Ishi (died March 25, 1916) was the last member of the Yahi, a group of the Yana of the U.S. state of California.
Widely acclaimed in his time as the “last wild Indian” in America, Ishi lived most of his life completely outside modern culture. At 50 years of age, in 1911, he emerged near the present-day foothills of Lassen Peak, also known as Wa ganu p’a.
Ishi means “man” in the Yana language. The anthropologist Alfred Kroeber gave this name to the man because in the Yahi culture, tradition demanded that he not speak his name or that of anyone who was dead. When asked his name, he said: “I have none, because there were no people to name me,” meaning that no Yahi had ever spoken his name. He was taken in by anthropologists at the University of California, Berkeley, who both studied him and hired him as a research assistant. He lived most of his remaining five years in a university building in San Francisco.
Prior to the California Gold Rush of 1848–1855, the Yahi population numbered 404 in California, but the total Yana numbered 2,997. The gold rush brought tens of thousands of miners and settlers to northern California, putting pressure on native populations. Gold mining damaged water supplies and killed fish; the deer left the area. The settlers brought new diseases such as smallpox and measles. The northern Yana group became extinct and the central and southern groups and Yahi populations dropped dramatically. Searching for food, they came into conflict with settlers, leading to bounties on the natives by the settlers. Prices included 50 cents per scalp and 5 dollars per head. In 1865, 17 men surrounded and massacred 50 Yahi Indians while the Yahi slept in bed.
Ishi lived three years beyond the raid alone, the last of his tribe. Finally, starving and with nowhere to go, at around the age of 50 on August 29, 1911, Ishi walked out into the occidental world. He was captured attempting to forage for meat near Oroville, California after forest fires in the area.