Friday, July 20, 2012

Ishi's Brain: In Search of America's Last "Wild" Indian by Orin Starn

In the Golden State, fourth grade is the year of California history. The missions get the lion's share of textbook love and locals of a certain age can bore you with stories of sticky sugar-cube replica missions falling to vicious ant attack. But two other historic events also sparked our imaginations -- the Donner Party and Ishi, the famous "last wild Indian" who was captured in the Sierra foothills in 1911. About the former we knew little and so naturally we grafted on a bit of whispered playground exaggeration -- Really? They did? As for Ishi, we thought we knew it all, thanks to early accounts and books that romanticized Ishi as a Western Last of the Mohicans. But author Orin Starn reveals a different story, history and set of facts about the man archaeologists named Ishi and presumed to be the last Yahi. He chronicles an intellectual mystery with many players, including the tribes, the Spanish, the forty niners and all the ranchers and farmers that followed. Ultimately the story grows to become the tale of how Ishi's brain would finally leave the Smithsonian and be repatriated to the canyon believed to have been his last tribal home. Along the way the reader learns much of California's history, from a peek at the beginning of the University of California to a candid look at casino and reservation life today. There is some bizarre and sad history here, too, giving credence to the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. If only we had known that in the fourth grade.

Leatherby Libraries Call Number: E 99 .Y23 I785 2004, 2nd Floor Humanities
Review submitted by Dawn Bonker, Public relations writer
Rating: Recommended

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