Above: View of Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California

Bookshelf: The Story of Santa Cruz Island

The heart of this book is the epic tale of the Caire family, which at one time owned Santa Cruz Island, about 30 miles off the coast of California. Once the largest privately owned island off the coast of the United States, Santa Cruz is now under the ownership of The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. Justinian Caire, a gold rush émigré from France, arrived on Santa Cruz in the 1880s. (It had previously been inhabited by the Native American Chumash tribe.) Through business acumen and a love of the island, he created a prosperous ranching kingdom. The author of this book is his great-grandson Frederic Caire Chiles, and this story is a labor of love, undertaken to paint a vivid picture of possession and subsequent loss. Chiles used previously unseen family archives, diaries and letters to tell a moving tale that begins in the halcyon years when Santa Cruz was a thriving enterprise, as well as a retreat for the Caire clan, and culminates with the protracted legal battles that eventually tore the family apart and forced the sale of the island in 1937. This multifaceted narrative is gripping from the first page to the last.

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