SOUTHE R N P A I U T E : A P O R T R A I T
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SOUTHERN PAIUTE: A PORTRAIT
William Logan Hebner photographs by
Michael L. Plyler
u t a h s t a t e u n i v e r s i t y press < logan, utah < 2010
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Copyright © 2010 William Logan Hebner and Michael Plyler All rights reserved Utah State University Press Logan, Utah 84322-7800 USUPress.org This book received funding from the Utah Humanities Council. The Utah Humanities Council promotes understanding of human traditions, values, and issues through informed public discussion. Book design by Sandy Bell Manufactured in China ISBN978-0-87421-754-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-0-87421-755-1 (e-book)
L i b r a r y o f C ongress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Hebner, Logan. Southern Paiute : a portrait / William Logan Hebner ; photographs by Michael L. Plyler. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN 978-0-87421-754-4 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-87421-755-1 (electronic) 1. Southern Paiute Indians—Interviews. 2. Southern Paiute Indians—Portraits. 3. Older Indians—Southwest, New—Interviews. 4. Older Indians—Southwest, New—Portraits. 5. Southern Paiute Indians—Social life and customs. 6. Interviews—Southwest, New. I. Plyler, Michael, 1955– II. Title. E99.P2H43 2010 305.897'45769—dc22 2010020930
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To the Southern Paiute people & their deserts
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Notwithstanding their horrible deficiency in all the comforts and decencies of life, these Indians are so ardently attached to their country, that when carried into the lands of their captors and surrounded with abundance, they pine away and often die in grief for the loss of their native deserts. In one instance, I saw one of these Paiuches die from no other apparent cause than this home-sickness. From the time it was brought in the settlements of California it was sad, moaned, and continually refused to eat till it died. —thomas j. farnham, 1849
That’s about the nicest thing anybody’s ever said about us. —vivienne caron-jake , 2009, referring to the above quote
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ix xi 1
Acknowledgments Foreword Vivienne Caron-Jake Introduction
21 23 30 34
Sa n J ua n Pa i u t e mary ann and jack owl bessie owl margaret king
38 41 46
K a i ba b Pa i u t e Tr i b e gary tom gevene savala
51 55 60 64 69 75 82 87 93 97 101 107
Pa i u t e I n d i a n Tr i b e o f U ta h patrick charles, Kanosh and Shivwits Bands madelan redfoot, Kanosh Band mckay pikyavit, Kanosh Band clifford jake, Indian Peaks Band lora e. and eleanor tom, Cedar Band barbara pete chavez, Cedar Band arthur richards, Cedar Band will rogers, Shivwits Band eldene snow cervantes, Shivwits Band alvin marble, Shivwits Band eunice tillahash surveyor, Shivwits Band
113 114 119
Ca l i e n t e Pa i u t e willie pete, Moapa Band and Caliente darlene pete harrington, Cedar Band and Caliente
124 126 132 138 143
Moa pa Ba n d o f Pa i u t e I n d i a n s irene benn evelyn samalar lalovi miller roger benn
L as Vegas Pa i u t e Tr i b e lila carter
155 158 166
C h e m e h u ev i I n d i a n Tr i b e gertrude hanks leivas with daughters mathew leivas
172 174 180
Pa h ru m p Ba n d o f Pa i u t e s richard arnold clara belle jim
185 186 193
Poem Vivienne Caron-Jake Appendix: Southern Paiute Populations & Maps Index
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his book had its share of fits, starts and critical junctures. Without the considerable support from these individuals and institutions, it never would have happened. It began, of course, with the Southern Paiute themselves. Initial encouragement came from Ben Pikyavit of the Kaibab Tribe; thanks for your understanding. Geneal Anderson, Chairwoman of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah (PITU), set the wheels in motion. A special thanks goes to Genealâ€™s successor, PITU chairperson Lora Tom, a relentless advocate for her people. Thanks to Arthur Richards for his quiet wisdom and guidance, to Verdell Jake for the late night phone calls, and to Vivienne Caron-Jake for being Vivienne. Most of all, thanks to all the elders who shared their time and stories. Thank you all. The Utah Humanities Council (Cynthia Buckingham, Annie Hatch, Marisa Black) and the Utah Division of State History (Kent Powell and Debbie Dahl) were our largest institutional supporters. Thank you. Other institutional support came from the Iron Mission State Park in Cedar City, Utah (Todd Prince); Zion National Park, with a special thanks to Jack Burns, Lyman Hafen, Joann Hinman, and the Zion Natural History Association; Zion Canyon Arts and Humanities, our hometown arts council in Springdale, Utah; Grand Canyon Trust in Flagstaff, Arizona (Jim McMahon); the Nevada Arts Council; Kathryne Olson and the staff at the Lost City Museum in Overton, Nevada; the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah; the Pioneer Center for the Arts in St. George and Susan Brooks and all the folks at the Mesquite Fine Arts Center in Mesquite, Nevada. Besides the above-mentioned institutional support we received tremendous support from friends. Itâ€™s grisly business, hitting your friends up for money, and we are so grateful you all responded so graciously. Carol and Alan Coombs generously hosted a weekend gathering of tribal elders at their lovely Green Valley Spa in February 2003. Bruce Vanderwerff showed great faith in us when we were struggling to get off the ground. Springdale residents Michelle and Joe Hovorka, Mike Jarman and Larry McKown all provided generous help. Later, Joe Motter, Brooks and June Pace, Mike Taggett, Lyman and Stacey Whitaker gave us shots in the arm at crucial junctures when the project was faltering. Thanks. As the project evolved from an exhibition into a book, the following individuals generously contributed in a number of ways, including the advance purchases of autographed books: Donnette Atiyah, Randy Aton, Andre Belogortsev and Nida Paulauskaite, Allen and Anne Weiler-Brown, Tamera Burton of Cafe Soleil in Springdale, Clyde and Shirley Bush in memory of their son Jim, Janice and Roy Duncan, Traci and Jonathan Duncan, Tim and Janet Fox, Anne Marie Gardner, Jim and Julie Hancock, Gregory and Valerie Istock, Marvin and Judith Johnson, Tim and Lisa Killen, Deborah and Steven Masefield, Marie McNeal and David Eaker, Bruce and Ginny Northcott, Kim and Saundra Pickering, Stephen and Rosalind Roth, Adele and Jim Smith, Kim Wallin and Jim Noriega, Bill and Mary Jane Weyher, Terry Parrish, Kirk Scott, and the Zion Canyon Arts and Humanities Council. Janet Seegmiller and Paula Mitchell were ever welcoming at the Special Collections in the
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Southern Utah University Library. At the very end, when this Great Recession threatened publication, a gracious, anonymous donor appeared, deus-ex-machina, to insure publication; F.R.W. Thanks so much. Brad Dimock, Bob Helmes, Angie Frabasilio and Richard Grant gave invaluable insights as readers. Steve Feldman introduced us to the San Juan Paiute at Navajo Mountain. Scholars Ron Holt, Robert McPherson, Lars Rodseth, Shannon Novak and Will Bagley lent professional expertise. John Alley, our editor at Utah State University Press, was our Beatrice from the initial imaginings through the seventh ring of the Chicago Manual of Style. Thanks. A very heartfelt thank you to all these individuals and institutions. w. logan hebner michael plyler
Iâ€™d like to thank my parents, Charles and Nancy Hebner, for encouragement, my sons, Jordan and Sean, for their patience, my mother-in-law, Marlene Frabasilio, for magically appearing whenever needed, and finally my wife, Angie, who did all the many things that I should have done so I could do this. I love you all. logan
I would like to thank Sandy Bell for sharing her life with me, encouraging me through the entire nine years of this project, and for her elegant design, which has made this book an art object in its own right. I would also like to thank Jim Bush for being the second most important person beside myself in my becoming a photographer. michael
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Foreword To live is to experience pain. The life you’ve been given isn’t always going to be smooth or easy. To die and become absent from this life is to become numb and pain free. I hope that you will continue to walk the spiritual path despite the pain and sorrow. —lucille jake
hen the door opened for the telling of Southern Paiute history, it brought forth not only oral history, but the compelling truth of the tragic past, of what happened then and continues today. In the past, when asked the question “Who are you?” I didn’t always know how or where to begin. Today, I can tell you—not only based on my personal journey through this life, but also through these stories from my tribal elders, who tell it like it is. The telling is all based on life experiences of each individual. There are similarities, yes, but each has their own story to tell. That the Southern Paiute have a voice in the telling of their history is not only important, it sets in motion finally bringing facts together to bridge the gap of misunderstanding, mistrust, and general lack of acceptance of who we are. The ongoing lies held against us for one hundred and fifty years about the butchery at Mountain Meadows well represent this gap. Our Paiuteness shouldn’t create anxiety in White people, but it still does. Why? Is it guilt from past injustices, or is it because we seem so tarnished? The deep rootedness of our lifeways requires more than casual observance to really comprehend. One must exert effort to have a good understanding of culture, of different ways. These stories will help. Telling our own histories also communicates why we have continuously made our home here on the Colorado Plateau, in the Great Basin, and on the Mojave Desert—in the most beautiful, scenic, and sacred of lands. Our elders who have contributed to this book have also helped to bridge our lives from ancient times into the twenty-first century. To begin with, the Southern Paiute were placed, as were most tribal groups, communities, and nations, on this land as representatives of the Creator’s people, and we were instructed to protect the land and other living creatures within it. We know ourselves to be the Nungwuh, the People. From time immemorial, these lands and my people have been inseparable. To belong is to have a fulfilled life. To know you belong is to continuously speak to this reality of belonging, to be thankful for the Creator’s blessings, and to honor and respect all that is within your household, community, and tribe. Life for my people, as history has recorded, became more full of hardships as our lands were taken away from us and we were displaced. With losses of our hunting, fishing, and gathering sites, we became destitute. What could our tribal people do when we had rifles
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aimed at us when all we wanted to do was to help ourselves to the water we had used forever? Who had the advantage of bullying the other around, the one wielding a rifle or the one with the bow and arrow? Southern Paiutes were left with no choices. There really was no place for us to turn. We were removed from our home lands, herded and moved around like cattle to desolate areas where very little water could be found. A lot of us perished. How many times did this happen? Too many times! Think of fertile land; think of water; think of lakes, canyons, and rivers; imagine the beauty and bounty of our lands. Then try to rationalize why we continue to be on the losing end. Our tradition is that we seek our own spiritual condition before we pass judgment on another person, place, or thing. We are told that when we judge others, we are, in essence, judging the Lifegiver’s creation. Persons who are unfamiliar with the natural laws of our people and the land are far removed from becoming culturally aware and understanding what matters the most to us. We will probably continue to be beset with comments like, “Oh, you people are so into the natural world.” Returning to the past hasn’t been easy. Some tribal members were reluctant to bring up the past because it brought with it pain and sorrow. Elders were visited, interviewed, and photographed. Their stories have since helped guide younger tribal members to important sites; confronted historical lies about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Circleville Massacre, and other horrors; and pointed out ongoing encroachment from other tribes, such as the Navajo at Paiute Mountain, which Whites call Navajo Mountain. These stories are real and have already had an effect on the unfolding of the world. In time, we lost some of those elders. Despite the losses of these very important persons, we are hopeful that our walk will continue to be a strong and happy one as we acknowledge their wisdom, strengths, and bravery. Their spirits live on, as ours will also. Their courage through their life experiences has given me the answer to how they could endure hard lives and embrace the remainder of what was left. I’ve finally come to see that spirituality was their major focus. They each had a strong spiritual sense of self, rooted in their relationship to the land and all living things. Today, some of my people are so caught up with the dominant culture that they seem to have strayed from their true selves. How does one cope with changing time, when fear or shame is at the forefront? Surely, it can’t be easy. Incomprehensible changes have come to my people. The impacts of acculturation forced them to change, and the ways they believed in the Creator and worshipped were taken from them. Some don’t dare look back for fear of realizing they no longer are in touch with their tribalism, or even understand it. These people need to decolonize their hearts and minds, unshackle themselves, and seek their Nungwuh past. With the telling of these stories, we can only hope for a new surge of understanding of the Southern Paiute. Perhaps these tellings will explain why things of the past happened as they did, what we today profess to be, and what we anticipate for the future. By destroying us, you destroy yourselves. Life is all so powerful. We may become physically separated from our Earth Mother, but you will hear from us again and again. What will you answer to the Creator’s question “What have you done with my people, my children, the land and all the living things I created for them?” Open up these lives and let their truths speak to you. vivienne caron-jake Southern Paiute Kaibab Band February 2010
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Introduction Are you listening to me? There’s a lot of things that got to be told. There’s things that shoulda been said that nobody said. —will rogers, Shivwits HOW THIS BOOK HAPPENED
n 1989 the hazardous waste incinerator corporation Waste Tech courted tribes across America, hoping to dodge federal regulation behind the veil of tribal sovereignty. They entered negotiations with the Kaibab Paiute on the Arizona Strip, and stress from the impending tonnage of toxic waste and money turned the area into a hornet’s nest. The hitherto invisible and poverty-stricken Kaibab suddenly found themselves under klieg lights, staring at hundreds of millions of dollars. They flexed their sovereign muscles, perhaps for the first time, blowing off entreaties from the federal government and the states of Arizona and Utah, all of whom were concerned about what the largest hazardous waste incinerator in the West, on their tiny reservation wedged right between Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, would do to the cleanest air in the continental U.S. All tribal council votes over a year unanimously favored Waste Tech, and the tribe had just pocketed the $100,000 good faith money. A final vote was imminent. Kaibab Paiute Vivienne Jake, her mother, Lucille, and nephew Verdell worked with white people like me to oppose the deal, no small thing. The divide between whites and Indians continues to be imbued with differences of the deepest kind. Native Americans’ anger and pain can best be approached by considering the meaning of genocide. In that slow way that people become friends, Vivienne and I connected, perhaps because I was often the only one catching her subtle, scathing puns. When a spokesman extolled incinerators’ virtues (“your car is a hazardous waste incinerator!”), Vivienne said it would all be “Honky Dory.” She still uses this term whenever honkies think everything is fine, even though everyone and everything around them suffer. When asked about fundamentalist religion, she responded, “Just look at the word; they fund a mental ism.” Driving to yet another rally or meeting, crammed into Vivienne’s old, brown Honda, was all giggles and elbows. Once, Lucille burst out laughing and got everyone going. When it was over, Vivienne asked Lucille what was that all about and she answered, “What?” Yet at the meetings, which Vivienne usually chaired, the Jakes became still and silent. One could see them glaze over in the white world. They found elder Bill Tom’s cancer too late, and he died within weeks. He was Lucille’s brother and a previous tribal chairman. It was his dying wish that the tribe reject the incinerator to preserve the sliver of ancestral lands they still possessed. The Kaibab Tribal Council had already scheduled a special session; it fell on the morning after his death. They unanimously dismissed the project. For almost a month, Waste Tech still thought they had a done deal.
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1. Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, “The Pai Ute” Buffalo (New York) Courier, January 13, 1877. 2. William Chandless, A Visit to Salt Lake; Being a Journey Across the Plains and a Residence in the Mormon Settlements at Utah (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1857), 291. 3. Thomas J. Farnham, Travels in the Great Western Prairies, the Anahuac and Rocky Mountains, and in the Oregon Territory, 2 vols. (London: R. Bentley, 1843), 2: 9–10.
I was politely invited to Bill’s Cry Ceremony, but even after a year I still wasn’t sure what anything really meant and felt that I had intruded enough. Then, at midnight, in the linoleum brilliance of the Smith’s Food King in St. George, Utah, I spotted Verdell in line, in silent mode, with a stack of coffee cakes. I asked if the Cry was over and he shot me a look of pity; how could I not know they go all night? Again I was invited, so I went. It was a classic American West tableau, driving desolate roads for an hour through glorious landscapes, in this case beneath the moonlit Vermillion Cliffs, with the snow-covered Kaibab Plateau on Grand Canyon’s North Rim rising to the south, to arrive at an electric burst of life in the middle of nowhere, ringed by old pickups with gun racks. Attending a ceremony is always a step up in intruding on people, more so of course for a funeral. I sat inside my unheated Toyota pickup until it just got too cold. I slipped inside, headed right up the closest gymnasium bleachers, and was stunned by what was unfolding. The gathering shined with an astonishing density, alive with song, rattles, grief, dance, feasting, and reunion, all layered around Bill Tom’s open casket near the center of the basketball court. That night they sang Bill Tom’s dazed soul through the landscape of the dead, singing and dancing hard so he could hear them through death’s confusion. Near dawn, they redoubled their efforts to help his soul leap the canyon to the next world. Just days earlier the tribe had been deeply split about the incinerator; they had just turned down hundreds of millions of dollars; that night they were all united in ceremony. The Cry flowed so gracefully that it took me hours to realize nobody was in charge. The leaders of the Bird and Salt Song cycles were the only ones who exercised any control, and they simply allowed for silence here and there so people could stand and speak, as they felt the need. They talked mostly about Bill, but sometimes about seemingly unrelated and startlingly personal things. Somewhere in the night everyone collectively crossed a threshold, achieving the rarified ether of ceremony. You could feel grief spiral in, condense, and release through communal weeping. This is perhaps the most difficult task for a ceremony, to resolve grief. Only later would I appreciate that I had witnessed the great Salt Song singer Willis Mayo. It was the most elegant, unpretentious, and powerful ceremony I’ve yet experienced. Wise ceremony, wise choice to preserve their lands instead of taking the money, homeland in one of the world’s most entrancing landscapes, great sense of humor; I was hooked. Then I started to read about them: They have nearly always been at peace, possibly because they judge it easier and less hazardous to beg than to fight. Therefore, by allowing the whites to settle they are preparing for the time when they can support themselves luxuriously by begging. Anything clean he scorns. Dirt agrees well with him and he revels in it. Indians, all of them, are anything but cleanly, yet the Pai Ute in this one particular takes the lead—it is mere life, nothing more. (Fredrick Dellenbaugh, 1877)1 Early pioneers were equally dismissive: to our great disgust, we met a number of Piede Indians . . . More wretched looking savages one could hardly imagine. (William Chandless, 1856)2 Here live the “Paiutes” . . . he most degraded and least intellectual Indians known to the trappers. They wear no clothing of any description, build no shelters. They eat roots, lizards, and snails . . . They provide nothing for future wants. In the winter . . . they are said to retire to the vicinity of timber, dig holes . . . deposit themselves in them, and sleep fast until the weather permits them to go abroad again and hunt for food. (Thomas J. Farnham, 1839)3
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They find some jewelry or maybe a cat buried next to a Neanderthal, and they attribute all these notions of culture to them that they refuse to attribute to us. That’s a pretty heavy racism when you compare badly to Neanderthal. It’s amazing to me; in all the historical accounts, we have always been the lowest of the low. We didn’t have any culture, religion, anything. All we were doing in the history books was eating and sleeping. I get very resentful. —richard
Jacob Hamblin, the Mormon “Buckskin Apostle,” bemoaned his fate of having to missionize to the Southern Paiute in 1855: They are in a very low, degraded condition indeed; loathsome & filthy beyond description. I have wished many times . . . that my lot was cast among a more cleanly people; where there could be found something desirable.4 Mark Twain, in 1871, described his disgust with the Southern Paiute cousins the neighboring Goshute: they are inferior to even the despised Digger Indians of California; inferior to all races of savages on our continent; inferior to even the Terra del Fuegans; inferior to the Gottentots, and actually inferior in some respect to the Dytches of Africa. Indeed, I have been obliged to look the bulky volumes of Wood’s Uncivilized Races of Men clear through in order to find a savage tribe degraded enough to take rank with the Goshoots. I find but one people open to that shameful verdict. It is the Bosjesmen [Bushmen] of South Africa.5 Note that Twain compared them to another nomadic desert people. Many ostensibly civilized people are mortified by humans who eat bugs or lizards and wear loincloths, such as Aborigines and Kalahari Bushmen. The Southern Paiute lived comfortably in America’s harshest deserts, the Great Basin and Mojave, and in perhaps earth’s most ethereal landscape, the Colorado Plateau. The Mojave holds the world record for the hottest temperature just off the ground, 201 degrees Fahrenheit, and the second hottest air temperature, 134 degrees, just below the Sahara recording 136 degrees. I dug around and found positive quotes about the Southern Paiute, usually from earlier contacts, suggesting deterioration through ever-increasing contact with European Americans. The first Europeans to encounter them, Franciscan priests Domínguez and Escalante in 1776, observed: “A large number of people, all of pleasing appearance, very friendly and extremely timid.”6 The 1849 gold rush marks the earliest mass intrusion of non-Indians across Southern Paiute lands, along the Old Spanish Trail. Mormon George Q. Cannon that year had a better opinion of the Paiute’s condition than his coreligionists quoted earlier: “We judged the Indians had raised good corn down there, morning glories and beans and squash had been grown. Large ditches had been made for irrigating purposes, which gave evidence of industry and perseverance.”7 Actual ethnographic research on the Paiute came with time, with observers such as John Wesley Powell in the 1870s, Edward Sapir around 1910, and Isabel Kelly in the mid1930s all offering clear-eyed observations. However, the anthropologist Julian Steward, also writing in the mid-1930s, described Great Basin peoples, such as the Western Shoshone
4. “Journal of Jacob Hamblin, 1854–1859,” March 8, 1855, typescript copy of transcription by Dale L. Morgan, MS A 567-1, Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City. 5. Mark Twain, Roughing It (New York: Harper Bros., 1871), 131. 6. Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, The DomínguezEscalante Journal: Their Expedition through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico in 1776, trans. Angelico Chavez, ed. Ted J. Warner (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1976). 7. Robert J. Franklin and Pamela A. Bunte, The Paiute (New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 1990), 46.
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8. Brigham Young, 9 April 1871, Journal of Discourses 14:86–87. 9. Jacob 3:3, Book of Mormon. 10. 2 Nephi 30:6, Book of Mormon. All of the numerous references in the Book of Mormon to “white and delightsome” were changed to “pure and delightsome” in 1978, the same year the LDS Church allowed African Americans to hold priesthood positions. 11. Bishop Edward Hunter, “Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” April 6 1853, cited from W. Paul Reeve, “‘As Ugly as Evil’ and ‘as Wicked as Hell’: Gadianton Robbers and the Legend Process among the Mormons,” The Journal of Mormon History 27, no. 2 (2001): 140. 12. Allen Turner, personal communication, April 22, 1910. 13. Thanks to Jack Burns for the red ant and rockpatting vignettes.
and the Southern Paiute, as impoverished family units being dragged around the desert by their stomachs, and this perception took root and persists. Here in southwest Utah, the Southern Paiute have filled, in silence, diverse roles, from hapless diggers (a widespread western epithet for Indians) to New Age touchstones. Or, unique to Mormons, they play the central theological role of Indians as “Lamanites” from the Book of Mormon, “children of Abraham” who sailed to the Americas around 600 bc and “became so wicked that God cursed them with this dark and benighted and loathsome condition.”8 Accordingly, their skin color was proof they were “cursed with a sore cursing,”9 yet they could literally become “white and delightsome”10 upon embracing Mormonism. However, in 1851, the Paiute struck Brigham Young as so depraved that they were worse than Lamanites. He pronounced that the Indians who “infested” the area must necessarily be direct descendants of “Gadianton Robbers,” thieves and murderers in the Book of Mormon viler than Lamanites. In 1853, Latter-day Saints (LDS) Bishop Edward Hunter declared from southern Utah: “We are surrounded by their [Gadianton] descendants; those loathsome, effeminate specimens of humanity, which we daily see in our midst . . . low, degraded, sunken to the lowest depths of human existence.”11 How these images of Lamanite and Gadianton descendants were balanced in the minds of the early Mormon pioneers requires more study. It may seem a theological nitpick, but it is not. As Lamanites, Indians carry the noble blood of Israel and the possibility of redemption, compelling a compassionate response from the Mormons. Though a Gadianton can also be a Lamanite, Gadiantons lack this positive imperative. One other, predominant image of the Southern Paiute persists throughout their homeland: many of their neighbors have no idea that the Southern Paiute remain there at all. They have become virtually invisible.
When Lucille died at eighty, she didn’t have a wrinkle on her face. A grandchild called her “Perma-grin.” With her ever-present smile, a full, pained heart, and calm, unblinking eyes, she told of the deaths of her children, seven out of nine. It was an excruciating litany, each very different death reflecting the despair of a people baffled by their world forever changed. Lucille offered a glimpse into something uniquely Southern Paiute, something from living forever in what European Americans perceive as brutal deserts—an “eminent receptivity”12 and acceptance, a core understanding that it is, of course, useless to judge the world. You could catch flashes of it in the little things, the way she’d size up an animal pelt or some other tribe’s beadwork, or pat a rock, saying that the land missed hearing the Southern Paiute language, or the way she treated her bad hip like a carnival ride, laughing away while her daughter Vivienne scolded and tried to keep up, or nudged you to say that those little red ants there, the ones who make those clay cone entrances, taste sweet.13 Her ever-present smile wasn’t a hope or afterthought tacked onto her suffering; it rooted deep in her heart, and her heart was rooted deep in whatever it is to be Southern Paiute. Her smile rose through and persisted above all else, a lotus flowering up through their sufferings. I asked Vivienne if I could see any of the interviews with Lucille, figuring her to be a lodestone for anthropologists. Though she had been interviewed about specific things, there were none about her life. I couldn’t believe nobody had sat her down and just listened to her, the stories she knew, the blizzard of change she survived, the distinctly Southern Paiute values she embodied.
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In the 1870’s and 1880’s, the last free-roaming tribes were defeated and penned up in reservations. The history of North America, like all continents, is one of taming and settling, of nomadic cultures succumbing to the steadily expanding gridwork of civilization and the State. In Europe, the process happened slowly and gradually, over thousands of years, and was resolved a long time ago. In the American West, it happened in a flash, no more than thirty years, and you still meet people whose grandparents lived through it. (Richard Grant)14 Today, Southern Paiute deserts, which contain about sixteen national parks and monuments, have been recognized for their unique beauty. However, this aesthetic is relatively recent; for the most part, Anglos found these deserts useless, and so some Paiute in these homelands were among the last holdouts of the American West. The San Juan Paiute finally ceased their centuries-old nomadic trek between Allen Canyon and Douglas Mesa in southeast Utah in 1918, and that was due more to the influenza epidemic and Navajo encroachment than to Anglos. Posey, the San Juan Paiute, served as the lightning rod for what historian Robert McPherson calls “The Last White Uprising” in 1923. The San Juan weren’t officially designated by the government as a tribe, band, nation, or anything until 1989. The great manhunt for the fugitive Willie Boy, a Pahrump Paiute, was in 1909. The Pahrump continue to work toward federal recognition. The abruptness of the Paiute’s culture-shattering collision with European Americans was thus accelerated even by standards of the American West. Martha Knack’s essential Boundaries Between: The Southern Paiutes 1775–1995 examines how the Southern Paiute were impacted by three distinct white groups, in such a geographically and culturally concise manner that it “emulates a classic scientific experiment,”15 with the Southern Paiute as the control and these very different groups as the variables. The Mormons in Utah were interested in establishing permanent, agricultural settlements for their Kingdom of God. Nevada miners, mostly single men with gold fever, just wanted to make their fortunes and leave. Cattle ranchers moved into northern Arizona, southwest Utah and southwest Nevada. Like the miners, the cowboys were mostly single men; like the Mormons, they wanted the land itself, using the seed grasses and plants that the Southern Paiute themselves ate. Two of these groups came on like gangbusters, the Mormons and the miners. The ongoing collision between the Mormons and Southern Paiute ranks among the extreme culture clashes in history. The Mormons, spearheading Western civilization, amped up with revival, anxious for the imminent millennium of Christ’s return, and volatile from persecutions, plowed into the dispersed, receptive desert Paiute, who were already reeling from disease and slaving. The predictable displacement of the Indians from all the choice living spaces was, and continues to be, compounded by a two-edged theology which holds that the Lamanites are both a cursed and a chosen people who “shall blossom as the rose.”16 To further complicate matters, Lamanites were also to become “the battle axe of the Lord,”17 who “shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation,” in the epic, global conflagration that Joseph Smith prophesized would unfold from the Civil War, thus ushering in the imminent Second Coming of Jesus Christ.18 Brigham Young’s frequently quoted directive was that “it is cheaper to feed the Indian than to fight him.” But Mormons were so absorbed in their own vision of helping the Lamanites that they believed they were saving the Southern Paiute from the very starvation Mormon settlers themselves caused: “Thus, in a single year the Mormons usurped the major water sources within Kaibab territory. During the seventeen years from encroachment in 1863 until 1880, their [the Kaibab’s] population fell 96.6 percent. Ninety percent depopulation rates were common throughout the New World. The unusual aspect of the Kaibab experience, however, is that they were primarily starved to death.”19
14. Richard Grant, Ghost Riders: Travels with American Nomads (London: Little, Brown, 2003), 10. 15. Martha Knack, Boundaries Between: The Southern Paiutes, 1775–1995 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 5. 16. Doctrines and Covenants 49:24. 17. Juanita Brooks, ed., Journal of the Southern Indian Mission: Diary of Thomas D. Brown (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1972), 25. 18. Doctrines and Covenants 87:1–8. 19. Richard W. Stoffle and Michael J. Evans, Kaibab Paiute History: The Early Years (Fredonia, Ariz.: Kaibab Paiute Tribe, 1978), 9.
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20. Paul W. Reeve, Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners and Southern Paiutes (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006).
That same year, 1863, a hesitant Indian named Moroni (named for a prominent figure in the Book of Mormon), despite a promise he made to his father, took the Mormon pioneer William Hamblin to the panacher, or silver, in exchange for either a gun or a winter’s worth of food. The town of Panaca sprung into existence amidst a murderous, yet almost comical drama of conflict between Mormons, miners (including the Hearst family in California), and the Southern Paiute, with the U.S. Congress entangled as well.20 The feds were determined to keep mining wealth out of Mormon hands, and continually hacked away at Utah lands, handing them to the newly minted state of Nevada. Pioche, the mining center just north of Panaca, exploded, with six thousand people cavorting in seventy-two saloons, two breweries, and thirty-two bordellos. It is said that the Pioche cemetery had almost eighty graves before anyone in town died a natural death. The namesake, French investor Francois Pioche, committed suicide when the town went bust. William Hamblin died mysteriously, believed poisoned by Hearst interests just as he was to testify against them. One can imagine how the Southern Paiute fared through all this. Despite diametrically opposed images of the Southern Paiute carried by Mormons and miners, it is not clear under which worldview the Paiute suffered more—unabashed violence or religious embrace. In historical terms, all this unfolded relatively recently. In this book are a number of people who had listened to their elders remembering a time before Europeans came into their country. Here’s the math. Someone eighty years old in the year 2000 was born in 1920; if they were fifteen and talking to a ninety-year-old, then that person was born in 1845. Isaac Hunkup is said to have lived well over a hundred; if so he could have been fifteen years old at the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, telling his story until 1942. Some Paiute groups remained isolated for decades after 1857. Bessie Owl, a San Juan Paiute living at Paiute Mountain (Navajo Mountain) was almost twenty before she first saw white people. After the strangers left, the San Juan examined the camp and spent the morning trying to figure out what coffee grounds were. Members of Lucille Jake’s generation span the entire Southern Paiute experience of adapting to Europeans while still carrying a sense of what it was to live their way, on their lands. This special generation of elders was passing on, without notice it seemed, and I was baffled and frustrated by the demeaning images of the Southern Paiute. In 1999 I worked with my friend, the excellent, award-winning photographer Michael Plyler, to create an exhibit called “Working Wonders: Seniors in the Workforce.” It featured people in their eighties and nineties who chose to keep working. I interviewed them and wrote small biographies; Michael took their portraits. It’s a simple format, a photo, a story, but together they quilted into a nuanced snapshot of a generation forged by the Depression and WWII, with each story and image adding a unique dimension. Why not repeat that format with the Southern Paiute and hope for that same effect? Producing the exhibit Southern Paiutes: A Portrait is a story in itself. Michael and I went before a skeptical Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah (PITU) tribal council, where Michael said, yeah, here we are, two more white guys here to help. In the end, we committed to donating all our royalties to the tribe. So in buying this book you’ve helped pay the elders for their stories. I also agreed to let each elder have complete editorial control over their story. The council voted for it, unanimously, as always. That’s another Southern Paiute trait; you talk something around and around until everyone is in accord, even if it takes months. As for the interviews, you can imagine the scene; two white strangers appear, wanting to burrow into your life. Why talk? The most important factor was timing. Known for keeping to themselves, nobody understood better than the Southern Paiute that they were losing a very special
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generation. Though they receive less anthropological interest than, say, the Hopi, who also speak an Uto-Aztecan language, there have been plenty of academic interviews. Most PhD research is tightly focused, so most interviews are issue specific: boarding school experiences at Stewart or Riverside or how they handled birth or menstruation. I was after something different. I just wanted to listen to what they thought was important. This idea appealed to them. Still, whites usually start off on probation with Indians. Fair enough. Many of the interviews began with variations on: “You are white; you crush everything, kill everything, take everything.” I would respond yes, I am truly so very sorry, and then I’d detail specific horrors, like the Mountain Meadows Massacre or the Circleville Massacre, the termination era (when the federal government ceased recognizing Utah Paiutes as a tribe), or even something that happened to a direct ancestor, trying to let them know I had done my homework, and that if I couldn’t fully understand, then at least I knew. And if I was able to crack a decent joke, get a laugh, things went all right. They just weren’t very good at staying angry, hard as they tried. In these first interviews, when it wasn’t clear that the project would take root, it seemed I always stumbled on some gem that turned out to be useful to that elder. For Eunice Tillahash Surveyor, some songs by her well-known father Tony Tillahash, recorded in 1910 on wax cylinders, emerged from the music archives at the University of Indiana. In the way that excellence seeks itself out in different people, Tony met the brilliant Edward Sapir while at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Sapir studied under the seminal anthropologist Franz Boas, and ended his eminent career as a professor at Yale. He was a far-ranging humanist and ethnographer, but his love was language. Sapir helped develop the idea that language is the lynchpin that defines our very thoughts, how we behave and relate to each other. He was amazed that Tony could remember so many songs. Their work together led to Sapir’s invaluable study: Southern Paiute and Ute Linguistics and Ethnography. Sadly, those wax cylinders, including Salt Songs, songs for Bear Dances, Circle Dances, Ghost Dances, medicine, gambling, scalp and myth songs, were moldy and useless. Fortunately, a set of later recordings emerged from this search, which I gave to Eunice. When we arrived at Evelyn Samalar’s trailer in Moapa, Nevada, our first interview outside of Utah, she had changed her mind. She looked at us like she wanted to, and could, sic all of her cats on us. However, by chance, I had an account from The Masterkey journal about a funeral for the “witch-doctor” Charlie Chemehuevi, who had burned up in his house.21 As we were backing out the door, I simply asked if she knew anything about this guy. She sat me down and made me read the whole article aloud. Her anger built as I read, especially when they called her old friend Peg-a-Roon an “ancient bedlam.” She declared that her grandfather Charlie was a good man, a good healer, and she started talking about him. She didn’t so much relate events as relive them, performing the different roles, occasionally ordering her animals around in Southern Paiute. Time and again, luck offered some piece of information that turned out to be valuable to the interviewee, which they deeply appreciated. For all the snooping around in various archives, Vivienne dubbed me an honorary “digger.” A singularly dark and unresolved event that will forever haunt Utah continued to intertwine with this project—the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which a party of over a hundred California-bound emigrants, mostly women and children, was deceived under a flag of truce and summarily slaughtered by Mormons and some Indian allies in southwest Utah. The Mormons immediately pinned the massacre on the Southern Paiute, making absurd claims that hundreds of enraged Southern Paiute warriors forced their involvement
21. Bradley R. Stewart, “Paiute Mourners,” The Masterkey 19, no. 4 (1945): 108.
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22. Novak has written an excellent book about her experience with the bones of Mountain Meadows, called House of Mourning: A Biocultural History of the Mountain Meadows Massacre (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2008).
by threatening the very existence of Mormon settlements. This cover-up thrived into the twenty-first century. These interviews unfolded just as the massacre returned to the limelight. In August of 1999, the LDS Church, who owns the massacre site, was preparing to construct a new memorial. Despite a year of quietly testing for bones, with just the second backhoe bucket they exhumed remains from the slaughtered Fancher/Baker wagon train. The bones from at least twenty-eight different people came to light, and, as fate would have it, a lot of skull fragments. In calm hindsight, Utah Governor Michael Leavitt’s decision to contravene federal and state law and strip forensic pathologist Shannon Novak and her team of the bones and re-inter them could be understood as a response to a very complex maze of pressures, including what he may have perceived to be the wishes of Fancher descendants. But it happened just as Novak found bullet holes in the skulls of women and children, which ran counter to the entrenched orthodoxy that the Southern Paiute clubbed them to death.22 There were cries that Leavitt, a Mormon whose great grandfather Dudley Leavitt participated in the massacre, was adding yet another chapter to the massacre’s ongoing deflections and cover-ups. All this controversy brought the considerable backlog of unresolved issues about the massacre boiling to the surface. Foremost among these was the question of Southern Paiute involvement. Not an anthropologist or ethnographer, I was too immersed in familiarizing myself with Southern Paiute literature to get sidetracked by the massacre. I assumed that someone had already, of course, gathered and resolved the Southern Paiute accounts of the massacre. Astonishingly, it gradually emerged that nobody really had, and that many of the stories about it emerging tangentially from these interviews were untold. I began to pointedly ask about it. I was never much interested in the massacre. Most Mormons I know are appropriately horrified and contrite and encourage my efforts to bring forth the Southern Paiute account. The eternal mystery of Brigham Young’s complicity will never be resolved. Yet the more I learned about the Southern Paiute, the less the prevailing massacre stories made any sense. Here were a desert people so dispersed they couldn’t stop slave raids from Mexicans, Utes, Navajo, and, in their own way, the Mormons, yet in this solitary incident they amassed in unprecedented numbers to threaten the very existence of local Mormon settlements and attack like a crack, sharp-shooting battalion to force the slaughter. LaVan Martineau, in his excellent sourcebook, Southern Paiutes: Legends, Lore, Language and Lineage, gathered fighting stories, of which they were duly proud, from Southern Paiute elders a generation before the elders in this book. He collected twenty-six war stories in all. The largest war party remembered consisted of twelve warriors. Somehow, despite the clang of cognitive dissonance, two opposing, mythical Southern Paiute continue to inhabit Utah’s psyche: the lowly, pathetic diggers described by Jacob Hamblin, for example, and the ferocious, formidable warriors who forced the Mormons into the slaughter. What became interesting, then, wasn’t what the Southern Paiute may or may not have done at the massacre, but how such an obviously untenable cover-up story could have survived for a century and a half. Equally disturbing was why, in all this time, nobody had simply asked the Southern Paiute for their stories. This enduring, festering, shared silence speaks volumes about the ongoing, complex relationship between the Southern Paiute and Mormons. Another thread in the massacre’s re-emergence was that three Mormon historians— Richard Turley, Glen Leonard, and Ron Walker—spent almost a decade producing a quasiofficial LDS massacre account, with the hook that they had access to LDS archival sources nobody else had seen, a fact revealing in itself. According to this LDS narrative, Brigham
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Young was not directly involved in the massacre, and the Southern Paiute continue to be heavily implicated in the initial attack and the slaughtering of women and children. PITU facilitated elder interviews with LDS historians as part of an overall effort towards healing, but for some reason none of these were included in their book. The LDS historians did step up in a big way, finally acknowledging that the only reason the Southern Paiute were involved was due to Mormon pressure,23 which should logically lead to an examination of the cover-up and its perpetuation. But their book ends immediately after the massacre and thus does not address the cover-up. At the sesquicentennial of the massacre in 2007, the then LDS apostle and now member of the church’s First Presidency, Henry Eyring, emotionally expressed two separate “deep regrets,” for the massacre and the blame born by the Southern Paiute, yet he stopped short of apologizing for how they have been used in the cover-up. The confluence of the “speaking bones,”24 the book by LDS historians, the anniversary of the mass murder, and gathering intensity in negotiations between the LDS Church and descendants of the murdered Fancher family, flowed into my interviews. It gave the traditionally reticent Southern Paiute a jolt of encouragement to finally speak out with their story. When this happened, not only were Michael and I there with microphone and camera, but the interviews led to unprecedented meetings between LDS historians and Southern Paiute concerning the massacre, including a meeting with former LDS President Gordon Hinckley. This new openness in turn helped the interviews, as the Southern Paiute, including those from outside of Utah who didn’t know us, saw benefits from participation. Much has been written, and will be continue to be written, about this horror, as it stands as a timeless, universal caution to the murderous ownership of truth, of how good men conjure evil in the name of god and can become so invested in their own cover-up that in time they become the only people who believe it. This book is certainly not about Mountain Meadows; the ongoing, unresolved quagmire of the Southern Paiute, the LDS Church, and the slaughter deserves its own telling. However, some of the Paiute oral traditions about the event are included. At some point, the LDS Church will have to square up with venerated LDS historian Juanita Brooks’ pointblank assertion that Brigham Young’s complicity in the cover-up blaming the Southern Paiute is “undeniable, and from the most impeccable of Mormon sources.”25 To his credit, LDS historian Richard Turley has committed to writing the sequel to the massacre, so soon this issue will finally be addressed.
23. Richard E. Turley, Ronald W. Walker, Glen M. Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 2008). 24. Edwin Firmage, professor emeritus at the University of Utah College of Law used this phrase concerning the exhumed victims’ bones. Ed Firmage has tirelessly worked to get his church to apologize to the Southern Paiute people concerning Mountain Meadows. 25. Juanita Brooks, The Mountain Meadows Massacre (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1962), 219. 26. J. W. Powell, “The Paiute,” Scribner’s Monthly, May 1875, quoted in Wes Larson, Paiute Scrapbook (Toquerville, Utah: Third Mesa Publishing, 2001).
These Indians are more nearly in their primitive condition than any others on the continent . . . Altogether their wants are few and though the land is inhospitable they have an abundance, and are content and happy. —j. w. powell, 187326 AN APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING THE SOUTHERN PAIUTE My fingers shake every time I begin to type something like “the Southern Paiute are . . .” Who were and are these desert people? How much can I, a European-American guy from suburban Delaware, ever really understand? We get details from radically different sources and times: disgusted pioneers, monomaniacal miners, Mormons pondering a
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27. Don D. Fowler and Catherine S. Fowler, eds., Anthropology of the Numa John Wesley Powell’s Manuscripts on the Numic Peoples of Western North America 1868–1880 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1971), 39. 28. Author’s interview with Eleanor and Lora Tom, January 24, 2002. 29. Catherine S. Fowler, “What’s In A Name? Some Southern Paiute Names for Mojave Desert Springs as Keys to Environmental Perception,” p. 3, Conference Proceedings, Spring-fed Wetlands: Important Scientific and Cultural Resources of the Intermountain Region, Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada, Reno, 2002. www. wetlands.dri.edu. Fowler draws on Edward Sapir, “The Southern Paiute Language,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 65, no.1–3 (1930–31). 30. Fowler and Fowler, Anthropology of the Numa, 61. 31. Anonymous personal communication, Mountain Meadows Conference, Green Valley Spa, Utah, February 4, 2005. 32. Richard W. Stoffle and Michael J. Evans, Kaibab Paiute History: The Early Years (Fredonia: Kaibab Paiute Tribe, 1978), 2. 33. Allen C. Turner, “Adaptive Continuity and Cultural Development among the Paiute Indians of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim,” Tebiwa 22 (December 1985): 45. Turner credits Frank Robert Vivelo for the terminology. 34. Ibid., p. 28.
race both cursed and chosen by their god, anthropologists ranging from dismissive to apologist. All these different accounts leap towards each other and strain to form a unified narrative. The images are disorienting, incoherent, diffuse. Barely clothed women glided easily through the snow. Paiute split foot races around a hill, so each runner only saw his opponent at the beginning and end. They supposedly would swallow boiling stews then collapse into a pile to sleep. They followed traditional trails, even if erosion had clearly created an easier way.27 The blood a healer released from her head, through a sliced vein, flowed black.28 They instantaneously and communally wept. They have single words for “rolling country intersected by several small ridges” and “shaded slope of canyon wall.”29 Powell was ignored by three crones alone in the desert, calling for death as they tried to dance around a fire, singing “alas, alas, long enough have I walked this earth. Let me die, let me die . . .”30 Joe Pete’s cane (poro) leapt back and forth by itself over his patient as he knelt down to sing.31 Here are some ideas, some tangents, some possibilities, an approach. It took two years to track down ninety-two-year-old Roger Benn; nobody knew where to find him. He was in Las Vegas, then in Henderson; then he married a Mojave woman and moved to Needles, and he popped up at gatherings everywhere. Barbara Pete Chavez, in her eighties, travels to powwows every month to dance and gamble. One of the hardest things about the interviews was simply finding people as they weaved among family members and friends. However, apropos “Indian time”—the perception that Indians function outside of schedules—it should be said that in every single interview, once arrangements were made, the elder was ready at the appointed time and place. Some take issue with calling the Southern Paiute nomads, as many of them combined hunting and gathering with ongoing farms near water and because their seasonal movements tended to follow repetitive patterns. One anthropologist called them “wide ranging semi-sedentary;”32 others refer to a “double loop” strategy to describe their seasonal pattern of moving up to the mountains for pine nuts and large game and returning to tend crops around water. But many elders refer to themselves as nomads, and it’s a good idea to have handy. Anthropologist Allen Turner used the phrase “fixed reference vertical nomadism”33 to describe how the Kaibab would harvest different elevations as plants became ripe, roasting yant (a type of agave) down in Grand Canyon in the spring, reenacting the ancient social event of gathering of pine nuts on the rim, harvesting rice grasses on high terraces. Turner spent time with the tribe in the 1970s; he compared them to the Kalahari bushmen as Mark Twain had but inverted the meaning: “The Kaibab Paiute were exquisitely adapted to a difficult environment, which, within a linear distance of 16 km., covered the ecological variation equivalent to that between Mexico and Canada. They were exceeded worldwide only by the !Kung bushmen of the Kalahari in proportion of their diet acquired by hunting and gathering.”34 There are a number of interesting parallels between desert peoples, including their use of song—for example, the Aboriginal Songlines and the Southern Paiute Salt Songs—to identify physically, historically, and spiritually with unforgiving landscapes. Of course, such comparisons are fraught with problems, but as a point of departure, it may be more useful than starting with the mounted Plains Indians. There is a flip side to nomad, however, that the Paiute encountered historically. It carries the connotation of wandering aimlessly, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Seasonal and altitudinal patterns for ripening plants and the migration of animals were very specific, creating a tight choreography with land and season, leaving slim margins
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for error. A classic method for Anglo settlers to muscle out the Indians was to build a fort around a scarce water source, like at Pipe Springs National Monument, and then “defend themselves,” imagining that it wasn’t the only water for miles and that the Indians could just wander off to somewhere else: “They thought Indians ran wild like coyotes and jackrabbits over the country and that they were as much at home in one place as another” (William Palmer).35 The term confederation, used by John Wesley Powell, seems a better fit for the Southern Paiute than the contemporary nation. Turner strikes a chord when he calls them “perfect anarchists,” functioning as an “ad-hocracy.” He claimed that nobody could tell anybody what to do, and that leadership was purely task specific; whomever was best at weaving their yucca-strand rabbit nets or rounding the animals up would be the rabbit boss, same for deer hunt or ceremony. Another idea one continually encounters is that their leadership depended on the ability to create consensus within the group, which Martha Knack characterizes as a “severe democracy.”36 Names give insight to their humorous undercutting of authority and pretense. Eunice Tillahash Surveyor was the granddaughter of Old Simon, considered a chief, also known as Quee-tus, which Martineau translates as “Burning Fire.” Eunice was saying, yes, he was a respected chief, held in high regard, and so on, but Alvin Marble kept snickering every time we said Quee-tus. I finally called them on it, and Eunice cracked up, revealing that the name means “Asshole:” “Yeah, every morning he’d try and tell everybody what to do, bossing everybody around, so they called him Quee-tus.”37 One name means “desert water tanks,” but it may also mean “scabby butt.” In addition to poetic names such as Cloud Flower, Sand Standing, or Snow Flower, Carobeth Laird, in her essential book The Chemehuevi, notes a Rat Penis and a Rolls Snot in Balls. Isabel Kelly, who did field work from 1932–34, names a Turtle Copulates and an Earth Copulates, among many other graphic appellations. When Clifford Jake asked if Bent Penis, from a Sapir account, was white or Indian, I replied I was pretty sure he was Indian. However, many of the Southern Paiute I interviewed didn’t respond to this notion of “perfect anarchists,” naming chiefs like Chuarumpeak, Tecopa, Kanosh, Taugu, and, yes, Quee-tus, with great respect. J.W. Powell lists very clear sets of chiefs for different bands in 1873,38 and he didn’t have as much of a need to create chiefs as did other Europeans, who cultivated Indian leaders to cut favorable deals. Some anthropologists postulate that decimation by disease eliminated entire levels of Southern Paiute hierarchy and ceremony by the time Europeans arrived, and conversely that by 1873 chiefs had emerged from the necessity of dealing with powerful outsiders.39 So confederation is a concession to the porous, fluid nature of their bands and their healthy skepticism towards their leaders. If the concept of perfect is to be thrown around, it would point especially toward a perfect adaptability, that pure receptivity of the Paiute. They rarely imposed their will on the desert, their ingenious irrigation systems that worked with impetuous desert rivers and their use of fire for clearing and regenerating aside. They listened. They watched. They adapted. What they ate reflected where they lived. Where there’s water, farm. Live next to enemies, like the Chemehuevi with the Mojave? Become warriors. Overwhelmed by history, by greater numbers? Get baptized Mormon or enroll as Navajo. Today they sit at a crux moment that will tell if this strategy can continue to carry them, as a people, into the future. A dominant anthropological theory of the last generation called the Numic Spread, referring to the Numic language family that includes Ute-Southern Paiute and ShoshoneComanche holds that the Southern Paiute drifted into this homeland from the west, filling the void left by the mysterious disappearance of the Ancestral Puebloan and Fremont peoples in the mid-thirteenth century. But many Southern Paiute don’t believe it:
35. William Palmer, “Western History Course Notes, Summer 1958,” p. 11, MS 1, Box 43, Gerald Sherratt Library, Special and Digital Collections, Southern Utah University, Cedar City. 36. Knack, Boundaries Between, 23. 37. For name spellings of people discussed herein, such as Jody Roe (Jo Diro?) and George McFee (MacPhee?), I relied on LaVan Martineau’s spellings in Southern Paiutes: Legends, Lore, Language and Lineage (Las Vegas: KC Publications, 1992). 38. Fowler and Fowler, Anthropology of the Numa, 104. 39. Richard W. Stoffle, Alex K. Carroll, Amy Eisenberg, and John Amato, Ethnographic Assessment of Kaibab Paiute Cultural Resources: The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah Final Report, Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, University of Arizona,(October 1, 2004): 24–28.
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Anthropologists talk about the Numic Spread theory and how we were supposed to have come from out west, following the pine nuts. As I’ve told other people, that Numic spread sure goes good with white bread. Because it’s not our belief. They’re trying to say we’re newcomers to this area, and they base stuff on artifacts and say we couldn’t do that. But imagine if someone came here in a thousand years and found all this stuff made in China; there must have been Chinese all over here. Like we don’t have the capacity to adapt other technologies, or trade, or steal. We’re not given that credit to think that way; all we were doing was trying to survive. (Richard Arnold, Pahrump Band)
40. Richard W. Stoffle and Maria Nieves Zedeno, “Historical Memory and Ethnographic Perspectives on the Southern Paiute Homeland,” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 23, no. 2 (2009): 229–48. 41. Letter from W. R. Bradfute to James Spencer, October 12, 1879, BIA-LR, roll 544, cited it Knack, Boundaries Between, 344. 42. Ibid., 192.
Vivienne Jake feels the same way: “What, you think all these Indians just left the area during that big drought, and we kind of wandered in? We have stories from before all that. We have stories of the Flood.” Contemporary anthropologist Richard Stoffle notes that Paiute have no stories of being from elsewhere, or of being conquered or shunted into the desert by stronger people.40 Southern Paiute reservations are a series of postage stamps scattered throughout their homelands. This points to another Southern Paiute trait; they simply would not leave their lands. They rejected efforts to move them north to Fort Duchesne, Utah, with the Ute, who were traditional enemies and considered to be powerful sorcerers. After that failure, J. W. Powell, a special commissioner of Indian affairs as of the spring of 1873, tried to move them all to Moapa, Nevada, which had potential. But that reservation was crushed down from three thousand and nine hundred square miles to less than two square miles by pressure from mining companies. Initial willingness to move by some Southern Paiute vanished. By 1879, the Moapa subagent declared with a straight face, “As for the Indians, they are doing well. None of them live on the reservation now . . .”41 The Southern Paiute clung to the outskirts of their previous settlements, which were now of course white towns, because they were the best lands and water. Each reservation has its own compelling story: how Gertrude Leivas helped bring her people back to Chemehuevi after the Parker Dam filled Lake Havasu, flooding them out, forcing them onto enemy Mojave lands, or how Gevene Savala’s grandmother Wuri stood up at a public meeting and staked their claim to Kaibab springs, swaying the local Mormons into supporting them against federal plans. In Las Vegas, a sympathetic rancher named Helen Stewart gave them just ten acres, which, with great irony, was called a colony but would emerge as the Southern Paiute’s most lucrative asset. In Cedar City, they virtually became wards of the LDS Church, living off of church land and water, depending on handouts. But it always boiled down the fact that the Southern Paiute just wouldn’t leave. They became a “problem,” and something had to be done. Though relieved to remain on their ancestral lands, they have found it a double-edged sword. On the one hand, today these tiny reservations serve as a constellation of oases on their original lands. As “a fluid network of people in motion,”42 this allows them to continue their ancient practice of constantly weaving through each other and their vast lands. But the federal government’s insistence on independently isolating each reservation, with strict enrollments, froze people and resources in place, creating stagnation and animosity
You look around Arizona, Colorado, man they’ve got reservations that are half the state. In Utah the biggest reservation is Fort Duchesne [Ute], and that was supposed to handle all of them. All the rest are little bitty ones. —mckay pikyavit, Kanosh Band
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We, towards the middle of the day, came across a company of Indian women traveling barefooted, and leading a number of horses tethered together, laden with game of all sorts, which their husbands had doubtless killed during these snowy days, so favourable to the chase. These women, ill clad in tattered skins which left a part of the body uncovered, did not appear to suffer from cold. They passed by us with great gravity to all appearance, but laughing, no doubt, in their sleeves, and without condescending either to give us a look, or reply to our questions or sign. —jules remy and julius brenchley, 185543
both between and within bands. Also, they remained on their lands from a deep sense of responsibility to protect them, but have no power to do so, creating an ongoing anxiety unique to tribal peoples spiritually interwoven with their lands. Hacked into tiny reservations, they have no way to sustain themselves, no insulation from whites, too much of each other, and not enough critical mass to maintain culture or combine political power. Another trait with a serious downside is their tendency to keep to themselves. Writes local BIA Superintendent Mathew Murphy to Inspector Frank C. Churchill in 1907: “I reached Kanab, Utah a few hours after you had left; I could probably have given you some information in regard to the band which sometimes lives in Paiute Canyon [the San Juan tribe]. If this is the band you are looking for they are hard to locate and they will very likely have nothing to say when you do . . . They ask for nothing but to be left alone.”44 That is primarily why the San Juan lost the Paiute Strip, their large reservation consisting of the entire southeast corner of Utah south of the San Juan River. These lands went from theirs to being leased to oil companies to being absorbed into the expanding Navajo Reservation, all without the San Juan being involved because they had no interest in engaging the whites. It also took a while to get used to long silences during interviews. After listening to Evelyn Samalar’s story, I phoned her to ask about “the little old people.” I had assumed it was just their elders. There was four minutes of long distance silence before she started describing the sutuhorum, small, uniquely Paiute spiritual beings.45 A friend who taught at the Navajo Mountain Indian School noted that, while the Navajo kids were silent, the Paiute kids, though paying attention and getting good grades, sat completely motionless.46 You could sense this in the elders, as if through the millennia, something of the absolute stillness of these deserts had stained through them.
43. Jules Remy and Julius Brenchley, A Journey to Great Salt Lake City (London: John Edward Taylor, 1861), quoted in Larsen, Paiute Scrapbook, 93. 44. Pamela Bunte and Robert J. Franklin, From the Sands to the Mountain: Change and Persistence in a Southern Paiute Community (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987), 169. 45. Stutuhrum and tutuhurum are alternate renditions of names for the same entities. 46. Thanks to Steve Feldman for his observation.
A year after Bill Tom died, Vivienne Jake burned down his house. He built it near the ranch at Six Mile on the Kaibab Reservation. It was probably the last time this Southern Paiute tradition was carried out. They used to destroy all the deceased’s stuff at either the funeral or the memorial held a year after, sometimes called a Big Time. This is usually the first thing I tell people about the Southern Paiute: here are a people considered degraded because they didn’t have much stuff, yet they destroyed it all on a generational basis. It kicks over a key Western domino, the development and accumulation of stuff, and points towards their wholly different worldview.
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The Salt Songs are the balance between land and people and song and language, and how all of these are interrelated and how you can’t do one without the other. —vivienne caron-jake , Kaibab
One reason they destroyed things was so the deceased would have it in the next world. Moapa Paiute Archie Kay used to rip up dollar bills and put them in the coffin with the body. One Moapa man was buried with his car. William R. Palmer translated a Southern Paiute speech this way in 1953:
47. William R. Palmer, “Indian Saparovan,” Forgotten Chapters of History, (Logan: Merrill Library and Learning Resources Program, Utah State University, 1978), radio scripts, September 13 and 14, 1943, nos. 141 and 142, KSUB Radio, Cedar City, Utah.
Me, I will speak to you now my dead people who are here with us. We cannot meet you on your old tribal grounds, for we have been driven away by a stronger people. They have built towns and made fields where you lighted your campfires. We believe that you have come here to us and you will not be angry for what we have lost. We are your children. We have come from you. When we die we want to go to the place where you are. You will teach us how to live in that country as you taught us the way to live in this land. The songs of our singers will be like a trail leading us to you. When you died we gave you all your good things, and many other things that your family and friends could gather. We kept nothing back that was yours. We wanted you to go like a rich man to your fathers. We had long cries for you then and we will cry for you again tonight, so be good to us now. I am done. I have spoken.”47 When he talked about songs that will lead them “like a trail” to their ancestors, he referred to the Salt Songs. These songs have obscure origins; some say the Paiute and Mojave, traditional enemies, traded Bird and Salt Songs deep in the past, as some of the singing is in the Mojave’s different, Yuman language. Some say the songs come from the Cahuilla people in California, who are related to the Southern Paiute. One story roots the songs in Utah’s Southern Paiute, saying that two standing rocks mirroring each other across the Virgin River represent the two sisters who delivered these songs. But as you will encounter in these stories, Salt Songs have a life of their own, and go where and when they choose. Regardless of their origins, they now sit at the core of Southern Paiute culture, perhaps because, due to relentless, ongoing loss, their funeral ceremony has taken center stage of their shared lives. The Salt Songs are critical maps through unforgiving deserts, but they also describe the path through death to the next world. In addition, they are histories which limn the entire Paiute homeland, including the migrations of three San Juan Paiute sisters. Therefore, on all accounts, this cycle of approximately a hundred and forty songs must be sung in order. They tie it all together—landscapes physical, historical and spiritual. As such, Vivienne Jake calls the songs “bringing creation back together.” Larry Eddy, a Chemehuevi Salt Song singer, describes how they received these songs: “The great Creator told us, I’m going to teach you these songs, but before I teach you these songs, I’m going to break your heart.” Vivienne realized that their lead Salt Song singer, Willis Mayo, was reaching ninety, and that nobody was taking up the songs. She organized the Salt Song Project, and connected with Mathew Leivas, interviewed here, to preserve them at this critical juncture. Snooping through the unsorted boxes at the Southern Utah University archives, a tape emerged marked “Bird Songs Willis Mayo.” It was immediately clear that they were Salt Songs.
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Vivienne was initially angry that such a tape existed. The elders talk about how they were never allowed to attend Cry Ceremonies as children, as they were too young to be exposed to such powers. Salt Songs couldn’t be taped or even taught; they could only be learned through the ceremony itself. Singing the songs was one thing, but the power to actually make the songs work had to be earned from the caves. Vivienne finally asked for a copy of the tape. Though sacrilegious, the preservation of the songs was the clear priority. Before Vivienne and Mathew started the Salt Song Project, there were Cry Ceremonies where they couldn’t find singers and played such tapes instead. The Salt Song Project (at www.nativeland.org) is supported by the good people at the Cultural Conservancy in San Francisco. I visited Vivienne at dialysis and read what I wrote above about the Salt Songs. She nodded, but didn’t take her eyes off the Beijing Olympics on her little TV. Granted, it isn’t the best time or place for in-depth discussion, while all your blood is being drained and filtered through bleeping machines, but so many elders endure dialysis that over the years we’ve all gotten comfortable meeting there. I threw a bunch of ideas at her: the songs as incantations, invocations, odes, chants, prayers, desert songs shared with the enemy Mojave, directions to life-giving salt, and so on. She nodded more, still watching the sprinters. Then I quoted one of the elders who talked about them as opening a portal between the living and dead, and how you needed more than just the songs, you had to earn the power to do that. She lit up: “We are taking a journey together when we sing the songs. They have many languages in them, Cahuilla, Mojave, dialects from Chemehuevi, Moapa, Kaibab. You once asked me how we survive all this suffering, the hardships and loss, the alcohol, the suicides, dialysis. It’s the Salt Songs. It’s who we are. It’s how we survive.” One other thing must be said about the Salt Songs; they sound beautiful. “Whether they induce faith in the patient, that by their songs, suction & carrying off the disease; or whether a healing spirit attends them in their administrations; or a magnetic stream passes from the whole through the diseased person—a mesmeric influence that heals, I know not but the general testimony is that often remarkable cures are affected” (Thomas Brown, 1854).48 Hopefully Brown’s wonderful journal will be reprinted; he had a sharp eye and a sincere curiosity about Lamanites. In 1854, Brigham Young arranged for six different groups to missionize among different, neighboring tribes. This effort can be dissected down to political maneuverings after the Walker War with the Ute to consolidate regional control over Indians, but Brown’s journal reveals the good heart behind such LDS efforts. Young sent a group of twenty-three missionaries to southwest Utah, including Brown, Jacob Hamblin, Ira Hatch, and Thales Haskell, and in the end it was the only missionary effort to take hold among the Southern Paiute.
48. Brooks, Journal of the Southern Indian Mission, 23. 49. David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous (New York: Pantheon Books, 1996), 178.
Among the least technological of human cultures, we find the most intimate possible relation between the land and human language . . . The local earth is, for them, the very matrix of discursive meaning; to force them from their native ecology is to render them speechless—to dislodge them from the very ground of coherence. It is, quite simply, to force them out of their mind. —david abram 4 9
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50. Isabel T. Kelley, “Southern Paiute Shamanism,” Anthropological Records 2, no. 4 (1939): 151. 51. The Northern Paiute are a different people than the Southern Paiute. They speak a related but distinct Numic language and their homelands are in northern Nevada, eastern Oregon, and eastern California. 52. In the narratives of Paiute elders, I have rendered certain Paiute words and names as pronounced by each elder instead of employing a consistent spelling. The brother deities Sinawava and Tobats are prime examples. Tivats, Shinaalv, and Sinawav are all different pronunciations of these deities. At the same time, for ease of reading, I steered away from orthographic symbols representing glottals or other inflections. 53. Fowler and Fowler, Anthropology of the Numa, 104. This counts the Pahvant, but only counts the Chemehuevi, which he called a “confederation” (p. 107), as one, so his band list probably included more bands. William R. Palmer, “Pahute Indian Lands,” Utah Historical Quarterly 6, no. 3 (1933): 96–97. Isabel Kelly, “Southern Paiute Bands,” American Anthropologist 36, no. 4 (1934): 548–60.
Admittedly, I pressed for healing stories. It seemed essential, to reflect an intact culture still connected with each other and their lands. These elders tell of healers with red hot coals in their mouths, heads lit like lanterns; of healers gone bad who had to be killed; of peyote; of canes sliding into the earth and of feathers dancing on end, fringes glowing like flames as they offered glimpses into the future; of curing songs given by the dead through dreams; of the mixed blessings of “the little people”; of powers given by Elk, Sun, Ocean, and others; of tiny bears held in the palm of your hand; of songs offered by rivers, winds, and canyons; of songs from caves too terrifying to stand. Isabel Kelly spent time with the Southern Paiute from 1932 to 1934, and observed that “Shamanism is still a vital institution among the Southern Paiute and consequently it is discussed by informants with some reluctance . . .”50 She wrote about weather shamans, rattlesnake shamans, and powers coming from animals, caves, jimson weed, and dreams, sometimes unbidden. “Sorcerers” practiced “witchcraft,” and when another shaman envisioned the guilty sorcerer, he or she often admitted their crime and was forced to withdraw their intrusion. Sometimes they were killed. The stories here speak for themselves. All I can attest to is that, in the telling, there was only hesitance to reveal these intimacies, not any bravado or even pride in laying claim to their powers. Far more was left unsaid than told. Approaching any American Indian tribe, you first have to sit with the idea of utter devastation and suffering, in some ways that nontribal people do not conceive. It goes beyond the comprehensible losses of life, of land, of language. One constantly encounters the idea that Indians and their lands are linked, are one, but most nontribal people can simply never feel the bedrock truth of it, and therefore never understand the layers of insanity, the generations of despair and hopelessness, the slow motion genocide, the alluring peace of suicide. How many generations severed from each other, from lives intertwined with their lands, can any indigenous, oral culture withstand? Not only were generations separated time and again, but they were taught to be ashamed of their elders, and in turn these elders felt that shame. They have no writings to fall back on, bringing them to the bizarre position of reading white historical accounts for lost information, like Vivienne Jake’s dilemma with the taped Salt Songs. The Northern Paiute, whose prophets Wodziwob and Wovoka envisioned the Ghost Dances, recently revived these dances, and there’s ongoing debate on how much to use the ethnographer James Mooney’s remarkable, if inappropriate, details of the dance.51 Entire Paiute bands disappeared, including the Parusitts and Tonaquint, two bands who had the best lands along the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers in southwest Utah. With them went stories reaching back thousands of years. There are several stories in this book about the Flood, from when Paiute watched the Hopi move through on their ancient migrations, from when Sinawava,52 today equated with Jesus by many Mormon Paiute, visited the People three times, right over there on that ridge. Healthy fluidity between bands vanished with forced, separate reservation enrollment. Today there are ten recognized Southern Paiute groups, perhaps more depending on how you view the Twenty-Nine Palms, Cahuilla, and Kawaiisu peoples along their culturally permeable western border. To a degree, the contemporary Southern Paiute tribes represent a condensed core of distinct groups, as defined of course by their lands. But they also represent a particular moment in the flow of their history that got set in concrete. Powell lists thirty-five bands, Palmer lists thirty-one, Kelly, sixteen.53 The band names change so much from map to map that it’s hard to find continuity. This of course reflects loss, the complete vanishing of bands from optimal lands with water, but it also points to Paiute mobility, how they once moved amongst each other and across their homelands as they chose, and to
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the spatially vast networks of kinship that resulted. When reservations came, people who evolved from centuries, if not millennia, of nomadic intimacy with these deserts found themselves bolted down to tiny reservations, staring at each other from squares of federal housing. In her first sentence, Martha Knack lays out a foundational problem for her book and question for us: “By all the ‘rules’ of history and anthropology, Southern Paiutes would have been expected to disappear long ago. They did not.”54 European pathogens, from which they had no immunity, rarely get enough blame for the advance decimation of Indians. All pre-contact population discussions have a speculative nature, but the Southern Paiute probably suffered the same pandemics as neighboring Puebloans (though some theories hold that mobile hunter-gatherers were less susceptible to pandemics). By the year 1700 then, they had already suffered bubonic plague, smallpox, measles, and perhaps chicken pox. From 1847 to 1856, ten different diseases ravaged the Southern Paiute, killing perhaps thousands: measles, cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, whooping cough, typhoid fever, intestinal parasites, mumps, and smallpox.55 This resulted in drastic drops in population and attendant losses of lines of cultural knowledge and tradition, and it must have shook the very souls of tribes throughout the Americas, as their traditional healings failed. The disintegration of these healings, the culmination of centuries of cultural evolution, turned many tribes, including the Southern Paiute, on themselves. Suspicions degenerated into the Indian “witch murders” frequently reported in the late 1800s. By the late 1600s the Ute, who had lived much like the Southern Paiute but who had greater grassland and water resources and better access to Spanish sources, adopted the horse, while Paiute did not. The mounted Ute raided the Paiute and came to expect women and children almost as a tax. Later, Mexican slavers (having obtained the proper permits) also raided back and forth along the Spanish Trail, dragging perhaps thousands of Southern Paiute to either Santa Fe or Los Angeles. Mounted Navajo raiders also enslaved Paiute. Southern Paiute slavery may have been the largest internal trade of indigenous humans in America into the 1850s. As for the Mormons’ acquisition of Paiute children, though it is sometimes termed adoption or indenture, Knack calls it slavery, pointing out that “These Mormon purchases had reached such an extent that by 1853, each of the one hundred households in Parowan, Utah possessed one or more Paiute children.”56 She notes that Paiute children were traded to other white families for guns or oxen. They were a handy source of cheap labor on many farms. William Palmer argues passionately that the Southern Paiute were never slaves for the Mormons:
54. Knack, Boundaries Between, 1. 55. Stoffle, Carrol, Eisenberg, and Amato, Ethnographic Assessment, 25. 56. Knack, Boundaries Between, 57. 57. Palmer, “Western History Course Notes,” 11.
Let me repeat; they were never slaves. Their rights were safeguarded by a strict law. They were to sit at the same table, share the same foods, and enjoy in common the comforts of the home. They were to have three months schooling each year up to fifteen years of age, and when a boy reached eighteen he was to be given a new work suit and a new dress suit, two new shirts, two pair of new shoes, a new hat, a new bible and a Book of Mormon and five dollars in cash. Then he was a free man. Girls at sixteen received the same if they chose to leave. But they had the right of home as long as they lived, or until they married.57 In 1911, the BIA agent in Salt Lake City was responsible for “The Scattered Bands of Utah.” Officially “scattered,” in fact dispersed, silent, and keeping to themselves, they faded into the cracks of the American West. They were absorbed into towns, mines, ranches and farms, enrolled as Navajo, or baptized Mormon. They were forgotten, neglected, ignored,
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and later officially terminated. The Southern Paiute had no treaties with the U.S. government. About twenty Southern Paiute fought with the Pai peoples during the 1866 Havasu War, and a few joined with tribes in isolated battles or resisted military attacks on their small camps, but there were never any direct battles with the U.S. Army. They became virtually invisible.
58. Ronald Holt, Beneath these Red Cliffs, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992), 129.
We have received no money from the government or anyone else for the loss of our land. A lot of our children have been taken away . . . and we see them no more. Our mothers have cried many tears for their children are gone. Even if we received money from the government, maybe we couldn’t get our children back . . . Most of us drink too much but maybe you would too if you were one of us. Please do not judge us too harshly, for our lives are not easy. We do not like to beg, but we live on so little. We are strangers in our own land. We are grateful for what help we have been given, but soon we will all be gone unless something different happens to us. We want to live like everyone else and see our children healthy and happy. In the name of Shinaalv, the name we use when we pray to our God, please help us. Please give us some of our land back, enough to dignify our lives. (Woodrow Pete, Cedar Band Paiute) 58 This desperate plea sounds like something from the nineteenth century, but it’s from 1968, after Utah’s Southern Paiute bands had been “terminated” for fourteen years. At the urging of Utah Senator Arthur Watkins, Congress officially terminated the Southern Paiute as a recognized tribe in 1954, along with any government service, trusteeship, or benefit that should have come with such recognition. Only after twenty-six years of fighting were the bands finally “restored” and organized into the present day Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah (PITU). Despite the obvious hardships of the nineteenth century, many elders considered the termination period, from 1954 through 1980, as their harshest time, with loss of language, culture, land, and life. All of the Utah elders interviewed here experienced this time. Generational fractures continued, as Paiute children received indoctrination through either the LDS Indian Student Placement Program or boarding schools. Placement started in 1947 when a Navajo girl moved in with the family of a Mormon stake president and officially ended in 1996, but by 1971 around seven thousand Indian children were living in LDS homes. As Patrick Charles describes in his interview, termination brought such devastation that “for the families broken apart like that, maybe placement was the best thing for them.” Placement, like giving your children to Mormon pioneer families, was a desperate choice of the lesser of evils. It’s an ongoing pattern: caught in a relentless spiral of loss, the Southern Paiute have had no choice but to turn to the Mormons, who were the overwhelmingly dominant population around the Paiute and who, despite teachings about Lamanites as chosen people, were little different from most white Americans when it came to prejudice and discrimination against Indians. The foundational belief that God also cursed the Lamanites, coupled with an early tradition of perceiving Paiute as remnants of Gadianton robbers seems to have allowed Mormons room to overlook that chosen status. From displacement and starvation to termination and placement, they were usually the root of Southern Paiute loss in Utah. Outside of Utah and Mormon country, many Paiute children were sent away to Riverside or Stewart Indian Schools, where they were beaten or starved if caught speaking their language. Richard Pratt, an Army officer who founded the first of such schools, Carlisle, famously outlined his philosophy in 1892: “A great general has said that the only good
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Zion still has a lot of good spirits in it. Grand Canyon too. Song in the water, song in that rock wall; got some voice down there. There’s powerful medicine still in these hills. What the Indians used in the long and early days. Paiutes now got to decide if they want to be Paiute or white people. Soon maybe they won’t be Paiute. Just be people. My thinking is this way. A lot of things changing all right. Everything’s going haywire, messing up, people against one another. The Medicine knows it already. It comes from the Earth. Air. Everything’s a part of it. It’s there yet. Indian Medicine still waiting for an answer. —clifford jake, Indian Peaks
Indian is a dead one . . . In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”59 Notice, though, as you read the Paiute stories, how funny they are. Also note how many served in the military. And that’s the thing. Their history can be boiled down to the reality that for generations, these “scattered Indians” have suffered a relentless assault, often with the best of intentions, directed at dissolving whatever it is that ties them to each other and their lands. Yet, they have endured our ever-changing certainties that they needed to be civilized, terminated, or white and delightsome. They have survived civilization’s best efforts to kill, cure, or save them. Yet somehow their stories are not a litany of sufferings or streams of anger, bitterness, or resignation. They are all consummate storytellers and lace their stories with humor. Of course, they give accounts of their sufferings and know too well how hard it will be for their culture to survive. All the events for this project were scheduled around Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, as the majority of elders had dialysis on those days: “Even your food is killing us,” observed Madelan Redfoot. Madelan and Eunice Tillahash Surveyor both made the decision to stop dialysis, and death followed quickly. Yet painful accounts, such as Lucille’s telling of the death of her children, are unflinchingly and blamelessly told, and point toward something profoundly Southern Paiute. Given that their frontier West was relatively recent, these elders still echo utterly different times. They remember the great pine nut caravans, the all night round dancing and gambling, the healers loved and feared, the great Big Times, Fandangos, Bear Dances, and even Sun Dances. The elders of their childhoods weave through these different accounts and come to life, a web of people that form a kind of cultural sky. They were healers, singers, chiefs, and renegades, people like Johnny Kanosh, Charlie Chemehuevi, Polly Hoviates, Jody Roe, Toab, Posey, Johnny Domingo, Tecopa, Stewart Snow, Chuarumpeak, Isaac Hunkup, Mouse, Tony Tillahash, Jimmie Pete, Peach-O, Queo, Peg a Roon, Taugu, Whispering Benn and others. Their elders are like taproots, breaking through the thin shell of the last couple hundred years into a timeless rhythm with these impossibly complex lands. One can find voices going several generations back proclaiming their extinction. Make no mistake; many of the elders here declare that it is over. One young man, from a strong lineage of healers, came to Clara Belle Jim for advice, saying that power was trying to come to him in his dreams. She told him that he would never be able to accept it, because
59. Richard H. Pratt, “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” in Official Report of the Nineteenth Annual Conference of Charities and Correction, 1892, ed. Isabel C. Barrows (Boston, Geo. H. Ellis, 1892), 46.
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he didn’t speak Southern Paiute. Today there are less than fifty Southern Paiute who can still fluently speak the language. Of the healing powers, both McKay Pikyavit and Arthur Richards asked, “Who’s got it that can give it to them?” Eunice looked at the bloodlines; she’d flick her wrist in the direction of a particular band and mock them as “just a bunch of Mexicans anyway.” After an elder would calmly observe that it was over, I would push; isn’t there some way someone could go after it? Their response was universal and heartfelt. They all pointed to the land. I don’t mean to romanticize their past, clearly the Southern Paiute were being raided by Ute and Navajo prior to white incursion, and before that it was surely something else. They weren’t hung up on tradition for tradition’s sake; they made arrowheads out of iron and glass. Their Round Dance singers riffed spontaneously to entertain the dancers. They welcome new ways. But their lands created them and sit at the heart of a unique wisdom gained from constant motion through unforgiving lands. What is left when that vanishes? What could possibly take its place? Over eighty years old, Clara Belle Jim still keeps a wool blanket bedroll in the back of her old Ford pickup, to throw out on the desert pavement and bask in the brilliant nights. What made their deserts useless to others continues to a degree to preserve them. Places in the Colorado Plateau, Mojave Desert, and Great Basin remain blessed with aching clarity and silence. They have a word for the power that emerges from intimacy with the land: puha. Puaxant means “healer.” Puaxant tuvip is “sacred earth,” “home.” Throughout puaxant tuvip you can still peel off the interstate, grind down some dirt road to suddenly encounter a primal stillness, confronted by a stark and numinous earth. The Southern Paiute sit in the distance before us, in the wavy mirage of our own myriad anthropological, racial, and religious projections, still not paying us much mind. Against all odds and predictions, they have somehow survived. They have sloughed off every label and insult foisted on them, every effort to help or hurt them. Theirs was a human experiment; give us these great American deserts, a few thousand years, and just leave us alone. It will never be seen again. This book is a snapshot of these people right now, of an amazing generation passing away. These stories are, of course, just slivers of our interviews, which in turn are just slivers of their lives, what they would tell a white stranger. Time will tell what exactly this moment represents. With luck, clues to who they were, who they remain, how they’ve survived, and what will carry them into the future are embedded here somewhere. If not, it’s enough, at long last, to just honor these good people. As of this publication, ten elders interviewed here have passed on: Clifford Jake, Eunice Tillahash Surveyor, Eldene Snow Cervantes, Madelan Redfoot, Evelyn Samalar, Margaret King, Will Rogers, McKay Pikyavit, Gertrude Leivas, and Barbara Pete Chavez.
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San Juan Paiute I shall dance tonight When the dusk comes crawling There will be dancing and feasting I shall dance with the others In circles In leaps In stomps Laughter and talk will weave Into the night Among the fires of my people Games will be played And I shall be a part of it — laverne owl 1
ow the San Juan Paiute lost their enormous reservation called the Paiute Strip, about nine thousand square miles, is an interwoven story of bureaucratic corruption and ignorance, Paiute insularity, and Navajo opportunism and growth. In 1905 the federal government began exploring reservation possibilities for the Kaibab and San Juan people. In 1908, a stunning labyrinth of canyons south of the San Juan River was set aside for the San Juan Paiute and “other Paiute who wished to live there.” The ethnographic record is clear regarding Southern Paiute claims to these lands. The essentially first European map of the area, drawn by Bernardo Miera of the 1776 Domínguez-Escalante expedition, shows the “Yutas Payuchis” south of the San Juan River. In 1874, John Wesley Powell couldn’t justify travel expenses to visit them, as they were too remote, but he included them with the Southern Paiute, calling them Kwai-an-ti-kwok-its, or “the people living across the river.”2 In 1908, Byron Cummings, archeologist and University of Utah dean, who co-led the expedition to “discover” Rainbow Bridge, summed up the situation: “That was known as the Piute Strip, extending between the San Juan River and the Utah-Arizona boundary line . . . and was a Piute reservation at that time. A good many Piutes were still living on the Strip and there was continual clashing between the Piutes and the Navajos because the Navajo were continually attempting to go in on Piute territory and crowd out the Piutes.”3 Anthropologists Allen Turner and Robert Euler conclude, “The consensus that can be derived from the data is that the San Juan Paiute occupation of the area southeast of the San Juan . . . far predates that of the Navajo and that the latter migrated to that territory after the 1867 Bosque Redondo incarceration.”4 Enter Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, who will later be convicted in the Teapot Dome Scandal that embroiled Warren Harding’s presidency. Without consulting or informing the San Juan Paiute, Fall vacated their title to the reservation in 1922 and opened their lands for oil drilling. Fall would gain infamy for becoming the first presidential cabinet member to be jailed, convicted of taking bribes from oil companies in exchange for leases on federal lands.
1. LaVerne Owl is the daughter of Jack and Mary Ann Owl and was in the sixth grade when she wrote this poem. 2. Don D. Fowler and Catherine S. Fowler, eds., Anthropology of the Numa John Wesley Powell’s Manuscripts on the Numic Peoples of Western North America 1868–1880 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1971), 104. 3. Byron Cummings, “Untrodden Trails,” Arizona Historical Society, Tucson, quoted in Allen C. Turner, Robert Euler, “A Brief History of the San Juan Paiute Indians of Northern Arizona,” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 5, nos. 1–2 (1983), 199. 4. Ibid. (italics in original).
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5. Pamela A. Bunte and Robert Franklin, From The Sands to the Mountains: Change and Persistence in a Southern Paiute Community (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987), 190. 6. Ibid, 181. 7. David Kent Sproul, Rainbow Bridge National Monument Administrative History A Bridge Between Cultures: An Administrative History of Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Cultural Resources Selections No. 18 (Denver: Intermountain Region, National Park Service, 2001).
The oil companies drilled empty holes and left. A young Navajo graduate from the Sherman Institute began petitioning the government to set aside the Paiute Strip lands again, and initial paperwork referring to “the Indians who have always lived here” was gradually replaced with “Navajo.” There was a series of meetings, from 1930 to 1932, with the Navajo Tribal Council, regional BIA officials, and other federal and state bureaucrats— everyone but the San Juan Paiute. In 1933 the vast Paiute Strip officially became a part of the Navajo Reservation. In their definitive study of Navajo Mountain ethnography, Anthropologists Pamela Bunte and Robert Franklin bluntly state, ”Walker, Cheschillige, Hagerman, and the four Navajo councilman succeeded in promulgating a new view of regional social history, one in which Navajo possession of former Paiute holdings was seen as rightful and of ancient standing.”5 This also included a revisionist approach to Hopi claims when in 1930 Western Navajo Agency superintendent Chester Walker offered “the clearest case of explicit proNavajo bias” when he called the Hopi on their ancestral farms in Moencopi “squatters” who were “encroaching” on Navajo lands.6 Throughout all this, the San Juan Paiute’s centuries-old seasonal trek from Douglas Mesa to Allen Canyon and White Mesa and was ending due to population devastation from the 1918 influenza epidemic and Navajo incursion. Throughout, the Paiute were neither informed nor consulted about the legal juggling of their lands. Today the San Juan Paiute, though a recognized tribe, have no reservation lands, and, like all Southern Paiute, live in different pockets around their homelands, including at Willow Springs and Tuba City, where they had long lived near Hopi neighbors at Moencopi. The three stories here from Navajo (Paiute) Mountain all speak to personal experience of this loss of ancestral lands. This is not an academic matter; their losses continue today. At this writing, Louise Owl continues to fight the Navajo and a moribund bureaucracy for rights to her family’s traditional corn fields. Jack and Mary Ann Owl asked me to look into interviews they did for the National Park Service, which they believed would clarify their claims and protect the eighteen acres they had left. Jack didn’t blink when he saw himself and Bessie Owl thanked as “Navajo” in the acknowledgments to the National Park Service’s 2001 Rainbow Bridge administrative history.7 He then listened as his daughter translated the pro-Navajo revisionism of 1920 and 1932, which ignored San Juan claims. Finally, upon learning that the NPS had employed a Navajo anthropologist for the 2001 job, Jack shrugged and grinned, as if to say, “See? This is how it always is.” Phone calls to various NPS personnel, the authors of the report, and the BIA Southern Paiute field agent have thus far proved fruitless. The murder of the prominent San Juan elder Alfred Lehi, referred to by Jack, Mary Ann, and Bessie, occurred in 1969 and was never resolved.
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Mary Ann Owl
san juan paiute , born September 1934
san juan paiute , born April 2, 1928
After hours of red dirt roads, we’re not sure this is the right home. Three people, an older man and woman and a younger man, greet us with absolute silence, their eyes kind, wary, and curious. There’s no electricity, so there’s that desert silence too. They present a timeless scene, working their way through a harvest of fresh picked corn. She sits on the floor, legs splayed straight out, her stone metate beside her, sorting the piles. The two men make short work of the blue speckled corn, deftly slicing the husks around the base and sliding them off. After eyeing us a while, they admit they are indeed the Owls. But they speak no English, and their affable son Lenny is a hesitant translator. Despite good will and effort on both sides, there’s little headway. However, they seem to like what’s going on, and we agree to bring Vivienne out next time to translate so we can get down to business. This place is primal. My friend Stephen Feldman taught out here at the Navajo Mountain Boarding School; he guides us to a magnificent camp behind the Navajo Mountain dump. The San Juan River canyons unfold before us and the Henry Mountains, eighty miles away, sit clear in the pure desert air like jeweled miniatures. Marauding thunderstorms whip the massive Navajo Mountain laccolith. As night falls we see scattered, isolated wildfires, lit by lightning, in the distance across the river, looking like small volcanoes. Earlier, a massive flash flood crashed through Paiute Canyon, quaking the earth, at least four thousand cubic feet per second of water goading a wall of piñons, junipers, cottonwoods, an old truck, and at least one unfortunate sheep. You would die before you got wet. Three different Southern Paiutes translated for these two interviews; the Owls’ son Lenny Youngheart, daughter Louise Owl, and Vivienne Caron-Jake.
I was six the first time I saw white people, crossing Paiute Canyon. They had shorts, backpacks, and donkeys, going to see Rainbow Bridge. I hid on top of a hill, watching. We used to call them Merricats; my mother would talk about them. Merricats means someone who makes a lot of things with their hands, and does a lot of things too.
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That year I was sent to boarding school in Tuba City by my mother. I spent one year there. I came back and she was waiting on top of Paiute Canyon. They were laughing at me because all I spoke was Navajo. There were a lot of Paiute families that lived here, and we would go to the farms down in the canyon, irrigated by springs. When the corn and the plants were ripe, we would move down to Paiute Canyon to harvest. We’d bake the corn and dry the peaches. We used to dry the corn, put it in bags, bring it up on top of Paiute Canyon, and bury it in a big hole. Then for winter we would move underneath the mountain. We would go back and get the corn when we needed it. Since the corn was dry, it was still good. During that time, all we ate was corn. We would grind it with a stone and make it into a lot of different things, like bread, tortillas, or cereals. There was a trading post about six or seven miles south, by the Navajo chapter house. The Paiutes would move around that area, spend our winter there. We would sell our baskets there. At that time it would probably cost two or three dollars for a basket. Back then there were no Navajo farms anywhere. Navajos would ask if they could have some corn or peaches. When I was growing up, there weren’t many Navajos except on Paiute Mesa. From where we are sitting, there was only one or two Navajo families living east of us down here close to Paiute Canyon. Maybe two or three south of Navajo Mountain. My grandfather and grandmother lived south of Navajo Mountain. They used to move around to places way out like Shonto Arizona. His name was Muuputs, or “Owl.” Navajos asked if they could move here. My grandparents said yes. The Navajo would spend the winter, then move back to Shonto. They asked if they could move in again and my grandparents said yes. Then they moved in with their sheep. The land used to be really good, grasses, a lot of plants that sheep or cattle or horses would eat. So that spring, the Navajos didn’t move back to Shonto. They stayed. The Navajo families stayed and told the Paiutes to stay away from where they moved in. Underneath the mountain where my grandfather used to keep his horses, on the mountainside, the Navajo family told them not to keep their horses there, saying it was their land. Because my grandparents told the Navajo it was okay, that’s why most of this land is taken over by Navajo now. We always called this Paiute Mountain. When Navajos started coming in, they called it Navajo Mountain. mary ann : The Mormons from Henry Mountain used to call this Paiute Mountain. I don’t know what happened. It wasn’t long ago I found out that it was now called Navajo Mountain. jack : So we moved north of the mountain. After the Navajo took over the land, we moved north of the mountain a couple years, then to Paiute Canyon. When I turned twelve, I could tell there were more Navajo families moving in. Right after the Paiute told them it was okay to move here, the Navajo said it was theirs. They started moving in from places like Dinehotso, Mexican Water, Oljeto area, Kaibito, Tuba City, Kayenta. Their kids, grandkids, families all live here now. Around 1923 there was a lot of Paiutes living here. Maybe sixty. At Willie Lehi’s there were lots of people. Before he was born, I’m sure there were a lot more people. They used to move back and forth between White Mesa, Douglas Mesa, and Allen Canyon. Moving like that was before my time. But during that time, the Navajo started moving in. We even farmed in Kayenta, the Paiutes did, and Shonto Canyon. We farmed here and there, a lot of places. We even had some people living on top the mountain. They moved down into Paiute Canyon and on to Oljeto. There was some kind of illness they were moving from [Influenza epidemic?]. On their way up people were dying. Long before I was born. Across the canyon on Paiute Mesa some people died there too. Two or
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