With the passing of Edward King Smith on May 23, 2010, the door was softly and swiftly closed to a reference library of Santa Rosa Island’s history—92 years of accumulated knowledge. Three-quarters Indian by birth, and cowboy by upbringing, E.K. was Santa Rosa Island’s last living legacy. With tape recorder in hand, I reaped hours from his bountiful harvest of island stories—stories that are best told by E. K. himself:
“I was born on the island on March 15, 1918, in the old cook house. Maria Sierra delivered me. She lived in the shack by the blue gum trees. My mother had delivered Maria’s son, Billy, so they traded off and changed roles.
“My father, C.W., was the island foreman. His name was Charles Wesley Smith, but people called him Smitty. He was half-Seneca from Syracuse, New York. No one really knew his true age. He never spoke too much about himself to others, but if he liked you, he’d share a thing or two. He ran away from home and shipped out on an old square-rigger as a cabin boy when he was 13. For about eight years he lived the life of a sailor, seeing ports all the way around the world. He was sailing on the schooner Nellie when she landed at Catalina Island in 1890. Walter Vail was running cattle on Santa Catalina Island at the time, and my dad left the boat to work for Vail. Vail went back to his Empire Ranch in Arizona, taking my dad with him. There he was transformed from sailor to cowpuncher, becoming head cattle shipper from Arizona to Kansas City. Vail sent my dad out to work on Santa Rosa Island in 1914 after Frank Pepper’s wife shot herself and Frank left. He had been the island foreman for about 15 years.
“My mother, Cuca Villa, was a tiny woman. Her real name was Maria Refugia. She was an Arizona Indian of Apache and Yaqui descent. She stood about five feet tall and might have weighed about ninety pounds soaking wet. What she lacked in size she made up in feistiness. After my dad had left Arizona for the island, my mom waited for my older brother, Charlie [1915-1936], to be born before joining him. She rode quite a bit around the island. She was a very good rider, and used to teach the horse to do tricks. My dad hated that.
“We went to school on the island. There were eight of us then: the Lopez family with Josephine, William, Isabelle and Ray Lopez. There was Hayden Hunt’s daughter Pamela—she was the smallest of the group. And then there was my brother Charlie, myself, and my younger sister Frances [1920-1988]. Every year we had a new teacher.
“I was seven the first time I remember going to town. It was around the time of the earthquake in 1925. We felt it on the island and it scared the horses. We went to town on the Onward and stayed with the Bermudez family. In fact, my dad bought a house then, at 630 Anacapa Street. He bought it from the Italians—the Vizzolinis, next door to Craviotto’s blacksmith shop, so we would have a place to stay in town. My dad would let the others on the island use it when they went in.
“We were the last island’s graduating class—1932. I cowboyed on the island up until the day we kids left to attend high school in town. It was hard at first. Those mainland kids gave me a rough time because I was island-born. I didn’t know how to be around people. It took a long time to get used to that life. Dad would come in once a month to visit us. Every summer and every Christmas we’d stand out on the end of the pier and wait for the Vaquero I to stop by and pick us up. It would be one or two in the morning they’d pick us up and bring us back out to the island.”
E.K. graduated from Santa Barbara High School in 1936—tall, handsome, and very shy. He attended Curtiss-Wright Tech in Glendale, then worked for Northrop Aviation until they sold to “old man” Douglas in 1939. When WWII broke out, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, serving in the South Pacific. He became a Santa Barbara policeman in 1946, and four years later Sheriff John Ross hired him as a deputy. At age 42, E.K. met and married the love of his life, Angie Rita Alberi (1931-2008). Son, Edward Charles (b. 1965), and daughter, Karen Frances (b. 1966), followed.
After 32 years of police work, E.K. retired from law enforcement in 1978. He spent the next 32 years, until the day of his death at age 92, working for Vail & Vickers, providing logistical support for Santa Rosa Island, as his father before him had done. E.K. never knew how long a day was, and if you followed him around, you did more than a day’s work. He never retired. As Al and Russ Vail used to say, “E.K. is like our third brother. We all grew up together.” E.K. always considered Santa Rosa Island his home.
E.K. is survived by his son, Edward, and daughter-in-law, Suzan, and their twins, Garrett and Edward King II, and daughter, Karen, and son-in-law, Pete Healey, and their son Charlie. Memorial contributions may go to the Santa Cruz Island Foundation 1010 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, and a gathering will be held at the Santa Barbara Yacht Club on Thursday, July 1, from 4 till 6 p.m.