Podcast Episode 175: The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island


In 1835, a Native American woman was somehow left behind when her dwindling island tribe was transferred to the California mainland. She would spend the next 18 years living alone in a world of 22 square miles. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the poignant story of the lone woman of San Nicolas Island.

We’ll also learn about an inebriated elephant and puzzle over an unattainable test score.


As construction began on Scotland’s Forth Bridge, engineers offered a personal demonstration of its cantilever design.

In the 1880s, Manhattan’s rationalist “Thirteen Club” held a dinner on the 13th of each month to flout superstition.

Sources for our feature on the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island:

Sara L. Schwebel, ed., Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Complete Reader’s Edition, 2016.

William Henry Ellison, ed., The Life and Adventures of George Nidever, 1937.

Robert F. Heizer and Albert B. Elsasser, eds., “Original Accounts of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island,” in Aboriginal California: Three Studies of Cultural History, University of California Archaeological Research Facility, 1963.

Travis Hudson, “Recently Discovered Accounts Concerning the ‘Lone Woman’ of San Nicolas Island,” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 3:2 (1981), 187-199.

Marla Daily, “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island: A New Hypothesis on Her Origin,” California History 68:1/2 (Spring-Summer 1989) 36-41.

Jon M. Erlandson, Lisa Thomas-Barnett, René L. Vellanoweth, Steven J. Schwartz, and Daniel R. Muhs, “From the Island of the Blue Dolphins: A Unique Nineteenth-Century Cache Feature From San Nicolas Island, California,” Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 8:1 (2013), 66-78.

Amira F. Ainis, et al. “A Cache Within a Cache: Description of an Abalone ‘Treasure-Box’ from the CA-SNI-14 Redwood Box Cache, San Nicolas Island, Alta California,” California Archaeology 9:1 (2017), 79-105.

Eighth California Islands Symposium, National Park Service, Oct. 25, 2012.

Steve Chawkins, “Island of the Blue Dolphins’ Woman’s Cave Believed Found,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 29, 2012.

S.J. Schwartz, “Some Observations on the Material Culture of the Nicoleño,” in Proceedings of the Sixth California Island Symposium 2005, 83–91.

Ron Morgan, “An Account of the Discovery of a Whale-Bone House on San Nicolas Island,” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 1:1 (1979), 171-177.

Louis Sahagun, “With Island Dig Halted, Lone Woman Still a Stinging Mystery,” Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2015.

“The Woman of San Nicolas Island,” [Lake Providence, La.] Banner-Democrat, Dec. 28, 1901.

Associated Press, “Traces of Prehistoric People are Found on Pacific Island,” Dec. 14, 1940.

Robert L. Carl, “The Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island,” Western Folklore 11:2 (April 1952), 123-124.

“A Female Crusoe,” London Journal 69:1785 (April 26, 1879), 268-268.

Ron Givens, “Island of Blue Dolphins Revisited,” American History 48:1 (April 2013), 10.

Emma C. Hardacre, “Eighteen Years Alone,” Century Magazine, September 1880, 657-663.

L.L. Hanchett, Lennox Tierney, and Austin E. Fife, “The Lost Woman of San Nicolás,” California Folklore Quarterly 3:2 (April 1944), 148-149.

C.F. Holder, “The Wind-Swept Island of San Nicolas,” Scientific American 81:15 (Oct. 7, 1899), 233-234.

Margaret Romer, “The Last of the Canalinos,” Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly 41:3 (September 1959), 241-246.

Clement W. Meighan and Hal Eberhart, “Archaeological Resources of San Nicolas Island, California,” American Antiquity 19:2 (October 1953), 109-125.

“On an Isle of Skulls,” New York Times, Dec. 1, 1895, 29.

“Relics of Vanished Race Found on a Desert Isle,” New York Times, May 1, 1927, XX4.

“Relic Hunt in the Pacific,” New York Times, June 22, 1897, 1.

“Old California Islanders,” New York Times, June 16, 1897, 2.

Gladwin Hill, “California’s Little-Known Offshore Island,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 1958, XX22.

“Sea Lion Herds Bask on Island,” Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1949, A1.

S.J. Mathis, “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 8, 1899, B11.

Harold Orlando Wright, “San Nicolas — Abode of Demons,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 29, 1931, K6.

“Indians Once Lived on Channel Islands,” Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1951, 2.

“Centerpiece: Once Upon a Time There Was a Little Girl Stranded on a Channel Island,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 13, 1990, VCJ1.

William Crosby Bennett, “Mrs. Robinson Crusoe,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 9, 1936, I3.

William S. Murphy, “5,000-Year-Old Mystery Probed,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 20, 1970, C1.

“Story of Lost Woman Retold,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 28, 1928, A14.

Listener mail:


Wikipedia, “Pasilalinic-Sympathetic Compass” (accessed Oct. 27, 2017).

Toby Howard, “Progress at Snail’s Pace,” Skeptic, 1995.

Daniel Hahn, The Tower Menagerie, 2004.

Isabelle Janvrin and Catherine Rawlinson, The French in London, 2016.

Laura Bannister, “Rare Beasts, Birds, and the Calaboose,” Paris Review, Sept. 22, 2016.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Robert Cairns.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!