Friday, June 20, 2008

"Gonaway Tribe: Field Notes"

Arrived here amidst mud and rain. There are twenty-one Indians left. Very few of them are old and wise!

The ones I have found are living with the younger Indians near town. This is bad because the young Indians tell the old ones to ask for more money, but I get around that by telling them that I am to pay a certain price and no more.

The old woman, Sadie, says that I am fortunate in coming here in the winter time because it is against the law of her people to tell these stories she told me in the Summer time. She says if she told a story like this in the Summer that a rattlesnake would bite her (but I bet a dollar bill or two flashing in her face she would forget her law).

These Indians realize they are the last of their tribe and they ask a frightful price. But, I have managed to “jew” them down to at least half of what they ask.

I wasn’t able to do much these last few days with the Indians as they are altogether too civilized. They would not have me around at all, said they were “too busy it is Christmas and we do not want to be bothered,” also they keep saying that I should come back when the sun is out, that I mess up their houses and track mud in.

Every day's delay probably means another Indian gone!

Our work is probably and secretly the most important in the Indian line, because in the years to come people will always be finding Indian relics, but they can’t find talk no matter how deep they dig! Once it is gone, it is gone for good.

Mrs. Simpson is dead. Her son and Susie are alive though. I have arranged to talk to them this afternoon, that is, Susie is going to talk, Petie Simpson says he doesn’t speak much Indian language. He says that he was brought up around white people and only speaks a very little Indian. I don’t know how much of this is true but I will go to work on him.

Isn’t it a shame that Mrs. Simpson has died! Another valuable specimen gone!

Susie says that white people do not pay enough but I told her that there is no work to this, “all she would have to do is talk.”

Petie hates the government, he says that they are not doing a thing for the Indians, says all the whites are moving in on the reservations around here; and that they are moving in so much, that there are more whites than Indians on the reservation … he swore and cursed the government out all the time I was there this morning.

Susie says the government has robbed her people ever since the start. She hates white people. I told her that I consider no Indian below my class and that I like Indians very much and that I felt just as she does about the whites coming in and taking the country away from her people. After making friends with them and making them believe I felt the same as they did, they finally consented to talk…Susie was going to tell in Indian what she thought about the government … My how the Petie Simpsons hate white people – they could not use too many words in telling me, too. It is a good thing they don’t know that this research is for the Smithsonian!

When I go to bed at night, it makes me happy to look back over the day and know that I am getting the language before the last of them that speak it are gone.

Yours Sincerely, etc.

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