Ishi: The Last Hunter-Gatherer

By Dr. Davis

shared this story
from Wheat Belly Blog.

One of the last true hunter-gatherers in North America was believed to be a man called Ishi, with a fascinating tale of the clash between indigenous cultures and early 20th century America. But a study of this man provides some insights into the lives of people living something close to a pre-Neolithic lifestyle, i.e., a life without agriculture.

I wrote this piece for my upcoming book, Wheat Belly Total Health, due for release in September, 2014.

An aboriginal Indian, clad in a rough canvas shirt which reached to his knees . . . was taken into custody last evening by Sheriff Webber and Constable Toland at the Ward Slaughter-house on the Quincy road. He had evidently been driven by hunger to the slaughter-house, as he was almost in a starving condition . . .

Where he came from is a mystery. The most plausible explanation seems to be that he is probably the surviving member of the little group of uncivilized Deer Creek Indians who were driven from their hiding place two years ago.

In the Sheriff’s office he was surrounded by a curious throng. He made a pathetic figure crouched upon the floor . . . His feet were as wide as they were long, showing plainly that he had never worn either moccasins or shoes. . . Over his shoulder a rough canvas bag was carried. In it a few Manzanita berries were found and some sinews of deer meat. By motions, the Indian explained that he had been eating these.”

The Oroville Register
August 29, 1911

Such was the reception a lone Indian received upon being trapped by turn-of-the-20th century Californians. As details were pieced together, it appeared that Ishi—-a Yahi Indian word for “man,” a name assigned to him, since it was customary to not use personal names in their culture else risk insult and invite bad magic—-was as close as anyone could come to a true primitive in a modern world, someone entirely unfamiliar with all the modern developments around him, having lived a life of virtually pure hunting and gathering his entire life. Yet the story of Ishi encapsulates many of the same phenomena we witness over and over again in the collision of primitive Homo sapiens with modern diet.

Following Ishi’s recovery, in an unprecedented decision, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs acquiesced to a peculiar request made by two University of California anthropologists, Drs. Alfred L. Kroeber and Thomas T. Waterman, …read more

Source: Donkeyrock_BlurBlog

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