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The Yana people were a group of Native Americans indigenous to Northern California in the central Sierra Nevada Mountains, on the western side of the range. The Yana people comprised four groups: the Northern Yana, the Central Yana, the Southern Yana, and the Yahi. The noun stem Ya- means person and the noun suffix is -na in the northern dialects and -hi [xi] in the southern dialects. Each group had relatively distinct boundaries, dialects and customs. Both groups are now extinct as functional tribes, though some individuals still survive.

The Yana people lived on wild game, fished salmon, fruit, acorns and roots. Their territory was approximately 40 miles by 60 miles and contained mountain streams, gorges, boulder-strewn hills, and some lush meadows.


When James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848, the gold-miners and ranchers flocked into Yana territory, and the food supply changed dramatically. The tribe suffered great loss and fought with the settlers. By 1865, there were fewer than 50 Yahi combined. The Three Knolls Massacre of 1865 left only 30 survivors. The remaining Yahi retreated after the 1865 massacre and concealed their existence in the mountain wilderness for over 40 years.


Alfred L. Kroeber put the 1770 population of the Yana at 1,500. Sherburne F. Cook estimated their numbers at 1,900 and 1,850.


The Yahi were the southern portion of the Yana people. They were hunter-gatherers who lived in small eglitarian bands without centralized political authority. They were reclusive, fiercely defending their diminishing territory of mountain canyons.

The last known survivor of this people was from the Yahi tribe. Tribal custom demanded that he never 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 - though he made some friends later. Still, tradition demanded that he never speak his name until he died. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley gave him the name Ishi, the Yana word for "man". He accepted this name and even went by the name "Mr. Ishi" when he learned enough to speak pidgin English. Ishi taught his physician Saxton Pope who is considered to be the father of modern bow hunting how to make arrows and bows and to hunt.

He had spent his life in hiding with his tribe members in the Sierra wilderness. He was the most famous Yahi, indeed the only one known to us. Ishi emerged from the mountains near Oroville, Californiamarker on August 29, 1911 after the last of his family died, having lived his entire life outside of the European-American culture. Known as the "last wild Indian", Ishi was taken to the University of California, Berkeley for study and for his protection, where under the auspices of Alfred Kroeber he lived in and near the Museum of Anthropology in evident contentment until his death from tuberculosis in 1916. His language was recorded and studied in 1911 by Edward Sapir, who had previously done work on the northern dialects.

See also


  1. Kroeber, p.883
  2. Cook, 1976a:177, 1976b:16


  • Cook, Sherburne F. 1976a. The Conflict between the California Indian and White Civilization. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Cook, Sherburne F. 1976b. The Population of the California Indians, 1769-1970. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Heizer, Robert F., and Theodora Kroeber (editors). 1979. Ishi the Last Yahi: A Documentary History. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Johnson, Jerald Jay. 1978. "Yana" in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 8 (California), pp. 361-369. Robert F. Heizer, ed. (William C. Sturtevant, general ed.) Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-004578-9/0160045754.
  • Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • Kroeber, Theodora. 1961. Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Sapir, Edward. 1910.Yana Texts. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, vol. 1, no. 9. Berkeley: University Press. ( Online version at the Internet Archivemarker).

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