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Ishi Wilderness
IUCN Category Ib (Wilderness Area)

Black Rock with Mill Creek in foreground
Map of the state of California
Location Tehama County, California, Sierra/Cascade region
Nearest city Red Bluff
Coordinates 40°08′05″N 121°45′19″W / 40.13472°N 121.75528°W / 40.13472; -121.75528Coordinates: 40°08′05″N 121°45′19″W / 40.13472°N 121.75528°W / 40.13472; -121.75528
Area 41,339 acres
Established 1984
Governing body U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management

The Ishi Wilderness of Lassen National Forest in the Shasta Cascade foothills of northern California, is approximately twenty miles east of Red Bluff, California, USA. The Ishi Wilderness is a unique 41,339-acre[1], low-elevation wilderness created when the US Congress passed the California Wilderness Act of 1984. The land is etched by wind and water, and dotted with basalt outcroppings, caves, and unusual pillar lava formations. The land is a series of east-west running ridges framed by rugged river canyons, with the highest ridges attaining elevations of 4,000 feet. Deer Creek and Mill Creek are the principle drainages and flow into the Sacramento River.

The Ishi Wilderness is the only protected area in California that preserves a significant portion of the Sierra/Cascade foothill region of the southernmost Cascade Ranges.[2]


Yana Indian

Ishi is the name given by anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber to the last surviving Indian from the Yahi Yana tribe. The Yahi Yana tribe had lived in the area for over three thousand years. Sometime after 1850, white settlers moving into the area killed all but a few of the Yahi. A few escaped and hid for years in the harsh wild country. Only what the Yahi left in the earth behind them remains today to tell their story.

Wilderness rules

The US Forest Service reminds visitors to the Wilderness to respect the record of the Yahi Yana Indians. All archaeological and historical sites and artifacts are protected by federal law and should not be disturbed.

The Leave No Trace principles of wilderness travel are highly encouraged also by both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (the BLM manages a small portion of the wilderness-240 acres.)

Flora and fauna

The sun-baked south slopes are covered with chaparral brush. Pines and oaks thrive on the moister slopes facing north and lush damp forests line the river banks. This area is home to pine clusters, dense areas of ponderosa pine growing on terraces in river cut canyons.

The largest migratory deer herd in California, the Tehama deer herd, winters in this wilderness area. Wild hogs, mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, bobcats and rabbits also live here. A State Game Refuge, where hunting is not permitted, occupies most of the Ishi Wilderness.

Special fishing regulations are in effect for fishing in Deer and Mill Creeks, home to many fish species. Check the State of California's Fishing Regulations before fishing. A valid California fishing license is required.

Mill Creek

A variety of raptors including hawks, eagles, falcons, and owls nest in the rock cliffs. Wild turkey, quail, morning doves, canyon wrens, band-tailed pigeons, and many songbirds are frequently seen.

UC Berkeley research

Ishi is a household name in Northern California, where school children have been taught for 85 years that he was the last Yahi, a subgroup of the Yana Indians.

"Ishi, the Last Yana Indian, 1916," is etched into the small black jar containing his cremated remains.

But by studying the arrowpoints Ishi made, Steven Shackley, a research archaeologist at the University of California at Berkeley's Hearst Museum of Anthropology, has discovered that Ishi apparently wasn't the last full-blooded Yahi, or Yana, after all. Instead, Ishi, who was found, starving and afraid, near Oroville in 1911, was of mixed Indian blood -- a finding that revises Ishi's famous history, which many people learned by reading Ishi in Two Worlds by Theodora Kroeber.

An analysis of a large UC Berkeley collection of Ishi's arrowheads indicates that although he spoke Yahi and had lived in the ancestral Yahi homeland in the Mount Lassen foothills, he also had either Wintu or Nomlaki blood.

Arrowpoints made in the historic Yahi sites excavated by the UC Berkeley Department of Anthropology in the 1950s and housed at the museum are quite different from Ishi's products. But tools and arrowpoints made at historic Nomlaki or Wintu sites also housed at the museum bear striking resemblance to those made by Ishi. Hundreds of projectile points Ishi made after he left the wilderness had long blades with concave bases and side notches. In contrast, arrowheads in the museum from historic Yahi sites are short and squat, with contracting stems and basal notches.

Although Ishi was culturally Yahi, he learned to produce arrowpoints not from Yahi relatives, but very possibly from a Nomlaki or Wintu male relative. The Wintu, Nomlaki and Maidu belonged to a large group of Indians in the Sacramento Valley who spoke a language called Penutian. They lived adjacent to their enemies, the Yana, who were in the Lassen foothills. The Yana had four subgroups -- the northern, central and southern Yana, and the Yahi -- and each had its own dialect, territory and culture.

Ishi was born into an extended family that, in order to perpetuate life, was forced to intermarry with outsiders, with enemies, and one of Ishi's parents may have been Wintu or Nomlaki. The number of Indians was dwindling, and an incest taboo kept them from choosing a relative as a mate. In 1908, surveyors spotted four Indians in Yahi territory. But in 1909, Thomas Waterman, a UC Berkely anthropologist, and two guides failed to find the group. Two years later, Ishi, who verified that he had been one of the four, appeared alone near Oroville, California with his hair burned, a sign of mourning. Ishi first made headlines on Aug. 29, 1911, when butchers found him outside a slaughterhouse near Oroville. Initially, he was jailed by the Butte County sheriff. But two UC Berkeley anthropologists, Alfred Kroeber and Waterman, befriended Ishi and gave him shelter at the campus' anthropology museum, at that time located in San Francisco.

The anthropologists pronounced Ishi a Yahi because he spoke Yahi and was found near Yahi territory. They also considered him the last Yahi, since the only Yahi left in the hinterlands were believed to have been exterminated. They believed Ishi was the last Indian to have lived in the wild. Massacres, starvation and disease had taken the lives of countless Indians in Northern California during the mid- to late-1800s. Many others had been forced into reservations.

Under pressure from reporters who wanted to know the stranger's name, Alfred Kroeber called him "Ishi," which means "man" in Yana. Ishi never uttered his real name, as it was culturally taboo to do so.

Ishi was given a home at the University of California's anthropology museum -- then on the UCSF campus in an old law school building. He lived there for most of the rest of his life, except for the summer of 1915, when he lived in Berkeley with Waterman and his family. While at the museum, Ishi often worked on native crafts. By his own choice, he often did these crafts for museum audiences and would give some of his work away. Ishi formed close friendships with Waterman, Kroeber and with Saxton Pope, (a teacher at the university's medical school, next door to the museum.) He also agreed to record linguistic material on the Yahi language for UC Berkeley.

In December 1914, Ishi developed what doctors felt was tuberculosis. After several hospitalizations, his friends moved him back to the museum to spend his last days. He died there on March 25, 1916.[3]

See also


  1. ^ data page accessed Dec.25, 2008
  2. ^ Adkinson, Ron p.185
  3. ^ UC Berkeley-NEWS RELEASE,Gretchen Kell, Public Affairs 2/5/96


US Forest Service webpage, Ishi Wilderness.

Adkinson, Ron Wild Northern California. The Globe Pequot Press, 2001 ISBN 1-56044-781-8

External links



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