Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2024

In Memoriam

Casualties at Cape Mendocino

By Kraig Anderson


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Cape Mendocino, the westernmost point along the coast of California, is quite remote, even today. It was more so in 1881. On March 27 of that year, a Sunday, the Tender Manzanita anchored off the cape, not far from Sugar Loaf Rock, a dominant feature of that section of the coast. The following morning, a large surf boat was lowered from the Manzanita to allow Charles J. McDougal, inspector of the California lighthouse district, to pay a visit to Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, which had been established in 1868. George D. Kortz, captain of the Manzanita, was in command of the boat, which carried six sailors, along with Inspector McDougal and his friend Mr. Butler, who worked for the San Francisco Argonaut.

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Postcard view of Cape Mendocino Light postmarked ...

At the time, keeper Archibald P. Marble, 1st Assistant William Windsor, and 2nd Assistant John R. King were serving at Cape Mendocino Lighthouse. Keeper King had noticed the lights of the Manzanita as it arrived off the cape on the 27th. Shortly after keeper Marble had extinguished the light on the morning of the 28th and returned to his dwelling, King shouted that the surf boat from the Manzanita had capsized in the outer breakers. The three keepers hustled down the steep cape to the beach, taking with them ropes to assist in rescuing the men. Five of the sailors managed to cling to the surf boat and reach shore, while Captain Kortz ended up on the beach alive but unconscious, after drifting in on an oar.

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Commander Charles J. McDougal c.1870s (Courtesy ...

Only Inspector McDougal, Mr. Butler, and Gus Petersen, a sailor, were unaccounted for. Around 11 a.m., John King discovered the body of Inspector McDougal in the surf, and he and William Windsor lugged the body to shore. According to an account of the accident, Inspector McDougal, described as a “large, fleshy man,” struggled in the breakers for some time before going under, being weighed down by several hundred dollars in gold and silver coin to pay the keepers.

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A view of the Cape Mendocino Light in 1933. ...

The body of Gus Petersen was found on the beach near Sugar Loaf Rock three weeks after the accident. It is not known if the body of Mr. Butler was ever recovered.

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The plaque honoring Charles J. McDougal in the ...

On April 2nd, the Manzanita transported the body of Inspector McDougal, along with family members and several dignitaries, to Mare Island Navy Yard. After the “largest and most imposing” procession ever seen at the yard and a discharge of musketry, Charles J. McDougal was laid to rest in the island cemetery. Inspector McDougal left behind his wife, Kate, and four children, the oldest of whom was fourteen.

Charles J. McDougal came from a noted family and had a distinguished naval career. His father, David S. McDougal, was a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy and had two destroyers named after him, while Charles’ uncle, John McDougal, was the second governor of California. Charles graduated from the Naval Academy in 1856 and sailed aboard several ships, becoming a Master in 1859.

Following the Civil War, Charles served primarily on the Pacific Coast, where he was made a Commander in 1871. From 1873 to 1876, he was in command of the USS Saco in East Asia and was on ordnance duty at the Mare Island Navy Yard from 1876 to 1878 before being appointed as the 12th District Lighthouse Inspector.

On October 16, 1881, just over six months after the death of her husband, Kate McDougal was appointed keeper of Mare Island Lighthouse, likely at the behest of naval officials. Mare Island Light, which Kate faithfully kept for nearly thirty-six years until failing heath forced her to resign in 1917, was located just a short walk from her husband’s grave.

The sisters of Charles J. McDougal had a plaque placed in the U.S. Naval Academy’s Memorial Hall in memory of their brother. The hall was completed in 1906 and honors those graduates who lost their lives in service to their country.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2024 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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