August 13, 2007

Kroebers consider Ishi

Revisiting Ishi

Questions about discovery of the 'last wild Indian' haunt anthropologist's descendants.In the 92 years since the so-called last wild Indian was found cowering in an Oroville slaughterhouse, Alfred Kroeber's descendants have resisted speaking for him. After all, by what right does a privileged California clan represent a persecuted Indian simply because their father was the anthropologist who studied him and their mother, Theodora Kroeber, wrote a book that made him famous?

But that logic hasn't stopped people from quizzing the pair's sons, Karl and Clifton Kroeber. Their daughter, Ursula K. Le Guin, also deflects questions about Ishi that come up at readings of her bestselling science fiction books. Fellow police officers sometimes ask LAPD Capt. Scott Kroeber, Clifton's son, about the Native American once called "the wild man of Mt. Lassen."
But recently the Kroebers changed their minds:Four years ago, when Duke University researcher Orin Starn discovered that Alfred Kroeber had sent Ishi's brain to the Smithsonian Institution against the man's wishes, the Kroebers were again called on for comment. And as the issue escalated, working its way to the California Legislature, the Kroeber brothers were asked to edit a new anthology, a book that would get closer to the truth of Ishi and his relationship with Alfred Kroeber, who died in 1960.

This time, they agreed. "Ishi in Three Centuries" (University of Nebraska Press), released this summer, was the result.

"In a sense, this was a family obligation," says Le Guin, who lives in Portland. "Ishi is not a mystique or a fascination with our family. But when he became a hot topic again a few years ago, my brothers picked up the football. I think they felt obliged to."
Comment:  Clifton Kroeber was one of my history professors at Occidental College. That means I'm one degree of separation from an Ishi scholar, two degrees of separation from the Ishi scholar (Alfred Kroeber), and three degrees of separation from Ishi himself.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
So, the issue of Ishi rises again. But only because it concerned the historically known study of the last of his kind. In the 1960s, the US government granted $6,000,000 to a university group so that they could conduct a study of a dying tribe on the New Mexico - Mexico border. Apparently we don't live in a world where such an appropriation of funding might have saved the tribe from disintegration and extinction. It was so long ago that writerfella will have to search his records to find the exact dates and times, plus the name of the tribe. It happened during writerfella's USAF years and so he was not free to follow it up in person at the time. When he was released from military duty, the event had come and gone. But it happened...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

I posted this item mainly because of the Ursula K. Le Guin connection, which I hadn't realized before.