SHIVELY, “Big Jerry”

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Santa Barbara Cemetery

SHIVELY, “Big Jerry,” “Jake” M. (1867-1923), was one of Santa Cruz Island’s well-known fishermen after the turn of the century. Margaret Eaton described him:

“Big Jerry was a husky fellow about six feet tall, broad-shouldered, with brown eyes and brown hair and moustache. He wore ordinary work clothes and high rubber boots. He was very good-natured and always had a joke to tell about some other fisherman. His camp was at El Pozo, toward the western end of the Island.” [1980: 85].

Island superintendent Clifford McElrath stated:

“Big Jerry was an ex-Montana cow puncher turned fisherman. He wouldn’t rustle a cow and had no use for rustlers, but it was no sin in his book to shoot a sheep. In fact, he considered it a virtue.” Jerry occasionally tipped off McElrath when big boats planned a rustling raid on the island cattle. He also had a still in a canyon between Willows Canyon and Coches Prietos [Caire 1993: 156], but he “didn’t make money. He drank it up before he could sell it.”

Big Jerry cheated death in 1904 when the vessel Glendale sank at Anacapa Island. However, he came to death by accidental drowning twenty years later between Scorpion and Potato Bay on Santa Cruz Island’s east end during a severe February northwester. He and Isaac Newton had gone to look for missing fellow fisherman, Frank Nidever, aboard Shively's O.K. In their search for Nidever, the O.K. was smashed to pieces near Scorpion Rock. Both Shively, 56, and Newton, 39, were drowned. A coroner’s inquest was held on February 26, 1923, and testimony was presented by Sheriff James Ross, Dr. Charles S. Stevens, and fellow fishermen Frank Larco, Clarence Libbey, Augustine Nozeti [Noceti], Ira K. Eaton, and others. Eaton testified that accident area was “one of the worst corners on the island when a northwester is blowing. It's a regular little trap.” Shively’s body was found near Scorpion Bay at the east end of Santa Cruz Island.

Captain “Big Jerry” Shively is buried in Santa Barbara Cemetery, Ocean View Section, Grave 1071.



In the News~

July 22, 1904 [OC]: “The following land-lubbers, comprising the boat’s crew of Shively’s gasoline launch [Glendale] made a successful trip to Anacapa Island last Sunday: Captain T. E. Walker; first mate, L. F. Ronssey; second mate, A. O. Carvell; chaplain, Ed. Bulpin; steward, Roy Witman; cool, W. Lane; common seaman, John Turbett; expert fisherman, Peters. The firt mate, chaplain and common seaman were kept pretty busy on the out-bound trip feeding the fishes on partially digested Oxnard grub, under the hatches of the trio before their departure. Seaman Turbett bowed his head low over the rail, while chaplin Bulpin offered up his supplications and everything else that was lose. They enjoyed a barbecue on the island, captured plenty of fish and had a royal good time.”


September 2, 1904 [OC]: “Party of pleasure seekers go to Anacapa and are storm-bound, but not long… It is only proper to speak a word of praise of Captain Jerry Shively, the giant who has the boat. He is not only one of the best men out on the water or in it, but is as careful as it is possible to be. He will not start out on a trip unless it looks all right and he watches everything as closely as though his own life depends on it. He is as able and stout in the water as five common men and can handle a drowning person as easily as though they were made of straw. When he says a thing is safe there is no doubt about it. He also does his best to make the trip a pleasant one by showing all the sights and helping in the search for shells, shell fish or anything else of interest…”


January 4, 1905 [LAT/OX]: “The gasoline launch Glendale was piled up on the rocks of Anacapa Island Christmas eve and totally wrecked. The craft belonged to a Hueneme fishing company, which was engaged in crawfishing and had a camp on Santa Cruz Island near Smugglers Cove. The party left the camp on the preceding Friday intending to fish on the banks off the east point of Anacapa, but the heavy weather prevented and they anchored near the beach at Merry’s camp, expecting that the storm would soon subside. Instead of subsiding, it developed into a stiff northeaster, and as they were unable to leave their exposed position, they made things snug to ride it out at their mooring. Early Saturday night Jerry Shively and a man named Ross, who were sleeping aboard, were awakened by the unusual pitching of the boat, and upon investigating found the cockpit half full of water and the motor submerged beyond all hope of starting it. Seeing that the launch was gradually sinking, they took their tender, which had been made fast astern, and put off for shore. They rode in on the top of a big comber and made a landing that was spectacular to a high degree. The Glendale tugged at its moorings for a while, but finally dragged, went on the rocks and was battered to smithereens. The fishermen’s friends, becoming alarmed at their long absence, induced Captain Swenson, who happened along at Hueneme with the yawl Leone, to go to their assistance. Swenson found them near his old fishing camp, and brought them to the mainland in time for their New Year’s dinner. It is said that one of the party is still marooned at the Santa Cruz Island camp, but as he has plenty of provisions, he will be none the worse for his lonesome holiday season.”


January 6, 1905 [OC]: “Big Jerry Shively and Jack Ross, who have been running the gasoline fishing craft Glendale near Santa Cruz and Anacapa islands for some time, had a most exciting experience and a narrow escape from drowning at the latter last week. The party left the camp on the preceding Friday, intending to fish on the banks off the east point of Anacapa, but the heavy weather prevented, and they anchored at the beach near Merry’s camp, expecting that the storm would soon subside. Instead of subsiding, it developed into a stiff northeaster, and as they were unable to leave their exposed position, they made things snug to ride it out at their mooring. Early Saturday night the two men, who were sleeping aboard, were awakened by the unusual pitching of the boat, and upon investigation found the cockpit half-full of water and the motor submerged beyond all hope of starting it. Seeing that the launch was gradually sinking, they took their tender, which had been upon the stern, and put off for the shore. They rode in on top of a big pounder, and made a landing that was spectacular to a high degree. The Glendale tugged at its moorings for awhile, but finally dragged west of the rocks and was battered to smithereens. The fishermen’s friends, becoming alarmed at their long absence, induced Captain Swenson, who happened along at Hueneme with the yawl Leone, to go to their assistance. Swanson found them near his old fishing camp and brought them to the mainland in safety, while one of the party, who had been left in camp on Santa Cruz Island, was left to eat his New Year’s dinner alone — but he had plenty pf provisions and fared fully as well, if not better than his unfortunate partners. It is stated that Jerry returned to the island the first of this week and waded out to his wrecked launch and took the gasoline engine —a four-horse power one— to land, where, with a little repair work, it will be made to do service in a new craft.”


April 3, 1908 [LAT]: “Sad finish to fishing trip. Popular physician drowned in the surf. Dr. Joseph B. Tanner, assistant police surgeon at the Receiving Hospital and one of the most successful and popular young physicians of the Southwest, was drowned in the surf off Gull’s Rock in the Santa Barbara Islands, Wednesday morning… Dr. Tanner was one of a party of pleasure seekers who left here Sunday morning for a fishing and hunting trip… All were expert swimmers. They camped on an island Monday night, spent Tuesday fishing, and next morning headed for Santa Cruz Island. Near Gull’s Rock they sighted game. A small boat was put out and Captain Grant and Dr. Tanner, taking rifles and ammunition, went ashore to get fresh meat. They tracked wild hogs for some time and Dr. Tanner wounded one. The chase left them partially exhausted and they returned to the small boat and attempted to put back to the launch. A heavy surf was tumbling on the beach. Dr. Tanner took his station in the stern of the boat, holding the rifles. Captain Grant pushed them off, but before he could gain the oars and get the boat head on against the surf, the light shell turned broadside to the waves and capsized. Dr. Tanner, holding the rifles above his head, jumped into the water. After a struggle he gained the shore. The boat was righted and another attempt made. It resulted in a second spill. Tanner swam to the shore but was caught in the undertow… A second later the heavy barrel of one weapon hit him full in his face, stunning him. He disappeared beneath the water… The launch then put to sea and ran to a near-by fishing camp where Jake Shively, a fisherman, manned a small boat, went ashore and returned with Dr. Tanner’s body…”


April 10, 1908 [SBMP]: “Gruesome tale from Santa Cruz Island of Police Sergeant’s [Surgeon’s] Drowning. Ed Foley, one of the men who helped to recover the body of the Los Angeles police surgeon who was drowned while attempting to land on Santa Cruz Island some ten days ago, was in town yesterday and gave a vivid account of the mishap and the Poe-like incidents connected with his part in the unfortunate event. It appears that the power launch Petrel, with a police sergeant and several friends on board, came to anchor 100 yards off an unfrequented portion of [Santa Cruz] island and, lowering their skiff, the sergeant and a companion rowed towards the surf. The waves rolled high at this point and there was a tremendous ‘back-wash.’ The skiff was upset and the occupants caught in the swirl of the surf which would throw them headlong upon the shore and then just as they regained their feet suck them back into the maelstrom again. The captain of the Petrel, seeing the plight of his passengers, jumped overboard and swam gallantly to their rescue. Being more skilled at surf work he succeeded in gaining a footing and in dragging one half-drowned occupant of the skiff above the danger line. The captain then turned his attention to the [surgeon], but realized the hopelessness of his efforts, for the surf was playing football with the body, rolling it just out of reach. Meanwhile the Petrel had steamed to Forney’s Cove for help, and secured the assistance of ‘Big Jerry’ Shively and Ed Foley, who in their own skiff set out for the scene of the accident. By forming a human chain, they succeeded in beaching the surgeon’s body, but although they worked over him, it was obvious that the life had been battered out of him probably before he drowned. They set about looking for the other survivor, and finally found him in a half-demented condition wandering about a canyon unclad. Foley and Shively now attempted to carry the corpse and the captain back to the Petrel through the surf in their small skiff built for two live men. Foley gives a gruesome description of finding himself in the spume with the boat bottom-up and the corpse clinging in rigor mortis around his neck. The skiff was righted, but upset three times with its living and moribund freight before the launch was gained, the battle having lasted two and a half hours. The Petrel with its funeral party made for Venice.”


July 22, 1908 [SBI]: “…Captain Nidever said today that he did not believe the Anubis can be saved, although Captain Von Salzen is hopeful… Captain Nidever and his seal hunters, including J. W. Shively, Roy Arnold, Clarence Libbey, and Charles Hansen, were camped at Otter Harbor, that in clear weather is within plain sight of the wreck…”


August 3, 1920 [SBMP]: “Thirty-five passengers on board the gasoline launch, Okay, [OK], Captain Jerry Shively, received an unexpected thrill in the channel waters Sunday afternoon when the sturdy craft collided with and then slid gracefully across the reinforced spine of a huge whale. The Okay, headed for Santa Barbara, was kicking up a foamy sea about one hour out from Santa Cruz Island where those on board, including many school teachers, had been spending the weekend rusticating among the caves and grottos. Everything went well until about mid-channel, when suddenly the Okay seemed to falter and sway, and then her propeller churning wildly ‘cruised’ across the pulpy mass which proved to be a sea mammal of no mean proportions. Excitement prevailing at once, several in the party suggested that Captain Shively get out his cutlass and slice off a few steaks. Other brave ones were for harpooning the mammal outright and then towing the carcass into port for exhibition purposes, if nothing else. In the meantime, the deep sea rover, realizing his predicament sank from view much to the relief of the pedagogues, who feared the old boy would disport among the billows by splashing the boat to pieces with his powerful tail.”


February 18, 1923 [SBMP]: “Fear felt for fishing vessel. Another Larco boat with two Santa Barbara men missing for week. Failure of the fishing boat, O.K., commanded by Captain Jerry Shively, to return to port after an absence of a week is causing some apprehension along the waterfront, it became known yesterday. At the offices of Larco Brothers, owners of the O.K., it was said yesterday that ‘Big Jerry,’ as Captain Shively is known among fishermen, put out from here a week ago yesterday with the rest of the Larco fleet to search for the ill-fated Eagle in which Captain Frank E. Nidever is believed to have gone to his death. At Pelican Bay, Santa Cruz Island, he picked up Isaac Newton, employed at Captain Ira Eaton’s camp, and sailed away. That was the last seen of either Shively, Newton, or the O.K. Frank Larco said the failure of Captain Shively to report was incomprehensible as there had been no storm in the channel since his disappearance. He said no search had begun for the O.K. and it was possible that it was lying safely at anchor, though possibly disabled, in some bay or inlet on the windward side of the islands. A later report from the Larco offices indicated Frank Larco might begin a tour of the islands in search of the missing fishing smack today.”


February 20, 1923 [SBMP]: “Launch hunting Captain Nidever not located. O. K. not heard from since beginning search one week ago, Larco says. Fishing launches working about the Channel Islands have failed to sight the missing launch, O. K., of the Larco fleet in which Big Jerry Shively and Isaac Newton set out a week ago Saturday to aid in the search for the ill-fated Eagle in which Captain Frank E. Nidever is believed to have gone to his death, it was stated yesterday by U. E. Larco. Mr. Larco said he knew nothing of the report that the O. K. was in San Pedro for a new coat of paint. The fishermen have been asked to keep a lookout for the O. K. and inquiries have been made at various ports along the coast. No organized search for the launch has begun.”


February 22, 1923 [LAT]: “Santa Barbara. Search of the Channel Islands shores for the bodies of Captain Frank Nidever of the missing fishing smack Eagle and Captain Jerry Shively of the missing craft O. K., has been resumed because of the finding of a body in Scorpion Bay on Santa Cruz Island of the body of Isaac Newton, caretaker of the Captain Ira Eaton camp at Pelican Bay. Newton set off on the O. K. with Captain Shively to hunt for Captain Nidever, who has been missing since January 29…”


February 23, 1923 [SBMP]: “Newton inquiry brings no clue.


February 24, 1923 [SBMP]: “Huge coast rum-drug ring vendetta may be solution to channel death mystery.


February 25, 1923 [SBMP]: “Search to be made for seamen.


February 27, 1923 [SBMP]: “’Jerry’ Shively’s death result of drowning is verdict.


February 28, 1923 [SBMP]: “Two hours after the body of Big Jerry Shively, fisherman, had been interred without funeral services in the belief that he had no living relatives, it was made known to the Morning Press yesterday that a brother, David Shively, lives in Creston, San Luis Obispo County. The Morning Press’ informant, who would not permit the use of his name, said the Shively family was related to the Birmingham family, prominent ranchers near Creston. Big Jerry, as he was known among the fishermen of the Santa Barbara Channel, was drowned off Castle Rock, Santa Cruz Island while searching for his old fisherman friend, Captain Frank E. Nidever, who was lost at sea in a storm.”


? [SBMP]: “Big Jerry Shively, veteran Channel fisherman who has been missing since February 9, came to death by accidental drowning. This was the verdict of a coroner’s jury returned yesterday following an inquest at the McDermott funeral establishment over a body found Sunday near Scorpion Bay, Santa Cruz Island, and identified as that of Big Jerry. Testimony offered at the inquest by experienced seamen familiar during most of their lives with the tides and currents of the Santa Cruz shore, indicated that the tragedy occurred February 9 during a severe northwester at what was termed ‘one of the worst corners on the island’ when the wind is blowing from that quarter. The testimony corroborated, as previously assumed, that Shively had gone out with his fishing launch, O.K., with Isaac Newton, whose body was found near the same spot on February 21, to search for Captain Frank E. Nidever, an old fisherman friend, who disappeared in the fishing launch Eagle on February 1. On February 9 they put into China Bay, where they talked with two fishermen identified as Ben Journey and “Old John.” Then they put out to sea again and were last seen alive as they were rounding Blank Point. It was assumed that their tragic death occurred less than an hour later under the towering cliff known as Castle Rock. The body of Big Jerry was found by a searching party, which left here early Sunday. The party included Sheriff James Ross, Frank Larco, Captain Ira Eaton, Atwell Westwick, deputy district attorney, Captain Clarence Libbey and Augustine Noceti, a Larco employee. In contrast to the body of Newton, that of Shively was fully clothed when it was found and bore only a few marks. A puncture of the skin on the chest was believed to be a bullet wound, but the post-mortem examination conducted by Dr. Charles S. Stevens allowed that this wound did not penetrate under the skin. The story of the finding of the body was told at the inquest by Frank Larco.”