John Easton Moffett stood on a wooden dock in a gray mist, waiting to board a schooner. Gazing toward the horizon, he strained to locate the Farallon Islands, a cluster of rocky peaks like mountaintops, jutting from the sea. Southeast Farallon, the largest island, housed more birds than humans. And though twenty-seven miles was too far to see in the April dawn, Moffett could easily imagine the place, and the danger that lurked there.

His mind reeled with all he’d heard about the island, which he simply called Farallon—how sharks as long as covered wagons trolled its black-ink waters, how its wind was a curse from the devil. Jagged cliffs like angry boils protruded from its face, and when the fog sulled in, which was most of the time, a man could not distinguish where land ended and the sea began. There were those, it was said, who had taken one step too many and simply disappeared.

“I get on that boat, it’ll kill me,” Moffett told the policeman who was serving as his escort.

“You don’t get on it, I will kill you.”

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