by Theodora Kroeber
And yet Ishi, to all accounts, seems to have handled his introduction into the modern world very well, After the initial shock, he realized people meant him no harm. People were so curious to see "the wild man" he was at first locked up in jail for his own safety, then taken to a university where eager anthropologists wished to learn about his vanished tribe, to study him. It sounds as if they were very gracious about it. Ishi had living quarters in the museum. A member of another California tribe was found who spoke a neighboring dialect, so language was not a complete barrier. Ishi learned enough rudimentary English to communicate fairly well. He adapted quickly to using modern conveniences; it was interesting to see which modern implements he admired and appreciated for the work they saved, and which he found puzzling or amusing- the telephone he seemed to consider a toy. He did not pine for his old way of life, in fact rarely spoke of it and never divulged much about his past- probably the memories were too painful. But he was content to demonstrate his skills over and over again to museum visitors and others- making bows and arrows, starting a fire, knapping arrowheads and so forth.
It is a very sober and intriguing story. Parts of it I found very interesting, others quite dry. This account is written in such a straightforward fashion, very factual and often dull to read. It's only by reading between the lines that you start to wonder what this man was really like, what a shock he must have experienced. The way Kroeber tells it, he was so grateful and glad to have human company again, he always wanted to be surrounded by others, to be among friends, never desired to go back and live in the hills again. Was cheerful, easily amused, patient and steady temperament, content with his life. A lot of the book is about the history of the area, the linguistic development of his tribe, what is known about their distribution and culture, early accounts from settlers in the area of conflicts and so on. It's very informative, but hard to get an idea of the human experience, the real person. I am glad to have read the book, to know what it contains, but it's not one I'm likely to read again just for enjoyment.
Rating: 3/5 255 pages, 1961