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5 Fun Human History Facts about Santa Barbara

santa barbara california history

Sure, Santa Barbara is beautiful. Between the mountains and ocean, the award-winning wines and sublime downtown, it’s easy to understand why it’s such an alluring place for tourists, students and corporate retreats alike.  Its rich human history complements this setting. Whether from the nearby Channel Islands or Los Padres National Forest, people have made their mark on this region for thousands of years.  Here’s just a sampling of that legacy with 5 fun, interesting human history stories that you probably didn’t know about the Channel Islands and Central Coast:

  • The Arlington Springs Man of Santa Rosa Island is one of the oldest dated skeletons in North or South America. Back in 1959, Phil Orr discovered a small fragment from a human femur, however it wasn’t until 1999 that modern analysis showed that this Arlington Springs Man lived nearly 13,000 years ago. Keep in mind, Lucy the fossil is dated 3.2 million years ago. It clearly took a couple million years to get to the remote islands. Only one other set of North American bones, from the Anzick Site in Montana, is also dated to the same time period as the Arlington Springs Man.
  • The Chumash people, the original inhabitants of the Channel Islands, know where dolphins come from. The Chumash have stories to explain almost everything including lightning, stars and fire and a great one about how dolphins came to be their brothers and sisters. Santa Cruz Island, then known as Limuw, was inhabited by the Chumash and watched over by Hutash or the Earth Mother. As the Chumash population grew on the island, their noise also grew and kept Hutash up at night. She decided that it was time for some people to move to the mainland and she used a rainbow (wishtoyo) as the bridge. While crossing the rainbow bridge, some looked down and upon seeing the swirling fog and immense height, they fell into the ocean! Hutash did not want them to drown since she had asked them to cross the bridge, so she turned all the fallen Chumash into dolphins where they continue to be brothers and sisters and spotted often while kayaking the islands.
  • Some of the finest wool used during the Civil War was raised on Santa Cruz Island. One usually doesn’t think of remote, volcanic islands as a great place to raise sheep but Dr. James B. Shaw proved everyone wrong. Dr. Shaw, an English physician, was superintendent of Santa Cruz Island from 1853-1869 and believed to be the first one to bring French Merino sheep to the island. The start of the Civil War brought increased demand for wool and by 1864 nearly 24,000 sheep roamed Santa Cruz Island. An 1859 article in the Sacramento Daily Union applauded the wool’s quality ‘we doubt if anything superior can be found in the State than those [sheep] owned by Dr. Shaw, on the island of Santa Cruz.’
  • Ancient paintings displayed on rock were only recently revealed after fire burned the brush away in nearby Los Padres National Forest. Just northwest of Santa Barbara, the Chumash left thousands of rock art sites. Many of these sites only became visible after the forest fires of 2006 and 2007 burned much of the chaparral showing old paths to newly exposed rock faces. These paintings often depict animals and the spiritual world and rangers count at least 2,400 of them. They are colored black by using charcoal, white by using ground seashells or red while using hematite. Come check them out for yourself!
  • One of the largest movie studios in the world was located in Downtown Santa Barbara between 1912-1917. Flying A Studios opened its western branch in 1912 and produced one thousand films in its short but glorious 5 years here in Santa Barbara. In 1916, the studio, originally located on West Mission Street, was churning out 242 motion pictures a year. This was during the era of the short silent film; Broncho Billy Westerns were Flying A’s specialty. Flying A didn’t keep up when the talkie was invented or when audiences desired longer films and the studio closed shop in 1917 as Los Angeles found its foothold in film.

Come learn, experience and explore all the Central Coast has to offer with a guided tour from the Santa Barbara Adventure Company. You can see the dolphins and learn about the ranching on a sea cave kayak tour of Santa Cruz Island, discuss the rock art on a guided hike in Los Padres or imagine the bygone silent movie era while sipping wine on one of our many wine tours!

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