Ishi in two worlds; a biography of the last wild Indian in North America.

by Theodora Kroeber

Book, 1961



Call number

E90.I8 K7


Publisher Unknown


OVER ONE MILLION COPIES SOLD The life story of Ishi, the Yahi Indian, lone survivor of a doomed tribe, is unique in the annals of North American anthropology. For more than forty years, Theodora Kroeber's biography has been sharing this tragic and absorbing drama with readers all over the world. Ishi stumbled into the twentieth century on the morning of August 29, 1911, when, desperate with hunger and with terror of the white murderers of his family, he was found in the corral of a slaughter house near Oroville, California. Finally identified as an Indian by an anthropologist, Ishi was brought to San Francisco by Professor T. T. Waterman and lived there the rest of his life under the care and protection of Alfred Kroeber and the staff of the University of California's Museum of Anthropology.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member MrsLee
Very interesting, but incredibly sad.
LibraryThing member keylawk
In 1911, at the age of 40, 5'8", with unlimited endurance and no scars, and with teeth in excellent condition, and sweet breath and plucked facial hair, Ishi stepped from the Stone Age of the Yahi Yana into the display cases of the Museum of Anthropology in UC Berkeley. He died March 25, 1916. Some
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evidence of Yana/Japanese correspondence -- linguistically p. 170, culturally p.222-223. With Bibliography.
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LibraryThing member MusicMom41
The best part about this book was the look into Ishi's Yahi and Yana culture, and its overview of California Indian tribes in general. The myth that the California Indians were a simple and childlike race subsisting on what they could dig from the ground is thoroughly debunked by this book.
LibraryThing member LivelyLady
Bought this little book at a national park visitor center out west visiting the land that ISHI was from. The book is a re-release and does show its age in its composition. With that being said, it is still informative and interesting. ISHI was the last of his tribe and showed up in a town in 1911.
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Half the book is about the native Americans and this particular tribe and the second half relates ISHI's time from when he showed up to his death from TB 3.5 years later. This would make a great movie! I think with some rewriting, it would be a popular book now. I could see this as required highschool or community college reading.
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LibraryThing member pjsullivan
Countless native Americans were hounded to death by settlers from back east, in the name of "Manifest Destiny." This is the story of one who survived--barely. Ishi's people were all dead, mostly from genocide, when he stumbled into the white man's world in 1911, fearful and half dead from hunger
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and exhaustion. He knew no English, only Stone Age survival skills. He was enough of a novelty to find help and acceptance, becoming a kind of resident freak in an anthropology museum in San Francisco. The Wild Man of Oroville, people called him. Naturally he was perplexed by the strange new world he found himself in, and some people treated him like a child. But you've got to admire him. He was a survivor, and his way of life, unlike ours, was sustainable. Did he have more to teach us than we to teach him? A sad tale that all Americans should read, because Ishi's tragedy was repeated so many times in our history. This book is a scholarly work, dry and academic at times, so don't read it for entertainment.
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LibraryThing member deusvitae
The tragic yet revelatory story of Ishi, the last of the Yahi, the last documented Indigenous person to live in the wild in the United States.

The author was married to one of the men who worked intensively with Ishi when he descended from the mountains, alone and starving, in 1911. The author
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begins with that moment: his arrival near Oroville, his expectation to be killed, being protected in the jail, the summons for the anthropologists from UCalifornia-Berkeley. The author then returns to the past, speaking of what was known regarding Indigenous life in California before contact with the Europeans, the Yana tribe and its divisions, how relatively untouched the Yana were by the Spaniards and the Mexicans, but then how the Americans continually attacked and slaughtered them with prejudice. Narratives from locals were used to attempt to reconstruct what precisely happened with the Yahi: their eventual reduction to only a handful, their willingness to raid for food to survive, Ishi and the last few survivors; the 1908 ransack of their last village and the death of all but Ishi.

The author then returns to describe Ishi and his life from 1911-1916: his constitution, his experience of San Francisco, his work as a janitor, much about his language, his interactions and friendships, his craftsmanship, what he communicated regarding Yahi customs, culture, and stories, the trip back to his home territory in 1914; his ultimate demise from tuberculosis.

This is definitely a work from 1960. Many of the cultural assumptions and prognostications will be perceived as cringeworthy today. And yet the author is very forthright about the genocide the Americans perpetrated on the Indigenous people of California. She is rather sympathetic toward Ishi and portrayed him without too much of a patronizing tone. It might well be that she attempted to exonerate her husband and his associates for their treatment of Ishi; it is also possible that she portrayed his attitude after 1911 decently well, as someone who had committed to living among white people in white culture who may not have minded visiting the old homestead but was quite happy to return - because he would rather live among his white friends in a strange world than by himself in a more familiar one.

The book generates a lot of conflicting emotions. It's amazing that all of this could take place as late as 1911; we can appreciate the amount of work expended to try to preserve aspects of Yahi language and culture while lamenting the behaviors that made it so dire and necessary. It's a reminder of how much has changed in California in the past century. It's a legacy we'll never be able to fully shake.

Recognize the work is from 1960 and all that entails; but the story told ought to be read.
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