting him on the face by several blows from a hatchet, one gash severing the nose and right jaw and extending nearly to the right ear. Kelley and Tompkins awakened, aided Beatty, threw themselves upon Don Juan and overpowered him—the whole being covered with bloody signs of the conflict. Beatty went out to see what had become of him, leaving Tompkins talking to the Chilean, who had been quieted. Kelley found Beatty who asked for water and his blankets, as he supposed himself to be bleeding to death, and was proceeding to the tent when the Chilean came rushing from it toward him, shouting "todos matar"—(I will kill you all.) Kelley, after one visit to the boat, hid himself in the mountains, where he remained all that day (5th February) and night, when he came down to the tent, where he found Beatty, who had returned before him, to find Tompkins cold in death within the tent. Kelley and Beatty afterwards sallied out to the boat, taking with them from the tent a shotgun and a rifle. They found the Chilean on board, just preparing to push off, and dispatched him at once. Kelley taking some stones and crushing in his head to make sure. The Chilean is supposed to have been insane. Mr. Tompkins was formerly a member of the firm of Walter & Tompkins, merchant tailors of Montgomery Street, and was well known in this city. —S.F. Herald & Mirror.”

November 3, 1864 [DAC]: “Memoranda. The steamer John L. Stephens, E. Wakeman, master, left San Francisco Oct. 5th at 5 P.M., anchored off the Presidio and left Oct. 6th at 11 A.M.; arrived at Cerros Island Oct. 16th at 8 P.M., left 9:30 P.M...”

November 15, 1864 [San Francisco Bulletin]: “The Voyage—Cerros Island. The voyage from San Francisco to Mazatlan, made by steamer in about eight days, is pleasant, healthy and especially restorative to persons who by ill health have been reduced to much weakness. On her way down the steamer stopped at Cerros Island, to set on shore obe Kelly and four others, with six months' provisions and implements, to prospect the island, which is said to be rich in silver ore. Kelly is the man who, it will be remembered, went there about two years ago, with three others, and out of the four only he and another returned. His story of the missing men is that his cook made a crazy attempt to murder the whole party and succeeded in killing one and wounding another, when he was shot by the wounded man. The island is situated over 40 miles off the Lower California coast, and about 400 miles below Upper California. It is about 30 miles long and 12 miles wide, has fresh water, timber and some good land. Most of the land, however, is very hilly and rocky, as the name indicates. A few deer and goats are the only animals found there, but rattlesnakes and other creeping things are numerous. Fine pets for Kelly and his companions!”

June 13, 1872 [San Diego Union]: “[Emma Hayne] The cruise up from Cerros [Cedros] Island (a distance of 300 miles) occupied 43 days, and its length was occasioned by unceasing head winds. Cargo on board of sloop consists of 11 tons of abalone meat.”

December 15, 1873 [DAC]: “Schr. Johanne, [Captain] Ackerman, 17 days from Cerros Island 90 tons salt and a lot of wrecking material, to O. J. Jansen.”

April 3, 1874 [SBMP]: “The Pacific Mail Company has filed a libel against the Colima for the services of their ship Arizona in towing her into this port from Cerros Island.”

August 4, 1885 [SF Chronicle]: “The Academy of Sciences held a meeting last evening, Professor Davidson presiding and C. Walcott Brooks, Secretary... Edward Lee Green read a paper on "The Botany of Cedros Island," an island off the southern coast of California. He described the different kind of plants on it, of which twelve were entirely new. The elephant trees seemed to be the most numerous. The speaker declared the island good only for botanical purposes, as it was uninhabited and contained little game...”

December 24, 1901 [San Diego Union]: “Among the passengers are Marcos Bruschi and J. S. Schirm, who, in company with David Goldbaum of Ensenada, had been on a prospecting trip on the power schooner Freia along the coast as far south as Scammon's Lagoon. The prospectors declare that they found what they were looking for, and are well pleased with the success of their trip. They left the Freia at Cedros Island, and came up by steamer.”

May 3, 1912 [LAH]: “Weird tales about trees and fish. Topsy-turvy vegetation in Southern Islands and strange colored crabs. Sky lines hidden by game. San Martin and other points of interest invaded by touring party. A strong stimulant to the man affected by the wanderlust is the story told by Sergeant George Willetts upon his return from a cruise along the islands off the west coast of Mexico. Wild game so thick that the sun was obscured, strange creatures of the sea and strange rock formations which showed the hand of nature to be far more weird than the most imaginative creations of man were seen everywhere. In some of his tramps over the islands, he passed a few moments from zones thickly vegetated to very arid ones without a vestige of life of any kind... Cedros Island, about 400 miles south of San Diego, was also visited. It is about 30 miles long and several miles wide, and is covered with a peculiar tree, appearing a species of oak, the trunk of which instead of standing erect, lay upon the ground with its limbs spreading on the ground like vines. Twigs with bright green leaves grew perpendicularly. In the northern part of the island a large number of wild goats and deer were seen. The southern half was very dry and barren and there was no evidence of life of any kind...”

June 26, 1916 [San Diego Evening Tribune]: “The Ramona may reach San Diego tomorrow. It has aboard quantities of dried abalone meat and shells, gethered from the camps along the coast, including a camp at Cedros Island. Aboard the boat are four men who comprised the crew of the San Pedro launch W. & S., which they report was wrecked on Sacramento Reef near San Geronimo Island, and that they then rowed in a boat 100 niles south to Cedros Island, where they found safety on the Ramona. By rowing for shore, it is said, the four men might have saved about 80 miles pulling and found fishing camps and food. The mission of the W. & S. south interests the customs officers here. One rumor is that it carried war munitions”

1920s: “The earliest permanent residents ancestral to the modern community arrived in the early 1920s, working with a cannery served by Japanese divers and later, Mexicans trained by the Japanese. The Japanese departed on the eve of World War II, and in 1943, the cooperativa, named Pescadores Nacionales de Abulón, began operations on the island under the collectivist initiatives begun by Mexican president Cardenas.” (McVicar, K. G. Cedros Island, Baja California and Its Fishing Economy. Unpublished Master's Thesis, Department of Geography, UCLA, 1964)

2010: “The cooperative has continued, with the normal internal political dramas and ups and downs in production, to the present day. It forms the robust core of the local economy and is a major social and economic force within the modern community.” (Des Lauriers, M. R. Island of Fog. Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Investigations of Isla Cedros, Baja California, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, (2010)