The Last Stone Age Man in America Part 2

About the last stone age man in America a Native America known as Ishi who lived life like a primitive, history and biography.


Being a primitive people, they had lived the life of hunters, fishermen, and gatherers of fruits, nuts, and roots; their basic foods were acorn flour and green clover. They had no pottery, but they wove baskets for all purposes. The Yanas' rate of progress, however, had been slow. In fact, their cultural development had remained virtually unchanged since the time of their Stone Age ancestors. Indeed, they were in all likelihood the last Stone Age people to be found on this continent.

Their tragedy began in 1850, when the California gold rush brought the first white people into Yana country. Slowly, step by step, the Indians had been driven back. When they defended themselves with their few poor weapons or in hunger and desperation attacked wagon trains or plundered ranches, they suffered frightful reprisals. In the years 1862-1865 organized parties of settlers led by professional trackers and Indian hunters went into the Yana heartland and cold-bloodedly attacked, burned, killed, and scalped. Not one Indian found was spared. Of the more than 2,000 Yanas alive at the beginning of 1864, perhaps no more than 50 were alive at the end of 1865.

This much about the Yanas Waterman knew. Armed with a list of words taken from what printed material on the tribe was available, Waterman hurried northward to Oroville to try to solve the mystery of the "wild man."

It is hard to imagine the suspense that Waterman, his Yana word list in hand, must have felt when he first approached the "captured" Indian in his cell. He opened his dictionary, pointed to objects, and slowly worked his way down the list, pronouncing the words as well as he could. The Indian sat, hunched, impassive, weak, and at the limits of exhaustion. He had refused all offers of food or drink because, as found out later, he thought the white men would try to poison him. The "wild man" merely stared at Waterman with an unfathomable look. Growing more and more unsure and discouraged as he approached the end of his list, Waterman kept on determinedly. Finally he pointed at the wood of the cot and said, "Siwini," which means "yellow pine." And suddenly the Indian straightened, his dark eyes lit up, his face brightened, and he repeated the word siwini, correcting Waterman's pronunciation. And then the two were seized by excitement. The next few minutes were filled with the sound of the two men tapping wildly on the wood and the word siwini being repeated over and over excitedly by two different voices.

That was the beginning. In the days ahead, other words followed. Even so, Waterman realized that it would take many months of careful study and work before the Indian's story could be pieced together. It would require painstaking patience before a workable vocabulary could be made up. But at least Waterman knew that he had been right. Not only was the Indian a Yana, but he was of the branch of the Yahi. Eager to work with the Indian firsthand, Waterman sought and received permission to take him to the university in San Francisco, where he would be the guest of the Department of Anthropology.

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