Chapter 1: Ishi. The First Chapter Of “Travels Through California Literature”

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November 1, 2012 · Posted in Commentary 

This is a painting of Ishi on the Oroville jail wall.

Phyl van Ammers

The highways, freeways, streets and back roads of the state lead through California’s literature.  Califia is the beginning of the journey for Europeans.  The real beginning is the immense literature of the native people.

Around 1500, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo introduced Califia in The Adventures of Esplandián.  She ruled black women in her kingdom of California.

Whoopi Goldberg narrated her fictional life in a former attraction in Disney’s California Adventures before that site became the Little Mermaid ride.  From there, the trip should head northeast to Riverside County.

The aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers.  They had no immunities to the agriculture-related diseases the Spanish brought with them.  The soldiers raped the Indian women.  Some of the women died from syphilis.  The padres eradicated the native belief system and replaced it with Catholicism – a religion antagonistic to pagan spirituality.   Some of the padres regretted what they did to the Indians.  Some of them beat the Indians into conformity.  The early Spanish colonists married Indian women, which meant few Indian men found wives.  The Mission Indian population declined from over 80,000 in 1820 to only a few thousand by 1846. This process was sped up when in 1834–1836 the Mexican government, responding to complaints that the Catholic Church owned too much land (over 90% of all settled land in California), secularized (dismantled) the Missions and essentially turned the Indians loose to survive on their own. Most of the Indians went from doing unpaid labor at the Missions to doing unpaid labor as servants in the pueblos or workers on the ranchos.

Gerónimo Boscana (Jerónimo Boscana) was an early 19th-century Franciscan missionary in Spanish Las Californias and Mexican Alta California. He produced the most detailed ethnographic picture of the cultures of Native Americans in California to come out of the missionary period.  One version of Boscana’s manuscript, “Chinigchinich; a Historical Account of the Origin, Customs, and Traditions of the Indians at the Missionary Establishment of St. Juan Capistrano, Alta California Called The Acagchemem Nation,” was translated by Alfred Robinson and published in 1846 as an appendix to his book Life in California.

Helen Hunt Jackson wrote in her 1884 novel Ramona about the American’s mistreatment of the California Indians.  In it, she idealized the missions and the old rancho life because she knew nothing about it.   Her work led to revival of Spanish architecture, a burst of tourism, and restoration of the decaying missions.   Loretta Young starred as Ramona in one of the three film versions.   Allesandro in Echo Park is named after Ramona’s husband.  The name is misspelled in the book as it is on street signs. What is true in the story is that an American shot a Cahuillo Indian Allesandro for stealing his horse.

California Historical Landmark No. 1009, 27400 Ramona Bowl Road, Hemet, lies in the valley where the Ramona story was partly set.   Other Ramona landmarks included “Ramona’s Birthplace”, a small adobe near Mission San Gabriel Arcángel.  In 1776, a flash flood destroyed much of the crops and ruined the Mission complex, which was subsequently relocated five miles closer to the mountains in present-day San Gabriel (428 South Mission Drive, San Gabriel).   Sixteen years after Lubo’s death, local people erected a “Ramona monument” at her gravesite in 1938.  The Ramona Indian Reservation was founded in 1893. It is about 560 acres large, located in Anza, California at the foot of Thomas Mountain.

See, Jackson, Robert H., and Edward Castillo. Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization: The Impact of the Mission System on California Indians. Albuquerque: U. of New Mexico Press, 1995.  Carrico, Richard L. Strangers in a Stolen Land: American Indians in San Diego 1850-1880 . Newcastle, Calif.: Sierra Oaks Pub. Co., 1987.

Carey McWilliams, in his chapter “The Indian in the Closet,” in Southern California: an Island on the Land (1946), wrote:

“Under the impact of the Anglo invasion, the whole fabric of Indian life, already weakened by the Mission system, completely disintegrated. While the toll of disease had been heavy enough under Mission-Mexican rule, it became still heavier after the arrival of- the Americans. American settlers invaded the remaining rancherias, or native villages, teaching the men to gamble and to steal, and teaching the women, as Hugo Reid put it, ‘to be worse than they were.’ After 1848 prostitution became an established trade for Indian women in California. The old Spanish custom of raping Indian ‘squaws’ became an established Yankee practice. The family life of the Indians was completely disrupted. According to the Dr. Cook, some 12,000 Indian women became the concubines of white settlers. As the half-breed population increased, the half-breeds were automatically assigned to the Indian nether world and became the objects of a special loathing and disdain. Defeated in his initial resistance, his passion for revenge frustrated, the Indian was forced back, as Dr. Cook states, ‘to a silent, ineradicable, suppressed animosity, against all things American which was not forgotten long after other wrongs had passed into oblivion.’ ….

“With the breakup of the great landed estates after 1848, Indian peons were forced into the ‘free labor’ market introduced by the Americans. While the neophytes had some preparation for this system, the gentile Indians had none. Under a free labor system, the Indian was hopelessly handicapped: he did not understand the language; he was unfamiliar with a monetary economy; and he could not understand the necessity for regularized labor. Unprepared to cope with the perils of this system, the Indian sank lower and lower in the social hierarchy of the times.

After the American conquest, hundreds of Indian peons began to leave the Indianolas, as the Indian villages on the ranchos were called, and to crowd into the towns of Southern California. All the principal towns had an Indian village known as the pueblito or little town. During the period of military conquest, these pueblitos were sinkholes of crime and the favorite resorts of dissolute characters, red and white. In 1852 there were 4,000 “whites” in Los Angeles and 3,700 “domesticated Indians.” The Indians were crowded into a pueblito located near Aliso and First Streets, which was later moved east of the Los Angeles River. This new village became so notorious that, after the arrival of American soldiers in 1847, it was destroyed by order of the military.

“…. “Much of the work connected with the grape industry,” writes Harris Newmark, “was done by Indians…. Stripped to the skin, and wearing only loin-cloths, they tramped with ceaseless tread from morn until night, pressing from the luscious fruit of the vineyard the juice so soon to ferment into wine.”

“During the grape season, hundreds of Indians would troop into Los Angeles every Saturday night after they had received their pay. “During Saturday night and all day Sunday,” writes (Harris) Newmark (Sixty Years In Southern California, 1854-1913), ‘they drank themselves into hilarity and intoxication, and this dissipation lasted until Sunday night. Then they slept off their sprees and were ready to work Monday morning. During each period of excitement, from one to three or four revelers were murdered.’ The three grog shops maintained at the old Mission site in San Gabriel, according to Horace Bell, ‘did a smashing business—these devil’s workshops being surrounded by a mass of drunken, howling Indians.’ By common practice, most of the Indian vineyard workers were paid in aguardiente or wine brandy.”

Head south from the mission on South Ramona Drive.  Take the 10, which itself is built on an ancient Indian path, to the 101 and head north.

Before CalTrans built a rest stop above Gaviota on the 101, it was possible to park along the highway and walk into the hills to hot springs where naked hippies talked quietly in natural warm mud baths. The warmth from the hills grew through the branches of the live oaks and cooled into branches that reached into the thick blue sky.  A sign once on the rest step said this location was the land of the oak people, a term that sounded mysterious — like the mystery of the Oracle of Delphi’s ethylene trance or Druidic tree worship — but many of the Indians in California were oak people.   They made granaries that looked like big baskets to hold the acorns, which they developed as a food staple after a period of famine.  They leeched the toxicity from the acorns by boiling them in watertight baskets.  They heated stones in fire and then plunged them into the water until it boiled.

These people took the long journey with ice sleds and small boats about 20,000 years ago.  Dogs accompanied them.   Prior to contact with Europeans, the California region contained the highest Native American population density north of what is now Mexico.  Pre-contact California Indians spoke over 300 dialects of approximately one hundred distinct languages.

Indian place names in California include Anapamu (a street in Santa Barbara), Aptos, Arcata, Azusa, Bolinas, Cahuenga, Calpella, Camulos, Castaic Lake, Coachello, Cotati, Hemet, Hetch Hetchy, Hueneme, Inyo, Klamath, Lompoc, Malibu-Topanga, Mojave, Morongo, Mugu, Nipomo, Ojai, Pacoima, Petaluma, Saticoy, Shasta, Suisun, Tahoe, Tehachapi, Toluca, Truckee, Tujunga, Tulolumne, Ukiah, Yosemite, Yreka, Yucaipa.  (See, University of California Publications American Archeology and Ethnology, vol 12, No.2, “California Place Names of Indian Origin,” by A. L. Kroeber, 1916).   These names are part of what we have left from Indian languages.

Miniature mission Bells on posts mark the old El Camino Real to remind us of how the road began.   Highway 101 along the Central Coast approximates the old trail that linked the missions, presidios and pueblos.   Contact with the first European occupiers decimated the Indians.  They had no immunity to agriculture-related illnesses. The padres robbed them of their culture.  The mission bells are symbols of the romantic myth of colonial Spain’s mission system evoked by the author Helen Hunt Jackson and also the symbols of abuse of the native people.

(For background, see. Phillips, George Harwood. Indians and Intruders in Central California, 1769-1849. Norman, Oklahoma: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1993.)

Hugo Reid’s adobe stands in the Los Angeles Arboretum.  He was married to a Tongva woman – a contemporary construction of a Tongva wiki-up is near his home – wrote descriptions of some of the oral literature at the Mission San Gabriel.  (The Indians of Los Angeles County: Hugo Reid’s Letters of 1852. Southwest Museum Papers, no. 21. Ed. by Robert F. Heizer. Los Angeles: Southwest Museum, 1968.  In 1907. Charles Fletcher Lummis created the Southwest Museum, which moved from downtown to Highland Park in the Mt. Washington area in 1918.  It is now part of the Autry museum.   Even before the Autry’s absorption of the documentary collection, way back in 1985, I couldn’t find anyone at the museum who knew where the documents were kept.)

Reid wrote about the Indian myths as follows: “They were of incredible length and contained more metamorphoses than Ovid could have engendered in his brain had he lived 1,000 years.”  A long story that weirdly parallels the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice was one of the Tongva myths.  (A History of California, J. M. Guinn, Historic Record Company, 1915).

In northern California, between 1847 and 1865, American hunters killed 4,267 Indians.  Not all Americans were vicious.  One – A.O. Carpenter, a pioneer photographer of the Mendocino frontier — declared the Pomo who lived in Potter Valley were his slaves but they weren’t.

In 1850, the legislature of the “free” (that is, no slaves) state of California passed “An Act for the Government and Protection of Indians,” which established that Indians of all ages could be enslaved.  See, Jack Norton, Genocide in Northwestern California. (San Francisco: The Indian Historian Press, 1979) Also, Heizer, Robert F., ed. The Destruction of California Indians: A Collection of Documents from the Period 1847 to 1865 in which Are Described Some of the Things that Happened to Some of the Indians of California. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Peregrine Smith, 1974.)

A number of Pomo, primarily members living in the Big Valley area, had been enslaved, interned, and severely abused by settlers Andrew Kelsey and Charles Stone. (The town of Kelseyville, California was named after the former man.) Kelsey and Stone purchased cattle running free in Big Valley from Salvador Vallejo in 1847. They captured and impressed local Pomo to work as vaqueros (cowboys). They also forced them to build them a permanent shelter with promises for rations that were not kept. Because they made a residence there their treatment of the Pomo was more brutal than had been Vallejo’s, though the massacred Pomos at Rattlesnake Island might have argued that point. The people were eventually confined to a village surrounded by a stockade and were not allowed weapons or fishing implements. Families starved on the meager rations they provided, only four cups of wheat a day for a family. When one young man asked for more wheat for his sick mother, Stone reportedly killed him.[3] In the fall of 1849, Kelsey forced 50 Pomo men to work as laborers on a second gold-seeking expedition to the Placer gold fields. Kelsey became ill with malaria and sold the rations to other miners. The Pomo starved, and only one or two men returned alive

Stone and Kelsey regularly forced the Pomo parents to bring their daughters to them to be sexually abused. If they refused they were whipped mercilessly. A number of them died from that abuse. Both men indentured and abused the Pomo women.

‘Suk’ and ‘Xasis’ took Stone’s horse to kill a cow but the weather was bad and the horse ran off. Knowing they would be punished Augustine’s wife poured water onto the two men’s gun powder, rendering it useless; Pomo warriors attacked the house at dawn, immediately killing Kelsey with an arrow. Stone jumped out a window and tried to hide in a stand of willow trees, but Augustine found him and killed him with a rock. The Pomo men took food back to their families and everyone left to join other relatives around the Lake. Some went to Badon-napoti where the spring fish spawn was underway.

On May 15, 1850, a 1st Dragoons Regiment of the United States Cavalry in San Francisco rode north to try to locate Augustine’s band to punish them. When they instead came upon a group of Pomo on Badon-napoti (later called Bloody Island), they killed old men, women and children. The National Park Service has estimated the army killed 60 of 400 Pomo; other accounts say 100 were killed. Most of the younger men were off in the mountains to the north, hunting. Some of the dead were relatives of Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake and Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California. The army killed 75 more Indians along the Russian River.

One of the Pomo survivors of the massacre was a 6-year-old girl named Ni’ka, or Lucy Moore. She hid underwater and breathed through a tule reed. Her descendants formed the Lucy Moore Foundation to work for better relations between the Pomo and other residents of California.

In about 1992, I briefly represented the 52 Dissidents of Pinoleville against their tribal leadership, which had given permission for a cement plant to be built on the creek that runs through Pinoleville – now the Pinoleville Nation.  I separately represented Leona Williams, now a tribal elder and the Chairwoman of the Pinoleville Tribal Nation, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs attempted to oust her.    See,

The Mendocino Environmental Center sent me out to look for chert.  Finding chert would mean the concrete business would be stalled.  It would be an archeological site.  Chert is a stone.  It is ubiquitous.  I didn’t find any.  The MEC directed me to talk with Tillie Hardwick, who lived on the reservation.  I was to look for a brown house.  There were no brown houses.  I stopped to ask directions from young Indian men who said, “Brown?  White?  What difference does it make?”  Tillie’s house was painted white.   She told me that her great-great grandmother was the little girl who survived Bloody Island.  The true story, she said, was that two Lake County Indians had been raped.  The women killed Kelsey, not any warriors.

We went outside.  She showed me an avocado tree.  She said her father went all the way to Sacramento to find a walnut tree, and this was it.  I said, “It’s not a walnut tree.”  She said, “I know.”

One of the most joyous events of my life occurred when I attended a tribal meeting instigated by Nevada game entrepreneurs.  They wanted to build a casino.  This meeting was held at a nearby hotel, before Leona and others built a tribal center.  In the middle of the meeting, the then-tribal chair noticed I was there.  A bailiff lifted me from my chair – I was very thin in those days, and it was easy – and threw me through the door.  I flew.  It seemed the flight took a long time, so he must have thrown me high in the air.  I saw on one side the beautiful Mayacamas Mountains and, before I hit the ground, I thought, “Fuck.  How many white women have done this?”  I landed in front of the gamers.  Then, it was embarrassing.

When I ran for the job of Mendocino County supervisor, I hand painted my logo – an acorn – on cardboard, and a criminal defendant friend of mine went out at night and posted the signs on the back of garbage trucks.  The Indians and the Green Party – I later represented the Mendocino Greens wearing a green jacket in a Sacramento County action against the state Green Party – supported me in my campaign.  I came in third.

In 1890, Dr. John Hudson arrived in Ukiah as a physician for the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad.  He married the artist Grace Hudson. He wrote about the Pomo Indians and collected their baskets and took notes on their stories.  The Grace Hudson Museum, which is next to the Hudson’s home, sometimes exhibits his notes and collection of baskets, many of which are permanently at the Smithsonian.

Grace designed the Hudsons’ cemetery plot in the Ukiah cemetery.  Madrone trees cast shade over the area, and there is a sculpted phoenix on a pillar of stones.  On one of my visits, I found Crayola sketches by children on the phoenix.  One of them read, “Grace, I love you.”

Alfred Kroeber received his PhD under Franz Boa in 1901 at Columbia University, and he was the first to receive a degree in anthropology from that university.   He published the Handbook of California Indians in 1926.   Leave the 101 and head up the 880 to Berkeley.  The Kroeber family lived together at 1325 Arch Street on the north side of the university campus. Set into a hillside, the house known as “Semper Virens” was designed by Bernard Maybeck and is finished inside and out with unstained redwood.

Cross the Bay Bridge to San Francisco.  Califia and her Amazons are on a mural in the Room of the Dons at the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco. (One Nob Hill)

Professor L. Mark Raab criticized Kroeber’s approach to California Indians as naïve, writing that Kroeber orthodoxy envisions California as paradise, supporting a profusion of plants and animals, the original people occasionally burning the hillsides to produce greater natural results, but otherwise technologically inferior.

(Land of Sunshine: An Environmental History of Metropolitan Los Angeles.  William Deverell, Greg Hise, eds, July 2006.)

The utopian science fiction writer Ursula Le Guinn is Alfred Kroeber’s daughter.  In Always Coming Home (1985), she weaves a story of a Kesh woman called Stone Telling, who lived for years with her father’s people, narrated by Pandora. —the Dayao or Condor people, whose society is rigid, patriarchal, hierarchical and militarily expansionist.

Pandora describes the book as a protest against contemporary civilization, which the Kesh call “the Sickness of Man.”  They use writing, steel, guns, electricity, trains, and a computer network.  They reject government, a non-laboring caste, and human domination of the natural environment. They blend millennia of human economic culture by combining aspects of hunting and gathering, agriculture, and industry.  They reject cities.

The 2009 film Avatar is set on a planet called Pandora, where tall blue people live with great spirituality and with respect for their co-species.  “Avatar” has two meanings.   The invading earth people transport human explorers and scientists into simulacrums of the native people.  These living containers are called avatars. An avatar is also a Hindu idea of a manifestation of an incarnate divine being.  Part of the film was shot at the Hughes Aircraft stage in Playa Vista in Los Angeles.  Live action photography was shot in New Zealand.

Take the 880 to the 80.  At Sacramento, take the 70 north to Oroville.

A faded mural on one side of the jail in Oroville (35 County Center Drive) depicts Ishi as he looked after he wandered into town in 1911.

Ishi was born 1860–1862. In 1865, when he was a young boy, Ishi and his family were attacked in the Three Knolls Massacre, in which 40 of their tribesmen were killed.  Approximately 30 Yahi survived to escape, but shortly after cattlemen killed about half of the survivors. The last survivors, including Ishi and his family, went into hiding for the next 40 years, and their tribe was popularly believed to be extinct.

In late 1908, a group of surveyors came across the camp inhabited by an elderly native woman, a man, and young girl — Ishi’s elderly mother, Ishi, and his sister. The latter two fled and the former hid herself in blankets to avoid detection, because she was sick and could not run.

The surveyors ransacked the camp and took everything. Ishi’s mother and other relatives died soon after Ishi’s return.

Ishi lived three years beyond the raid alone, the last of his tribe. Finally, starving and with nowhere to go, at the age of about 49 on August 29, 1911, Ishi walked out into the white man’s world.

The local sheriff took the man into custody for his own protection. The “wild man” caught the imagination and attention of thousands of onlookers and curiosity seekers. Professors at the University of California, Berkeley Museum of Anthropology — now the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology (PAHMA) — read about him and brought him to their facility then housed on the University of California, San Francisco campus in an old law school building. Studied by the university, Ishi also worked with them as a research assistant and lived in an apartment at the museum for most of the remaining five years of his life.

Theodora Kroeber’s Ishi: The Last of His Tribe (1964, Parnassus Press, Berkeley, California) is the story of the “wild man” who came down from the mountains to Oroville.  Ishi’s hiding place is located at the corner of Oak Avenue and Quincy Road, at the site of the old Ward Slaughterhouse about two miles east of Oroville.  Several residences sit on the upper part of the one-acre site.  An oak tree stands where Ishi was first seen.




















































































































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