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San Nicolas Island: from book "The Island of the Blue Dolphins".

Updated on August 3, 2015
Chuck Graham
Chuck Graham | Source

One Of The "Other" Islands...WIth A Big History

San Nicolas is one of the eight islands located in the Santa Barbara channel. It is not part of the National Park chain, but it outlines its own significant history. It is the backdrop for the story, “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell - a John Newbery Medal winner of juvenile literature, but also enjoyed by adults. It depicts the story of a young Indian girl of the Nicoleño tribe, Karana, left behind on the island while the rest of her people were transported inland around 1835; it is a courageous story of survival, with roots based on the legend called The Lone Woman of San Nicolas. She fended for herself until Captain George Nidever, in 1853, came to the island on hunting explorations, found her, and took her to the Santa Barbara mission.

Toki Toki yahamimena (repeat 3 times)

weleshkima nishuyahamimena (repeat 2 times)

Toki Toki...(continue as above)

"I live contented because I can see the day when I want to get out of this island".


— Lone Woman of San Nicolas

Around 1830, Indian populations of the Channel Islands declined, and the mission Padres formed expeditions to remove all Indians from the islands.San Nicolas had been the last to be evacuated. Captain Charles Hubbard, aboard The Peores Nada, sailed to San Nicolas in 1853, was gathering the inhabitants, and making way to leave. A woman believed to have been in her 20’s to 30’s, came to him, in anguish because her child was missing. Regardless of her pleas, the Captain would not wait, and she refused to leave the island. She disappeared, and subsequently, was left behind.

It was the Captain's intention to return when the weather was more agreeable, but that was never to be because his ship struck an object and sank while entering the San Francisco harbor. Meanwhile,attempts to rescue the lone woman were unsuccessful until 1853, when Captain George Nidever, and a party of six had entered the island preparing for several months of hunting. Early on, they happened upon a woman stripping blubber from a piece of seal’s skin. Her clothing was a single garment of skins.

Later, the Captain wrote in his memoirs that “instead of running away, she smiled and bowed, chattering an unintelligible language”. He said that he believed her to be in her 50’s, and that she appeared to be very strong. He further declared that she was continually smilng. After her arrival at the mission, the padres gave her the name of Juana Maria. Civilization delighted her, and she took particular interests in an ox-cart and horses. People were delighted with her character, her good humor, and generosity. She in return, was happy in the company of her new companions.

Language remained a barrier, however. She communicated through sign language, and affirmed that yes, she had been the lone woman left behind, and no, she had never found her missing child. She was not to enjoy her new life for long. She died of dysentery only seven weeks.

The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island


The book “The Island of the Blue Dolphins” differs in context to actual facts. In the book, Karana refuses to leave her brother, Ramo, alone as he has flees to retrieve his fishing spear. The rest of the tribe leaves the island, but Karana jumps ship to find her brother. Early on, wild dogs claim his life and Karana must fend for herself. The book was also adapted into a feature film in 1964, and author Scott O’Dell wrote a sequel, “Zia”, published in 1976.

Click below to watch the movie adaptation of "The Island of the Blue Dolphins".


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    • EsJam profile image

      Essie 2 years ago from Southern California

      Hello Alicia, thank you for reading San Nicolas. It doesn't get as much attention as its companion islands because it isn't part of the national park system, however, it does have some following due to the historical facts surrounding Juana Maria.

      I was in 4th grade when my teacher read this book aloud to us, and I was captivated. I have never forgotten it, and it was one of the books from grade school that I still treasure and shared with my own children.

      I hope that someday you will find time to read it. It is a short and easy read, and perhaps it may not have the same captivation as an 11 year old, but I understand from reviews that adults still enjoy it!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting story that I've never heard before. Thank you for sharing it.