From Bowhunting Big Game Records, 1st Edition, 1975
The infrequently presented Ishi Award is the highest honor which the Pope and Young Club can bestow upon a bowhunter. It is awarded only when a truly outstanding North American big game trophy animal is deserving of recognition. A nomination and selection committee, comprised wholly of the Club’s Board of Directors, determines each selection after careful evaluation.
The story behind the award really begins with its Indian namesake who was completely unknown to civilized man until daybreak on the morning of August 29, 1911. That day the dawn stillness was shattered by the excited barking of dogs. Roused from their sleep, the occupants of a slaughterhouse near the village of Oroville, California investigated the racket.
Cowering in a corner of their corral, emaciated from starvation and near the limits of fear and exhaustion, was a primitive Indian. The terror stricken man, obviously believing he was about to be killed, was taken into custody and housed in the Oroville jail.
Communication with his captors and “civilized” Indians living nearby proved impossible; however, news of the savage’s capture soon spread and reached the attention of two professors of anthropology at the University of California. These two men, Professors Alfred Kroeber and T.T. Waterman, journeyed from San Francisco to Oroville with the hope of discovering the ancestry of this “wild man”. Finally, after unsuccessfully trying many different tribal tongues, Professor Waterman spoke a word in the Yana language which was met with an instant response.
At last the Indian could be told he was not facing imminent death at the hands of the white men. Reassured, his appetite improved and he began to quickly adjust to life in what for him was surely a strange new world. And so Ishi, the last surviving member of the ancient tribe of Yana Indians, was transported directly from the Stone Age into a complex, modern society.
The professors took Ishi back to San Francisco with them and gave him living quarters in the University’s museum. It was here that Dr. Saxton Pope, an instructor at University School of Medicine, was called in to make a physical examination of the Indian. This professional meeting developed into a strong friendship. Soon Ishi was showing Dr. Pope and his companion, Art Young, how to make and use bows and arrows for hunting. Although Ishi lived only five years in civilization before succumbing to tuberculosis, his memory lives on in the writings of Pope and Theodora Kroeber, the wife of one of the professors who first befriended him.
Consequently, in late 1962 when the Pope and Young Club introduced the idea for a special bowhunting award, Dick Mauch’s suggestion that it be named in honor of Ishi was met with immediate and enthusiastic response. After all, it was Ishi who had instilled in Pope and Young the love of the bow and its use as an efficient hunting tool. What then could be more appropriate than honoring the individual who had done most to inspire the “fathers of modern bowhunting”?
The Ishi award concept belongs to Mauch, Glenn St. Charles, Fred Bear and Chuck Kroll. They had been searching for an award similar to the Boone and Crockett Club’s coveted Sagamore Hill Medal honoring the memory of Theodore Roosevelt. Their suggestion for a special Ishi Award was quickly accepted by the membership.
The award itself was designed by Fred Bear with assistance from Chuck Kroll. Bear owned a few pieces of some very fine, select grade rosewood which were nearly perfect in color, grain and texture. This wood was donated to the Club to serve as plaques for what was to become bowhunting’s most rare and distinctive award. Next, specially made obsidian spear points were fashioned by Jim Ramsey of Lincoln, New Mexico, undoubtedly a master at this ancient art. These had-chipped points, mounted on each rosewood plaque along with an engraved metal plate, complete the treasured Ishi Award.
To date, only four of the special bowhunting awards have been presented. The first Ishi Award, presented in 1964, was for the tremendous non-typical whitetail deer bagged by Del Austin. This trophy from Hall County, Nebraska, not only set a new Pope & Young World's Record, but ranked as the second largest non-typical whitetail ever recorded, a distinction it still claims at this writing.
A second Ishi Award was presented in Denver in 1969 at the conclusion of the program honoring the finest North American big game trophies listed during the Club’s Sixth Recording Period. The award went to the outstanding typical whitetail deer taken by bowhunter Mel Johnson near Peoria, Illinois, which not only was a Pope & Young World's Record but also ranked as the second largest of its kind ever recorded. This magnificent trophy also received the Boone and Crockett Club’s Sagamore Hill Medal, the only animal ever named to receive both of these cherished big game honors.
A third presentation of the prestigious Ishi Award was made following the Seventh Recording Period when five new bowhunting World's Records were recognized. Obviously, the judges faced a very difficult decision since quality trophies were in abundance; however, the final decision called for the award to go to the bighorn sheep taken by Ray Alt in the Sweet Grass Primitive Area of Montana.
The last Award presentation was made following the Eighth Recording Period in 1972. Again, World Record trophies were entered in numerous categories and quality trophies made the balloting difficult. The winner was the beautiful barren ground caribou taken by Regular Member Art Kragness of Illinois while hunting in the Meshik River area of the Alaskan Peninsula.