RUSTLING AND POACHING
RUSTLING AND POACHING of sheep, cattle, pigs, deer or elk occurred on various islands throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. A January 1921 newspaper reported:
- “McElrath, superintendent of Santa Cruz Island, has been under sentence of death for several weeks. Austrian pirates from San Pedro are threatening his life. The young superintendent is an excellent shot and has complete faith in his ability to protect himself.”
McElrath reported “mostly Yugoslavs, Neapolitans, and Sicilians” as responsible. In 1930, fisherman Steve Semerenko was shot and killed at San Nicolas Island by 18-year-old Milton Prentice, when he was thought to be stealing sheep. In June, 1948 two men were arrested for shooting and stealing three sheep from Santa Cruz Island. As late as September, 1982 a man was arrested for poaching two sheep on Santa Cruz Island.
In the News~=
January 20, 1880 [SBDP]: “The examination of the three mariners charged with grand larceny in stealing three white sheep and one hog from Santa Rosa Island, is still going on before Justice Crane.”
July 23, 1909 [SBMP]: “Ruthless slaughter of sheep causes Caire estate to forbid camping on Santa Cruz Island. Campers caught on the island without written permission from heirs of estate will be prosecuted. Signs and line riders will be employed in keeping campers off the island. Incensed at the continual and persistent slaughtering of wild and tame goats and sheep on Santa Cruz Island, a member of the Caire family of San Francisco who owns the island, was in Santa Barbara last week and stated to a prominent citizen that steps would be immediately be taken to close the island to all camping and excursion parties for all time. According to Mr. Caire, employees have been engaged for several days past in preparing huge signs which will be erected at various points on the island warning all who do not possess written permission from members of the Caire estate, that they are liable to arrest for trespassing. A number of line riders has also been recruited from among the employees on the island, and they will ride the trails and oceanfront, placing all under arrest who do not possess the necessary written permission. The above step, according to Mr. Caire, is not a new one, and has been contemplated for several months past. For years the goats and sheep have been ruthlessly slaughtered by the transient campers. The slaughtered carcasses were used by some for meat, though the animals were sometimes shot down by campers to prove their marksmanship. The former, according to Mr. Caire, even after all is considered, is not the class that has brought the change, but the latter. Aside from this considerable nuisance that has been encountered, according to Mr. Caire, is the negligence of campers to properly dispose of their refuse and in building fires. Some, in their effort to procure wood have been chopping down valuable trees and vegetation which is typical of the island. Then too, often employees of the Caire estate have been forced to extinguish fires left smoldering by careless campers. This is most dangerous, as there is no fire fighting apparatus on the island, and if a blaze obtained a good start the extensive ranch buildings and valuable vegetation, to say nothing of the thousands of sheep and goats, would be swept away. That the above announcement will cause no end of disappointment among local residents is true. For several years Santa Cruz Island has been the scene of the merriest camping parties. Its situation, many caves, canyons, slopes and ravines cannot be duplicated, and it is recognized as one of the scenic points in the vicinity of Santa Barbara. Then too, the exceptional fishing off the island has attracted anglers from all over the world. And all of whom will have to suffer if the above restrictions are enforced, for the negligence of a few non-appreciative campers.”
November 13, 1914 [Van Nuys News]: “Island Fishermen Jailed. Los Angeles, Nov. 10.—Three more fishermen from San Clemente Island were placed in the county jail by Special Deputy Constable "Jack" Adams on a charge of stealing sheep. This makes a total of thirteen men arrested on suspicion of raiding the sheep herds on the island. According to the officers, an effort will be made to oust the fishing colony from the island, as they are illegally residing there and are trespassers.”
May 6, 1916 [SBDN]: “Thieves steal thousands of Santa Cruz Island sheep. Activity of sheep and cattle thieves on Santa Cruz Island has developed a very serious problem which the Caire Company is seeking to solve. Profits are taken from sheep raising by these thefts. Thousands of sheep are being stolen during the year. Such is the report which U. Revel, superintendent the island, brings to Santa Barbara. The thieves go to the island in launches. Skirting the coast, they find it easy to shoot sheep and beef cattle, while the stock are foraging on the sloping hillsides leading down to the water. A shot topples over a sheep, which rolls to the beach, And the thieves have no difficulty in securing their prize without detection. It is stated that 250 to 300 gasoline launches make a practice of this, cutting in on the profits of the Caire Company. The larger number of these come from the south, clearing from San Pedro and other ports in that locality. Just last week one launch was overtaken with the carcasses of 16 sheep shot from the slopes of the island. Two beef cattle were also taken in similar manner. The company has four or five patrolmen on the lookout, but the island is so extensive that it is impossible for them to prevent most of the thieves from getting away with their plunder. In discussing various plans for putting a stop to the thievery, which has become very serious, the Caires have been considering putting on a gasoline launch patrol. Superintendent Revel was working on this problem when called to the colors, and had to hurriedly leave for Italy. He was naturalized two years ago, but deemed it a moral duty to respond to the call, otherwise he would have remained to put in force a means of capturing the sheep and cattle thieves.”
May 11, 1916 [LAT]: “That thousands of head of sheep are being stolen yearly from Santa Cruz Island by gasoline-boat pirates, is the report brought here by U. Revello, superintendent of the island, which is owned by the Caire estate. The owners are now planning a launch patrol in an effort to capture the thieves. It is claimed by Revello that the launches hail from San Pedro and other southern points. The sheep graze along the slopes of the island. They are easily shot from launches, roll to the beach and the carcasses can be quickly secured without danger of detection. The ranch patrols have caught one boat loaded with the carcasses of sixteen sheep and two beeves. Sheriff Nat Stewart today began plans to take a hand in breaking up the thefts.”
May 11, 1916 [LAT]: “Private detectives in the employ of large cattle raisers yesterday began an investigation of butcher shops of this city in the endeavor to find the accomplice or ‘fence’ used by a band of combination pirates, cattle rustlers and sheep stealers who have been scientifically preying upon the great cattle and sheep ranches on the Channel Islands... According to a statement given out by U. Revel, superintendent of the Santa Cruz Island Ranch, his company already has suffered a monetary loss that will eat up the profits of the year.”
May 12, 1916 [OC]: “Motorboat pirates steal sheep. Another form of criminal work by the use of gasoline engines came to light when the Caire company of Santa Cruz Island discovered that their sheep were being shot from high power gasoline launches and the carcasses taken to the large cities on the coast for sale. Private detectives are searching Los Angeles to discover the place where the animals have been marketed. They are endeavoring to find the accomplice or ‘fence’ used by a band of combination pirates, cattle rustlers and sheep stealers who have been scientifically preying upon the great cattle and sheep ranches on the Channel Islands. Using swift gasoline launches and high-powered rifles this band has been preying on the big ranch companies of the islands, Santa Cruz in particular, with the result that the heads of the company have issued orders for unremitting war against the looters. Months ago the superintendent of the ranches established on several of the islands noticed that serious and inexplicable losses were occurring among their cattle and sheep. But it was not until two weeks ago than an answer was found to the puzzle. One of the launches belonging to the Caire company… suddenly came across a high-powered launch, manned by four roughly dressed and armed men, heading south. The company’s boat passed as close as possible and the crew were able to see that the strange launch was filled with carcasses of dead sheep. Chase was started, but the strange launch soon outdistanced its pursuer. This remarkable discovery galvanized the officials of the cattle company into action. A string of patrol boats was organized, and the coastline of the island dotted with private detectives and guards. Three days passed and another pirate ship was almost captured. The plan followed by the pirates is to cruise along the coastlines of the islands. Immediately upon sighting cattle or sheep grazing along the slopes of the coast they commence shooting with high-powered rifles. The carcasses roll or are dragged down to the waterline and are loaded into the launches. The cleaning is done while speeding away to safety. According to a statement given out by U. Revello, superintendent of the Santa Cruz Island ranch, his company already has suffered a monetary loss that will eat up the profits of the year.”
November 7, 1916 [SCICo]: “Cagnazzi reports that a ewe was slaughtered at Smugglers and taken away. We are losing sheep all the time but have been unable to identify anyone. If we can’t get assistance from the County, we will have to take the law into our own hands. The schooner crew could undoubtedly identify some of the members, but as young Olivari put it: ‘We don’t like to say anything.’”
August 17, 1917 [SCICo]: “Two steers or heifers were slaughtered at Poso last week. We heard that an Austrian fishing boat unloaded over a ton of fresh mutton at San Pedro a few days ago and took it directly to a butcher shop. This information was supposed to have come through Larco.”
August 24, 1917 [SBDN]: “$200 reward. The above amount will be paid for information leading to the arrest and conviction of parties stealing cattle and sheep from Santa Cruz Island. The Santa Cruz Island Company. 573 Market St., San Francisco, California.”
September 20, 1917 [SCICo]: “In a previous report we mentioned the launch Sunset as having been seen with a portion of a sheep. The man who is said to have done the actual killing is Daniel Rayes and lives on 11th Street in San Pedro. In the party was Larry Lynch, the captain of the Sunset. This occurred on September 5th at Smugglers and the carrying of the meat was witnessed by Mauri and Cagnazzi.”
September 1917 the Santa Cruz Island Company was having such major trouble with hunters and boaters killing their livestock, that the island was closed to all visitors with the exception of those going to Pelican Bay. [Eaton 1980: 213] Island superintendents Duncan Swain and Clifford McElrath after him, began patrolling the island for sheep poachers and cattle rustlers.
November 9, 1917 [SCICo]: “[Rosaline] Vasquez has moved from Fry's to Dick's, and we are serving him with another notice... Carrigan and a vaquero named Hughston have returned from a visit to Dick's and Fry's. In riding down into Dick's, they herd a shot and hurried down as fast as they could. They got on the beach just in time to see Vasquez's boat, the Mary B, pulling out of the harbor with a sheep laying over the stern.”
January 22, 1918 [SCICo]: “Mr. Carrigan was fired upon by two sheep stealers at Blue Banks and was forced to use his own gun in self protection. The man ran down the hill and got into their own boat before he could get down. In case he gets hurt or shoots someone else, what position does the Company occupy? Are our own employees entitled to the reward of $200 if they get evidence to convict?”
February 2, 1918 [SBMP]: “$200 reward. The above amount will be paid for information leading to the arrest and conviction of parties stealing cattle and sheep from Santa Cruz Island. The Santa Cruz Island Company. 573 Market Street, San Francisco, Cal.”
March 27, 1918 [SBMP]: “With the destruction of Charles Erickson’s fishing cabin on Santa Cruz Island and his forcible ejection from his island home, and dismissal of the Santa Cruz Island Company’s ejection suit, against Erickson in the superior court here Monday, is closed the first chapter in a controversy over Erickson’s right to maintain a home on the island. The second chapter will bring, according to attorney Francis Price, when he files a countersuit for Erickson against the Santa Cruz Island Company, which is controlled by the Caire family of San Francisco, claiming full damages for the loss of Erickson’s home and fishing gear, a vindication of his rights on the island, and attorney Price said yesterday he may also attack the company’s title to the island. Because members of the fishing colony on Santa Cruz Island have been suspected of killing sheep and cattle and carrying out other depredations on the island, the owning company started an ejection suit against Erickson in the local superior court several weeks ago, this case being looked upon as a test action which would also determine the rights of the entire fishing colony to continue their homes there. Erickson retained attorney Price to represent him and fought the action, claiming that his cabin, which was built on stilts over waters of a creek mouth at Yellow Banks, was located on government tidelands not subject to the island company control. This action was to have come to trial this week, but attorney Price consented to a dismissal of the suit when he learned that Erickson’s house had been torn down and his property thrown away, it is alleged, by agents of the island company while Erickson was away for supplies. Price states that with Erickson thus illegally ejected, there was no use of trying the legal ejection suit, hence the dismissal. Now, according to attorney Price, he will bring suit against the island company for damages sustained by Erickson in the loss of his house for ruling regarding Erickson’s rights on what he claims is tide lands, and also attack the company’s title to the island.”
April 2, 1918 [SBDN]: “A campaign against cattle and sheep thieves has been started on Santa Cruz Island. Alanson Swain, in charge of the island for the Caire estate, is in town today, having made the trip across the channel to confer with Sheriff James Ross, and the latter is lending every assistance. The result of the conference is that a deputy sheriff has been appointed for the islands, and a vigorous crusade will be made, the expectation being that many arrests will follow. While no definite figure can be placed upon the losses the island has sustained during the past year through the activity of thieves, yet it is stated that no less than 15 or 25 head of beef cattle have been stolen, while the sheep thefts will reach between 300 and 400 head. ‘Austrian fishermen have been the most active in these thefts,’ said Swain, ‘and as long as they were interned at San Pedro we had little trouble, but now they have been released to fish again. We have also found that people from Santa Barbara and San Pedro have taken a hand in the thefts, and now we propose to make an example of them.’ Swain announced that the company has now stopped hog shooting on the island, and is turning the wild hogs to account, the high prices of pork having opened a market for the wild creatures, and large numbers have already been shipped. In speaking of the theft of sheep Swain states that the company has lost some of its fine imported rams, beautiful creatures, whose horns have been a double attraction to hunters. Many sheep have been wounded and died. If necessary, more deputy sheriffs will be appointed, and Sheriff Ross himself will take a hand, being determined that no part of his jurisdiction shall be known as a paradise for thieves, and as beyond the reach and protection of the law.”
April 9, 1918 [SCICo]: The superintendent’s report reported he had been “appointed Deputy Sheriff and some publicity was given to the fact. Whether the moral effect will be of any value is yet to be determined, but it at least places us in a position where we can arrest any one caught in the act of stealing cattle and sheep without first having to swear out a warrant.”
April 17, 1918 [SCICo]: The island superintendent wrote to Congressman Hayes in Washington, D. C.: “This and other Channel Islands have been subjected to a more or less continuous pilfering of livestock, which on some occasions has assumed something of the nature of a wholesale business. The principal offenders have been Austrian fishermen. ...during the past month one of these boats arrived at San Pedro with two steers and 48 sheep, all of which undoubtedly came from Santa Cruz Island.” A report later in the month states “our loss from fishermen [in Laguna, Willows, and Coches Prietos] will be great.”
April 30, 1918 [SCICo]: A letter to the United States Marshall in Los Angeles requested assistance from Federal authorities. The congressman responded that “as the Channel Islands fall into four different counties there is some conflict of authority and county patrols must be confined to land and not the high seas.” No State Patrol was ever authorized.
November 11, 1918 [SCICo]: “We have been told by Captain Ira K. Eaton, lessee of Anacapa Island, that he is going out of the sheep business because of the losses suffered from Austrian fishermen.”
May 18, 1930 [LAT]: “…The windswept, desolate, ocean speck again has lived up to its ill-omened reputation with the conviction and sentence last week of 18-year-old Milton Prentice for the murder of Steve Semerenko, a fisherman who was thought to have been stealing sheep from the island’s flocks. During the course of the month-long trial on a charge of second-degree murder it was revealed that the Channel Islands, of which San Nicolas is one, are the last out-post of organized rustling in the West. Several of the islands, San Clemente, Santa Rosa and Catalina, in addition to San Nicolas, have large flocks of sheep, easy prey to the stealthy attacks of marauding fishermen with an increasing and bitter feeling between them and the stockmen which culminated in the fatal shooting of Semerenko and the wounding of John Heise on February 23 on board the launch Taiyo, while anchored in a cove at San Nicolas Island. The circumstances leading to the shooting as told at the Ventura trial were that Prentice had gone to the island to be with his parents, who were in charge of the 1200 sheep pastured there. Frequent stories of fishermen led to the building of a small guard hut near the landing beach where the youth watched, armed with rifle. Lonely days rolled by until the Taiyo anchored and a dory put off to make a landing. Prentice is said to have waved and then fired a warning shot. This was answered by a shot from the boat and intermittent fire continued between the Taiyo and the shack until Semerenko lay dead and Heise wounded. Heise managed to navigate the boat into Avalon Harbor where he told of the attack and Prentice’s arrest and conviction followed.”
February 23, 1931 [REG]: “Los Angeles. Robert L. Brooks, who owns San Nicolas Island off Ventura, California, is being sued in superior court here for $10,000 damages because of the death of Steve Semerenko, fisherman. Mrs. Efrosinia Semerenko charges her son was killed by a rifle bullet fired from the defendant’s island last February 25. Milton W. Prentice, eighteen-year –old ranch hand, pleaded guilty last May to killing Semerenko and was sentenced to serve from five years to life in prison. Witnesses at Prentice’s preliminary hearing testified there was a bitter feud between the island ranchers and fishermen because of the theft of sheep and cattle.”
November 23, 1932 [LAT]: “At Sea on the Rum Blockade by Harry Carr. “At daylight the young chief bosun's mate waked Capt. Muller Hay in the bunk across from mine. "Here's the bootlegger, sir" he said. We climbed out in our pajamas to see a sullen sorry rum ship made fast to a Coast Guard cutter. All night our young skipper had stood in the pilot house, his eyes glued to his night glasses", watching for a shadow that would mean a rum boat running without lights. He had escaped us only to run into another Coast Guard ship. The lieutenant on the cutter said that the rum ship had ignored his call and tried to scuttle away into the mists of the morning. A shot across her bows only increased her speed. Then the one-pounder in the bow began to speak. At the fourth splashing shot the rum runner cut off his engine. He had no liquor on board, not having yet contacted the Canadian "mother ship" in the fogs of Tanner's Shoals. But he had violated a Federal law in having failed to stop. Capt. Hay brought our fast little ship alongside and a young bosun's mate buckled on a navy revolver and leaped aboard. If ever I saw a look of black disgust, it was on the rum runner's fat face as he was being searched for weapons. They asked him what he was doing out there. "Just sightseeing" he said sourly. '"Yeah?" said the bosun's mate. "Well, there are some swell sights back in San Pedro. Put your helm about." And away went the rum boat in custody. The sun was high when we came in sight of San Nicolas Island, a gosh-awful desolation in the sea. At one side of the little island was a little landing to which we could see women and men running down from the little ranch house on the cliff. An ex-navy man lives there with his wife and his wife's daughter and husband. They raise sheep; for recreation they dig up relics of the strange lost people who lived there in some distant, prehistoric day - quaint pitiful things - stone make-up boxes of forgotten belles, little stone pots still stained with cosmetics, shell necklaces, cooking pots. They are absolutely cut off from the world. Not long ago the navy man hurt his foot on a stone. There was no medical help until a ship happened to drop in. As the result of this neglect, infection set in and his leg had to be amputated. One of the family is a little girl whose school is the living-room where her step-grandfather, the navy man, works out problems for her on a blackboard. She is a lovely little peachblow child with grave, solemn eyes.”
December 1939 on Santa Cruz Island Helen Caire reported: “Our most serious problem with regard to the safety of the sheep was protecting them against the raids of fishermen who landed in parties from twelve to fifteen armed men to kill and carry off fat lambs, bootlegging the carcasses in San Pedro and other ports.” [Caire 1993: 54].
June 1948 two men were arrested for poaching sheep belonging to Edwin L. Stanton on Santa Cruz Island. Pier Gherini reported the incident when he saw two sheep in a local freezer locker and became suspicious. A third animal was found aboard a boat in the harbor. The men were fined and placed on 2 years probation.
October 1958 local Santa Barbara fisherman, Ralph Hazard, was tending his lobster traps at Cavern Point when he saw four men poaching sheep, shooting them from a boat and rowing ashore to pick up the dead animals. The incident was reported to the sheriff’s office.
September (l973?) three men from Carpinteria and Summerland were arrested by California Fish and Game Patrol when they unloaded 13 dead sheep from a boat in Ventura Harbor. A yacht had witnessed the incident at Santa Cruz Island and notified the authorities. The poachers were fined $625 each and served 4 days in jail.
October 26, 1980 [SBNP]: “Santa Cruz Island trespassers fined. Owners of Santa Cruz Island warned that trespassers won't be tolerated and pointed to the fining of four poachers yesterday. Fined $110 each before Judge Frank P. Kearney in Municipal Court... They pled guilty to trespass for the purpose of shooting animals on property of the Stantons...”