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Captain Jack
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



Historic Sites
Selected References


A History of American Indians in California:

Ishi's Hiding Place
Butte County

Ishi's Hiding Place is located at the corner of Oak Avenue and Quincy Road, at the site of the old Ward Slaughterhouse about two miles east of Oroville. The foundation of the slaughterhouse is extensively deteriorated because of weathering. Several residences sit on the upper part of the one-acre site, while the slaughterhouse remains are on the lower portion of the property. An oak tree stands where Ishi was first seen.

Ishi, a Yahi Yana Indian, was the last of his people. Prior to White contact, the Yana population numbered approximately 3,000 in four distinct groupings: the Northern Yana, the Central Yana, the Southern Yana, and the Yahi. Each group maintained its own geographic boundaries, dialects, and customs. The land of the Yana Indian was approximately "40 miles wide and 60 miles long and was an area of fast-flowing streams, precipitous gorges, boulder-strewn hills, and occasional lush meadows." (Olivet Memorial Park:3) The Yana Indians experienced cold, rainy winters and hot summers; hunted wild game; fished for salmon; gathered fruit, acorns, and roots; tanned hides; wove baskets; and fashioned tools.

After James Marshall discovered gold in 1848, miners and ranchers moved into Yana territory, and the traditional food supply changed dramatically. Silt from hydraulic mines polluted salmon streams, and deer and other wild game moved away because livestock depleted the natural food resources. Ishi's people began to raid cattle and fight back because they were hungry. By 1861, the Southern Yana had ceased to exist, and three years later, the Central and Northern Yana populations had decreased from 2,000 individuals to fewer than 50. In 1865, Ishi and his family were the victims of the Three Knolls Massacre, from which approximately 30 Yahi survived. The remaining Yahi escaped to a remote and relatively safe spot in the hills, but four cattlemen using dogs eventually found the survivors. They killed about half of the Yahi, but the rest found safety farther up in the hills. The surviving Yahi went into a period of concealment and silence that lasted some 40 years. They continued to gather acorns, grind them into flour, and cook acorn mush. They made capes of deerskin and wildcat, and slept under blankets of rabbit skin. The Yana also maintained their traditional customs, which included caring for the sick, cremating the dead, and performing various ceremonies. The last five Yahi Indians built a village on a densely thicketed canyon ledge 500 feet above Deer Creek. Since a grizzly bear had once had its den there, they called it Grizzly Bear's Hiding Place. Eventually, all of Ishi's companions died. After his mother's death in early 1911, Ishi lived alone.

A group of butchers discovered Ishi in their corral at Oroville on August 29, 1911. He was emaciated, starving, exhausted, and frightened. The local sheriff took him to the Oroville Jail where he stayed until Alfred L. Kroeber and T. T. Waterman, professors at the University of California, Berkeley, read about him and decided to bring him to the school's new Museum of Anthropology. Waterman went to Oroville and arranged to take Ishi to San Francisco. After Ishi arrived in San Francisco, he helped Kroeber and Waterman reconstruct Yahi culture. He identified material items and showed how they were made. Ishi worked as an assistant at the Museum until his death from tuberculosis on March 25, 1916. He died at the University of California, Berkeley Hospital when he was about 54 years old. His friends at the museum tried to bury him in the traditional Yahi way by cremating him along with one of his bows, five arrows, a basket of acorn meal, a boxful of shell bead money, a purse full of tobacco, three rings, and some obsidian flakes. Ishi's remains are at Mount Olivet Cemetery near San Francisco.

Ishi's Hiding Place
Ishi's Hiding Place

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