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 22, 1939(1939-05-22) (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 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, especially Rumsen.


Isabel as a young woman.

Isabel was the daughter of American Yankee James Meadows and Rumsen Native Amrican Maria Loretta Onesimo, one of the last Rumsen Ohlone. Meadows was born in Norfolk, England, in 1817. He was serving aboard a whaler in 1837 when he deserted the ship in Monterey.[1] He later owned a ranch in upper Carmel Valley in the vicinity of a cave in which an Esselen child was found buried in 1952.[3][4] 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.[5]: 437  William Brainard Post worked on Meadows Ranch and met Isabel's aunt Anselma in about 1950. They were married in 1850.[6]

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][7] Meadows died at age 100 in Washington D.C. on May 22, 1939.[8]: 430, 432  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]

When she was older, 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. When she was in her eighties, she traveled with Harrington to Washington D.C. where she lived for five years to continue their work on language. While Harrington was focused on what was then called "salvage ethnology" and paid Isabel for her interviews, she often inserted stories that she believed better illustrated her culture and tribal memory,[9] like that of Vicenta Gutierrez who was raped by Franciscan priest José María Refugio Suárez del Real:

Vicenta Gutierrez, sister of ‘The Blonde’ Gutierrez, when [she was] a girl went to confession one evening during Lent, and Father Real wanted her, to grab her over there in the church. And next day there was no trace of the padre there, and he was never seen again. He probably fled on horseback in the night. Some said he fled to Spain. He was a Spaniard. He grabbed the girl and screwed her. The girl went running to her house, saying the padre had grabbed her.[10]


  1. ^ a b c "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. ^ "DCQ Fall Equinox 1999 -- The Caves Ranch". Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  4. ^ "Esselen Indians of Big Sur and Monterey County". Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Seavey, Kent L. (August 14, 1985). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form: Joseph W. Post House".
  7. ^ "Native American". CaViews. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  8. ^ Hinton, Leanne; Hale, Ken (2007). The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice (Reproduction ed.). San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-349353-8.
  9. ^ Miranda, Deborah A. ""Dear Friend" - Thomas Meadows". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  10. ^ Miranda, Deborah A. "Dear Vicenta". Retrieved 11 October 2016.

External links[edit]