Ishi, Last of His Tribe Critical Essays

Theodora Kroeber


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Theodora Kroeber’s husband, Alfred Kroeber, was the curator of the University of California’s Museum of Anthropology in 1911, when Ishi appeared in the corral of a slaughterhouse in Oroville, California, completely alone and the last of his people. Upon hearing of Ishi, Kroeber immediately sent a representative of the museum to Oroville and instituted negotiations with the Indian Bureau in Washington, D.C., to save this “last wild man” and to bring him to the museum. Kroeber was among those closest to Ishi during his days there and, in fact, gave him the name “Ishi,” which means simply “man” in the Yahi language. (The Native American remained true to his tribal ways and never revealed his given name to the white strangers.)

Theodora Kroeber drew on her husband’s memories of Ishi, as well as on the published accounts of him. She also incorporated, as did Robbins the illustrator, Ishi’s material possessions and other representative artifacts that are still preserved at the museum. Although Kroeber tells the story in the third person, her use of Ishi’s point of view throughout makes the book less a memoir or an anthropological study than a sensitive re-creation of the Yahi world. Kroeber’s sympathies are certainly with Ishi and his people. Nevertheless, she is careful to offer a balanced representation of both the Native Americans and the whites, emphasizing the differences among those who feared their counterparts and regarded them...

(The entire section is 540 words.)