On this date in 1911, a starving man wandered into the northern California town of Oroville. He appeared to speak no English and was taken into protective custody by the sheriff.
It was determined eventually that the man was a Yahi Indian, the last, in fact, of his tribe.
Alfred Kroebel, an anthropologist at UC Berkeley, became the man’s de facto guardian. and took him to San Francisco, where he was housed on the campus. Kroebel gave the man the name ‘Ishi,’ the Yahi word for man.
Ishi had no name, he later explained, because there was no one left in his tribe to perform a naming ceremony.
The Yahi were part of the Yana group of Native Californians, numbering before Europeans about 1,500 total. Of Yahi there were an estimated 4oo, until gold was discovered and things went downhill pretty fast from there. About a hundred survived until the 1860s, when two massacres decimated them even more. Survivors hid in the canyons of the northeast but gradually died out.
Ishi, made famous by journalists and ultimately written about at length by Kroebel, had hidden from Europeans until starvation drove him into Oroville. He became an invaluable resource for Kroebel, and for Edward Sapir, a linguist who interviewed him extensively about the Yahi language. There is no evidence that he was anything but content living at the university, but he contracted tuberculosis and died in 1916.
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Five years ago today the eye of Katrina made its first landfall, hitting Buras-Triumph, Louisiana, a small town in Plaquemines Parish east of New Orleans. Buras wasn’t much surprised, I imagine. In the middle of a peninsula that extends into the Gulf, it had been demolished by hurricanes in 1893, 1901, 1915, by Betsy in 1965 and by Camille in 1969. Katrina actually did less damage than the last two. More timid souls might seriously consider moving to higher ground, but the three thousand or so intrepid inhabitants are once again rebuilding – the water tower was one of first structures to be rebuilt.