JUANA MARIA, Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island
JUANA MARIA, Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island (?-1853) is often said to be the last surviving Nicoleño, removed from San Nicolas Island in 1853 by Captain George Nidever. Her story has been told and retold, appearing in various newspapers and with varying details through the decades. Although her birthplace has not been positively demonstrated, it is indeed a fact that she lived alone on San Nicolas Island for eighteen years.
Elizabeth Mason's photo donation used to depict Juana Maria:
Mason was the niece of the 19th century Juana Maria scholar, Emma Chamberlain Hardacre. The Hayward and Muzzall photograph often used to depict Juana Maria was a gift from Mason to the Santa Barbara Historical Society. Perhaps Mason acquired it from her aunt, Emma Hardacre. It is on a studio card of Hayward and Muzzall. Photographer E. J. Hayward (1837-1911) was 16 when Juana Maria died. His partner, Henry Muzzall (1844-1924), was 9 years old when Juana Maria died. Their photography partnership business began c. 1874 — 20 years after Juana Maria’s death. It looks as though the photograph was from a broken glass plate negative. There appears to be a second Indian standing to the left. Glass plate negatives were invented in 1851. Could this be a copy made in the 1870s by Hayward & Muzzall from a broken glass plate negative of an 1853 photo of Juana Maria? [Note: The earliest photograph in the Santa Barbara Historical Society collections is 1865. They also have some daguerreotypes (1840-60) and tintypes (1855-65).]
Emma Hardacre’s niece, Elizabeth Mason (1880-1953), donated the image to the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
There are few first-hand accounts of the discovery of Juana Maria on San Nicolas Island:
- NIDEVER, George The Life and Adventures of George Nidever (1802-1883). The life story of a remarkable California pioneer told in his own words, and none wasted, edited by William Henry Ellison. University of California Press, 1937.
More than a century and a half after the removal of the Lone Woman from San Nicolas Island, researchers continue to explore her story:
- Hudson, D. Travis Recently Discovered Accounts concerning the "Lone Woman" of San Nicolas Island in Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 3(2): 187-199 (1981).
- Schwartz, Steven J. 2003 Some Observations on the Material Culture of the Nicoleño. Sixth California Islands Symposium, Ventura, California; Dec 3, 2003.
Peor es Nada trip that removed the San Nicolas Island Indians:
- Peor es Nada owned by a Mr. Gomez ("A Spainard at Monterey") and Isaac Sparks
- Captain Hubbard
- Captain Isaac Williams ("who now owns the ranch called ‘Del Chino’ in Los Angeles" (1853); ["late Collector of the Port of San Pedro" (Sept. 19, 1799-Sept. 13, 1856)
- Isaac Sparks
- Louis T. Burton
- Don Alonso, cabin boy aboard Peor es Nada
"The Peor es Nada left Santa Barbara about the latter part of April, 1835. About three months after, she returned to San Pedro, and from there went directly to the Island of San Nicolas for the purpose of taking off the Indians then living there. Sparks, who hunted with me for several years afterwards, told me about removing the Indians, but I cannot now recollect who authorized or caused their removal. I remember distinctly, however, that a man named Williams, a former acquaintance of mine in the Rocky Mountains, was an interested party, as he assisted in their removal." [Nidever in Thompson & West, History of Santa Barbara County, California, 1883]
: “I arrived on the coast in the year 1834, in the month of November. In the early part of the following year (1835), I came to Santa Barbara and engaged in otter hunting, which I have followed almost uninterruptedly until within a few years. At the beginning of 1835, Isaac J. Sparks and Luis T. Burton, Americans, also otter hunters, settled here, and chartered the schooner Peor es Nada (worse than nothing) for a trip to the lower coast. The schooner was commanded by Charles Hubbard, who was hired by the owner of the schooner, a Spaniard at Monterey. The crew placed in her by Sparks and Burton was, with to or three exceptions, composed of Kanakas. The Peor es Nada left Santa Barbara about the latter part of April, 1835. About three months after, she returned to San Pedro, and from there went directly to the Island of San Nicolas for the purpose of taking off the Indians then living there. Sparks, who hunted with me for several years afterwards, told about removing the Indians, but I cannot now recollect who authorized or caused their removal. I remember distinctly, however, that a man by the name of Williams, a former acquaintance of mine in the Rocky Mountains, was an interested party, as he assisted in their removal. I am under the impression that another man in Los Angeles took an active part in the affair…” Nidever statement in Thompson & West History of Santa Barbara County, California (1883); [Statement of John Nidever (p. 162) in Heizer, R. F. & A. B. Elasser Original Accounts of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island in Aboriginal California: Three Studies in Culture, 1966]
“...The same year, 1912, we met Don Alonso, on San Clemente Island. He had this skull with us. Fine old Character, maybe 87 then, a Mexican. He was the cabin boy on the ship that took the last Indian off San Nicolas.” [Wright, Howard W. History of Siwash as Recalled by Howard Walter Wright, Sr. [1892-1977], n.d., unpub. ms., SCIF Archives]
George Nidever, who removed 'Juana Maria' from San Nicolas Island in 1853, wrote:
“My crew consisted of Charles Brown [Carl Dittmann], one Irishman and four Mission Indians. This time I went with the intention of making a thorough search for the missing woman.” (Jan. 29, 1879)
- George Nidever (1802-1883)
- Carl August Dittmann aka “Charley Brown” (1825-1901)
- Irishman [Mr. Fryman?] *
- Four Indians
Father Maynard Geiger of Mission Santa Barbara reported eight rescuers: (Geiger. Juana Maria. The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, 1958)
Nidever remembered her: “The old woman was of medium height, but rather thick. She must have been about 50 years old, but she was still strong and active. Her face was pleasing, as she was continually smiling. Her teeth were entire but worn to the gums, the effect, no doubt, of eating the dried seal blubber. Her head, which had evidently been for years without any protection, was covered with thick matted hair, that was once black, no doubt, but now it had become of a dull brown color. Her clothing consisted of but a single garment of the skins of the shag [cormorant], made in the form of a gown. It fitted close at the neck, had no sleeves, was girded at the waist with a sinew cord, and reached nearly to the feet. She had another dress of the same material and make in one of the baskets. These were sewed with sinews, the needles used being of bone. This place was undoubtedly where she usually lived, but in the rainy season she lived in a cave nearby...” (Nidever, 1937, p. 83-84)
In the News~
- Accounts of Juana Maria while she is still living on San Nicolas Island (1841-1853)
- Accounts of Juana Maria while she is living in Santa Barbara (September-October 1853)
- Accounts of Juana Maria after her death and burial at Santa Barbara Mission on October 18, 1853
ACCOUNTS OF JUANA MARIA PUBLISHED WHILE SHE WAS STILL LIVING ON SAN NICOLAS ISLAND: (1840s-1853)
Phelps, William D. Logbook of the Alert, 1841 Manuscript, University of California Bancroft Library. Berkeley. Original in Widener Library, Harvard University. The manuscript was published in 1983:
Phelps, William D. Alta California 1840-42. The Journal and Observations of William Dane Phelps Master of the Ship Alert. Introduced and edited by Briton Cooper Busch. Arthur Clarke Company, Glendale, California. 1983
Saturday, May 29, 1841 [Phelps]: “Continuation of the weather of yesterday. Crew variously employed in ships duty. The Boys trying out the Elephant blubber on shore. At the landing place of St. Pedro [San Pedro] there is but one house, which is occupied by a Mr. Foster [Forster] and family and is kept for the purpose of receiving and depositing goods for shipment and for the accommodation of passengers, the nearest village being the town of the angels [Los Angeles] above mentioned which is over 30 miles dist. There are a number of Ranchos situated between, the nearest of which is about 4 miles from the beach.
At Foster’s there is an old Indian and as he is the last of his race, is an object of interest. He was one of the tribe that formerly inhabited the islands which form one side of the canal of Santa Barbara, all of which give evidence of having once been populated. In 1825 the Island of San Nicolas was the only one that had become depopulated (how they became so is not known). At this time there were on San Nicolas about 30 men and 23 women. During that year a party of Russians and Kodiacks (sic) from the Russian settlements on the N-W of about 25 men were left on these islands to hunt otter, and after having many quarrels with the Indians of San Nicolas respecting the women, the Russians at length killed all the men with the exception of this old fellow who was badly wounded, having his head split open and a number of charges of buck shot fired into him. He however managed to escape. The Russians then became possessed of the women and lived with them about a year. When having an opportunity to gratify the revenge, which may sleep in an Indian but never die, they destroyed every one of the Russians and the Kodiacks in their sleep. About 4 or 5 years since there were but three women and (Black Hawk as my boys have named him) the Indian above mentioned left, and Capt. Robbins (from whom I have the account) calling there with his vessel persuaded two of the females to go to San Pedro, the other was away to the mountains and it is said is sometimes seen by the hunters who still visit the island — but is too wild to be approached.” Black Hawk seems to be nonecompas [non compos mentis] and the wounds on his head are the probable cause.”
A FEMALE CRUSOE was first published in Boston on January 8, 1847 and then repeated multiple times:
- January 7, 1847 [Atlas, Boston, MA ]
- January 8, 1847 [Evening Express, New York, NY ]
- January 15, 1847 [Mercury, New Bedford, MA ]
- January 16, 1847 [Public Ledger, Philadelphia, PA ]
- January 19, 1847 [Spirit of the Times, Batavia, NY ]
- February 6, 1847 [Freeman, Rondout, NY ]
- February 10, 1847 [Edgefield Advertiser, Edgefield, SC]
- March 27, 1847 [Littell's Living Age, #150 (594-595)]
- May 8, 1847 XX(33) [The Friend - Religious and Literary Journal Philadelphia, PA]
- August 7, 1847 [Polynesian, Honolulu, Hawaii ]
- September 10, 1847 [Vermont Journal, Windsor, VT]
- January 21, 1848 [Long Islander, Huntington, NY]
January 7, 1847 [Atlas, Boston, MA ] “A Female Crusoe. Off the coast of Alta California, about two degrees distant, bearing nearly west from Point San Pedro, which is in the latitude of 33° 43' N., and longitude 118° 14' W., will be found a small island, called by the Spaniard's Saint Nicholas. This island was formerly inhabited by an inoffensive, indolent race Indians, who subsisted almost entirely upon fish, which they caught from the rocks, and muscles, which they found in the sands of the beach. They were a listless, quiet race of beings, who seldom had communication with others of the human family, and who had but few wants and fewer cares.
About the year 1818 or 1820, the Russians, from their settlements at the North, landed on this island a party of Kodiac [sic] Indians, for the purpose of hunting sea otter, which, at that period, abounded in those waters. This party remained on the island for more than two years; and were the means of sowing the seeds of disease and contention amongst its unsuspecting and unsophisticated inhabitants.
Some ten or twelve years after the departure of the Kodiaks, this tribe had become diminished to about twenty or thirty individuals, when the governor of the department of California sent over a small vessel and removed them to the main[land].
In the last boat, which was embarking with the last of the people, (some six or eight perhaps in number), to convey them to the vessel, which was to carry them from the home of their nativity forever, was one of the tribe, small in stature, not far advanced in years, and his dusky mate, then in the bloom of life. The order had been given to shove from shore; the oars had dipped in the wave, the boat was rising on the foaming surf, then breaking on the beach with awful roar, when with the impulse of the moment, as it were, this young and blooming bride of the red man, the imprint of whose footstep had been left on the sands of her island home, waved an adieu to her chosen mate, plunged into the abyss, 'strove through the surge,' and, in another moment, stood alone on the shores of her native land. She turned, to give the last lingering look to her departing helpmate; and then, gathering around her form her flowing mantle, wet by the ocean wave, in an instant disappeared forever from the sight of her astonished and sorrowing companions.
The vessel weighed anchor, spread her canvasses, and, in 48 hours this remnant of the inhabitants of San Nicolas were landed on Point San Pedro, houseless and forlorn.
From that point to the present — if she not be dead, or has not left within the past eighteen months — has resided alone, on the Isle of San Nicholas, this female Cruso, the monarch of all she surveys. She preferred to part even with her chosen mate, and sever every human tie that could be binding, rather than leave the home of her birth — that lonely little isle, that had been to her a world, which she cared not to exchange for the abode of civilized man, with all its promised luxuries.
Since our Crusoe became the sole monarch of the isle, an Nicolas has been visited perhaps ten or twelve different times, by different individuals; but there she has continued to be found, with none to dispute her right — alone, solitary and forsaken.
Her dress, or covering, is composed of the skins of small birds, which she kills with stones, and sews them together with a needle of bone and the light sinews of the hair seal, sometimes found dead among the rocks. Her only food is a shell fish, of the muscle species, with now and then a still smaller fish, which the surf sometimes throws on the beach. She never remains long in one spot; but is constantly wandering around the shores of the island, sleeping, which she seldom does, in small caves and crevices in the rocks.
During the last few years, it has been very difficult to obtain any communication with her. At the approach of the white man she flees, as from an evil spirit; and the only way to detain her, is by running her down, as you would the wild goat of the mountain, or the young fawn of the plains.
Those who have seen her at the latest period, report that she appears to have lost all knowledge of language; that she makes only a wild noise altogether inhuman; and, when taken and detained against her will, becomes frightened and restless; that the moment she is liberated, she darts off, and endeavors to secrete herself in the world of grass, or amongst the rocks which hang over the never-ceasing surf.
Every endeavor has been made, and every inducement offered, by different individuals, to prevail upon her to leave the island, but in vain. The only home she appears to desire, is her own little isle. Her last hope, if she has any, is, to finish her journey alone. She has no wish now, to hear again the sweet music of speech. Its sounds are no longer music to her ear — and, as for civilized man, his tameness is shocking even to her dormant senses.
To all appearance, she is strong, healthy, and content to be alone. What can reconcile her to her lot, who can conjecture? Humanity may hope that contentment may continue to be hers, to the last hour; for she is destined to lie down and die alone, on the cold shore of her isolated home, with no one to administer to her last wants, and none to cover her cold body, when the spirit shall have left the day...”
A Woman's Log of 1849 From the Diary of Mrs. John (W. H.) McDougall: Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine 16:93 (275), 1890
- A Woman's Log of 1849 Aboard the California, sailing from San Francisco to Panama, thence aboard the Orus to Philadelphia.
“The notes are, as their title purports, brief daily jottings at sea, without attempt at literary form. They were made on the first outward trip of the California — a name that shall be to our children's children a classic, as is the Mayflower. For Mrs. McDougall was one of the comparatively few women passengers of that vessel when, on February 28, 1849, it entered the Bay of San Francisco — whose waters it was the first steamship ever to break...“
- “May 3, 1849 Thursday Morning... In coming to Santa Barbara we passed an island about sixty miles from the coast, on which there is a lone woman living. The Russians, some years ago, had a party there catching otter; a storm coming up they were obliged to put out to sea, leaving some of their party on shore. They afterwards returned and got them all off but this woman, who has lived there alone ever since. Some three years ago they caught her, but she was perfectly wild and had lost her speech, so they left her. About four o'clock we hoisted anchor and left Santa Barbara. Sea rough; seasick!”
1850 “Lost Woman of San Nicolas… There was no craft at Santa Barbara large enough to make the trip to San Nicolas. Interest in the woman’s plight died down, but upon the Mission fathers, the fate of the one lost sheep weighed heavily. In 1850, Father Gonzales offered Thomas Jeffries $200 to find and bring her to Santa Barbara. Jeffries returned without having discovered a trace of the lost woman. Early the next year a boat captained by George Nidever, with Thomas Jeffries, a fisherman named Charlie Brown [Carl Dittmann] and a crew of Indians, set sail for San Nicolas… A second cruise failed to discover any sign of human life, but on the third, in July, 1853, on the evening after the boat’s arrival, Captain Nidever discovered the print of a naked foot on the lonely shore…” [O’Neil 1939]
1852 “In April of 1852 I went over to the Islands with my schooner, accompanied by a foreigner by name of Tom Jeffries, who is still living here, and 2 Indians, for sea gull’s eggs. These eggs were in great demand at that time. We went direct to the San Nicolas, and having arrived early in the day, Jeffries, one of the Indians, and I landed and traveled along the beach towards the upper end of the island some 6 or 7 miles. At a short distance from the beach, about 200 yards, we discovered the footprints of a human being, probably of a woman as they were quite small…” [George Nidever (1802-1883). His Life and Recollections, 1937]
July 1853 George Nidever makes his third voyage to San Nicolas Island. Carl Dittmann finds Juana Maria.
c. Wednesday, August 31, 1853 JUANA MARIA ARRIVES IN SANTA BARBARA [She dies on Wednesday, October 19, 1853, “7 weeks to the day after her arrival, [Nidever]” putting her arrival on August 31, 1853]
ACCOUNTS OF JUANA MARIA PUBLISHED AFTER SHE WAS BROUGHT TO SANTA BARBARA: (1853)
September 11, 1853 [Santa Barbara, California]: “We have now at Santa Barbara a great curiosity. It is an Indian woman who has lived for eighteen years alone upon the Island of San Nicholas [sic], a small island about forty-five miles from this place, during which time she has not seen the face of a human being [not true]. The island was once peopled by a tribe of Indians, to whom the Northwest tribes were hostile. To preserve the remnants of this tribe from destruction, as well as with a view to Christianize them, the Padres induced them to come to the mainland eighteen years ago. After they were all on board the vessel sent for them, this woman swam ashore to look for her child which had been left; and a storm springing up in the night, the vessel was compelled to put to sea, and on returning she could not be found. She was known to be alive by those who at times visited the island for the purpose of hunting otters, from the marks of fires and from footprints in the sand. On being approached the other day she manifested such joy, which she betrayed by signed of the most significant character, and at once commenced packing up her few articles of furniture. Her clothing consisted of skins of birds sewed together with the fibers of some tree or plant. Her food has been shell fish, seals, and a small bulbous root similar in appearance to an onion, but wholly [?]. The needles with which she stitches her garments are made of the sharp bones of a fish. She had two hooks made of a bent nail and sharpened by the friction on a stone. Her lines were beautifully twisted from the sinews of some animal, probably a species of fox which abounds on the island.”
- Newburyport Herald [a correspondent writing from Santa Barbara]
- November 17, 1853 in The Planters' Banner, Franklin, LA
- November 24, 1853 in The Jeffersonian, Stroudsburg, PA
- December 3, 1853 in Anti-Slavery Bugle, New Lisbon, OH
- December 20, 1853 in Spirit of the Times, Ironton, OH
- Santa Barbara, Thursday, September 15, 1853 “…One of the reverend clergymen of the Mission of Santa Barbara, accompanied by the writer, went to see her as soon as he heard of her arrival. He brought with him one of the Mission Indians who could speak the languages of one or two tribes of the California Indians. She was greatly delighted to see this Indian, but neither of them could understand a word of what the other said…”
SANTA BARBARA, Sept. 15th, 1853 Messrs Editors:— “It has been said that "there is nothing new under the Sun," and that every occurrence which we daily experience, or have any knowledge of, has a prototype at some anterior period of the world's history. This is doubtless the case as far as regards the general routine of events which have transpired from the development of the human passions, but in the instance I now beg to bring under your notice, I am not aware that anything similar has ever occurred in the history of the human race. The story of Robinson Crusoe may probably have had one or two facts, on the basis of which, Defoe raised his romantic and beautiful superstructure, alike captivating to our youth and to our age, but it is generally believed that the heroes of his tale are more the creatures of his own imagination than reality. Several leagues off Santa Barbara, in the Pacific, there is a cluster of small islands, which were at one time inhabited by Indians, and from the traditions which exist among the native population at the South , as well as from the facts known to several Americans who have been for a long time resident there, it appears that they contained a large population. The Indians on these islands were in the habit of making frequent excursions to the main land, touching at Santa Barbara and San Pedro, for the purpose of trading with the Indians who were then living in the southern part of the State; and the barter was carried on by means of shells, which was the principal medium of exchange between them. At the time the Missions of Alta California were established, towards the close of the last century, this intercourse was carried on to a great extent, and at a certain period of the year there was a sort of Indian Fair held at some point of the southern coast, whither the Indians of the islands and the continent repaired in great numbers. Whether at the solicitation of the good Franciscan Fathers, or from choice, the Indians on the islands gradually settled down among the Mission Indians, at Santa Inez, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Gabriel and San Diego. One of these islands called San Nicholas, situated about sixty miles from Santa Barbara, was inhabited by a tribe of Indians who could never be induced from a desire of change, from the hope of greater comfort, or from a wish to embrace Christianity, to leave it. About the year 1824 or 1825, this island was visited by a Russian ship and some dispute having arisen between the sailors and the Indians about the women, the Russians killed all the men except two, and carried off the women. About ten years afterwards, Mr. Williams (who now [owns t]he ranch called "Del Chino" in Los Angeles, with other Americans had been in the habit of visiting the island, while hunting otters which abound in those waters. At one of these visits he brought away with him on his departure, a young Indian squaw. At this time there were about seventeen Indians living on the island. Shortly afterwards Mr Williams prevailed upon Mr Hubbard, who was Captain of a small schooner owned conjointly by Mr. Isaac Sparks, (now of Santa Barbara,) and Mr. Gomez of Monterey, to bring over all the Indians who remained. This was easily accomplished, as the Indians were desirous to remove. After they had all got on board the schooner, one of the Indian women discovered that her child was missing, and asked permission to go on shore to look for it. This was at once granted. She remained a long time in the search, and at length made her appearance crying most bitterly. She said that she could not find her child, and expressed her apprehension that it had been eaten by wild dogs, which it seems infest the island. She remained on the beach lamenting the loss of her child; and whether through fatigue or excess of grief, she laid down and fell asleep. In the mean time, it commenced to blow a gale of wind, and the schooner put away, leaving her alone on this desert island. What the feelings of this poor child of nature were when she opened her eyes and took a survey of her situation, are only known to herself and to the divine Providence, who still watches over her. About three months afterwards it is said the schooner again touched at the island to bring her away, but she could not be found. Since that time her foot-prints have been occasionally seen on the shore, and other indications met with, showing that she still existed. At the beginning of the present month an American by the name of George Niedever [sic], who is now and has long been a resident of Santa Barbara, was engaged in otter hunting off the coast, and touched at San Nicholas. While traveling along the beach to his great astonishment, he suddenly came upon this woman. She was engaged cleaning or curing bird skins, which she sewed together to serve as a covering, and in a garment made of which she was then dressed. She did not manifest much surprise at seeing Mr. Niedever, but readily assented to his proposition to leave the island, and accompany him to his schooner. She immediately set about making preparations for her departure, and having packed up several bundles of bird skins and other "fixings" which she had found serviceable in San Nicholas, she bade adieu forever to the land where, for so long a time, she might have soliloquised with poetic truth:
- I am monarch of all I survey, My right there is none to dispute, From the centre all 'round to the sea, I am lord of the fowl and the brute."
She is now living with the family of Mr. George Niedever, in Santa Barbara, where she has all her wants administered to. She is about sixty years old and is as simple as a child, and quite free from deception and guile. One of the reverend clergymen of the Mission of Santa Barbara, accompanied by the writer, went to see her as soon as he heard of her arrival. He brought with him on of the Mission Indians who could speak the languages of one or two tribes of the California Indians. She was greatly delighted to see this Indian, but neither of them could understand a word of what the other said. She has a distinct articulation for almost every object she saw, but no one understands her unless when she uses signs and gestures. She is very contented and takes great delight in showing to her visitors as well as she can, how she dug the roots, caught the fish, manufactured her garments, and provided generally for her sustenance. She signifies that she is much better pleased with her present mode of life than she led on the island. She takes great delight in looking at horses and cows, having probably never seen such large animals before. On one occasion she caught hold of a horse by the tail, and had it not been that Mrs. Niedever called her away, she might probably have suffered severely for her ignorance. Among the articles she brought along with her from the island, were several needles with which she sewed the bird's skins together. These needles are beautifully made of fish bones, and show a superior degree of ingenuity. The thread which she used was a thin fibre of the sinews of a whale. She had also several fishing hooks made of old nails that she probably found in some boards picked up on the shore. These nails were well bent and sharpened, and attached to a line made of fibres of whale sinews beautifully twisted together. She had also among her moveables a soft clayey substance like brick, but whether she used this for dressing the bird's skins, or for simply giving a red color to her garments no one could well make out. She had a knife also about an inch long, which seems to have been a piece of an iron hoop. It is set in a wooden handle. She brought with her some seal meat, but how she could eat this seem incomprehensible. Ten or twenty yards is about as near as the olfactory nerves would permit any of our party to go to it. She had a quantity of roots which are generally known here by the Indian name of cacometes. In taste they are like the kernel of an unripe nut. She is a strange specimen of the race, and could she give expression to her thoughts and feelings she would be able to add a new chapter to the book of humanity. For eighteen years has this poor creature lived alone on a desert island, with no one to share her hopes or her fears, he joys or her sorrows, but the Great Being who gave her life and who has wonderfully preserved it under such extraordinary circumstances. The learned and pious Father Gonzales regards it as a wonderful instance of the Providence of God, who, in his inscrutable ways has doubtless preserved her up to this time, as were some of her race, in the truths of Christianity. The people of Santa Barbara have had their interest greatly excited by this poor creature arrival in their town of this distinguished stranger, and many of them have gone to see her. If any thing further can be found out respecting her history, I shall not fail to make you acquainted with it. I send you some of the roots which she used for food, also some of the fibres of the whale sinews, and two of the bird's skins out of which she made her garments, (and which, by the way, she wore with the feathery side inwards,) that you may show to any of your friends who may have the curiosity to look at them. And in conclusion, I wish you would just say to the gentlemen of the "Barnum" family, that they may sleep contented. No money they could raise could induce George Niedever to let them have this poor Indian woman.
October 7, 1853 [November 1, 1853 Sacramento Daily Union]: “The Wild Woman of California. We have heretofore made mention of the existence of a wild Indian woman in Southern California, and the subjoined account, which we find in the San Francisco Herald, confirms the statement. The Santa Barbara correspondent of that journal writes under date of Oct. 7th as follows:
- 'A short time since I called to see the wild Indian woman. She is living with Mr. Geo. Nidever, an old trapper, who has been on this coast for the coast 18 years. She was brought from the Island of San Nicholas (sic), 70 miles distant, and not from Catalina. No person has yet been found that can understand or speak her language. By signs she has told Mr. N. that her child was killed and torn to pieces by the wild dogs with which the island is overrun. Her only dress was a sort of gown, sitting high upon shoulders and reaching early to the knee, made of the skins and feathers of wild ducks, sewed together with the sinews of the seal. The handicraft shown in the manufacture of her needles, sewing stuffs, baskets, water vessels — to make all of which a piece of the blade of an old knife seems to have been her only tool — is certainly curious. The water jugs are made of split sea-grass woven tightly together in flask form, and the bottom and part of the sides daubed over with asphaltum, springs of which are on the islands. She has a piece of netting of which is precisely similar to that made for fishing. Her food seems to have been chiefly the fat of the seal. Of this she brought some 20 pounds with her. It is rancid and smelly awfully; still she relishes it. She is very fond of shellfish, coffee, and liquor of every sort; but does not care for beef, pork, bread, and tea. In person she is by far the best looking Indian that I have every seen on the coast. She has a large, full eye; her forehead is low and broad; her nose slightly aquiline and finely formed; her mouth is rather large, and indicates great firmness; her protruding lower lip gives a haughty tone to her look, and her well set chin fully sustains this trait. She is of medium stature, very masculine in appearance, and shows very little evidence of advanced age. Undoubtedly she is the last of her race.“
October 13, 1853 [Sacramento Daily Democratic State Journal]: “The wild Indian woman who was found on the Island of San Nicolas, about 70 miles from the coast, west of Santa Barbara, is now at the latter place, and is looked upon as a curiosity. It is stated that she has been some eighteen to twenty years alone on the island. She existed on shellfish and the fat of the seal, and dressed in the skins and feathers of wild ducks, which she sewed together with the sinews of the seal. She cannot speak any known language — is good looking, and about a middle age. She seems to be contented in her new home among the good people of Santa Barbara.“
JUANA MARIA DIES OCTOBER 19, 1853.
1853 Santa Barbara Mission Burial record, entry #1183 opposite page 114 (translated from the Spanish): “Juana Maria. Adult Indian. On the 19 of October of 1853 I gave ecclesiastical burial in this cemetery to the mortal remains of Juana Maria, an Indian brought from the island of San Nicolas, and since there was no one who understood her language she was baptized conditionally by Father Sanchez; and that this may stand as true I sign it. Father Jose Maria de Jesus Gonzalez.”
ACCOUNTS OF JUANA MARIA PUBLISHED AFTER HER DEATH: (1853+)
In the News~
October 28, 1853 [NYT]: “Santa Barbara, Thursday, September 15, 1853. Messrs Editors: It has been said that ‘there is nothing new under the sun,’ and that every occurrence which we daily experience, or have any knowledge of has a prototype at some anterior period of the world’s history. This is doubtless the case as far as regards the general routine of events which have transpired from the development of the human passions, but in the instance I now beg to bring to your notice, I am not aware that anything similar has ever occurred in the history of the human race. The story of Robinson Crusoe may probably have one or two facts, on the basis of which DeFoe raised his romantic and beautiful superstructure alike, captivating to our youth and to our age, but it is generally believed that the heroes of his tale are more the creatures of his own imagination than reality.
Several leagues off Santa Barbara, in the Pacific, there is a cluster of small islands, which were at one time inhabited by Indians, and from the traditions which exist among the native population at the South, as well as from facts known to several Americans who have been for a long time residents there, it appears that that they contained a large population. The Indians on the islands were in the habit of making frequent excursions to the mainland, touching at Santa Barbara and San Pedro, for the purpose of trading with the Indians who were then living in the southern part of the State; and the barter was carried on by means of shells, which was the principal medium of exchange between them.
At the time the missions of Alta California were established, towards the close of the last century, this intercourse was carried on to a great extent, and at a certain period of the year there was a sort of Indian Fair held at some point of the southern coast, whither the Indians of the islands and the continent repaired in great numbers. Whether at the solicitation of the good Franciscan Fathers, or from choice, the Indians on the islands gradually settled down among the Mexican Indians, at Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Gabriel and San Diego.
One of these islands called San Nicholas, situated about sixty miles from Santa Barbara, was inhabited by a tribe of Indians who could never be induced from a desire of change, from the hope of greater comfort, or from a wish to embrace Christianity, to leave it.
About the year 1824 or 1825, this island was visited by a Russian ship, and some dispute having arisen between the sailors and the Indians, about the women, the Russians killed all the men except two, and carried off the woman. About ten years afterwards, Mr. Williams (who now owns the ranch called ‘Del Chino’ in Los Angeles), with other Americans, had been in the habit of visiting the island, while hunting otters, which abound in those waters.
At one of these visits he brought away with him a young Indian squaw. At this time there were about seventeen Indians living on the island. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Williams prevailed upon Mr. Hubbard, who was captain of a small schooner, owned co jointly by Mr. Sparks, (now of Santa Barbara), and Mr. Gomez, of Monterey, to bring over all the Indians who remained. This was easily accomplished, as the Indians were desirous to remove.
After they had all got on board the schooner, one of the Indian women discovered that her child was missing, and asked permission to go on shore to look for it. This was at once granted. She remained a long time in the search, and at length made her appearance crying most bitterly, She said that she could not find her child, and expressed her apprehension that it had been eaten by wild dogs, which it seems infest the island. She remained on the beach lamenting the loss of her child, and whether through fatigue or excess of grief, she laid down and fell asleep. In the meantime, it commenced to blow a gale of wind, and the schooner put away, leaving her alone on this desert island. What the feelings of this poor child of nature were when she opened her eyes and took a survey of her situation, are only known to herself and to the divine Providence, who still watches over her.” [Note: Juana Maria had died 8 days before this article was published.]
November 3, 1853 [Marysville Daily Herald]: “The Wild Woman of California. — We have heretofore made mention of the existence of a wild Indian woman in Southern California, and the subjoined account, which we find in the San Francisco Herald, confirms the statement. — The Santa Barbara correspondent of that journal writes under date of Oct. 7th, as follows: ”'A short time since I called to see the wild Indian woman. She is living with Mr. Geo. Nidever, an old trapper, who has been on this coast for the coast 18 years. She was brought from the Island of San Nicholas (sic), 70 miles distant, and not from Catalina. No person has yet been found that can understand or speak her language... ”
November 13, 1853 [Daily Alta California]: “A ladies fair is to be held at the Musical Hall, on Bush street, on Tuesday evening next, the proceeds of which are devoted to the erection of St. Mary’s Church. A great variety of curiosities will be on exhibition, some of which, from their rarity and peculiarity, will be well worth the attention of the scientific and the curious. Some of the most singular objects will be disposed of by lot or raffle, or as may be thought proper and advisable. One of the most singular things on exhibition will be the dress of an old Indian woman, who for seventeen years lived
- ‘Alone, alone, all, all alone,
- Alone in the wide, wide sea —
- And ne’er a soul took pity on
- Her soul in agony.’
This woman, it appears, was accidentally left on the Island of San Nicholas — which is about sixty miles from Santa Barbara — many years ago, when the rest of the few who lived there were taken off to the main land. It was known that she had been left, and attempts were made to find her, without success. Traces of her existence there have been seen from time to time, but not till recently has she ever been seen by anyone, when a Mr. Nidever, of Santa Barbara, who was coasting about San Nicholas in search of otters, suddenly came upon her. She manifested little surprise at Mr. Nidever’s appearance, and willingly left her solitary abode. The dress of bird skins which she wore is a great curiosity. How she killed the birds is unknown, or how she contrived to form the needle with which she sewed the skins together. A bottle made of wicker work was also brought away, and it passes belief that human skill could, with no tools but a small piece of rusty hoop iron, make anything so perfect. What long and dreary desolation this woman endured, or whether her life was ever diversified by anything to break the monotony of her loneliness, is unknown. She understood not a word of any language spoken by the nearest Indians, and died before anything could be learned of the incidents of her dark existence. On the 18th ult. the old woman died of a severe dysentery, brought on by eating immoderately of fruit and water melons. The change in her habits and mode of living, may also probably have contributed to hasten her death. Before her death Mrs. George Nidever, the wife of the gentleman who brought her off from Santa Nicholas, taught her the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Creed; and as she expressed a desire to be baptized, Father Sanchez, one of the pious Franciscan fathers attached to the Mission of Santa Barbara, administered to her the sacrament of baptism and admitted her into the Church.”
November 15, 1853 [Sacramento Daily Union]: “Wild Woman of San Nicholas (sic) — The Alta contains a description of a wild woman who lately died in San Francisco [Santa Barbara], from which we extract the following: This woman, it appears, was accidentally left on the island of San Nicholas — which is about sixty miles from Santa Barbara — many years ago, when the rest of the few who lived there were taken off to the mainland. It was known that she had been left, and attempts were made to find her, without success. Traces of her existence there have been seen from time to time, but not till recently has she ever been seen by any one, when a Mr. Niedever (sic), of Santa Barbara, who was coasting about San Nicolas in search of otters, suddenly came upon her. She manifested little surprise at Mr. Niedever's appearance, and willingly left her solitary abode. The dress of bird skins which she wore is a great curiosity. How she killed the birds is unknown,or how she contrived to form the needle with which she sewed the skins together. A bottle made of wicker work was also brought away, and it passes belief that human skill could, with no tools but a small piece of rusty hoop iron, make anything so perfect. What long and dreary desolation this woman endured, or whether her life was ever diversified by anything to break the monotony of her loneliness, is unknown. She understood not a word of any language spoken by the nearest Indians, and died before anything could be learned of the incidents of her dark existence.” [Note: text primarily from Daily Alta California two days earlier, November 13, 1853]
December 28, 1853 [Portage Sentinal, Ravenna, Ohio]: “A Female Robinson Crusoe. The San Francisco Times gives a romantic account of a female Robinson Crusoe recently found on St. Nicholas Island, the only inhabitant on that lonely spot. The Indians who formerly inhabited it had been induced by some missionaries to leave it in 1835. One of the Indian women, just on the point of departure, missed her child, who had she supposed, wandered off. While engaged in the search, the vessel was blown off, leaving her alone on the island. About three months afterwards, it is said, the schooner again touched at the island to bring her away, but she could not be found. Since that time her foot-prints have occasionally been seen on the shore, and other indications met with, showing that she still existed. At the beginning of the last month, An American by the name of George Niedever [sic], who is now and has been a resident of Santa Barbara, was engaged in otter hunting off the coast, and touched at San Nicholas [sic]. While traveling along the beach, to his great astonishment, he suddenly came upon this woman. She was engaged in cleaning bird skins, which she had sewn together to serve as a covering, and in a garment made of which she was then dressed. She did not manifest much surprise at seeing Mr. Niedever, but readily assented to his proposition to leave the island, and accompany him to his schooner. She immediately set about making preparations for her departure, and having packed up several bundles of bird skins and other 'fixings' which she had found serviceable to San Nicholas, she bade adieu forever to the land where, for so long a time, she might have soliloquized with poetic truth: 'I'm monarch of all I survey.' She is now living with the family of Mr. George Niedever, in Santa Barbara, where she has all her wants administered to. She is about 60 years old, and is as simple as a child, and quite free from deception and guile. One of the reverend clergymen of the mission of Santa Barbara, accompanied by the writer, went to see her as soon as he heard of her arrival.He brought with him one of the Mission Indians, who could speak the languages of one or two tribes of California Indians. She was greatly delighted to see this Indian, but neither of them could understand a word of what the other said. She has a distinct articulation for almost every object she saw, but no one understands her unless when she uses signs and gestures. She is very contented, and takes great delight in showing her visitors, as well as she can, how she dug the roots, caught the fish, manufactured her garments, and provided generally for her sustenance. She signifies that she is much better pleased with her present mode of life than that she led on the island. She has taken great delight in looking at horses and cows, having probably never seen such large animals before. On one occasion she caught hold of a horse by the tail, and had it not been that Mrs. Niedever called her away, she might probably have suffered severely for ignorance.”
FIRST HAND ACCOUNT FROM GEORGE NIDEVER TO CAPTAIN C. J. W. RUSSELL ON SAN MIGUEL ISLAND:
- November 1856 [Hutchings' California Magazine #5] “... Those who are acquainted with the geography of this coast, will remember that about 250 miles south of San Francisco, a chain of islands commences, called the Santa Barbara Islands. While stationed upon one of this group — the Island of San Miguel — making tidal observations for the United States Government, I was visited by Mr. George Nediver [sic], an old resident of California, who came over from the mainland on a hunting excursion, and encamped beside me, and from whom I obtained much valuable information concerning the early history of these islands, as well as the adjacent coast. One evening, while seated beside our quiet campfire, placidly smoking our pipes, Mr. N. related to me the following remarkable history:
Twenty years ago the whole of the Indian tribes inhabiting the Santa Barbara group of Islands were engaged in a fierce and exterminating war with each other, and to such an extent was this deadly hostility waged that already the population had very much diminished, and would, in all probability, before many years, become entirely extinct. To prevent this, and at the same time to ameliorate the condition of the Indians, the good fathers of the Mission of Santa Barbara conceived the idea of removing them to the mainland, where they might be watched over, improved, and preserved, under their immediate superintendence. For this purpose they visited the islands, in company with a few partially civilized Indians, and explained to them the advantages of removing to the Mission. They listened attentively to the proposal, and finally consented to go, on promises of protection from their natural enemies being given by the Fathers.
Accordingly, a small vessel was sent to the different islands, and the various tribes were taken one by one, to the Mission of Santa Barbara. But while the last of the Indians were embarking, at the island of San Nicolas, and all were supposed to be on board, a child was missing, and its mother, in great distress was seeking everywhere, without success. Each portion of the vessel was diligently searched; all the adjacent rocks were examined, but no child could be found. Almost frantic, the mother requested the captain to wait while she went into the interior to search for her child, to which he reluctantly consented.
As night closed down in darkness, heavy masses of clouds rolled up from the horizon, and gave threatening evidence of a coming storm. All were anxious for the return of the woman and her child, before it broke upon them, harder and stronger; the storm was rapidly increasing; and as the groups of Indians on board strained their eyes, trying to discover in the darkness, some object that resembled the returning woman and her child, yet he saw them not, there were many sad hearts and anxious countenances that night, on their account. The storm at last came on in all its fury, tossing their little vessel up and down like a feather, and compelled them at last, though reluctantly, to put to sea for safety, before any tidings of the absent ones could be received. Although the cargo of living freight reached Santa Barbara in safety, before the vessel could return for the woman it was wrecked and entirely lost; and as no other could be obtained at the time, the poor woman had to remain upon the island, where she lived, alone, for eighteen years; no doubt forgotten, or given up as long since dead.
After the discovery of gold, it was rumored that San Nicolas was inhabited, and this, no doubt, had its foundation in the fact that several hunters of the sea otter had seen the print of human footsteps, and they endeavored to discover the whereabouts of the individual, but could not. Yet, as all the footprints were alike, they concluded that there could be only one person living upon it. Many attempts were made to find out who, and where this strange being was, but without avail, until one of California's oldest pioneers, Mr. Nediver [Nidever] — the gentleman who related the story, and who arrived in this country some twenty-five years ago, and still resides in Santa Barbara went over to look for her. He having spent many years as a hunter and trapper in the Rocky Mountains, was as expert as an Indian in following a trail, and consequently found but little difficulty in discovering the track, which he followed until he saw a singular object among the rocks upon the sea shore, near the mouth of a ravine, upon its knees, skinning a seal. Upon approaching, he found it to be a woman, clad in a singular dress of feathers. When she saw him, she jumped up, and with excessive joy ran towards him, and seemed almost beside herself with wild delight at the sight, once more, of a human being. In her hand she held a rude knife-blade that she had made from a piece of old iron, probably obtained from the fragment of some wreck, and which she evidently valued beyond anything else in her possession. She was unable to make herself understood, except by signs; in making which, she showed a great amount of intelligence, and signified her willingness to accompany him to Santa Barbara. Here Father Gonzales, of the Mission, took the greatest pains to discover some of the Indians who had been taken from those islands eighteen years before, but no one of them could be found, and what became of them is a mystery unto this day. Not one of the Indians within a circumference of many miles could be found, who could understand her; so she could communicate only by signs.
It appears from her narrative, that after leaving the vessel in search of her child, she wandered about for several hours, and when she found it, the wild dogs which infest the island, even to the present day, had killed and nearly devoured it. We can better imagine the feelings of a mother at such a time than describe them. When she returned to the spot where she had left the vessel, to tell her sorrows for the loss of her child, that too was gone, and was bearing away her kindred and friends from her sight. Could she have realized, then, that for eighteen long years she must live alone in the world, without one kind word of comfort, one cheering look from a friendly eye, or one smile of recognition, it would have been too much for even her wild but womanly nature to bear, and with her, as with us, it is well that we know not the future. From day to day she lived in hope, beguiling the weary hours in providing for her wants. With snares made of her hair she caught birds, and with the skins, properly prepared, she made her clothing. Her needles were neatly made of bone and cactus thorns; her thread was of sinews from the seal. In these and many other articles found in her possession, she exhibited much of the native ingenuity she possessed.
Whether she still remembered her own language or not will forever remain a mystery. She was very gentle and kind, especially to children, and nothing seemed to please her more than to be near them; and the poor woman would often shed tears while attempting to describe by signs her own little one which had been killed and eaten by the wild dogs. The sympathy felt for her welfare caused people to supply her bountifully with everything she needed, and very imprudently allowed her to eat almost anything she chose, and the result was that in about six months [weeks] after her escape from her lonely exile she sickened and died, having undoubtedly been killed with kindness.
At the conclusion of the old gentleman's tale, I was more than ever convinced of the truthfulness of the remark, that 'Truth is stranger than fiction'.” [Russell, C. J. W. Narrative of a Woman who was Eighteen Years ALone, on the Island of San Nicolas, Cal p. 209-211]
November 25, 1856 [DEB]: “A California Crusoe. Narrative of a woman who lived eighteen years alone, upon the island of San Nicolas. Captain C. J. W. Russell, who will be recollected by readers of the [San Francisco] Bulletin as the writer of many variable articles in its columns on the subject of 'California Fisheries,' has contributed to Hutchings' Magazine an interesting narrative of a woman who lived eighteen years alone upon the Island of San Nicolas, one of the Santa Barbara group, off the lower coast, and situated about 35° 15' North latitude. While stationed in that quarter, making tidal observations for the United States Government, Captain Russell received from one George Nidever, an old California resident, the following remarkable history: Twenty years ago... [as above].”
December 11, 1856 [Santa Barbara Gazette]:
December 13, 1856 [Los Angeles Star]: “The November number of Hutchings' California Magazine contains a 'narrative of a woman who was eighteen years alone upon the Island of San Nicolas, coast of California' by C. J. W. Russell. The narrative is pretty is pretty highly colored, and made to assume quite a romantic tone — the incident of a child being devoured by dogs, and the agonized feelings of the mother consequent on the deplorable event, heightening the effect — differing slightly from the generally received account of the affair. As the immediate kindred of that solitary individual were for some time residents of Los Angeles, we have made some effort to collect the most remarkable and reliable facts connected with their history and that of the solitary survivor.
The Hon. J. J. Warner, than whom no man is better acquainted with modern transactions on this coast — we are indebted for the facts herein contained:
Most of those islands forming the group to the south of Point Conception, were, at the time of the subjugation of upper California by the Cross and Spanish Arms, inhabited by Indians of the same race as those along the main. In the earlier period of the Missions, which were established within the present limits of this State, the inhabitants of those islands nearest the coast were brought over and incorporated with the neophites of Santa Barbara, San Buenaventura, and San Gabriel. The Island of San Nicolas, being much farther seaward, the natives holding no intercourse with those of the mainland, and but little, if any, with those of the islands adjacent to the coast, were undisturbed.
In the prosecution of the business of collecting furs along this coast by the Russian Fur Company, a large party of traders and hunters, composed of Russians, half-breeds and Codiac (sic) Indians, were in 1818, hunting and trading at the Island of San Nicolas. During their stay at the Island, jealousies sprung up, and with them difficulties and broils occurred between the hunters and natives. The inhabitants were simple and harmless, their numbers insufficient to cause internal discord, and their remote situation offered no opportunity to cultivate the science of war. The hunters and traders were the reverse of harmless and simplicity, and without difficulty or loss on their part, exterminated all of the inhabitants which they could discover, except a small number of females, whom they carried away with them on their departure. Two men and two women were undiscovered in their hiding place, and after the sailing of the hunting party, remained the only inhabitants of the island. Their numbers were increased by the slow and natural course of nature until 1836, when the population consisted of seven persons, four males and three females, one of whom, of about twenty years of age, was of a fairer tint than her companions.
The Otter hunters, from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, who from 1830 to 1836 in the prosecution of their business along the shore of the mainland and the neighboring islands, sometimes extended the scene of their operations to the more remote island. The reports which they gave of the timid half-breed maiden of San Nicolas, occasioned considerable sensation among their fellow hunters who had not been to the Island, or who, on their visits, had not been so fortunate as to discover the inhabitants, who invariably sought to avoid the observation of strangers. Repeated attempts were made by the hunters at various times, to induce the solitary female to hold intercourse with them, but which were only partially successful. In the summer of 1836, an American and an Englishman, residents of Los Angeles, sent an expedition from San Pedro to San Nicolas for the purpose of bringing away this family. After much delay and difficulty in accomplishing this object, they succeeded in getting six of the seen persons on board of their vessel and sailed for San Pedro. They were brought to Los Angeles, where, from the change of diet and habits, they soon sickened and died, with the exception of one old man and one middle aged female. The former became blind in consequence of his sickness, but instinctively found his way to the oceans' shore, where, recovering his health, he for many years was the most notable object that met the eye of the visitor or traveler to San Pedro. He was unfortunately drowned, by falling from a steep bank into the ocean. The latter lived for many years in the family of one of our most respectable citizens, in whose care she was at the time of her death. The solitary female that was left on the island, in consequence of her flight from those who brought away her relatives, remained there in regal solitude. She was frequently seen by the hunters who visited the Island in subsequent years, but all efforts to hold communication with her were unsuccessful, as she invariably fled from the approach of every human being.
About 1853 or 1854, Mr. George Niedeever (sic) who for many years had been engaged in otter hunting, and had frequently visited the Island, found her, old, infirm, and decrepid (sic), suffering from hunger, and succeeded in removing her from her solitary and lonesome abode.”
December 29, 1856 [Sacramento Daily Union]: “Further particulars on the California Cruso. Some time ago there appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin an interesting narrative, written by Capt. C. J. W. Russell, of an eighteen years' residence alone, by a California Indian woman, upon the Island of San Nicolas, one of the Santa Barbara group. This narrative has drawn forth some relative remarks by the Los Angeles Star and the Santa Barbara Gazette. It would seem from there accounts, that Capt. Russell has colored his narrative somewhat, or, at least, that his description of the story is not the one generally received in the lower country. As the whole circumstances are very curious, and may form the foundation of some romance by a future Defoe, (like the tale of Alexander Selkirk, the castaway on Juan Fernandez, which swelled into the 'Robinson Crusoe' of the novelist,) we take occasion to lay some additional particulars of the original narrative before our readers. The Los Angeles Star is indebted to Mr. J. J. Warner — 'than whom no man is better acquainted with modern transactions on this coast' — for the following facts on the subject...”
February 1857 [Hutchings' California Magazine #8]: “The Indian Woman of San Nicholas [sic]. Our readers will remember that in the November number of the Magazine we were favored by Capt. C. J. W. Russell, with the narrative of a woman who was eighteen years alone, on the Island of San Nicholas. Since the publication of that sketch, Captain R. has paid a visit to Santa Barbara, and by Mr. George Nedever [sic], the gentleman who discovered her, was presented with a water bottle made of grass, and a stone mortar, necklace and other things that were made by her during her long and solitary residence. The water bottle explains its own use. The mortar was used for pounding the abalone, the Haliotis of naturalists, and which was one of the principal articles of food among the Indians, and by whom they were dried for winter use, and afterwards pounded in a mortar before eating. At the present time there are no less than twelve schooners and sloops chartered by Chinamen; besides several hundred of Chinese laborers engaged in this business, as they are an important article of consumption to Chinamen in California, in addition to the vast quantities exported by them to their native land. In flavor these are said to be fully equal to the oyster, especially in soup, and could be introduced advantageously for our own use, and we would suggest to epicures here, to give this dish of ‘John’s’ a trial, for it may be possible that although we might not relish cooked rats, the abalone may be one of the greatest of delicacies to our own people…” The necklace made by this ingenious woman, was of slate, and although rude, it was prized by her as a great ornament, even though no one was near to admire or praise her. There is upon this island a good sized cave in which she took up her abode, and on the walls of which she kept a rude record of all the vessels that had passed the island, and of all the most remarkable occurrences in her lonely history, such as seeing large quantities of seals, hailing of vessels in the distance, etc. By her signs she represented herself as once being very sick, and had to crawl upon her hands and knees from the cave to some water. During her sickness at Mr. Nedever’s [sic] although she suffered much, she never complained, and made them understand that she should like to die, for then she should meet her child in the spirit land. We append the following interesting extract from the Santa Barbara Gazette. “All that was known of this remarkable woman, and all of her history while living upon this island, she was able to impart by signs and gestures, (she had lost the knowledge of language), and the manner of her discovery and deliverance, her arrival here and death that soon followed, has before been published. While living she was an object of lively interest to some and curiosity to others…” [The Indian Woman of San Nicholas, [sic], (Illustrated) p. 347-348]
1857 California Academy of Sciences: Dr. Trask read a paper on the direction and velocity of the earthquake of January 9, 1857. He [she] also read a paper on new microscopic organisms from the Santa Barbara Channel, and a paper on zoophytes from the Bay of San Francisco and adjacent localities. Captain Russell deposited a water-bottle and beads, with a mortar, which had been used, and were supposed to have been made, by the Indian woman Maria, the so-called female Robinson Crusoe, on the Island of San Nicolas during her solitary residence there of eighteen years. He also deposited a volume of records in Spanish of the Mission of San Diego, dating back to 1770.
May 4, 1860 [California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences, Volume 12, Number 11]: “...An American otter hunter, who has been engaged among the Santa Barbara Islands for the last six years, and who has visited every one of the California islands, from Cedros to the Farallones, informs me that the remains of the Indians in the Channel Islands, from Santa Catalina up, indicate a very numerous population of Indians. There are supposed to be no Island Indians left now, neither on the main land or elsewhere, certainly none at their former homes. On all these islands, he says, the remains of their huts, and signs of rancherias, from sea shells, are very abundant. He says, in coming down from the North, in winter, the Island of San Miguel, alias San Lucas, alias Juan Rodriguez, alias Isle Possession, alias San Bernardo, where Cabrillo, the discoverer of California, in 1543, is said to have died, would be, without doubt, the first one reached by such vessels as the old navigators used. [to be continued]”
January 9, 1869 [SDU]: “...Some of these islands formerly had an Indian population, but they have passed away. The only history I could find of them was gleaned from the otter hunters. I copy their account from my journal, written at San Pedro in 1841: In 1825 the island of San Nicolas was the only one of the group which had not become depopulated (how they became so is not known). At this time there were on San Nicholas thirty Indian men and twenty-three women. During that year a party of Russian hunters and Kodiaks, numbering twenty-five persons, from the Russian Territory on the northwest, were left here to hunt for sea otter among the islands along the coast, making this their depot. After having many quarrels with the Indians respecting the women, the Russians killed all the men except one, who escaped badly wounded, taking possession of the women. The Russians lived with them about a year, when one day when their masters were drunk they embraced the opportunity to gratify the revenge which may sleep in an Indian's bosom but never dies, and destroyed every Russian and Kodiak in their sleep. Three years ago there were but three women and the man who escaped the massacre living on the island. Captain Robbins, from whom I have this account, called there with a vessel and persuaded two of the females to leave the island and go to the Main, where they were kindly provided for. The other one ran away and could not be caught and is now occasionally seen by the hunters who visit there, but is too wild to be approached. The man was brought to Foster's, at San Pedro, where I frequently saw him, much disfigured and blind from his wounds...”
August 3, 1872 [SBP]: “Juana María… As the rescued islanders were brought down to the shore where the boat was anchored, one of the women who afterward gave her name as Juana María, darted away, over the sandy shore, over rough rocks, through tangled ravines, with savage eagerness, to bring her only child, which, by some oversight, had been left behind…”
January 28, 1879 [SBDP]: “Female Robinson Crusoe. The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island A wonderful romance in real life… A third voyage by Mr. N[idever], and six others, four of whom were Indians from Santa Barbara Mission, was made to the island in July, 1853; and although otter hunting was the main object of the visit, the Indian woman was not forgotten. They landed on the northeast side of the island early in the day, and having settled their camping site, all but one, the cook, started for the head of the island. Near there were observed fresh footprints leading from the beach to the ridge or higher elevation, but were soon lost in moss-covered ground. The following day they were more successful. One of the party, Mr. Brown [Carl “Charley Brown” Dittmann], discovered the object of their search at a distance, and cautiously approaching in an opposite direction from the balance of the party, got quite close to her without being observed. She was in one of her pens, or windbreaks, clothed in a garment made of the skins of the shag, without sleeves, low necked, and, as observed when standing up, extended almost to the ankles… To the surprise of all she made no attempt to get away… The expression of her face was pleasing… She retained all her teeth, but they were worn low… Going aboard the schooner she went directly to the stove and warmed herself. She ate heartily of the food of the crew, appeared to enjoy it, and it agreed with her… She was taken to the house of Mr. Nidever where she became the center of attraction… A. B. Stuart (signed)” [Note: Absalom Stuart was a Santa Barbara physician]
February 27, 1879 [DDR]: “A Feminine Crusoe. Alone on a dreary desert island for 18 years… In the spring of 1835 the small schooner Peor es Nada, built at Monterey, was chartered by Lewis T. Burton and Isaac J. Sparks for an otter hunting expedition from Santa Barbara to the coast of Lower California. The schooner sailed in May… It being known that the small island of San Nicolas, situated about 70 miles southwest of San Pedro and a little further southeast from Santa Barbara, was inhabited by a number of Indians, the Peor es Nada was dispatched to remove them to the mainland. Nineteen men, women, and children were taken on board the schooner, which was preparing to depart, when one of the Indian mothers discovered that two of her offspring had been forgotten and left on the island. With true maternal devotion she sprang into the water and swam to the shore in search of the missing children, one of which was 3 years of age and the other an infant unable to walk. Her hurried search was unavailing, and, abandoning all hope of finding the babies, she returned to the beach just in time to see the schooner sailing away with all her friends on board… A third expedition made to the island in 1853, by Nidever, Charles Brown and four Indians from the Santa Barbara Mission, was more successful. On the day after landing, Mr. Brown discovered the object of their search at a distance, and cautiously approaching in the other direction from the remaining party, got quite close to her without being observed. She was in one of her pens, or windbreaks, clothed in a garment made of the skin of the shag, without sleeves, low-necked, and as observed when standing up, extending almost to the ankles… The hair was short, looking as though the free ends had rotted off… she made no attempt to get away… Messrs. Nidever and Brown [Carl “Charley Brown” Dittmann] are still living, and it is on their authority that the foregoing strange narrative is given to the readers of the Chronicle. [From the San Francisco Chronicle].
April 13, 1879 [SBDP]: “Miss Robinson Crusoe. Some pleasant English observations on the former reigning belle of San Nicolas Island. From the London Daily Telegraph, March 6, 1879.
May 23, 1879 [The Newfoundlander]: “ http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=67&dat=18790523&id=V3sdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0yUDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3367,81006
September 1880 [The Sanitarian, a Monthly Magazine devoted to the Preservation of Health, Mental and Physical Culture. New York: A. N. Bell (1880)] A Female Crusoe by Absalom B. Stuart, M.D., Santa Barbara, California
September 24, 1880 [Cambria Freeman, Ebensburg, PA]: “An Indian Female Crusoe. Mr. George Nidever, of Santa Barbara, has given a complete account of his discovery of a lone woman on San Nicolas Island in the Pacific Ocean, in 1853. He was hunting and saw signs of a human inhabitant. He saw a footprint made during the previous rainy season, sunken deeply in the now dry, hard ground, and from the size, judged it to be that of a woman. Also three small circular enclosures about 200 yards from the beach, and about a mile apart. They were about six feet in diameter, made of brush, the walls five feet high, with a small opening on one side. Near these openings were sticks of driftwood stuck in the ground in the form of a tripod, supporting dried seal blubber. These enclosures appeared to be simply wind breaks affording no protection from the rain. The investigation was pursued no further, as an approaching storm compelled them to leave. [second voyage, 1852]
A third voyage by Mr. N. and six others, four of whom were Indians from Santa Barbara Mission, was made to the island in July 1853; and, although otter-hunting was the main object of the visit, the Indian woman was not forgotten. The landed on the northeast side of the island early in the day, and having selected their camping site, all but the cook started for the head of the island. Fresh footprints were observed leading from the beach to the ridge, or higher elevation, but were soon lost in moss-covered ground, which ended the search for the day. The following day they were more successful. One of the party, Mr. Deitman (sic), discovered the object of their search at a distance, and cautiously approached in an opposite direction from the balance of the party... [this article continues as the one published January 29, 1879 in the Santa Barbara Daily Press]
September 25, 1880 [Fresno Republican]: “A female Robinson Crusoe. Scribner’s has a wonderfully romantic story of an occurrence which happened on the Santa Barbara islands, a cluster off the California coast… [Juana María] made a fire by rubbing sticks together, and for eighteen years had kept it alight… and had lived on roots, fish and seal’s blubber…”
February 19, 1881 [SDRU]: “In the Art Loan Exhibition at Santa Barbara there is a bone needle, a memento of the Indian woman of San Nicolas Island who was rescued by Captain Nidever. When the tribe was removed to the mainland, by accident the woman was left behind, and for a long term of years she lived alone on the island.”
April 13, 1881 [SBDP]: “…The normal southerly direction of the coast line is continued from Point Conception to below Los Angeles by high and mountainous islands, on one of which, San Nicolas, An Indian woman spent eighteen years alone. The story of this woman’s solitary confinement was given in full in Scribner’s for September last…”
July 27, 1881 [SBDP]: “The heroine of San Nicolas. A Woman’s life for eighteen years on a desert island. By J. H. Rawlins. Sometime prior to the year 1833 the Mission fathers of Lower California, in their efforts to Christianize and accustom to honest labor the Indian tribes on the coast, had placed them on various islands of the Santa Barbara group, to pursue the fishery of otter and seal. One of these, San Nicolas…was after some time abandoned, and the whole of its inhabitants were brought away in a vessel sent by the good fathers. While they were leaving, a gale sprung up, and it was at the same time discovered that a child had been left behind. The mother, a half-breed Indian woman of superior intelligence to her race…leaped into the sea and swam back to the island…Father Gonzales, having never forgotten her disappearance, offered at length a reward of $200 for the rescue of the woman or child, and the result, after three years more, was the discovery of the woman on the island, still in good mental health and bodily health, but with the power of articulate speech gone…” [Reprinted November 17, 1881: SBDP]
February 23, 1882 [SBDP]: “…The old captain [Nidever] who found her [Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island] still lives in this place, and is always ready to tell the story in his own graphic manner.”
November 7, 1883 [SBDI]: “Our unhonored heroine. One of the truest heroines that ever lived is buried right in Santa Barbara…There is not another feature in the history of this county that has attracted the attention all over the world that has the tale of the lone woman of San Nicolas…”
November 15, 1889 [VV]: “…The next July Mr. Nidever fitted out another crew and sailed for island. This time he was more successful finding the woman near the middle of the island in a circular brush pen. She greeted the party with a smile, and accompanied them to a spot near the beach where they remained for nearly a month and then sailed to Santa Barbara. Owing to change of diet the woman, who was about fifty years old and had remained on the island for eighteen years, took sick and died. In that time she seemed to have completely lost her language and none could converse with her. By signs she gave them to understand that dogs had killed her child…[Steven Bowers]”
August 30, 1891 [Santa Barbara Morning Press]: “Miles of human bones. Discoveries of a party who went to San Nicolas. The party who went to San Nicolas Island on a prospecting tour with a view to taking up government land, returned after a two days visit on the island. They concluded not to exhaust their rights on land so useless. From Frank Fazzio who took them over, some interesting details of the trip are learned… On the other side of the island, the east side, they found human bones for a distance of five miles along the beach. They were very thick and looked as if it had been a graveyard. They also discovered the remains of human bodies on the ridge, which runs lengthwise through the island. In some places two skeletons were seen close together as if they had been buried together in the same grave. The wind had blown off what covering of soil had been thrown over them, and it looked quite ghastly. Bones were thickly strewn along this ridge for upwards of three miles. From appearances upwards of 3000 or 4000 Indians must have been buried there. A shanty which had been built on the west side was found buried clear to the roof in sand. There are now about 2000 sheep on the island and from a sort of rough grass they seem to keep fat. The party went into a cave which afforded an Indian woman, the sole occupant of the island, a home for seven years. It seems that when her party was leaving the island, that she jumped overboard and swam ashore in the night. Years went by before she was taken off. The party enjoyed the trip immensely, but say the island is not worth much.”
February 29, 1892 [SBDI]: “The story of the Indian woman who lived for eighteen years alone on San Nicolas Island has been written of frequently and by some of our best writers. Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson thought the theme worthy of an article from her pen, and Mrs. Lucy A. Brinkerhoff furnished a readable and well-written sketch. Hardly a newspaper in the state has lacked one or more articles concerning the lone dweller on the faraway island…”
March 11, 1892 [SBDI]: “The Ojai says Joaquin Miller’s novelette concerning the Woman of San Nicolas has started the coast papers to telling what they know (or don’t know) of the matter. The San Francisco Examiner and the Santa Barbara Press and Independent have all come out lately with versions, but the article by Dr. Lorenzo G. Yates of Santa Barbara, published in the Independent is, we believe, nearer the actual facts than the others…”
April 16, 1892 [CDT]: “On the lonely wind-swept Island of San Nicolas…locals are archaeologists are now gathering the relics of a strange extinct race…In 1835 the padres of Santa Barbara, learning that there were but sixteen of the strange Indian race then living there, determined to rescue them from the island. They went over in a sloop and succeeded, as they thought, in getting all aboard. At the last moment an Indian woman returned for her child, and, one of the frequent storms of the Channel Islands springing up, the sloop was driven away without her…Sixteen years later Captain George Nidever and two men went from the coast on as sloop to hunt otter off San Nicolas. On landing, they were astonished to discover human footprints in the sand. They saw no one however, and a storm compelled them to put to sea. It was two years thereafter that the adventurous Captain, revolving in his mind the sight of the footprints in the uncanny island, determined to go and discover and bring over the lonely woman of whom he had vaguely heard. Men accompanied him, and at length they saw on the surf-beaten shore a woman with long tawny hair, dressed in queer garb of colored bird skins, and scraping with a bone knife the blubber from a seal. They surrounded and approached her stealthily, and although suddenly confronted she did not appear in the least afraid, but smiled, and then falling on her knees prayed to the sun. The wild woman offered no objection when by signs she was made to understand that she was to go with them in the boat… ”
December 25, 1894 [LAH]: “...It was known to the people of California that in 1818, or about that time, a vessel belonging to the Russian-American Fur Company, engaged in hunting sea fur-bearing animals, with a crew of Kodiac Indian hunters, visited the island of St. Nicholas [sic], and while there a dispute arose between the other hunters and the natives. During a battle that followed nearly all the natives were killed. It was known in the early part of the fourth decade of this century to a few men who were engaged in hunting sea otter around the islands lying off the coast that there were native inhabitants living on the island of St. Nicholas (sic). Taken from the Island. In 1836 Captain James Johnson and Isaac Williams, both residents of Los Angeles, sent a boat to that island to that island to bring the Indians to Los Angeles. Only seven people were found, and comprised an elderly man and woman, a man and woman about 40 years of age respectively, one girl of about 18 years of age and two boys of 14 or 15 years each. While the boat's crew were busy with other matters the old woman escaped. The remaining six were taken to Los Angeles taken into the families of Captain Johnson and Mr. Williams as servants. They did not speak the dialect of any of the Indians of the mainland with the exception of the girl, who was a halfbreed; the others were all Indians and not distinguishable from the native Indian of California. A Character at San Pedro. Whether from a radical change in their diet or from some other cause, the islanders that were brought to Los Angeles soon fell sick and it was not long before all of them were dead, except the old man, who recovered with the loss of his sight. He found his way to San Pedro, where he lived a number of years, spending most of his time along the beach gathering such shellfish for food as he could find on the rocks at low tide. Some years later George Neidever (sic) of Santa Barbara, who devoted much of his time to hunting sea otter, was at the Island of San Nicholas (sic) and brought from thence to Santa Barbara the woman that had been left by the Johnson and Williams party. She was very old and owing to her lonely life had lost the power of speech. There was nothing in her physical appearance to distinguish her from the Indian race on this coast. J. J. Warmer [Warner?].
September 18, 1898 [LAT/SCat]: “Perhaps the most interesting feature in the history of the Southern California islands is the story of the ‘Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island,’ who was deserted and recovered years later. Her cave and place of residence have never been found. During the coming week an attempt is to be made to find it, but the principal object of the expedition is to survey the big Indian mound on the island. It represents the accumulation of centuries. Commodore Burnham of the yacht, San Diego, is to make the trip, and he will have as his guests C. F. Holder and Sidney Smith of Pasadena, and E. L. Doran of Los Angeles. The yacht will leave Avalon Monday and will be gone a week or so.”
December 1, 1899 [DISP]: “Forgot her tongue. María lived alone for twenty years, but civilization killed her. Died in less than three months after being taken to Santa Barbara. Her remarkable dress of feathers…”
December 28, 1901 [BD]: “The Woman of San Nicolas. A strange story of the Pacific Coast. The story of the Indian woman left alone on the island of San Nicolas for nearly twenty years has been written by a number of romancers who gave but little heed to fact and free rein to imagination. From occurrences that have passed into history this tale is drawn… Travelers abroad who visit the Vatican in Rome, and are permitted to view the priceless relics from many lands that have been gathered there, will find among the collection a basket woven of island grasses, and within it a wonderful feather robe made of soft breasts of the cormorant. The garment was fashioned by the delft fingers of the Indian woman when she dwelt alone upon the island of San Nicolas. [Los Angeles Times]
May 25, 1902 [Los Angeles Herald]: “The Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island. 'That is San Nicolas Island where the Mission fathers say a woman lived alone, cut off from the rest of the world for nearly twenty years.' The guide pointed south to where on the horizon a low, indistinct cloud could barely be discerned. A party of sightseers had climbed up the mountain trail north of Santa Barbara to the summit of one of the peaks, and had viewed with delight the little town transfigured by distance and the height from which we looked, the round foothills about it covered with the soft midwinter green, the silver ribbon of the surf edging the dark blue of the channel, and beyond thirty to fifty miles away, yet seeming only a quarter as far, the islands of Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa. The guide had shown us between sea and sky the dot he called Santa Barbara Island, and then drew our attention to San Nicolas.
He was not able to give us the particulars of the story, but next day, sitting on the Mission portico overlooking the gardens, the yellow, weather-beaten walls speaking of the long-ago Spanish days, we heard the pathetic tale from one who had been almost an actor in it, old Padre Pujol.”
February 29, 1916 [SBDN]: “…Captain Nidever, who attained historical fame in these parts by rescuing from the islands the last remaining member of a tribe of Indians which once lived there. An Indian woman had been left behind by accident when the Indians were brought to the mainland, and years later Captain Nidever discovered her tracks in the beach sands, and led an expedition to rescue her.“
1922 multi-part series published in The Catalina Islander.
December 28, 1929 [LAT]:“Santa Barbara, December 27. A fish hook laboriously fashioned by hand with a stone implement from a segment of abalone shell, said to have been used in providing the necessities of life by the Indian woman who, history relates, lived alone on San Nicholas [sic] Island for eighteen years, has been loaned to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History by Mr. and Mrs. John F. Rock. Rock procured the fish hook, which is about half an inch in diameter and shaped much like the figure 5, from John Ogan, in whose family it was treasured for more than 60 years, and who obtained the treasure from Captain Nidever, who rescued the woman from her long stay alone on the barren island, it is said. History says that when the Indians were being taken from the Santa Barbara Islands by government order, since they were unable to obtain a living there, the woman was among those on board the ship being brought to this city. When a long way from the island two men discovered that her baby had been overlooked and was not on the boat. The captain refused to return to the island for the child, as the mother leaped overboard and swam back to the island and the boat with the other Indians on board, came to this port. After a time the incident was forgotten. Eighteen years later Capt. Nidever in cruising about the island, found human tracks in the sand, which he investigated, since the island was not supposed to be inhabited, and found the Indian woman who had survived eighteen years without human companionship, her baby having died.“
August 9, 1936 [LAT]: “Mrs. Robinson Crusoe by William Crosby Bennett… It was on a sunny day in July, 1853 that a party of otter men from Santa Barbara anchored their schooner off the northeastern coast of the Island of San Nicolas, some eighty or ninety miles distant, and established a camp onshore. The party consisted of Captain Nidever, a man named Brown, an Irish cook, and a crew of mission Indians. The evening after their arrival, the captain and Brown strolled a mile or so down the beach, enjoying their pipes and making plans for their work. It was a moonlight night, almost as bright as day… Plainly outlined on the shore was the print of a slender naked foot. ‘My God!’ the captain exclaimed. ‘There is a woman on the island!’…
July 21-August 19, 1939 Progress Report of the Los Angeles County Museum—Fourth Expedition: “…The most significant discovery made in the field of archaeology was the finding of the home of Juana Maria, the famed Lost Woman of San Nicolas, who spent seventeen years alone at the west end of the island…”
July 22, 1939 [SBNP]: “Scientists sail for San Nicolas. The story of Juana Maria, the Indian woman who lived alone on San Nicolas Island for 18 years, is recalled with word that an expedition sailed from San Pedro yesterday for the Santa Barbara Channel to seek the home of the ‘female Robinson Crusoe of the Pacific.’ The story of Juana Maria is one of the most curious in all the history of this region. When the Indians were removed from the island to the mainland following an epidemic in 1835, Juana Maria was left behind. The story has it that she left the boat to find her baby and the boat sailed without her. The baby died, but Juana Maria lived there alone for 18 years, catching fish and birds for her food. She was taken off the island by the late Captain Nidever of Santa Barbara, a sea otter hunter and trapper, who brought her to his Santa Barbara home, but she died soon after. The expedition is led by Arthur Woodward, director of history and anthropology at the Los Angeles museum, and includes Captain C. H. Groat, Don Meadows, Jack Von Bloeker, M. B. Dunkle, Lloyd Martin, George Kanakoff, Russell Spring and Jewel Lewis.”
September 1945 Phil C. Orr visited the west end of San Nicolas Island and noted: “In another spot the remains of a hut composed of whale ribs lay on the surface. It was just such a hut as this, in approximately this area that the famous lone woman of San Nicolas lived, but no evidence remained after nearly one hundred years to prove that this was her home.” » Orr, Phil C. Return to San Nicolas in Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Museum Leaflet XX: 7 (75-79) October 1945 (4th trip).