RUM-RUNNING was a means of making big profits in the 1920s during the enforcement of the Volstead Act of Prohibition. In the early years, local Santa Barbara officers were thwarted in their enforcement attempts because they lacked a patrol vessel. Ira Eaton and Alvin Hyder were both well-known for their illicit liquor businesses on the California Channel Islands.
In August of 1923, the Santa Barbara Yacht Club's vessel, Caprice, was used for a raid conducted on Santa Cruz Island, which netted 11 barrels of full-strength beer from two caves at Hazard's Anchorage.
The rum-running vessel out of Los Angeles, Grey Ghost, was apprehended at Valley Anchorage, Santa Cruz Island.
» Grey Ghost; PROHIBITION
In the News~
April 29, 1920 [LAT]: “Santa Barbara. April 28. Ten barrels of whiskey 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 whiskey 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]: “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.”
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.”
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…”
December 17, 1922 [LAT]: “Lose ‘em in channel. Schooners and small power craft that clear Vancouver for Ensenada and Manzanillo and then never reach Mexican ports with their costly liquor cargoes often lose them in the dangerous passages of the Channel Islands. These smuggler-infested channels are dreaded by the skipper of every legitimate whiskey liner in Vancouver and Victoria. On numerous occasions during the past year these little Britishers have been lying innocently at anchor off Santa Cruz, Catalina, or San Clemente, when the liquor buccaneers swept in out of the darkness, boarded the craft and took off a thousand or two cases of the finest Scotch before the bewildered crew of the attacked boat knew what was up. Broken in heart and spirits, the crew of the abused Britisher would put back to Vancouver. Smugglers’ Cove on Santa Cruz Island, the Isthmus of Catalina Island, and similar little-known protected spots along the islands that lie handy off the Southern California coast, are the favorite rendezvous of the rum fleet. By daylight the most depraved crew of the flagship of the rum fleet looks like an honest crew of fishermen after a hard night on the halibut banks. But they are a reckless bunch, these bootleg buccaneers—because there is no one to fear. The police and the customs officials at Los Angeles Harbor have made repeated requests to the powers that be for craft to combat the rum-runners, but there has been forthcoming not even a rowboat. And without a dry Navy the port authorities are helpless before this growing flood of good liquor and bad.”
December 18, 1922 [LAT]: “Rum-runners head south. Hide and seek around the points and coves of the Channel Islands will be the Christmas game of local Federal officers and certain boats of the Vancouver rum fleet. Reports received from the north yesterday advised the authorities that numerous units of the whiskey fleet would ‘depart for Mexico’ early this week…”
August 3, 1923 [ ]: “The seizure made yesterday uncovers the first actual evidence of bonded liquor smuggling by water into Santa Barbara.” The beer was “removed to the county jail,” and shortly after this incident, Captain George W. Gourley and the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Yacht Club voted to prohibit the use of Caprice for such operations for fear it might result in reprisals aimed at club members. » Prohibition
November 10, 1923 [SDET]: “Rum runners must stay outside. Run runners off southern California must peddle their stuff about 75 miles off the mainland, according to an interpretation of a statement by Captain F. W. C. Byer of the revenue cutter 'Vaughn. Capt. Byer said Washington holds that American waters extend from Point Arguello to Santa Rosa Island and south, taking the group of islands including Catalina and San Clemente, thence to the mainland. If the recently signed 12-mile pact with Britain is included, the boot-leggers' freedom of the seas begins that distance the other side of the islands, or perhaps 75 miles from San Diego.”
May 9, 1926 [LAT]: “United States Judge James yesterday hastily disposed of three prohibition cases by the expedient of fines, and on top of it ordered the famous Long Beach rum ship, Nigger Boy, sold at auction today at berth 132, Wilmington… The Nigger Boy will be sold by Marshal Al Sittel for the part it played in a sensational rum-running expedition off the south coast which later involved several Long Beach businessmen, including Captain Cecil K. Sherman, owner of the craft…”
June 10, 1925 [
November 16, 1926 [OT]: “San Francisco. November 16. Four alleged ring-leaders of a rum ring said to extend from the Mexican border to British Columbia, were arrested in Los Angeles this afternoon, according to advices received at local prohibition headquarters. This makes ten arrests in the past twenty-four hours in a move to clean up alleged wholesale liquor operations of a group of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Vancouver liquor capitalists… The four arrested in Los Angeles today are George Garvin, said to be involved with Forsythe and specifically charged with landing 200 cases of booze on Santa Cruz Island…”
December 25, 1934 [SBMP]: “After a futile search of Santa Cruz Island for a cache of 4,000 gallons of alcohol reported to have been made there by operators of a rum-runner, two Santa Barbara police detectives and two federal reserve detectives of Los Angeles returned here yesterday. According to information received by the federal operatives, the alcohol had been salvaged from a wrecked rum-runner en route from Mexican waters to San Luis Obispo and hidden in a cove on the island… the rum-runner had caught fire and blew up in last Tuesday while in the Santa Barbara channel… The crew was rescued by a Santa Barbara fishing boat, and managed to take aboard more than 4,000 gallons of Mexican alcohol, most of which was cached in a cove on the island and a small portion of which was distributed among the fishing boat skipper, the crew and the owner. Several dozen cans of the alcohol floated ashore near Naples Tuesday night and Wednesday morning...”