More from Ishi

In describing the mindset of the legions of prospectors traversing Ishi’s homeland, the author provides this illuminating historical context through the eyes of an abandoned prospector, J. Goldsborough Bruff, who kept intricate journals of his experiences:

Gold seems to work on the human psyche to its undoing.  The Reverend Walter Colton, Alcalde of Monterey, is quoted as saying in 1848, “The people are running over the country and picking it (gold) out of the earth, just as a thousand hogs let loose in a forest would root up the ground-nuts.”  Of those who stopped at his camp, Bruff writes, “Many I recognized as old acquaintances as far back as Pittsburgh: large companies (they were then), with fine animals, a great amount of provisions and stores, and smiling faces; now scattered, broken, selfish stragglers, thin with hunger (and) anxiety.”  He told of one grandfather who, sick with scurvy, was dumped from the family wagon and left to die beside the trail.  He watched a man hammer in useless scrap the tools he could carry no farther–if he could not use them, neither should Bruff nor anyone else.  There were those who burned the precious pasture grass when their own animals died.  Mules, cattle, sheep, and horses were stolen in great numbers, branded and added to the herds of a sub rosa group or groups recruited from the criminally inclined and disaffected members of emigrant parties.

Bruff fed, warmed, doctored, cheered, and buried the dead of these people.  Not one offered to take him the thirty-two miles to the rancho.

The author goes on to point out that, as Bruff faithfully kept a record of all he saw, honestly recording the worst of humanity’s self-fulfilling inclinations, he also painted every word within a compassionate, understanding, and empathetic context, knowing that he too often felt such destructive proclivities.  Perhaps this knowledge of his own fallen nature allowed him to be a lover and nurturer.

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