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Ishi’s Brain’

To the Editors:

I’d like to correct a couple of mistakes in Clifford Geertz’s review of my book, Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last Wild Indian [NYR, October 7]. The Pit River Tribe is not based anywhere near the city of Redding, California, and the spelling is Pit River and not Pitt-River. Nor did the Smithsonian Institution return Ishi’s dismembered brain to a single Indian tribe. The remains of the last Yahi survivor were repatriated jointly to two separate tribal groups, the Pit River Tribe and the Redding Rancheria. Although perhaps I should keep quiet about this particular misconception, I am not a young anthropologist, but well into my forties. That my book should be patronized as breathless seems somewhat disingenuous, since Geertz draws much material for his lengthy article straight from it. Geertz suggests as well that I long for some tidy bottom line or last-chapter climax. Nothing could be further from the truth. A main point in Ishi’s Brain is the impossibility of pinning down the full details of Ishi’s extraordinary odyssey from life in hiding to the big city of San Francisco. Each generation, of course, will find and debate its own meanings in the tale of this great Indian survivor of white conquest. But I don’t see what’s wrong with that. There’s plenty to puzzle over and learn from in the saga of Ishi’s life and death.

Orin Starn

Department of Cultural Anthropology

Duke University

Durham, North Carolina

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