There he stood...tearfully straddling two worlds, bridging two cultures. For him there were three realities...yesterday, today, tomorrow. Looking back he saw life; his yourth, family home, ....his world. Pondering the present he could only feel confusion, emptiness, and grief. The future, as far as he could imagine one, offered loneliness and fear; an unknown world into which he must walk if he was to live. But he was to walk it alone. There was no one by his side, no one to guide him, no one to give comfort. They were all gone. He was the last of the Yahi.
Who were Ishi's lost people? Who were the Yahi? They were the southernmost people of the Yana tribe whose homeland had been the Mount Lassen Foothills of northern California. In the late 1840's, the end of the Yahi was set in motion. The exchange of land grants from the Spanish and the discovery of gold set the stage for the tragic demise of the Yana. The wheels of time were spinning wildly into their world. The discovery of gold brought ot the California hills a frenzied unbridled, ruthless group. To this new breed of of immigrants, the Yana were to be either exploited or exterminated. In the course of a boy's lifetime, they achieved both. The Yana resisted. In a sprited last stand that rivaled the defenders of the Alamo, of all the Yana it was the Yahi who offered the greatest resistance. The Yahi declined with horrid rapidity. It was among the bloodiest wars of the western frontiers and the outcome was never really in doubt. Set upon by overwhelming numbers of "Indian Killers'' as they were called, bounties were paid for Yahi scalps, the slaughter of men, women and children had begain. No one, not even pregnant women were spared. The slaughter was so horrific that I will not go into detail here. The will... the spirit of resistance... the determination to protect, defend and survive is a tribute to the Yahi people. This spirit was personified in Ishi...the real life counterpart to James Fenimore Coopers finctional Chingachgook. Ishi was destined to be ''The Last of His People''.
The Yahi were being slaughtered, until only a remmant band of 40 remained. Unblievably, the survivors of this tiny band hid successfully for nearly a half century, undectected by the outside world. It was firmly believed that the Yahi were a people of the past. Gone. No record of their history, origins, culture, or language having survived. In time, however, the world would be forced to confront the evil that they had done, and rediscover the Yahi. Ishi would force them to look at themselves and ask, are we human.
On the morning of August 29, 1911, in a slaughter house corral, two miles from the town of Oroville, a nearly dead ''wild man'' is discovered. He is emaciated, exhausted, frightened, and starved. The sheriff takes the Indian into custody, but is baffled as to what to do next. Locked in a cell, unable to communicate with any number of Indians brought before him, the traumatized man awaited his yet unknown fate.
This is the first part of a two part series.