Foundations of Anthropology at the University of California   Seal of The University of California
Section 5 composite

Section 5 Composite
McCown, Mohave music, Waterman

Ishi and Native Informants

rom the founding of the Department, the program always stressed the importance of field work in research. Working with native informants was critical in such endeavors, and for the first 40 years this technique was the basis of much ethnographic and linguistic research. Balancing the demands of both teaching and field research required creative strategies. Prior to 1920, one method of continuing “field” research at home was to bring native informants to campus. Through such visits, native language, in particular, could be recorded and studied in detail.

Ishi, “the last Yahi,” was one such informant who became famous when the story of his life, recounted by Theodora Kroeber, found a wide and sympathetic audience.

Letters from A.L. Kroeber to J. HinkleLetters from A.L. Kroeber to J. Hinkle

Alfred Louis Kroeber

Letters to J. Hinkle

10 January 1903 & 27 January 1903

In this exchange, Kroeber sought the assistance of the Tule River Indian Reservation agent to find a knowledgeable native who might come to San Francisco. When a suitable man was found, Kroeber provided a train ticket and instructions on how to travel to the Museum to meet him.

BANC MSS C-B 925 Ctn 1:2

Alfred Louis Kroeber and Mohave informants

Kroeber and Mohave Informants

BANC PIC Kroeber, Alfred Louis--POR

Butte County Sheriff: Ishi's Letter of Transfer

Butte County Sheriff

Letter of Transfer

4 September 1911

The most well-known native informant who worked with the Department was the Yana Indian who became known as Ishi. This “Letter of Transfer” makes clear the understanding between Kroeber and Butte County authorities that Ishi was to come to the Museum for purposes of linguistic research.

full transcription

CU-23.1 #36.3



Ca. 1914

BANC PIC 1980.014:26--PIC

A.L. Kroeber: The Indian Ishi

Alfred Louis Kroeber

“The Indian Ishi”

8 September 1911

In these notes, Kroeber summarized what was known of Ishi just four days after his discovery.

BANC MSS C-B 925 Ctn 9:6