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Bootleggers at Guadalupe Island, 1925
The type of Coast Guard patrol boat that would have chased down Prohibition-era smugglers in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Prohibition (1919-1934) had an interesting impact on the California Channel Islands. A Santa Cruz Island superintendent’s report dated November 28, 1918 stated:

“We have heard through the fishermen that the Agriculture Appropriation Bill had been signed last week. If Prohibition is to be with us for a long time, our suggestion would be to root up the vineyard, using the bottom lands for alfalfa and the upper lands for barley and convert the Cellar and Fermenting Room into milking barns and cheese factory.”

The Volstead Act, the law that carried the 18th Constitutional Amendment into effect, declared anything containing more than one half percent alcohol to be “intoxicating” and therefore prohibited. As a result, the islands with their secluded shorelines within 12 to 30 miles from the mainland, provided excellent shelters for rum running activities. Island coves and beaches were used for smuggling deliveries and the holding and transfer of large quantities of hard liquor as well as for illicit liquor manufacture.

Helen Caire remembered:

“Stories were circulated of caches of bootleg in caves and remote canyons of the island. After repeal we learned from an old salt, who was craw fishing at the cove of Sauces de los Colorados, of two stills in shallow canyons in the slopes of the Red Range. With the many easily accessible coves, it was impossible for the Santa Cruz Island Company or the revenue officers to discover every hidden still.” [Caire 1993:51]

Bootleggers’ apparatus has been found in several island caves, particularly on Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands where Ira Eaton operated. Alvin Hyder was well known for his ability to outrun law enforcement agencies around the Channel Islands. Remains of a run-running plane, which crashed in the 1920s on Christy Beach, Santa Cruz Island, can still be found today. Although the liquor-laden plane was heavily overloaded and did not make the take off, no one was killed. Because of its central location, Prisoners’ Harbor, Santa Cruz Island was one of the favorite anchorages for rum boats waiting to rendezvous with bootleggers. Offshore, liquor sold at a ship for $50 a case brought at least $25 a quart in town. » rum-running; Grey Ghost

“If you include the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara County boasts 125 miles of coastline, the longest of any county in the country and loaded with coves, caves, and covert spots to hide conspicuous cargo. So when Prohibition ended legal sale of liquor, the illegal stuff that arrived by boat flowed onto Santa Barbara beaches and then was moved onto the highways via multiple vehicles, making it quite difficult for the authorities to crack down. It’s the exact same formula followed by the occasional panga boats delivering marijuana and cocaine from Mexico today.” [The Independent: August 8, 2019].

In the News~

July 13, 1918 [SBMP]: “Island policy will not be changed. Caire says Santa Cruz will be run purely as an industrial enterprise; no privileges. "There will be no change in the management policy of Santa Cruz Island," says Arthur Caire of San Francisco, who is visiting in this city. "The island will be run as it has been for the last 20 years, purely as an industrial enterprise. With the exception of Capt. Ira K. Eaton, no boating or camping privileges have been granted, as the management wishes to confine the island to the raising of cattle, sheep and to the wine industry," Caire declared. When asked what would become of the wine industry if the prohibition bill now pending before congress was passed, Caire shrugged his shoulders and said that they would have "to take their medicine like everybody else." He explained that the grapes were good for the making of wine only; that they could not be used for the table or for raisins. "We hope that the bill, if passed, will allow time for the adjustment of affairs," he said, "but even then it is hard telling what can be done about the proposition." The wine producing industry on the island is a large one. Approximately 70,000 gallons are produced every year. The Caire family is now camping on the island.”

April 29, 1920 [LAT]: “Santa Barbara. April 28. Ten barrels of whisky mash and a commercial size still have been seized on Santa Cruz Island, thirty miles off coast here, by prohibition officers and the investigators are now on the island looking for more stills which they believe to be located there. Captain Ira Eaton, owner of a pleasure launch here and lessee of a resort on the island, is in jail here and will be taken to Los Angeles tomorrow morning to answer charges before the Federal Court there. The mash and still were found on Eaton’s lease. The raiding party which seized the whisky mash came here aboard a sub chaser from San Pedro, late yesterday. In the party are Arthur Klete, chief prohibition officer for the district, William White, chief deputy, Frank Reynolds, chief field deputy, E. Vance and George Coloneous, deputies, and an assistant United States District Attorney.”

April 29, 1920 [LAT]: “Officers make another raid on Santa Cruz. No word has been received early this morning from federal officers said to be engaged in another raid on Santa Cruz Island moonshiners early yesterday morning when a small distilling apparatus, a quantity of brandy and of whisky mash were confiscated and Captain Ira Eaton was arrested at Pelican Bay. The officers arrived from San Pedro aboard a U.S. submarine chaser, landed at Captain Eaton's camp at Pelican late at night, and searching the vicinity located a still and the liquor. Captain Eaton was taken into custody and brought to the city jail, where he was confined last night awaiting the return of the federal officers, who it is said, will take him to Los Angeles today to answer charges of violation of the prohibition law. The officers state that liquor traffic has been going on from the island for several months, and claim that intoxicants have been manufactured on the island in large quantities and landed for sale on the coast north of the city. The officers engaged in the raid were arthur Kreite, chief prohibition officer of Southern California, W. E. White, chief deputy; Frank Reynolds, field deputy, and several others. Captain Eaton maintains that he had nothing to do with the manufacture or smuggling of the liquor, and states that he will easily prove it when arraigned.”

April 29, 1920 [LAT]: “Islander accused. Ira Eaton, who lives on Santa Cruz Island, set up a still for the manufacture of liquor, according to a complaint filed before the United States Commissioner Long yesterday, but forgot to register it, as required by law. Eaton will be arraigned before the commissioner this morning.”

April 29, 1920 [San Pedro Daily News]: “Rum hounds are chased by chaser. Santa Cruz Island, lying thirty miles off the coast, opposite Santa Barbara, was raided by a arty of Government officials late Tuesday in a submarine chaser fromLos Angeles harbor, and ten barrels of mash, a complete whisky still and a considerable quantity of brandy confiscated. Captain Ira Eaton, skipper of the Sea Wolf, at whose camp the raiders say they found the supplies, is in the Santa Barbara county jail, charged with prohibition law violation. The submarine chaser has returned to the island and the discovery of other larger stills is expected because of the large quantity of mash found. The still at the Eaton camp was out of repair and Eaton denies knowledge of its presence. A considerable amount of illicit whisky has been coming into Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and officers believe this is the source of supply. It retailed at from $25 to $50 a quart. The raiding party included Arthur Kriete, chief prohibition officer of the Southern California district; his deputy, Conrad Vance; Major Frank Reynolds, chief of the revenue field service. and deputy Revenue Collector William White. For years the island has been occupied by Italian sheep owners who have grazed stock on the available pasturage land, but one of the chief occupations has been wine making. Boatloads were shipped to neighboring points, and before the days of prohibition Santa Cruz was recognized as one of the greatest sources of the beverage. Reports have been received by the Government officials that there has been violation of the dry laws and that the men have taken advantage of the island's remote position and difficulty for officers to reach the spot.”

May 1, 1920 [San Pedro Daily News]: “San Pedro man charged with making whisky. Martin Ekenberg arrested on Santa Cruz Island and apparatus taken. A fast submarine chaser from the Sub Base here returned from Santa Cruz Island yesterday with internal revenue officers who were searching the island for reported moonshine whisky stills. Prohibition Agent A. O. Kriete, head of the party, returned with Martin Ekenberg, well known ex-saloon man of San Pedro, who was arrested on a charge of violating prohibition laws. Ekenberg is the second man to be placed under arrest on the Channel Islands on charges of prohibition violations. Capt. Ira Eaton, the first man to be arrested, and Ekenberg were arraigned before United States Commissioner S. G. Long, who fixed bail in both cases at $1,000 cash. Internal revenue agents declared this morning that a third still has been found in the Santa Barbara home of Eaton. Parts of a still were also said to have been found at Ekenberg's house on Santa Cruz Island, where a set of coils and a boiler were concealed in a wooden box. After his arrest Eaton told prohibition agents that a school for moonshiners has been in operation on remote and waterless San Nicolas Island and others on Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Anacapa Islands. Graduates from the school are maintaining small distilleries on the islands, Eaton said. Ten barrels of whisky mash were seized by federal agents when they raided Eaton's lease on the island last Tuesday. Eaton offered to disclose the location of all the illicit stills on the islands if paid for his trouble, he told the agents. Eaton claims he will clear himself of all blame in the arrest. Reports were circulated here several months ago that a still was turning out moonshine whisky on Catalina Island and that fishing boats were actively engaged in transporting the whisky to San Pedro for sale. Revenue agents made a search of the island, but could find no trace of the phantom distillery.”

May 2, 1920 [LAT]: “Some twenty or thirty illicit stills are said to be in operation in the rocky islands off Santa Barbara. The people who are crazy about our California sunshine may get real nutty over the moonshine if this thing keeps up.”

May 2, 1920 [Bakersfield Morning Echo]: “Moonshiner school on San Nicolas Isle. Los Angeles, April 29.—A school for moonshiners is being conducted on San Nicolas Island, 75 miles off the coast of Los Angeles county, according to a statement declared to have been made by Ira Eaton, arrested on Santa Cruz Island, off Santa Barbara, Tuesday, charged with operating an illicit still.”

May 7, 1920: [CS]: “A ‘school for moonshiners’ is being conducted on San Nicolas Island, 75 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, according to a statement made by Ira Eaton, arrested on Santa Cruz Island, off Santa Barbara, Cal., charged with operating an illicit still. Eaton was brought to Los Angeles by William E. Cavanaugh, deputy United States marshal. Cavanaugh said Eaton told him of the ‘school’ and also that he knew of at least twenty stills being operated on Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Anacapa islands. The moonshiners were decalred to have learned their trade on San Nicolas Island, then set up in whiskey making on the other islands, which are populated only by a few fishermen and sheep herders.”

June 22, 1920 [LAT]: “The supposed president of the ‘University of Moonshiners’ of the Channel Islands, said to supply most of the bootleggers and bootleg of this part of California, is under arrest at Santa Barbara. He is Augustine Cozzani, a Santa Barbara fisherman, who has just been taken into custody there with a magnificent assortment of joy water and liquor-making apparatus. A manufacturer of forbidden beverages who was arrested some weeks ago on one of the Channel Islands told the government agents that a school for liquor-making was operated on San Nicolas Island, and that the graduates were plying their trade at various insular retreats near Santa Barbara. The Channel Islands, he indicated, are heavily equipped with illicit stills…”

August 15, 1922 [SBMP]: “Ships That Sail the Seas May Carry Rum. En route to Santa Cruz Island Capt. Bob Ord came upon a craft in the channel Thursday apparently engaged in rum running. When Captain Ord sighted the vessel members of its crew were signaling him frantically, evidently in belief that he had come out to take off part of their cargo, but before he came up to the vessel it got under way hastily and sped off toward San Pedro.”

March 1, 1923 [Stockton Independent]: “Liquor officers probing deaths of five fishermen. Los Angeles, Feb. 28.—Federal prohibition officials said here today they were investigating the recent deaths of five fishermen in the Santa Barbara channel or on Santa Cruz Island to learn whether they had been slain by rum runners. The officials said Santa Cruz Island was believed to be utilized frequently by liquor pirates and they might have killed the fishermen in the belief they were prohibition agents.”

March 25, 1925 [VDP]: “Ventura owned island is base for booze ships from Canada. Mother ships land wet goods on Island and smaller vessels pick up cargoes and convey them to mainland. That San Nicolas, Ventura owned island in the Pacific, is the landing base of large booze vessels, is the statement which has been received by the authorities here. Uncle Sam’s revenue cutters have been plying about the island for some weeks. It is said that immense cargoes of booze have been landed there by mother ships coming down from Canada and picked up by smaller vessels and transferred to the mainland. San Nicolas is a part of Ventura county and is the furthest out of any Channel Islands in the Pacific. It is a part of the Hueneme township and Point Hueneme is the closest point of the mainland to the island.”

May 15, 1925 [SDET]: “Rum ships approach closer to San Diego under cover of fog. Aided by the cloudy weather and a faint haze that partially masked their movements, the "rum fleet" hovering off the San Diego coast is said to have crept closer to shore last night and in the early watches of the morning and succeeded in landing large quantities of their contraband cargo. The government officials, relying mainly on small boats of little speed, are hopelessly handicapped and the runners are able to move about at their pleasure. No difficulty is being experienced by the rum runners in evading the officers, it is added. County and city officials along the southern California coast are cooperating with the federal agents in a drastic campaign against the inflow of illicit liquor, but the handicap of lack of fast boats is a severe one. Word was received here today that the smugglers have threatened the life of C. B. Terry, port warden at San Pedro, whose activities have balked the landing of several cargoes. A telephone message received by Terry warned him that he would be killed if he did not cease interfering with shipments. Six vessels of the rum fleet were reported late today anchored off San Clemente Island waiting for the cloak of darkness to land a cargo on the mainland, while other vessels are thought to be approaching the San Diego coast for landing tonight in this vicinity.”

November 16, 1926 [SDET]: “Federal agents announced the arrest of George Garvin, said to be involved with the ship broker in the alleged conspiracy and specifically charged with smuggling 200 cases of liquor to Santa Cruz Island. Garvin was arrested after United States Coast Guard cutters reported the seizure Saturday of a launch which was run aground on San Clemente Island when chased by government boats. Three other suspects were taken into custody...”

February 12, 1927 [SDET]: “Booze launch captured. Los Angeles, February 12 — The Coast Guard cutter 259 has captured a small speed boat with three men and 90 cases of Canadian liquor off San Clemente Island, Santa Barbara Channel, according to a radio report received at prohibition headquarters here at noon.”

September 15, 1927 [San Pedro News Pilot]: “Island fishermen freed in rum case. A verdict of not guilty was returned late yesterday against Capt. Ira K. Eaton and his co-defendants on trial in Federal Judge Henning's court on a charge of violation of the prohibition law. Captain Eaton, widely known Santa Cruz Island fisherman, was arrested last December with Leona Fariola and Jack Maglar, after, it is asserted they transported thirty gallons of liquor from Santa Cruz Island to Santa Barbara in Eaton's speedboat Sea Wold. Defense attorney Lucas argued that the case was one of entrapment. The jury was out less than half an hour in returning the verdict.”

February 1930: “...Just before breakfast we saw a vessel on the horizon which apparently was heading towards us. When closing in on us we recognized it to be the Canadian rum runner Yurinohana from Vancouver, B.C. He was empty and apparently came in here to rest from his strenuous duties... [Jansen, Captain Frank The Cruise of the Ketch Evian to Guadalupe Island Pacific Coast Yachting 8(10):6-10, 27-32, October 1930]

December 25, 1934 [LAT]: “Tipped off that 4000 gallons of alcohol from a wrecked Mexican rum-runner had been cached in a cove on Santa Cruz Island, two Federal liquor-law-enforcement officers from Los Angeles and two Santa Barbara detectives, aided by a Coast Guard cutter, spent all day today in a futile search for the contraband cargo. The rum runner caught fire and blew up last Tuesday night in the Santa Barbara Channel south of Point Concepcion, according to information upon which Ray Deutch and Ray Campbell of the Los Angeles headquarters of the Federal liquor-law-enforcement department had been working. The crew and the cargo of the wrecked vessel were reported picked up by a Santa Barbara fishing boat and all of the liquor hidden in the cove on the island except a small amount which was distributed among skipper, crew and owner of the fishing boat. Several dozen cans of alcohol floating ashore at Naples, fifteen miles north of here, Wednesday, formed the only clue on which officers had to work after the boat, known to have left Mexican waters, failed to reach destination in San Luis Obispo.”