SMITH, Charles Wesley “Smitty”

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(Left) Charles Wesley "Smitty" Smith (1869-1954)
Tug boat Smitty. George Garven skipper 1950s.
Smith Family, Santa Rosa Island, 1922
Left to Right: Lon Maynard, Refugia "Cuca" Smith
E.K., Smitty and Charlie
Charles Wesley "Smitty" Smith (1869-1954)


SMITH, Charles Wesley "Smitty" (1869-1954) [SS#548-443-896] New York-born foreman on Santa Rosa Island from 1914 when he replaced Frank Pepper, until 1947 when he moved to the mainland and continued to work for Vail & Vickers until his death in 1954. Smitty had shipped out from New Orleans on an old square rigger as a cabin boy when he was only 13 years old. For eight years he lived the life of a sailor, seeing ports all the way around the world. In 1890, he was sailing on the schooner, Nellie, when she landed at Catalina Island. Walter L. Vail was running cattle on Santa Catalina Island at the time, and Smith left the boat to work for Vail. In 1894, Vail leased the cattle operations on Catalina and went back to the Empire Ranch in Arizona, taking Smitty with him. Smitty was transformed from sailor to cowpuncher, becoming head cattle shipper from Arizona to Kansas City.

In 1908, Smitty married Arizona-born Refugia “Cuca” Villa (1888-1964), nineteen years his junior, and they had three children:

  • Charles Oscar Smith (1915-1936)
  • Edward King Smith (1918-2010)
  • Mary Frances Smith (1920-1988)

In 1914, they came back to California where Smitty became foremen on Santa Rosa Island for Vail & Vickers who had purchased the island in 1902. All three of the Smith children attended school on Santa Rosa Island. Ed Vail recalled:

“Smitty never knew how long a day was, and he didn't care. If you followed him, you did a day's work. I never knew any other man with such endurance and strength.”

In April 1929 Ralph Hoffmann spent a week on Santa Rosa Island, and “through the courtesy of Mr. Smith, the superintendent of the Vail Ranch, the Director was enabled to camp in the interior of the island, in Lobo Canyon at the base of Black Mountain.” (Leaflet May 1929). Also in 1929, archaeologist D. B. Rogers stated in his book, Prehistoric Man of the Santa Barbara Coast, “Especial mention should be made of the aid given by the superintendent, Mr. C. W. Smith.” (p.274).

In 1936, the Smith's oldest son, Charlie, was killed in a self-inflicted shooting accident. He was just 21 years old. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Santa Barbara, as are most of the members of the family.

In 1947, Smitty moved to the mainland where he continued to work for Vail & Vickers until his death in 1954.

Smith Highway on Santa Rosa Island is named for Smitty.



Smith collected on:

  • Santa Rosa Island (1929)



Island Collections~
ISLAND COLLECTOR INSTITUTION DATE NUMBER SPECIMEN
Santa Rosa Island Charley Smith SBMNH April 1929 SBMNH-OS-275 Peromyscus maniculatus Mammals
Santa Rosa Island Charley Smith SBMNH April 1929 SBMNH-OS-276 Peromyscus maniculatus Mammals




In the News~

May 12, 1911 [LAT]: “Shipping. Port San Pedro, Los Angeles. Arrived Thursday May 11. Power schooner Santa Rosa Island, Captain Smith, from Santa Rosa Island… The power schooner Santa Rosa Island arrived today from Santa Rosa Island, with a cargo of cattle for Los Angeles wholesalers.”


April 24, 1915 [SBMP]: “[Hotel] Mascarel. From Santa Rosa Island—C. W. Smith.”


June 9, 1915 [SBMP]: “Yesterday morning Superintendent Smith of Santa Rosa Island, came over in the Vail & Vickers powerboat Tortuga for mail and supplies.”


January 23, 1917 [SBMP]: “The Colleen, the Santa Rosa Island powerboat, came across the channel yesterday morning with Superintendent Smith, after a load of supplies for the island ranch.”


March 2, 1923 [LAT]: “Widow weeps by rude grave. Faithful to mate in death on lonely island… Alone on uninhabited San Miguel Island, a widow last night was waiting by the rude grave of her husband for the arrival of a coroner from Santa Barbara, after a vigil kept since her mate’s death on February 17. San Miguel Island is thirty-five miles from the mainland, and fifty-five miles from Santa Barbara. Once a desolate waste over-run by wild hogs [?], it has been used for several years as a sheep range. The widow’s long vigil was revealed, when Captain Charles W. Smith, of the Santa Rosa Island schooner, owned by Vail & Vickers of Los Angeles, sent a boat to San Miguel Island after sighting of frantic signals of John Russell. Russell had been sent to the island on February 15 to repair a windmill on the property, which is controlled by Vail & Vickers [?]. The second day after his arrival, O. G. Guevarra, superintendent in charge of 2700 sheep, died suddenly of heart disease. Last Friday night lumber steamer Watson A. West bound to Los Angeles with 800,000 feet of lumber, was pounded to bits on the rocks at the west end of the island. It was to view the wreck that Captain Smith hove too off the island. Russell told Captain Smith that following Guevarra’s death, day after day he had signaled passing vessels without any response… By sheer accident yesterday, the signals were seen by Captain Smith, who sent a boat to the island…”


March 13, 1923 [ODC]: “Wife left to mourn husband on San Miguel. Left alone when her husband dies on San Miguel Island near here. Help fails to come. Keeps vigil from February 17 until yesterday beside crude grave... The widow’s long vigil was revealed yesterday, when Captain Charles W. Smith, of the Santa Rosa Island schooner, owned by Vail & Vickers of Los Angeles, sent a boat to San Miguel Island after the sighting of frantic signals of John Russell. Russell had been sent to the island on February 15 to repair a windmill on the property, which is controlled by Vail & Vickers [?]. The second day after his arrival D. G. Guevarra, superintendent in charge of 2700 sheep, died suddenly of heart disease. Last Friday night the lumber steamer Watson A. West, bound to Los Angeles with 800,000 feet of lumber, was pounded to bits on the rocks at the west end of the island. It was to view the wreck that Captain Smith hove to off the island. Russell told Captain Smith that following Guevarra’s death, day after day he had signaled passing vessels without any response. At length it became imperative that Guevarra be buried, so Russell fashioned a box of rough lumber, dug the grave and interred the body, with what he could remember of a funeral service.”


November 1, 1964 [SBNP]: “Mrs. Maria Smith. Rosary will be recited at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the chapel of McDermott's Colonial Mortuary for Mrs. Maria Refugia Villa Smith, 74, who died yesterday in a local hospital. She had resided at 630 Anacapa. Mrs. Smith was born Nov. 23, 1889, in Tucson, Ariz., and had lived in Santa Barbara for 50 years. She was the widow of the late Charles M. [sic] Smith. Survivors include a son, Edward K. Smith of Santa Barbara; a daughter, Mrs. Mary Frances Brewster of San Antonio, TEx., and a niece, Mrs. Victoria Alvarez of Hayward.”