FINDING ISHI

Ishi could not have made his debut at a better time if he had planned it.

The autumn of 1911 was probably the pinnacle of the era of progress, at least in California. Women were poised to win the right to vote; it seemed that almost every day new aviation records were being set; ads were appearing for the upcoming 1912 automobile models, faster, bigger and cheaper; everyone went to the theaters to catch the latest movies and had a telephone at home – having a personal phone number to share (or not) was now indelibly part of your identity.

Progress particularly meant it was time to put the Wild West in the rear view mirror. The Americans of 1911 saw themselves far removed from that mythological age of resolute cowboys and gunslingin’ outlaws. Sure, it’s too bad the Indians got kind of a raw deal but some of them were hostile sometimes and anyway, it was a long time ago. Americans certainly didn’t like to be reminded that some of the bad stuff that happened in the past was still happening. When a band of Shoshone Indians accused of murder were tracked down and massacred by a posse in Nevada earlier that year it received scant coverage outside of that area of the state; just a few years earlier, such a story of derring-do would have made headlines all over the West Coast and probably nationally. Indians being shot to death, including women and children, no longer seemed the modern thing to read about in the morning paper. Not in America.

Then one late August morning near Oroville, an old Gold Rush town 70 miles due north of Sacramento, a man was found in the corral of a slaughterhouse, cornered against the fence by guard dogs. He was emaciated, middle-aged and wearing little more than rags. He spoke no English or Spanish or any of the Indian languages known by the second and third generation Indians around town. By all appearances he was an authentic “wild Indian” with little or no contact with Western civilization.

The scientists at UC/Berkeley could not wait to get their hands on him and put him on display.

(RIGHT: Front page story in San Francisco Call, August 31, 1911)

American anthropology was still a very young field in 1911, just beginning to challenge judgmental Eurocentric views that “primitive” cultures were unworthy except as precursors of “advanced” ones and every aspect of a culture could be traced to some underlying cause. A rising star in the new science was Alfred Kroeber, the 35 year old curator of UC/Berkeley’s Museum of Anthropology quickly learning how to shake hands at receptions for university benefactors.

Kroeber and the other anthropologists in California knew they were racing against time. In the six decades since statehood, most of California’s Indian population had been wiped out and there were few surviving Indians who had ever lived in the traditional manner or were fluent speakers in their ancestral languages. Researchers were collecting everything they could from the fast disappearing people – baskets, blankets, pottery, tools and other objects; songs and stories were recorded on Edison cylinders, words and grammars collected in dictionaries. Sometimes their zealous pursuit of science went far too far. An infamous field ethnologist working for the Smithsonian was so obsessed with collecting a word list from a particular dying speaker that he requested the Indian be given a shot of morphine to “pep him up” in order to “get him so he can talk before he dies.”

Finding an “uncontaminated man” was the Holy Grail for these researchers. Three years earlier in 1908, a pair of surveyors had stumbled upon a camp of four Indians in the canyons near Oroville, and Kroeber sent his protégé graduate student, Thomas Waterman, to investigate. From the blankets, arrows and other possessions stolen by the surveyors he could tell the story was no hoax, but there was no idea where the person(s) who made the items could be found.

When Kroeber saw the 1911 newspaper stories about the man who was supposedly the “last of the wildest Indian tribe” he immediately dispatched Waterman back to Oroville, sending the local sheriff a telegram reading in part, “HOLD INDIAN TILL ARRIVAL PROFESSOR STATE UNIVERSITY WHO WILL TAKE CHARGE AND BE RESPONSIBLE FOR HIM. MATTER IMPORTANT ACCOUNT ABORIGINAL HISTORY.”

Waterman arrived to find a man bewildered and beleaguered. Although he was being held in the county jail, he had become the town’s exotic pet; thousands had stopped by to gawk and shove things at him to see how he would react. Look, he’s trying to peel a tomato! Isn’t it funny? Look, he’s eating a banana peel! The sheriff handed him an unloaded revolver as a test, apparently to see if he’d try to shoot him with it. Two photographers were taking pictures to make into postcards, trying to find a good “lo, the poor Indian” type of pose. Take off your shirt, please. Now, look proud.

In the jailhouse Waterman determined the man spoke the Yana language, albeit a dialect unknown to the academics. Kroeber knew someone who spoke another version of Yana and hoped he could translate. They were able to communicate but with difficulty; even though they came from regions only about fifty miles apart, the distance between their languages has been likened to Spanish and Portugese. The translator’s name was Sam Batwi (Ba’twi). After Kroeber obtained tenuous approval from the special agent for Indian affairs, the Oroville sheriff was told to release the “wild Yana” to Waterman, adding “the ethnologists would take good care of him.”

And thus just a week after he was found in the corral, the last survivor of the family group called “Yahi” stepped off the train in San Francisco and met Alfred Kroeber. Reporters were already clamoring for information about the wild man of Oroville; what was his name? Kroeber told them to call him “Ishi,” which was the Yana-Yahi word for “man.” In Ishi’s culture one’s name was a very personal thing and never spoken by the person him/herself – it was how others addressed you. Perhaps the anthropologists might have learned his true name had there been the opportunity for him to be introduced by someone who knew him, but he was the last Yahi. So.

Even before Waterman left Oroville, there was debate on what the museum should do with Ishi once they had the rights to him (so to speak). “If this fellow don’t die before we get him to the museum, or some other unheard-of thing occur, why can’t we put him in a case, and have him make arrows,” Waterman wrote Kroeber. “Good exhibit for the public.” There is apparently similar unpublished correspondence between the university and Washington D.C. regarding Ishi’s value as an exhibition object.

Ishi went on display at the museum about six weeks after his arrival in San Francisco. (Waterman suggested again that he should be in a glass case, but that idea was rejected.) Except for a few weeks in 1914, he would spend every Sunday afternoon showing as many as a thousand of the curious how he made fire or chipped an arrowhead. And since he was officially the assistant janitor at the museum, he got to clean up the place after they left.

Ishi was a hit, and because of him the newly opened Museum of Anthropology was a success as well, with crowds and school trips coming back year after year. Some of his continuing celebrity was undoubtedly due to all the free publicity; reporters loved writing about Ishi. And who can blame them? He was an affable man with a gentle charm and it didn’t hurt that he was also photogenic; contrast the photo in the newspaper story above with the detail shown to the right. In the earlier photo he seemed to want to crawl out of his skin and vanish. In the picture taken just five weeks later he was smiling, relaxed, and looked a bit like 1940s Hollywood hearthrob Stewart Grainger (that’s Alfred Kroeber over his left shoulder).

Nearly everything that appeared in those papers about Ishi was complete nonsense. They couldn’t get past the simplistic view that he was a “Stone Age Man,” a Fred Flintstone or Alley Oop come to life, and there were indeed cartoons that portrayed him as a caveman. That first December in San Francisco there was a story titled “The Only Man in America Who Knows No Christmas” with an illustration of a puzzled Ishi watching Santa gliding through the woods with sleigh and reindeer. A reoccurring storyline in the papers claimed Ishi was in love or soon to be married (headline: “Ishi Loses Heart to ‘Blond Squaw'”). Actresses could get their pictures in the paper by flirting with him. At the end of this article are a few examples.

A reporter from the San Francisco Call took Ishi, Sam Batwi and others to the theater and absurdly wrote that Ishi believed an entertainer must be “the great medicine goddess of the palefaces.” When she began singing, the paper claimed “Ishi half rose and hung over the edge of the box in his excitement. He was breathing hard and his eyes were glittering.” The fiction continued with a tour de force of lurid racist imagery of a dark-skinned man as an animalistic savage lusting after a white woman:

Slowly Ishi rose to his feet. He fixed on the lady an unwinking gaze of such intensity as to draw her attention away from a row of Johnnies to whom she had been warbling. Her eyes met those of the wild man. She faced him bravely and with dazzling white arms held out toward the thunderstruck worshiper, sand to him the words of “Have You Ever Loved Another Little Girl?”

The cold sweat was standing out on Ishi’s forehead. His face was drawn. His fingers, grasping the crimson hangings, trembled visibly and his first cigar, which he had been puffing with pretended sangfroid, now slowly grew cold and dropped from between his teeth. Professors Kroeber and Waterman, studying these unusual emotions in the interests of psychology, now leaned toward him, ready to grab the wild man before he could leap to the stage…the broad shouldered Indian, who was leaning out of the box above it, half crouching, as if for a spring.

       
MORE ABOUT ISHI

This article tells only covers a small portion of Ishi’s story. Nearly a century after his death he continues to be a subject of academic and popular interest, but surprisingly little info is available on the Internet except for a thin Wikipedia page. Here are some resources about his life:

A must-see documentary on his story is the hourlong Ishi: The Last Yahi which aired on PBS’ American Experience in 1992 and was nominated for a well-deserved Emmy. For a shorter introduction, there is a (mostly accurate) 10-minute student video worth a look.

Theodora Kroeber (discussed in the article) wrote two well-received books in the 1960s about Ishi which have never been out of print: “Ishi in Two Worlds” and “Ishi: Last of His Tribe“, a fictionalized account of his life for young adult readers (the latter was made into a 1978 TV movie that is best avoided). She did not know or even meet Ishi, writing decades after his death and working from her late husband’s notes.

Besides period newspapers, all material in this article is drawn from “Ishi in Two Worlds” and two recent books: “Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last ‘wild’ Indian” which is a good recount of Ishi’s life along with the recent struggle to reclaim his brain from the warehouse shelf of the Smithsonian Institution. But highest recommendations go to “Wild Men: Ishi and Kroeber in the Wilderness of Modern America,” which highlights the conflicting views of the famous anthropologist and his “uncontaminated man.” This book provides the clearest explanations of how Ishi saw his strange new world and offers revealing details about how others treated him.

Ishi also has been the subject of novels, poems, plays and movies, with some of his stories being turned into children’ books. Educator Richard Burrill has also written six books on Ishi which represent over fifteen years of anthropological and historical research. You can watch how-to videos on making arrows and arrowheads using Ishi’s techniques. There is an annual Ishi Gathering and Seminar near his homeland and new scholarship continues to emerge, guided by Alfred Kroeber’s descendants.

None of that happened. Ishi paid little attention to the performers that evening, focusing his attention upon the hundreds of people in the audience – he was astonished because he had never before seen so many in one place.

Tellingly, Theodora Kroeber, Alfred’s second wife (see sidebar) passed over the incident quickly in the non-fiction biography of Ishi. This probably reveals the museum people realized that as guardian, Kroeber clearly flubbed in giving a hack journalist the opportunity to spin pornographic falsehoods about his charge (just a few years later the same reporter, Grant Wallace, would be shown to be clearly nuts by claiming he was in telepathic contact with space aliens). Likely with damage control in mind it was arranged that in the same edition of that newspaper Alfred Kroeber would present his own article about Ishi.

There the anthropologist made a point he would repeatedly use when introducing Ishi to an audience: “there is nothing undeveloped about him; he has the mind of a man and is a man in every sense.” It was appropriate at the time for Kroeber to explicitly say this because many still embraced the racist notions that anyone not of European descent was potentially sub-human or a missing link – only a few years earlier, Congolese pygmy Ota Benga had been exhibited at the Monkey House of the Bronx zoo.

Regrettably, Kroeber didn’t stop there, and his article was just as troublesome in its own way as Wallace’s fictional tale of sexual desire. Ishi doesn’t understand nine-tenths of what goes on around him, Kroeber wrote, can’t be taught English or learn to count. “His attitude toward everything about his is just like that of a puppy. He is interested in everything and never questions orders. He comes running when you call him, and if you were to tell him to stand in the corner of stand on his head, if he were able he would do it without hesitation.” What humanity he giveth with one hand he taketh with the other; Kroeber was describing Ishi as if he were a remarkable pet, capable of mimicry and performing tricks on command but not able to develop.

Kroeber was proved wrong on all counts. Ishi learned quickly; he mastered an English vocabulary of several hundred words – let’s drop your average 50 year-old American into China from that era and see how well he could communicate after a couple of years. Ishi could navigate the Bay Area trolley and ferry system on his own, and understood numbers perfectly well but used a base-5 system very different from the Western world. He was also not docile; he expressed his dislike for Sam Batwi, whom he regarded as a “phony” Indian, an acquiescent Uncle Tom. He complained about the taste of city tapwater and particularly about the materials Kroeber required him to use. Although Theodora’s book states “obsidian was Ishi’s favorite material for demonstration at the museum” he clearly preferred making arrowheads from glass. A friend would drive him to the city dump where he could hunt for old Bromo-Seltzer bottles which were a distinctive cobalt blue. Yet Alfred Kroeber insisted he exclusively use obsidian because it was “authentic.”

Authenticity was Kroeber’s byword. He shunned anything and everything related to what he called the “bastard cultures” of non-traditional Indians; Native American culture ended, in his view, once its people began adapting to survive. It was one thing to view anthropology as pure science, but Kroeber went farther and trivialized the genocide that followed the Gold Rush, which he called  the “little history of pitiful events” in his landmark book, “Handbook of the Indians of California.” Make no mistake: Alfred Kroeber was one of the greatest scientists of his day, but he was studying living people in such a narrow way that it could be said to be inhuman. It was like a historian trying to write a biography of Abraham Lincoln’s family without mentioning the uncomfortable business about the Civil War.

The irony is rich: Kroeber’s association with Ishi launched the success of his museum and with it his personal high profile in science and society, but Ishi was an attraction because his people had been wiped out or assimilated in a brutal conquest which Kroeber viewed as unimportant.

No book on Ishi indicates when (or if) he began speaking about his personal struggle, and no newspapers of his time mentioned described what had happened (see above, re: Morning papers, massacres not appropriate in). Today his history is well documented. There were an estimated 400 Yahi pre-contact. By the time Ishi was about ten in 1870 only a dozen or so were left, most of the others killed in two massacres by Indian hunters during his childhood. Ishi’s family and the few others began their decades of concealment that lasted until the surveyors stumbled upon them. By then, it was just Ishi and the “long together five.”

Amazingly, the only account of his time during those four decades came from the Press Democrat a few months after Ishi walked out of the wilderness. A version of the story went over the newswire, but is transcribed in full here for the first time.

(RIGHT: Jacob and Norah Harbin Turner. Photo courtesy of Helen (Turner) Carlisle of Chico, California and Richard Burrill)

Jacob and Norah Turner, who were now living near Santa Rosa, had a place 25 miles outside of Red Bluff in 1878. They were known to be friendly to Indians in the area and had in fact hired a young Sam Batwi for a time. They slowly got to know the reclusive Yahi survivors which included Ishi, his mother, wife, two daughters and a son. There were then seven of them left in all.

The Turners knew them when Ishi’s son was shot and killed by a rancher who was angry because someone had raided his cabin. Later, they saw Ishi and his wife mourn after they lost their daughters when “two white hunters came along and either enticed or forced the girls to go with them.”

Ishi’s mother died after the surveyors found their camp in 1908 and the other two, apparently his sister and an old man, fled separately, never to be seen again. Ishi was alone and without any of his tools or other belongings, all of them having been taken by the surveyors as souvenirs.

Ishi developed tuberculosis and in the spring of 1916, after four-plus years in the modern world, it was clear he didn’t have long to live (Kroeber’s first wife also died of TB in 1913). Waterman had grown close to him  and at least once Ishi spent weeks living with his family. Kroeber was in New York at the time, and Waterman wrote to him: “…the poor old Indian is dying. The work last summer was too much for him. He was the best friend I had in the world and I killed him by letting Sapir [a language ethnologist] ride him too hard, and by letting him sneak out of lunches.”

Kroeber told Waterman to act as his personal representative to make sure that Yahi death traditions were followed, particularly making sure the body was not defiled by an autopsy: “Please stand by our contingently made outline of action and insist on it as my personal wish. There is no objection to a [death mask]. I do not, however, see that an autopsy would lead to anything of consequence…if there is any talk about the interests of science, say for me that science can go to hell. We propose to stand by our friends.”

But Ishi’s physician insisted and Waterman gave in. An autopsy was performed on his still warm body. All that was learned was that his skull was “small and rather thick.” His brain was removed and sent to the Smithsonian, where it remained until 2000, when his ashes and brain were turned over to those believed to be his closest living descendants.

Having his brain plucked out was the final indignity in a lifetime of cruelties and abuses, and worse because the doctor was Ishi’s friend and knew well the Yahi customs for the dead. Ishi might have wondered why these modern people so often acted as if they simply didn’t know right from wrong. Kroeber later told a friend he never asked Indians about their recent history because he “could not stand all the tears.” If Ishi had ever heard Kroeber make such a remark, he would have probably thought it was a very uncivilized thing for him to say – civilized people would not tell others to keep their stories quiet. But then again, I imagine to his thinking, civilized people also would not put others on display and make them perform.

EARLIEST HISTORY OF ISHI THE UNCONTAMINATED MAN
Story Told by Santa Rosans Who Knew Him Long Ago
Lone and Lorn Yana Indian is Doubtless What He Say He Is–the Sole Survivor of a People That Have Perished

Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Turner, whose home is near the Northwestern Pacific Railway about a mile north of Santa Rosa, knew Ishi in early days. Ishi, “the uncontaminated aboriginee,” whose capture has been told in many a news story, and whose primitive language and primitive ways have been made the subject of study by anthropologists of the University of California and of speculation by many others. Mr. and Mrs. Turner knew not only Ishi but six other members of his tribe, the Yana Indians, and they believe that the captured savage is all that the scientists say he is–the last of his tribe and a primitive man, with as little knowledge of modern civilization as has any man to be found in the world today.

It was in 1878 that the Turners first came into contact with the Yana Indians at a place then called Buck Flat about 25 miles from Red Bluff in Tehama county. Also they knew Sam Batwee, the interpreter who is now with Ishi. Sam Batwee belongs to another tribe, but he knew a great deal of Ishi’s language, although his own tribe and Ishi’s were not friendly. Sam Batwee worked on the Turner ranch two years. The tribe to which Sam Batwee belongs was called the Shaveheads by the settlers in Tehama because the men shaved part of the hair from their heads. They were more enchanted with the whites than were Ishi’s people. Ishi’s tribe was called sometimes Yana, sometimes the Nonsez [usually now spelled Noza, which were actually the Yana from Sam Batwi’s clan -ed]. The two names were used at will and the Turners understood them to mean the same.

Mr. and Mrs. Turner never saw more than seven members of the Yana tribe although for years the whole tribe lived within a mile of the Turner home. The Indians habitations were in caves in the hills, most cleverly concealed, and the Indians themselves were so fearful of the white race, and so skillful, so cunning and so sly in evading them, that they were near neighbors for years before the whites knew it.

There was good reason for the Indians to hide, and for them to dread their discovery by the whites. Upon the occasion of every meeting, the red men suffered at the hands of ruthless marauders who called themselves civilized. Many Indians were murdered in cold blood, their habitations were ravaged, their stores of food destroyed, their women and girls kidnapped and dragged away. So savage was their persecution, so severe their oppression and so pitiful their condition that the Indians came finally to the point where they murdered all their own children–first in order that the infants’ cries might not betray the presence of the camp; second, as the Indian women told Mrs. Turner, because they saw no hope for the remnant of their tribe, and believed that if the children were not killed they would sooner or later starve to death. So the Yana men seized their own babies on the day of birth, swung them by the heels and dashed out their brains against a rock or a tree. That practice, say Mr. and Mrs. Turner, gives the reason why the Ishi is the only one left, of all the once numerous Yana tribe. Before the Yanas were reduced to this extremity they had fought two hard battles with the whites, one in Tehama county and one in Shasta. In each case the Indians were armed with bows and arrows and the whites with rifles. The first of these battles is said to have taken place in 1854, the second in 1867. The Turners lived near the scene of the second conflict, and many unburied bones were there in evidence as late as 1873 and ’74, some entire skeletons lying on the ground almost intact besides many scattered bones.

Mr. Turner’s first view of the Yana Indians came about one day when he saw what he believed to be two little brown bears playing on a hillside about a mile away. He took his rifle and crept closer to them, when he discovered that instead of bears they were two little naked Indian girls. Still concealing himself, he crept very close then showed himself and called to them when they instantly scurried into the thicket as quickly as a pair of frightened quails.

But Turner’s curiosity was aroused and he pursued the little girls and when they had retreated to a creek they could not cross he overtook them. They went home with him and his wife gave them food. They soon recovered from their alarm, but the older Indians were hinting them and easily trailed them to the Turner home. These older Indians were Ishi and a woman. The girls were their children. Thus came about the acquaintance that lasted a long time; the only white acquaintance Ishi ever had. The Indians were alarmed when they saw Turner’s rifles and shotguns standing in a closet and were for retreating at once, but were reassured and prevailed upon to remain.

After this the Indians became rather too friendly, especially the two girls. They wanted to live at the Turner home all the time and the other woman who later came with them, as well as the girls themselves, begged food upon every opportunity. One day the girls were taken with measles, and Mrs. Turner administered a simple herbal remedy of her own compounding that gave them much relief. In return for this, they and the older woman were ever anxious to show their gratitude by helping her with her housework, but their help was worse than a hindrance. The squaw would take the broom from Mrs. Turner and would try to sweep. But she never got anywhere with it; she just swung the broom every way and all ways and did nothing more than to raise all the dust there was in the house without getting any of it past the door.

Sometimes an Indian boy came with the visitors. One day Ishi and the squaw appeared with mourning stripes painted on their faces–streaks of black pitch and red vermillion on foreheads, cheeks and chins. Their son was dead, and by signs they told that he had been shot. The squaw sat in a chair and swayed to and fro and wrung her hands, meanwhile chanting the long-drawn wailing cry, “Ma-loo-oo-oo-ehee! Ma-loo-oo-oo-ehee!” repeated many times.

Not long afterward, Mr. Turner met two stockmen, one of them whom was named Rafe Johnson. Johnson told Turner that he had shot an Indian boy a little while before. “I don’t know whether I killed him or not,” said Johnson. “He was 400 or 500 yards away, across Mill Creek canyon, and I elevated my sights and let him have one. He dropped and I guess I broke one of his legs anyhow if I didn’t kill him. A lot of ’em went down to my cabin while I was away last month and stole everything they could lift. I guess that one will learn to keep away anyhow.”

Their son’s murder was not the last outrage Ishi and his squaw were to suffer at the white man’s hands. When the two girls were nearly grown two white hunters came along and either enticed or forced the girls to go with them and Ishi and his squaw were left childless. Mr. Turner learned afterward that the girls had been abandoned in Red Bluff and that peace officers there had taken the castaways to an Indian reservation in Siskiyou. But he does not believe that Ishi and the squaw ever saw their children again.

Mr. and Mrs. Turner’s daughter Blanche was born at Buck Flat. While she was a little child the Indian girls, some years older often spent hours attending and amusing her. She remembers them playing at see-saw–one of them holding her on a teetering timber while the other rocked it. Also she remembers part of a song the often sang while doing this. There was much of it, but all she remember is this strain which was always repeated three times:

“No anny hoatt-e tuitt! No anny hoatt-e tuitt! No anny hoatt-e tuitt!”

Although the Turners never saw more than seven Yana Indians, these told them that there were twenty left of the tribe. The others were dead–either murdered by the whites or killed in babyhood by their own parents. Poor Ishi is probably what he say he is–the last of his race. The Turners say that although he refused to learn English they could communicate with him tolerably well in the Indian sign language, and that they thought him a man of much intelligence– in fact, a rather superior sort of person although he had but slight opportunity to demonstrate what he was really made of.

Mr. and Mrs. Turner are both well informed on California’s early history–much of which they saw in the making, and part of which their own families helped to make. Mrs. Turner is a daughter of Mat Harbin, who located Harbin Springs, and a grand-daughter of James Harbin, who built the cabin in which the famed and ill-famed Donner party perished. James Harbin himself had been one of that party, but had gone ahead before winter fell, and so had reached the coast unscathed by the disaster that befell those who delayed on the way.

[This paragraph has several factual errors. Mat Harbin (real name which he used later in life: John Madison Harbin) was a drover in the 1844 Stephens-Townsend-Murphy party, which crossed the Sierras two years before the Donner party. They built a cabin which would be later used by the Donner party. Mat’s father, James M. Harbin came to California with his family in 1846, a few months ahead of the Donner party. It was James, not his son Mat, who established the Harbin Hot Springs resort -ed.]

Mrs. Turner is also a sister-in-law of Prof. Ferdinand Kenyon, who was years ago a member of the Pacific Methodist College faculty, and is now a teacher in Fresno. Her family and her husband’s family were intimately associated with some of the most prominent of the pioneers–especially with the late Senator George Hearst.

– Press Democrat, November 9, 1911

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NO KAWANA, NO SPRINGS AT KAWANA SPRINGS (UPDATED WITH RECENT PHOTOS)

What’s the origin of the name, “Kawana Springs?” It’s far easier to say where it didn’t come from than to pinpoint its source or meaning. For example, if you think “Kawana” is an Indian word, you may be right – except the Indians who coined it were 3,000 miles away.

Let’s start with the simple part: “Springs” is part of the name because it once was a mineral spring resort, with a hotel and bathhouse. A 49er named John S. Taylor had poor luck gold hunting but found his fortune here, homesteading 1,400 acres at the base of that mountain which came to have his name. John was quite the entrepreneur; he planted a large vineyard, raised livestock, and mined a small vein of coal that was discovered on his land. He saw the opportunity to cash in on the harness racing craze and built “Taylor’s Driving Park” at his place, where the 1861 Sonoma County fair was also held. He owned most of the downtown block between Fourth and Fifth streets directly across from Courthouse Square. John Taylor was a rich and interesting guy about whom more should be written.

Taylor also saw $$$ in the stinky creek on his property. Mineral spas and resorts were a big deal on the East Coast and in Europe; people believed the water relieved arthritis and aches if you bathed in the stuff, and even that it could cure kidney disease and other ailments if you drank lots of it. He built a small hotel for guests and when that one burned in 1870, Taylor built a grander, two-story place with hot and cold running boy-does-that-smell-awful.

It’s unclear what ambitions John Taylor held for his mineral water resort. He rarely advertised in the Northern California newspapers (at least, judging from the healthy sample of 19th century papers available online through the Library of Congress) and was leasing the operation out as early as the 1880s. Unlike owners of some other local hot spring retreats he didn’t bottle his “curative” waters for sale. Then there was the potential problem with name confusion: Taylor called his place “White Sulphur Springs,” and when he started there were already “White Sulphur Springs” in Solano (Vallejo) and Napa (St. Helena).

Why was everyone naming their place “White Sulphur Springs?” Because the original W.S.S. in West Virginia was recognized as the standard of excellence for resorts in the latter 19th century. It was the playground for the Washington D.C. elite; presidents took the waters there and Euro royalty, too. “White” apparently was intended to indicate the sulphurous water was clear and not sickly yellow, and it provided an opportunity for other West Virginia hot springs to exploit the name with sound-similars; there were nearby Blue Sulphur Springs, Green Sulphur Springs, Red Sulphur Spring and Salt Sulphur Springs. The water was apparently identical, or nearly so. (A 1870s analysis of Taylor’s water found it contained bicarbonate, iron, magnesia, and, of course, sulphur.)

By the turn of the century, whatever days of sun Taylor’s hotel enjoyed were certainly past. No ads can be found beyond 1899, although we know it remained open because it was still mentioned in the schedules for stage stops. When the 1906 earthquake hit, Taylor’s White Sulphur Springs hadn’t yet opened for the summer season. The hotel and bathhouse apparently escaped without serious damage, but not so the creek – the mineral water stopped flowing after the earth shifted. The place opened again for the 1906-1907 winter season, but that was it.

Come 1910 and the Press Democrat announced a pair of local men were going to reopen the resort, but not as White Sulphur Springs:


It was deemed advisable to change the name of the resort from White Sulphur Springs on account of the fact that there are already two resorts of that name in the state. Luther Burbank was appealed to in the matter of the selection of a name. He chose “Kawana,” and his choice was accepted. The management would have liked to have named the place “Burbank Springs,” but Mr. Burbank preferred not inasmuch as he had declined many offers for the use of his name for other places.

Thus it came to be dubbed “Kawana Sulphur Springs,” the ads shamelessly touting it was “Named by Luther Burbank.” More on Burbank and the Kawana angle in a minute.

The article and ads pointed to a new direction for the spa. It was promoted as the “Headquarters for automobilists and traveling men,” and a clubhouse building was added. The ads also promised “Its waters are unsurpassed,” but without the natural mineral spring working they had to be trucking the water in, or dousing the plain well water with chemicals. Two years later, ads announced “Kawana” (no Sulphur, no Springs mentioned) was under new management.

Kawana-anything disappears from the newspapers until 1927, when a Santa Rosa paper reported the “old Kawana Hotel, at White Sulphur Springs…has been untenanted for several years” as part of a news story about its very interesting recent tenants. It seems a professional bootlegging outfit had gutted the inside of the old hotel and constructed a three-story, 1,400 gallon still for making hootch. Police found the operation only after it was ready to move on, with a hapless steamfitter on the premises to dismantle the enormous rig. Officers were quoted as saying it was the largest bootlegging plant ever found in Northern California.

Old John Taylor was 99 years-old by that time, and the news about his old place must have been quite a shock. He died less than three weeks later and according to Gaye LeBaron’s columns, his daughter, Zana, had the hollowed-out building demolished rather than attempt to repair the heart-breaking damage. In 1931 the ranch became a game reserve stocked with quail, deer and pheasant under a deal with the Sonoma County Sportsmen’s Club. Zana fixed up the old bathhouse and lived there until her death in 1970. The year before, however, she discovered that the 1969 earthquake had jogged loose the creek’s plug, and up to 1,000 gallons/day of mineral water was again filling the creek. An AP wire service story about this appeared in newspapers nationwide. Alas, the water soon again stopped.

Back to Burbank and “Kawana:” Note that the article stated Burbank “chose” the Kawana name “selection,” which strongly implies someone else – the new tenants or John Taylor, probably – gave him a list of possibles after they couldn’t get rights to use “Burbank Springs.” But where did Kawana come from? First, Kawana is a family name in Japan, Hawaii, and elsewhere in the Pacific, and the Taylors had a Hawaiian connection because John Jr. was living there at the time. Maybe John Sr. heard the name and liked it.

Could Kawana be Native American? Some writers have claimed so, explaining it meant “healing waters” or similar. An anthropologist thought it possible it had Native roots, but “it sounded more like a fake Indian word that a PR person would invent.”

If it were an Indian word, it doesn’t come from the Southern Pomo dialect, where kawana means “turtle” (Barrett, 1908) and there are no turtles to be found in that section. And besides, Pomo locations weren’t even named like that; a place would be called something like kawanakawi (turtle-water-place). Further, the “healing waters” nonsense is put to rest by the Taylor Mountain Park master plan, which determined “no sacred sites are known to be located on the property.”

A final option will seem like a stretch, but hear me out. Recall John Taylor named his place White Sulphur Springs after the classy resort in West Virginia. The route taken to reach that famous place in the 19th century was the road known as the Kanawha Turnpike, which followed old Indian trails from Richmond to the Kanawha River Valley. (Believe it or not! Kanawha was considered in 1861 for the name of the new state that would be West Virginia.) Note that Kawana and Kanawha have only the second and third syllables flipped. How likely was it that Taylor would want another name very closely linked to the original resort? And would Taylor have even known about the White Sulphur Springs-Kanawha connection? Of the latter we can be certain: He was born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, which is at its farthest fifty miles from the old Kanawha Turnpike. He must have traveled it at least once during his boyhood, and certainly knew well the Kanawha name.

So there you have it: “Kawana” was a clever variation – or perhaps, the slight misremembering of an 82 year-old man – of a name created by the Piscataway, Delaware, or Shawnee tribes of modern-day West Virginia. Or it’s Hawaiian. Or maybe it was mashed-up mumble of vowel sounds created by a marketing whiz who also dreamed up the phony “healing waters” legend. But this much is certain: You can search every inch around Kawana Springs and not find a single kawana.

Obl. Comstock House connection: Daughter Zana Taylor, who returned to the ranch and remodeled the old bathhouse, was a close friend of Anna May Bell, the young woman who was something of a godchild to Mattie and James Wyatt Oates. The Taylors threw more than one party in Bell’s honor at their home at 512 Mendocino Ave (currently the Trek Bicycle Store). Zana’s many doings at the Oates house can be found in our archives.

Detail of White Sulphur Springs postcard, c.1896. Courtesy Sonoma County Library

UPDATE: There isn’t much left of the old White Sulphur Springs/Kawana resort, so it’s no great loss at the present time (2013) there is no public access to it without special permission. No sign of the hotel remains at all except for a few low stone retaining walls which terraced the grounds, as seen in the1896 postcard above.

The original gazebo, shown at right, still has the cradle-sized fountain basin from which the mineral water bubbled to the surface. The decorative icicles and fish scale shingles are typical of the  Carpenter Gothic style popular in the 1880s. Note the railing is low enough to serve as a seat; those who believed drinking the warm mineral water was healthful would sip as much of it as they could bear over the course of a day.

The bathhouse shown below is believed to have been built in 1876 and is surprisingly small, about 1200 ft. in a “T” floor plan. In front is a raised concrete fountain that probably offered another chance to drink the foul-smelling water before it was piped inside. Not shown to the left of the bathhouse is a stone-lined catchment with a rough pile of cemented stones in the center. The size and shape suggest a hot tub although its original use is unknown. Near the bathhouse is a dilapidated structure that may have been an automobile barn built around the 1930s which will not be preserved.

The county’s plan for the area includes plans to convert the bathhouse into a small visitor center and possibly build a facsimile of the hotel as a bed and breakfast inn/hotel. Plans for the surrounding Taylor Mountain Park include an outdoor classroom/amphitheater, large picnic areas, camping grounds, a dog park, Frisbee golf park, and more.

TO REOPEN SPRINGS NEAR SANTA ROSA
Under Name of “Kawana Springs” the Old White Sulphur Springs Resort to Be Made Popular Place

Under Name of “Kawana Springs,” the well known summer resort known for years as “White Sulphur Springs,” owned by John S. Taylor, and which has been closed for a long time, is to be reopened and an endeavor made to regain the old time popularity the place once had and to add to its attractiveness.

The springs property, with the addition of twenty acres of fine timbered woodland, making the grounds forty acres, instead of twenty, has been taken over by “The Kawana Springs, Incorporated,” headed by M. N. Winans and Thornton P. Preston. Mr. Winans is a well known insurance manager, who has made his home in Santa Rosa for some time, and enjoys an extensive acquaintance throughout the state, and Mr. Preston needs no introduction, as the former proprietor of the Hotels Lebanon and Overton in Santa Rosa, with a legion of friends among the traveling public.

Messrs. Winans and Preston have been negotiating for the acquisition of the Springs property for several weeks and have finally arranged the details. The big hotel building will be refurnished throughout and the grounds will be made most attractive. Another building in close proximity to the hotel will be fitted up as a clubhouse, and the bathhouses will all be remodeled and improved. In fact the gentlemen mean to have everything as neat and comfortable as possible for the accommodation of the large number of patrons they expect to entertain their this summer [sic]. Already they have a good-sized list of applications for accommodations and they expect to be ready to open the Kawana Springs resort on May 2.

Nature has been lavish and the place affords so many possibilities for the spending of a delightful vacation outing there, as well as its offering in the way of medicinal springs whose waters have been found to contain excellent curing qualities for various ailments. The analysis made by Dr. Winslow Anderson shows the Springs to be very valuable in the treatment of kidney diseases.

In addition [illegible microfilm] will also cater to the people of Santa Rosa and their friends by providing an excellent cuisine and other attractions. The Springs are located about two miles from the Court House and are of easy access over a well kept road, just a nice spin in an automobile or drive by carriage.

It was deemed advisable to change the name of the resort from White Sulphur Springs on account of the fact that there are already two resorts of that name in the state. Luther Burbank was appealed to in the matter of the selection of a name. He chose “Kawana,” and his choice was accepted. The management would have liked to have named the place “Burbank Springs,” but Mr. Burbank preferred not inasmuch as he had declined many offers for the use of his name for other places. It is needless to say that everybody wishes Messrs. Winans and Preston the greatest possible success in their big undertaking, and they mean to leave nothing undone to achieve success and make their place deservedly popular. The resort will be open winter and summer.

– Press Democrat, April 13, 1910
KAWANA HOTEL RAIDED: GIVES UP BIG STILL

A plant for the manufacture of illicit liquor, declared to be the largest ever uncovered in the north Bay region, was seized in a raid conducted by County Detective Pemberton and members of the sheriff’s office late Tuesday, when the old Kawana Hotel, at White Sulphur Springs on Taylor mountain, was raided.

A still with 1400-gallon capacity was discovered in the place, along with 50 gallons of “jack,” and boilers, mash tanks, cooling coils and other equipment. Two smaller stills were also taken in the same raid–one with a 250-gallon capacity and the other with a 150-gallon capacity.

George Darnell, 50, the only man at the place, was seized  as operator. Darnell claimed that he was a steamfitter from San Francisco, and had been hired to clean up the works and dismantle the place. The mash tanks bore out his testimony, as they were clean and the still was not in operation.

Threaten Tear Bomb

Darnell at first barricaded himself in the attic and was only forced to come down when the officers threatened to throw tear bombs into his hiding place. Although they had no bombs with them, the ruse worked.

The main still was three stories high, and the seven 200-mash tanks were so connected up that the fermented mash could be pumped directly into the still. The plant was estimated to be worth $10,000.

In the opinion of the officers, the place belonged to a group of wholesale San Francisco bootleggers, who made the pure alcohol in the plant and turned it into gin for the San Francisco trade.

Short Time Only

Officers also believed that the plant was set up for only a short time in each place, a quantity of alcohol made and the plant dismantled and moved to another place before officers found it.

Pemberton has had the place under surveillance for some time, spending several nights in the vicinity in order to make sure of the activities before he staged the raid.

Kawana Springs was a well-known resort in the old days, but has been untenanted for several years, except for two or three short openings by minor companies, who could not make the place pay.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 2, 1927

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PAINTERS OF SUNSHINE AND PATHOS

Want a nice painting to hang above the sofa? Bruner’s was the place to go in Santa Rosa for the first half of the Twentieth Century.

While you could also pick up paint and wallpaper at Clement Bruner’s Fourth St. shop, in the store window was displayed fine art, such as paintings by Grace Hudson, the Ukiah artist who produced hundreds of portraits, most depicting local Pomo Indians in native dress. A specialty of hers were too-adorable views of infants such as the one shown at right, sometimes with puppies thrown in for extra sap. Hudson turned out scores of these popular tableaus, and one of these paintings was sold “for a large price” in 1908, becoming a news item in the Press Democrat.

That year Bruner’s also displayed oils and watercolors of fruits and flowers commissioned by the Cree Publishing Company of Minneapolis, which were to illustrate a 10-volume encyclopedia on Luther Burbank’s “secrets.” The newspaper article also claims that the books were in the window which is impossible, as the series was never produced (read update here), thanks to Burbank’s disorganization and objections by the Carnegie Institution.

One of the still-life artists mentioned was Carl Dahlgren, nicknamed “The Sunshine Painter” because his landscapes usually included a prominent beam of sunlight. Dahlgren specialized in bucolic, idyllic scenes that could bring no offense; a magazine commented that “In hundreds of homes his canvasses are hung, carrying with them, like silent missionaries, their message of sunshine and happiness to lift the gloom and grief that comes inevitably at times into the most ideal of homes.” Reference material on Dahlgren describes him as a San Francisco painter who received a commission from Burbank in 1917, but his associations with Sonoma County nine years earlier are never mentioned; so familiar was he in this area that the Republican Santa Rosa paper referred to him as “Carl Dahlgren of this city.” Also mentioned in the newspaper coverage was a Dahlgren landscape painted from the view at Hood Mansion.

A personal comment regarding Grace Hudson: She was a gifted artist and many of her Indian portraits portray the dignity of her subject, but the unctuous “papoose” paintings trouble me greatly. At that exact same time, Pomo and other Indian youth were being forcibly taken from their families by government officials and shipped off to Indian boarding schools that might be a great distance away. (Googling researchers: Here’s a hard-to-find list of California Indian Schools.) Once there, it was required that the children abandon their birth language and culture and everything else they held dear. It was one of the most shameful episodes in our history as a nation. In my view, Grace Hudson’s infant portraits exploited the children she painted. It might be too much to expect of Hudson to have acknowledged the abuses outright, but it’s another thing to make a living by cranking out mawkish images that betrayed a horrible truth.

{RIGHT: Indian children at boarding school – the portrait that Grace Hudson didn’t paint. One of the infants painted by Hudson could well be revered Pomo basket weaver Elsie Allen, who was born in 1899 near Cloverdale and was snatched from her grandmother around 1910 and sent to a government Indian school. )

A SMALL CANVAS SELLS FOR LARGE PRICE

C. M. Bruner, the local art dealer, has had a small canvas by Grace Hudson, the celebrated Indian painter, on exhibition in his window for the past few day, which, though only four or five inches square, sold during race week for a large price.

The subject is an Indian pappoose [sic]. and it is handled in Mrs. Hudson’s best style. Mr. Bruner made a special hand-carved frame of oak to go with the picture, the design used being an oak leaf. The purchaser was James B. Smith, a wealth horse man of San Francisco.

Another picture on exhibition at Bruner’s that has been attracting attention is a view on the Kearns ranch near Kenwood. This canvas is by Carl Dahlgren, the Danish painter now in Santa Rosa for the purpose of preparing a series of pictures showing Burbank creations. The orchard and meadow are shown in the foreground, in the middle distance is the old homestead, and Mr. Hood towers majestically in the background.

The work of reproducing fruits and flowers in all their various shadings and colorings is very tedious, and for relaxation Mr. Dahlgren has made a number of fine sketches in the vicinity of this city, as well as several in the Guerneville region, some of which are also on exhibition at Bruner’s store. Mr. Dahlgren is very enthusiastic over the beautiful scenery in Sonoma county, and says he will put as much of it as possible on canvas before he leaves.

– Press Democrat, August 6, 1908

TWO NEW PAINTINGS THAT ARE TALKED ABOUT

Two paintings now on exhibition at Bruner’s art store are attracting much attention from the people who make it a point to notice such things. One is a large scene near the headwaters of Los Alamos Creek, with Mount Hood in the background. The other is a little sketch on Santa Rosa Creek, not far from town. Both are splendidly done, although the treatment in each is entirely different.

Both canvasses are by Carl Dahlgren, a German painter, who sent here some two or three months ago by the Cree Publishing company to do some of the more important of Burbank’s creations from life in oils and watercolors, so that they may be reproduced in colors in the 10 volume history of Burbank and his achievements which the Crees are now getting out.

The general opinion among local art critics is that the two paintings mentioned are among the very best Mr. Bruner has ever had on its exhibition at his store. Mr. Dahlgren has done one or two others in this vicinity, and hopes to find time to do two or three more before leaving. He said yesterday that he had no idea there is so much beautiful scenery in this part of the state. “Oh, in your coundy it iss beautiful, b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l!” said Mr. Dahlgren yesterday, as he have closed his eyes and gazed dreamily out towards the Eastern Hills.

– Press Democrat, June 21, 1908
MAKES DISPLAY OF BURBANK WORKS

The Cree-Binner Company, which is engaged in the production of a splendid work on the creations of Luther Burbank, has a display of the books in the window of Bruner’s art store, which is certainly attractive. There is a large amount of the oil and water color painting of the various fruits and flowers which have been the subject of Mr. Burbank’s efforts, and then several pages of the books with the binding in handsome leather are to be seen. The paintings are by Carl Dahlgren of this city, and C. L. Starks and Mr. Hudson of the east.

Mr. Binner, who is spending the winter here and looking after the interest of the work in this city, states that a widespread interest is being taken in the books and already many applications have been made for its reproduction in foreign countries. The work is to be the most exhaustive ever issued upon the life and works of Mr. Burbank and will be the most modern and complete acquisition to the botanical libraries of the world. The display is well worth seeing and Mr. Binner deserves special credit for the attractive form in which he has made the same. The fine large window affords a particularly good place for the arrangement.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 24, 1908

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