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Isabel Meadows

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Isabel Meadows
A woman standing in 1890s dress
Isabel Meadows in her 40s, circa 1890
Born(1846-07-07)July 7, 1846
DiedMay 21, 1939(1939-05-21) (aged 92)
NationalityRumsen Ohlone
Known forLast fluent speaker of the Rumsen Ohlone language

Isabel Meadows (July 7, 1846 – 1939[1][2]) was an Ohlone ethnologist and the last fluent speaker of the Rumsen Ohlone language. She also spoke Esselen.[3] She worked closely with the anthropologists from the Smithsonian Institution for more than five years in order to document her culture and language. Her work is considered fundamental in the study of Ohlone languages.


Isabel as a young woman.

Isabel Meadows was born on July 7, 1846, in Carmel Valley, California.[4] Her lineage included English, Esselen and Rumsen heritage. Her father, James Meadows, worked as a whaler.[4] He later owned a James Meadows Tract in upper Carmel Valley in the vicinity of a cave in which an Esselen child was found buried in 1952.[5][6] Isabel's great-grandmother Lupecina Francesa Unegte had been baptized at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo in 1792 when about 800 Native Americans lived there.[7]: 437  William Brainard Post worked on Meadows Ranch and married Isabel's aunt Anselma in 1850.[8]

She spoke of her childhood community as a disordered and traumatized one, featuring abuse, abandonment and addiction, the latter resulting from pain and ending in death, she said.[4]

Due in part to her ancestry and childhood, she was competent to fluent in Rumsen, English and Spanish.[4] Isabel is known as the last fluent speaker of the Rumsen Ohlone language which had been commonly spoken along the Central Coast of California prior to the arrival of the Spanish.[1][9] Her body was returned to Carmel for a memorial service. She was survived by one brother, Thomas Meadows of Monterey, and his children.[2]

Smithsonian collaboration[edit]

In her later years and until her death, Isabel worked closely with Smithsonian ethnologist J. P. Harrington and shared her knowledge of her tribe's culture and languages in the Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur regions of California.[4] Drawing upon her ancestry, she provided oral history on the likes of Spanish missions, ranchos, and the California Gold Rush.[4] His primary correspondent, their work was extensive and comprehensive.[10] He insisted upon her input and their affairs were amicable as she provided personal tales, per her desire, and the fundamentals Harrington sought.[11] She credited the fatal effect alcoholism had on her community with the lack of preservation for the Rumsen Ohlone language.[10]

Harrington's practice functioned as salvage ethnography; Isabel was "one of the last survivors who could retrace the sweeping and succeeding colonial forms of violence by the Spanish, Mexican and U.S. American imperial and settler colonial systems in California".[12][13]

Deborah A. Miranda noted that much of Isabel's recollection functions as gossip, although expressing solidarity rather than judgement.[4] She spoke passionately in remembrance of a rape, information which was likely disseminated by gossip.[11]


Meadows and Harrington worked together until the end of her life, on May 20, 1939, at age 94, in Washington D.C.[14] In 1949, the Meadows Cave was discovered by a survey party under the direction of A.R. Piling, then assistant Archaeologist of the U.C. Archaeological Survey. The cave was renamed after Isabella Meadows, as the last known informant on the Esselen Native Americans.[15]


  1. ^ a b "Historic Monterey: Photo Gallery - Isabel Meadows". City of Monterey. 2009. Archived from the original on February 5, 2012. Retrieved 2011-11-29.
  2. ^ a b "Meadows, Isabel miss 1845-1939". CAGenWeb Monterey County Genealogy. Archived from the original on October 11, 2016. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  3. ^ Meighan, Clement W. (1952). "Excavation of Isabella Meadows Cave, Monterey County California" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Miranda, Deborah A. (2016). ""They were tough, those old women before us": The Power of Gossip in Isabel Meadows's Narratives". Biography. 39 (3): 373–401. doi:10.1353/bio.2016.0047. ISSN 1529-1456. S2CID 164653229.
  5. ^ "DCQ Fall Equinox 1999 -- The Caves Ranch". www.ventanawild.org. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  6. ^ "Esselen Indians of Big Sur and Monterey County". www.bigsurcalifornia.org. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  7. ^ Hackel, Steven W. (2005). Children of coyote, missionaries of Saint Francis : Indian-Spanish relations in colonial California, 1769-1850 (second ed.). Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807856541.
  8. ^ Seavey, Kent L. (August 14, 1985). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form: Joseph W. Post House".
  9. ^ "Native American". CaViews. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  10. ^ a b Leanne, Hinton; Hale, Ken, eds. (2007). The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. Brill. pp. 429–430. ISBN 978-0-12-349353-8.
  11. ^ a b Miranda, Deborah A. (2010). ""Saying the Padre Had Grabbed Her": Rape is the Weapon, Story is the Cure". Intertexts. 14 (2): 93–112. doi:10.1353/itx.2011.0005. ISSN 2156-5465. S2CID 145783868.
  12. ^ Jansen, Anne Mai Yee (2021). ""Erasure Is a Bitch, Isn't It?": Deborah Miranda's Feminist Geographies and Native Women's Life Writing". Studies in American Indian Literatures. 33 (1): 55–81. doi:10.1353/ail.2021.0004. ISSN 1548-9590. S2CID 238874033.
  13. ^ Mazur, Alana Zanardo (2021). ""If we're going out," dear Vicenta, "we're going out with some guts!": Storytelling, Indigeneity, and Felt Experience in Deborah Miranda's Bad Indians". Acta Iassyensia Comparationis. 3 (Special): 17–33. ISSN 1584-6628.
  14. ^ "Isabel Meadows, Valley Pioneer, Dies in East". Carmel Pine Cone. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. 1939-05-26. p. 3. Retrieved 2023-01-09.
  15. ^ "Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey". University of California Archaeological Survey, Dept. of Anthropology, University of California. Berkeley, California. 1949. pp. 1–3. Retrieved 2023-01-09.

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