Ishi's Brain: In Search of the Last Wild Indian

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A chronicle of the search for the truth about the life and death of a legendary Native American.

Captured in the hills of northern California in 1911, Ishi, the last stone-age Indian in North America, was brought to San Francisco by the famous anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, and became a living museum display until his death five years later.

Ishi's Brain is a first-person account by anthropologist Orin Starn, who sought to unravel the mystery ...

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New York, NY 2004 Hard cover First edition. New in very good dust jacket. DJ has some shelf wear Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 352 p. Contains: ... Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. Read more Show Less

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2004 Hard cover First edition. Illustrated. New. No dust jacket as issued. Uncorrected Proof. Scarce Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 352 p. Contains: ... Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. Read more Show Less

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Overview

A chronicle of the search for the truth about the life and death of a legendary Native American.

Captured in the hills of northern California in 1911, Ishi, the last stone-age Indian in North America, was brought to San Francisco by the famous anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, and became a living museum display until his death five years later.

Ishi's Brain is a first-person account by anthropologist Orin Starn, who sought to unravel the mystery of Ishi's true nature and to locate his brain in the archives of the Smithsonian museum in the hope of finally repatriating Ishi's remains. The trail to Ishi's brain leads Starn through the painful history of the extermination of the Indians, the strange and sometimes scandalous history of anthropology, and the changing, mixed-up world of Native California today. This absorbing new portrait of Ishi, wild man of Deer Creek, museum curiosity, and last of his tribe, will appeal to anyone interested in Native America, a story of science and scandal, and the life and legend of California's most famous Indian. 15 illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Touted in his day, with repugnant nostalgia, as the last wild Indian, Ishi, of the Northern Californian Yahi people, survived by adapting to a life housed within a San Francisco anthropological museum, where spectators paid to see him make arrowheads, until he died in 1916. Under 1990s repatriation laws, a group of Maidu Indians from the Sierra Nevada region sought to reclaim Ishi's ashes, buried in a San Francisco cemetery, but a rumor persisted that Ishi's brain had been removed during autopsy, pickled, and was still hidden somewhere. Duke University anthropologist Starn searched for the brain and here offers an unlikely narrative, informative and politicized, with easy-to-read, much-needed thumbnail histories of the Indian Wars too many know too little about. (As Starn notes, California Gold Rush atrocities against Native Americans are so recent that people remember them firsthand from their grandparents.) One of Starn's main accusations is that the widow of the important, early anthropologist Alfred Kroeber first made Ishi's story famous through writerly liberties as well as careless research and made-up dramatic effects. Starn himself makes his own feelings and impressions a central to the story, allowing himself to tell us, for example, that he fell asleep at midnight with the motel swimming pool's blue floodlights glowing through the curtains like the beams of an alien spaceship. His search takes him from the University of Berkeley to the Cornucopia Restaurant in Oroville, Calif., to the Repatriation Office and wet collection in the Smithsonian Museum of National History, to an Ancestral Gathering at Mount Lassen National Park, to Grizzly Bear's Hiding Place. For some readers, Starn-as-protagonist will ground this intellectual mystery, while others will find him distracting. But on the whole, the book satisfies as a quick review of sordid chapters in the nation's history, and a genuinely compelling investigation of how one culture's attempt to dominate another can take bizarre, persistent forms. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
What happened to Ishi's brain? The director of Duke's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Starn spent several years trying to unravel that mystery. Starn's interest in Ishi began during his childhood years in Berkeley, CA, where he learned the story of the last uncontacted Native California Indian and the last of the Yaha tribe. Ishi, who had been hiding for years in the rugged Mt. Lassen foothills, was captured in 1911 and became a living exhibit at a San Francisco museum, which was then under the direction of renowned anthropologist Alfred Kroeber. After Ishi's death in 1916, rumors spread that his brain had been removed and preserved for scientific study. Starn weaves a complex and engaging story of his personal and professional quest to find the truth. Along the way, he tells Ishi's story and the larger story of Native northern California, from prehistory to the present-day Native cultural revival. Starn does not hesitate to point out the inaccuracies and oversimplifications in Theodora Kroeber's famous 1961 biography, Ishi in Two Worlds. Suspenseful and compelling, this excellent investigative narrative will be of interest in both academic and public libraries that have collections in anthropology, Native American studies, and California history.-Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Coll. Lib., Westerville, OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
As he goes about recording the quest to repatriate the remains of an anthropological icon who lived a century ago, Starn (Cultural Anthrolpology/Duke Univ.) steps back to take a look at the fate of Native Californians. Ishi, who was perhaps the last member of northern California's Yahi tribe, lived during his last six years in San Francisco, serving as something of a living specimen for anthropologist Alfred Kroeber. When Ishi died of tuberculosis in 1916, his brain was removed and sent to the Smithsonian, not an unusual occurrence in those times. But by the 1990s, there was movement afoot to reclaim Ishi's body for a proper burial, even though no one was entirely sure the museum's possession of the brain was anything more than a rumor. Starn set out to see if the rumors were true, beginning with an investigation into the relationship between Ishi and Kroeber. An anthropologist's anthropologist who, like Franz Boas, believed in the " 'absolute equality and identity of all human races' in their moral and intellectual capacity," Kroeber did not display much of his sensitive relativist's streak toward his friend's traditions when he allowed segments of Ishi's body to be sent off in different directions. Turning to the subject of repatriation of Native remains, Starn confronts the wholesale slaughter of Native Californians, a major reason that it is difficult to identify direct descendants of bodies currently held as museum specimens. The Smithsonian's "novel and tricky experiment in atonement and reconciliation" is only complicated by the vexed question of ethnic identity in what Gerald Vizenor has described as a "postnative" society. Ishi's remains were finally laid to rest, but not beforethe Smithsonian lit a fuse that potentially imploded the entire process. Ishi himself remains an elusive character, but as a vehicle for the author's exploration of identity politics and anthropology's missteps, he speaks volumes. (15 illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393051339
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/19/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Orin Starn, author of Nightwatch: The Politics of Protest in the Andes, is an associate professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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Table of Contents

Map 10
Prologue: Trails to Ishi 11
1 A "Compromise Between Science and Sentiment" 23
2 The Wild Man of Deer Creek 32
3 Ishi, Alfred, and Theodora 49
4 Ishi's Ancestors 64
5 Oroville 80
6 The Destruction of the Yahi 97
7 Niche 601 118
8 "Dr. Kroeber's Pet Buffalo" 134
9 The Paper Trail 154
10 The Wet Collection 165
11 Ales Hrdlicka and the Great Brain Hunt 174
12 The Maidu Go to Washington 187
13 Lines of Descent 200
14 Ancestral Gatherings 218
15 Grizzly Bear's Hiding Place 231
16 The Sacred Fire 249
17 Dersch Meadow 267
Epilogue: Vera's Party 287
Notes 305
Acknowledgments 335
Index 339
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