Fast Facts: Dead Man’s Island

SAN PEDRO — Los Angeles city officials are in the process of dramatically altering the San Pedro waterfront, but what we see in L.A.’s southernmost neighborhood vastly differs from what locals saw on the horizon in the 1920s.

The San Pedro area was not home to a bustling harbor back in 1928, not the way it is today. In fact the development of L.A. Harbor came at the expense of an island just off the San Pedro coast.

Dead Man’s Island – also referred to as Deadman’s Island, Isla de los Muertos or Reservation Point – was a mainstay for anyone looking out onto the Pacific Ocean. It measured about 800 feet in length and 250-some-feet long; its peak was nearly 60 feet above sea level. A blog post on San Pedro history stated Dead Man’s Island “guarded the entrance to Los Angeles Harbor.”

Officials decided to dredge the island into oblivion, however, with Isla de los Muertos disappearing altogether.

The island was not without its fair share of stories, however. One story in the June 7, 1901 edition of the Evening News explained how his crew hanged the captain of a British whaling ship.

“It was known that they buried him on Deadman’s Island, but the manner in which they accomplished the killing was kept a secret and, although in later years the subject was one of much inquiry, the direct cause of death was never determined,” the Evening News article stated.

A KCET story on the island stated it was unclear whether 19th century burials on Dead Man’s Island were fact or urban legend.

“Dead Man’s Island was named for the shallow graves dug into its flat top. Various legends give different accounts of who was buried first: the last male survivor of San Nicolas Island, an Indian named Black Hawk; an English sailor who died while anchored at San Pedro; a smuggler who washed ashore on the island and died there of thirst or hunger,” the KCET story explained. “No one knows for certain which (if any) is true, but it’s clear that by the 1830s the local, Spanish-speaking population knew the outcrop as Isla de Los Muertos.”

Six American soldiers who died in the 1846 Battle of Old Woman’s Gun were buried on the island; the battled was fought in the area as part of the Mexican-American War.

Dead Man’s Island was also mentioned in Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast.”

Sources: KCET, Evening News,

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