Little Bits of History

Last Man Standing

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 29, 2013


August 29, 1911: Ishi is found near Oroville, California. Ishi was the last survivor of the Yahi People. He was said to be the last Native American who lived most of his life outside European American culture. “Ishi” means “man” in the Yahi dialect. It was forbidden in Yahi society for one to say his or her own name and no other Yahis survived to utter this last man’s true name. It remains a mystery.

Before European contact, it was estimated that 3,000 Yahi lived in what is now Northern California. In 1865, when Ishi was five-years-old, the Three Knolls Massacre took place. After the attack, only 30 Yahi survived. Cattlemen then killed about half of the survivors, driving the remaining Yahi into hiding for 40 years.

Ishi’s mother and companions died and he was found, emaciated and ill, near Oroville. He was taken into custody by the local sheriff for his own protection. He moved to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of California in San Francisco where he lived until he died of tuberculosis in 1916. While there he was studied by anthropologists Alfred L. Kroeber and Thomas Talbot Waterman who documented the Yahi life style. Edward Sapir studied the native language.

Steven Shackley of the University of California, Berkeley, has done intensive study of Ishi’s arrowhead and posits that Ishi may not have been full-blooded Yahi. Rather, the manufacturing technique used by Ishi may have been influenced by other Northern California tribes, either Wintu or Nomlaki. Regardless of how he learned to make the arrows, he was a very skilled archer. Ishi taught Saxton Pope, a doctor at the University, how to make both the bows and arrows and the two would often hunt in the Northern California woods. Today, there is an Ishi Tournament held yearly to match the skills of current enthusiasts against the skills of the Native American. Very few can match his accuracy.

“The most common trait of all primitive peoples is a reverence for the life-giving earth, and the Native American shared this elemental ethic: The land was alive to his loving touch, and he, its son, was brother to all creatures.” – Stewart L. Udall

“No longer will Native American culture be bottled up in collections and hidden from so many people in the world who wish to share them.” – Ben Nighthorse Campbell

“The art of Native Americans is integrated into the functional. Many times the designs have symbolic or even magical meanings.” – Peter Jacobs

“Despite good intentions and best efforts, the stereotyping of Native Americans into narrow images is an undeniable consequence of choosing such names and symbols.” – Bernard Franklin

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The Three Knolls Massacre took place in 1866 on the Mill Creek in California. The term massacre refers to the mass killing of one group by another where the defeated group is considered to be innocent or victimized by the winners. “Indian massacres” refers to the confrontations between European colonists and eventually US citizens against the indigenous tribes. There is archeological evidence that massacres located in North America did not begin in 1492. There is a site in Chamberlain, South Dakota where the Crow Creek massacre took place around 1325 with 486 known dead. What is referred to as the Last Massacre took place in January 1911 when a group of Shoshone killed four ranchers in Nevada and then in February an American posse killed eight of the Shoshone suspects and captured four children from the group.

Also on this day: Have You Hugged Your Hog Today? – In 1885, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler patents the motorcycle.
The Ashes – In 1882, The Ashes rivalry begins.
Day Tripper – In 1966, The Beatles gave their last paid concert.

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