The Top 10 Last Known Members of a Tribe

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Unfortunately, extinction isn’t just for animals. Throughout human history, human tribes and cultures have periodically died out as well. Sometimes, these tribes vanished due to war or conquest. Sometimes, they were simply absorbed into other cultural or ethnic groups. However, even though these tribes are gone, not all of them have been forgotten. Here are the names and stories of the some of the last known members of vanished tribes and ethnic groups.

10. Angela Loij

Angela Loij

  • Last of the Eyak Nation

last of the Ona Tribe of Tierra del FuegoThe Ona tribe lived almost literally at the ends of the earth, in Tierra del Fuego, a chain of islands south of the South American mainland. They were hunter-gatherers, subsisting on animals like the guanaco (similar to a llama) as well as wild plants and berries. They lived in small bands led by wise men and shamans.

Once European settlers discovered the land, the Onas were decimated by diseases their immune systems couldn’t handle, and by settlers’ attempts to kill them and take over their lands. One settler, a particularly nasty specimen named McLellan, offered rewards for the ears of the men and the breasts of the women!

The last two members of the Ona tribe were a female shaman named Kiepja and a woman named Angela Loij. Both women worked with Anne Chapman, an ethnographer, to create a record of their culture before they died. Kiepja died in 1966, leaving Angela to work with Anne Chapman on a documentary film about the Ona. Angela proved a rich source of information. Although she had been born on a sheep farm and never lived the traditional Ona lifestyle, she knew a great deal about the folklore and history of the Ona.

Angela worked in the mission near Rio Grande until the rest of her tribe died, when she was asked to leave. After that, she worked as a laundress in Río Grande until she met her last husband, who took her away to Lake Fagnano in the country. In 1964, she returned to Rio Grande, where she spent the rest of her life.

Anne Chapman’s film was released in 1977. three years after Angela Loij passed away.

9. Cristina Calderón

Yaghan Basket

  • last of the Yahgan

The Yahgan was another native tribe living in the Tierra del Fuego. They were famous for being able to run around almost naked, even in a cold, inhospitable climate. They covered their bodies with grease and pigments, and used different colors of pigment to send coded messages to other Yaghan bands they encountered. Charles Darwin encountered members of this tribe when he made his famous second voyage in the Beagle. On the Beagle’s first voyage in 1830, the crew kidnapped four Yahgans and took them to England to “Christianize” them. However, when they were returned to their people during the second voyage of the Beagle, they happily returned to their native ways.

The majority of the Yaghan were extremely susceptible to European diseases. Their numbers dwindled, and now only one full-blooded Yaghan remains. Cristina Calderón, also known as Abuela, is the last of her tribe. She is also the last person alive who can speak the old language. In 2005 she published a book called Hai Kur Mamashu Shis (Quiero contarte un cuento), a book of traditional Yaghan stories. The title means “I want to tell you a story.” She lives on the Isla Navarino in Chile.

8. Yelü Zhilugu

Funeral mask from the Lao Dynasty

A funeral mask from the Lao Dynasty
  • Last Ruler of the Khitans

The Khitans were a tribe of nomadic people who ruled over Mongolia and Manchuria in the 10th century. They founded the Liao Dynasty in 907 AD. The Khitans were primarily nomads and did not leave many artifacts behind, so it is hard to say exactly what their lives were like. However, we do know that they loved to hunt and that they were strong enough and savvy enough to control a large chunk of Mongolia and north China for a little over 200 years.

The Liao Dynasty was defeated by the Jurchen in 1125. Some of the Khitan people escaped to the west to form the Kara-Khitan Khanate. Yelü Zhilugu was the last ruler of the Khitans in the Kara-Khitan Khanate. He ascended to the throne in 1178. However, the empire he inherited was fraying and falling apart. In 1208, a group of refugees called the Naimans arrived. The Khitans accepted them into their territory, but in 1211 the Naiman prince captured Yelü Zhilugu and took the throne.

After the fall of the kara-Khitan Khanate, the Khitan ceased to exist as a tribe, people or ethnic group. DNA testing may be able to pinpoint their descendants, but the tribe itself is long gone.

7. Squanto


  • The Last Patuxet

All American schoolchildren are taught the story of the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims, trying to settle in the New World, experience hardship and starvation over a long winter. They are unfamiliar with the land and don’t know the necessary farming techniques to produce enough food. Enter Squanto, the kindly Native American who helps the white settlers by teaching them how to fertilize their cornfields.

Most children aren’t taught that Squanto was the very last of his people. In 1605, Squanto was captured by Captain George Weymouth along with some other Native Americans. The English sailors took the natives back to England with them, which is where Squanto learned to speak English. In 1614, Squanto was released to go home to his village, but he never made it. He was kidnapped again by another Englishman named Thomas Hunt, who planned to sell him into slavery. Fortunately, another group of Englishmen found out about the plot and rescued Squanto along with Hunt’s other Native American captives. However, they didn’t release the Native Americans. Instead, they took them captive so that they could be Christianized.

Squanto would travel to London and then to Newfoundland before he was finally able to make his way home in 1619. When he arrived, he found that his entire tribe, the Patuxets, had been wiped out by European diseases. So, Squanto devoted himself to helping the Pilgrims survive and trying to negotiate peace between the new settlers and the Native Americans. He died in 1622 in Chatham, Massachusetts.

6. Marie Smith Jones

Marie Smith Jones

  • Last of the Eyak Nation

Marie Smith Jones was the last full-blooded member of the Eyak Nation, a group of Native Americans who lived along the Gulf of Alaska near Prince William Sound. She was also the last person who could speak the Eyak language. She did not teach the language to her children because Native American languages were stigmatized when she was growing up. However, later on in life she helped linguist Michael Krauss create a written record of the language, including a dictionary and rules for grammar.

Following Eyak tradition, Marie Smith Jones waited until her last older sibling passed away in 1990 to take on a leadership role. She became politically active on behalf on her tribe, struggling to protect the environment where they lived. She also became an advocate for indigenous people in general, speaking to the United Nations about the importance of preserving native cultures and languages. Because of her political activities and because she was the last full-blooded Eyak who could speak the old language, she became chief of the Eyak Nation.

In 2002, six years before she passed away in 2008, Marie Smith Jones accepted an interview with CNN. During the interview, she said, “It hurts when people come up and ask me, How does it feel to be the last one? That’s a hard question to answer.“

Marie Smith Jones died on January 21, 2008 in Anchorage, Alaska.

5. Juan Alonso Cabale


Where the Timucua lived before Europeans arrived
  • The Last Timucua

When America was discovered by Europeans, there were between 50,000 and 200,000 members of the Timucua tribe living in northern Florida and Southern Georgia. However, after the French and the Spanish began to explore the area, the native population plummeted as the Timucua succumbed to European diseases.

In 1565, Spanish missionaries established the fort of St. Augustine in what is now Florida. The missionaries then set out to civilize the Timucua, teaching some of them to read and write and encouraging them to give up their native ways and customs. Meanwhile, the Timucua population continued to be whittled down by diseases and fighting. 75% of the pre-Columbian population was gone by 1595.

The Timucua continued to serve the Spanish in various capacities. In 1703, many Timucua became “collateral damage” in border squabbles between the British and their Spanish protectors. They were targeted by the British and Native American tribes that were allied with the British, and most Timucua were killed or taken into slavery. By 1752, there were only 26 Timucuas left. By the time the Spanish gave up Florida to Great Britain, there were no more than 12 members of the tribe remaining.

The Spanish took the last Timucua with them to Cuba for their own protection. By that point, the tribe’s numbers had fallen so far that their extinction was inevitable. Juan Alonso Cabale was the last of the Timucua line. Little is known about him besides his name. He died in Cuba in 1767.

How hard would it be to be the last of your tribe? To know that your culture will die with you? As heartbreaking as it is to read about these people, they are not the first tribes to become extinct. Unfortunately, they won’t be the last, either.

4. Ishi


  • Last of The Yahi

Ishi was the last surviving member of the Yahi tribe of California. The Yahi tribe was part of a larger group of Native Americans called the Yana people. They were hunter-gatherers who traveled in small bands, avoiding outsiders like the plague. However, with the discovery of gold in California in 1848, outsiders came to them.

The settlers that came in with the Gold Rush did not get along with the Yahi. The Yahi’s food supply was affected, and they took to raiding settlements. In 1865, when Ishi was a small boy, his family was caught when settlers “retaliated” in the Three Knolls Massacre, barely escaping with their lives. Several other massacres followed over the years. Ishi and his family managed to escape each time, and eventually the settlers came to believe that they had exterminated their Yahi enemies.

Then, in 1911, Ishi appeared in corral in Oroville. The rest of his companions had all died. Ishi was taken to the Museum of Anthropology in Berkeley, California, where he lived the rest of his life, working with anthropologists to create a record of the Yahi culture. Ishi was a skilled hunter with a bow and arrow, a passion he shared with his doctor, Saxton Pope. Ishi taught Pope how to make bows and arrows the Yahi way, and the two became hunting companions.

Incidentally, “Ishi” was not his real name. In Yahi culture, it was forbidden to introduce yourself by name or to give your name to your enemy. Names were given through third-party introductions only. Once everyone who knew his name was dead, Ishi had no way to introduce himself without breaking this taboo. “Ishi” means “man” in the Yahi language. No one knows what his real name was. Ishi died on March 25, 1916 in Berkeley, California.

3. Shanawdithit


  • Last of the Beothuk

The Beothuk were a Native American tribe who lived in what today is Newfoundland. They were nomadic, moving inland to hunt caribou in season and then moving to the coasts to catch fish and hunt whales. They decorated their bodies and clothes with a mixture of red ocher and oils. However, after Europeans arrived, the Beothuk began declining in number due to the constant fighting and new diseases like tuberculosis. Also, as the Europeans took over the coastal regions of Newfoundland, the Beothuk found it difficult to get enough food.

Shanawdithit was born around 1801. She became familiar with the cruelty of the white settlers at an early age. As a child, she was injured when a trapper caught her cleaning some venison in a stream and shot her for sport. In another incident, her aunt Demasduit was taken prisoner by settlers and her uncle was killed as he tried to protect her.

In 1823, she, her mother and her sister were captured by the English as they struggled to find food. By this time, the Canadian government had decided to try to save the few remaining Beothuks, and they gave the women supplies to take back to their people. However, the women were unable to find the rest of their tribe. So, all three were taken back to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where Shanawdithit’s mother and sister succumbed to tuberculosis.

Shanawdithit was then made a servant in the households of several different English families. She was called “Nancy,” learned some English and helped care for children. Some of her protectors, particularly William Epps Cormack, were interested in documenting Beothuk culture. Shanawdithit learned to draw, and through the use of drawings and the English she was able to learn, she created a record of her peoples’ lost culture.

In 1829, at the age of 29, Shanawdithit died of tuberculosis in St. Johns, Newfoundland, the last member of the Beothuk tribe.

2. Tame Horomona Rehe Solomon

Tame Horomona Rehe Solomon

  • Last of the Moriori

The Moriori were a Polynesian tribe that lived on the Chatham Islands off the coast of New Zealand. The Moriori were a tribe of pacifists. They believed in sharing resources and “talking it out.” In December 1835, a group of warlike Maori tribesmen came sailing into the Chathams, armed to the teeth. The Maori did not believe in “talking it out.” They declared the Moriori their slaves and began killing them. Since the Moriori were a peaceful people, they attempted to defuse the dispute by nonviolent methods. The Maori slaughtered most of them. In his book Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond quotes one Maori warrior describing the situation in the Chathams. The warrior says “We caught all the people. Not one escaped. Some ran away from us, these we killed, and others we killed—but what of that? It was in accordance with our custom.”

Out of a population of about 1,600, only 101 Moriori survived the Maori’s brutal “customs.” In 1884, Tame Horomona Rehe Solomon was born to two of the last 32 survivors of the tribe. Young Tommy grew up on the Moriori reserve at Manukau. He rode a horse to school until he was 13, when he dropped out to farm and take care of his mother. He grew into a heavy, high-spirited young man who loved playing rugby and was notorious for his youthful high-jinks. Better known as Tommy Solomon, as an adult he was a football coach, a farmer, and a breeder of prized racehorses. After his aunt died, he also became the last full-blooded Moriori. He died on March 19, 1933 at home in Manukau.

1. Trucanini and William “King Billy” Lanne

William King Billy Lanne

  • The last Tasmanians

In 1803, the English arrived on the island of Tasmania. However, they were hardly the first people to “discover” it. There were already between 2,000 to 20,000 native Tasmanians living on the island. Tasmania was originally settled by convicts, and they treated the natives with extreme brutality. Among other atrocities, native Tasmanians were hunted like animals and fed to the white settlers’ dogs. Their numbers declined rapidly.

Eventually, the last 100 or so Tasmanians, including Trucanini and William Lanne, were placed in a concentration camp on Flinders Island, ostensibly to “protect” and “civilize” them. Trucanini was born in 1812. As a child, her mother was killed by whalers and her two sisters were kidnapped and sold into slavery. As a young teenager, her fiancé was killed trying to protect her from being abducted. She helped to convince her people to go to the camps because she didn’t see any alternative. However, in 1839 she joined a band of outlaws who stole from settlers and killed two whalers. The band was captured, and the men were hung, but Trucanini was sent back to Flinders Island.

The Tasmanians did poorly in the camps, and most of them died from malnutrition and disease. In 1856, the ones that were left were moved to a different settlement in Oyster Cove. Soon, Trucanini and William Lanne were the last two Tasmanians left. They married, but had no children. William Lanne died in 1869. Even in death, he had no peace. His body was dissected for “scientific research.”

Trucanini married again and moved to Hobart. She died in 1876. Although she specifically requested to be cremated to avoid her husband’s fate, her body was also dismembered in the name of “science.”