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Base Camp

Mammoths on San Miguel

On San Miguel Island, the northern most in the chain, a ranch manager, Herbert Lester, was exploring the island’s wind swept terrain in 1932. It was spring, and ‘Herbie’, who was accustomed to chasing vandals off the Native American village remains, found protruding from a cliff top the tusks of an extinct species Elphas Imperator - the great elephant, according to his wife, Elizabeth Sherman Lester.

She recounts that Herbie reported his find to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History who sent Dr. David Banks Rogers out to the island. Dr. Rogers is quoted by Mrs. Lester as describing the scene he found as follows : " exposed upon the surface of a bleak cliff top, a black formation of Pleistocene age, recently planed down by the intermittent sand, the much eroded remains of two great male elephants of the extinct specie Elphus Imperator, probably the largest and noblest of the specie that ever existed, certainly the climax of animal life on California. The two great beasts lay as they had fallen, in a death struggle, sinking beneath the ooze.

The first specimens removed were a pair of tusks, described by Mrs. Lester from a report as " one with tip absent, measuring six feet six inches in length, with long, graceful curve. The other nearly perfect, profoundly curved into a one third circle, is five feet ten inches long. Each is nearly twenty inches in circumference at the bade.

After some effort to maintain discovery recognition, Herbert Lester, the self-proclaimed ‘King of San Miguel’ is fondly remembered as a rugged individualist who shaped a life for himself, his wife, and their two daughters who lived on the island. The references above have been adapted from Elizabeth Sherman Lester’s book, The Legendary Ling of San Miguel. Additional finds have been made on the island since Mr. Lester’s original discovery.