The article goes on to describe the period towards the end of Harrington’s life when he was ravaged by Parkinson's disease and De Soto's mother spoon-fed him. A few months later he died, a lonely, poor and obscure old man. Most of his obsessively collected notes were gathering dust in lofts and attics. But over time his work would profoundly influence De Soto and many other Native Americans whose heritage was on the verge of vanishing.
"It's due to his madness that we are who we are today," said De Soto, a nurse who works at a Santa Barbara rest home. Today De Soto is intensely proud of her lineage in Santa Barbara's Barbareño Band of Chumash.
The LA Times article mentions that De Soto occasionally stages a one-woman presentation portraying female ancestors back to her great-great-great-grandmother Maria Paula, who was born in 1769, the year Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola trekked up the coast through Santa Barbara. Before Spanish colonization, there were an estimated 20,000 Chumash living in villages scattered from Malibu to Morro Bay. By the end of the mission system in the 1830s, there were about 3,000. Most had died in epidemics.
The article also mentions that De Soto stars in the poignant documentary 6 Generations: A Chumash Family's History, a museum project produced and directed by filmmaker Paul Goldsmith. The documentary traces her roots to the days when Spanish monks established missions along the California coast. Generation after generation, the stories of De Soto's ancestors are punctuated by disaster, displacement and disease.
6 Generations is a one-hour film that brings together three streams of information: oral tradition that spans 200 years, research from anthropologist John Harrington and intact Mission records. The film recounts Native American stories from the years between the end of the California Mission era in the 1830s and the modern era, a span of time when there was little Indian history being recorded because many of those with native blood tried to hide it. As such, this film is a revelation and a preservation of stories thought lost about Santa Barbara’s first people.
Six Generations was screened at the 26th Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2011. The DVD can be purchased from Documentary Educational Resources.