About Ishi

(ca. 1860 – March 25, 1916)

Ishi was the pseudonym of the last member of the Yahi, in turn the last surviving group of the Yana people of California. Ishi is believed to be the last Native American in Northern California to have lived most of his life completely outside the European American culture. He emerged from the wild near Oroville, California, leaving his ancestral homeland in the foothills near Lassen Peak.

Ishi means "man" in Yana, which was the name Alfred Kroeber gave him when he discovered Ishi had never been given a name. When asked his actual name, he said: "I have none, because there were no people to name me," meaning that no tribal ceremony had been performed.Prior to the California Gold Rush, the Yahi population numbered approximately 400. In 1865, Ishi and his family were victims of the Three Knolls Massacre (40 killed), from which approximately 30 Yahi survived. The remaining Yahi escaped but went into hiding for the next 40 years after cattlemen killed about half of the survivors. In the fall of 1908 a group of surveyors came across the camp of an elderly woman, elderly man, and young girl. The latter two fled and the former hid herself in blankets to avoid detection, because she was sick and could not run. The surveyors ransacked the camp and took everything. The elderly woman, Ishi's mother, and other relatives soon died and Ishi was the last of his tribe. Being starved and having nowhere else to go, Ishi walked into the white man's world.

After being noticed by townspeople, Ishi was taken into custody by a local sheriff for his own protection. The "wild man" caught the imagination and attention of thousands of onlookers and curiosity seekers. He was then moved to the University of California, Berkeley Museum of Anthropology which was housed then on the University of California, San Francisco campus in an old law school building. He lived there for most of the rest of his life, except for the summer of 1915, when he lived in Berkeley with Thomas Talbot Waterman and his family. Ishi was studied closely by anthropologists Alfred L. Kroeber and Waterman. He helped them reconstruct Yahi culture by identifying material items and showing how they were made. He also provided information on his native Yana language which was recorded and studied by Edward Sapir, who had previously done work on the northern dialects.

Ishi died on March 25, 1916, of tuberculosis.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishi