Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Dear Friend" - Thomas Meadows




Photograph of California Indians, 1933. Handwritten caption on verso: MISS OMISEMO MEADOWS & BROTHER, TOMMASINO/ CARMEL, CALIF./ SEPT., 1933. Courtesy of Autry Museum.

Thomas Meadows was brother to Isabel Meadows, ethnologist J.P. Harrington's consultant for Esselen/Carmel/Monterey/Rumsen cultural knowledege. Although Harrington paid Isabel for her interviews, and although she was determined to tell him the stories SHE wanted him to hear, in addition to his "salvage ethnology" project, there is no question in my mind that Isabel received a pittance of what her information and presence were worth. When she died, her brother was left elderly, frail, and without income (evidently Harrington didn't value his stories or knowledge, or perhaps Thomas wasn't the talkative type).

Meanwhile, Harrington built his career on elderly Indians like Isabel. He was friendly with them all, welcomed warmly, but being the work-a-holic he was, he wasn't often available to actually help the people whose culture he wanted to preserve.

His contributions are sometimes difficult for me to juggle - I'm grateful for the stories he preserved - one of them even mentions my great-grandfather, Tomas Miranda - and at the same time, the lives of those people he interviewed seemed to matter less to him than getting the next big scoop.

Yesterday at the UCLA library I started going through the microfilm tapes made of Harrington's records. In "Correspondence" I found the following letters, which are still sitting on my chest like weight I can't slide out from under. I don't know why. But here they are, what's been breaking my heart. I meant to post this last night but was too whupped to face the computer after all day on the microfilm machine.

Isabel died in 1939, I think on a trip to DC where Harrington had her going over materials. Hence, whoever entered this letter wrote "after June 1939" at the top of the page.


[after June 1939]

Dear Mr. Harringon,
Writing you this letter to let know you that Thomas Meadows need money
to pay the house rent and grocery bill.

You told us that you said you told Isabelle Meadows when she died you
was gone take care her brother. Well he need the money now.

Would like to [hear] from you.

Thomas has been wonder where you are.

Write and let us know. Hope you had a good time at the Fair.

You should come here in September and see Country Fair in 14 & 17 Monterey.

Will close.

Your friend

Amelia Meadows


And a follow up letter (probably written by another friend, as neither Thomas nor Isabel could read or write; on the BIA applications Isabel witnessed for my family, she signs with her thumbprint):

Monterey, Calif.
Nov. 11th '39

Dear friend John -

I received your kind letter and sorry you have not been so well.

Thanks for the cheque but it was not enough to pay my expenses.

I owe three months rent and the grocery store has stopped my account.

I am sorry to have to ask you to send me some more money as my land
lady wants her money and Valaniza was by to see me this morning. I
wish you could send it as soon as possible.

I am feeling very well cannot complain.

The parentes mandan saludes con mas saludes. I am your sincere friend.

Thomas Meadows.



I don't know when Thomas died. I don't know if he was housed or homeless. I'll try to find out more information, but the records of this time are poor. At the end of the Depression, just pre-World War II. My great-grandfather Tomas Miranda died in 1940, soon after Isabel. It was the end of an era for California Indians. J.P. Harrington lived till 1961, the year I was born.

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