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caption = Ishi in 1914
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birth_date = c. 1860
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death_date = March 25, 1916 (56 years)
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nationality = Yana people of California
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Ishi (c. 1860 – March 25, 1916) 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 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. (See "Names," below.)


Prior to the California Gold Rush, the Yahi population numbered approximately 400. [ [ THE STORY OF ISHI: A CHRONOLOGY by Nancy Rockafellar] ] In 1865, Ishi and his family were victims of the Three Knolls Massacre (40 killed), [ [ Ishi Report] ] in 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. [ [ ISHI: A Real-Life Last Of The Mohicans] ]

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 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", [(ISBN 0-520-22940-1)] 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". [(ISBN 0520043669)] In 2000, Lawrence Holcomb published a novel titled "The Last Yahi: A Novel About Ishi". [(ISBN 0595127665)]

In 2003, anthropologists Clifton and Karl Kroeber, sons of Alfred L. Kroeber, edited "Ishi in Three Centuries", [(ISBN 0-8032-2757-4)] 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. [(ISBN 0-393-05133-1)] "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's brain was reunited with his cremated remains.)

Thanks to a campaign by Gerald Vizenor, the courtyard in Dwinelle Hall at the University of California, Berkeley was renamed "Ishi Court".

Ishi's arrowheads

A recent study by Steven Shackley, of the University of California, Berkeley, [ [ 02.05.96 - Ishi apparently wasn't the last Yahi, according to new evidence from UC Berkeley research archaeologist ] at] indicates that Ishi may have actually been only half Yahi. This conclusion was based on a comparative study of Ishi's arrowheads, and indicates that he may have learned this skill from a male relative from the Maidu, Wintu, or Nomlaki tribes that lived in close proximity to the Yahi lands, though they were traditionally enemies. If Ishi descended from both of these tribes it would help to explain his extraordinary adaptative abilities, as it would indicate that his circumstances were, essentially from birth, different from the cultural norm of his people. The debate on this has not been definitively settled, however, and the circumstances of his birth probably died with him. Among Ishi's techniques was the use of what is now known in flintknapping circles as an Ishi stick, used to run long pressure flakes. [ [ Some Inferences For Hunter-Gatherer Style and Ethnicity] ]

Ishi and archery

Ishi, like other California Indians of his time, was an excellent archer. Among his closest friends at the university was Saxton Pope, a physician called in to care for him. Pope was particularly fascinated by the bows and arrows Ishi made, and by the practice of archery. Ishi taught Pope how to make the equipment and the two hunted together in the mountains of California. After Ishi's death, Pope continued with the archery that Ishi had taught him and went on to write the book "Hunting with the Bow and Arrow", which became influential in the development of modern-day archery and archery hunting. Ishi's arrow heads were made from obsidian, although when making arrowheads for the public he often used the bottoms of beer bottles.

Today, an annual archery tournament called the "Ishi Tournament" is held in the Yuba-Sutter community, about 40 minutes from Oroville. The tournament is open to both youth and adults, testing their skills in comparison to Ishi's archery skills. Two awards can be earned during the tournament:
* The Ishi Certificate is awarded to any archer who can hit all 30 arrows to a 20 yard. target, get a score of at least 99 to a 40 yard target, and have one arrow reach 100 yrds.
* The American Ishi Degree is awarded to any archer who can match Ishi's 1914 archery scores or better. This award only goes to an average of 1-3 people a year, due to its complexity.

Film and stage

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).

A stage play based on Ishi's life was performed from July 3-27, 2008, at Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco. Written by the theater's artistic director, John Fisher, the play addresses many angles of the Ishi story. The "San Francisco Chronicle" said the work "is a fierce dramatic indictment of the ugliest side of California history". [ [ "'Ishi', Gripping Drama at Theatre Rhino", by Robert Hurwitt, "San Francisco Chronicle," July 14, 2008] ]


The Kroebers' daughter, author Ursula K. Le Guin, adapted Yahi taboos on the naming of names in her Earthsea books. In that universe, to know a person's adult "true name" is to gain power over them. In fact, to know the true name of anything is to gain power over it. This is a central concept in the first book of that series, "A Wizard of Earthsea". Ged, the protagonist spends his time in the wizards' school on Roke learning mostly names. He defeats a marauding dragon by guessing its name. Finally, he overcomes his own shadow by naming its name at the climax. Other elements of Ishi's life, ways, and people also found their way into this and other works by Le Guin.

ee also

*Uncontacted peoples


External links

*"Ishi's Brain: In Search of America's Last 'Wild' Indian" Starn, Orin, New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. (ISBN 0-393-05133-1)
* [ A Compromise between Science and Sentiment: A Report on Ishi's Treatment at the University of California, 1911-1916]
* [ UC Berkeley Press release concerning Ishi being from two tribes]
* [ "Ishi: The Last Yahi" (1992) documentary]
*imdb title|0104531|Ishi: The Last Yahi (1992)
* [ "Synopsis of Ishi's Life" by Richard Burrill]
* [ Books on Ishi by Richard Burrill]
* [ Ishi find a Grave memorial]

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  • Ishi — con Alfred L. Kroeber (1911). Ishi (1860? – 25 de marzo de 1916) fue el nombre dado al último miembro de la tribu de los yahi de California. La palabra ishi significa hombre en idioma yahi. Se considera a Ishi como el último indio americano de la …   Wikipedia Español

  • Ishi — Ishi, en 1914. Ishi, né en 1862 et décédé en 1916, était le dernier indien Yahi vivant. Biographie Le peuple Yahi À partir de 1849, année de la grande ruée vers l or en Californie, le peuple Yana subit pe …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Ishi — (1860? – 25 de marzo de 1916) fue el nombre dado al último miembro de la tribu de los yahi de California. La palabra ishi significa hombre en idioma yahi. Se considera a Ishi como el último indio americano de la California septentrional que vivió …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • ishi — ishi·ha·ra; ishi·ka·wa·ite; …   English syllables

  • Ishi — (женское имя) Камень. Японские имена. Словарь значений …   Словарь личных имен

  • Ishi — Alfred Kroeber (links) mit Ishi, 1911 Ishi 1914 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • ishi — A nauseatingly ugly garment, usually in some combination of light tan, gold, red, or brown. I would not leave the house in something that ishi …   Dictionary of american slang

  • ishi — A nauseatingly ugly garment, usually in some combination of light tan, gold, red, or brown. I would not leave the house in something that ishi …   Dictionary of american slang

  • Ishi —    My husband, a symbolical name used in Hos. 2:16 (See Baali.) …   Easton's Bible Dictionary

  • Ishi — japanischer Name, Bedeutung: Stein …   Deutsch namen

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