Yahi and Yana

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Yahi and Yana


Both Yana (pronounced YAH-nuh) and Yahi (pronounced YAH-hee) are composed of the noun ya, meaning “people.” The suffix na was used in northern dialects and hi (or xi) in southern ones. The Yahi were a southern group of the Yana. The Witun name for the Yana was Nozi or Nosa. The Northern Yana called themselves Garii; the Central Yana were Gatai. The name Yahi was not used until the last survivor, Ishi, emerged in 1911. Settlers called the Yahi and Yana “the Deer Creek Indians,” “the Mill Creek Indians,” or “the Lassen Indians.”


The Yahi occupied the area along Deer and Mill Creeks, bordered on the west by the Sacramento River and on the east by Mt. Lassen in northern California. The Yana lived in the east section of the upper Sacramento River Valley, from Pit River in the north to as far south as Rock Creek.


In the early 1800s there may have been between 1,500 and 3,000 Yana people, of whom 200 to 300 were Yahi. The last Yahi, Ishi, died on March 25, 1916. There were an estimated twenty Yana in 1973, but in the 1990 census (count of the population), no one identified themselves as Yana. Some descendants of the Yana tribe live on the Redding Rancheria; total population for this rancheria in 2000 was 72 people, but this number also included Wintun and Pit River Indians.

Language family


Origins and group affiliations

The Yana lived in northern California for more than three thousand years before contact with white men. The Yana were composed of four groups: the Northern Yana, the Central Yana, the Southern Yana, and the Yahi. The Yahi were friendly with the Yana, the Nomlaki, and the Wintun (they often hunted and camped in Wintun territory). They were enemies with the Maidu. The Yana feuded and often fought with many of their neighbors, such as the Wintun and the Achumawi.

Yana territory in northern California has been described by historian Alfred Kroeber as “a region of endless long ridges and cliff walled canyons, of no great elevation but very rough, and covered with scrub rather than timber. The canyons contain patches of brush that is almost impenetrable [one can’t get through it], and the faces of the hills are full of caves.” In this rough land the Yana and Yahi thrived, but perished soon after the white men came. Only a few Yana descendants share the Redding Rancheria in the early twenty-first century, but Yahi and Yana memory is preserved in the Ishi Wilderness, a rugged portion of the Lassen National Forest.


Arrival of settlers

Little is known about Yana life prior to contact with whites. They lived in the foothills of Mt. Lassen for many years. Some groups may have had contact with Europeans as early as 1821, when Spanish explorer Captain Luis Arguello (1784–1830) journeyed eastward from San Francisco. Between 1828 and 1846 the Yana probably encountered British fur trappers from time to time, but they had little real interaction with white people until the late 1840s. That is when non-Native Americans began to settle in the Yana homelands, and the theft of Yana lands and destruction of their people began.

In 1848 rancher Peter Lassen (1800–1859) led new settlers over the Sierra Nevada mountains into the Sacramento Valley along the ridge between Mill Creek and Deer Creek. This route became known as the Lassen Trail and was used frequently until 1850. The California’Oregon Trail also crossed Yana territory.

Settlers’ cattle ate the Natives’ food, causing much hardship for Yana peoples. The Natives got even by stealing cattle—since it was grazing on their land, they believed they were entitled to it, and they needed the cattle to feed their families. Relations between two groups grew so tense that the Natives hid their food supplies. That way, if settlers chased them out of their homes, they would still have something to eat.

Important Dates

1840s: White settlers moved into Yana territory.

1846: The first major assault against the Yana is launched by Captain John Frémont.

1848: Settlers travel through the Yahi territory on the Lassen Trail. Conflicts begin.

1858–65: Hundreds of Yana are moved to reservations.

1864: Whites almost succeed in destroying the Yana.

1908: The last band of Yahi are disturbed by surveyors, who take all of their winter supplies.

1916: Ishi, the last Yahi, dies of tuberculosis.

1923: Redding Rancheria is established; the Yana join the Wintun and Pit River Indians there.

1959: Redding Rancheria is terminated.

1985: Federal recognition is restored to Redding Rancheria.

Massacres begin

Whites often took violent action in response to the Yana’s stealing of food. In 1846, U.S. Army Captain John Frémont (1813–1890) led the first major attack when he surprised a peaceful Yana group on Bloody Island in the Sacramento River. Many other massacres occurred during this period; often thirty or more Yana were killed at one time. In one instance forty to sixty Yana were killed for stealing some cattle. The last 181 people of the Southern Yana were removed from their homelands in 1858 and taken to the Nome Lackee Reservation. Many of these people were very sick, and they died when the reservation was abandoned several years later.

The fighting went on and on as white men sought to destroy the entire Yana nation or remove the people to reservations. Sometime between 1858 and 1865, U.S. Army officers led 277 Yana to Round Valley Reservation in Mendocino County. Many died on the way or were too sick to finish the journey.

Around 1864, white citizens killed most of the surviving Yana in response to the murder of two white women. Another terrible massacre followed, in which three hundred Yana who were attending a ceremony were killed. Only a handful of Yana survived that slaughter. Seventy’four Yahi were killed in 1865; the following year forty were murdered during the Three Knolls Massacre and thirty’three in the Dry Camp Massacre. In 1867, forty’five or more bodies lay on the ground because there were not enough Yana to left bury them.

Violence continues

Still the violence did not end. In the 1860s white settlers appealed to the U.S. Army for assistance with their “Indian problem,” and soldiers were sent out to punish the Native Americans for raiding white homes. Yahi Indians living on Mill Creek were considered the most troublesome, and army troops had orders to round up their leaders and send them to Alcatraz Island for imprisonment. The cycle of raiding and retaliation continued.

In 1862 three white children were killed by the Yahi. The settlers vowed to destroy every Yahi Indian who could be found. After the Kingley Cave Massacre in 1871 there were few Yahi left alive. The remaining Yahi went into hiding. Over the years they were seen from time to time by settlers, but no one was able to catch them. They lived in concealment, leaving no trace of their existence. They learned to hop among the rocks, never leaving a footprint on the earth. They practiced walking without breaking twigs or vegetation, which would indicate a trail. They were spotted so rarely that by the early 1900s it was believed that the Yahi had all been wiped out.

Last of the Yahi

In 1908 a team of surveyors (people who measure the boundaries and other features of an area) accidentally stumbled upon a hidden Yahi village. They reported that an old man and a middle-aged woman escaped. (Ishi, the last Yahi survivor, later said that he thought they jumped to their death.) The surveyors also found a partially paralyzed elderly woman, lying on the ground, wrapped in a blanket. The surveyors helped themselves to the contents of the camp. They took bows, arrows, baskets, and blankets—everything the little band of Yahi needed to survive the winter.

The surveyors visited the camp the following day to find that its inhabitants had fled. Three years after this disturbance Ishi emerged from his homeland. He spent the rest of his life with scientists who wanted to learn about him and his culture. What is known about the Yahi and Yana is mostly due to Ishi’s willingness to share his knowledge with these scientists. With his death in 1916, the Yahi ceased to exist.

Ishi, the last Yahi Indian

On August 29, 1911, a tired, starving, frightened man left the forests of his Yahi homeland and wandered into an Oroville, California, slaughterhouse in search of food. He had been living alone in hiding, terrified of the white men who had murdered his people and taken over his land. When he was discovered the sheriff put him in jail because he did not know what to do with this man.

Local Native Americans were brought to speak with him, but he could not communicate with any of them. He was the only person left who could speak in his Native Yahi tongue. Professor Thomas Waterman of the University of California took him to San Francisco. There Alfred Kroeber, a curator at the anthropology museum that became the man’s home, gave him the name Ishi, which means “man” in Yana.

Ishi had apparently gone into hiding at about the age of ten. From the year 1872 forward, he and his people had to stay completely out of the sight of white people. One of his hiding places was a concealed area called the Grizzly Bear’s Hiding Place. It was occupied by Ishi, his mother, a sister, and two men. One day in 1908 some surveyors happened upon Ishi while he was fishing. He scared them away. Shortly after that, another party of surveyors found the Grizzly Bear site. Ishi’s mother, who was sick, was there, wrapped in a blanket. The men took all useful items, including food and implements, and left the dying woman behind. Ishi returned to move his mother, but she died a few days later. The others in his small group had disappeared, and Ishi was totally alone for a period of nearly three years.

After surfacing in public, Ishi lived for five years in the University of California’s museum as a live exhibit. He demonstrated to Waterman, Kroeber, and the visitors his skills in making bows, arrows, harpoons, spears, and other tools. Ishi was given a job as an assistant to the head janitor, which allowed him to earn a small salary. In May 1914, Waterman, Kroeber, and Dr. Saxton Pope took Ishi on a trip back to his homeland. For three weeks Ishi displayed his intimate knowledge of the landscape and ways of survival.

Ishi had very little resistance to the diseases of the Californian settlers. He was often sick while living at the museum, and on March 26, 1916, he died of tuberculosis.

The strangeness of the world he had entered may have overwhelmed Ishi at first, but he showed remarkable adaptability and quickly made close friendships with the people involved in his life. Alfred Kroeber’s wife, Theodora, who would later write a book about Ishi, wrote of his shyness and dignity, saying, “He was interested, concerned, amused, or delighted, as the case might be, with everything and everyone he knew and understood.” His doctor, Pope Saxton, wrote upon Ishi’s death, “And so, stoic and unafraid, departed the last wild Indian of America. He closes a chapter of history. He looked upon us as sophisticated children—smart, but not wise.… His soul was that of a child, his mind that of a philosopher.”

Thomas Waterman wrote in Ishi, the Last Yahi that Ishi “convinced me that there is such a thing as a gentlemanliness which lies outside of all training, and is an expression of a purely inward spirit. He never learned how to shake hands but he had an innate [natural] regard for the other fellow’s existence, and an inborn considerateness, that surpassed in fineness most of the civilized breeding with which I am familiar.”


Little is known about the religious beliefs and practices of the Yana. Their religious leaders were also healers, called shaman (pronounced SHAH-mun or SHAY-mun), who were usually male, but sometimes female. The people believed that both humans and non-humans possessed supernatural powers, which allowed them to live forever. Some historians think they had a secret religious society called the Kuksu Society, which held religious dances.

In 1871 the Northern Yana adopted the Ghost Dance Religion, which they learned about from the Maidu (see entry). Members believed that if they performed the Ghost Dance, the earth would swallow up all white people, and life would be as it was before whites came.

Between 1872 and 1873 some Yana became believers in the Earth Lodge Cult, an offshoot of the Ghost Dance Religion. Members of the Earth Lodge Cult danced to bring on the end of the world. When it came, believers would be protected in underground earth lodges. After the destruction was over, believers could live on in peace. Dreams, songs, and dances were important parts of the Earth Lodge Cult.


Yana groups living in different regions spoke different dialects (varieties) of the Hokan language. They could understand each other, but not perfectly.

An interesting feature of the Yana language is its division into genders. When men talked among themselves, they spoke one form of the language; women talking among themselves spoke another. Men, however, used the female form of speech when talking with women, although women never used the male form of speech. Both sexes understood each other’s language, and the differences were considered the proper way to speak.

The forms of the language used by men and women might differ in this way: Women would take the ending off the “male” form of a word. So Yana, meaning “person,” becomes Ya when spoken by a woman (or spoken by a man when he was talking to a woman); auna, “fire” and hana “water,” become auh and hah.

In Ishi in Two Worlds author Theodora Kroeber, who spent a great deal of time with Ishi, discussed how Yana people might converse with their relatives. Men did not look directly at or continue a long conversation with their mother-in-law or daughter-in-law. Women behaved the same toward their father-in-law or son-in-law. This way of speaking was considered a sign of respect and is illustrated by Ishi’s behavior when visiting the home of his doctor, Saxton Pope. Pope wrote, “His attitude toward my wife or any other woman member of the household was one of quiet disinterest. Apparently his sense of [what was proper] prompted him to ignore her. If spoken to, he would reply with courtesy and brevity [few words], but otherwise he appeared not to see her.”


The Yana lived in independent groups and each group dwelled in one large village and a number of smaller surrounding settlements. Usually the chief lived in the large village. In Northern Yana territory a chief and one or two subchiefs governed the larger villages. The chief was wealthier than other villagers and had two wives. He was also the only one in the tribe allowed to keep a vulture as a pet. The position of chief was passed from father to son.

Village members helped the chief by giving him items of value; for example, a successful hunter might share his deer carcass. The chief served his group by making speeches and acting as a dance leader. He did not tell people what to do, but could only make suggestions, then listeners chose whether or not to take his advice.

The descendants of the Yana who live on the Redding Rancheria with the Wintun and Pit River Indians (see entry) are governed by a seven’member tribal council. Officers (chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary, treasurer, plus three additional members) serve two’year staggered terms. The constitution was written in 1986 and amended in 1989.

The Story of Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is a small, barren, rocky place located in San Francisco Bay. In 1859 it was made a U.S. military prison, and some Yana people may have been imprisoned there in the 1860s. The military moved out in 1933, at a time when gangsters were becoming a national problem. The federal government decided it needed a prison for the worst of these criminals, a remote place that would allow no escape and no communication with the outside world. Alcatraz Island, called “The Rock” by inmates, became America’s first super-prison.

The prison closed in 1963, in part because Americans were rethinking many social policies, including that of imprisoning people without giving them any chance to rehabilitate (reform) themselves. At this time policies toward Native Americans were being rethought, too. Natives had become frustrated and angry at U.S. government actions that took away their lands and aimed to break up their reservations. They showed their displeasure in a number of ways, including the takeover of Alcatraz Island.

One hundred years before the takeover, the federal government had agreed that Native Americans who were not given reservation lands could claim abandoned forts, prisons, and other facilities no longer wanted by the government. In November 1969 three hundred people, mostly college students, calling themselves the Native Americans of All Tribes, seized the abandoned prison on Alcatraz Island and claimed it as their own under this one hundred-year-old government policy. They were led by Richard Oakes (1942–1972), a Mohawk (see entry).

The Indians of All Tribes offered to pay the government $24 in glass beads and other trinkets. This was a mocking reference to the 1626 Dutch purchase of Manhattan Island (New York City) from the Canarsee tribe for $24 in trinkets. The Indians of All Tribes offered to care for poor white people on Alcatraz Island, a mocking reference to the federal government “taking care” of Native Americans. In a biting allusion to longstanding government and missionary efforts to make Native Americans more like white people, the Indians of All Tribes declared: “We will offer them [white people on Alcatraz Island] our religion, our education, our life-ways, in order to help them achieve our level of civilization and thus raise them, and all their white brothers up from their savage and unhappy state.”

The Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz Island for nearly two years before being forcibly removed in June 1971. On the island they set up a sanitation council, day-care, a school, housing, and cooking facilities. They demanded that the federal government turn over the island to them and pay for a cultural center, a university, and a museum.

Many considered the protest a failure, but the protestors drew national attention to the problems Native Americans faced in dealing with poverty and the destruction of their cultures. During their occupation the U.S. Senate voted to return Blue Lake, a sacred site, to the Taos Pueblo Indians of New Mexico (se entry). After the occupation a Native American university was established near the University of California at Davis.


The economy was based on hunting and gathering and trade. In spite of feeling unfriendly toward their neighbors, the Yana actively traded with them. They received arrows, woodpecker scalps, and wildcat quivers from the Atsugewi (also called Pit River Indians) in exchange for shells and salt. Clam disk beads came from the Maidu or Wintun, dentalium shells from the Wintun, and obsidian points from the north. The Yana gave these tribes deerskins, buckeye fire drills, and baskets in return.

In 1995 the three tribes—Wintun, Pit River, and Yana—formed the Redding Rancheria Economic Development Corporation (RREDC) to develop and oversee tribal enterprises. In the early twenty-first century the casino and hotel, along with service and retail businesses, provide income and employment. The tribal government also supplies many jobs.

Daily life


The shapes of houses and the materials used in constructing them depended on where a group lived. Some built cone-shaped, single-family houses made of slabs of cedar or pine bark. They rose 4 to 4 feet (1–2 meters) above ground level over a 2-foot- (.5-meter-) deep pit. Banks of earth placed around them prevented ground water from seeping into the home. The entrance faced south. Other groups had similar but larger houses that accommodated several families. There was a smokehole in the roof that some groups used as an entrance, while others built separate doorways.

Other buildings might have included earth-covered sweathouses, meeting houses, and huts where women were confined during their menstrual periods (menstrual blood was considered powerful, even dangerous). During the hot summer months, the Yana made their seasonal trip to higher and cooler elevations, where they built temporary grass and bark houses.

The housing materials and building methods of the Yahi changed after contact with white society. Ishi’s village, for example, was built to hide its inhabitants, and used native and non-native materials. In Ishi in Two Worlds Kroeber described the village, called Wowunupo mu tetha (“Grizzly Bear’s Hiding Place”). It consisted of a cookhouse, storehouse, smokehouse, and living house. The cookhouse contained a fireplace, stones for grinding acorns, cooking baskets, cooking stones, and utensils. It was covered with a brush roof to provide shelter from the sun and rain and to “diffuse the smoke,” so that no one could detect their hiding place. The smokehouse, used to smoke salmon, was built of driftwood with a roof of old canvas taken from a white settler’s covered wagon. The storehouse was shaped like a letter A. It had a pole framework tied together and thatched with bay branches. Inside it was separated into two rooms, for the storage of baskets, food, and tools. The living house was also an A-shaped building. It was covered with strips of bark and laurel.


The Yana people got their food by hunting and gathering. Women did most of the cooking and gathering, but some Yana husbands built the roasting pits, collected the fuel, and cooked the roots and tubers (underground vegetables such as potatoes) gathered by the women.

Acorns were a staple food; if the acorn harvest was meager, people could starve. Men and women both participated in the gathering of acorns in September and October: men shook the acorns from the trees while women collected them. They usually made the acorns into a mush. Other important foods included bulbs, buckeyes, clover, berries, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, and sugar-pine and digger-pine nuts.

They hunted large game like deer, elk, and bear, and smaller game such as rabbit, duck, quail, and goose. Some Yana groups fished in the Sacramento and Pit Rivers, but fish was considered an important food source only to the Yahi, whose Deer and Mill creeks were filled with salmon. Salmon were speared, while trout were caught with hooks, poisoned by cucumber pulp dumped in trout pools, or captured behind a wicker net. Salmon were broiled on heated rocks, roasted over a fire, or dried and stored.

Clothing and adornment

Women wore buckskin dresses and aprons or skirts made from shredded plant material. Behind the apron some wore a large piece of buckskin or plant material to cover the back of the body. Wealthier women decorated their clothing with leather fringes and braided tassels made of grass and pine-nut beads or bones, adding belts of braided human hair. Women covered their heads with basket-like caps, which were painted with black and white patterns.

Men also wore aprons and robes of deer, rabbit, wildcat, coyote, and bear skins. They tied the robes around their chests with buckskin string or wide elkskin belts. In cold weather wealthy men wore leggings that stretched from their hips to their ankles, while poor men wore a deerhide skirt that left their legs uncovered. Sometimes a robe made of three or four deer hides sewn together was worn over the shoulders and also served as a sleeping blanket. The different groups wore a variety of shoes, including deerhide moccasins, sandals, and snowshoes.

Men and women wore their hair long. Men usually tied their hair in back or on the top of their heads. They plucked out their facial hair with a split piece of wood. Women parted their hair in the middle and wore it in two braids shaped into rolls that they wrapped in mink or buckskin.

Both sexes wore necklaces made of bear claws, shells, clamshell disks, bones, juniper berries, and a type of mineral called magnesite (pronounced MAG-na-site). Other decorations included feather and skin headbands, woodpecker-scalp belts, leather earrings covered with beads, and shell and wood jewelry worn through their pierced noses. Tattoos were worn but they were not common.

Healing practices

Ishi described Yahi healing practices to Dr. Saxton Pope. Ishi said that older women cured minor ailments with herbs, but shaman tackled major medical problems.

Like many Native Americans of northern California, Ishi thought that most pain was caused by foreign objects in the body. These objects might be spines, thorns, bee stingers, or pins. The job of the shaman was to suck these pains out of the sick person’s body or grab them from the air around the sick person. Once he removed the object, the shaman placed it in a container, often a bird carcass, that was sealed with pitch (a sticky substance obtained from pine trees) so that the sickness could not escape and cause further harm. Sometimes a shaman who did not perform his job properly, or who practiced evil or bad medicine, was killed.

Dr. Pope wrote that when Ishi was feverish he did not want to bathe with water because he believed it was important to sweat out the illness. Pope also wrote about some of Ishi’s personal healing practices. Ishi had a hole in his nose, in which he wore a small piece of wood. When he had a cold, he placed a twig of juniper or baywood into this hole. When Ishi inhaled the scent of the twig, his airways opened. Ishi treated rattlesnake bites by binding a frog or toad to the bitten area.


Festivals and games

There is very little information about Yana festivals. The people are known to have been fond of dancing. They painted their faces red and white, and the men put on net caps or headdresses made of wildcat skin when dancing or on special occasions. Dancers might be accompanied by the music of rattles, flutes, and whistles.

The Yana enjoyed playing games. Author Jerald Jay Johnson wrote that even men enjoyed a game called double-ball shinny, usually played only by Native California women. Shinny was similar to field hockey; settlers called it the “stick game.” Johnson said they took pleasure in “ring and pin, cat’s cradle, throwing sticks at a stake, a child’s ball game, and several forms of the grass or hand game” (a type of team gambling game).

War and hunting rituals

Although the Yana were not on friendly terms with their neighbors, they were not in the habit of waging wars. However, Yana warriors sometimes accepted payment from the Pit River Indians to join them in battle against the Wintun. Occasionally the Yana began a war in retaliation for trespasses on their hunting grounds or the kidnapping of their women. In preparation for fighting or entering dangerous situations, they wrapped their hair around the top of the head and tied it in a topknot.

Hunting was done both by individuals and groups. When a young boy made his first kill, the tribe struck him with the animal carcass to ensure his good luck in future hunts.

On bear hunts, several men surrounded the animal holding flaming torches. As the bear tried to escape, the men aimed their arrows at its mouth. This continued until the animal became too exhausted to fight and died.

Ishi told Dr. Saxton Pope that Yahi men knew many animal calls and would hide and wait to ambush the animal. Deer hunters wore stuffed deer head decoys to attract the deer’s attention and lure it closer so it could be killed with bows and arrows.

Courtship and marriage

Yana marriages were arranged by the young couple’s parents. A young man’s parents offered gifts to the parents of the woman he desired to marry. If the gifts were accepted, the man had permission to marry her. Among the Yahi, if a man died his brother had to marry his wife. A man married his wife’s sister if his spouse died.


Shortly before a woman gave birth she moved to a birthing hut and stopped eating meat and salmon. The father could not hunt or fish during this time. The mother was attended by several helpers, including her own mother. If it was a difficult birth, a shaman was called in.

After giving birth the mother lay in a shallow pit heated with hot rocks. When the child’s umbilical cord dropped off, the parents purified themselves by performing a sweating ceremony and returned to normal living.


The Yana did not name a child until after six years of age. Ishi said he never had a real name, because he had been all alone, so there had been no one to give him a name. The name “Ishi” was given to him by Alfred Kroeber.


Women who were menstruating were considered bad luck. During a girl’s first menstrual period she stayed by herself in a menstrual hut and ate only acorn mush and berries. She was forbidden to touch herself with her fingers, so she used only a wooden or bone scratcher when she had an itch. After completing this initial menstrual ritual every woman was required to rest in the menstrual lodge for six days each time she had her period.


The Yana buried their dead, but the Yahi burned them. Before burial a body was washed, dressed in fine clothing, placed in a flexed position, wrapped in a deerskin blanket, and tied with rope. The dead person’s belongings were broken before being placed in the grave with the body. This prevented grave robbery. At the gravesite mourners danced, cried, cut their hair short, and painted their heads with pitch. After burial the Yana avoided saying the name of the dead person.

The Yahi cremated a body immediately after death in order to release the person’s soul to begin its westward journey to the Land of the Dead. Once the soul reached its destination it would be greeted by deceased family and friends and directed to a place at a campfire. If the person was not cremated, his soul remained in the Land of the Living, wandering about unhappy, lonely, and causing trouble to the living. After cremation the ashes and bones were gathered into a basket, which was buried under a rock in order to mark the grave and keep animals away.

The Creation of Men

Yana stories explained past events and traditions; many contained moral messages. The Yana believed that animals were the creators of people. In this creation story, the place where people were created, Wama’rawi, is near Battle Creek in the approximate center of Yana territory.

Lizard, Gray Squirrel, and Coyote lived in a big sweat-house at Wama’rawi. They had no wives or children. Coyote wanted to make people, but the others thought that they themselves were enough. Finally Lizard agreed, “We’ll make people, different kinds of people.” So Lizard went out and cut three sticks like gambling sticks. The others wanted to know how he was going to make people out of these. Lizard said, “I’ll show you.” One stick he took for the Hat Creeks … one for the Wintun … and one for the Pit Rivers.… When he looked at them he said, “There is something lacking.” Coyote asked, “Who has been left out?” Lizard said, “The Yana.” So he took any kind of stick, broke it up into little pieces, and put them in a pile for the Yana. The stick for the Hat Creeks he placed in the east, the stick for the Wintun in the west, the stick for the Pit Rivers in the north.

All three, Lizard, Gray Squirrel, and Coyote, then made a big basket, heated rocks, put water in the basket, and heated the water by putting the hot rocks into the basket. Then Lizard put the sticks into the boiling water, put in more hot rocks to boil the sticks. All then went to sleep, after setting the basket outside on the roof and covering it up. Before they slept Lizard said, “Early in the morning you will hear some one when the basket turns over. That will be because there are people. You must keep still, must not move or snore.”

Early in the morning they heard people falling down, heard the basket turn over. By and by they heard the people walking about outside. They got up, then covered the door with a large rock to keep the people out. They did not talk or answer those outside. For a long time the people were talking. One called out, “Where is the door?” Coyote said, “Keep still, that talk does not sound right.” Others then spoke, asked also. Then Coyote said, “Now it sounds right,” and then they opened the door. Then all the people came crowding in, all came into the sweat-house. Then the three said, “It is well. There are people.”

Sapir, Edward. “Yana Texts.” University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 9, 1 (1910). Available online at (accessed on on October 4, 2007).

Current tribal issues

Steven Shackley and Jerald Johnson are archaeologists (people who study the remains of past human cultures). They have a theory that Ishi may not have been a full-blooded Yahi. During Ishi’s childhood California was in a state of turmoil; Natives were being forced onto reservations with members of other tribes. The theory is that Ishi may have been of mixed ancestry or descended from a different tribe altogether. Shackley examined arrowheads made by Ishi, and said they are more similar to those of neighboring tribes than of the Yahi type. Johnson stated that Ishi looked more like the Maidu, Wintun, or Nomlaki than the Yana.

Edward Castillo, a historian who has studied California Natives, responded to these theories with the counter that Ishi may have learned different tool-making techniques because of his unusual lifestyle away from his own people. Or, since Ishi spent five years in the University of California’s museum, surrounded by different types of arrowheads, he may have observed them closely enough to reproduce them. Ishi had shown he was able to adapt to different ways of doing things. For example, he switched to glass for making arrowheads when traditional materials became hard to get. Ishi’s goods are on display at the University of California-Berkeley’s Phoebe Hearst Museum.

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Bibby, Brian. Precious Cargo: California Indian Cradle Baskets and Childbirth Traditions. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2004.

Curtin, Jeremiah. “The Yanas.” Creation Myths of Primitive America. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1903.

Isenberg, Andrew C. Mining California: An Ecological History. New York: Hill And Wang, 2005.

Johnson, Jerald Jay. “Yana.” Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 10: Southwest. Ed. Alfonso Ortiz. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1983.

Justice, Noel D. Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points of California and the Great Basin. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

Kroeber, Alfred Louis. Handbook of the Indians of California. New York: Dover Publications, 1976.

Kroeber, Theodora. Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America.Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Lightfoot, Kent G. Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

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Edward D. Castillo (Cahuilla-Luiseño), Native American Studies Program, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California

Laurie Edwards