The Last of His Tribe (Ishi)

Institute History


This is the story of the last wild Indian in North America. Ishi belonged to the Yahi tribe of northern California, a people who had been so systematically slaughtered by homesteaders and forty-niners that by the early part of the twentieth century they were thought to be extinct. But one member of the tribe—a starving, middle-aged Indian—had survived. He was apprehended one night in 1911 as he attempted to steal meat from an Oroville slaughterhouse.

The discovery of this Indian, who would come to be known as Ishi, caused a sensation. He was the last living vestige of Stone Age man in a country that had thoughtlessly eradicated its primeval wilderness. Ishi was toasted and feted and sent off to the San Francisco Museum of Anthropology, where he lived and worked until his death from tuberculosis several years later.

The screenplay focuses on the relationship between Ishi and Alfred Kroeber, the renowned anthropologist who served as the Indian's guide and guardian in the strange new world of saltu (white man). It is the story of a powerful and unlikely friendship—of how two haunted men from different civilizations ultimately provide each other with the strength to embrace life.


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