Manataka American Indian Council
GRANDMOTHER L. COTA NUPAH MAKAH SPEAKS
The Traveling People
by L. Cota Nupah Makah
The sky grew dark and heavy with gray clouds scurrying across it in layers. I watched as patches of blue faded and the Fall sun peeked out as if in a game of Peek-A-Boo. I tied my old wool scarf around my head and neck, and put on my brothers too big boot. Putting on my old sheep skin coat I headed for the barn to do my chores. As I passed the kitchen I took an apple to feed to my horse he expected it each time I came to clean out his stall. I looked for the most withered one in the basket and stuffed it into my jacket pocket.
As I opened the door the wind hit me full force pushing me back inside for a moment. Pulling the door shut behind with both hands, I walked into the wind. Dirt stung my eyes as I tried to shield them and bits of sage brush clung to my jacket.
I knew that the storm we had all been watching the skies for, was fast coming down. My Dad had listened to the radio that morning and said it was to hit us hard with lots of snow, in a few hours.
Winter in Wells, Nevada meant no food or provisions for up to three weeks. We had no power on the ranches, that was not an issue; but the one strand of phone line that served the valley was an issue. We did not have cell phones or cordless phones in those days. We relied on that single telephone party line to connect with the outside world all winter.
The road from Wells was 57 miles to the cut off road that you took to the ranch. The road to the ranch was 26 miles of raised one lane traffic only road. This road bumped along under the old jeep pickup, and at times dragged the bottom on the ridge between the deep ruts. Needless to say you drove at a slower pace, the road was better made for wagon and horse. Horse back was the way we usually traveled in that area during the summer and warmer weather but in the winter it was impossible to do this.
Our mail was delivered in the winter time by a single engine plane that flew over and dropped a canvas pouch full of mail. If he missed the stock yard we did not see the mail until spring.
In the summer months we traveled to town at least two or three times a month so the mail was picked up then.
During the working season we had twenty to twenty seven cow boys bunked at the ranch and in the winter time we had only five the rest were in line shacks that spread out over the million acres of private land and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) range. These line shacks were the feeding stations for over 10,000 head of pure Herford cattle. The men stayed in these shacks for the winter months. Their job was to feed and watching the herds that came to eat from the huge piles of hay in the timothy yard.
They had horses, and guns there and hunted in the better weather or when ever there was a thaw. Some line shacks were located on a river that ran through the valley so they could fish for trout if the ice was not to thick. All in all it was a good way to spend the winter months if youíre a working cow boy.
At times these men would get into a fight and we would find them battered and beaten up that was when my Dad separated them or had a good long talk with them.
We came to each line shack at least once a month when we could get through, with fresh supplies and home baked pies and cookies. At Christmas my mother made up baskets with warm socks, gloves, long johns, and heavy shirts as presents to the men. She also slipped in a bottle of whiskey and a new deck of cards for them to play with. Cigarettes a few boxes of candy, and the baskets were ready to go. I loved to go with my Dad when he delivered these to the men.
The rest of the things in the truck were mostly staples for the cabins. Mom insisted on adding several bars of soap to the list that we put up from the central supply room at the main house.
During the fall we could order our supplies by the big truck load and they delivered them along with the tanker of oil for the under ground tanks. We had generators that ran on diesel and supplied the entire ranch with power. For the most part we heated our house with wood and kerosene. Even our cook stoves were run on kerosene, or wood. The washer was powered by a gas engine and you had to put the exhaust hose out the door when were doing the wash.
It was in these long winter months that the Travelers would appear. They came from no place and just appeared on your door step with no warning.
How they managed to get through the snow and the storms was beyond my imagination. It was as if they dropped out of no place looking fresh and clean in their old faded shirts and jeans.
It was on this morning as I entered the barn and started to clean the stalls that I felt a presence of snow and something else in the air.
I hurried through the stall cleaning making sure that I put down a good bed of straw in the stalls and took a few minutes to curry my horse and feed him the apple that I had brought for him. He kept looking out the window and giving soft whinnies. I looked out but could see no one out there or hear anyone over the wind.
A kind of anxious feeling came over me and I headed for the milking room to milk my two dish faced jerseys Molly and Dolly. The milk from these two cows supplied our house with all the butter and cream we needed plus fed the chickens and pigs from the left over milk. I finished up the milking and ran the milk through the separator. I took only one bucket of the milk for the house and dumped the other in the feeding pan for the pigs and chickens. The old barn cats also got a fresh dish each milking as a reward for keeping the mice population down in the barns.
They would sit and watch as I milked the cows and at times I would squirt some milk toward them and they would open their mouths and actually managed to catch most of it. It was a game I played with them but on this morning I did not feel like playing I just wanted to get out of the cold.
It was about a ten minute walk back to the house and the pails grew heavy in my hands. My fingers were now red and cold from milking and cleaning, it hurt to hold the heavy pails. I had left my gloves in the barn where I had cleaned the stalls so that was another thing I had to retrieve before I went to the main house. Dad was very strict about us not leaving our stuff around and being responsible for our own things.
I had my head down to keep my eyes from being hit with the wind and the dirt so I did not see the two people who sit on our porch until I almost stumbled on them.
There were two of these old people sitting there all bundled in a ripped blanket. They looked to be at least eighty years old it was hard to tell.
I put down my pails and said hello to them. The only nodded their heads and their eyes went to the pail sitting full of milk.
As they did not answer me I had no idea of what Nation they were from but knew we were being visited by the Traveling People.
I motioned for them to follow me and picked up the blanket wrapped bundle that sit beside them. I took them into the warm kitchen where breakfast was being cooked by the old Paiute women who served as cook and my motherís helper on the ranch. Pina was short and wide and always smiling. I do not think I ever saw her upset except once in all the time I knew her. She and her husband lived in a small room off the main cook house. Her husband did all the handy work around the main house and she did all the cooking and cleaning for the ranch hands.
Pina looked up and her face went blank at the appearance of the two Travelers in her kitchen. She did not speak to them but offered them hot coffee and biscuits fresh from the oven. I watched as I poured up the milk and put it into the cooler and saw the two old people cup the hot coffee in their cold hands. They each put a sugar cube between their front teeth and sucked the coffee through it. This was the way the old people drank the strange black liquid. I offered them cream for the coffee but they both shook their heads no.
I ask Pina if they were Piute like her and she said no they are Washoe people.
Finally after helping Pina get the breakfast on the table for the men, I came back into the kitchen and sit at the table. By now the two old people had finished off a good heaping breakfast and looked a whole lot warmer.
After helping to clean up I went to the back room and took down a twist of tobacco from the peg. I brought this out to the old man and offered it to him by laying it down on the table in front of him.
After a long time he reached out and took the twist of tobacco from the table and cut off a plug to chew. It was then he looked up at me and smiled.
His smile was minus a few teeth but it was a wonderful smile that held my heart from the start.
These two old travel people stayed with us all winter long. They did what they could to help Pina in the kitchen but we all knew she preferred to be left alone. Pina how ever did respect these people and treated them well.
During that winter we had two wonderful story tellers living with us who did speak English, well at least enough for you to understand the stories and the wisdom that they shared.
Our family was blessed with these wonderful old people who kept us laughing and entertained on long winters nights with tales of the way things were in that area during the ghost dancers time.
It was with these old people I learned some medicines and herbs to use for both animals and humans. The words and wisdom that they shared with my family, still today help me through some hard times.
I lost touch with these people during my teen age years but the day I was married in Carson City Nevada to my first husband they appeared at the ranch and attended my reception. It was like time had stood still and they were just the same as they were ten years ago.
They told my father that they had seen my marriage announcement in the paper so they came to wish me a good life. It was a blessing to have them, no one ask how they got there or where they came from.
I do not speak the names of them now as I know they have dropped their robes and walked beyond the sky to another place. I do know that relatives still live in Nevada and some day I will travel out and look them up. Perhaps I can fill in the spaces between when I last saw them in 1959.
I wonder if they truly existed or were they just travelers from some long forgotten time.
Copyright ©2006 by Waynonaha Two Worlds All publication rights reserved.
L. Cota Nupah Makah
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