Oddly the Spanish the Indians spoke did not contain the word "burrito." Because of this the English words "Tortilla roll" is used. My late Mother told us the story of the tortilla roll and her treatment in public school. My Mother was not sent to Indian school because her mother wanted her close to home.
From time to time my Mother would sing a song she learned in elementary school.
Good morning to you, good morning to you. Were all in our places with sun shining faces and this is the way to start a new day. "Good morning Mrs. Beeban!"
Then my Mother would add the words, "May she burn in Hell."
Mrs. Beeban hated my Mother because she was an Indian. She would single my Mother out for treatment and would beat her fingers with a ruler when my Mother could not answer a question. My Mother would practice and practice the night before but when Mrs. Beeban would call on her she would become so nervous she could say nothing so Mrs. Beeban would make her hold out her hand and then beat her fingers over and over. One time she hit my Mother so hard the ruler broke.
Ms. Beeban sent a letter home saying how filthy my Mother was because she was dark. My Grandmother wrote a letter back, in strong language, explaining that it was my Mother’s color that made her dark and not fifth.
My Mother was the only dark kid in the whole school. She was very poor and wore old patched clothes, but they were clean. My Mother was in love with a white kid named John Westric but John Westric was in love with a pretty white girl. When I went to that same school, by then it was a Jr. High, that same John Westric was the principal and that pretty white girl was his wife.
My Mom most remembered being so poor she did not have bread. Her mother made tortilla rolls and gave it to her for lunch. My Mother was so ashamed of not having bread she ate alone and tried to hide, with her hands, the tortilla as she ate.
Now days home made tortillas are a lost art. How wonderful it would be if I opened my lunch and found a home made tortilla roll inside. How sad I feel that my Mother had to endure the years of punishment in the public school. It marvels me to think how, in the past, a item of shame and poverty could now be an item of happiness and even wealth.
When I was a child we used to make bows and arrows. We would cut the branches of a tree and make bows. We would find a branch that was already curved and cut it. We would find kite string and make a fine bow. Some of us would buy arrows in stores but they were expensive and they would get lost. The best play arrows we made from sagebrush.
Sagebrush is a very pungent plant that grows every where around the reservation. The branches grow kind of straight and if you broke the branch down low there would be some weight for the front of the arrow. The branch also grows in segments so if you broke the branch at the segment you would have a nock for the arrow. You could gather a whole bunch and shoot um up. Don’t tell parents this but you could also have a war and not be hurt because the branches were very light. They were fairly straight but did shoot crooked so very few kids were actually hit by the arrows. (Yeah, I know. ‘You might put someone’s eye out.’) Plus if you pulled the string back too hard the arrow would split because the nock would give way.
My Grandma told me that in her time girls also enjoyed sagebrush. She said they made sagebrush dolls. She said they would play for hours using the dolls. With their imagination the dolls populated villages and had personalities of their own. My Grandmother said they saw the expensive dolls in the stores but the sagebrush dolls were just fine for them.
Once, as we were walking down a trail, I asked my Grandmother to make one for me. She took the same branch, that we would make arrows from, and break off the branches and leaves until the shape that was left roughly look like a person. The leaves grew opposite each other so two were legs, two were arms and the head was the branch above the arms.
When my Grandfather used to tell me stories he would sometimes use the words "Funny way" when there seemed to be a plan to something. So I will also use these words.
Funny way how the same brush could give hours of fun to me and my friends and in the past give hours of fun to my Grandma and her friends.
God is like that sometimes.
Did you ever see an old western where the Indians were being shot right off their horses? There is a story behind that.
I had an Uncle, George Taylor, who was in the movies. In those days there were real Indians playing Indians. My uncle was fairly new to the business but was really happy to be working. He kept noticing how some of the Indians would jump off of their horses right in front of the cameras. After noticed it for a few days and he asked one of the Indians, "How come you’re always jumping off your horse?"
"You get $25 dollars extra when you do that.", came the reply.
My uncle said that he jumped when he heard that. That was more than he was being paid for all day. After that the movies could count on my uncle diving off the horse along with the other Indians.
If you look closely, as they roll in the dirt, you will see they are smiling.
So, now you know.
Before 1954 the Indian reservations in California were under Federal control. After that time Public Law 280 passed and most control was given to the State of California. Before Public Law 280 the small reservations in California has some unusual results from federal law. This is a story of one of the strange happenings.
My Dad and my late Uncle Manke both worked in civil service at the same location. My Uncle was a recent hire and was really doing good work. One day my Dad was called into an office. From the expression on the boss’s face it looked real serious. When my Dad got into the room, the room as crammed with military VIPs including an admiral, MPs, and the FBI. They wanted to know the full story on why my Uncle was an escaped Federal Prisoner.
My Dad remembered the event and told them the story.
In those days there was prohibition on the reservations. Indians managed to get hooch anyway and my Uncle and his good buddy got drunk during one of the inter-tribal gatherings called fiestas. There was an Indian Police officer who led them both to the holding building and locked them inside. This building happened to be a busted down shed with no roof. Everything was fine, as they bided their time, but then nature called because of all the drinking. Of course you wouldn’t want to relieve yourself in the building because after all other people would have to use it later. My Uncle’s friend came up with the good idea of leaving through the missing roof and then returning after they were done.
Well they both climbed out of the building and had the fullest intention of returning but they met these two wild girls from Campo and they never did return. Well, no one thought much about it not even the Indian Police. My Uncle and his friend were well known to the police and were in fact on very good terms with them. Other than being intoxicated once in a while my uncle and his friends were no real trouble.
Because of the odd laws at that time the Indian Police turned in an incident report to the government. The government reports were not made for Indian Tribes so the busted down shack turned out to be defined as a Federal Prison and unbeknownst to my uncle he was an escapee. Twenty five years later they were all ready to return my uncle to the federal prison and they were not talking about a broken down shack.
After my Dad told them what he remembered they remarked "Well that’s about what he said", and they closed the books on the escapee.
My Dad thought they looked kind of disappointed.