TODAY IN HISTORY: Ishi (Aug. 29, 1911)

TODAY IN HISTORY: Ishi (Aug. 29, 1911)

Photo by Boston Public Library

Posted August 29, 2023

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In 1865, white settlers in California killed more than 40 Native Americans in what has become known as the Three Knowles Massacre. The remnants of the Yahi tribe fled into the forest and hid. For the next forty years, the last of the Yahi lived in the woods and gradually died off.

On August 29, 1911, a group of farmers found an Indian near one of their barns. He was arrested and taken into town. He spoke no English. He was taken to San Francisco to the Museum of Anthropology. There, an astute researcher determined his language was a Yahi dialect. They gave him the name “Ishi” as the Indian would not speak his own name. Ishi is widely regarded as the last Native American to grow up outside of the influence of European Americans. Starvation and disease had wiped out the rest of his tribe. For the next 5 years, Ishi lived at the museum and helped the anthropologist reconstruct Yahi culture and knowledge. He died of tuberculosis in 1916. 

Portrait of Ishi. Ishi is widely regarded as the last Native American to grow up outside of the influence of European Americans.

Portrait of Ishi. Ishi is widely regarded as the last Native American to grow up outside of the influence of European Americans.

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