Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island
Native name:
Santa Cruz Island by Sentinel-2.jpg
ESA satellite image of Santa Cruz Island
Coordinates 34°00′N 119°43′W / 34.000°N 119.717°W / 34.000; -119.717
Area 250 km2 (97 sq mi)
Length 35 km (21.7 mi)
Width 10 km (6 mi)
Highest elevation 740 m (2,430 ft)
Highest point Devils Peak
United States
State California
County Santa Barbara
Population Rangers and tourists are the only residents
Map of the Channel Islands
The north coast of Santa Cruz Island in August

Santa Cruz Island (Spanish: Isla Santa Cruz, Chumash: Limuw[1]) is located off the southwestern coast of California, United States. It is the largest island in California,[2] and largest of the eight islands in the Channel Islands archipelago.[3] Forming part of the northern group of the Channel Islands, Santa Cruz is 22 miles (35 km) long and 2 to 6 miles (3 to 10 km) wide with an area of 61,764.6 acres (249.952 km2).

The island's coastline has steep cliffs, large sea caves, coves, and sandy beaches. The highest point is Devils Peak, at over 2,450 feet (747 m). A central valley splits the island along the Santa Cruz Island Fault, with volcanic rock on the north and older sedimentary rock on the south. This volcanic rock was heavily fractured during an uplift phase that formed the island, and over a hundred large sea caves have been carved into the resulting faults. The largest of these is Painted Cave, among[quantify] the world's largest.[4]

For administrative purposes the island is part of Santa Barbara County, California. The 2000 census showed an official population of two people.[5] Santa Cruz is the largest privately owned island off the continental United States. Ownership is split between the National Park Service (24%) and the Nature Conservancy (76%).[3]

Santa Cruz Island is home to some endemic species of animals and plants, including the Santa Cruz Island fox (Urocyon littoralis santacruzae), a subspecies of the island fox.


Early history

Archaeological investigations indicate that Santa Cruz Island has been occupied for at least 10,000 years. It was known as Limuw (place of the sea) or Michumash in the Chumash language.[3][6] The Chumash people who lived on the island developed a highly complex society dependent on marine harvest, craft specialization and trade with the mainland population.[7] Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo first observed the island in 1542, later estimated to be inhabited by 2,000 to 3,000 Chumash on the three northern Channel Islands, with 11 villages on Santa Cruz.[8]

In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno led the last Spanish expedition to California. His map named Santa Cruz Island the Isla de Gente Barbuda (island of the bearded people). Between 1602 and 1769 there was no recorded European contact with the island. Finally, in 1769, the land-and-sea expedition of Don Gaspar de Portolà reached Santa Cruz Island. Traveling with him were Father Juan González Vizcaíno and Father Francisco Palóu. Father Palóu wrote of Father Vizcaíno's visit to the Santa Cruz village of Xaxas that the missionaries on ship went ashore and "they were well received by the heathen and presented with fish, in return for which the Indians were given some strings of beads." The island was considered for establishment of a Catholic mission to serve the large Chumash population. When Mission San Buenaventura was founded across the channel in 1782, it commenced the slow religious conversion of the Santa Cruz Chumash. Beset by diseases such as measles, the Chumash declined in numbers until, in 1822, the last of the Chumash left the island for mainland California missions.[3][8]:100

The name of Santa Cruz for the island came about when Gaspar de Portola expedition visited the Chumash village Xaxas on the island. The Chumash on the next day returned a staff, topped by an iron cross, which had been inadvertently left behind by the Spanish. Hence, the name La Isla de la Santa Cruz (island of the holy cross) appeared on their exploration map of 1770. George Vancouver used the same name on his 1793 map.[8]

With Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government asserted its control over Alta California. In an effort to increase the Mexican presence, the government began sending convicted criminals to California in 1830. Around 80 prisoners were sent to Santa Barbara where, upon arrival, 31 incorrigibles were sent to Santa Cruz Island. They lived for a short time in an area now known as Prisoners' Harbor before escaping to the mainland.[3][8]:100

Mexican land grant

Governor Juan Alvarado made a Mexican land grant of the Island of Santa Cruz to his aide Captain Andrés Castillero in 1839. When California became a state in 1850, the United States government, through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, required that land previously granted by Spanish and Mexican governments be proved before the Board of Land Commissioners. A claim was filed with the Land Commission in 1852,[9] confirmed by the US Supreme Court[10] in 1860, and the grant was patented to Andrés Castillero in 1867.[11][3][8]:101–102 Castillero transferred title to his agent William Barron in 1857.


Scorpion Ranch, 2009

William Baron was a San Francisco businessman and co-owner of the company Barron, Forbes & Co. Dr. James Barron Shaw was hired to manage things, and charged by Barron to start a sheep operation. He built corrals and houses for himself and his employees and expanded the road system. He imported cattle, horses, and sheep to the island and erected one of the earliest wharves along the California coast at Prisoners' Harbor. Shaw was the first rancher to ship sheep to San Francisco by steamer, some selling at $30 per animal. By 1869, the year he left Santa Cruz, Shaw's island sheep ranch was well known, and some 24,000 sheep grazed the hills and valleys of Santa Cruz Island.[3][8]:102 At that time, the gross proceeds from the ranch on Santa Cruz Island were supposedly $50,000.[3][8]:102–103 Barron sold the island for $150,000 in 1869, and Shaw left for San Francisco and Los Alamos where he continued ranching.

The island was purchased by ten investors from San Francisco, headed by Gustave Mahé. One of the investors, Justinian Caire, was a French immigrant and founder of a successful San Francisco hardware business that sold equipment to miners. By 1886 Caire had acquired all of the shares of the Santa Cruz Island Company which he and his colleagues had founded in 1869. He then implemented his vision of building a self-sustaining sheep and cattle ranch, vineyard, nut and fruit grove operation on the island. Main Ranch was augmented with nine other ranches, Prisoners' Harbor, Christy, Scorpion, Smugglers, Forney's Cove/Rancho Nuevo, Poso, Buena Vista Portezuela, and Sur Ranch. In 1885, he operated the largest private telephone system in the US at that time. A post office operated from 1895 until 1903, while there were 110 workers on the island in 1889. The operation received water from four springs, El Pato, Gallina, The Dindos and The Peacock, which fed into a 26,000 gallon reservoir, tanks and dams. The vineyard was planted in 1884 and by 1895, the winery was maturing 86,000 gallons from the 200 acre vineyard.

Justinian Caire's will stipulated his two sons, Arthur and Frederic, were to be executors of his will and continue management of operations with little change, though Justinian signed over to his wife Albina, all shares in the Justinian Caire Company and Santa Cruz Company the year before he died in 1897. His sons continued a successful livestock, winemaking[12][page needed] and ranching industry on the island after his death, at least until Albina distributed Santa Cruz Island Company shares amongst her children between late 1910 and early 1911.[3][8]:104–138 Albina, Fred, Arthur, Delphine and Helene received 86 percent of the stock, while the two married daughters Amelie and Aglaë received 14 percent. Beginning in 1910 an extended and complicated litigation was brought by Caire's two married daughters against their mother and four siblings. The married daughters' families, led by in-law Ambrose Gherini, retained 6,000 acres (2,428 ha) on the east end of the island. But the majority of Caire's descendants were compelled in to sell the remaining 90 percent of the island, in 1937, to pay their legal costs.[12][3][8]:138–157

The buyer was Los Angeles oilman Edwin Stanton. Stanton's purchase of the major part of Santa Cruz Island brought a major shift in agricultural production on the island. After trying for a short time to continue the sheep operation, bringing in 10,000 head, he decided to switch to beef production. At the time, the beef industry in California was growing rapidly, with Santa Barbara County among the top ten beef producers in the state.[3] Edwin Stanton's ranch on Santa Cruz Island saw changes that reflected the evolution of cattle ranching in a working landscape. While retaining most of the 19th century structures dating from the Caire period, Stanton constructed a few buildings to meet the needs of his cattle ranch, the most notable of which is Rancho del Norte on the isthmus. Pasture fencing and corrals were altered to suit the cattle operation and an extensive water system was added to provide water to the cattle.[3][8]:157–159

The Gherini family, descendants of Justinian Caire's two daughters who successfully sued to break up Caire's legacy, continued their sheep ranching operations on the east end of Santa Cruz Island until 1984, using Scorpion Ranch as their base. This was the area east of the Montañon range, which included Scorpion Harbor and Smugglers Cove. They managed the island with resident managers and laborers and often worked as a family during shearing and during the summer. Production dropped during the 1970s and 1980s and the expense of ranching on a remote island rose.

Protracted litigation between the Gherinis and the federal government started in 1980, when the northern Channel Islands were designated a national park and Congress authorized the purchase of the family's remaining land. But the purchase was held up as family members pushed the federal government to pay what they believed was the appropriate amount. In the early 1990s, the government managed to buy the interests of Francis Gherini's three siblings for about $4 million apiece. But the former Oxnard attorney continued to insist that the offer was too low, keeping his 25% interest in the 6,264-acre (25.35 km2) ranch and leaving the Park Service with 75%, effectively blocking the establishment of the park. After 16 years of negotiation, in November 1996, government officials settled with Gherini for 14 million dollars which included 2 million dollars in back interest, clearing the way for the park to be opened to the public.[13] The last of the 10,000 sheep on the island were removed by 1999.[8]:138–157

With Edwin Stanton's death in 1964, his widow and son, Carey, re-incorporated the Santa Cruz Island Company and continued the cattle operations on the island. Carey Stanton died unexpectedly in 1987 at the ranch and was buried in the family plot in the island chapel yard at the Main Ranch. The real property passed to The Nature Conservancy through a prior agreement that Carey Stanton had established with the non-profit organization.[14] The Nature Conservancy rapidly liquidated the cattle operation and ended the ranching era on the island.[3] [12][page needed] They also were able to eliminate the last of the feral pigs by 2006.[8]:160–165

Other uses

Santa Cruz was a base for otter hunters, fishermen, and smugglers. The Channel Islands often provided smugglers and bootleggers with convenient yet isolated hideaways where they could store their goods. One such area is known today as Smugglers Cove.[3]

George Nidever recalled hunting otter at Santa Cruz in the winter of 1835–36. Working from a base camp at Santa Rosa Island, he and two others obtained 60 skins that season. Fishermen encamped on the island, trading fish for other goods from passing boats.[3]

Several movies were shot on the island, including Peter Pan and The Rescue.[8]:148

The Richfield Oil Corporation acquired an exploration lease in 1954 but did not find oil.[8]:160

UC Santa Barbara established a summer geology class in 1963, and the Santa Cruz Island Field Station in 1966.[8]:161

The Santa Cruz Island Hunt Club operated from 1966 until 1985, beginning as a sheep and pig hunting during a rifle season and an archery season.[8]:162

The United States military began to use Santa Cruz Island during World War II, and has constructed and maintained strategic installations on the island. Like all of the Channel Islands, Santa Cruz Island was used as an early warning outpost for observing enemy planes and ships during World War II. During the Cold War a communications station was installed as a part of the Pacific Missile Range Facility. This station remains in operation, although not at the levels of use seen in the 1950s and 1960s.[3]

National Park and Nature Conservancy preserve

Potato Harbor

In 1936 the Caire family reportedly offered their 90% of the island for $750,000 to the state of California for use as a state or federal park. Nothing came of this proposal, and the property was sold to Edwin Stanton. Stanton's son and heir was not interested in a government purchase of his island. He took steps to avoid such events by forging an agreement with The Nature Conservancy, and the property was transferred to the organization upon his death in 1987. Although Santa Cruz Island is included within the boundaries of Channel Islands National Park, The Nature Conservancy portion of the island does not belong to the park. A gift of 8,500 acres (34 km2) from the Nature Conservancy to the park was completed in 2000.[3]

Channel Islands National Park owns and operates approximately 24% of Santa Cruz Island. The remaining land, known as the Santa Cruz Island Reserve, is used for scientific research and education, and is managed by a combination of organizations which includes The Nature Conservancy, the University of California Natural Reserve System, and the Santa Cruz Island Foundation. The Reserve and its staff provides accommodations for visiting students and researchers.

Wildlife, plants, and climate

Lichen-encrusted rocks upon the cliffs of Santa Cruz Island

Introduced and invasive species on Santa Cruz Island include:

Native species include:

The native plant communities of Santa Cruz Island include chaparral, oak woodland, Bishop pine (Pinus muriacata) forest, grassland and coastal sage scrub. Where sheep grazing was prevalent, the native plant cover has been damaged, and erosion and gullying has been a problem in some areas. The native plant communities are slowly recovering since the removal of feral sheep and pigs.

Bald eagle reintroduction

Santa Cruz Island

Bald eagles were once numerous on California's Channel Islands. Because of eggshell thinning caused by DDT and other factors, successful bald eagle nesting in the northern Channel Islands ended by 1949. By the 1960s, bald eagles could no longer be found on any of the Channel Islands.

As of 2013, there were five breeding pairs on Santa Cruz Island, two on Santa Rosa, and one on Anacapa, and a total of over 40 bald eagles on the northern Channel Islands. Between 2002 and 2006, the Channel Islands National Park (in conjunction with partner, Institute for Wildlife Studies) introduced[20] sixty-one young bald eagles to the northern Channel Islands, using a "hacking" process of keeping 8 weeks old eagles in one of two hack towers on Santa Cruz Island, until at age three months, they were ready to fly. On the Channel Islands, where large trees are scarce, bald eagles have built nests on cliff faces, rock shelves and shallow cliffs, as well as in island pines and Torrey pines. One pair even attempted nesting in a grassland on Santa Cruz Island.[20] In 2006, for the first time in over 50 years, a bald eagle hatched on Santa Cruz Island.[21][22]

Because nesting bald eagles can deter golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) from breeding, the recovery of bald eagles on the northern Channel Islands has also helped enable recovery of the endangered island fox. Golden eagle predation had been responsible for the steep decline of island foxes on the northern Channel Islands in the 1990s.[23][24]


The climate of Santa Cruz Island is marine temperate, with frosts rare and snow almost unknown except very rarely on the highest mountain slopes. Annual rainfall varies from about 16 inches (410 mm) on the shoreline, to 25 inches (640 mm) on the highest mountain slopes. Precipitation is highly variable from year to year, with wet years alternating with drought years. Most of the rain falls from November to March. Summers are dry, but often overcast and cool with coastal fog.


Santa Cruz Island has several airstrips:



  1. ^ "Chumash Place Names".
  2. ^ "Santa Cruz Island - Island Packers Cruises". Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Santa Cruz Island - Channel Islands National Park". National Park Service. Retrieved 2013-04-26.
  4. ^ *Bunnell, D. (1988). Sea Caves of Santa Cruz Island. Santa Barbara, CA: McNally and Loftin. ISBN 0-87461-076-1.
  5. ^ United States Census Bureau, 2005
  6. ^ McCall, Lynne; Perry, Rosalind (2002). California's Chumash Indians : a project of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Education Center (Revised ed.). San Luis Obispo, Calif: EZ Nature Books. ISBN 0936784156.
  7. ^ Braje, T.J., J.G. Costello, J.M. Erlandson, M.A. Glassow, J.R. Johnson, D.P. Morris, J.E. Perry, & T.C. Rick. 2010. Channel Islands National Park Archaeological Overview and Assessment (M. Glassow, editor). National Park Service, digital volume (
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Chiles, Frederic (2015). California's Channel Islands. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 12,99. ISBN 9780806146874.
  9. ^ "Finding Aid to the Documents Pertaining to the Adjudication of Private Land Claims in California, circa 1852-1892". Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  10. ^ Court, United States Supreme (5 June 2017). "64 US 464 The United States v. Andres Castillero". US (64). Retrieved 5 June 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ "Report of the Surveyor General 1844 - 1886" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 July 2014. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  12. ^ a b c Chiles, Frederic Caire (February 14, 2013). Justinian Caire and Santa Cruz Island: The Rise and Fall of a California Dynasty. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806189475. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
  13. ^ Folmar, Kate; Wilson, Tracy (February 6, 1999). "Family Gets $12.7 Million for Lost Land; Courts: Jury awards the Gherinis compensation for the 6,300 acres taken from them to create Channel Islands National Park". Los Angeles Times.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  14. ^ Ramos, George (December 14, 1987). "Dr. Carey Stanton; Philanthropist and Rancher". Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ Center for Plant Conservation: Boechera hoffmannii Archived 2009-04-25 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Jepson Manual Treatment: Arctostaphylos insularis
  17. ^ Jepson Manual Treatment: Arctostaphylos viridissima
  18. ^ W. Flaxington, 2005
  19. ^ C.M. Hogan, 2008
  20. ^ a b "Bald Eagle - Channel Islands National Park (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  21. ^ "Bald Eagle Project: Santa Cruz Island". Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  22. ^ "NCI Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)". Institute for Wildlife Studies. 2011-10-03. Archived from the original on October 3, 2011. Retrieved 2013-04-26.
  23. ^ "Channel Islands Bald Eagle". Retrieved 2016-07-18.
  24. ^ Coonan, T.J., C.A. Schwemm and D.K. Garcelon. 2010. Decline and recovery of the island fox: a case study for population recovery. Cambridge University Press, UK
  25. ^ "Channel Islands Natl Park - Monthly Average/Record Temperatures". The Weather Channel. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  26. ^ "KSZN - Santa Cruz Island Airport". Retrieved 2013-04-26.
  27. ^ "AirNav: CA97 - Christy Airstrip". Retrieved 5 June 2017.


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Park Service.

External links

Coordinates: 34°00′13″N 119°43′35″W / 34.00361°N 119.72639°W / 34.00361; -119.72639