Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Touching History.

"Touching" history can be taken many ways. I'll let you work it out.

I have a Wintu Indian friend that told me a story the other day. I want you know this is more of my "Bullshistory" and needs to be verified. (Jim Baker just won't let me get away with pure Bullshit)But, this story is about “feelings” not history. So bear with me.

The Wintuan people lived along the northwest side of the Sacramento Valley. Their neighbors to the west were the Wailaki and the Lassics, and some Pomo.

My Wintu friend’s people were first contacted by the early explorers. (Lewis and Clark?) After that contact, 75% of her people died of Malaria. After the white man came to California and decided that they had a "problem" with the Indian. They invited them all to a "Peace conference", and meal. They poisoned and killed them with strychnine laced meat. The survivors of that killing were rounded up and shot. They killed the babies by bashing their heads against trees to save bullets. The children were gathered and taken to Grass Valley and sold to the miners.

As we sat their taking about her Wintuan ancestors, and how rare it was to be a surviving member of a Wintuan family. I thought about another Wintuan friend that I have, and she was in the building. So I introduced them to each other. They already knew each other, but I introduced them to each other as being related to one another. As all of the natives, and generation natives know, the conversation always turns to mentioning the old family names, and the people that you knew in common. Eventually, you figure out how you are related. There always seem to be that spark of joy on finding out how you are related to each other.

As I listened to them, I realized that they were tracing themselves back to just TWO families of Wintun. I started thinking of all the knowledge that their families had lost. There were no records kept of Wintu families. Everything they know about their culture, or family, has been word of mouth. My family means more to me than I care to say, but here were two members of the same family struggling to form their “connection.” it occurred to me that they have lost so much.

I sat there and listened, I retained my composure, but I was glad that I didn’t have to say anything, because I’m sure that my choked throat could not have uttered a word. I listen to one of my Wintuan friends relate that her grandmother married a 27 year old white man, when she was only eleven. She had her first child at 13.

One of the women is a long time friend, and the other I’ve only known a couple of years. It really hits you in the chest when you see two of your friends talking about their family, in such a happy way, like two long lost sisters, and I know more about their history than they do.

What do you say? We’ve lost so much.


Robin Shelley said...

My uncle married an Indian woman in 1973 & she had a bumper sticker on her car then that read: "Custer Had it Coming".
They divorced just a few short years later but she has remained a part of our family. We forget sometimes that she's not a blood relative but, for some inexplicable reason, she apparently feels the need to remind us of it once in awhile. For instance, at a family gathering at Harwood Park about 10 years ago, she came back from a walk along the creek with a handful of rocks. "Look what I found," she said, sticking her arm with its open hand into the center of a conversational circle of friends & family.
"Wow!" somebody said, "What've you got there?"
"Well..." she said & began to pick up the rocks one by one, showing & explaining to us the markings of broken & unfinished arrowheads & other tools. "This one's a scraper," I remember her saying & told us how she has rarely ever walked along Ten Mile Creek without finding some sort of Indian artifact.
"Really?" someone asked in amazement at which time my ex-aunt laughed with evil glee & threw the handful of rocks into the bushes. A few people gasped!
"White people!" she harumphed. "You'll believe anything!"
I guess that's why she keeps us around.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Indians honor animal spirits, and they are all shape shifters. They can be human or they can be an animal. If she was a plains Indian she would have been a coyote, "The Trickster".

The local Indians according to what My Uncle Ben said, (Bullshistory warning here!)had a bear trickster. But, he was not evil. He was a bear spirit and he liked to take things from you while you weren't looking. Sometimes he would bring them back and sometimes he wouldn't. His name was something like Chinhaha. Bears were their ancestors, or Grampa.

The deer spirit was named Whiptalli. He was a mean SOB and he would kill you if he could. There was no part of him that thought anything was funny. Only two things would get rid of him. He didn't like noise and he didn't like water

But, back to the subject. Last month, at the Old Timers Game in Laytonville, I found on the lot behind the bleachers, a worked piece of obsidian. It was pretty obviously not going to turn into anything, and it was discarded. Somebody packed that from Konocti or Old Man Rivers Black Rock, that is obsidian. But, it wasn’t a local rock. I know! I was there when they were made!

Robin Shelley said...

She's a coyotoe, all right... maybe a hyena - LOL. I think I've been victimized by that Chinihaha bear, too.
Anyway, Ernie, on a serious note: have you ever heard of obsidian arrowheads being found in the Branscomb,Cahto or Laytonville area?

spyrock said...

my girlfriend dove is into the indian religion. so i run into people who have indian blood or not who have been studying this stuff for years. monday we were invited to a pipe ceremony. not the kind y'all have up there in the e t, but a real indian pipe ceremony. this couple were given a real teepee as a wedding present a couple of years ago. they have it set up down below their house next to a creek surrounded by redwoods. the dude had a couple of really cool pipes. one was a buffalo head. he started out by pointing the pipe to all directions and then blasted out a couple of indian songs that he totally knew all the words too. he then sort of explained how to pass it and lit it up. everything he had was so old, it looked like he had been doing this for a long time. when the pipe was passed around, we could talk as well as smoke. so everyone starts going deep and as the newbie i'm wondering what i'm going to say that was real. and i'm feeling weird anyway because i haven't smoked any tobacco since 3 of my relatives died of lung cancer. of course i didn't inhale, just like clinton. but i still had to say something straight, so i just talked really deep, low bass tone, and they loved it. don't remember what i said. but it sounded good. they even invited us back for another smoke. other than trying to get my body used to sitting cross legged, i really enjoyed it.

spyrock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
spyrock said...

i have another friend called talking sycamore. he's 6'8". he's from deluth, minnesota. he talked about going to a pow wow and sitting down at the drum with some real indians. he knows quite a few indian songs by heart as well. during a break, a big man in overalls came up to him and told him he was doing a good job. it was russel means, who probably had that same bumper sticker back in 1973. but the pure bloods are changing. more and more are forgiving the past and getting over it. as a result, respect for the american indian continues to grow each year. there are still pockets of hate here and there. but things they are a changing.

Anonymous said...

This is in response to your previous post, but I wanted it to have visibility here for the benefit of those who only read and comment on your lastest posts.
"Who the f**k does Hank Sims think the hell he is??"
Thank you.

Ekovox said...

Robin....what a funny story. I've been snookered by false Indian lore many times by classmates and friends in Hoopa. Two of my favorites are that 1.) Hippies are living proof that the White Man fornicated with the buffalo and 2.) that "Injun Devils" hid in the Trinity River and took one white man away each year near Willow Creek by drowning them. Interestingly, there is usually one drowning per year on the Trinity River near Willow Creek. Hmmmm.

I once asked a Yurok elder, Jimmy James, how they were able to get from Hoopa Valley to the villages of Morek and Weitchpec back in the "old days". With a gleam in his eye, he told me, "Well during the summer you could always take the dugout canoes or swim the Trinity & Klamath Rivers. In the winter time it was a much more rugged course to travel up over the mountains....but, usually, we just drove the Jeep." He got a great laugh out of that one. The "old days". Ha! We were only talking about the 1920's. Another white person suckered into the grand sense of humor of the locals. White People...You believe anything! Exactly.

-Ross Rowley

Anonymous said...

Don't you think the obsidian was traded from Lassen or Shasta? That was always our speculation when we found pieces of it discarded on top of the ground near Willow Creek.

-Ross Rowley

Robin Shelley said...

Hank Sims is Hank Sims, a lifelong member of the Sims family with no ancestoral ties to the vast & ever-growing Anonymous family.
What's your beef, 2:03?

Robin Shelley said...

Thanks, Eko. I love the Jeep story! I vaguely remember a similar story about a Pinto which, of course, turned out to be a car.
Makes me wonder, though, how many times I've been duped & didn't know it... hmmmm! "Gullible: old Indian word for White Man".

What you say about obsidian makes sense but I have heard of only one instance where an actual (black) obsidian arrowhead was found near Branscomb & I'm curious to know if anyone knows of more.

Ben said...

When the linguist Jeremiah Curtin was working with Wintu Indians at Redding in about 1880, he was approached by a committee of Indian men who explained that they were destitute and landless and that no provision had been made to give them a rancheria or any sort of home. After his trip he found himself in Washington DC and called on his old Harvard friend Benjamin Harrison who happened to be President. He pled the case of the Wintu to his friend. Harrison called in an aide and told him to look into it and the Wintu soon had two rancherias in the Redding area. That was how things were done back then.
Two researchers, other than Curtin, did good work on Wintu ethnology and myths. Dorothy Dimitricopolou Lee and Cora DuBois have a number of works available on The language is fairly intact and traditions are being restored. The Nor El Muk Wintu are seeking tribal status at Hayfork and the most famous Indian Doctor in recent California history was the late Florence Jones.She was Winni Mum Wintu from the McCloud River area. Stories abound about Florence and her power and wisdom are legendary. One interesting group is the Grindstone Rancheria which is Wintu-Wailaki due east of Round Valley. They have the oldest dance house in the State. A great little book of Wintu stories is "A Bag of Bones" by Grant Towendolly. His grand son (?) is the artist Frank LaPena, one of the foremost contemporary California Indian painters.
The Wintu words in our area are "Hettenshaw" from kettenchou, Kettenpom, Kekkawaka, and especially Lassik which we have always assumed is named for Chief Lassik but in fact is the old Wintu name for the three peaks which dominated the territory Chief Lassik surveyed.
Wintu legends are really wonderful and I sure recommend finding them to anyone who is interested.

Anonymous said...

What Color is Chert?

Chert occurs in a wide variety of colors. Continuous color gradients exist between white and black or between cream and brown. Green, yellow and red cherts are also common. The darker colors can result from inclusions of sediment or organic matter. The name "flint" is often used in reference to the darker colors of chert. Red to reddish-brown cherts receive their color from included iron oxide. The name "jasper" is frequently used for these reddish cherts.

:) Cousin

Anonymous said...

I have a theory/specualation for the occassional findings of obsidian arrowheads in this area which is: With the numerous bands of Indians that historical accounts claim passed through this area (some in battle, others not) to the coast from the Valley through Covelo, etc., it seems evident to me that someone carrying an obsidian point would have traveled with one of those bands. How/why the point remained here raises another question.
What's your opinion?
Penny aka Cousin

Anonymous said...

type-o speculation :)

Robin Shelley said...

Interesting theory, Penny. Thanks. I don't have one.

Anonymous said...

You're not going to believe this, but it's God's truth. I actually saw 7 approximately 3" obsidian arrowheads, 5 smaller ones like bird points, and various pieces of obsidian today, that were discovered between Cahto and the Sherwood Rd. I was amazed!! The person who showed them to me said there were small chunks of obsidian on the same property. Gary, my husband said that most of the obsidian was probably traded by the Lake County Indians. One arrowhead had very sharp barbs and this particular one was about 4" long X 1 1/4" or so wide. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was so exciting. I could almost feel their presence.