On August 29 of 1911, a man came out of the foothills of California. Starving and without any family, he was seeking help from people he had never met and spent his lifetime away from. An Indian from the Yahi tribe, he immediately gained national attention as the last Stone Age human. In his tribal tradition, he could not speak his name, so he was given the name ‘Ishi’, meaning man in his native tongue.
Ishi was brought to the University of California Berkeley where anthropologists studied him. They could not communicate at first, bringing in tribesmen from several known Indian tribes. Finally, a student of dead languages was able to speak a word for pine when pointing at a pine table, and Ishi lit up with excitement.
Dr. Saxton Pope befriended Ishi and learned much of the Indian ways. One thing that gathered Pope’s attention was Ishi’s use of obsidian and Juniper wood to make bows and arrows. Archery was considered a European field sport and was not thought of as a hunting technique. Pope was amazed with Ishi’s accuracy as well as his Stone Age type production of the hunting implements.
Chief Compton grew up with Indians in the Midwest and moved to California in 1900. He was a polished bowhunter before Ishi came out or the woods. Compton soon joined Pope and Ishi, furthering his knowledge on bowhunting. Compton later introduced a well known rifleman named Art Young to Pope, Ishi, and the bow.
Art Young soon became close to Ishi as well. Together they would hunt small animals as well as deer in California. Ishi taught his friends how to use scent control, wind direction, and natural cover to close the distance on animals in order to take them with the bow. Young, along with Pope and Compton made it a mission to prove archery was a viable form of hunting. After each big game animal taken with a bow, there would be challenges of the next animal that could never be taken. Art Young became the front man to prove them wrong. Young made many trips to places such as Alaska, the Arctic, and Africa, taking game ranging from Kodiak and polar bears to lions.
At a seminar where Young was showing a film called ‘Alaskan Adventures’ featuring Young on spot and stalk hunting, a young man from Michigan watched in awe. Six years after meeting Young, Fred Bear took his first deer with a bow. Later Bear would go on to create one of the largest and most influential archery business producing mass production longbows, recurves, and eventually compound bows.
The second weekend of September brings the archery phase of deer season in North Carolina. A sport and hunting technique that was thought of as not being able to take a big game animal, was responsible for over 13,600 deer in North Carolina alone in 2010. It all started with an Indian thought to be savage at first, yet was humble and wise. An Indian who no one ever knew his name, though he created sincere and deep friendships with those he met. An Indian who created a long legacy of followers in his teachings. An Indian who exited the woods in California 100 years ago come August 29, 2011.
Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the blog site Bill Howard's Outdoors. He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.