The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

By Lynda Millner   |   November 7, 2019
John and Hazel Blankenship from the Pierre Claeyssens foundation

The latest program at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (SBMM) was a film called The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. California 4th graders learn about her from a book called The Island of the Blue Dolphins.

The story is true with a young woman and her son being left behind on San Nicolas Island when all the rest were taken by George Nidever back to the mainland. She was there for 18 years but her son was only with her for nine. It is believed he was attacked and drowned in a water accident by a shark or something else perhaps while fishing. The tale is reminiscent of Robinson Crusoe only it was a woman.

Once she was brought ashore there was really no one who could speak her language. After only seven weeks she died of dysentery. Historians think because she wasn’t used to the food. She is buried in the Mission, but they aren’t sure where, however there is a plaque in her honor in the courtyard. The priests named her Juana Maria.

Ernestine Ygnacio De Soto with Dr. John Johnson at the SBMM film
SBMM executive director Greg Gorga, board member Linda Stirling, and Chuck Wilson

Paul Goldsmith, A.S.C. made the film, one of three about Native American history in California. He’s won an Emmy and an Oscar for other work. The executive producer John Johnson, Ph.D. and curator of anthropology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History was at SBMM for a Q and A after the screening. He’s been at the Museum since 1986 and his career has been devoted to understanding the culture and history of the Chumash Indians.

SBMM executive director Greg Gorga wants you to know that, “Since 2000 the Museum has shared the maritime history and marine science education with our local youth. They get to experience the life of a sailor in the olden days and spend a night on a ship. SBMM’s motto is “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” Come down to the harbor and see! For information call 805.456.8741.


You might also be interested in...