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 Indigenous person belonging to the Rumsen Ohlone tribe. She is recorded to be the last fluent speaker of the Rumsen Ohlone language once common, on the now known as, Central Coast of California. Her father James Meadows was born in Norfolk, England, in 1817. He was serving aboard a whaler in 1837 when he deserted the ship in Monterey. He married Maria Loretta Onesimo, one of the last Rumsen Ohlone.[1][3] Meadows's great-grandmother Lupecina Francesa Unegte had been baptized at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo in 1792 when about 800 Native Americans lived there. She died in 1872 at age 100.[4]:437

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 went 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,[5] 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.[6]

Meadows died in Washington D.C. on May 22, 1939.[7]: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]


  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. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  3. ^ "Native American". CaViews. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Miranda, Deborah A. ""Dear Friend" - Thomas Meadows". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  6. ^ Miranda, Deborah A. "Dear Vicenta". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  7. ^ 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.

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