Friday, July 3, 2009

The Lone Woman of San Nicolás Island

When I was a young girl, I really loved the book Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, a story of a little native American girl's survival on an island after being left behind by the Spanish. I remember that I really admired the little girl for her ability to survive under such harsh circumstances.

It wasn't until I became a teacher and taught fourth grade California history that I realized that the book was based on a true story of a native American woman who had been abandoned on San Nicolás Island, one of the Channel Islands off of the coast of California.

There are many versions of the story, but they all begin during the era that the Russian fur trappers were brutally raiding the Channel Islands and killing the otter for their fur.  A bloody massacre between the fur trappers and island inhabitants occurred, with the island population dramatically decreasing from approximately 300 to almost 20 inhabitants. In 1835, Spanish missionaries arrived on San Nicolás Island upon hearing of the massacre, loaded up all of the "Nicoleños" and took them back to the Santa Barbara mission.  

Myth has it that a lone woman could not find her child on the schooner and jumped overboard in order to search for her child on the island. Other stories describe that the schooner hastily left the island due to a storm. Whatever the reason as to why she remained on the island, the woman remained alone on the island until when she was rescued eighteen years later.

In 1853, the woman was discovered alone on San Nicolás Island. When she was brought back to the Santa Barbara mission, she was unable to communicate with the other native Americans due to dialectical variations.  She died approximately seven weeks after being brought to the mainland.

I've often wondered what obstacles she faced being on an island by herself for over eighteen years. Although we will never know all that she went through, it's obvious that it takes amazing strength and perseverance in order to survive such an ordeal. She's one bad-ass survivor!

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