Footprints: Land battle fought over Whalers Island

February 23, 2007 12:00 am

In June 1855, a company was formed in Crescent City for the purpose of whaling. Whales were frequently seen near the harbor and this company was sure that whaling operations would be profitable. The company established whale rendering facilities on a large rock in the harbor. The rock was about 10 acres in size. It became known as Whaler Island.

Eric Lyders was a prominent San Francisco attorney. He had purchased a small portion of an option that was owned by Thomas Valentine. This option was called scrip.

In 1930 Eric Lyders filed Valentine's scrip on Whaler Island and claimed it as his own. Thus began a six year legal battle over the ownership of Whaler Island. Two court cases were decided in favor of Lyders, and he had been dubbed the King of Whaler Island in several San Francisco newspaper.

Del Norte County citizens felt that the county was entitled to ownership of the island, which had been quarried and reduced to 3.65 acres in size. The county kept up a strong fight to retain the property as it was considered vital to the development of the harbor.Lyders likewise realized that the property possessed a huge potential value and kept up a vigorous fight to keep ownership.

Lyders had made the fantastic claim that if he did not retain possession of Whaler Island, he was entitled to the city of Petaluma in 1934.

The Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce led the fight to obtain the ownership of Whaler Island for the use of the people of Del Norte County. The chamber didn't want the island turned over to private interests.

The hearing was conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior Land Office in Sacramento on March 7. Government attorneys representing the War Department and the Department of Interior were in attendance with carefully prepared cases. The hearing was held before the Registrar of the U.S. Land Office.

The government supported its claim to Whaler Island based on the grounds that the island is mineral land, being composed of rock suitable for building stone, which falls under the minerals land classification. The government also claimed that the land was not suitable for agriculture.

Federal decision

Lyders countered that the time for contesting his filing was when the filing was made, which was when due notice was given for the purpose of hearing objections.

George Howe, a local attorney, was aligned with Lyders in his bid for ownership of Whaler Island. All of the evidence of the case was submitted to the Department of the Interior secretary for his decision.

On July 1, 1936, Emma Cooper, Board of Supervisors clerk, received a penny post card. The message meant hundreds of thousands of dollars to the citizens of Del Norte County. The County was awarded ownership of Whaler Island. Thus ended the six year battle for the ownership of Whaler Island.

Reach David Gray, a Del Norte Historical Society volunteer, at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it