A wall over-looking a gas station parking lot is a surprising place for such a riveting mural as this one titled, Ishi, painted by Alex Forster (aka Cabrón). Cabrón was selected amongst a pool of entrants in a mural contest by the non-profit organization, Valley Vision, for the 16′ x 80′ external wall of their office building (which is next to the gas station).
The contest called for a mural reflecting the Sacramento Valley, and Cabrón focused his piece on the history of the valley:
I wanted to do something about the past of the Sacramento Valley. The first thing that came to my mind was the Californian Gold Rush, the epiphany of the American Dream, which drew tens of thousands of people from all over the world to this area.
The clash with the Native American Peoples and subsequent permanent demographic changes that resulted from this fateful event in American/Californian history is best represented by “Ishi, the last of the Yahi”, who was called the last “savage” alive when he first emerged from the wilderness. (1)
Cabrón’s mural invites us into the story of what happened to Ishi, his tribe, tribes throughout California, and Native American peoples across the entire continent when Europeans arrived in mass numbers. It was indeed a “permanent demographic change” that deserves our willingness to face the deeply disturbing events that happened in the Sacramento valley and throughout the United States.
One hundred years ago in August of 1911, Ishi appeared on a farm in Oroville unable to speak English or a known Native language (2). He was cited for vagrancy and put in the Butte County jail, but was released when anthropologists from San Francisco were able to identify him as a member of the Yana trip in the Deer Creek region (about 30 miles north west of Chico) (3). Ishi spent the remainder of his life at the University Museum in Berkeley and then at the San Francisco Anthropology Museum (4). He developed a relationship with the anthropologists who were appointed as his guardians, Alfred L. Kroeber and T. T. Waterman, and through him, they learned the story of the decimation of the Yahi people.
The tale Ishi told was grim. The Yana peoples suffered the complete loss of their lands and way of life when the Americans came during the Gold Rush… Ishi used to refer to the time of the American arrival as ‘when the stars fell.’ (5)
The Yahi initially numbered around 400. Lacking firearms, they were destroyed by four raids by armed white settlers. On August 6, 1865, seventeen settlers raided a Yahi village at dawn. In 1866, more Yahis were massacred when they were caught by surprise in a ravine. Around 1867, thirty-three Yahis were killed after being tracked to a cave. Finally, around 1868, four cowboys trapped about thirty Yahis in another cave. (6)
While still a child sometime in the 1870′s, Ishi’s own father was killed in a village massacre. The boy and his mother escaped by jumping into a nearby river. The Yahi who fought to preserve their territory against unequal odds and long range rifles were slaughtered until only a remnant band of 40 or so remained. The survivors of this tiny band hid successfully for nearly forty years, undetected by the outside world.” (7)
The decimation of the Yani people is mirrored in tribe after tribe throughout the history of the Gold Rush and the history of the European migration across America.
Cabrón spent his first 19 years in Vienna, Austria. Since then, he’s been on the road often but always doing art; comics for awhile and then, in his late twenties, he shifted to painting (8). Eventually he made his way to Sacramento, and his gallery page on A Bitchin’ Space describes the back-story for that move:
Cabrón, being an old school cynic from Vienna, firmly believes in the power of irony and consciously decided to move to Sacramento, the “city of gold”, at the height of recession and job scarcity in order to be a full time artist. (9)
In an interview with KVIE, Cabrón speaks to his experience with creating public art:
Public art is so accessible for everyone, anyone can enjoy it. It humbles me too because then I realize the full extent of my work, that I actually can touch someone with a piece of art. that’s what I love the most about it – is the interaction with people. (10)
Valley Vision is an ‘action tank’ that is “dedicated to securing the social, environmental and economic health of the Sacramento Region.”
Civic leadership at a regional scale: Valley Vision is a nonprofit association of people and organizations working to secure the social, environmental and economic health of the Sacramento Region. Founded in 1994, we are an objective, nonpartisan “action tank” committed to regional problem-solving as well as impartial research for sound decision-making. We act as a bridge, uniting neighbors and organizations that together can make a real difference in our communities.
Artist: Alex Forster (aka Cabrón) (www.cabron.us)
Location: 24th & Broadway
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