Local independent researcher Richard Burrill is in the midst of a multi-volume project detailing everything known about Ishi and his people. Newly published is "Ishi's Untold Story In His First World, Parts III-VI: A Biography Of The Last Of His Band Of Yahi Indians In North America" ($39.95 in paperback from The Anthro Company or ishifacts.com).
"Ishi," Burrill writes, "was likely born at the very end of 'Babies Born Time' (February), according to the Yahi calendar in the white man's year, 1854." A member of the Yahi, the only remaining members of the Yani people, he was taken into custody in Oroville in 1911, spent his remaining years at the Museum of Anthropology in the Bay Area, and died of tuberculosis in 1916.
But what of Ishi's "first world"? By the time Ishi was three, Burrill says, "a way of living that had spanned 3,000 years was ending. ... To learn about the First World is to learn about what was lost."
Burrill will be speaking at Lyon Books in Chico on Tuesday, September 25 at 7:00 p.m.
The author's book is packed with historical photographs, newspaper clippings and other documents, maps, timelines, reports of personal explorations, Yana creation myths, and more. Together they tell a story not only of what was lost, but of the "near genocide" of California tribes. Since documentary evidence of Ishi's growing up years is of course scant, Burrill relies on informed speculation. There is much more evidence of tribal massacres, such as the "1864 wholesale purge of the Yana in Shasta and Tehama counties by Whites of conservatively 500 native people ... one of the biggest massacres of American Indians in U.S. history."
The Yahi also had to contend with "roaming and pursued fugitive natives." In 1862-1863, "the Sacramento Valley and the foothills became a protracted war zone. The settlers continued to confuse Ishi's established Yahi/Yana band for the renegade 'Mill Creeks.'" "The Yahi, being distinctly more aboriginal-looking," were deemed most dangerous. Burrill also tells the story of the "Long Concealment," when the remaining Yahi went into hiding in 1870 for almost forty years.
The bottom line for Burrill: "Ishi's formidable legacy of integrity, hope, and courage serves as a symbol for change, calling for a more respectful and caring world today for all peoples."