Manataka® American Indian Council



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Grandmother L. Cota Nuphah Makah Speaks

October 2011






A Good Traveler

By L. Cota Nupah Makah


A good traveler has no expectations or plans for their destination, and no thought of ever having arrived. For many years I traveled all over the United States just teaching and wandering from town to town. We mostly camped out and ate food cooked on our camp fire. Living this way has its advantages you see more of the country and are closer to the Earth.


We stopped when we wanted too and did have some sort of plan as to how much distance we covered each day. There was no plan for direction so we were never lost; it was all pure speculation as we had no time sets or limits.


One of the things we did was keep a travel journal of thoughts, some funny, and some serious, we had on the road. Looking back on this journal now I have a few good laughs in remembering the time it was written.


One night on the road it was so dark, and windy, we were in Montana traveling up to Browning to see relatives of mine. The van was hard to handle out there on the prairie with all the wind hitting us from the side. The women I was traveling with Lorie had to relieve her self, but there was no gas stations for miles and miles and no lights that may mean civilization. We had seen nothing for miles just dark and sage brush along the side of the road. I finally said ok we can just go here no problem so I stopped the van. I tried to open my door but the wind was so strong it would not budge. I ended up scooting across the front console and out the passenger door. I had to get back in that way after we were done. Let me tell you always squat up wind if you’re smart.


One night we set up camp and had to tie our tent on a fence to keep from being blown away. We had one of those screened rooms on the front of the tent with a zip up separate room to sleep in. My friend Lorie decided she wanted to sleep out in the screen area so she could see the stars. After dinner and some time around the fire we went to bed. The wind picked up during the night and the tent rocked and pulled at the ropes but held tight. I had no problem sleeping the sound of the wind was like music to me. That morning I woke up to the sun shinning and the wind had died down, it was a perfect morning.

When I unzipped my side of the tent all I could see was a pile of sand in the screened in area, and the form of Lorie under it all.


She had pulled up the sleeping bag over her head, it was one of those good LL Bean bags, and slept through the night and the sand storm. We bailed sand for hours that day and had some good laughs over that incident. Her new name became Sandy for a few days. Every time we took out our bedding and the tent it still had sand in it.


One night we camped in Montana on the Black Foot reservation, where we were attending the Thunder Bundle ceremony. We had to drive way out to a desolated area on some very bad roads. Some of the cars and trucks got stuck in the mud, but we managed to make it ok by not driving on the road.


After pitching our tent in some very cold weather we sit by the fire and tried to keep warm. Again our tent was tied to our Van, preventing it from blowing away in the night. Others had tied off Tipi’s and tents to cars and trucks to hold them against the wind. After some hot coffee and soup we decided to turn in and get some rest. I had to cook fry bread for the ceremony the next day so needed to get up early.


That night we all woke up to a horrible crash and screaming from the camp area. It seems someone decided to go to town for some reason and forgot that their Tipi (a big one) was tied to the truck. So off they went dragging a huge tipi and leaving the people still in their bed rolls behind. That was sure a funny sight but not for the ones who had been awakened as the tipi was pulling away from them. After helping to replace the Tipi we all tried to get some sleep but you would hear some laughing off and on about the tipi. The next day the driver of the truck was no where to be seen.


That morning it was so cold that I was cooking fry bread with my mittens on. That was no easy thing to do as flour and water stick to furry mittens. It was so cold that the grease had a hard time getting hot enough to actually cook the bread. As it was the bread turned out a very pale color and was named ghost bread. I noticed that there was none left by evening so guess it was good even if it was pale.


We traveled on for many weeks working when we could for extra cash. We stopped off in rural areas to paint mail boxes. We would go to farms where the old mail boxes were all faded and rusty, and ask it they would like them painted and lettered. We then spray painted and hand painted lettered the boxes. Sometimes we even drew flower and other things on the boxes.

We stayed in a motel only when we needed to wash our clothes, take a good hot shower and sleep on a bed that did not have rocks or lumps.


There is a lot to be said for just getting up in the morning and smelling boiled coffee and bacon frying. You can live simply and reasonably on the road if you are willing to forgo the luxury of motels and restaurants. If you must eat in one chose an all you can eat buffet in some truck stop they serve the best food and you’re safe there. I have parked between trucks and had a good long sleep in my van with no problems. The truckers were very good to us and we were safe to grab a few hours of sleep. You can also get a hot shower in truck stops, good food, and wash your clothes at a reasonable rate. We could ask for directions and get some sound advice on where not to go. Many times we talked on the CB radio to truckers and were directed to good travel routes.


The wilderness between Montana and California holds many beautiful sights, we stopped to take pictures and enjoy them.

Finally after several weeks of travel we headed back to NY and the reservation in Silver Creek. I still take out those pictures and stories and once again those days come to alive, I again see it all happening.


I miss the road and am considering just putting my things in storage and doing some more travel this Fall, and winter months. I think I would like to see Western Canada and visit some family and friends. Get in some fishing, then head on down to a warmer climate for the winter months. . From that point on it will be an adventure.


I will have to look for a good travel companion of course; one who does not have a destination or time frame in mind. Preferable a retired truck driver who likes to fish, camp, and has no agenda, oh also must like Chevy trucks.



Copyright © 2011 by L. Cota Nupa Maka All publication rights reserved.