The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 7: Ishi’s Wilderness, part 1

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Native Americans lived undiscovered here into the twentieth century. Listen next, to part one of Ishi's Wilderness, on the Wildebeat.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number seven.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE SERGEANT: I discovered a mysterious wilderness in the eastern foothills of the Sacramento River Valley in California: The Ishi Wilderness, in the Lassen National Forest. Forest service literature says that the wilderness was named for the last survivor, of the Yahi indian tribe, who inhabited the area for thousands of years.

Anthropologist Ira Jacknis, from the University of California at Berkeley, says that Ishi and his people are mostly a mystery to us.

IRA JACKNIS: Actually we don't know a lot about Ishi. And the irony of naming a wilderness after a person named Ishi is that there was no person named Ishi. In California Indian customs, you're not supposed to refer to yourself by your own name. He never told anybody his name, and when he came down to live in San Francisco, Alfred Kroeber, the anthropologist, had to call him something, and decided that it would be rather appropriate to call him "man" in his own language. He was the last speaker of his language, and the wilderness was named after this man.

STEVE: What we do know about Ishi came from the last five years of his life, when he lived at the University Of California Anthropology Museum In San Francisco, under the care of Alfred Kroeber.

IRA JACKNIS: He did make an effort to tell people what his life was like, and in 1914, Kroeber and some colleagues took Ishi back to his homeland, to Deer Creek, in that area of the Lassen Wilderness. He did show them his last home, and how he had lived. From what we know they were quite sophisticated in gathering food, and, of course, raw materials for tools and houses and clothing from the environment. If you make a list of everything that they used it's a huge list. But then if you look at what were their main foods that they mostly subsisted on, it's a smaller group. So their major animal foods would be salmon and deer. Then for the plants, the major plant is going to be acorns. Now where the Yahi lived they would have a little more access to pine nuts. Clover, we know, wherever that's found is a preferred food. Berries, we know like manzanita berries, which is made into a drink. Probably various forms of bulbs, like they're called Indian potato like the brodea bulb, and the camus root, and other kinds of roots. So those would be the main plant foods.

This all changed of course, when the settlers came. It was a very traumatic time for Californian Indians throughout the state. There was a bounty on Indian heads, and scalps, and people were trying to kill as many Indians as they could, and take their land away. The Yahi were not going to advertise their presence. So they did have camps, and they tried to hide them. They had a great deal of difficulty keeping their society going, and having established villages.

STEVE: Ishi died from tuberculosis in nineteen sixteen. A disease brought to Native Americans by the settlers.

Though the land provided everything the Yahi needed to live, Ira Jacknis says that they left almost no trace.

IRA JACKNIS: That's something that a lot of people actually would like to find, some evidence of Ishi in the Ishi Wilderness. And I don't think there is much of it, especially now. You know you have to remember Ishi left that wilderness in 1911, and he and his people did not have a very strong imprint on the land. They weren't changing the land. If you go to the Ishi Wilderness you're not going to find a lot of signs of obvious signs of the Indian inhabitation. But what you are going to find, because of the preservation, you are going to find a pretty good remnant of what Ishi's homeland was aboriginally. It's still pretty much untouched from the life he was living and his people were still living for centuries, and so that is still there.

STEVE: So the heart of Ishi's homeland was preserved as wilderness in nineteen eighty four.

Leona Rodreick, a Public Affairs Specialist for the Lassen National Forest, says there's a lot to see there.

LEONA RODREICK: You'll probably be able to see a variety of wildlife, including bears, mountain lions, rabbits, fox; neotropical migratory birds go through that area, and of course, you'll find your usual rattlesnakes and lizards along the way. All throughout the Ishi Wilderness are known archeological sites. We don't provide information as to where those sites are in order to protect those, but they are out there, and if anybody happens to come across any sites, we ask that they leave the sites alone, and to report those locations to us so that we can make sure that we have those areas mapped.

STEVE: She also warned of some common hazards to be found there.

LEONA: There are ticks in the wilderness, and you're able to see the ticks on your clothing easier on light colored clothing. If you're hiking along any drainages, you will encounter poison oak.

STEVE: You can find out more about the University of California Museum of Anthropology, about the Ishi Wilderness, and listen to the unedited interview with Ira Jacknis, on our web site.

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Next time - in part two of Ishi's Wilderness, I report on my visit to Ishi's homeland.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Future editions of The Wildebeat depend on your contributions, both for funding and for content. Please see our website for details.

This has been The Wildebeat, program number seven. Thank you for listening.

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