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The Sheriff, Claude Keema

 

For a while during my 1964 fieldwork, a white  youth, Gary Keema, was  mistakenly listed in my census as a member of an eminent Paiute family on the Ranch. In fact, he was the sheriff's son, who spent all his spare time on the Ranch.

 

The sheriff, Claude Keema, then in his fifties, grew up in a well-to-do  ranching family that employed a number of Indians, some sporadically, others living on the ranch in small houses and eating with  the family. One family in particular, the Reymers, were long-time employees, and Claude grew up with Jess Reymers; each referred to the other as "my brother."

 

"It would be fine with me if a child of mine married a Paiute. The way things are going, who knows?" He listed a number of outstanding Paiutes: Nellie Emm;  her son, Warren Emm, a schoolteacher;  a Mrs. Manning; the gifted basket maker, Edna MacMaster Jones; Harvey Conway;  the Valdez and Rogers families; Walter  Johnson; and the son of Sullivan Tom of Schurz,  among others.

 

"The Indians are a small percent of the population, but they make about ninety per cent of my work," he said. "They have a different background, and they have different ideas. This social worker, Leah  Manning, a Shoshone-Paiute from Oywhee  [Nevada] told me once that an Indian might take a horse, not out of greed, but as a means of transport. Then when he got there, he might free it."

 

According to him, most Indian arrests were related to drinking, more so among the Colony residents than the Ranch. He felt that the law against selling alcohol to Indians has been unjust. An Indian doctor at the hospital in Schurz had told him that  Indians alone, among all the people in history, had a low tolerance for alcohol. "But I didn't see any outburst of drinking when the law was changed in 1953, so I don't think so. They drink because of their situation. They're on the books a lot because a drunk white person will generally just be taken home, while an Indian is arrested. Most are just held overnight."

 

In his youth, Claude knew Jack Wilson as a large impressive man, a natural leader. The local whites ridiculed him, which led the Indians not to talk about him if they were asked questions. Claude himself felt that the white Wilson brothers, members of the ranching family that employed Jack Wilson, were accomplices to what some people saw as his miracles.

 

***

 

(In all my "white" interviews,   people say Jack Wilson was highly intelligent,  large,  imposing and a natural leader,  but that he "fooled" the Indians. Several Paiutes referred me to an eighty-five year old white interviewee ,  only twenty years younger than Wilson, who, they believed,  knew him well. This man had worked as a ranch hand with several  of the older Indians in Trickster, including, occasionally,  Wilson. "Jack Wilson lived on the Indians," he said. He also knew "Dr. Joe" and the witches Tom Mitchell and Dick Bennett. )

 

***

Lee Littell, Assistant Sheriff

 

Lee Littell was also in his fifties at this time. "When I was a kid, I spent most of my time on the Ranch, playing with my friends. My family had Indians working for them, but they didn't want to eat with us. Some of the women would wear six or seven calico dresses, one on top of the other, with their money pinned in the inside dress.

 

Once they let me go pine nutting with them. When the nuts were  all gathered, they were roasted over coals and ground up, shells and all. they used a sort of rolling pin stone over a flat stone. Then a woman would put the meal in a flat basket with rounded edges and shake it so that the ground shells fell to one end, and the fine flour was on the other end.

 

I worked as a carpenter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs for seven years and lived on the reservation. I made their coffins. In the old days they put their dead among the rocks out in the foothills. The last one I remember is around 1912; my grandmother wouldn't let me go. I knew a lot of the customs because I grew up with the Indians, but I got in trouble with them a couple of times: once, I told a white guy about a certain worm, good for fishing bait; another time I shot some magpies, and they weren't happy because they felt that the souls of their ancestors were in the birds.

 

There was a story in the Mason Valley News in the 1920s saying that White Feather was a highly respected Indian doctor,  but he certainly wasn't; he introduced peyote here. But the people here didn't care much for peyote.

 

It's too bad, but a lot of people here feel that the people in the Colony, and any Indians, are 'trash'.

 

One thing you might not know about the Paiutes is that they have very good credit. They're very honest."

 

***

Mr. Walker, a police officer (not the Officer Wickham in Trickster)

 

"That's true. Even [X], who spends a lot of time in jail,  makes sure his electricity bill is paid on time. I can show you this old grocery store book for 1912. The Indian accounts are kept on the last page here, eight people, and every one paid in full.

 

But I'll you one thing: there's a few guys there who go and spend a night with the wife of a guy who's in jail-I know because they'll come over  and ask if the guy will be released that night."

***

 

 

The Teacher, Mrs. Whitacre

 

Mrs. Whitacre, in her early fifties, was a former seventh and eighth grade teacher and now, in 1964, the school librarian.  Josephine Rogers, a prominent Paiute, recommended her as a good white person to talk to. Mrs. Whitacre had married into prominent local family who were often mentioned in issues of the Mason Valley News going back to the turn of the twentieth century.  Her husband, a county assemblyman, was running for the office of state senator at the time of this interview.

 

"Indian children have been attending the school here now for about twelve years. In a class of about thirty, we might have four Indian children. They're usually good students, also quite artistic, and I don't know why but they do extremely well in spelling. But they don't raise their hands, even if they know the answer-you have to call on them.

 

There's no social discrimination-some of the Indian children are very active in all the school activities and have white and Indian friends. If the family attends our social functions,  the P.T.A., the sports events and so on, the child is more likely to mix with everybody. No matter how popular they are, or how much they mix, once they leave school there's very little dating or intermarriage among the races.

 

The girls in the school are thinking of nursing, teaching physical education, secretarial school, like some of the white girls. The boys have a harder time because they don't see Indian men in many occupations. Even now, the most modern barbershop in town is owned and run by a young Indian, Wesley Williams. A lot of people think he just works there.  And Harvey Conway, Jessie Conway's son, was the first Indian student president at the high school, so maybe things will change. Nellie Emm's son is a teacher in Fernley, and one of my colleagues here is a quarter Indian.

 

Another reason the boys have it harder, I think, is because their fathers have less contact with the white people in town because they're out on the ranches or in the mines. The Indian women work in white people's houses and feel more at ease in town than the men. If they have money, they have more standing at home, too, and might push their daughters to go further.

 

 

Twenty years ago we had two restaurants here and they wouldn't serve Indians except in a room at the back. The theater had one section set aside for Indians. I didn't agree with that, so another white lady, Mrs. Clemens, and I used to take Indian women, women who worked in our houses, into the restaurants and nobody ever stopped us. We were all served, always."

 

***

 

Mrs. Aizzi, the reporter

 

"I don't think many ranchers set a table for their Indian workers, or invited them to eat in the house. Every summer, the roads were filled with "bindlestiffs" [migratory workers who carry their belongings in a bundle]. They would occasionally work for a rancher, and they would eat at the rancher's table.

 

At one time, there was a lot of anti-Indian discrimination here, and there's still some. I rented a little house of mine to the daughter of [X] and her husband. They kept it spotless, but her neighbors complained. It was interesting that it was renters, not home owners, who complained."

 

Josephine Rogers, Campbell Ranch reservation

 

"In the old days, Indians had to sit at the rear of the restaurant and in the back section of the theater. One time I was criticized for taking my children to an all-white church in town. There's not much of that any more, but they're feeling guilty now and they've gone the other way, and that's almost as irritating, in my opinion.

 

The government didn't do much for the Indian, either. It feels guilty now, and is trying to be Christian about it, even if it kills the Indian."

 

(Josephine was a strong and respected figure; however, in the same year as this interview (1964) I had difficulty being served in the restaurant when I brought "Maybel", my Paiute landlady, for supper. In 2010, on a recent visit, many of the older Paiutes continued to sit at the back.)