In late August of 1911, butchers at an abbatoir near Oroville, California, called the sheriff to report that dogs had cornered a “wild man” in their corral.

During subsequent days the emaciated and frightened man was detained in the county jail. He was soon “adopted” by University of California anthropologists A. L. Kroeber and T. T. Waterman, and through their efforts found a home at the museum which Phoebe Hearst had established in San Francisco. There he was to live until his death in 1916.

By the time I arrived at Berkeley as a student some twenty years later, the man “Ishi” had already become a legendary figure. Most of the stories told about him were anecdotal, however. Plausible explanations as to why one lone survivor of an Indian group should choose to remain so long in his solitary primitive world were lacking.

The “wild man’s” existence as an Indian, as reconstructed in this book’s first section, “Ishi the Yahi,” makes extremely clear his reasons for avoiding the white man’s civilization until pushed to the extreme. Theodora Kroeber paints a true but unpretty picture of the conflict between new settlers and old residents, in the white displacement of Indians inhabiting Mr. Lassen’s foothills.

The deliberate extermination procedures which equated the killing of an Indian with the killing of a grizzly bear, which included the curing and display of Indian scalps by white hunters and adventurers (in an area where scalping was unknown to the aboriginal population) is treated matter-of-factly by the author. But we must conclude that this time of brutality and murder at Mill Creek was not a glorious episode in the winning of the West.

Part two, “Mister Ishi,” details the five remaining years of life which the Indian spent in the white man’s world.

When reporters insisted that they be given the “wild man’s” name, Kroeber—knowing that California Indians did not divulge this information, particularly when asked directly—christened him Ishi. (“Man,” in his own language.) The pseudonym was retained throughout his life, for he never revealed his Indian name.

Fortunately, Ishi’s friends were interested in his protection, rather than exploitation. (It is amusing, incidentally, to learn that a prosperous entertainment circuit of the day offered to bill Kroeber and Ishi together, as a two-man vaudeville team!) Because of this, our knowledge of Indian life has been enriched. Ishi’s contributive knowledge enabled medical doctor Saxton Pope to write studies on bow-and-arrow technique which have never been equalled. He worked with linguist Edwin Sapir, and Kroeber and Waterman learned much from him. Publications directly attributable to Ishi are listed in the book’s bibliogiaphy.

“Death in the Museum,” the epilogue, is touching indication that —despite differences in cultural background—Ishi was regarded by his acquaintances not as a mere oddity of nature, but as a friend. The qualities which endeared him to others, which made his early demise a tragedy to those who knew him, were detailed on his death by Saxton Pope:

He looked upon us as sophisticated children—smart, but not wise. We knew many things, and much that is false. He knew nature, which is always true. His were the qualities of character that last forever. He was kind; he had courage and self-restraint, and though all had been taken from him, there was no bitterness in his heart. His soul was that of a child, his mind that of a philosopher.

Although not given to extravagant adjectives, I must assess Ishi in Two Worlds as a magnificent book. The extremely readable, seemingly effortless style produced by Theodora Kroeber is that of a master craftsman. This kind of writing requires more time, more dedication, and—if we are to face facts—more talent than most of us have at our disposal.

However, the techniques which Mrs. Kroeber applies to the handling of historical materials are well worth study by anyone interested in presenting history in valid, yet interesting, form.

How often is the “average” American reader subjected to the pseudo-scientific opinions of the self-styled naturalist, who, having once-overed the documentation, adjudges 17th-century Indians to have had “disgusting habits?” How often does the layman-directed volume on history dismiss the early-day Spaniards as gold-seeking and blood-thirsty pirates, as it places a halo over the golden head of El Draque?

Often enough, surely, that those of us who are professionally concerned with the history of the New World should assume a more decided responsibility in presenting this knowledge for the non-professional reader.

We can all learn a lesson or two from Mrs. Kroeber. Seldom has the portrayal of primitive Indian existence been handled with more understanding, with more feeling of simpático, than in Ishi in Two Worlds.

Few of us can hope to emulate the poetic quality of her prose. Each of us, however, can try to put aside for a time our acquaintanceship with indoor plumbing and electric shoe polishers, in the attempt to re-create with more relevance the lives of peoples whose times were less mechanized. We can strive to present facts without moralizing, without undue editorializing, without drowning the reader in a muddy flood of pretentious research.

Whatever may have been his station in life, the man who attracts after death the efforts of a skilled and sincere biography may be deemed extraordinarily fortunate. Ishi has indeed been richly blessed.