The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1995, Volume 41, Number 2
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Santa Cruz Island: A History and Recollections of an Old California Rancho.
By Helen Caire. Spokane: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1993. Footnotes. Appendix. Illustrations. Index. 192 pages. Limited to 750 copies. $29.50.

Reviewed by Iris H. W. Engstrand, Professor of History, University of San Diego. Author of San Diego: Gateway to the Pacific, (1992) and articles on California ranchos.

The history of Santa Cruz Island is closely related to developments taking place along the California coast and especially the port and pueblo of San Diego during the Spanish and Mexican periods. In addition, the flora, fauna and geography of the island, covered in the first chapter, are features characteristic of the channel islands further south. Nevertheless, Santa Cruz exhibits some truly unique geologic forms such as the Painted Cave, over one hundred other sea caves, and the Santa Cruz Island Fault dividing the island into two geologically dissimilar parts. The native inhabitants were Chumash Indians.

Justinian Caire, grandfather of author Helen Caire, was one of a group of ten Frenchmen in San Francisco who purchased the island in 1869 and formed the Santa Cruz Island Company. Justinian acquired all of the Company’s stock in 1880 and developed the island’s agricultural and ranching interests until his death in 1897. The island’s 52,000 acres then passed to his heirs, where the Company remained until its sale in 1937 to the Edwin L. Stanton family. Upon the death of the final Stanton heir, the Company’s holdings were transferred to The Nature Conservancy, a private, non-profit organization.

Helen Caire, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, has long been interested in her family’s history and has been active in numerous historical societies. Her work is a combination of research and reminiscences of family and friends familiar with the day-to-day workings of the Santa Cruz Island ranch. The ranch included sheep (pure-bred merinos from Spain and other English breeds) and cattle operations (Durhams and Shorthorns crossed with Herefords) as well as vineyards and a winery. The phylloxera that attacked California vineyards in the 1890s did not cross the Santa Barbara Channel and spared the six hundred acres of Island grapes. Wine making ceased with the advent of Prohibition.

This book gives an unusual glimpse into some of the sidelights of California history. Final chapters include stories of fishermen, the visits of John Barlymore, Christmas at the Island and the problems resulting from the partition of the island among the six children of Justinian Caire’s wife. Attractively printed, case bound in blue buckram, and fully illustrated, it is a family history well worth the reading.