TANNER, Joseph Bernard

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TANNER, Joseph Bernard (1878-1908), Illinois-born doctor who drowned on April 1, 1908 while on a fishing trip with friends to Santa Cruz Island. He was Assistant Police Surgeon at Los Angeles County Hospital at the time. Tanner was a 1902 graduate of the University of Southern California School of Medicine.

Joseph Bernard Tanner (1878-1908)



In the News~

March 30, 1908 [LAT]: “Deputy Game Warden John C. Wray left here today in the launch Petrel for a two weeks’ inspection of fishing conditions and equipment on and around the Channel Islands. Accompanying Warden Wray are Professor George H. Andrews of the Smithsonian Institute and Dr. Joseph B. Tanner and John M. Beckwith of Los Angeles. The party will land first on Santa Cruz Island and later Anacapa, San Clemente and San Nicolas, returning via Santa Catalina. An inspection will be made of all lobster traps on the islands.”


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 3, 1908 [OT]: “Drowns in surf: San Pedro. Dr. Joseoh B. Tanner, assistant police surgeon at Los Angeles was drowned yesterday off Santa Cruz Island, where he had gone with a party of friends on the yacht Petrel last Monday.”


April 5, 1908 [LAT]: “The funeral of Dr. Joseph Bernard Tanner, former police surgeon, who drowned in the surf off Santa Cruz Island Wednesday, was held yesterday afternoon at the First Congergational Church. The service was impressive. Rev. William Horace Day, pastor of the church, reviewed the life of the young surgeon, telling of his many kindly acts… Interment was at Evergreen Cemetery.”


April 5, 1908 [LAH]: “Dr. Tanner laid to rest in Evergreen. Hundreds of floral offerings mark ceremony. Crew of launch that carried physician to scene of death among scores who pay tribute to memory. The mortal remains of Dr. Joseph B. Tanner, late assistant police surgeon, who was drowned off Santa Cruz Island last Wednesday morning, were laid to rest yesterday afternoon in Evergreen Cemetery in the family burial plot. Tenderly and reverently the last sad rites were performed by the friends and associates of the dead surgeon. Never was more impressive service for the dead held in Los Angeles and never was there a more signal outpouring of heartfelt grief and sympathy exhibited on the part of mourning relatives and friends. The funeral service was held at the First Congregational Church at Ninth and Hope streets, the Rev. William Horace Day officiating. The body reposed at the altar rail in a magnificent broadcloth casket of pale lavender color and was banked on all sides by a wealth and profusion of floral offerings coming from the friends and associates of the dead man and from the members of the various societies, fraternities and associations of which he was a member...”


April 5, 1908 [LAT]: “One of the gentlest hearts that ever beat was that of Dr. Joseph Bernard Tanner, who was drowned in the surf at the Santa Barbara islands the other day. I used to go to school with him when we both wore knee pants and were trying to learn fractions. He was called Bernard Tanner in those days. He was more studious than most of the rest of the boys, and even at that age, the gentlest of fellows. Afterward he studied medicine, and I believe, studies in Europe. He intended eventually to become an eye specialist, but got into the city Receiving Hospital as a temporary measure until he should get a start. I know he suffered from the fearful tragedies of that place. With some men, that sort of thing grows worse wrung his tender heart. Had he lived Tanner would have surely gained eminence. As it is, he left behind an honorable memory.”


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.”


1908: “...Big Jerry told us about an accident that had recently happened up at the next harbor, Laguna. Three men had chartered a boat, the Real from San Pedro, to go hog hunting. They dropped anchor at Laguna and started to row ashore in the skiff. Laguna beach is very treacherous, as the local fishermen knew; only an experienced surf man could land there, and even he must know his stuff. The swells had been high that day, and the skiff upset. Seeing the men in trouble, the captain jumped overboard and managed to pull one man to safety on the beach, but the other, a policeman, drowned. It had taken several people, including Big Jerry and his partner who had happened to be in the area, to form a human chain in the surf to retrieve the drowned man's body. They other man they found wandering up the canyon with no clothes on, half-crazy. In trying to get the body back to the boat they had upset the skiff again, and Big Jerry had found himself in the ocean with the body around his neck. Finally they got it aboard and took it back to Venice for burial...” [Eaton, Margaret Diary of a Sea Captain's Wife: Tales of Santa Cruz Island, (1980) p. 86]