From 1835 to 1853 San Nicolas island had a population of one. Now archaeologists believe they have discovered the residence of the island’s last known resident, a woman whose involuntary, solitary, 18-year occupation inspired a kid lit classic and who became known as the “Lone Woman of San Nicolas.”
Rene Vellanoweth of Cal State L.A. in the cave where it’s believed the Lone Woman of San Nicolas lived from 1835 to 1853. Photo: via Steve Schwartz, the Navy archaeologist who has searched the island for the 20 years looking for this cave.
The residence is a 75-foot-long cave and its discovery concludes a 20-year quest by archeologist Steven Schwartz to find the woman’s island abode.
“The cave had been completely buried under several meters of sand. It is quite large and would have made a very comfortable home, especially in inclement weather,” Schwartz said at the California Islands Symposium as reported in the Los Angeles Times.
Christened Juana Maria at her death bed baptism, she was a member of the Nicoleno, a Native American tribe that had lived on San Nicolas for centuries. Pushed out by hunters and their numbers dwindling, a crew was sent to bring the last of the tribe to the mainland, but Juana Maria was left behind.
When she was discovered by fishermen in 1853 and brought to the Santa Barbara Mission, she became the object of much fascination and speculation. As no one understood her language, it was never known how she spent her time on the island or even her real name. And there wasn’t much time to try to bridge the language gap as she died of dysentery just seven weeks later.
But her story captivated public imagination in an enduring way, so much so that 107 years later author Scott O’Dell fleshed it out in the popular children’s novel “Island of the Blue Dolphins.”
With the discovery of the cave, it’s hoped some of the mysteries surrounding her extraordinary life may be solved.
“What she did or didn’t eat, how she got along or did she have dogs with her? We’ll find evidence of all that in that cave. Everything she did will be in that cave.” Schwartz told the Ventura Star.
Middle image of Lone Woman, via WikiCommons.
Map shows the remote location of San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California, which is now controlled by the U.S. Navy. The best selling children’s novel by Scott O’Dell has also been made into movies.
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