Ishi was born in 1961in the Yahi tribe, in northern California. By the time when he was ten years old European gold seekers arrived in the area and soon killed all the Indians. A few, like Ishi, escaped and hid
in a protected shelf of a canyon. They set up a village and lived by the old, very successful, way of the Yahi. In 1908 some power company workers discovered them and they were disbanded and scattered. Ishi
wandered off and survived as a rabbit in the civilized world until he was found in a slaughterhouse in a nearby town in 1911. They found him in a corral that he had entered in panic together with the cattle.
Anthropologist Alfred Kroeber arranged to adopt him as member of his family. Ishi lived with the Kroebers until his death in 1916 leaving an indelible imprint on all of them.
Kroeber arranged to obtain a workplace for Ishi in the University of California museum. In the five years of his association with the museum researchers recorded a wealth of information stored in Ishi's head. Added to all this there was much unique information that Theodora Kroeber wrote down in her diary from direct observation of her amazing guest. She published it in her book, Ishi: Last of His Tribe. I have obtained a copy and you might hear more about what is in it.
Here, I quote two people who had close contact with Ishi.
Alfred Kroeber: "He had mastered the philosophy of patience, without trace either of self-pity, or of bitterness to dull the purity of his cheerful enduringness."
Saxton T. Pope: "He looked upon us as sophisticated children—smart, but not wise. We knew many things, and much that is false. He knew nature, which is always true. His were the qualities of character that
last for ever. He was kind; he had courage and self-restraint, and though all had been taken from him, there was no bitterness in his heart. His soul was that of a child, his mind that of a philosopher."
Ishi died at age 55 peacefully and with joy in his heart; also, in the manner of the Yahi, with all death rites, just as he would have wished. His friends were near him and they had heard and learned the
tribal rituals from him. All details of the death ritual were meticulously performed and Ishi was given a loving farewell. His bow and arrows, some corn meal, and his cow pin were buried with his body.
Bye, till we meet next Saturday!
June 17, 2006
A-7 Whitefield Ville