Ishi in Three Centuries

Ishi in Three Centuries

Ishi in Three Centuries

Ishi in Three Centuries


Ishi in Three Centuries brings together a range of insightful and unsettling perspectives and the latest research to enrich and personalize our understanding of one of the most famous Native Americans of the modern era- Ishi, the last Yahi. After decades of concealment from genocidal attacks on his people in California, Ishi (ca. 1860–1916) came out of hiding in 1911 and lived the last five years of his life in the University of California Anthropological Museum in San Francisco. Contributors to this volume illuminate Ishi the person, his relationship to anthropologist A. L. Kroeber and others, his Yahi world, and his enduring and evolving legacy for the twenty-first century. Ishi in Three Centuries features recent analytic translations of Ishi's stories, new information on his language, craft skills, and his personal life in San Francisco, with reminiscences of those who knew him and A. L. Kroeber. Multiple sides of the repatriation controversy are showcased and given equal weight. Especially valuable are discussions by Native American writers and artists, including Gerald Vizenor, Louis Owens, and Frank Tuttle, of how Ishi continues to inspire the creative imagination of American Indians.


As recounted in the introduction to Part 1, after the publication of her book Ishi in Two Worlds in 1961, Theodora Kroeber received a number of visits, telephone calls, and letters from readers who had as children known Ishi in San Francisco. Among these the most fascinating was a letter from Fred H. Zumwalt Jr., on April 2, 1962. To this Theodora Kroeber responded, saying how “delighted and excited” she was by what Mr. Zumwalt had written, and asking him to send any further recollections of Ishi he might have that could be incorporated in a publication she envisioned (but never realized) of personal memories of Ishi. This elicited Zumwalt’s reply of April 24, 1962, which remains the longest and most detailed memoir extant of actual meetings with Ishi as well as the most vividly evocative account of his personality yet discovered. Zumwalt’s letters are preserved in the Theodora Kroeber Papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley (Banc Mss 69/ 145c).

April 2, 1962 Mrs. Alfred Kroeber c/o University of California Berkeley 4, California

My dear Mrs. Kroeber,

Perhaps few readers of your charming book about Ishi have the pleasant memories of him that I do. As a very small boy Ishi was not only something of a hero to me but also a delightful playmate. He made a small bow and arrows with which he taught me to shoot lizards, a willow seine for catching minnows and soft rabbit skin moccasins with the fur on the inside. We spent hours calling quail and wild ducks and stalking rabbits. I might mention that I then lived on Lake Street with the lake directly in back of my parent’s home, so that we had the lake and a then . . .

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