Stranded On An California Island for 18 Years

She Was Stranded on San Nicolas Island California for 18 Years. She was known as “The Lone Woman of San Nichols Island.” And her life story inspired the book “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” Come with us as we tell her story and show you her gravesite at the Santa Barbara Mission.

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Archaeological evidence has uncovered that San Nicolas Island, off the coast of California has been occupied by humans for at least 10,000 years. San Nicolas was the home of the Nicoleño people. Pronounced nick-a-lane-yo. They are thought to be related to the Tongva from mainland California and Santa Catalina Island. It was named for Saint Nicholas by Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno in 1602. Russians of the area called the island Ilmena, after the name of the ship that first reached it.

Juana Maria

In the early 1800’s, the Native American tribe, the Nicoleños were evacuated by the padres of the California mission system. Within a few years later, the Nicoleño people and their language are thought to have become extinct.

The most famous of the Nicoleños was the “Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island.” During the evacuation of the island she was accidentally left behind. The stories vary why she was left behind. But she lived alone on the island for 18 years.  

In 1853, she was finally rescued by Captain George Nidever (night-a-ver) and his crew. They took her back to Santa Barbara. She lived with Captain Nidever’s family for only seven weeks before she died on October 19 1853 of dysentery. In other words, she could not handle the mainland food.

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She was baptized Juana Maria by the Padres. Since no one could speak her language, her birth name was never known. Mission records revealed that she is buried in the Mission Santa Barbara cemetery near the bell tower.

The Daughter of the American Revolution honored her with a plaque marking the location where they believe she lies. You can also find a statue of the famous lone woman of San Nicolas Island at the intersection of Victoria and State Street in Santa Barbara, California.

In 1939, the remnants of a whalebone structure was found on the island. And was thought to have been a wind break built by Juana Maria. In 2012, a US Navy archaeologist reported finding a site that could have been Juana Maria’s cave. Which contained many of her belongings.

I encourage you to read her story in the award-winning children’s novel “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell. Click here: Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Complete Reader’s Edition

Juana Maria’s gravesite

Do not miss the video about Juana Maria and the Island of San Nicolas

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