A little more about the woman whose life story The Island of the Blue Dolphins was based on:
The ‘Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island’ was found in 1853 by Captain George Nidever. She had been living there by herself since 1835, the year her people were evacuated from the island. But she seemed healthy and happy when she was found:
According to Nidiver’s account, instead of running way “she smiled and bowed, chattering away to them in an unintelligible language.” She was “of medium height… about 50 years old but …still strong and active. Her face was pleasing as she was continually smiling… Her clothing consisted of but a single garment of skins.”
She was the last member of her tribe, the Nicoleño, and no one on the mainland could understand her language, not even other Indians who were also native to the Channel Islands. Unfortunately, she died of dysentery only seven weeks after she was brought to Santa Barbara. She was christened Juana Maria by a missionary priest, but her true name is unknown.
Her people, language, and name aren’t the only things that were lost to history. According to the Wiki article about her, her possessions, including her water basket, tools, and clothing “were part of the collections of the California Academy of Sciences, but were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.” The cormorant feather skirt was reportedly sent to the Vatican by priests, but it seems to have been lost. As well, the cave in which she dwelt for so many years hasn’t been located until now:
After more than twenty years of searching, a Navy archaeologist believes he has found the cave on San Nicolas Island occupied by The Lone Woman—better known to many as the protagonist of Scott O’Dell’s 1960 classic, Island of the Blue Dolphins. The Newberry Medal–winner was based on the true story of a Native American woman left behind when the rest of the Nicoleño tribe was evacuated from the channel islands by missionaries after the population was decimated by Russian fur traders; one story has it she returned to the island to search for her missing child.
According to the LA Times article about the discovery:
“We’re 90% sure this is the Lone Woman’s cave,” Schwartz told several hundred fellow researchers last week at the California Islands Symposium in Ventura. Further excavation is necessary, he said, adding that a crew of students has painstakingly removed about 40,000 buckets, or a million pounds, of sand from a cavern at least 75 feet long and 10 feet high.
In a separate discovery that also could shed light on the Lone Woman and her people, researchers stumbled across two redwood boxes poking through a steep, eroding cliff. The containers, probably made from recycled canoe planks and held together with the tar that washes onto island beaches, hold more than 200 stone blades, harpoon points, bone fishhooks and other implements.
It may never be known just who left the cache of tools, he said, but “it’s at least a reasonable hypothesis” that it was the Lone Woman, who is known to have stashed useful items at a number of places around the island.