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During the first years, in this gold region, the majority of young women were Indians, so it was natural that some of the white men chose an Indian bride. Such was the story of Jim McGraw, an Easterner, whose family boasted both wealth and social distinction. He was a great friend of Colonel Fremont and on one of his many visits to the Fremont home, he met Mary, the pretty sister of the Indian maid, working in the Fremont household. He fell in love with her and against her parent’s wishes, they were married by a Justice of Peace.
Jim cleared off about an acre of ground, near a creek, built a two-room, rough-board cabin, planted some shade and fruit trees and soon their’s was a comfortable mountain home. He was a successful miner and made a good living. Two children were born to them and Jim was very happy with his little family. So content was he with his share of worldly things, that he felt nothing could ever mar the serenity of his home.
In time, his parents heard of his marriage with the Indian and they were determined to make him return. They felt that it would be easy to persuade him to leave what they supposed to be a life of hardship and privation and return to one of luxury and ease. So, in the fall of the year, they arrived on the stage at Bear Valley.
The days were warm and balmy and the leaves had changed the scenery into a background of variegated coloring. Here they found a different peace, that of contentment, not of wealth, and they felt that the rugged mountains over which they had traveled was the dividing line of everything, atmosphere, scenery and even life. They watched their son as he played Indian games with his children and their friends and wondered at his choice. Yet they admired Mary for she was very domestic and she kept her little home spotless and her meals were always tastily prepared.
One afternoon, Jim’s mother and father were sitting on a long log, under a large white oak, when he came and sat down between them and they then told him their purpose in coming. “Tell me, dad, how successful has my brother Bob been?”
“Well, he is getting along pretty well in business, but he hasn’t had a very happy married life. He married just after getting out of college, but was divorced in three years and his children are now being raised by his wife’s folks. He simply couldn’t make enough money to keep his wife happy, although I helped him with several thousands of dollars.”
Jim replied, ‘It’s just a repetition of thousands of similar cases and it makes me feel more contented here. I have a faithful wife, all the necessities of life and money matters are never discussed. I love the mountains, here I can see the sun rise and set, beautiful and different each day, and the clouds float by. I love the trees, and the rocks and the wild-flowers. I feel that I am a part of Nature. I can always go out and pan gold when I need it. Here is a bottle showing what I washed out in just a couple of days. I am satisfied with my choice, so why shouldn’t you be. After all is said and done, wealth is not a measure of contentment.”
He jumped up and in his rich baritone voice, sang “America” and its words, “I love thy rocks and rills, thy woods and templed hills” came right from his heart. The parents soon realized that their mission was to be fruitless, so, after a short visit, they departed, feeling very sad for they knew that their son would never return home.
It was such marriages as this, that in time, caused the almost total disappearing of the full-blood Indian. Of course, fire-water helped greatly in this extinction. In later years, the author became very well acquainted with a half-breed Mariposa Indian, Jack Hinks. He had been a good miner, an excellent blacksmith and had held some responsible positions. Naturally, he drank whenever liquor was obtainable. His intellect was keen and he could discuss national problems better than many whites, but his skin was dark like a full-blood’s.
One of his interesting experiences occurred when a new Constable had just been elected. Jack, meeting him, one day, invited him to have a drink in a saloon run by an Italian. The Constable accepted.
About a week later, the Constable sent word for Jack to come to town to testify as a witness in a liquor case. He, being busy mining, did not go. A few days later, he received a subpoena, so was compelled to go.
Outside the building, where the court was to be held, was a large crowd. He enquired regarding the case and found that the Constable had sworn out a warrant against the Italian for selling liquor to Indians and he was to be the star witness.
The Prosecuting Attorney was Irish and the Defense Attorney likewise. Jack remarked, “This is a hell of a situation to put us Irish”. “What do you mean, us Irish? “, said the defense attorney. “I’m smoked Irish”, said Jack, and he said it like an Irishman for he could handle the Irish brogue to perfection and anyone who couldn’t see his face, would swear he was Irish.
“All right”, said the attorney, “you play the part and we will see what comes of it”.
The trial commenced amid a mob of spectators. Jack was placed on the stand, sworn to tell the truth, and then asked a number of questions.
“What nationality are you, Jack?” asked the prosecuting attorney.
“Smoked Irish”, he promptly replied, in a strong Irish brogue.
The prosecuting attorney said, “I would think you were an Indian, you look like one.”
“That’s what you think. My father was Irish and my mother Indian. My name is Hinks, the same as my father. Therefore I’m Irish, like my father, although a little smoked. If I was an Indian, I should have been given my mother’s name”, said Jack, with an intelligent twinkle in his eye.
The court room was soon in an uproar at the clever and humorous testimony. The jury brought in a verdict of “not guilty” and the Constable was so humiliated and chided that he was forced to resign.
One of the early-day Indian “medicine men” was “Old Bullock”. He was really harmless, but he bragged so much that many of the weaker-minded Indians believed him to be dangerous and the cause of many deaths among them. In fact, they believed that he possessed a medicine, so powerful, he need not actually give it to the person to be swallowed, but need only throw it at his intended victim and death would soon result. Finally, four young Indians ambushed him, near Wawona, and killed him, in order to relieve themselves from the constant fear of injury and death at his hands.
The Indians, at various places, built large, round enclosures, which were roofed and in which important festivities were held. One such place was located about two miles from Midpines. A description of one of their festivals was published in the Gazette of August 8th., 1873, as follows:
“To describe in detail, all the beautifully dressed ladies, would be impossible, so one or two will suffice. I will first speak of the amiable and accomplished Miss Sally Popeye, the handsome daughter of one of the chiefs. She was dressed in a ravishing petticoat of ten cent calico. Around her ample waist, she wore a woolen comfort, underneath was tucked an ornament made of wood-rat. Her bust was adorned by Nature alone and presented the appearance of two Texas gourds tied to a saddle. Her head was bound with an old stocking and her feet enclosed in Nature’s covering. When she entered the building, she was much applauded. Her father, who acted as master of ceremonies, after gazing at his lovely daughter, threw a proud glance around at the white spectators and audibly murmured “you bet”.
“Next in order of beauty and grace, came Miss Kitty Bubbies, scarcely inferior to Miss Sally, in loveliness. Her head dress was composed of pieces of bone, with shells of the mud clam, which, while she was performing, kept up a most mellifluous jingling, to the great delectation of the assembled spectators. Her dress, without being costly, was appropriate, a gunny bag made in the shape of a highland kilt and the ‘tout ensemble’ was most ravishing and delightful.
“There was an interim at about twelve o’clock that the revelers might participate in a bounteous repast, served up in the elegant style so well-known to our Indian brethren. Of all the ‘joyful baked meats’, horse appeared to be preferred. The cunning rat and swift gliding lizard are not to be despised, while the sweet bounding grasshopper is eaten with great relish. A species of striped worm is much endeared to them, not only for its scarcity, but for its luscious taste.
“The meal was enlivened by a few solo performances of some of the more distinguished guests. This was done by a gent springing gracefully to his feet, with a horse-rib in his hand and his mouth full of meat and pirouting around in a manner combining the Mazurka, Cachuca and Tarantula dances, all in one. He would then, with a yell, subside in a most graceful manner and his place would be taken by another gentleman.”
For a number of years, the author was a friend and neighbor to Maria Lebrado and her daughter Mary Leonard, both full-blood Indians of the Yosemite tribe. Maria passed away in 1931 and Mary in 1934. Unlike the goldseekers spurred on by the God of Hope, they were dreamers of the past and perhaps enjoyed more real happiness than their white brethren.
It was interesting and fascinating to visit with them. Both were industrious, peacful and seemingly content with the necessities of life. They lived close to nature, spent the majority of the time outdoors, made their own acorn bread and were great meat eaters, almost to the end. They lived within their means, were interested in their neighbor’s welfare and their influence was very helpful in cementing the friendship between the Indians and the whites.
Maria was the last survivor of the Yosemite tribe who was present in the Yosemite Valley when the Mariposa Battalion discovered it in 1851. Maria, with her bushy white hair, her clear, keen eyes, and her face, “carved with a million wrinkles”, had lived in famous days that are gone and which will never be lived again.
After leaving the Yosemite Valley, in 1851, Maria did not return until seventy-eight years afterwards. When she returned the Valley did not look the same. She called it “dirty”, meaning “brushy”. “My grandfather, Chief Tenaya, kept the Valley clean”, she said. By this, she meant that the Indians used to burn the brush each year, so as to protect the larger trees in case of summer fire and so they could ride their horses through the forest easily.
She recognized all the prominent rocks and on hearing read and interpreted the legends about them, said they were all true, with the exception of the one about the Lost Arrow, which she said was just “white man’s story”. She recognized Indian Canyon, where many battles took place between the Piutes and the Yosemites. She pointed out some of the bear trails, onto which the Indians would drive bears. These trails had precipitate endings, from which the bears would tumble to the valley below, being killed in the fall. The squaws would be waiting below to skin them and carry the meat to the village. Maria felt no resentment against the whites, but said that the Indians had been blamed for many things they did not do.
Mary resembled her mother greatly. On one of her frequent visits to the Midpines store, she said, “Me just come by Nigger Bill’s grave.” On being asked, who was Nigger Bill, she replied, “He lived here a long time ago. He no like Injuns. Always chased them away saying, ‘get away, me no like Injuns’.” Then she added with a slight twinkle in her eyes, “Humph, he has to stay now with the Injuns after all, for he’s buried with them”.
Mary enjoyed listening to the radio. She would sit for hours, without seeming to move a muscle, like in a dream. Once, when the radio had been turned off, on account of too much static, she remarked, “What’s the matter with that box? It don’t talk. Is there a man in there?” We tried to explain that the talking and singing came through the air. She then said, “Does it come on wires?” Soon the program came through with a number of voices, when she said, “There’s a lot of them in there now.”
What a marvelous transformation both she and her mother had witnessed in their lifetime, even though most of it was beyond their comprehension and they had been incapable of adjusting their lives to assimilate it. It was a pleasure to know them, and their descendants can point with pride to these two wonderful characters.
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