Why were Researchers So Interested in Learning and Writing Down His Language?

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What events led to Ishi being the last survivor of his entire tribe?

 

SKU: Engl0000532

Out of Hiding
A hot sun in a cloudless sky was doing its best to bake the residents of Oroville, California. August was often a warm month and the old timers of the area declared that the August of 1911 would be remembered for its daily battle between heat and humidity. Monday, August 29, promised to be a day like the ten days before it with temperatures keeping local folks fanning their faces and close to their iceboxes. When friends met on street corners or families chattered over dinner, the weather was the main topic of conversation. But, by evening, the residents of Oroville, California, were talking about something far removed from the peak temperatures of the day. There was a stranger in town, a most unusual visitor, and he had managed to capture everyone’s attention.

It had all started at the Ward Slaughterhouse on Quincy Road a couple miles out of town when butcher, Ad Kessler, stopped to wipe the sweat from his face onto his sleeve. The sound of dogs barking outside caught the butcher’s attention. As Ad squinted towards the corral, he made out the silhouette of a lone figure. Kessler knew it was not one of his butchers working late that afternoon.

“Who is that?” Ad called out.

No answer came. The hunched outline moved silently forward in the afternoon shadows, then slid to his knees. Grabbing a stick from the ground, Ad advanced.

“Who are you? Speak up.”

Still there was no reply. Ad lifted the stick and pushed the weary figure to the ground. Gazing down at the man before him, Ad felt shame race over him. The stranger was thin, his flesh barely covering the bones of his body. He was clearly a Native American, but he did not look like any of the local Digger Tribe. The man looked dazed and confused. His eyes reflected wonder about the place he was in and the man standing above him. Ad reached down and brought the figure into a seated position. The man leaned forward, cupping his hand, and whispering. But the whispers were not words that Ad understood. The butcher summoned other workers to help him guard the stranger. “We got something out here,” one of the slaughterhouse butchers telephoned the sheriff, “but we don’t know what it is.”
Within an hour both Sheriff Webber and the constable of Oroville arrived to take the stranger to jail. Despite the man’s weakened condition, they clasped handcuffs on his scrawny wrists.

Once at the Oroville jail, the sheriff sent out for food. The man, wearing a rough canvas shirt that hung to his knees, stuffed food into his mouth like a hungry bear. It was clear he was unaccustomed to doughnuts, first nibbling them suspiciously, then shoving aside a bowl of hot beans to gobble the powdered pastries as fast as he could.

The subject of attention appeared to be about fifty years old, of bony structure, with buckskin rings hanging from his earlobes. The width of his bare feet, almost as wide as they were long, showed plainly that he had never worn moccasins or shoes.

Word of the strange man’s appear

After reading the article, answer the following questions:

  • What events led to Ishi being the last survivor of his entire tribe?
  • What adjustments did Ishi need to make in order to live in a twentieth-century California
    city?
  • Why were researchers so interested in learning and writing down his language?
  • What valuable information other than language did Ishi provide for researchers that they
    would not have otherwise been able to obtain?
  • How does Ishi’s story refute Commissioner of Indian Affairs Dillon Myer’s statement that
    “Indians possessed no ‘legitimate culture’ of their own?” (First Americans, 524)

2.Review the article below to learn about issues related to “Termination.” How does the information in the readings about the plight of the Menominee people illustrate the problems with the government’s consideration of a termination policy?
Menominee Termination Act (1954):

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