Ishi’s Recordings in National Recording Registry

Among the tragedies resulting from the 1848 California Gold Rush was the decimation of the Yahi. Massacred by settlers, miners and others, the Yahi had dwindled from perhaps 1500 before the rush to less than 20 by 1870. Thomas Waterman was unable to locate any Yahi in 1910.

The following year, however, a Yahi man walked into the town of Oroville, apparently starving, and was thrown in jail. The sheriff contacted anthropologists at the University of California, who took the man to the Parnassus campus. Because of the cultural requirement that a person’s name be introduced by a third party, the man could not give the anthropologists his name, so they called him “Ishi” or man.

The anthropologists made six hours of recordings of Ishi speaking Yana/Yahi (ynn) on nearly 150 wax cylinders. Those recordings have now been added to the National Recording Registry under the title “Cylinder recordings of Ishi.”

Much of the information for this post comes from “National Archive Adds Recordings of the ‘Last’ Yahi, Ishi, Who Lived at UCSF” on the UCSF site.

The 1971 book by Theodora Kroeber about Ishi’s life is available at Amazon: Ishi: Last of His Tribe (Bantam Starfire Books). See also Lawrence Holcomb’s The Last Yahi: A Novel About Ishi.

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