ISHI Biography - Royalty, Rulers & leaders


Biography » royalty rulers leaders » ishi


Ishi (c. 1860 - March 25, 1916) was the name given to 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 the           
bulk 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 the Yahi dialect of Yana; his real name was never known                 
because it was taboo in Yahi society to say one's own name. Since he was the               
last member of his tribe, his real name died with him.                                     
Prior to European contact, the Yahi population numbered approximately 3,000. In           
1865, Ishi and his family were victims of the Three Knolls Massacre, 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.                 
Eventually Ishi's mother and other companions died, and he was discovered by a             
group of butchers in their corral at Oroville on August 29, 1911.                         
After being noticed by townspeople, Ishi was taken into custody by a local                 
sheriff for his own protection. He was then moved to the Museum of Anthropology           
at the University of California, San Francisco where he lived the remainder of             
his life in evident contentment, until his death from tuberculosis in 1916.               
While at the Museum Ishi was studied closely by the anthropologists Alfred L.             
Kroeber and Thomas Talbot Waterman, helping 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.                             
His story was popularized in a book by Theodora Kroeber, wife of Alfred Kroeber,           
who worked with her husband's notes and comments to create the story of a man             
she had never met. The book, Ishi in Two Worlds, was                                       
published in 1961 after Alfred Kroeber's death. A shorter, more fictionalised             
version appeared in 1964 under the title Ishi: Last of His Tribe. Additional               
scholarly materials, edited by R.F. Heizer and T. Kroeber, appeared in a 1981             
volume, Ishi the Last Yahi: A Documentary History. In 2000,                               
Lawrence Holcomb published a novel titled The Last Yahi: A Novel About Ishi.               
In 2003, anthropologists Clifton and Karl Kroeber, sons of Alfred L. Kroeber,             
edited Ishi in Three Centuries, the first scholarly book on                               
Ishi to contain essays by Indians, although native writers such as Gerald                 
Vizenor had been commenting on the case since the late 1970s.                             
Ishi's story was updated by Duke University anthropologist Orin Starn in his               
book, Ishi's Brain: In Search of America's Last "Wild" Indian, published in 2004.         
Ishi's Brain follows Starn's quest for the remains of the                                 
last of the Yahi and seeks to understand what he meant to Americans then and               
modern Indians today. {In 2000 Ishi brain was reunited with his cremated remains}         
Ishi's story has been filmed twice for TV. First as Ishi: the Last of His Tribe           
with Eloy Casados in the title role, telecast on NBC December 20, 1978. Then as           
The Last of His Tribe (1992), with Graham Greene as Ishi. Ishi is also depicted           
in Jed Riffe's award-winning documentary film Ishi: The Last Yahi (1992).