Redirect to CHS blog

Monday, August 29, 2016

This Day on August 29, 1911: A Survivor of American Indian Genocide Walks Out of the California Wilderness

Ishi, the Last Yahi Indian Speaker (center), at an Unveiling of an Indian Monument,
Lincoln Park, Alameda, California, 1914
California Historical Society

In the early part of the twentieth century—following the near annihilation of California’s Native Americans the century before—a singular event occurred. In many ways, Natives and non-Natives still experience the impact of this event on communities across the state.

In the summer of 1911, at a slaughterhouse corral near the town of Oroville in northern California’s Butte County, a middle-aged man—most likely of the Yahi tribe native to the Deer Creek region—was discovered in a state of exhaustion and emaciation. The sole survivor of a small band of Indians thought to have been extinguished during the California Indian Wars, he had come out of isolation in the mountains.

Ishi at Time of His Capture, Oroville, Butte County, September 1911
Published in Popular Science Monthly (March 1915)
Courtesy of Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley

Bruce A. Hardy (Photographer), View of “Ishi Site,” Oroville, CA, 1963
Courtesy of Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley

This “unprecedented behavior,” Theodora Kroeber observed in her book Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America (1916), had resulted from crossing “certain physical and psychic limits” from which Ishi—as he was simply called, from the Yahi word for man—made choices as courageous and enlightened as the scope of his opportunities permitted.”

Kroeber was the wife of the famous anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber, under whose care, along with that of Thomas T. Waterman, Ishi was placed. Ishi would live the remainder of his life adapting to the twentieth century at the University of California’s Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco. There he was closely studied for five years until his death in March 1916.

 (Left to right) Sam Batwai (Yahi translator), Alfred A. Kroeber, and Ishi, 1911
Courtesy of Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley

To the museum’s anthropologists, staff, and visitors, Ishi imparted his language, survival and crafts skills, culture, and personal beliefs. To them—and to us even today—his life brought new understandings of Native American heritage in the context of and in contrast to twentieth-century urban life.

Ishi Salmon Fishing on Deer Creek, May 1914
Courtesy of Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

Native and non-Native scholars, artists, cultural and educational leaders, and community members continue to explore these understandings. At the California Historical Society, for example:

  • ·         In conjunction with our year-long 2015 exhibition celebrating the 1915 San Francisco World’s Fair, the projected light artist Ben Wood examined Ishi’s life within the context of the fair, which Ishi attended. Wood’s piece Lopa Pikta (Rope Picture), a sound and light installation, was displayed in the windows of the California Historical Society after dark. See

Ben Wood, Lopa Pikta (Rope Picture), 2015
California Historical Society
  • ·         Beginning this July CHS offers two Native American exhibitions. One examines the impact of California’s only major Indian War (the Modoc War of 1872–73). The other features contemporary tintype portraits by photographer Ed Drew of members of the Klamath, Modoc, and Pit River Paiute tribes, some of them descendants of Modoc War survivors. See

  • ·         This month in Los Angeles, and this October in San Francisco, CHS invites author Benjamin Madley to speak about his newly published book An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873. As the New York Times began its review, “The state of sunshine and pleasure is drenched in the blood of Indians.” See

Benjamin Madley Discussing His Book (right) at Skylight Book in Los Angeles, May 2016
Courtesy of Shelly Kale

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


This Day in History August 29: National Chicano Moratorium

Willie Herron and Gronk, Moratorium—The Black and White Mural, 1973
Courtesy of Nancy Tovar Murals of East Los Angeles Slide Collection
Chicano Studies Research Center, UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles

Forty-six years ago today, a rally to protest the Vietnam War turned deadly. Sponsored by the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, an antiwar activist group, the Chicano Moratorium march in Los Angeles drew up to 30,000 people eager to give their voice to the war’s injustices. Community members, families, artists, and students marched through East Los Angeles from Belvedere Park to what was then called Laguna Park.

During the rally, stores burned, over 100 people were arrested, many were injured, and four people were killed, including the prominent Chicano Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar.

The moratorium has been considered the largest anti-Vietnam War demonstration by a minority group and the largest demonstration of the Chicano Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. And while the moratorium resulted in loss of life, it also gave birth to continued expression of Latino political power, including a murals movement that still resonates today.

Below we look at images of the Chicano Moratorium and examples of Chicano murals that were created in its wake.

Sal Castro (Photographer), Chicano Moratorium March, 1970
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific National Bank Collection

Sal Castro (Photographer), National Chicano Moratorium, 1970
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific National Bank Collection

Rioting Following Chicano Moratorium Committee Antiwar Protest, 1970
Courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections,
Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

Guy Goodenow (Photographer), Harbor College Mural, 1973
Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library, Herald-Examiner Collection

 David Botello’s Dreams of Flight at Estrada Courts, East Los Angeles, 1973–78

Courtesy of UCLA Cesar E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies

El Congresso de Artists Cosmicos de las Americas de San Diego’s We Are Not a Minority at Estrada Courts, East Los Angeles, 1978
Courtesy of Los Angeles Conservancy; photo by Adrian Scott Fine

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Initiatives Manager
Together with LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Los Angeles, the California Historical Society is developing an exhibition and related publication about contested Chicano Murals, part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA project sponsored by the Getty and Bank of America.

September 4, 2017 - January 29, 2018
¡Murales Rebeldes!: Contested Chicana/o Public Art
LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes
501 North Main Street
Los Angeles, California

Friday, August 26, 2016

Los Pobladores: Celebrating the Founding of Los Angeles

Millard Sheets, Mural Painting Depicting the Founding of Los Angeles, c. 1931–39
California Historical Society Collections at USC Libraries

On September 4, 1781, forty-four Hispanic men, women, and children of Native American, African, and European descent departed from Mission San Gabriel Arcángel accompanied by two mission priests and four soldiers. Los Pobladores (the settlers) walked nine miles to a location on the banks of the Porciúncula (Los Angeles River). There they established El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles (the town of the Queen of the Angels).

Every year since 1981, the City of Los Angeles commemorates this official founding by recreating the journey of Los Pobladores along the historic route they traveled two hundred years earlier. On Saturday, August 27, 2016, walkers and bikers celebrate the city’s 235th birthday. Their journey begins at Mission San Gabriel and culminates at El Pueblo Historical Monument, a 44-acre park in downtown Los Angeles near the site of Los Pobladores’ original destination.

This year, as part of the city’s founding celebration, the California Historical Society and LA as Subject present the exhibition “History Keepers: Traversing Los Angeles” at El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street, El Pueblo. In this exhibition, unique and curious objects from around the region bring our multifaceted city to us. Each tells a story about Los Angeles—how we move through the city and how the city moves through us.

Telling Los Angeles’ History through Artifacts
Featuring objects and images that depict landscapes; urban planning and architecture; travel, tourism, and mapping; airways, railways, roadways, and freeways; tunnels, canals, and bridges; cityscapes and streetscapes, “History Keepers: Traversing Los Angeles” is a cornucopia of the region’s geographical, environmental, cultural, and historical landscape. Should we ever forget or lose sight of our past, we need only return to these primary source materials to discover again where we came from and perhaps even where we are going.

Knife and Trunk of Tiburcio Vásquez, c. mid-1800s
San Fernando Valley Historical Society
In the mid-1800s the legendary, controversial Tiburcio Vásquez—son of a prominent Californio family—traversed the passes and foothills of the state, robbing and terrorizing inhabitants and romancing others. Remembered for his womanizing and crimes purportedly committed in the name of justice for his people, the bandido/outlaw—and folk hero to some—traveled with this trunk packed with his personal effects. This knife is all that remains of its contents.

Anton Wagner, Looking from Wall Street between 8th and 9th Streets, 1932
California Historical Society
In 1932 a German PhD student arrived in Los Angeles. Anton Wagner wanted to determine how this American city and its environs had become a booming metropolis of two million people from a small, dusty mid-nineteenth-century town. Wagner researched the region’s history, critically examined its geography, interviewed its civic and business leaders, and covered the area of greater Los Angeles on foot.

Lantern Slide, c. 1890–1950
Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum

Like other forms of “armchair travel,” viewers of magic lantern images were transported to destinations around Los Angeles without ever leaving their seats. Long before Technicolor or Kodachrome, they gathered in darkened spaces and saw Los Angeles in vibrant, even surreal, color. It was a trick accomplished with limelight, lenses, and hand-tinted glass slides, but to a nineteenth-century audience it might as well have been magic. Indeed, the projector responsible for these proto-cinematic effects came to be known as the magic lantern.

Copter Tested as Traffic Director, 1953
Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives, UCLA Library Special Collections
Accidents, traffic jams, and car chases are accepted realities for modern Angelenos. As we drive across the city, we often rely on reports from helicopters to alert us to traffic conditions. In this photographic print published in the Los Angeles Times on December 9, 1953, Los Angeles Police Chief William H. Parker and pilot Joe Mashman hover over the Civic Center. They are testing out the helicopters potential use by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in directing city traffic—particularly, as the accompanying caption notes, “along the freeways.”

 “Sunset Junction” Footage, 1927
Automobile Club of Southern California Archives

Click on the link above to view rare footage by Auto Club of Southern California engineer Ernest East of the junction of Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards in 1927. As the film shows, traversing the city’s streets afoot and by car in the early years of the automotive age was not for the timid.

Klaus Staeck, Und Neues Leben Blüht Aus Den Ruinen
(And New Life Blossoms from the Ruins), 1980
Center for the Study of Political Graphics
This poster features an image of Los Angeles’s Four-Level Interchange, connecting the 101 and 110 Freeways, in northern downtown Los Angeles. Officially the Bill Keene Memorial Interchange, it is the first stack interchange ever built. Since the 1950s it has become an iconic international symbol of modern urban development, calling attention to the way urbanization and car culture around the world too often result in destruction of neighborhoods, pollution, and other threats to the environment.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
An exhibition by the California Historical Society and LA as Subject
Presented in partnership with El Pueblo Historical Monument and the El Pueblo Park Association
August 5-27, 2016
El Tranquilo Gallery & Visitor Center
634 N. Main Street (entrance on Olvera Street, W-19)
El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument, Los Angeles, California
Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 am–3:00 pm
Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 am–4:00 pm

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tintypes: The Instant Photographs of the 19th Century

Photographer unknown, Charles Corsiglia and Family, 1860s
California Historical Society

Tintypes, or ferrotypes, were the Polaroids of the nineteenth century. The small metal photographs were processed immediately after exposure, offering more-or-less instant gratification for the people pictured.

Of course, what constituted quick results in the nineteenth century might seem excruciatingly slow to us today. With exposures of several seconds—too long for most people to comfortably hold a smile—it is no wonder that so many of the faces we see in tintypes seem to stare into the camera with a steely resolve (to stay still, no doubt).

Photographer unknown, Mrs. Duty Place (Alzada Sheldon) with Mrs. Stephen Sheldon, 1860s
California Historical Society

For photographers, the process was not instantaneous at all.  In fact it involved quite a bit of labor and skill. First a lacquered sheet of iron—not tin as the name suggests—had to be carefully coated with a collodion solution containing light-sensitive silver salts immediately before the plate was exposed in a camera. Then, the still-wet plate had to be quickly removed from the camera and processed in a series of chemical baths and water. The process was cumbersome, with all the equipment needed on site, including a large camera with a tripod and a dark room (or tent). Action shots were certainly out the question.

Tintype Camera (attributed to Benton Pixley Stebbins, 1825–1906)
Courtesy of National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Tintypes had limitations, but none of them prevented the medium from becoming extremely popular for portraiture in the second half of the nineteenth century. They were laterally reversed—a consequence of the direct positive process—but that meant people got a view of themselves that matched their familiar mirror image. The limited tonal range from gray to black could be improved with hand tinting.

Tintype galleries also did what they could to flatter sitters, posing them next to columns or in front of painted backdrops that served to underscore, or elevate, the sitter’s class status. Tintypes were also relatively inexpensive and durable, compared to earlier photographs like daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. One of the tintypist’s most popular markets was among Civil War soldiers who commonly sent home portraits of themselves to loved ones.

Civil War–era Tintypes
Courtesy PBS Newshour

The California Historical Society has numerous tintypes in its collection, many of them picturing San Franciscans seated in portrait studios with all the usual props. The rare few were taken out of doors, or carefully staged with clever backdrops to look like it.

Photographer unknown, James Walker, 1860s
California Historical Society

Photographer unknown, Unidentified Man, 1880s
California Historical Society

Photographer unknown, The Chutes, San Francisco, 1880s
California Historical Society

Erin Garcia
Managing Curator of Exhibitions

On view July 21–November 27, 2016 at the California Historical Society:
Two Exhibitions Featuring Contemporary and Historic Tintypes

California Historical Society
678 Mission St., San Francisco

Tuesday–Sunday, 11:00am–5:00pm

August 25, 2016: The National Park Service Turns 100

A Mirror of Us: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley, Tunnel View, 2014
Courtesy of Alison Moore

In August 2009 my beloved and I were vacationing in San Francisco when suddenly I was presented with an idea . . . almost as if it was an order being given. . . . “Go to Yosemite National Park,” it said. Being from New Jersey, and never having been to California or a national park before, I had no idea what we were in for.
Tom Caverly, “Unexpected Amazement,” Inspiring Generations: 150 Years, 150 Stories in Yosemite (Yosemite Conservancy, 2014)

“Unexpected Amazement”

At Mirror Lake, Yosemite Valley, 1911
California Historical Society
This is the final blog in our series “A Mirror of Us: CHS Celebrates the National Park Service Centennial.” We chose to title our series “A Mirror of Us” for its slight play on words. The series began and now ends with the above photo of early tourists in Yosemite having their photo taken at Mirror Lake, a spectacular setting with selfie-like appeal. 

Mirror Lake, Yosemite
California Historical Society

“A Mirror of Us” also sought to show how the national parks have been a mirror of the times, environmentally, socially, and politically. No park came into being easily, and many presaged social and environmental battles that continue today. No park has been immune to issues affecting mainstream society.

In 1864 Yosemite was the first place to be set aside and preserved by the federal government when, at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant. Later efforts by John Muir and others led to the park earning full National Park status on October 1, 1890. It didn’t take long for tourists to discover Yosemite—and the pilgrimage was on.

The creation of the park did not come without controversy, however. From its earliest days of discovery by Americans in the early 1850s, Yosemite was emblematic of the often tragic course of westward expansion, when its original native people, the Ahwahneechee, were driven out of Yosemite Valley to make way for American settlement.

Charles C. Pierce, Paiute Indian Acorn Granary, Yosemite National Park, c. 1901
California Historical Society

During the 1910s Yosemite became the site of one of the greatest environmental battles of all time—one that remains controversial today: the flooding of the park’s Hetch Hetchy Valley by the City of San Francisco.

Isaiah West Taber, View across Hetch Hetchy Valley before the O’Shaughnessy Dam, c. 1900
Sierra Club Bulletin 6, no. 4 (January 1908)

Hetch Hetchy Valley, 2002
Courtesy of Daniel Mayer

And later, in 1970, as the streets of the nation were erupting in protest, Stoneman Meadow in Yosemite Valley was the site of an all-out riot between young “hippies” and park police who differed in their opinions about what constituted appropriate ways of enjoying the valley’s sublime scenery.

Confrontation between Rangers and Hippies, July 4 weekend, 1970
Still from CBS News Archive film; courtesy of Kerry Tremain

No National Park exists in a vacuum.

It is a simple fact, though, that people have treasured Yosemite National Park since long before it obtained National Park status. To celebrate Yosemite, and the National Park Service Centennial, we share images of Yosemite National Park and memories of people simply and joyously celebrating there.

Two Women in Yosemite National Park, date unknown
California Historical Society 
My license plate in Kentucky reads: YOSMTE. It is my happy, soul-satisfying refuge from the world.
Ann Jones, “Working on Five Generations,” Inspiring Generations

Bridalveil Falls, 2014
Courtesy of Alison Moore

 As we approached the park, the landscape became more and more beautiful. I have never experienced anything quite like it. And once we entered the park I was blown away.
Tom Caverly, “Unexpected Amazement,” Inspiring Generations

 Panoramic View of Tourists, Yosemite National Park, c. 1917
California Historical Society

Half Dome, Evening, 2014
Courtesy of Alison Moore

Half Dome is more a beloved friend than a granite monolith keeping watch over the Valley. One year I climbed up his back just to see from his point of view. Yosemite is a place more dear than Grandma’s house . . . . I simply need it to stay alive.
Rebecca Waddell, “The Day I Discovered Ashes,” from Inspiring Generations

Yosemite Visitors atop Glacier Point, date unknown
California Historical Society

Tuolumne River, Tuolumne Meadows, 2014
Courtesy of Alison Moore

The air in the high mountains is so clean, and the trees, grass, birds and flowers are fascinating beyond description . . . . Beautiful flowers bloom in a stream of icy water. I feel only gratitude. I want to bring you and our friends here, and I will.
Chiura Obata to Haruko Obata, 1927, from Obata’s Yosemite

Yosemite Indian Squaw, 107 Years Old, date unknown
California Historical Society

 After a few months of living in Yosemite I decided I never wanted to leave. I met a Yosemite Indian woman, an Ahwahneechee who was a direct descendant of Chief Tenaya. We married and had two children. We all love Yosemite. It is a park of our culture, our ceremonies . . . . We are fighting to protect and preserve it for the future of humanity. Ah Ho. All my relations.
Tom Vasquez, “Yosemitebear,” Inspiring Generations

Bridal Couple, 2014
Courtesy of Alison Moore

Group of Women at Camp Curry, Yosemite National Park, date unknown
California Historical Society

 I live in Yosemite . . . . It’s not that I am ashamed. No, quite the contrary—I am proud to call Yosemite my home. However, you drop the Y-bomb, and suddenly the pleasant vapidity of get-to-know-you banter veers down an ever-predictable and utterly confounding path.
“Wow.”  (The first word of response is always “wow.”) …”What’s that like?”
Amazing, drop-dead amazing.
Katie Wallace,Where Are You From?,” Inspiring Generations

Happy Tourist, 2014
Courtesy of Alison Moore

Alison Moore
Strategic Initiatives Liaison

Read more in the Mirror of Us: CHS Celebrates the National Park Service Centennial series:

Redwood National and State Parks


Learn more about the NPS Centennial Initiative