Saturday, May 31, 2008

This One's for You, Beverly

Blackfoot, Idaho
Feb. 1st, 1923

Mr. J.P. Harrington
Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir:
Since reading your article concerning your theory of the American Indian, presumed that you would be interested to know that there is a very complete history of the origin of the Indian on both of the American continents and that the book has been in circulation since the year 1830.

This history, known as the "Book of Mormon," can be purchased from the Deseret News Book Store, Salt Lake City, Utah, and I suspect it would prove very interesting to you.

Yours respectfully,
Laura Price.

* * * * * * * * * *

September 7, 1939

Navaho Indian Angency,
Shiprock, New Mexico

Referred for reply to J.P. Harrington

Dear Sirs:
I wish to obtain six masculine and six feminine Navaho names and their English meanings. If you can send me some of the typical and more poetical names both in the Navaho and the English, I shall be very grateful for the favor.

Very truly yours,
Juanita Hallenbeck
Roswell, New Mexico

* * * * * * * * * *
July 11th 1935

Dr. John P. Harrington
Department of Ethnology
Washington, D.C.

Dear Dr. Harrington,
I read with great interest in the New York Herald-Tribune today, an account of the "mind battles" which you witnessed amongst the Mission Indians of Southern California, in which convulsions and even death were reported if a contender should cross the death-line. Interested in the phenomenon of thought transference.

Thanking you in advance,
sincerely yours,
J. Lawrence Pool

No wonder Harrington hid out in the field as much as possible, refused to answer his mail, and literally became ill whenever he stayed too long in D.C.!

Friday, May 30, 2008


Campanario (bell tower) at San Miguel Mission.


From the start, hollow stones with voices. Made in their own land, hard beyond rock or bone or abalone shell, shaped by hands of unseen beings we thought must be gods.

Soldiers brought them from the ships, hung them first from trees, then on wooden frames. At last, the bells sounded from the campanario in the church itself – after we made it, after we built the church.

The voice of the bell is the voice of the padres. We try, but we cannot always obey.

Bells at dawn, keening. Bells order us to prayer; the alcaldes stand over us with cudgels and long canes, prevent talk, invoke silence. Bells direct us to breakfast, a gruel of atole quickly swallowed. Bells tell us to scatter to our work, we women to laundry and looms, grinding corn or acorns or wheat, the gardens, harvesting, storing, preparing, cooking; men to the fields to plow, plant, slaughter cattle, adobe, plaster, tile, paint our designs inside the church.

Men work their leather, repair soldier’s saddles, plait reins or the cords of whips they used on us. Seamstresses cut, stitch, clothe our naked shame. Blacksmiths practice the art of heated metal, beating until the acceptable shape emerges. Vaqueros herd and skin the cattle for the hides the Spaniards love so, swimming in blood day after day till Indian skins smell like death too.

Bells for mid-day meal. Atole again. Bells return us to our labors, bells demand prayers or instruction in prayer, bells determine evening meal, maybe posole with meat. Bells give us permission to sleep.

Once, the bells hung silent. The Padres told us, put all else aside, join in collecting a great tide of sardines. Oh, what pleasure while we brought in that slippery harvest!

For many days we waded in the surf with our baskets, salty water bathing us of dust and blood, sun claiming our bare backs. We sang lusty songs out beyond the Padre’s hearing; I heard laughter all around me as the young unmarried men and women, separated in day by work and at night by lock and key, exchanged more than looks. We ate sardines fresh, we roasted them in coals, wrapped in seaweed, we hung them over the fire, their rich fat dripping onto embers.

Some of us caught as much as ten barrels, but when the barrels ran out and still the sardines came, I showed the Padres how to open the sardines, remove the spines, put them to dry in the sun. This, they gave away to anyone who asked, having no way to store such bounty, and that was right, and never would have happened, I thought, if the bells still spoke.

On holy day, we left the sardines in peace, went hunting for nests of sea birds that live in the rocks. We passed that day camping on the beach, small groups of us, each with its fire, roasting and eating what we had caught. Friends rested together, gossiping; daughters normally sequestered in the monjeria leaned against their mothers contentedly; children ate their fill, slept on the warm sand with bones still tight in their fists. Our souls swam gratefully into dream, whole and unbroken.

The Padres stood to one side, watched, laughed to see us at such ease.

Next day, we woke to bells.

The voice of the bell is the voice of the Padres. We try, but we cannot always obey.

Tom Miranda (my grandfather) standing by the same campanario, about 1955.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sherman Indian Boarding School

Today I'm in Riverside, and spent the afternoon looking through old ledgers and xeroxes of old ledgers - lists of Indian children sent to boarding school. I was hoping to find some of my dad's cousins, the Cotas, Ruizes, Robles cousins he thought had gone to Sherman.

The ledgers have only recently become valuable; they're available on microfilm, but I was allowed to go through some of the actual books. I thougth of my mother, going through the mission records for so many years. she really wanted to come to Riverside and see these books, too. I hope she was peering over my shoulder.

Some of these books should be retired soon; till then, I'm allowed to touch these pages of perfect penmanship, lives held as if in a spell.

It's deeply moving to see even just the names of these children, usually quite far from home in more ways than simple mileage. They are names, ages, blood percentage in these ledgers ... name after name after name. Who knew these ledgers would become a strange kind of memorial, like the The Wall in D.C.? Of course, most of the student names have been adapted for ease of the English tongue. A few Hopis prevail; lots of Hispanic first and last names; and, occasionally, names that bear the mark of invasion: Jack Coffee Grounds on this page. On another page, the last name "UncaSam."

So many tribes, brought together in hopes that their individual tribal identities would wash out, that the resulting students would be first just "Indian," and then, just "Americans." Working-class Americans, of course: boys trained as farmers or typesetters or cooks, girls trained as launderesses, maids, domestics. Productive and completely unimaginative citizens (legal citizens after 1924, anyway) whose sweat would support the upperclass's leisure time.

I recognized Marmons, from Laguna Pueblo author Lesley Marmon Silko's family, I believe.

Klamath, Pomo, Ute, Pueblo, Walapai, Digger, Nez Perce, Hopi, Mojave... A "Digger" is not actually a tribal name, by the way. The word is an epithet used by 49'ers who never saw Northern California Indians in a healthy, vigorous, pre-contact state. Instead, whites rushing in from the East to the goldmines found starving, diseased, traumatized survivors of genocide, whose food supply had been so decimated that oftentimes only by digging and eating roots - normally part of a much fuller diet - could they find anything to eat. Hence, "digger." It rhymes with nigger.

Outside the small building that houses The Sherman Museum are two great sage bushes. One is white sage, with a twisted, woody trunk. The smaller sage, with purple flowers, I'm not sure of - but it is sage. These two have obviously been there at the gate for a long time. I like to think they serve as filters, smudges. Two small branches had been broken off, lay on the ground. I took a handful of those leaves inside with me and all day long my hands smelled of blessing.

Here are the names I found that might belong to our family:

Alma Cota, age 13, grade 7, 1/4 Mission, Catholic (1937-1938).

Louis Garcia, age 14, grade 8, 3/8 Mission, Catholic (1936-37)

Santos Ruiz, age 20, grade 10, 1/4 Mission, Catholic. (1936-37)

Richard Garcia, age 19, 3/8 Mission, Catholic.

Josephine Ruiz, age 16, grade 9, 1/4 Mission, 1928.

Andres Robles, grade 1A, 1912. (this and the following entries did not list tribal affiliation or blood quantum)

Emma Ruiz, grade 4, 1912.

George Ruiz, grade 4, 1912.

Marcus Ruiz, grade 5, 1912.

Concepcion Miranda, grade 4. 1914.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ethics of Ethnology, continued

During my four hour stint with microfilm today, I was surprised and pleased to find the following correspondence between J.P. Harrington and various governmental agencies:

It seems that Harrington DID respond to Thomas Meadows' request for help in a way that would benefit Thomas much more than sporadic cash assistance. It seems to have taken 6-8 months from start to finish.

Good work, J.P.

Harrington's own financial circumstances waxed and waned. He hated 9-5 jobs that tied him to an office, but took them off and on in order to pay his debts and get a little put aside for future trips and research. His correspondence shows that he was often late with rent, checks bounced, and he was often out of touch from banks and lawyers for months at a time.

On the other hand, his correspondence also shows that he spent plenty of money of photographs, custom-made typewriter fonts and punctuation, and a variety of the latest recording devices plus repairs, among other expenses.

I found letters from some of his Indian consultants thanking him for gifts: a guitar, books, money; when Juan Justo was recuperating from an ulcerated leg brought on by poverty, illness and homelessness (he lived at the Santa Barbara dump), Harrington took him to San Francisco as a treat.

Harrington's constant traveling to out-of-the-way places with little or no mail service, in conjunction with his obsessive tendency to hole up and work on consuming linguistic puzzles, made him a hard man to get ahold of. He seems to have made friends everywhere, both Anglo and Indian, but much of his incoming correspondence is from people complaining that he has not answered their letters or questions. It must have taken a great deal of concentration and determination on his part for him to do something like follow through on Thomas' financial difficulties.

It's not surprising that someone fell through the cracks. And oh, what a fall it was.

Apparently Harrington had a misunderstanding with Indians at the Santa Rosa Rancheria regarding the purchase of some baskets. In February 1924, Mrs. W.J. Nichols, a local member of the local chapter of California Federation of Women's Clubs, wrote to Harrington, saying,

"Dear Sir: It has been such a long time since you were here and the Indians at the Santa Rosa Rancheria are getting rather put out at not hearing from you either about returning their baskets or sending the money. Trusting you will see to this matter in some way immediately."

We don't know when or what Harrington wrote back (one of the most frustrating parts of this correspondence cache is that most of the time we never see his letters to others), but in October 1925, Mrs. Nichols wrote back, "The matter of the baskets for the Kings Co Indians has passed entirely from my hands. I wrote to you several times concerning the matter, when you did not return them, not only on my own part but at the request of old Bob and of George Garcia. Then I tried various ways to locate you, but couldn't. In the meantime, poor old Bob has passed on and sad to relate, Mr. Harrington, with one more added grievance against the white man and his ways. He no longer considered you a friend."

That Mrs. Nichols was no powderpuff! Harrington's credentials and reputation were well-established at this point, but Mrs. Nichols did not seem to be intimidated. In fact, she went on to really rub it in:

"As you have perhaps heard the crops up this way have suffered from two dry years. Our Indians have not had steady work. And consequently have suffered. They all need money. None of them want their baskets back. By your delay in keeping them you have spoiled the chances of sales here. And I think you should pay for them."

Not only did she think Harrington should pay "our Indians," but Mrs. Nichols played her ace in the hole, saying, "When I had waited so long with out hearing from you, I had the oppurtunity of passing the matter on to others with more authority. And I did so."

Whew! Now what goverment official did she sick on poor John? Stay tuned. For now, Mrs. Nichols closes with, "Your tule mats are in storage here. Bob's dancing things have been sold to responsible parties and will be properly cared for."

Oh, that hurts. "responsible parties"!

In December 1925, Mrs. Nichols again responds to a note from Harrington, saying she had used the money he sent to pay all but two of the Indians so far. Apparently Harrington did not take her tongue-lashing well. "I'm sorry," Mrs. Nichols continues, "if you feel defrauded. But I cannot see as it should be any other way. Mr. Harrington, I feel that I cannot let your saying Old Bob was ungrateful and cruel ... you came up here after old Bob and the rest of the Indians. And you gathered those baskets where ever you could get them. You hunted up Garcia to get the baskets there and as I remember gathered up quite a few very delapidated baskets and were very delighted with your find. Also the baskets and bead work from the Atwell family were your especial find. The baskets that you got at the studio did not all belong to Bob, but to Nick Sisco and some of the girls."

What a rant! What a list! This woman should have been a lawyer. Clearly not one to forgive and forget, Mrs. Nichols brings up yet another sore point: "The other Tule canoe was made and then just went to pieces from not being covered up during the winter. Bob grieved about it. It was too bad. The poor old chap made such a brave attempt to keep going and suffered a great deal. It makes me very angry to hear him [word unclear - implication is 'mistreated']."

Finally, on page 3 of this relentless letter, Mrs. Nichols apologizes for her bluntness - sort of. "I am sorry I have had to write this way but I felt I had too ... [the money] has all been gratefully received. The largest amount in one sum went to George Garcia. He has been having a very hard time. He nearly died of pneumonia last winter. Old Molly, his mother, is sick a great deal of the time and he lost his oldest son this summer."

So there. Take that.

I like that Mrs. Nichols provides a voice for these voiceless people whom Harrington seems to have forgotten. I love her fierce protectiveness. Unfortunately, it borders on paternalism and teeters over the edge when she says things like "our Indians." Still, her examples of hard times for those Indians hurts to read, because as much as I'd like to say she's making victims of them, I have no doubts that things for the Santa Rosa Rancheria Indians in 1925 were probably even worse than she knew.

Behind Mrs. Nichols' strident voice, insisting on restitution and justice, are the voices of the Indians she names, and many she does not. They are not going down without a fight. Clearly they are complaining, citing how they have been mistreated, and demanding payment for their talents. As with Thomas Meadows, though, the Indians involved did not know how to read or write. Or, perhaps they did not know where to send their letters. At any rate, Mrs. W. J. Nichols (and note the absence of her actual name; only that of her husband is represented) serves as their bridge.

I appreciate it, Mrs. Nichols, and I wish I knew your name.

In retrospect now, I notice the dates of these two sets of correspondence: Mrs. Nichols in 1925, Thomas Meadows in 1939. Hmmmmmmm. Maybe, J.P. learned something the hard way. Maybe this was a spanking he never forgot.


"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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