For many years, passing ships had missed your island.

 

It was 6 December 1602 when the Spanish explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno, sailing along the Californian coast, named your island San Nicolas for the saint’s day, but finding no harbour, he sailed away. Your people lived on happily in sixty eight villages with ample food from the sea and seeds and roots from the island’s many plants to grind into flour.

Little is known of your mysteriously tall race for the next two hundred years, except that your numbers declined as the last trees were cut down and San Nicolas grew barren.

In 1811, Russian traders brought Aleut huntsmen to kill sea otters. You resisted, and in the battle that followed many died. In 1835, only seven of you remained. The Santa Barbara Mission sent a rescue ship, but in the rough seas, they returned to the mainland with only six.

For eighteen years you lived alone on the island. When another boat finally came, your joy knew no bounds. You danced and sang for your new friends.

They called you Juana Maria.

But no one could understand your language, and your body couldn’t cope with main- land germs. In just seven weeks, like the rest of your people, you were dead; the last of the Nicoleño.

 

The Last Nicoleño