The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island
Guy Lochhead, 06/11/11
The last surviving inhabitant of San Nicolas Island and the last Nicoleño. Many of the tribe died after fighting with Aleutian poachers. The rest were picked up during a storm by an American rescue operation, except the Lone Woman (the rescued ones mostly died at missions after contracting “Old World” diseases). She lived alone from 1835 in a hut made of whale’s bones, eating turtles and seal fat, until being “rescued” in 1853 by George Nidever’s crew. She apparently enjoyed her new American life and human company again but died of dysentery after just seven weeks. Shortly before she died she was given the name Juana Maria. All material traces of her life have been lost since her needles, basket, clothing etc. were lost in a California Academy of Sciences fire, and her special cormorant coat was apparently lost in the post on the way to the Vatican… This is a brilliant and horrible story and a perfect product of the conflict between “civilised” and tribal lifestyles when civilisation is dominant. We see ourselves in the Lone Woman and 19th century Californian society, and we feel closer to the Woman. It’s like those amazing passages in ‘The Heart of Darkness’ about recognising the “savage” and longing to live like that… Anyway, the American children’s author Scott O’Dell wrote a brilliant short novel about this called ‘Island Of Blue Dolphins’. I will include a copy of this that contains information about the true story as well. The fiction crystallises the meaning, the fact backs it up.

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