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New Research Shows Legendary "Lone Woman" Living In Channel Islands Might Not Have Been Lone

It’s a story set in the Channel Islands that’s been told and retold for decades, and is the subject of an award winning children’s book, “Island Of The Blue Dolphins.” It’s the story of the Lone Woman, the story of a woman left behind when all of the Native Americans were removed from San Nicolas Island in the 1830’s. But, a research team has turned up new evidence which turns the story upside down.

They’ve discovered she had company for much of the time she was supposedly alone.

Steven Schwartz was the U.S. Navy’s senior archaeologist on San Nicolas Island for 25 years. He says the long accepted version of the story is that she was set to leave the island, but as some ships taking everyone to the mainland prepared to leave, she couldn’t find her infant child. She stayed, only to discover that the infant had been killed by wild dogs on the island. The story goes on to say she lived on the island for 18 years before a fur trapper brought her to the mainland.

The story as we know it comes from the trapper who brought her back to the mainland. She stayed with him, but tragically died less than two months after being brought to Santa Barbara. But, the trapper couldn’t talk to her because of the language barrier.

Dr. John Johnson is Curator of Anthropology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. He says they discovered that when the woman ventured into Santa Barbara, she told her story to some Native Americans who could at least partially understand her speech. Years later, an anthropologist interviewing some of those people got the story, which in turn got buried in hundreds of thousands of pages of handwritten notes.

The long accepted version of the story has the woman staying on the island because she can’t find her infant child, who is killed by wild dogs. Researchers say their new studies show a much different story.

They say she had a young son she couldn’t find as the ships were preparing to leave, so she stayed. The boy might have been eight or nine. Several years later, the woman said as the then teen was fishing in an improvised boat off the coast of the island, he was attacked and killed by something, probably a shark.

Schwartz says they think the boy was with the woman for half of the 18 years she was supposedly by herself on the island. They’ve been working on the new theory for years, using thousands of pages of handwritten research notes. Before they went public with it, they wanted to make sure they had solid documentation.

The research team, which includes Susan Morris and Carol Peterson, is going to present its first public talk on the new findings Thursday night in Ventura. The free lecture will begin at 7 p.m. at the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center, which is at Ventura Harbor.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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