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Grave of Charles Petersen (d. 1910). Photo by Ralph Glidden, c. 1921-1922
Reggie Lamberth at the grave of Charles Petersen (d. 1910). Photo by Arthur Woodward, c. 1938-1939

PETERSON, Charles (d. 1910), fisherman who lived on San Nicolas Island for about twenty years (1890-1910). He died on San Nicolas Island on November 28, 1910, and was buried on the island by lone island sheepherder, Horace Linton (father of Clarence B. Linton). Two radically different accounts of the circumstances of Peterson’s death on San Nicolas Island were given by Linton. When Linton came off the island in December for the Christmas holiday, he reported to the Los Angeles coroner that Peterson had died of pneumonia after having been tended to by Linton. A few days later when Linton was in Oakland, he reported that Peterson was dashed to death against the rocks during a storm, and that he found the body washed ashore and buried it.


In the News~

December 29, 1910 [LAH]: “San Pedro, December 28. The coroner may be called upon to go to San Nicolas Island and hold an inquest over the body of Charles Peterson. A few days ago Horace Linton returned from the island where he and Peterson have been fishing since last August. He told friends of Peterson that his partner had died of pneumonia, and that he had buried him on the island November 28. Linton’s story was reported to the police and officers are investigating the case. Probably the circumstances will be laid before the coroner. In case the coroner decides not to hold an inquest, John Salte, a cousin of the dead man, will go to San Nicolas Island, and bring the body here for interment. Linton has lived here for more than ten years, and bears a good reputation.”

December 30, 1910 [LAH] “Island Hermit's Death Reveals Strange Life. Coroner's investigation unearths story of a man who hated world's bustle. Suffering for days in his lone tent, many miles from medical aid, Charles Peterson, an aged hermit fisherman, died of pneumonia on Coral Harbor [San Nicolas] Island, seventy miles southwest of San Pedro, November 28, unattended in his last hours by anyone save an old sheep rancher, Horace Linton, who for years had shared Peterson's lonely life. The circumstances of the strange life and death of Peterson were brought to light through an investigation started by the coroner Wednesday and through a letter from Linton to J.G. Howland, whose sheep Linton had tended on Coral Harbor [San Nicolas] Island for years. Linton reported that he dug Peterson's grave on the desolate island with his own hands and buried the body of his friend and sole companion with such ceremony as was possible without assistance of minister and undertaker. The sole attendants at the burial were Linton and two shepherd dogs, one belonging to Linton and the other to the dead fisherman. Peterson first went to Coral Harbor twenty years ago [1890]. Finding that the fishing was good, he put up a tent by the seashore and prepared to pass the rest of his days with a dog for his companion. A boat called at the island every ninety days, and on this he shipped his fish to market. For ten years Peterson lived on the island alone. When Linton arrived with 4000 sheep to herd on the pastures of the island, Peterson was much displeased, regarding the newcomer in the light of an intruder. It was fully two years before Linton was able to get the confidence of the recluse fisherman, but once an acquaintance was formed it soon ripened into a lasting comradeship. For eight years Peterson and Linton had been sole masters of the island. When the small steamer called every ninety days for fish, Peterson took his time about landing the hold. If he happened to be in a good humor, it was possible for the boat to take on its cargo and leave the same day. If the fisherman was disposed to be peevish, however, he sometimes held the boat in dock three or four days. Being master of all the fish that were caught on the island, he disposed of his wares in is own way. Linton's letter to Howland was pathetic. Having lost the only friend in the world, he intimates that he, too, is ready to die and occupy a grave beside his deceased companion.

December 31, 1910 [SBMP]: “Island tragedy told to coroner. Fisherman dies from pneumonia attended only be sheep herder… Horace Linton has been on bleak San Nicolas Island for several years herding sheep for the San Clemente [Island] Wool Company. A boat carries him supplies every three months. The rest of the time he is out of touch with the world. A few months ago Charles Petersen went to the island for fishing and was welcomed by Linton as a companion to help him while away the dreary days. Exposed to the weather for long hours, Petersen early in November was stricken with pneumonia. The supply boat was not due until a few days before Christmas and Linton moved his tent to the vicinity of the fisherman’s so that he could be of service to him at any hour of the day or night. Petersen’s condition grew steadily worse and as the sheep were able to take care of themselves, Linton devoted his entire attention to the sick man. When Petersen suffered with chills, Linton built fires with driftwood and held his body near the flames. He cooked as temptingly as he could, such bit of food as the stricken man was able to eat. Seeing Petersen sink steadily, Linton searched his supplies for medicine, but all he could find was some quinine. It was administered. Petersen’s strength increased and Linton felt so greatly encouraged that he walked to the other end of the island, a distance of six miles, to see his sheep. As he started away Peterson rose to his feet and waived his handkerchief. Linton trudged along the beach, turning occasionally to wave his hand at his companion and received the return salute. He was gone several hours. When he returned, Petersen was dead. Evidently feeling worse Petersen had crawled up from the beach to his tent. The date of his death was November 28 [1910], almost a month before the boat was due. Linton dressed the fisherman’s body in the best clothing he had on the island and then constructed a rude coffin. A grave was dug and the tent became a shroud. A crude monument was erected. Linton once more took up his lonely life. When the boat reached the island to take Linton to the mainland so he could spend the holidays with friends, he told his story. He reported it to the coroner.”