The Dark History of California: Ishi and the Genocide of Native Americans

“His were qualities of character that last forever. He was kind; he had courage and self-restraint; and though all had been taken from him, there was no bitterness in his heart.”  (Dr. Pope, a friend of Ishi’s)

Hi all,

This is at my lunch time at work.  I had promised myself not to blog until I pass that infernal LLQP exam, but, maybe I have an addiction . . .

Anyways, I finished watching a documentary called “Ishi: The Last of the Yahi” last night.  You can watch it online here.  The Youtube trailer is here:

Youtube has a lot of other videos about Ishi.  I have not watched them yet, so I won’t be posting them.


When I was a kid growing up in North Turtle Island (Canada), we always dreamed of California:

– California girls, especially those bikini blondes

– California beaches, with all their surfers

– California’s best universities

– a local band called Chilliwack even recorded a song called “California Girl”

– I even got to visit Disneyland, Sacramento, San Diego, etc.

– blablabla


But watching Ishi, you find out that the California State Government paid out millions of dollars to so-called Indian Bounty Hunters.  The aim of the white settlers in California was to wipe out all the natives.  And they nearly succeeded: First Nations populations in California dipped to an all-time low.

Ishi’s tribe had been attacked time and time again until they were all nearly extinct.  In the last massacre, Ishi and his mom and sister floated down a river among the dead bodies and thus escaped the white Indian Hunters.

His family ended up in a tiny forest living in hiding for 40 years.  Finally, when only Ishi was left and suffering starvation, he stumbled out of the forest into white civilisation.

Sorry for being lazy, but here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article:

In late 1908, a group of surveyors came across the camp inhabited by an elderly native woman, a man, and young girl — Ishi’s elderly mother, Ishi, and his sister. The latter two fled and the former hid herself in blankets to avoid detection, because she was sick and could not run.

The surveyors ransacked the camp and took everything. Ishi’s mother and other relatives died soon after Ishi’s return. Ishi lived three years beyond the raid alone, the last of his tribe. Finally, starving and with nowhere to go, at the age of about 49 in 1911, Ishi walked out into the white man’s world.[3]

and another retelling:

In 1865, Ishi and his family were the victims of the Three Knolls Massacre, from which approximately 30 Yahi survived. The remaining Yahi escaped to a remote and relatively safe spot in the hills, but four cattlemen using dogs eventually found the survivors. They killed about half of the Yahi, but the rest found safety farther up in the hills. The surviving Yahi went into a period of concealment and silence that lasted some 40 years. They continued to gather acorns, grind them into flour, and cook acorn mush. They made capes of deerskin and wildcat, and slept under blankets of rabbit skin. The Yana also maintained their traditional customs, which included caring for the sick, cremating the dead, and performing various ceremonies. The last five Yahi Indians built a village on a densely thicketed canyon ledge 500 feet above Deer Creek. Since a grizzly bear had once had its den there, they called it Grizzly Bear’s Hiding Place. Eventually, all of Ishi’s companions died. After his mother’s death in early 1911, Ishi lived alone.

A group of butchers discovered Ishi in their corral at Oroville on August 29, 1911. He was emaciated, starving, exhausted, and frightened. The local sheriff took him to the Oroville Jail where he stayed until Alfred L. Kroeber and T. T. Waterman, professors at the University of California, Berkeley, read about him and decided to bring him to the school’s new Museum of Anthropology. Waterman went to Oroville and arranged to take Ishi to San Francisco. After Ishi arrived in San Francisco, he helped Kroeber and Waterman reconstruct Yahi culture. He identified material items and showed how they were made. Ishi worked as an assistant at the Museum until his death from tuberculosis on March 25, 1916. He died at the University of California, Berkeley Hospital when he was about 54 years old. His friends at the museum tried to bury him in the traditional Yahi way by cremating him along with one of his bows, five arrows, a basket of acorn meal, a boxful of shell bead money, a purse full of tobacco, three rings, and some obsidian flakes. Ishi’s remains are at Mount Olivet Cemetery near San Francisco.


– In the Spring of 2010, a native carver in Gastown, Vancouver told me something that has haunted me ever since:

“Wherever the white man has gone, he has brought destruction with him.”

I swear to you, hearing this, and then having watched the Ishi movie, I am utterly overwhelmed at my own white background, the things my ancestors did, and my 40 + years of enjoyment of a System / The Matrix and a continent founded on genocide.

I remember living in China, some Americans wrote a Christmas evangelistic tract explaining that the reason the U.S. and other Western countries were so rich is because they followed Christ.  Many Chinese Christians even told me the same thing.

Followed Christ?  What?  Maybe the Anti-Christ, but not the Christ, the Messiah AKA Jesus or Yeshua of the Sacred Scriptures.

???  Yes, let us blame all the Europeans who took over the Americas, regardless of the religion, be it Christianity, atheism, agnosticism, Deism, a sect, etc.

If there is ever a group of people who need to repent in dust and ashes, dressed in sackcloth, it is White Christians.  Yeah . . . my group.  We are the most racist people to ever have cursed the planet.

And we are FULL of excuses for our despicable behaviour:

– Oh, that was a long time ago.

– Oh, those were other people who did that.

– Oh, Christians were not to blame, because it was non-Christians who commited genocide, not us.

– Oh, we white people are charitable, benevolent.

– Oh, without us, things would be worse.  Those other groups of people would end up killing each other.

Yeah, right, so instead you go and kill them.  I don’t want to be in your shoes on Judgment Day, Cracker Man!

Anyways, as I was saying, you need to change your attitude and become:

– anti-Racist

– anti-Fascist

– pro-First Nations

– pro-indigenous peoples wherever they may live

– not ashamed of your white skin, but aware of your ethnicity’s gross history and never EVER repeat it

Got that?


PBS’ Interactive Map about the Decimation of First Nations tribes






About sleepless in turtle island

Hi, I´m Dimitri. I have lived in Turtle Island for awhile now, so my cultural understanding is slowly improving. Also, I can see things in this place that boggle my mind. Thus this blog...
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