There is a family on the reservation who has the name LaChappa. The name is in old Spanish and means something like 'short.' This name derives from the original Indian name meaning something like 'The Short People.' The family was large with four boys and three girls plus their mother.
They were a very close and happy family. The older boys went to Grossmont High School. At that time Grossmont High School was the only high school in east county and serviced many rural communities. The Indians were just another rural community.
An incident happened on the reservation that reflected the "Red Scare" of the times.
Just before the Doo-Wap sounds of the 50's, which the older boys would be good at, the family was preparing for dinner. The boys were setting the table and the girls were finishing up the tortillas. There was no TV so people came up with their own entertainment. The family would guess what states the tortillas looked like. The family was discussing the threat of nuclear war as the preparations were made.
The family sat down to eat and were saying their prayers. There was no electricity so the family ate by the soft lights of kerosene lamps. All of a sudden the outside lit up like daylight. The family stared at one another in shock. This was followed by the rumble of an explosion in the distance. No one knew what to say. Then one of the older boys said, "Atom Bomb!"
The family made a mad dash for any available cover. They went into closets, under beds and behind the sofa. They waited with their eyes closed. Slowly they stuck their heads out and looked at each other.
A jet fighter had crashed and exploded on the reservation. The pilot had ejected and was safe. It was a while before the family told anyone the story.
Families no longer entertain each other, or pray together, they rarely eat at the same time, family discussions are now arguments and the light outside our houses is the glow of the casino.
My Grandmother told me several stories about people who died and then came back. I can only remember two of them because I found them most interesting.
I can remember my grandma sitting on her rocking chair smoking. She would smoke and tell me stories as she rocked back and forth. She would tell me stories from long ago and from more recent times. One was about a man who people thought was dead. He woke up after a few hours and told this story. He found himself traveling down a road and came to a great gathering of tribes. At that time they were called fiestas. He saw many people there. Some he knew and some he didn't know. He tried to talk to them but no one would answer him. It was as if though he was not there. Frustrated he walked to the edge of the gathering where the animals were kept. A pig looked at him and said, "Go on back, go on back." So he traveled back down the road and woke up and told the people what happened.
My Grandmother stopped smoking for a few moments, looked skyward and told me another story.
This one was from more contemporary times. Again she said a man had died and the people begin to prepare him for burial. They went so far as to dress him up and place him in a coffin. The people began to cry and mourn for his loss and he suddenly woke up. He then told his story. He said that he had died and was floating over a great lake of fire. He looked down and saw people he knew and people he didn't know. The bad thing was that flames would come up and lick his feet and it hurt. People are not buried with shoes. He told the people that when he died again to please bury him with shoes on so his feet would not be hurt.
My Grandmother stopped to light up another cigarette with a friction match. I was so curious that I asked her "When he died again did they put shoes on?" She stopped her match in mid air and looked at me quizzically like old people do when they think you should know something. She said, "No, no one ever comes back twice."
My cousin, from another tribe, told me a variation of the story. In her story it was a women, and she was walking on cactus.
People see Indians as all being the same, stoic and all the other attributes. Actually I have seen us act like that in front of other people but among ourselves we are a rainbow of characters.
My Father told me about a man who lied all the time. His name was Sam Tule and the Indians called him "HacTul." My Father remembers the old people telling the stories of this legendary character. Unfortunately my Dad did not remember any of the stories. My Grandfather told me stories of this character but I only had a distant memory. I did not know the character’s name until my Dad told me. I do remember these two stories told by my Grandfather who knew Sam Tule
Once my Grandfather’s family was sitting outside the house on a hot summer’s day. It was Saturday. This would include my Grandpa, his twin brother, his Mom, Grandmother and Uncle. Sam Tule walked by and was greeted by the family. Sam Tule passed by and walked down the dusty reservation road and then turned around and came back.
Sam Tule looked at my Grandfather’s Mom and said, "Your Brother died last Tuesday. I was up at the Campo Reservation where your Brother lives when he died. He took sick and passed away."
This caused much emotional turmoil. The family cried and begin to pack their things in the horse drawn buckboard wagon to go to Campo as fast as possible. Campo was a good days ride away. In those days there was no mortician and people had to be buried as fast as possible. The family was trying to get there before the funeral services. As they packed up another neighbor came by and wanted to know what the commotion was all about. They told the story of the death and the neighbor said.
"I just came from Campo and your brother was fine."
My Grandfather could not understand how any one could tell such a lie as Sam Tule. He did think Sam Tule was up to no good when he first passed the house and then came back. My Grandfather resolved that Sam Tule would not get him. He would always be weary of Sam Tule.
My Grandfather grew crops, as most people did at the time. One of the problems in growing crops is worrying if the crops would even come up. People could not grow the same crops every year and had to periodically change the crops. That is when the most concern came up. My Grandpa was at the feed store buying supplies when he saw Sam Tule standing there with his head down and with the saddest look on his face. In those days there was a lot of concern for each other because of the hard times everyone faced and how set backs meant that your family could go hungry. My Grandfather couldn’t help but walk up to Sam Tule and say.
"What happened? What’s the matter?"
Sam Tule slowly raised his head, looked at my Grandpa with those sad eyes and said. "I planted macaroni and nothing came up."
As told to Sam Brown by Ed Brown
In my family stories seemed to have always been told. Maybe it was because we did not have a TV or radio but even when we did get TV and radio stories were still told. Even to his last day my Father will told stories of the tribe from his memories.
If you weren’t raised with stories it may be harder to understand them. When I hear a story I remember back to the way it was. The old times have been described to me for many years so I create, in my mind, the way it was. In those days there were no 7-11’s, TV, radio, paved roads, electricity, running water or many automobiles. Our tribe lived in one of the many isolated reservations in the county. My tribe’s reservation was known as Los Conejos. In the summer they would grow crops and then during harvest invite the other tribes to share in the bounty. This was known as a fiesta. When the winter came there was rain and sometimes snow. The small winding dirt trail to the reservation would become impassible to horse drawn wagons. You could get out by horse or you could walk but in the dead of winter the days were short and several hours would be lost traveling to the nearest town. It was better to hunker up and live off what provisions you had stored. Times did get lean especially towards the dead of the winter solstice when the days were at their shortest.
It was in this gloom of winter shortly after the turn of the 20th century that some news arrived in the small reservation village that would change the dark of winter for every generation that followed.
The people had built a small church and a priest would come once a year to have a mass. The people did know something about Christmas but it was mostly just another day. One of the members had just returned from working off the reservation. This was a time in history when most people did not speak English so finding work off the reservation was rare. This particular man was able to speak English and worked off the reservation for a few years in the city. When the season of Christmas approached he described what he had seen. He told the people that in the outside world there was a celebration that went with Christmas. The reservation people gathered together and decided that they too would celebrate.
My Father was very young and actually remembered little about the exact details. The tribe did not have a community building so they met outside, in the evening, in a place where the people would gather. He did remember that it was a major event and all the community was very excited. He remembers the cheer, the friendships, the sharing of what little provisions each family could share. The real reason it locked into his memory was the tribal Christmas tree. Actually it wasn’t really a tree, it was a decorated manzanita bush with colored ribbons on the branches, lighted by surrounding campfires and twinkling stars.
As we grew up the family would gather around a fur tree that had plastic decorations and twinkling electric lights my Father will stare at the tree and remember back to a simple manzanita bush tied with colored ribbons. He would remember how in the dead of winter, in the darkness of night, to a simple isolated village of people the word finally arrived:
"I bring you tidings of great joy …."