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The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, December 17, 1911, Image 33

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Tile San Francisco Sunday Call
In all America there is perhaps only
cne sane, intelligent man to whose
puke the coming of Christmas will
bring no quickening. He is the one
man- to whom the very name of
Christmas carries no significance
whatever. He is Ishi, the California
Indian, the least civilized man in the
world, who is being cared for by
Dr. Kroeber at the Affiliated colleges.
Though communication can now be
had to a limited extent with Ishi by
use of the vocabulary of the Yana
tongue that has been compiled, it will
be practically impossible to convey
to the aborigine any conception of the
meaning of the great Christian cele
bration. He kncws no Christ, no
Christmas tree; the turkey dinner he
will eat on the holiday will seem to
him merely some special dispensation
of his v/oodland gods.—Editor.
Dr. A. L. Kroeber
« Curator University of California Mu
am of Anthropology, Affiliated
'TITHEN Ishi, the last "uncontaml-
nated" /aboriginal American In
nated" aboriginal American In
* * dian in the United States, left the
Orovillo Jail, which had been the
* first home civilization was able to of
fer him, for his new abiding place at
\ the University of California Museum of
Anthropology at the Affiliated colleges
. In San Francisco he brought with him
much primeval and tribal lore of the
most ancient of arts which will prove
as romantic to the student of the future
.as it is fascinating to the twentieth
century American of today.
The world old industries which this
living survival of an extinct civilization
practices within sight of trolley cars
and Bound of the telephone bell are not
♦.he *qi* Invention of his own peculiar
people, the Southern Yana. Most of
the ingenious devices demonstrated by
Ishi have been observed among other
„ races of rudimentary culture, and some
of them have been carefully studied by
. drivers' into the past. But when arch
aeologists and antiquaries first turned
to such inquiries the arts themselves
were already moribund, -if not extinct.
There tve s not a few old American In
dians that can still chip an arrow point,
and many even of the middle aged in
the various tribes have heard of the
■kill of their ancestors, and though
without experience themselves possess
. more or less vague ideas of the process.
But air other aborigines that retain
■uch knowledge have grown up amid
the Influences of a higher civilization
than their own. TJu-y have shot rifles
In place of arrows, tttrucfc the ever
ready match instead of th(Sjiflrt,d^n, vandv:: i
their nets, even If of ancient patt#m,
are woven of cotton twine, wHere^li^|lfJsgj
grandfathers used native fibers. Such
men live in houses and wear overalls;
they know what school and church are.
In the remotest places, in the very
fringes and outskirts of civilization, the
force of modernity has entered with a
penetration that is heard to realize.
From all these near savages, Ishl
stands out like a drop of oil in a tank
of water. He has been all his lifetime
surrounded by civilization, yet never a
part of it; in fact, absolutely unaware
of its meaning. He has heard trains
thunder by, but their purpose remained
a mystery; from his hiding places he
has seen the whites shooting, but how
the guns "broke" and 'broke" again
was as unexplained rt) him as to the
warriors of Montezuma when they first
resisted the little army of Cortez. Only
to him and his little band of now dead
trl.i J kinsmen were the old crafts and
practices still daily habits, the only
means of subsistence and shelter. To
other so called savages the flaking of a
stone tool is only a memory; to Ishl it
was, until yesterday, a reality and a
Two of the ancient crafts stand out
above all others as essential, and both
are among the most primeval inven
tions of mankind. Fire is needed by all
men for warmth and cooking; and in
the absence of metals, stone tools for
cutting and for weapons are indispens
able. There is no people on earth, no
matter how degraded its mode of lite,
that did not possess a knowledge of
these fundamental arts. And as lar
back in time as science can t> <i<-e
human existence both crafts reveal
their existence. Charcoal and chipped
flints have been discovered in all tne
oldest deposits, 250,000, perhaps 500,000
or more years In age. In fact, flint
flakes far antedate the remains of
man's bones. Through these rude buf
enduring works of his hands, man'i
existence is proved for ages before the
appearance of the first evidence of hl&
body in the shape of fossil finds.
Why are chipped flint inplements the
earliest relics of the race? Skins and
fabrics and wooden tools of course can
not survive more than a few thousand
years; but bone and shell, which are
easily worked, and soft stone capable
of being rubbed, and porou* rock that
1m readily ground into shape will endure
forever, and yet are not represented in
the most primitive discoveries.
The final ansv/er is perhaps to b«
Bought in psychology, in some revel*.*
tion of the inherent nature of the C<u
man mmd; but science supplies at least
a partial explanation in more concrete
fact*. ; me crraracter of trie material
Is the key to the problem. Flint, which
Is at once one of the hardest of natural
products and one requiring the greatest
skill to manipulate successfully, is also
, the substance that from its constitu
tion and properties lends itself so read
ily to working; as almost j* to <" force ■• on,
the half brute, half human mind the
idea of a tool. < •-^
A jpiece ,of granite,; when ««fr«tck,
creaks;. if i rubbed, ■it ( will i frtac ••■» vn»y,
"a. mass; of flint :splits. Here in a nut
shell is the secret that the stone age,
men discovered, and that > civilization,
weighted down with products of forged
Dr. Kroebsr Tell&pf tke Two Oldest
Human Arts—Making Fir? and Making
"Arrowheads—as Illustrated by tH? On?
Living Man Who PracKcSs Tli«m TeJay
■tcel, open hearth processes and labora
tc.-y tests, forgot until the patient
«•?.■ I'chlnjj of archaeologists rediscov
ered it. Flint and the allied substances
break clean under a blow, with a re
• ultin«r sharp edge. Fine grained, al
most structureless, hard and brittle, it
does not crumble, but, as the impact is
delivered by a skilled hand, splits with
a regularity that can be almost abso
lutely predicted. Ordinary stone is
tougher, but yields gradually and irreg
ularly to repeated Impressions. Flint
alone fractures as the workman directs.
It is almost like another substance,
softer and clearer, more familiar to us
civilized moderns, and now largely
manufactured artificially, but with
many of the same properties—ice.
We have all 3een a 250 pound slab of
Ice severed more smoothly than a saw
could perform the process by a few deft
strokes of the tool guided by the hand
of the experienced worker. Cutting,
grinding, careful picking only delay or
spoil the desired result. A few swift
blows in the right direction and de
.ivered In tho proper place and the
work is done.
The whole art of working flint Is a
triek —simple as the planting of the
egg of Columbus —^requiring practice,
but once mastered, practically infallible.
And it is more than interesting to the
student of the development of the hu
man mind, it is supremely important as
the first device of general practical util
ity perfected by the dawning mentality
of the human species. When flint was
first chipped, spear, dagger, knife, ax.
plane and scraper—weapon, household
Implement and tool —were invented. It
waa indeed a nameless and inglorious
but a greater Columbus that struck the
first half conscious blows on this re
markable material that for a quarter of
a million years was to determine and
reflect the progress of civilization.
But the broken flint, however great
the advancement it marked over the
toolless age. was but a rough and ready
implement, lacking in detail and refine
ment. The lirst period of man's devel
opment, tlif Chellean, was superseded
150,000 years ago—some nay it was
250,000 —by the second or Mousterian,
when the cavemen of western Europe
made ' a new discovery for; the manifold
forces of physical nature and entered on
a more advanced stage of progress. This
was the fact Z that;flint' will not only
split under a blow, but that it will flake
or chip in small pieces under pressure
applied at one point. The hewn imple
ments of the preceding age were then
made as before, but instead ofbeing left
as they came from the first workshop
. were subjected to another and finishing
process. That this was Indeed a higher
stage of development is shown by the
fact: that it involved a manufacturing
The arrow flaker is the first tool
making tool. It is therefore in one
sense the original ancestor of all
manufacturing machinery, and for this
reason the simple horn pointed stick
that lshi guides with his elbow and
fingers is of extraordinary interest
to us.
When a piece of flint Is pressed near
the fractured edge with a point, even
though this be somewhat softer, a
fragment of the stone —a flake—at last
flies off, leaving the edge thinner and
sharper. It is also likely to be slight
ly notched, but the very serration
gives a better cutting effect. If ,tiow
the pressure is reapplied at adjacent
points, flake after Hake is dislodged,
until the edge, heretofore smooth but
comparatively blunt, is composed of
a series of One saw teeth. This was
the implement of man of the second
period, a combination knife and saw.
The next step was perhaps not
reached for 50.000 years more. In
stead of the retouched edge being con
fined to one side of the implement,
both edges were flaked, and drawn
together toward a point. First came
the hewn point tool; second the flaked
edged Implement; third the flaked
pointed object—spear point, harpoon
head, perhaps even arrow point. All
this was practiced before the last ice
left the northern hemisphere, while the
mammoth and wild horse still roamed
Europe and men lived In caves; before
reindeer were chased by the savage
hunters, and earlier than man reached
America. And here is where Ishl
stands today. He embodies and illus
.trates this most venerable of arts,
"neglected and all but for^ott^n today,
bu: still the deep sunken basis on
which our own civilization rests.
lffhi's tool Is as simple as its knowl
edge is ancient. A stick about 18
Inches long, so as to reach from his
elbows to just beyond his fingers, a tip
of deer antler tied to the end of the
wood, its point neither quite sharp nor
yet blunt —in the left hand a scrap of
skin to serve as pad or cushion for the
prospective arrowhead —and his outfit
It. romplete.
The butt of the stick Is held to his
ribs by his elbow, to give steadiness
and a fulcrum. The hand grasps the
ether end. The horn point bears down
with an almost imperceptible motion
on the flint. For a moment nothing
happens. Then, almost in silence, with
a barely audible click, a minute frag
ment of stone detaches itself and drops
off. The point moves along an eighth
or perhaps a quarter of an inch; a cou
ple of seconds, and the operation i 3
repeated. The edgre is gone over again
and again of necessity; the point of
the arrow becomes sharper and sharper,
and in 15 minutes the implement that
controlled the destiny of nations until
the discovery of metals is perfect.
Nothing is simpler when once mastered,
and yet months, if not years, of patient
practice are needed to acquire dex
Ishi's people possessed one great ad
vantage that nature did not furnish to
his remote ancestors of the cave period
of Europe; the occurrence in California
of natural or volcanic glass, obsidian,
as the mineralogists term It. A true
glass, though made In the interior of
the earth and black and nearly opaque,
it is harder, more brittle, but also
sharper than flint, and. being of homo
geneous structure it flakes even more
regularly. It is found in Shasta, Lake,
Napa and Mono counties and was so
much appreciated by all the aborigines
of California that even Indians far re
moved from these districts acquired it
by trade, and no tribe in the state was
without it. It was obsidian that Ishl
used by preference in his wild state,
and it was in obsidian that he demon
strated his skill one Sunday afternoon
to more than 1,000 marveling visitors
to the museum of anthropology at the
affiliated colleges.
By a strange irony, however, moat of
the arrows with which Ishi killed deer,
bear, and wildcats during his life, were
tipped with points made by him out of
an undisputed product of civilia* tion
glass from windows or bottles. When
his few surviving people took to the
brush in deadly fear of the supposedly
murderous Americans, trade with the
obsidian gathering tribes to the north
and south was cut off. On Deer creek
and the vicinity the material does not
occar. In his timid nightly prowlings
Ishi therefore carefully picked up and
hoarded the discarded beer bottles and
silimar refuse of glass that the dusty
teamster or cattle man had thrown
away. Such a prize was of more value
than a rich pocket of gold, for from the
fragments he shaped at his leisure his
all important 'ammunition."
The ancient fire drill, that of our
"pre-Adamite" ancestors, the cave men
and their predecessors, is not positively
known. Being presumably of wood,
all specimens have no doubt perished
countless ages r.go. But that these
parly people, some of them certainly
only half men—the "missing link" of
popular fancy—had and used fire, and
could produce and control it, is. ren
dered certain by the discovery of
abundant deposits of charcoal and
pockets of ashes in the most primeval
strata, in which (ilnt tools or human
bones have been found.
Hasty travelers every now and then
have reported encountering in the jun
gle a naked people so utterly savago
and untutored that while they cooked
with flro they could not make it; and iT
onoe It went out It was necessary to
replenish the embers from a neighbor
ing friendly tribe that was more for
tunate, or to wait for lightning to set
alight some tree. Some even more
reckless voyagers speak of people so
primitive or degraded that they did not
understand the use of fire for cooking
and warmth. More careful inquiry has
in every case found such statements to
be erroneous. All students of the sci-
ence of man now are certain not only
that all living people can produce lire
at will, but that this ability was one
of the earliest achievements of the race
—this and the *lint Industry, in fact,
marking the first great twin accom
plishments of the human species.
Before phosporus matches, flint and
steel were used to strike a light. Ear
lier still, flint on flint, or two pieces of
quartz, were employed for the purpose.
Earliest and most primitive ©f all werV
two sticks, the "fire drill." such as Ishl
uses, one of the simplest of implements
and in the hands of the expert savage,
one of the most effective.
The fire drill apparatus consist* of
two pteces, a lower and an upper. Scien
tists speak of them as the "hearth*
and the "drill." The hearth is a flat
tened little slab with one or more holes,
which serve as sockets in which th«
drill is rotated. This drill Is nothing
but an ordinary round stick of suitable
In the story books one reads of th«
hero "rubbing" two sticks together un
til a spark "leapt" forth. No man on
earth could produce fire in such a way.
He could rub until doomsday and ac
complish nothing but to make his arm!
and back ache. The effort must be con
centrated in one small spot before th«
human body can convert the friction
of the moving wood into heat. This i«
the purpose of the socket In th«
It has sometimes been thought that
the secret of the art lies in the myster
ious qualities of certain special kinds
of wood, which alone are fit for the
purpose. Ishl insists on a buckeye stick
for his drill, but only because he has
always been used to this material. Poi
son oak, sage brush and many other
fairly hard woods answer equally well.
In fact, admirably.
The lower piece must be softer, but
an equal variety of trees and brush
will serve. Willow and cedar are usual
ly convenient and readily shaped. It
is only necessary that both pieces are
seasoned and dry and yet not too old
and brittle.
When about to drill Ishi squats in
characteristic pose, holding the ends of
the hearth steady against the ground
with his toes. At other times he kneels
on the board to clamp it down. The
drill is stood upright in the little hole
in the hearth, grasped between the
palms of the open hands as these are
pressed together, and then rubbed back
and forth in opposite directions.
With each motion the 6r\u ig forced
to rotate, first to right, t n to left.
The hands at the same time v ar down
ward, pressing the revolving stick into
the socket, in which it scrapes and rubs
rapidly. By this motion small particles
of wood are ground off and forced out
of the hole. In a few seconds they be
come brown; a little smoke begins to
arise from the point of contact, and
with each succeeding turn of the drill
the wood dust turns darker and darker,
until at last it issues pure charcoal and
a cloud of smoke emerges from the
twirling apparatus. Ishl works harder
and hard.er as he approaches his goal,
the drill whirls faster and finally a tiny
spark suddenly is glowing in the little
pile of powder. The end 1s achieved
and It only remains to pile on tinder—
a little shredded inner bark of the wil
low, thistledown or dried moss—to
blow the spark into flame, and soon a
blaze sparkles merrily.
Considerable strength and much skill
are, however, required for this simple
process. The drill must be firmly and
continually pressed down into the
hearth or sufficient friction to engender
fire heat will not be produced. A weak
ling need not attempt the task. On the
other hand, too heavy pressure at the
outset exhausts the operator's strength,
so that when the crucial moment comes
and the spark is nearly at hand his
vigor, fails him. Then, too, as the hands
bear down on the drill they gradually
slip downward along it until, just be
fore the hearth is touched by them the
palms must be quickly raised to the
upper end of the stick and there re
applied to their task. While this Is
being done, the drill stands still, and
too long an interval allows the heated
points of contact to cool. Often th«
hands must be shifted Just as the spark
is about to appear, and during the
transfer all the progress already made
is lost.
The whole process In fact requires
manual tact of a kind that only long
experience can teach. The fire must be
literally coached, firmly and steadily,
out of the unwilling wood. It is a mat
ter of nursing the operation along.
Brute violence and hastiness accomplish
nothing, but indifference, lassitude or
a moment's cessation of the continuous
pressure and rotation are equally fatal.
Ishi's patience, perseverance, and deli
cate control of strength are exactly the
requisite qualities.
Could Ishi, overtaken away from his
hut by a heavy rain, make a fire to
shelter himself? Without his drill it fs
hardly possible. Wet trees and drip
ping branches will not twirl into fire
any more than soaked matches will
strike. Under the shelter of an over
hanging rock he might suec««»<l '«>
whittling dry suitable pieces out of tlw
heart of a tree. But as he actually
lived in the wilderness, this was prob
ably not often necessary, for a« tne
careful hunter rolls his match safe In
a strip of oilskin, Ishl. if traveling in
stormy weather, would carry his driU
protected from the elements in a cov
ering of buckskin, dry and ready for
use the moment shelter was reached.
Many other arts of this strange liv
ing survival of aboriginal pre-civillza
tion are of Interest —his nets, woven
like those of the American fishermen,
but of strange materials: his baskets.
In which he cooked, his admirably in
genious salmon spear, and many others.
But the flint arrow paint and the fire
drill stand out as the two features
which this belated stone age man. the
last person in the United States to
come into contact with civilization, has
absolutely in common with the pre
historic cave dwellers who lived even
before America was "discovered" by
Its aboriginal inhabitant*

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