Ishi Education


Photo Courtesy of the California State Library
  • 1848 – Gold discovered at Sutter’s Mill. California’s Indian population is about 150,000. Mining and ranching change the Yana homeland, destroying the Indians’ natural food supply.
  • 1850 – First State Constitutional Convention passes An Act for the Government and Protection of Indians and other laws that make Indian slavery legal in California.
  • 1852 – U.S. Senate refuses to ratify 18 treaties that would have set aside 7.5 million acres of California land for Indian occupancy
  • 1860 – Ishi is born in this decade.
  • 1861 – Yana raid cattle and mining camps for food to survive. Only 50 southern, central, and northern Yana people remain in 1861.
  • 1862 – Congress passes the Homestead Act, opening to non-native settlers the western lands belonging to many Indian nations.
  • 1863 – July  Pence Ranch Resolution orders all Indians removed from Butte County within 30 days.
  • 1865 – About 30 Yahi, including Ishi’s family, survive the Three Knolls Massacre and hide in the wilderness. Cattlemen hunt and kill 15 of them. The others hide for the next 40 years in a small village 500 feet above Deer Creek.
  • 1866 – Indian slavery laws are repealed to comply with the United States Constitution: “No state shall infringe on any citizen’s privileges or immunities nor deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person the equal protection of the law.”
  • 1867 – September 26-27  General George Crook and his troops track Paiutes, Modocs, and Pit River Indians to a desolate spot on California-Oregon border. The two-day Battle of Infernal Caverns kills 8 soldiers and 20 Indians, including women and children.
  • 1869 – President Ulysses S. Grant’s Peace Policy seeks to reform the treatment of Indians by “Christianizing” them.
  • 1872-1873 – Modoc Indians fight U.S. Army along Oregon-California border in the last Indian war in either state. After the Modoc War, the Indians are moved to the Fort Klamath Reservation in Oregon and the Quapaw Agency in Oklahoma.Lava Beds National Monument, site of the Modoc War’s principal battleground, is an almost impregnable volcanic fortress, later known as Captain Jack’s Stronghold. A few Modocs hold off the U.S. Army here for six months. During the April 11, 1873, peace conference, Modoc leader Kintpuash (Captain Jack) kills General Edward R.S. Canby. Captain Jack surrenders. He and others are executed for the slaying.
  • 1881 – Federal government establishes reservation day schools and boarding schools.
  • 1887 – Congress passes the General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) to dissolve Indian reservations. As a result, Indians lose 90 million acres of land.
  • 1895 – March 2 Congress gives railroad companies rights-of-way through Indian lands.
  • 1900 – Indian population in California estimated at 16,500, an all time low.
  • 1906-1910 – Legislation provides funds to buy small tracts (known today as California Indian Rancherias) for landless Indians in central and north central parts of the state.
  • 1911 – Ishi’s mother dies.August 29 A starving Ishi encounters a group of workers at the Charles Ward slaughterhouse in Oroville. Word spreads of the “capture” of Ishi.October 11 The Lowie Museum of Anthropology opens in San Francisco. Within the next six months, 24,000 people come to see Ishi.
  • 1916 – March 25  Ishi dies of tuberculosis at about 54 years old.
  • 1917 – California Supreme Court declares California Indians to be citizens.
  • 1997 – Native people did not forget Ishi. Four tribes unite to form the Butte County Native American Cultural Committee, seeking to “locate and place Ishi’s remains and spirit to his native homeland.”
  • 1999 – April 5 California State Legislature holds an oversight hearing on the subject of Ishi’s remains and the disposition of Native American remains and artifacts.
  • 1999 – The Smithsonian designates the Redding Rancheria and Pit River Tribes Ishi’s closest living relatives and the recipients of Ishi’s remains.
  • 2000 – August 10  Ishi’s reunited remains are returned to his aboriginal homeland near Mount Lassen and laid to rest.

** The following are edited clips from the Ishi’ Legacy section of the exhibit. Below each video segment is a classroom exercise to be performed after viewing the segment. **

Video Lessons



Leadership – Captain Jacks War: A Historical Overview of the Violence of Ishi’s time.

Watch the video clip about Captain Jack’s leadership qualities.  For many tribal communities it was common for leaders to emerge through earning the respect of their community members.  They ruled through gaining mutual respect rather than through force or coercion.

  1. How did Captain Jack earn the respect of his tribe and those around him?
  2. List three qualities you think it is important for a leader to demonstrate.


Romanticizing the Past – In Two Worlds: The Impacts of Colonization on the Life of Ishi and other California Indians.

Watch the video clip about how Ishi was described as a “wild” or “primitive” Indian.  These terms were often used to label Native Americans as “uncivilized.”  However, we know Ishi was quite opposite to this description.

  1. List five other terms that better describe Ishi.
  2. Why does Pomo elder, Nelson Hopper (depicted in this film) feel that Europeans used the term wild to describe Indian people?
  3. After visiting the exhibit, pretend you are a newspaper reporter writing in 1911.  Write a paragraph describing Ishi’s arrival in Oroville without using the terms “wild,” “primitive,” or “last of his tribe.”


Friend Not Just an Informant – Phoenix Rising: Ishi’s Experiences in San Francisco

Watch the video clip on the importance of sharing information.  Look up the term “reciprocity.”

  1. Why do the individuals in the film feel that it is important to share information?
  2. If you were in Ishi’s position and were asked to share information with scientists about your people, family, values and beliefs, what information would you keep private?
  3. Ishi was generous in sharing his time, knowledge, information and possessions.  How do you think his belief in “reciprocity” affected his relationships with the scientists and individuals he met in San Francisco?


Sanctity – Between Science and Sentiment: Ishi’s Treatment in Death

Watch the video clip regarding the issue of how Ishi died and his desires at the time of his death.

Look at the timeline on the Ishi exhibit website and The Destruction of California Indians website:

  1. Explain four other historical factors besides tuberculosis and disease that lead to the rapid decline of the California Indian population during Ishi’s lifetime.
  2. Look up the definition of the term “sacred.”
  3. Why was it important to Ishi that his remains not be used for the purposes of scientific study?
  4. Pomo elder, Nelson Hopper (depicted in this video), said that to Ishi death was sacred?  What do you think he meant by this statement?


Ishi was not the “last” Yahi – Homecoming: The Repatriation of Ishi’s Remains

Watch the video clip regarding the stereotype of Ishi being the “last” Yahi.  Look up the definition of “stereotype” and read the following article on Stereotyping of Native Americans:

  1. How is the word stereotype defined?  What are some of the stereotypes often applied to Native Americans?
  2. Why is the characterization of Ishi as the “last” Yahi harmful to tribal groups who claim him as their ancestor today?
  3. Review the Timeline of California Indian History on the Ishi exhibit website.
  4. What historical events may have contributed to Ishi being mistakenly characterized as the “last” of his tribe?

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