November 7, 2011
Short Paper: Ishi
The story of Ishi as told in Wild Men, is a significant piece of American history. It has endured the test of time, standing important today as it was 100 years ago; it serves as a rear-view mirror into Native American history and a unique example of post-contact Indian life.
Ishi’s story is relevant to the early 1900s because the turning of the century marks an ending of the Native way of life. The birth of modern America conceived at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is drawing an end to the natural world lifestyle. The Indian-American relations have undergone contact, living separately, and finally living together. Similarly, Ishi saw white Americans for the first time, lived separately from them, and then lived with them. Modern America swept the land and conquered Indian territory leaving “Indians to struggle to survive in that new world” (45). After Ishi’s close encounter with Jack Apperson and his men in November of 1908, he finally felt the pressure of modern American life on his home. He had waited out the life of his tribe, but as a final survivor, he was left to decide between a lonely natural world and the modern world. Choosing the new world capped the relevance of the time because American Indians by the late 1800s and early 1900s had all been forced, some way or another, to make Ishi’s decision.
Indian commissioners who came to California in 1851 noted two options concerning the “remnants of once numerous and powerful tribes, viz: extermination or domestication” (33). Ishi is representative of the Indian experience to this common ultimatum. Although it was a decision made by the “saltu” seemingly, Ishi and Native Americans in general were faced with “domestication” or rebellion and war. Amazingly Ishi is more representative of the Indian experience than most individuals as he lived out all phases of Indian-American relations. He goes from pre-contact to isolated to...