PRESIADO, José Felice “Mexican Joe”

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Mexican Joe Preciado (1848-1919)
Mexican Joe (left) with a Hammerhead shark,
Santa Catalina Island, c. 1910

PRESIADO [PRECIADO], José Felice “Mexican Joe” (1848-1919), Mexican-born from the state of Sonora, he went to Santa Catalina Island as a young boy of seven or so, with a man named John Behn. On the island, the little boy was raised by Frank Whittley’s mother, Frank Whittley when he was only seven years old. Whitley’s own son was six at the time. As a young man, Mexican Joe worked as a seal hunter. On one trip he seriously injured his foot, which caused him to limp for the rest of his life. Presiado became famous as a boatman on Santa Catalina Island.

In 1866, Mexican Joe married Felipa Adargo (1803-1911), who had a number of children, including Joe and Manuela “Nellie.” At the time of their marriage (c. 1873), Presiado was 25 and she was already the mother of six children, three of them still living in 1900. In the 1900 Avalon census, Presiado lived with his wife, Felipa, who was 20+ years his senior. Her daughter, Manuela Nellie Adargo (1860-1920) lived with them in 1900 (age 42) and was the mother of two sons by Frank Whittley: Thomas William Whittley (1882-1973) and Paul Whittley (1885-1958).

  • Maria Rosalia Adargo
  • Joe Adargo (1857-1935) = [1883] Dolores “Lola” DeSoto (1859-1916)
  • Manuela Nellie Adargo (1860-1920) = [1889] Frank Paul Whittley (1848-1902)

In 1889 Mexican Joe's was the first and only boat for hire, and thus he began working for Charles F. Holder, among others. His launch was the Tio Juan, and in it he favored the fishing grounds at the Isthmus, Church Rock and Seal Rock. Mexican Joe lived on Beacon Street in Avalon.

In 1915 he was one of the original twelve members of the Santa Catalina Island Twenty-Five Year Club.

Presiado died at age 77 in Avalon on March 3, 1919 and is buried in the Avalon Municipal Cemetery. He does not have a headstone. His wife, however, does.

“Mexican Joe’s Experience with Relics at Catalina Island” by Blanch Trask in Whittier Magazine.

Catalina Islander April 23, 1918; July 16, 1924; April 6, 1939.

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In the News~

[1886]: “…In 1886 rods were unknown at the islands, and the one I took to Avalon in that year was looked upon by Mexican Joe, the only boatman in those days, as ‘impossible machinery’; that I could land a 30-pound yellowtail with such a ‘whip’ he honestly believed a figment of my imagination…” [Holder, Charles F. The Channel Islands of California, 1910:77].


1895 Charles Holder wrote: “Mexican Joe had lived 40 years or more on Santa Catalina Island, and all the inalienable rights and privileges that go to the office of the oldest inhabitant were his: moreover, he was, by common repute, the lineal descendant of a soldier of Montezuma, and his strong, clear-cut features carried out the idea of an Aztec lineage. Being so invested by legend, Joe was considered an authority on all matters appertaining to sport on the isle of Summer…” [magazine article Game Fishing in the Pacific p. 138-146]


March 8, 1896 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. …Another party of three gentlemen, with Mexican Joe as guide, caught upward of fifty fish off White Rock, over half of which were white fish ranging from four to ten pounds in weight, the balance being sheepshead, the largest tipping the scales at twelve pounds.”


1897: “… Mexican Joe, the old-time guide, states that there was once snow on ‘The Ridge,’ but that it has never been known in the valleys...” [Blanche Trask. Field Notes from Santa Catalina Island Erythea 7:135, 1899].


October 4, 1901 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. District Attorney James C. Rives, J. D. Fredericks, his assistant; G. P. Adams, an attorney of Los Angeles, and Frank Burk of Downey, who went up to Eagle’s Nest quail shooting Tuesday, under the guidance of Mexican Joe, returned this morning. They killed their limit each day without any difficulty, and then added to their bag a couple of goats, some blue-winged teal ducks, an eagle, an osprey, and various other members of the feathered tribe. It was a most successful shoot, and the gentlemen left for home on this afternoon’s steamer delighted with their trip.”


April 26, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Mexican Joe gave the steamer passengers an exhibition of fishing this afternoon. Near the end of the wharf a big fish took his hook and walked away with it, taking Joe and his boat along. Try as he would it was impossible to stop the fish, and it made directly for the point in the bay where the boats are moored most thickly… As the steamer left the fish was towing Joe’s craft out of the bay at a gait of at least three miles an hour.”


April 28, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Mexican Joe’s catch of Monday in which he fought a fish over the bay, showing is skill by dodging under and around the moorings of more than half a dozen moving lines, proved finally to be a seal. It gave him a merry ride and towed him several miles down the coast before he found what it was. He then parted his line and released it.”


May 23, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Ex-senator Stephen W. Dorsey and wife, and Captain McKinstry, in charge of the harbor work at San Pedro, and Mrs. McKinstry are at the Hotel Metropole. They were out fishing yesterday, the gentlemen with George Michaelis and the ladies with Mexican Joe.”


June 20, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The McCrary brothers of Los Angeles, W. L., L. A., and E. L., with another brother from Syndey, Australia, and J. Hammer of Denver, went out yesterday with Mexican Joe and brought in a thirty-pound halibut, five white sea bass, one of which weighed forty-four pounds, and eleven yellowtail.”


June 20, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The prizes in the yellowtail tournament yesterday were awarded as follows: to boatmen: First, George Farnsworth, lancewood rod; second, George Michaelis, yellowtail reel and line… thirteenth, Mexican Joe, hunting knife and sheath…”


June 25, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. A wave of excitement swept over the little village of Avalon last evening when a couple of young men who had been at Long Point returned and reported having seen a lot of tuna in that vicinity... Mexican Joe, George Michaelis and several other boatmen returned about midnight, reporting a number of strikes, but no fish were hooked and there was some uncertainty as to whether they were really tuna.”


July 6, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The marine tugs of war, yesterday afternoon was as spirited and exciting an event as an enthusiastic sportsman could desire… There were five rowers in each team, the winning team composing Mexican Joe, Hawley Farnsworth, John Robarts, George Michaelis and Alex Adargo. Opposing them were Tommy Whittley, George Farnsworth, ‘Chappie,’ Staples and Lindscow…”


June 11, 1907 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Commodore Sinclair, with the yacht Lurline, also spent Sunday here, Professor C. F. Holder on board as guest of honor. They remained until this morning, then taking G. F. McConnell of Scotland, they sailed for San Clemente Island, accompanied by Mexican Joe and his launch, for a few days’ outing and fishing there.”


September 6, 1908 [LAT]: “A boatsmen’s union is the latest organization at Avalon, which proposes to dominate sportsmen, to blacklist any who would employ boatmen outside the union, and to say where anglers shall be permitted to fish… ‘We will have three or four large boats, and one will make daily trips to San Clemente, and boats will also go to Anacapa Island, or anywhere else that anglers want to go… ‘When I returned from Clemente the other day, they called my boatman a scab, and have combined to ruin him. This is true of some of the best boatmen here, who have been taking their patrons to Clemente this season — Al Shade, Mexican Joe, Cover, the owners of the Garfield, Zeus, San Toy, and all the boatmen who have had the independence to do anything that the union does not like…”


July 31, 1909 [LAT]: “Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot will arrive in Los Angeles in September with a party of distinguished scientists, including an ethnologist, a geologist, and other scientific men, who plan to make an examination of San Clemente Island. Prof. Charles Frederic Holder will join the party, and is making arrangements for the trip, which will be the third annual expedition to this interesting island… Mexican Joe and a guides have been engaged for the trip, and the party will camp at the east end of the island…”


[1910]: “…There was one professional boatman on the island, Jose Felice Presiado, or ‘Mexican Joe,’ whom I engaged, and in his heavy, broad-beamed yawl he rowed me from one end of the island to the other; a thirty-mile pull along the rocky and beautiful shores was a bagatelle to Joe. After landing me on the Avalon beach, where the waters sang musically on the sands, he would row home to a canyon four miles up the coast. At six the next morning he would be on hand again, and we would repeat the trip or go around to the south end to the windward. The fishing ground this genial Mexican opened up to me was a delight…” [Holder, Charles F. The Channel Islands of California, 1910:50-51].


June 25, 1910 [LAT]: “Avalon, June 24. Preparations are being made here by Mexican Joe, Catalina’s oldest and most noted boatman, for a ten days’ cruise to San Clemente, with Col. Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, Dr. Garrett Newkirk, Prof. C. F. Holder and Maj. Frederick Burnham of South Africa. The chartered boats will leave Avalon on or about September 20. The party will encamp at Mosquito Harbor, San Clemente Island, making this headquarters and supply center…”


June 1, 1911 [LAT]: “Eight Years past century. Locally famous woman dies on Catalina Island. Was the wife of the noted tuna angler, Mexican Joe—known also as a reliable authority on the Island's Early history—only two days abed. Avalon May 31—Dona Felipa Redona de Perciado, wife of the famous tuna angler, "Mexican Joe," died this morning, after an illness of only two days. From records filed with her attending physician, Dr. J. J. Peckam, the deceased was 105 years old. For over 50 years she had been a permanent resident of Catalina Island, and was considered one of the most reliable authorities on the island's early history. A collection of Indian relics gathered by her many years ago was recently sold for $5000. Born in Sonora, Mex. in 1803, she came to Catalina in 1856, when she married her second husband, Mexican Joe, and for almost sixty years has been his constant companion. Many times the two have cruised the Channel Islands in a frail boat in search of Indian curios. During recent years they have been together on tuna fishing expeditions o0ff the west end of Catalina. Three years past the century mark, Mrs. Preciado swam a distance of 500 yards and remained in the water for over 30 minutes. Twenty years ago she took a daily dip in Avalon Bay. Twice she has pulled a rowboat around the island, a distance of sixty miles, in five days. As the oldest residents of Catalina both Mexican Joe and his wife have been for years recipients of favors from the owners of the island. Forty years ago Mrs. Preciado made a trip to the mainland. She never saw an automobile nor a street car. The body will be interred at the Avalon cemetery Friday.”

Avalon Cemetery, Santa Catalina Island


February 16, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “A novel reception and dinner was given Sunday evening by Mr. A. A. Carraher at his home on Maiden Lane. Invitations were extended to the ‘old timers’ who had resided on the island twenty-five years or more. Covers were laid for twelve guests, and those present were: Captain J. W. Wilson (who wore a crown), Captain G. Farnsworth, P. V. Reyes, Captain V. Moricich, Captain J. Adargo, Captain Hugo Asplund, Captain J. Arcey, ‘Mexican Joe,’ Captain Tom Whittley, Captain Harry Doss, John Brinkley and Captain Al Holbrooke.”


May 31, 1915 [LAT]: “Avalon. Doña Felipa Redona de Preciado, wife of the famous tuna angler, ‘Mexican Joe,’ died this morning, after an illness of only two days. From records filed with her attending physician, Dr. J. J. Peckam, the deceased was 108 years old. For over fifty years she had been a permanent resident of Catalina Island, and was considered one of the most reliable authorities on the island’s early history. A collection of Indian relics gathered by her many years ago was recently sold for $5000. Born in Sonora, Mexico in 1803, she came to Catalina Island in 1866, when she married her second husband, Mexican Joe, and for almost sixty years has been his constant companion. Many times the two have cruised the Channel Islands in a frail boat in search of Indian curios. During recent years they have been together on tuna fishing expeditions off the west end of Catalina. Three years past the century mark, Mrs. Preciado swam a distance of 500 yards and remained in the water for over thirty minutes. Twenty years ago she took a daily dip in Avalon Bay. Twice she has pulled a rowboat around the island, a distance of sixty miles, in five days. As the oldest residents of Catalina both Mexican Joe and his wife have been for years the recipients of favors from the owners of the island. Forty years ago Mrs. Preciado made a trip to the mainland. She never saw an automobile nor a streetcar. The body will be interred at the Avalon cemetery Friday.”


November 23, 1915 [San Pedro News Pilot]: “Launch Old Glory wrecked at Avalon During Hard Northeast Blow. A real "norther" visited the bay Saturday morning, blowing up in a few minutes at about 7 a.m. Little damage was done, but the Cabrillo was turned around in mid-channel with nearly 300 passengers aboard and returned to San Pedro. At about noon the launch Old Glory, owned by M. C. Bort, came ashore near the pleasure pier and turned over, wrecking all upper works, but was promptly pulled high and dry by block and tackle. The boat will be refitted and put in commission again in the spring, having been purchased by Fred Bort. The Old Glory is considered one of the best of the old model of fishing boats and many of the later boats were patterned after her. She is about 14 years old and was formerly named the Fortuna, the Black Cat, and the Lorena. She has seen much service under Julian Arce and Mexican Joe with many prominent people as anglers. One of the best remembered trips was about nine years ago when Mexican Joe went to Clemente to fish with a party composed of the late Dr. Holder, Governor Pardee, Stewart Edward White, Gifford Pinchot and Senator Flint. The boat was towed over by George Michaelis, but Joe brought her back alone after the fishing party left for home.—Avalon Wireless.”


April 4, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “Some recollections of the Avalon of twenty-five years ago… Mexican Joe was the leading fisherman and guide and was much sought after by tourists and others coming here to fish and shoot…”


April 23, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “Mexican Joe it is who from time to time moans over the past when he did not know enough to have relics ‘in his eye. ‘I might hev bin—I b’leve, I might bin—rich man this day (sure’s I’m sittin’ here), maybe millionheir, ef I’d hed any sense at all long time ‘go! It makes me too tired to think about it all! W’y, this ‘ere whole island, Cat’lina and Clemente was jes covered in what they all like so much now; relics, you call! Nobody then even liked them. Not ‘til Prof. Schumacher come; then I finds out, I tell you!…” [By Blanche Trask in The Whittier Magazine.]


1919 GET MEXICAN JOE OBIT!


July 16, 1924 [TI/Avalon]: “… As the years passed by, [Mexican Joe] became a guide to praties who came to hunt wild goats. Later, about twenty-eight or twenty-nine years ago, he acted as guide and boatman to anglers, rowing them as far as Seal Rocks and Church Rock, and even to the Isthmus, twelve miles distant from Avalon. He followed this vocation until four years ago, when he was poisoned, it is said, by canned milk, and after a short illnedd was called to the happy hunting grounds [at the age of 76], where his wife had gone before him.”


July 15, 1931 [TI/Avalon]: “… Mexican Joe Presido [sic] used to tell the story that when he was a boy he would dig up mortars and skulls and shoot at them just for the fun of the thing…”


August 12, 1931 [TI/Avalon]: “Sonora, Mexico was the birthplace of ‘Mexican Joe’ Presado. He came to the island in 1850 at the age of seven with Frank Whittley, who later had a sheep concession at White’s Landing, and at the East end of Catalina Island. One of Joe’s pastimes when a boy, was to kill the Catalina goats, cut the eat into thin steaks, salt and dry them in the sun. This meat was called ‘jerly.’ ‘Mexican Joe’ became famous as a boatman and gaffer to the late Dr. Charles F. Holder. Joe was an excellent shot with a rifle, and he used to narrate many instances of his early life on the Island. It is undoubtedly due to the stories told him by ‘Mexican Joe,’ that Dr. Holder wrote the book entitled ‘Adventures of Torqua.’ Torqua’s cave, referred to in the book, is better known to Avalonites as ‘Eagle’s Nest Rock,’ or ‘Frog Rock.’ On one of his escapades, Joe broke his left leg, which resulted in a shortening of the limb and a stiff ankle. This caused him to limp. He was not over ambitious. ‘Mañana’ was his motto! Joe would work three or four days as a boatman to the visiting anglers. Then he would have a ‘birthday,’ which he would subtly make known to the person who had chartered his fishing launch. ‘I don’t like to work on my birthday,’ he would tell his employer. Usually the ‘big-herated’ angler would excuse Joe for a half, or the whole day, and give him a present in addition to his regular fee for the use of the fishing launch. That called for a ‘celebration.’ Joe used to say that ‘Islanders were always on exhibition.’ During his later years he gambled his earnings. To obtain ‘house money,’ Mrs. Presado also learned the art of playing poker. Then Joe HAD to take his money home! Mrs. Presado ‘played’ with a ‘marked’ deck. Joe knew it, but the old couple continued the game. When on a ‘spree’ or a ‘celebration,’ Joe would invariably stand near the old post office looking out toward the ocean, would cry, ‘Man overboard!’ ‘Mexican Joe died at Avalon, December 16, 1916. Mrs. Presado was considerably older than her husband. At the age of 90 she swam across Avalon Bay from Abalone Point to Sugar Loaf, where now stands the palatial Casino.”