Santa Rosa Island’s Hidden Past
Charles Healey’s New Book — 'Santa Rosa Island: A Photographic Panorama' — Encapsulates and Preserves Santa Rosa’s Era of Cattle Ranching
Charles Healey embodies quite the impressive triad: He is a Santa Barbara local, a recently published young author, and a link to Santa Rosa Island’s often-unknown history of cattle ranching and cowboys.
Louis Torres, founder of Polyverse Publications — where Healey’s new book, Santa Rosa Island: A Photographic Panorama was published — comments, “It’s crazy, because so many people are like, ‘Oh, yeah, I stare at the Channel Islands all the time!’ But I never knew that there was a private airstrip for these ranching families out there, like a dirt airstrip….” In this sentiment, Torres is referencing the era of Santa Rosa Island history that Healey’s book preserves, where cattle were sent to the island and tended to by families such as Healey’s.
This time on the island, filled with excitement, dramatic landscapes, and the rise of the infamous Vail & Vickers cattle ranching operation, was fleeting, for when the Channel Islands National Park was established in 1980, it brought with it the end of cattle ranching on the island and the unique time in history that the ranches encapsulated.
Healey’s book contains a rich multitude of curated photographs of the era of cattle ranching on the island from his family’s private collections, and in many ways, it pays homage to Healey’s great-grandfather, Charles Wesley Smith, one of the island’s most formative ranchers. In describing his thoughts following the publication of his first book, Healey states, “It’s a little daunting, because I’ve never published a book before. But I’m just so humbled to be able to have this privilege to be able to create a book and create such an intimate piece of historical art for other people to see. I’m just very humbled and very grateful to have this experience.”
Speaking about how cattle ranching ended on the island, up until the publication of his book, Healey says, it had “always been the National Park and the government’s side that have had a voice, and I think this book will just allow both sides to speak. It will allow readers to see the National Park’s side and then, with this book, see the ranching information. They’re interesting stories in an equal sense, and I just wanted this book to, you know, preserve the voice and the perspective of the ranching.”
With pictures including the historical ranch structures from the 1900s; beaches, dramatic hillscapes, and mountains; horses, cattle, elk, and foxes; and the tiny flowers on the ground and the grass in the wind, Healey’s book is sure to lace together the unique history of the cattle ranches in his time spent on Santa Rosa Island while growing up.
Through this beautiful range of photographs, Healey notes, “I would hope that when readers and viewers look through this book, they’ll be able to see a history that will live on and see the island alive in the past, because in my opinion, without the ranching on the island anymore, it’s become stale and, you could say, dead. With these photographs, I hope that this book will keep the island alive through the history, stories, and memories. And I hope people will see the island alive through these photographs.”
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