Art & Literature

GIS & Mapping


Base Camp

The Search

In 1850, a Father Gonzales offered $200 to Thomas Jefferies "should he find and bring the woman or child to Santa Barbara alive. Fifteen years having passed since the abandonment of the island and no one having visited the spot during that time, the probability of death of the parties was universally accepted. Jefferies found no trace of living beings on the island. "

" The island he described as seven or eight miles long, by three or four in width; the body of the land near 600 feet above the beach, the plateau falling in steep gulches to the sea. There were quantities of small lark inland, but no other fowl, save seagulls, pelicans, and shags. Numbers of red foxes were seen in the hills, and droves of curious wild dogs, tall and slender, with coarse, long hair and human eyes. On a flat near the upper end of the island and half hidden by sand dunes, he found the remains of a curious hut, made of whale ribs planted in a circle, and so adjusted as to form the proper curve of a wigwam shelter. This he judged to have been formerly either the residence of a chief or a place of worship where sacrifices were offered. He had picked up several "ollas", or vessels of stone, and one particularly handsome cup of clouded green serpentine. But of all the wonders of the island, the features which Jeffries liked best to dwell were the fine beds of otter and seal in the vicinity of San Nicholas. So fabulous were his yarns, that the interest of other hunters were aroused; early the following year a boat was fitted out and George Nidiver, accompanied by Jeffries and a crew of Indians, started on an otter hunt to the wonderful otter beds seventy miles away. "

" A landing was effected near the southern end of the island; and climbing the cliffs to see where the otter lay, they had a magnificent view of the islands to the north and eat. On the southwest the pacific rolled out its azure breadth, unspecked by shore, or raft, or any spot of any kind. The island on which they stood seemed a quiet, calm, deserted spot, in the sunshine that enfolded it. Butterflies hovered over the wild sage upon the knolls; soft breezes rocked lazily the scant grass at their feet; thickets of chaparral dotted the hills; cactus held out waxen trays, where, on burnished mats of thorns, reposed fringed yellow satin flowers; a trailing sand plant, with thick, leaves, wafted from its pink clusters almost delicious odor -an odor that had in it the haunting sweetness of the arbutus and the freshness of the salt sea wind. "

The party remained camped six weeks on the beach, harvesting many hundreds of sea otter and seals. "Before the schooner left the vicinity of San Nicholas, a terrible storm arose, lasting eight days. During the tempest a sailor fancied he saw a human figure on the headland of the island. Through the washes of the spray it seemed to be running up and down the edge of the plateau, beckoning and shouting. The captain was called but the apparition vanished. On the eighth day, the schooner was enabled to run over to San Miguel, and from there to Santa Barbara, where the sailorís tale of the beckoning ghost of San Nicholas haunted for a long time the dreams of the superstitious on shore. A second cruise of the otter hunters failed to bring any additional news of the phantom of the sea. Everything on land was just as before; not a leaf disturbed, not a track found.

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