August 29: Ishi, The Last “Wild” Man

IshiToday in 1911 the western world got a little smaller when Ishi, the last Native American to live in the “wild”, made contact with the occidental world.

Ishi was the last member of the Yahi, a Native American tribe that was native to Northern California. Before the Gold Rush, there were over 400 Yahi in California, but the promise of easy money brought miners and settlers out west. With these new arrivals to California came environmental destruction, unfamiliar diseases like smallpox and outright genocide. Many of the Gold Rush era settlers were not above killing Yahi in their sleep, and others offered bounties for the murder of any Yahi. It was into this horror that Ishi was born, sometime in the early 1860s.

In 1865, young Ishi was present at the infamous Three Knolls Massacre, when pioneers and cattlemen slaughtered 40 Yahi tribesmen. Only 30 Yahi, including Ishi, escaped and of those 30 that survived the massacre, roughly half were soon killed by cattlemen. The remaining few Yahi went into hiding, and the once mighty tribe was largely considered to be extinct

In 1908, a group of surveyors came across a camp occupied by a man, a young girl, and an elderly native woman believed to be Ishi, his sister and his mother. The man and girl escaped, but the woman was sick and immobile. The surveyors raided the camp of its goods, but did not harm the woman. By 1911, the rest of Ishi’s family had died, leaving him the last member of his tribe. So, on August 29, 1911 a starving Ishii was “discovered” as he attempted to steal meat near the town of Oroville, California. Ishi was taken into custody by a local sheriff, and the story of a “wild man” received nationwide media attention.

Soon after, a team of UC Berkeley anthropology professors took Ishi in, wanting to learn about Yahi culture. These anthropologists befriended Ishi and were able to preserve some of the cultural history and language of the Yahi. Sadly, Ishi had no immunities to the diseases of modern civilization and was often ill during his time in society and succumbed to tuberculosis in March of 1916.

So, as you remember Ishi today, perhaps you might want to sip on a California Cocktail. It’s a fairly basic whiskey cocktail, with some honey notes (from the Drambuie) and an herbal finish (care of the Campari).

California Cocktail

  • 1 ounce Canadian Whiskey
  • 1 ounce Dry Vermouth
  • 1 ounce Drambuie
  • 1 dash Campari

Stir all ingredients in mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: The mother of a monster.

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