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    The Discovery of Ishi and Its Large Impact on California’s History and Anthropology

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    The discovery of Ishi as the last Yahi Indian had a large impact on California history and anthropology, as well as the preservation of a part of Indian history as a whole. Anthropologists got a firsthand accounting of a horrible event, the decimation of an entire tribe that occurred once the California Gold Rush took place, hitting Northern California the hardest. Ishi and the Yahi tribe is just one of the examples of the Gold Rush’s darker side, with deaths and almost anarchy when it came to laws against killing Indians at that time.

    Ishi was a part of the Yahi people. In the 1840s, there were an estimated 400 Yahi. The Yahi was a smaller, most southern part of the group of Yana Indians within California. There were estimated to be a few thousand total Yana at that time. The Yana were a group who lived in Northern California and got hit the hardest when the Gold Rush occurred in 1849, due to them being the closest to the mines.

    Ishi was estimated to be born sometime around 1860. Within the first few years of his life, the Indian massacres began. The Indians would steal cattle from the settlers due to their game being chased off, which led to bounties being put on them. They were paid 50 cents per Native American scalp, and a whole five dollars per head, which encouraged these massacres to begin, and continue. Between 1865 and 1870, almost all of the Yahi were massacred, leaving less than 100. By 1911, they were all gone but one.

    In 1911, Ishi walked out in Northern California near Orville after spending 40 years in hiding. Alfred Kroeber was tasked with learning his way of life. Ishi shared many traditions, such as why he would not say his name (it was only said by other people, one did not ask directly and receive an answer), his beliefs on death, insight to his language (which was thought lost), and much more, recorded and interpreted to provide a glimpse into the life of Native Americans as well as the Yahi in particular at this harsh point in history. He shared how he lived in nature, even demonstrating it, going back to where he had lived and teaching the researchers how to hunt and fish. He did demonstrations at the museum that showed over 24,000 people what life as an Yahi Indian was like, demonstrating arrow making and fire building. Kroeber ended up befriending Ishi, and he was distraught when Ishi died; his body was autopsied against his wishes.

    The story of Ishi shows Manifest Destiny at its strongest: unrestrained growth that led to the death of thousands on Native Americans, and the extinction of many tribes throughout California, as well as the rest of the US. Ishi died due to his weak immune system to the white people he previously had no contact with. Over the course of the five years he stayed in Northern California, he was constantly sick, with respiratory infections, bronchopneumonia, and Tuberculosis (which he died from in March 1916). It is a sad tale of what many Indians had to go through during the time of the Gold Rush, and the importance of attempting to gather information on the dying tribes and their beliefs. Ishi’s story was a unique one; they were able to gather tons of information on the Yahi before he passed away. Other tribes were not so lucky to have their way of life preserved.

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    The Discovery of Ishi and Its Large Impact on California’s History and Anthropology. (2022, Dec 15). Retrieved from

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