The Yana are a group of Native Americans indigenous to Northern California in the central Sierra Nevada, on the western side of the range. Their lands, prior to invasion, bordered the Yuba and Feather rivers. They were nearly destroyed during the California Genocide in the latter half of the 19th century. The Central and Southern Yana continue to live in California as members of Redding Rancheria.
The Yana-speaking people comprised four groups: the North Yana, the Central Yana, the Southern Yana, and the Yahi. The noun stem Ya- means "person"; the noun suffix is -na in the northern Yana dialects and -hi [xi] in the southern dialects.
The anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber put the 1770 population of the Yana at 1,500, and Sherburne F. Cook estimated their numbers at 1,900 and 1,850, while other estimates of the total Yana population before the Gold Rush exceed 3,000. They lived on wild game, salmon, fruit, acorns and roots. Their territory was approximately 2400 square miles, or more than 6000 km2, and contained mountain streams, gorges, boulder-strewn hills, and lush meadows. Each group had relatively distinct boundaries, dialects and customs.
After James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848, tens of thousands of gold-miners and ranchers flocked into Yana territory. Yana territory was seized, especially the lands around the Yuba and Feather rivers, where the Yana fished for salmon, a major source of food. The food supply dropped dramatically, as gold mining damaged the streams and fish runs, and deer fled the crowded area.
The Yahi were the southernmost portion of the Yana. They were hunter-gatherers who lived in small egalitarian bands without centralized political authority, and were reclusive and fiercely defended their territory of mountain canyons. The Yahi initially numbered around 400.
The Yahi were the first Yana group to suffer from the Californian Gold Rush, as their lands were the closest to the gold fields. They suffered great population losses from the loss of their traditional food supplies and fought with the settlers over territory. Lacking firearms, they were destroyed by armed white settlers in multiple raids. The settlers were led by Indian hunter Robert Anderson, whose men launched two raids in 1865 which killed about seventy people combined. The massacre reduced the Yahi, who were already suffering from starvation, to a population of less than 100.
On August 6, 1866, seventeen settlers raided a Yahi village at dawn. In the same year, more Yahis were massacred when they were caught by surprise in a ravine. Around 1867, thirty-three Yahis were killed after being tracked to a cave north of Mill Creek. Finally around 1871, four cowboys trapped and killed about thirty Yahis in Kingsley cave.
The last known survivor of the Yahi was named Ishi by American anthropologists. Ishi had spent most of his life in hiding with his tribe members in the Sierra wilderness, emerging at the age of about 49, after the deaths of his mother and last relatives. He was the only Yahi known to European-Americans. Ishi emerged from the mountains near Oroville, California on August 29, 1911, having lived his entire life outside of the European-American culture.
Professors from the University of California, Berkeley, read about him and brought him to San Francisco both for study and for his protection. Called the "last wild Indian", he had been treated as a curiosity by the public. Under the auspices of the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, director of the Museum of Anthropology, Ishi lived there until his death from tuberculosis (then incurable) in 1916. His language was studied in 1911 by the linguist Edward Sapir, who had previously done work on the northern dialects.
By tribal custom, he was not to reveal his name to an enemy. Rather, one would be introduced by a friend, and then the name could be offered. Since he was the last of his people, he had no friends, although he made some later at the University of California. Tradition demanded that he never speak his name. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley gave him the name Ishi, the Yana word for "man". He accepted this and adopted the term "Mr. Ishi" when he learned enough English. Ishi worked as a research assistant at the Museum of Anthropology. He taught Saxton Pope, a professor at the medical school and his physician, how to make arrows and bows, and to hunt with them. Pope came to be considered to be the "father" of modern bow hunting, as he published extensively on techniques.
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- Map: "Native Tribes, Groups, Language Families, and Dialects of California region in 1770", California Prehistory