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Baskets and Perishables

Frank D. Norvall's Baskets
Figure 1: The gift basket left in Norvall's cabin
by the Yahi in October of 1885 because he had
treated them kindly.
Locating Ishi's oldest known arrow was certainly the highlight of my trip, but the excitement surrounding it inadvertently led to my failure to recognize what I now believe to be an equally important find. Before discussing it, however, we will have to address two other incidents that took place in 1885—the first in April, and the second in October. These accounts are taken from The Yana Indians by T.T. Waterman (1918:59):

April, 1885 – Mr. Norvall one day approaches a cabin on Dry Creek. Hearing noises inside, he goes around in back. Four Indians were jumping out of the window Seeing him, they all got in a row, and stood waiting for developments. A young woman is wearing three old jumpers, with the addition of little else. An old man has an old overcoat and an old rifle barrel. There are two young fellows, one of them with a crippled foot. "Rafe Johnson did that," remarks Mr. Norvall. The woman points over toward Mill Creek and says "Dos chiquitos papooses" (Spanish jargon, meaning two small children). Inside the cabin they had piled up a lot of discarded clothing, evidently preparing to carry it away. Mr. Norvall treats them in a friendly way. (Information from Mr. Norvall, 1915).

October, 1885 – The Indians slip into Norvalls cabin while he is away, and leave two baskets. (These baskets are now in the University Museum (for one of them see plate 15). This is probably a result of Norvall's friendly bearing in the previous episode. (Information from Mr. Norvall.)

This is a very touching story, and one that exhibits a quintessential aspect of human nature, that when even adversaries are treated decently, they will frequently respond in kind.


Fig 2: The second Yahi gift basket?

In any event, Waterman was mistaken when he claimed that these baskets were part of the University Museum collection. Until recently, both were actually presumed to have been lost, but as it turns out, the one pictured in The Yana Indians was acquired by Lyon from Norvall (Fig. 13), and is also currently on display at the Kelly-Griggs House Museum where it was recently "rediscovered" and brought to the public's attention by writer and Ishi historian, Richard Burrill (Burrill 2001:31).

As regards the second basket, however, literally nothing was known. It had disappeared without ever being photographed or even accurately described.

Fortunately, 'after examining and photographing the Lyon arrow, I asked if there were any other artifacts that her grandfather had collected. In response, she produced some strands of beads and a very plain and not particularly impressive coiled basket (Fig. 14).

I dutifully photographed the basket for the record, but am embarrassed to admit that I failed completely to recognize its possible significance at that time. In fact, it wasn't until several days later that it dawned on me that this was very likely Norvall's missing Yahi basket! While it can not be proven as such, the only artifacts that Lyon was known to have collected were those related to Ishi, and it also seems likely that when he acquired the one basket from Norvall, he would have gotten the second one as well.