First published in 1961, Ishi in Two Worlds tells the life story of the last known surviving member of the Yahi people, an indigenous community decimated by invasion and genocide at the hands of white settlers during the California Gold Rush. The man, whose real name we will never know, lived for decades in the Mount Lassen foothills of the Sierra Nevada before being captured by Americans near Oroville in 1911. Anthropologists at the University of California named him Ishi, the Yana word for man, and brought him to San Francisco where he spent the rest of his life detained at the University’s Museum of Anthropology under the custody of Alfred Louis Kroeber.
Theodora Kroeber’s Ishi in Two Worlds offers an intimate glimpse into the remarkable life of a resilient man facing harrowing, unforgivable circumstances. Drawing from her husband’s records, linguistic notes, and archival and oral histories, Kroeber presents a contested history of North American indigenous people and the atrocities of violence, abuse, and disease wrought by white men. Reckoning with the indefensible history of racism and dehumanization that led to Ishi’s alienation and detention, this canonical book is critical to the history of anthropology and to the ongoing work of accountability in the field. It remains an essential historical document, and an enduring record of Ishi’s incredible life.