The Last Stone Age Man in America Part 7

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


Ishi was a walking, talking encyclopedia that summer. All the knowledge he possessed--technology, geography, religion, and whatever else he knew of the old life--he gave to the once-hated saltus, who had now become his brothers on the trail.

As they camped, Ishi gave his friends a never-to-be-forgotten lesson in how the first Americans lived. He demonstrated how to use the harpoon and how to purify oneself of body scent before luring a deer close enough to be brought down with an arrow. Many times on the trip, his friends marveled at the way he handled his bow as he shot a bird in flight, rabbits at 5 yd., and deer at distances up to 40 yd. Each day the party went to a new place, and each day something new was added to the white men's store of knowledge about the Yahi way of life. Ishi showed his friends how to scale steep canyon walls with the milkweed fiber ropes of the Yahis. He demonstrated how he carried water up the sheer canyon walls by putting it in a basket on top of his head and clinging to a rope with hands and bare feet.

In the Mill Creek country, Ishi led them to places he had known from childhood. He showed them his people's favorite hunting, fishing, and gathering places and pointed out where a bear fight had occurred, where a massacre took place, and where the Yahi narrowly escaped white Indian hunters. Ishi's memory was truly amazing. One day as the party was passing an unusually large boulder, he stopped abruptly and scratched the ground with a toe. "Haxa! Haxa!" ("Yes! Yes!") he exclaimed. He explained that the boulder marked the spot where he had once killed a bear, and he and his people had feasted on it. They had named the spot Wamoloku ("Bear's Claw Place"). One of the bear's claws had been buried there that same day, more than 20 years earlier, in honor of the fight and feast.

While Ishi begged to go home to his room in the museum, for Waterman and the others the trip ended all too quickly. Thanks to Ishi, they had been able to locate and name village sites, trails, hidden brush shelters, and the sooty cave that the Yahis had occupied in their last struggles for survival. Important too was the fact that Ishi had identified more than 200 plants and explained their uses as food or medicine.

Early in 1915 Ishi fell sick, and his condition steadily worsened. Soon there could be no doubt that he had tuberculosis--a disease that had followed the white race around the world, laying its cold hands upon every group the white people contacted. He spent a long time in the hospital under the care of his friend Dr. Pope. The he asked to be taken home to his beloved museum. His wish was granted. Everyone expected Ishi to die any day. Yet the Yahi clung tenaciously to life; never once did his gentleness of nature, his unflagging good cheer, or the sincere appreciation of his friends leave him.

And so, uncomplaining and unafraid, Ishi waited for death. Shortly after noon on Mar. 25, 1916, at the age of 54, the last wild Indian in North America died. Dr. Pope was with him.

The funeral itself was as ritualistic as circumstances permitted. Ishi's body was placed in a coffin together with a bow and five arrows, a basket of acorn meal, some shell money, a purse full of tobacco, three rings, and a few other personal items. The body was cremated, the ashes placed in a Pueblo jar, and the jar set in its niche at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. The inscription on the jar read simply: ISHI, THE LAST YANA INDIAN.

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