Manataka American Indian Council



Proudly Presents




December 2010




Spirit Animals


The first gray light of day came through my small window in the upstairs bed room. I shifted upon to my elbow and pulled the blanket tighter to my chin. The air was still cool from the night as was usual in this area. If you got up early and closed all the doors and blinds your could trap the cool air for hours in the house. By five at night the wind would come up, we would opened the doors and windows again to catch the night air.

In the evening when the mosquitoes died down you could sit out on the front porch and see down across the valley for miles.


All day we sweltered in 80 to 100 degree heat then at night the temperatures dropped into the low 30's and high 40's. By morning you were glad you had a heavy blanket to snuggle into.


Getting dressed I headed down stairs, carrying my boots so as not to wake the family. Taking a small stick we kept on a hook by the door I ran it around my boots checking for scorpions and spiders  before putting them on. The cool nights drove them into hiding and they often ended up in your bed or your boots. It was common practice to shake your clothes before you got dressed.


Dad must have gone off early to check on strays that were seen down in the lower area of the ranch. This was a place of many deep ravines and gullies that were full of sage brush and thorn bushes. You had to be very careful when going into these areas as the cattle were very wild. Some of our cattle had never see a human being before especially the bulls. The ranch itself was over a million acres of BLM land and held more than 10,000 Herefords. At least that was what we could see and account for, I am sure that there were many more mavericks in the back areas.


In the spring round up season before the rodeo circuit started,  we hired more than 27 extra hands for this work. Normally we kept over 15 hands on year round for the every day work. Some cowboys would leave in the summer and return in the fall to stay through the winter,  many we never saw again.



Dad would drive into Wells and take care of the business for the ranch ordering supplies, then stop at the Last Chance Saloon. It was a small gray building and at that time in the late 50's the only salon in town. It was a popular gathering place for the transit cowboys looking for seasonal work. They came by bus and some by hitching a ride with some trucker.


Most carried their own tack or saddles and ropes,  some even had broken down pickup trucks and a horse trailer. If hired they could bring the horse and use it or not on the ranch. Pay in those days was $150 a month that included food and bunk. Most of them went to town in pay day and some did not return. Dad would give them a time to be back at the salon and if not then they had no ride back to the ranch. In this case you would just hire more Cowboys to replace the old ones.


After a day in town Dad  would come back to the ranch with a truck load of gear and a few fresh cowboys for the work ahead. Some panned out and some did not make the cut and were paid for the week and taken back to town on Sunday.


My Dad ran a tight outfit and would not tolerate any drinking or fighting. The men seemed to respect that and we never had trouble in the bunk house.  The Gilmore ranch was  known for a good place to work with good bunk houses and food, the men hired on to our place fast.


The old Paiute Indian cook Patty Kettle, and her husband Jake ran the kitchen and took care of the small maintenance work around the bunk house and ranch house.


We never crossed that line between the main house and the bunk house. It was just an unspoken rule that you did not associate with the hired men or drovers. I did talk to Patty and her husband and often helped her out with breakfast and late night baking when we had a full crew. I always was gone from the cook house when the men came into eat. It was best this way as you really did not now the character of those men they were after all drifters.


On cold winter nights Mom would make a batch of fudge for the boys in the bunk house. She sometimes made them cookies  and also did some mending for them. Dad  or my brothers were the go between from bunk house to our house.


We had a good solid crew of men who never seem to bother the rest of the ranch.


Old Dan the Foreman would come to our home on Saturday night some times for dinner and play cribbage with my Mother and Dad. He had worked on that ranch as Foreman for over 25 years and was not married.

That was the only contact we had with the working cowboys.


The cook house consisted of a long building sit out away from the barns and Foreman shack.


Several long tables ran the length of the cook house. These tables were covered in oil cloth and always kept fully plated. You just turned over the cups and plates when ever you replaced them after a meal.


All sorts of bottled condiments lined the middle of the table winter and summer.


For cooking there were two huge Queen Atlantic double oven wood stoves lined the wall. We also had oil stoves and gas refrigerators and freezers,  there was no electricity on the ranch other than the generator.


Twice a year a truck would come in and fill the underground oil and gas tanks. The food was brought in from the ware house in Wells on a big truck during the dry season. Other than the dry season  the 29 miles of one lane raised road could not be used by a big truck or any other large vehicle. We mostly used Jeeps to get in and out of town the rest of the time.


I washed our clothes in a old Maytag gas engine run washer. In the main house we had lights from the generator and coal oil lanterns. No running water only the water pump that brought it in from the wind mill tower. We had an out house and bucket potties in the house for night use.


I can still remember filling those big ovens in the cook house with bread,  biscuits.  and pies in the winter time. On Sunday we did not cook except for breakfast. There was always cold roast beef and other things for the men to eat during the day. Always there were beans and chili or some sort of hot stew on the back of the stove. A large room that served as a place for the men to sit and talk was off the back of the cook shack. There were some old records and a crank up record player. Lots of magazine and Louie La More books  lined the small book shelf. We donated all of our magazines to the boys when we were through with them. Sears,  and Montgomery Ward catalogs with well dog eared pages lay open on the card table. Stacks of playing cards, poker chips  and dominoes added to the weekend recreation for the men.


Some times we held a BBQ and the rest of the ranches up the valley would come. There would be horse shoes and music some dancing and lots of good food. Sooner or later a roping contest would break out and the men would all show off with rope tricks. Dad was very good at this and would make the loop spin and he would dance in and out of it like a hoop dancer. There were no Churches that far out so Sunday was just a lay back and rest day. Many of the men would write home or have someone write for them. I often wondered where they all came from and if they had family who missed them.


Sunday was also a day when you would see a long wash line of jeans and shirts. This would be washed in an old bath tub the metal kind with a metal washer plunger.  The jeans had a way of all looking bow legged,  and the shirts all faded blue jean material looked like kites trying to fly away. In the winter there was the traditional long johns complete with flaps drying on the afternoon winds.


The sun was filling the sky with some pretty awesome colors by the time  I got my coffee and some cold bacon and bread.


I grabbed some more food and put it in my saddle bag and filled my canteen with fresh water. I wanted to get a good start on the day before it got too hot.


The sun was just starting to peek up off the low range of hills when I left the ranch on my way south.

The sweat had started to bead up on my forehead under the old straw cowboy hat. My skin,  a dark brown color already was in no danger of being sunburned. No need to worry about covering up as it would do you no good out here in this heat.


I checked my rifle and made sure the safety was on and that it was loaded. We had seen some signs of a big mountain lion a few weeks ago on the South range. Most of the ones that came too close to the ranch were old and wanted easy food. They usually only took down the older cattle or very young ones. I made sure I did not ride into any over hangs or cliffs along the low hills in case there was a lion in the area.


I reached to top of the ridge about noon and looked out over the flat valley where the lava stone came spilling down the sides of the canyon. You could see the layers of color in the hills from the old volcano eruptions. There was red, white, black,  and a rich yellow stone that we sometimes ground into paint in the old times. These piles of stone poured down the hills into the valley in ridges like drippings off a chocolate cake. The shimmering heat made the hills come alive with movement. The lower shaded areas appeared as lakes of water under the noon sun.


The volcano stones are full of holes and light in weight, they will float if throw in the river. We sometimes used these stones to cook on and hold the heat in our camp fires late at night. A few of those lava stones will keep your tent warm for hours. We also used them in our sacred Inipi ceremony.


I got off my horse to give him a rest. The land here changed fast, you could ride from sand and sage into deep green grasses and cotton wood trees in less than an hours time.


I took out my bandanna and wiped off my face and then tucked it up in under the head band of my hat to catch the sweat.


So far all I had seen were a few jack rabbits,  and a slow moving horn toad,  nothing else was moving about. Flying grass hoppers buzzed by and horse flies looking to make a meal circled us off and on.


Recent tracks along the river bank were full of mule deer and coyote prints, along with raccoons and other animals of the night.


Two magpies sat on the dead cotton wood and screeched at me for a few minutes then flew off. I paid them no mind and they  grew tired of my silence.


I let my horse drink and splashed my face and hat with water.  The cold water dripped down my back making my skin shiver. Putting my wet hat back on,  I sit back against a tree and rested in the shade.

Time passed and finally my horse blew a snort and nudged me as if to say lets get going. Still I sit looking across the river into the side of the hills where there were many small caves and crevices. The Eagles love to nest there and you can see many there year round. Today there were no eagles flying, the sky was crystal clear blue with no clouds or wind blowing.


Just off to the left I noticed a slight movement in the lower rocks and saw a blurred shadow. I wiped my eyes and looked again to see if it was just the sun moving or an actual animal.


My horse pawed the ground and nudged me again. I put my hand over its nose to keep it from making any more noise.


Finally, from behind the ridge of stones I saw a very big  mountain lion coming down to the river just across from where I was sitting. It did not see me because of the sage brush and the shadow that the sun was making across the trees.


I stayed perfectly still with my hand over my horses nose until it moved on down to the river bank.


For many minutes I sit and watched that lion drink and walk along the river bank in search of food.


I could hear it making a purring sound and huffing sound as it searched for small game scent. It was so close I could hear the plop plop  sound of its feet on the sandy bank. Once it turned my way and looked directly at me but did not seem to mind that I was there. Those yellow eyes and the gray fur blended into the gray rocks and shadow of the hills.


Soon it tired of the area and moved on back toward the hills. I watched it until I could not see it any more.

I quietly got up and rode off in the opposite direction so as not to alarm the lion. All day the lion remained in my mind, even after I got home and unsaddled my horse and turned it out to run.


I thought about it as I cleaned the stalls, milked the cows  and did my daily chores.


The next morning as I was getting ready to help with the drive and loading up the food and supplies,  my Dad come into the kitchen. He sit with his coffee for a while then lit up a cigarette, then he spoke a few words to me.


I can still remember his eyes as he looked out over the rim of his cup with his old hat pulled down over his forehead. He spoke in a soft deep voice and said to me, "There was a visit from your old friend last night."

When I went to the barn I saw the big prints of the lion leading right up to the barn door. The prints were all going one way but no return prints could be seen.


Perhaps they were the same prints of the one that followed me home the night I was bucked off my horse. Perhaps they were never real only a spirit that allowed me to make a visual connection for a while.

I always feel that there are spirit animals,  birds,  and people, who walk among us every day and at any time of the day.


They are there watching us and protecting us from harm. If you call on them they will sometimes let themselves make a connection with you. We are none of us alone here on this Earth Mother there are those who are here to protect us and keep us balanced on the path of life.


Love Maka Nupa L Cota

Copyright (c) 2010 by Maka Nupa L Cota      All publication rights reserved.