Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Ishi The Last of His Kind

Ishi was a Yahi indian, one of the Californian tribes of which there were many,  generally small. The history of these people and the whites, who swarmed into California mainly after gold, is one of the blackest episodes of the history of this period. You can read about it in 'The Destruction of California Indians' by Robert F Heizer (Bison Edition1993 University of Nebraska Press). The book describes itself as a collection of documents detailing what happened.  These indians were not warlike as were  the Sioux, Apache and others, and were  derided as 'digger indians' living on what they could find, including small animals. They weren't horse indians and lived at subsistence level. They did resist the incursions of the miners but were not able to provide real resistance.

This is Ishi, obviously by his dress, when he had been 'rescued' by civilisation. But you can see the sort of primitive living accommodation the Yahis had. In 1865 the Yahi were surprised when asleep and massacred, men, women and children, by a group of white men. The few that survived fled only to be hunted and further decimated. Yahi and his small family went into hiding for 44 years and it was only after he was alone three years later,  his three relatives having died, after a group of surveyors discovered them in 1908, that he emerged from the wilds, obviously in a  pretty desperate state. Professors at the University of California, Berkeley heard about him and took him under their wing using him as a research assistant, into the history of the California Indians, most of whom were then extinct. I suppose you could say he was considered a kind of lab rat but they looked after him until his death on August 29 1911. He was another victim of the white mens diseases that decimated many Indian tribes.

His title as 'The Last Indian' has been questioned by further research linking the Yahi to related Californian tribes but that's another story. My interest in him was founded on my general interest in the history of white settlement and conflict between the settlers and  the Army, principally in the 19th century but also earlier. There are quite a lot of black and white photos to be found and the following painting is based on one.

Ishi - 16" x 12" Waterford 140lb (300gsm) not.

An interesting if tragic story. 


SilverMom said...

One of your BEST portraits!

Technically excellent, but far, far evokes such a sense of sadness and loss. I can feel the devastation that must have accompanied Ishii's knowledge that there was no one, no one left who shared his culture. No one who could communicate with him in his birth language.

So evocative!

abdulMuiz Chulan said...

hi there... I was surprised to read about mr Ishi here...a few months ago I was 'studying' mr Ishi on how he make arrows...there was a few videos on him on his methods in youtube...

not that he used natural pigments to decorate his arrows..