Santa Cruz Island: A History of Conflict and Diversity

Rising from the waters of the Pacific off the southern California Coast, Santa Cruz Island captures the imagination. Once home to a large Chumash population, in the nineteenth century it became a self-sufficient island rancho. As with all islands of beauty and size, it attracted people from the coastline. But as author John Gherini tells us in his prologue: The attractions of the island, however, routinely led people into conflict, wrapping it in a shroud like its morning fog. The modern history of the island would witness the passion to own it, to protect it, to use it and to fight over it. For the first time a thorough history of Santa Cruz Island’s tumultuous past is provided. In pre-Columbian times it was a source of wealth to the indigenous peoples- the place where they made their shell bead money. During the Spanish-Mexican period it was a smuggler’s haven, where fur hunters avoided the customs officials. As a land grant, it passed through the hands of Andres Castillero, William E. Barron, and eventually was purchased by Justinian Caire. The island flourished under the direction of Caire and his family. It was a secluded paradise off the Santa Barbara Coast, with extensive sheep and cattle holdings, as well as an esteemed winery. Seeds of conflict were sown by Justinian Caire’s will when the island was divided between family members. The Stantons, Rossis, Gherinis, the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy all were involved over time. The tortured legal and family disputes are recounted for the first time in this important new work. Island ranching, hunting and recreation, and environmental challenges are described in detail. Recent historical events involving the establishment of the Channel Islands National Park are explored, as well. John Gherini is a practicing attorney in Santa Barbara, California. A direct descendant of Justinian Caire, his father was the distinguished lawyer, Pier Gherini. His access to personal and legal papers concerning Santa Cruz Island has greatly enhanced the value of this study. Doyce B. Nunis, Jr., Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Southern California, editor of Southern California Quarterly, and is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the West, Contemporary Authors and the new edition of Howard Lamar’s Encyclopedia of the American West.

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