Daphne (Burden) Oberon


Daphne and burra 1971

Daphne Burden was born in Siskiyou County, California, to Dr. David Burden and his wife Virginia on an old goat ranch where they farmed their own food and raised milk goats. When Daphne’s mother came down with tuberculosis they relocate to the milder climate of sunny southern California. Daphne’s younger sister was born on an Ojai ranch December of 1954.

A public inquiry into the child’s improper cremation on the premises after an accidental drowning at age two and a half, set in motion a chain of events that lead to the founding of their alternative, esoteric, pioneering school, Shimber Beris which operated outside the country.

The Burden’s concepts concerning the role their surviving daughter was to play defined her life. Family quarrels went unnoticed by outsiders due to Dr. Burden’s stoicism and code of secrecy. Daphne’s frustration with her parent’s practices and philosophy became an increasing problem for the Burdens behind the scenes.

Due to the ongoing problems with Mexican immigration the school was forced to abandon its first land base in San Bartolo, Baja California, Mexico in 1963. Dr. Burden solved the dilemma by going to sea for the second time (subsequent to the destruction of his first boat, the Shimber Berian, by a hurricane) and moving the school onto the oceangoing tugboat, Shelikof, moored in the Berkley yacht Harbor.

Daphne’s uncooperativeness may have prompted Dr. and Mrs. Virginia Burden to present her with a pivotal psychic message when she turned 13. Virginia’s guides re named her “Captain Jinx” after a comic captain in an army rhyme and instructed her to camp with her mother on the uninhabited desert island of Cerralvo located south of La Paz, and there to assist Virginia in detecting fresh water on the rocky isle with her psychic faculties.

By the end of 1966, Daphne, now privately called C. J. by her father, tended to the practical running of her and her mother’s desert island camp. Daily she pulled buckets of water up from the 80 foot bitter mineral water well, looked after the horses, burros and goats as well as caring for her ailing mother who kept to herself inside her screened tent studying esoteric books and composing promotional literature for the alternative school.

Virginia was never successful in locating fresh water on Isla Cerralvo. She attested to skeptical Daphne that she detected water in an enormous slab of granite located in a particularly barren canyon, but focused for the most part on attempting to teach her mysticism. When it came to academics, for reasons unknown, instead of focusing on the three R’s, Virginia gave Daphne homework on the ancient history of the Fertile Crescent of the Old Testament World to study. Virginia also coached her on how to march in time to WW II marching songs hoping to improve her efficiency in the course of her daily chores, most of which required a lot of walking.

Virginia was allergic to insect bites and stings, so when the Shelikof returned to Isla Cerralvo during one of its routine visits from La Paz in the summer of 1967, the plague of thirsty swarming wasps that prevailed on the island in the dry season prompted her to return to her comfortable bungalow in town. Daphne had turned 14 by that time, and confirmed the presence of an herb at the top of a neighboring arroyo that indicated underground water, and persuaded her father to allow her to relocate her camp there together with a staff member and two local workmen. Daphne and a boy student four years younger were later left alone on the island during a time of severe drought and immense landslides caused by earthquakes to fend for themselves and their prostrate animals. Dr. Burden abandoned the Cerralvo island experiment in 1969.

Daphne and companion on Cerralvo 1968

Daphne and Dana riding horses after a series of tropical depressions turned Isla Cerralvo green following a drought. They look out across the Cerralvo channel at the Forge (Shelikof), now painted white, anchored off Punta Los Viejos. No photographs exist of this period.


At the school’s subsequent land based location, an isolated desert ranch situated to the north of La Paz, Daphne cared for the communal animals. Years later, between 1975 and 1979 she periodically found herself awkwardly involved with the school’s final destination on a mountaintop in the rainforest of Guatemala. After finding it necessary to run away both from her father and the country, she relocated to the US and worked in the horse breeding industry in Texas, Ohio, Florida and California.

An author and retired math professor, Tom Sheldon Spradley, found Peter's website after learning about Daphne’s experience on Isla Cerralvo, and put her in touch with Peter Ashlock in 2010. Tom wrote:

"After retiring to a small fishing village south of La Paz in Baja, Mexico, I became interested in stories about the area. Though I've never been a fan of horse and romance mysteries, I made an exception for AZULEJO: A Tale of Pearls, Promises and Legendary Horses by Daphne Oberon. First, the novel's setting is the rugged Baja coast above La Paz. The area is infamous for the legend of El Mechudo and the black pearl that cost him his life. Second, with her father, the author began exploring Baja at the age of four, and many of the characters in AZULEJO are based on her experiences with real Baja animals. However, what intrigued me the most was this line on the back of the book: From age thirteen to fifteen, Daphne spent three years living on the uninhabited island of Cerralvo, in the Sea of Cortez. From my Baja home, I watch the changing shadows on Cerralvo's rugged desert ridges and parched arroyos daily. If Oberon's experiences on this desolate island contributed to the novel, I wanted to read it."


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