Story of the Cover Photograph/Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay



This is the link (above) for the blog with photographs



From the desk of LLyn De Danaan: A Picture is Worth…

published by University of Nebraska Press Blog October 28, 2014
By LLyn De Danaan in collaboration with Justine E. James Jr.

At a recent Pacific Northwest history conference in Vancouver, Washington, I was given a small display table in the sales room so that I might attract and talk with attendees about my book, Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay. The focal point of my modest exhibit was an eleven-by-seventeen-inch  laminated poster of the book’s cover. I’d just finished standing the poster on its easel when I saw an old acquaintance across the room. Justine James Jr. had me in his sight and was making his way toward me. He had a coy grin on his face. Everything about that smile and his eyes signaled that there was something he knew that I didn’t. I was happy to see James, a cultural resource specialist with the Quinault Indian Nation and someone whose personal cultural roots within the coastal nations are deep. I wondered what he had on his mind. James pointed at the cover photograph on the poster, an image of a float house on a body of water with mist-banded highlands behind.

The photograph—made by Seattle photographer Kyo Koike—is stunning. Koike was a founder of the Seattle Camera Club, a group of Japanese American pictorialists in the 1920s. Their work was shown around the world and widely published, but their reputations diminished with anti-Japanese feelings during World War II. Koike was incarcerated at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California, and while there his health apparently failed, but throughout those harsh years he was busy writing poetry and encouraging others to do the same. He died in 1947.

There are other regional photographers whose names more readily come to mind—such as Asahel Curtis and Imogen Cunningham—but Koike was right up there with them at the time and is still held in high esteem. His work is exquisite. From the notes in the University of Washington Special Collections Archives, I knew the year the cover photograph was made, but there was nothing to confirm location.

I sent the photograph to the University of Nebraska Press with others I thought important to my book because it was the best, most detailed photograph of a float house I had found. Though the image was made in the 1920s and the principal stories of my book are set before 1900, I knew enough about float houses to surmise that this one was built and occupied within the correct time frame. The designers at the press selected this beautiful photograph—originally spotted, serendipitously, in a University of Washington alumni magazine by my friend Connie Ruhl—as the cover for my book. The image, they thought, and I agreed, would draw a potential reader’s attention and evoke a certain mystery. There was no doubting that.

James pointed at the book cover and asked, “How’d you pick that photograph?” I knew he had a story to tell. He smiled again. Then he sat beside me, and I waited. I was almost as excited as when I first saw Katie Gale’s tombstone, a life changing moment described in the first chapter of my book. “That’s my great-great-grandmother’s house,” he said. She was known as Sally Freeman though her full name was Sarah Shileba-Legg.

James’s story of Sally Freeman, while wonderful family history, is one that exemplifies the dynamic relationship between and among coastal people and the U.S. government. It is also a story of a burgeoning tourism industry that brought people to enjoy the Olympic wilderness, fish with Quinault guides, buy Indian baskets, and even enjoy the spectacle of story and performance provided by the Quinault people—including Justine James’s forebears—within the cavernous lobby of the splendid Lake Quinault Lodge. Indeed, James’s father and his siblings sang, danced, and drummed for the Lake Quinault Lodge guests and were paid with what money was tossed into a blanket at the end of their performance. James’s father said that Sally Freeman often sat in the lodge while weaving baskets and talking with tourists. Sally was well known in the area during her lifetime; in fact, she and the lodge owner’s wife were good friends, and she helped to dedicate a new Lake Quinault Lodge in 1926 (built after a fire destroyed the first one), James recalls. A photograph of her, with the note that she “blessed” the lodge, appears in A History of Lake Quinault Lodge by R. H. Jones.1 Sally was also featured on a 1937 Lake Quinault Lodge Christmas card.

Sally 1937 Christmas Card
1937 Lake Quinault Lodge Christmas card, courtesy Phyllis Miller.

The float house, “constructed entirely of cedar shingles and boards,” James says, was built before or around 1890, most likely on the Gatton Creek Cove site, near the mouth of Gatton Creek, which drains into Lake Quinault on its south side. The James family has occupied and used this site for many generations. Lake Quinault covers an area of nearly 6 square miles and is 3.79 miles long. It is located in the Quinault Valley and is the property of the Quinault Indian Nation.

The Quinault River Treaty, signed in 1855, was one of Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens’s treaties that sought to consolidate many tribes or bands on reservations. Quinault and others who were assigned to the Quinault Reservation on the coast continued to pole their canoes, as they always had, up the Quinault River to reach the lake to fish. They often used the lake as a stopping off place and seasonal base camp on their way farther into the mountains to pick berries, hunt, or gather basket-making materials. The majority of the seasonal camps were located at the outlets of streams on the south shore of the lake, according to James’s father, Justine James Sr. Other camps were found at the mouths of the upper and lower Quinault Rivers. The “north shore was very turbulent,” James Sr. says, “so the only occupied area was near what is now [called] July Creek.”

From these camps, groups ascended to the high country for elk and deer, berries, and spirit quests. Others would stay in the lower regions to gather bark, bear grass, and edible roots. “They returned to the Lake Quinault base camps around September to harvest the ‘Blueback’ (sockeye), the most prized of salmon,” James Sr. recalls. The lake lies within the Olympic Rainforest, and the surrounding forests can receive up to 130 inches of rain annually. The original forest was dense with Douglas fir, western red cedar, Pacific silver fir, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock. The lush undergrowth includes ferns, salmonberry, thimbleberry, and many other useful and beautiful native species. The glacier-fed Quinault River still hosts steelhead, cutthroat, Coho, and Chinook, as well as sockeye. These fisheries are managed and regulated by the tribe in an increasingly fragile environment that includes receding glaciers. The Quinault are investing heavily to save the runs and protect the habitat on the upper Quinault.

This attractive area didn’t stay isolated from white settlement and development for long after the treaty was signed and the reservation was established. By the 1890s the peninsula and the rain forest area were the site of many land claims. A lakefront store was opened in 1891, and Lake Quinault was soon a destination point for tourists. Amenities were offered in a well-publicized log hotel, and after a fire in 1924, a new and grander hotel was built and is still in business.

Sally’s husband, Jake Freeman, was of Chinook, Hawaiian, and African American descent and came to the Quinault coastal village of Taholah around 1905. James Jr. says that Jake’s mother was Chinook, and through her he was eligible for an allotment on the Quinault Reservation. Little is known about his Hawaiian and African American ancestors, but his surname suggests that his family were former slaves. Jake was apparently a fisherman and handyman who found good work around Taholah and Lake Quinault. He married Sally in about 1910.

“In the early days,” James Jr. says, “the occupants of the [float house] were Sally’s immediate family.”Later, Sally’s orphaned grandson, David, moved in. Eventually, David brought his spouse and four children to live in the home. Justine James Sr. was the youngest.

Jake Freeman was apparently Sally’s third husband. She was the daughter of John Shul—whul, according to James Jr. and based on Quinault allotment files. She was born around 1865.2 Her first husband was Charles James, and the second was Charles Mason, known as Chief Taholah II and Captain Mason.

Sally was known as a basket maker. The recent book, From the Hands of a Weaver, notes that her daughter, Maggie Kelly, born in 1886 and also a noted basket maker, learned by watching her mother, and her grandmother, Sally Chepalis. 3 Living on Lake Quinault, Sally Freeman would have had ready access to many of the materials she needed for her work and a place to process and dry them.

Of course, as James Sr. says, “Indians were travelers.” They made long journeys throughout the Pacific Northwest in order to acquire resources. For example, James Jr. says, the Quinault River did not have a spring salmon run, so groups went south to the Columbia River to fish.

Sally was trained in the old ways, James Jr. says, and would swim across the lake in the mornings, winter and summer. That was a one to one-and-a-half-mile swim from Gatton Cove to Bergman’s Resort, now The Rainforest Resort. And each year, she poled her way up the river from Taholah to reach the lake and her float house, which was likely a two-day trip. Sally Freeman was clearly a strong and capable woman with many talents. Perhaps much like Katie Gale herself.

The view of Lake Quinault looking out from Gatton Cove.
The view of Lake Quinault looking out from Gatton Cove.

The day we visit Gatton Cove to see the site from which the cover photograph was taken, the lake is calm, the water is low, and we can see the forests and snow-packed mountains that rise from the river valley across the lake to the east. Because mist often lies low on the hills, these mountains are not visible in Kyo Koike’s photograph.

Up on the bank behind us a house still stands on the property. David E. C. James, Justine James Jr.’s grandfather, built the first “new house on land” in the mid-1940s after Sally Freeman had passed away. He placed it “on pilings six feet in the air,” but even then, it “flooded during high flow events.” A warm day can create a massive melt and with heavy rain, water rushes down the river from the mountains, and the lake rises almost to the road above the house. James Jr. was told that his grandfather had a rope-and-pulley system to raise the furniture when the water came above the six-foot level, and others recall seeing his grandfather “loading furniture in his canoe” to save it.

Justine James Sr. built the cabin that stands on the land today. It is high above the ground on ten-foot pilings, and even so, the house occasionally floods. James Jr. says, “He placed his electrical outlets four feet off the floor.” James Sr. worked on this new cabin from about the mid-1960s until the early 1970s, and it is still used today. James Jr. calls it HOS—house on stilts.

Because the house is within the ordinary high water mark, it is considered to be the property of the Quinault Indian Nation, as is the lake itself. When the reservation was established, James Jr. notes, “tribal members were not allowed to inhabit the shorelines on a full-time basis,” which prompted the float house. But his family “constantly reminds the Olympic National Forest of their long-term occupation of the Gatton Creek area and of the Quinault Treaty.” The current cabin stands well below the ordinary high water mark and, in any case, the treaty establishes tribal rights to use traditional areas, and it clearly predates the formation of Washington State and the U.S. Forest Service.

There is still a Native American presence in the Lake Quinault Lodge during the summer months. Harvest Moon, a well-known Quinault storyteller, lives on and tends the Gatton Creek property and works at the lodge to celebrate local Native American presence, legacy, and history through lively performances and reenactments.

Justine James’ father’s racing canoes in the museum.

I made a visit to the little museum at Lake Quinault with a friend. James Jr. joined us there. I saw one of only a few photographs that exists of Sally. In the museum, I saw one of only a few photographs that exist of Sally Freeman. Dell Mulkey, a local Grays Harbor photographer, made these images in the 1930s. One is hung above a basketry display. Two of James Sr.’s racing canoes are in the museum too. James Jr. and I admire them and learn about how they were altered and reworked, sometimes not so successfully, for racing. There is a photograph of James Sr. on a shelf beside them. After a while, James Jr. shows me a topographic map of the Olympic Peninsula and uses his fingertip to trace the route his ancestors would have taken up through the river valley, through the Olympic Mountains, all the way to Klallam Bay on the Strait of Juan de Fuca to visit Klallam relatives and friends.

The next day out, my friend and I drive into the valley along the Quinault River, just a few miles into the journey to Klallam Bay. We marvel at the majesty of the river as it rushes over shelves of rock, large reefs of stony rubble, and fallen logs that nearly jam it but don’t. An immature eagle soars to a perch above us and turns its profile to us, one a Barrymore would be pleased to have. It is still and silent as it considers its domain. Massive old-growth trees, some breathtaking in their girth, rise above us on either side of the roadway. Cascades of water fall in sunstruck cataracts down moss-covered rock walls just behind a wall of bright green ferns. Daylight barely breaks through the thick canopy the trees weave overhead, and the lush underbrush of salal is dappled by it.

We think about the complicated thicket of history that has made this area what it is. It would be almost impossible to traverse without the proper knowledge, tools, and time to understand. The lake, the lodge, the Quinault people, the white settlers, and the tourists have traveled a tangled path over these years. Sally Freeman is a legendary part of that past, and she is present in the lives of her descendents and to others who take the time to listen.

-LLyn De Danaan


Thanks to Kathleen Praxel and the Lake Quinault Museum. Thanks to Phyllis Miller for the 1937 Lake Quinault Lodge Christmas Card. Thanks to Sandy Plagemann for her support and interest. Thanks also to Sally Cloninger for editorial suggestions.


R. H. Jones. A History of Lake Quinault Lodge (Mukelteo wa: Wine Press Publishing), 1997.
Jacilee Wray, ed. From the Hands of a Weaver: Olympic Peninsula Basketry through Time (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press), 204.
Wray, From the Hands of a Weaver, 32.


No Stranger to Change /July 9 Draft

No Stranger to Change: The Oyster Bay of Katie Gale

For American History Society/Pacific Coast Branch/September 2014


LLyn De Danaan, Ph.D.

Emerita, The Evergreen State College

July 2014

“History is usually written by the winners. Their lives comprise the archival collections, and historically these have been white men enjoying political and economic privilege. So long as we rely on the materials at hand, we keep telling the same old stories.” — Jean Barman (BCBW, Volume 23, No 3, Autumn 2007)




I’ve taken the opportunity afforded by this conference to revisit a Native American woman whom I’ve studied and written about during the past decade. My book based upon her life was produced for a general audience and though well researched it is not as critical as it would have been for an academic audience.  Today I want to explore, though briefly, how Albert Hurtado and Ann Laura Stoler’s notes on “intimate frontiers” and the post colonial concept “aesthetic regime” offer interpretative strategies that are useful in understanding of Katie Gale’s life with her non-Native husband Joseph.

At the end of the piece, I’ll introduce, also briefly, two other layers of imposed sensibilties…the tourist eye and the nostalgic eye…as they molded and distorted the presentation of Native American women in late 19th and early 20th century.


The story of Katie Gale’s late 19th century life as an oyster farmer on Oyster Bay, Totten Inlet, southern Puget Sound is in some ways a uniquely new story. There were many women laboring in the rural west during this period. Some biographies examine these women’s lives in detail. Some novels such as Willa Cather’s My Antonia or Ole Edvart Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth, have given these women an indelible place in literature.   Bold Spirit, the memorable story of Helga Estby by Linda Lawrence Hunt, makes us wonder what other tales we have yet to learn about. What is perhaps exceptional about the Katie Gale story is that she was a Native American woman, one of many whose lives off reservation during the early post treaty period are seldom examined or given treatment in our texts.


My representation of her life is also somewhat exceptional.[1] A straightforward biography of Katie Gale was not possible given the paucity of material about her or written by her. In fact, the only mark in the record decisively made by her hand is an X firmly inscribed on several court documents. Thus I strove to bring to what I knew of her life a perspective, and to work from what Monique Wittig [2]called an angle of approach that allows us to understand something of her in the context of her time if only from “out of the corner of the eye”. I have more particularly attempted in my book and in this essay to articulate when possible the dynamic interplay of gender, race, and class as these operated in her life. That is I have tried to understand her life from the perspective of a woman marginalized by the dominant culture not just by gender but also by race.   My depiction is a history from, so much as possible, “below,” that is, from the perspective of the margin and told from the point of view of a subaltern experience of the period.[3]

Though documents produced by either Gale are limited, I write try to place her in a particular place and time period, Oyster Bay in the mid to late 1800s. Oyster Bay is a kind of social historical laboratory…one that because it is in the developing west…offers many archival documents:  homestead and donation claim papers, censuses, some diaries and journals, some letters, newspapers, and reports and letters associated with the United States Indian agencies and their officers.  Thus it is not just Katie Gale’s life that I represent (and in no way does  it claim to be a story of the Coast Salish people or any particular band or tribe), but a depiction of maritime community of great diversity during the early commercialization and exploitation of its resources and statehood. The people of the bay in many ways did form a community of place and interaction in a shared historical period in a period of great change.

Karen Leong wrote an essay in which she rather optimistically said that biographical studies of non- white women have released a “plethora of unbound voices” that have reshaped the discourse of the western historical experience. [4]Still, most biography of western women is not analytical,[5] and the majority of these remain “fixated on white women.”[6] and, as Susan Armitage has said, do not challenge much at all.[7]

However critical attention to women’s stories, where it occurs, allows us to understand how gender and race, interacted with structures of power in the west. In Katie Gale’s case, these dynamics take on different significance due to her status in in the post treaty /early statehood period of Washington. Hers is not simply a tale of “survival” or a depiction of daily life on the “frontier” with all its challenges and tragedies.

Katie Gale’s story is in fact primarily a story of gender, racial inequality and the power exerted over her, her kin, her work and her body by an occupying colonial force embodied by her husband, Joseph.  Indeed, Katie Gale’s life exemplifies, I believe, Hurtado’s notion of the “intimate frontiers” of empire “a social and cultural space where racial classifications were defined and defied, where relations between colonizer and colonized could powerfully confound or confirm the strictures of governance:” [8]


When I began work on Katie Gale’s story, everyone I spoke with and everything I found in print about her assumed that she was married “Indian style” to Joseph Gale or was at best his common law wife.  Indeed, I was told that white men married Indian women so that they could acquire their families’ tidelands. Oystermen, some prominent in the area, were known to have had such wives, legal or not, and fathered children by them, but the women are unacknowledged in local histories and biographies.  Katie Gale’s story does not follow this oft-repeated narrative and my guess is that many of these other women who have been dismissed from the history books would have a rather different and significant tale to tell.[9]


Katie Gale, probably from a village up river from Puget Sound, had lived through the  occupation of Oregon and Washington territory by colonial forces.  She and other western Washington indigenous people, those who lived in drainages of rivers and streams that flow to Puget Sound, had been forcibly removed to prison encampments when they embarked upon a war of resistance (1855-56) with complaints about treaty provisions and reservations. After the war, they were expected to go to reserves.  There, their customary activities, including hunting, gathering, and religious practices, were frowned upon if not outright outlawed. Promised goods and services, spelled out in the treaties made with the United States, were late in coming, if they came at all.  The peoples’ ways of relating to one another, the land and water, and their children were undermined by these new rules and the placement and condition of the reserves. Children were taken from the influence of their families and assigned to schools that sought to destroy every semblance of their past lives and values.

In addition, Katie Gale and other Native people had been subjected on all fronts to what the literature of colonization calls a new “sensory regime.” [10]All of the peoples’ lives and bodies including their senses/and sensory experience of home and land, were affected by institutional, white, western controls imposed upon them.  The “civilizing” political society made use of schools, churches, newspapers, and, on reservations, there were enforcers of change such as agents, doctors, farmers and schoolmasters.  It was during this post- treaty time, and after the war, that Katie Gale apparently joined her extended kin in the southern Puget Sound and with them sought work and livelihood off their inadequate reservation, Squaxin Island, and away from direct control of the agency administering the reservation. This is the context in which we must understand the life of Katie Gale and probably the lives and choices available to most Native women throughout the region during this period.

The imposition of EuroAmerican hegemony was unlike anything that had been experienced by Northwest peoples. It is not as if the indigenous people did not know of and experience differences. Through loose or temporary alliances, trade with others, travel, and intermarriage, they had a vast understanding of and familiarity with a large territory, one Whaley calls Illahee.[11] Contacts and trade included all the people of the Puget Sound, far north along the coast and into the interior with trails across the Cascades and along the Columbia and south at least to northern California. Many indigenous people were familiar with or fluent in several languages and some villages were bilingual. However, they did not organize for power or build empires or have rigid boundaries or borders but instead embraced relatively permeable home territories that were usually welcoming of others. They were especially welcoming to those with kinship ties for these extended rights to hunt or fish or gather. These were loosely structured social systems.[12]  The word “tribe” was a term that in its strictest definition did not accurately describe how indigenous people of western Oregon and Washington territories were organized. Bands or small villages on drainages did, upon occasion, become allies in times of war. But the appellation tribe was applied and became commonly used to refer to those bands of people that were consolidated on reservations and compelled to live together.[13]

BEGIN ORAL Presentation Here

Oyster Bay

Oyster Bay, at the head of Totten Inlet, was home to one of the richest native oyster beds in Puget Sound. In addition to the resident T’peeksin, a band of Coast Salish people that lived at the head of the Bay, the bounty of thumb- sized delicacies attracted Native American pickers from all around Puget Sound and beyond, probably for centuries. After treaties of the 1850s[14] and the arrival of homesteading Euro-Americans and Americans, things changed dramatically for the indigenous people and for Oyster Bay.


In the post war era, Katie Gale and her kin and friends, some from bands resident in the South Sound pre-treaty and some not, were picking and selling Oyster Bay shellfish to non Natives and making a life off reservation by lumbering, farming, fishing, and working for non-Native settlers.  Women were fully engaged in this work and some had their own “picking grounds.”[15] They were forging their own livelihoods in the post 1856 treaty economy.

Oyster Bay lay largely within what was then called Sawamish County[16], named after a band of Native Americans who inhabited the territory. The earliest census figures for the area (post-1856) lists a population that includes Native Americans plus people from Scotland, Ireland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (not part of the Canada Federation until 1867), Northwest Territory (joined the Canadian Confederation in 1870), Russia, and France. Many were farmers or small scale loggers, relatively benign neighbors and friends to indigenous people. By 1870, some Swedes and Norwegians had joined the mix. In 1878, what Raban calls the  “the great self-important juggernaut of American capitalism” [17] came to Oyster Bay in the guise of Joseph Gale and his partner. Joseph joined forces with Katie Gale whose family provided a work force, and had the resources, and the skills with which to cultivate and harvest oysters. Thus began commercial oystering on Oyster Bay. With this came more intensive gathering and parceling out of tidelands to non-Natives (and some Natives) as well as new territorial and then state laws (post 1889) governing the cultivation and harvesting of oysters.  At the same time, other institutions were well established or become established: fraternal lodges, transport, banks, newspapers (one bank rolled by Joseph Gale), steamboats, mills, bridges, and churches. The work of settlement and colonization was in full swing now, and the population grew with people intent on making this territory their own. By 1879, there were Danes, Newfoundlanders, Italians, an Australian or two and some Swiss. There were eight Chinese, a number that remained steady until 1889, the year of the Chinese Exclusion Case. Still, Chinese came back quickly: twenty-three on the census rolls, by 1892. There was a floating Chinese laundry on Oyster Bay and a upland one at New Kamilche. Katie Gale and Joseph had Chinese workmen and a foreman who was Cowlitz/Chinese mix. During that same period, the early 1890s and beginning in the late 1880s, right after Washington became a state, there was a large influx of “Canadians” and Norwegians.[18] More than 300 Canadians were on the census roles in 1892. [19]

Thus Katie Gale’s Oyster Bay, where she lived and worked from around 1860 to her death was cosmopolitan and rapidly changing. People from Europe and elsewhere who applied for homesteads would be working for citizenship at the same time in order to qualify and “prove” their claim. [20]They would not be leaving.

The Gale union, a formally legalized and documented marriage, was one of the countless cross- cultural marriages that involved Native American women and European or Euro American men in the region and on Oyster Bay. These marriages or common law unions are recorded in journals, diaries and letters from the early days of Fort Astoria, Fort Vancouver, and Fort Nisqually to name a few.[21]Through these “tender ties”[22] bonds were made between and among whole groups of people. Though much of the discussion in the literature concerns the marriages between trappers, esp. French and indigenous women, a fair amount has been published that depicts Native women in alliance with men who were either in positions of leadership, in Hudson Bay Company, at Fort Astoria, or in nascent European villages or towns, and or rose to those positions during the relationship. [23] In many ways, these cross-cultural marriages could be positive and could change the climate or character of a community from one exclusively Eurocentric to one decidedly more cosmopolitan (given that the woman usually joined the husbands business or home). They could shift the meaning of home to one that was local rather than distant for the male. They certainly could and often did establish a reciprocating bond with the local indigenous community of the wife’s family. They also provided for intimacy for both partners. For the woman, given the depredations of the era, the loss of home and home territory, and the uncertainty of the future, provided or helped her to establish a certain stability and economic as well as social space. Of course the cultural differences between the pair often continued to be obstacles to truly successful relationships as did racism and the rules and legal obstacles the surrounding community of laws and prejudice placed in the way even when husbands defended and fully embraced wives. The children of these marriages, often referred to as Metis informally, were variously accepted, assimilated, and/or faced with ambiguous or changing legal status during the last half of the 19th century of Washington. In terms of official United States policy viz the indigenous population, this period is known as the Assimilation Era. [24] In touch with the sentiment of the time, in some instances, a husband wanted to eradicate any relationship or identification the children of the marriage had to Indian roots. He might also wish to erase or eradicate the woman’s own race and culture in any way possible. This was the case of Joseph Gale.  Thus, to quote Stoler and Hurtado, The “tender ties” were also “sites of production of colonial inequities and therefore of tense ties as well.” [25]  Stoler writes that “matters of the intimate are critical sites for the consolidation of colonial power, that management of those domains provides a strong pulse on how relations of empire are exercised, and that affairs of the intimate are strategic for empire-driven states.”[26]

During the economic panic of 1893, Katie Gale feared that Joseph, in whose names their tidelands were recorded, would lose their wealth. Also, she had, she said, been treated as a menial laborer though she was a full partner in their enterprise. Joseph paid her for her labors at the same rate he paid other piece work laborers he employed. She sued, ultimately ran her own oyster business, and left considerable holdings to their two children. Her modest home was on the site of what is now the still successful Olympia Oyster Company. Her story from the point of her suit against Joseph is one of many that reflect the perseverance of women during territorial and early statehood as well as the complexity of the “encounters” between and among people in the early territorial days of the Northwest. She went to court to protect her holdings and during the proceedings she defined and spoke from her subaltern status as Native woman.

She is an Indian Woman

Pre-colonization Native American women in the region were full participants in economic activities of their families and bands.  There are many instances of leadership of women in the literature. There were a number of paths by which women attained power, including spiritual power. Women might be shaman. Women could indirectly influence economic activity through their husbands. Some women transformed themselves and became “male” in order to exert power. [27][28] Native women in the Northwest, however, were nearly immediately compared negatively with European and EuroAmerican women by European explorers and entrepreneurs. Their “nakedness” offended, they bathed in the river, were deemed “devoid of shame and decency” and were called prostitutes.[29] Denigrating language such as this is found in the letters and reports of agents assigned to the Squaxin Island Reservation, the reservation where Oyster Bay Native Americans would have been expected to reside. Women were often called “squaws”[30] and Katie, married to an enterprising and upwardly mobile white man did not escape these judgments and deprecations.  In court Joseph repeatedly spoke of her disparagingly. “If she couldn’t support herself with the money he paid her, he suggested, it is because she behaves like an Indian. That is, she works until she received payment (and this was true, he added, before they married), ‘then she would go off and stay with the Indians sometimes for months.’ He complained that she would, ‘get up in the night,’ and be gone for days. He claimed she was, ‘running with Indian men.’ He portrayed her as erratic and unpredictable. He denigrates her work habits.

Dismayed by such behavior, he complained that, ‘she usually returned broke and affiant would give her employment again.’ She had, he said, ‘wild Indian ways.’ She squandered her money he said, giving it to her, ‘tillicum and kindred.’” “Then there was her temper, he continued. ‘She is an Indian woman of vulgar taste violent and unruly temper and has often made life a burden for him.’” Even her voice offended him and his mates. It was too loud and her language unseemly. She could not be trained into being a proper EuroAmerican ideal of womanhood. Indeed, some of the language used to describe Katie Gale by Joseph Gale and his friends (in courtroom settings) is almost identical to that found in the journals from the early 1800s.

The Colonization of Women’s Bodies

In the time remaining, I want to speak briefly of one of the many ways in which Native American women’s bodies were colonized and paradoxically idealized by the new regime.

From the moment Vancouver first admired the coasts, the waters, the woods, and the inlets of the Pacific Northwest, the dream was of colonization

From the first, what was here needed, it seemed to those entrepreneurial visitors, Europeanizing. Vancouver did not see what was actually in front of him. He saw dreams of the future and the promise of a new land made to serve the interests of his country. He saw hedges and gardens. Drawings made by European artists and layperson on Vancouver’s ship and those of French and Spanish voyages and later travelers such as Paul Kane may have depicted what was “seen” in sketches, but these were dressed up by engravers or by themselves in their studios as they produced finished paintings or before publication. Composition was constructed by a European or EuroAmerican eye. [31]  And European paintings informed what was “seen.” As Raban writes, “The ghost of Salvator Rosa, hugely popular in England at the time (of Vancouver’s voyage) hangs over the midshipmen’s efforts as they labor to translate the giddy heights and vacant solitudes of the Northwest into familiar pictorial terms.”[32]

The new aesthetic regime began its work in these earliest of encounters and it worked hand in hand with the privilege of ‘discovery.”  That is, the discoverer is privileged to mold a landscape to his liking either by name, by design, or by force. [33]This is the privilege of discovery. This is how the discoverer fabricates a land it can colonize. From making hedges, importing Scotch Broom, to sending Native children to boarding schools and putting them into familiar clothing. Not just minds are colonized, but the hills, water ways, body and the skin …..everything.

European and EuroAmericans, particularly men, carried with them to the Northwest the will to colonize and this will was informed by a largely Victorian sensibility with respect to women (Victoria reigned from 1837-1901, roughly covering the period of the settlement of the Oregon Territory to the end of Katie Gale’s life) that translated into very specific expectation of women’s behavior, sexuality, and bodies.

Behaviors or dress that fell outside that expectation and sensibility were open to critical scrutiny and labeling. Women who challenged the Victorian ideal were chastised…whether in America or Europe or elsewhere in the colonial world.

Mid to late 18th century Victorian standards for women put previously uncluttered lives of powerful women from communities of Native people into literal and metaphorical strait jackets of corsets and stays…and the burden of bustles and layers of fabric popular from about………..These were totally unsuitable for the “usual an accustomed” work of the daily lives of rural women generally and Native women like Katie Gale working on mud flats culling and cultivating oysters.

Still, the EuroAmerican ideal for Native peoples included American dress of the time and order and sensibilities that were American. By boarding school times, post mid 1800s in Washington Territory, young people were extracted from homes and sent off to mission schools or consolidated agency schools shorn and dressed in buttons and bows, vests, floppy ties and creased trousers. Even music was used as a tool of assimilation. Bands were popular at Chemawa school for the order and structure they required. Uniforms were military style and followed the model established by Henry Pratt at the Carlisle Indian School.[34]The schools often changed students’ names and images of the now “civilized” children were published in order to gain support for funding. [35]They were also groomed for work in northern cities, the girls to act as servants during school breaks. Ostensibly such work would help further the assimilation process.  And with the coats and dresses and boots and bands came the rest: lessons, books, manners and European and EuroAmerican ideas of propriety, gender, and power. Ersatz European or Boston ideologies and aesthetic regimes came to overlay everything in the world of Pacific Northwest. Even the animals brought with them in their feed and dung the seeds of foreign plants that changed the landscape and the nostalgia for home led settlers to import plants like the Scotch Broom that is now ubiquitous.  Nothing was quite right. All had to be “tamed.”

Katie Gale’s as Katie Gale struggled to retain rights to live her life, make gifts and give money to relatives, stay within the Native community, and raise her children. But ultimately, her daughter Maud was kidnapped by Joseph Gale and, with the court’s approval, sent to an Olympia Sisters of Providence school[36] where her husband complained even of visits by her mother and her mother’s Native American women relatives and friends. Though many of Katie Gale’s family had assumed the trappings of the dominant culture (see wedding picture from 1903), they were still Indian. Here in the Olympia school, though Maud had been doing well in the local mixed school on Oyster Bay, she was subjected to a regimen that truly distanced her from her mother’s Native influence. After Katie Gale died in 1898, her son was also sent to school in Olympia, attended the People’s University there, and became a bottler at the local brewery. Maud and Ray both married non -Natives and were absorbed by the dominant society.


Curiously, the corsets and bustles and the gingham dresses and aprons many Native women were wearing by the late 19th century became symbols of loss by the early 20th century. Newspapers marked the passing of aged Indian men and women with nostalgic obituaries. Many were said to be the “last of their tribe.” Edward Curtis passed through Puget Sound, removed the dresses and bustles, dressed women in woven cattail mats, let down their hair, and photographed these women in  tableau like reenactments of a life they no longer lived. [37]These portraits became objects of “art” for an appreciative EuroAmerican audience. The North American Indian project, of which these photographs were a part, was financed by J.P. Morgan and began in 1906. Other what might be called “end of the trail” art flourished in photographs and documentaries such as Curtis’ Land of the Headhunter, premiering in 1914, Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, 1922, and the work of Marius Barbeau in Canada. It is no accident that songs such as Pale Moon with lyrics by Jesse Glick were popular in the 1920s and also employed “stereotypes that anchor Indian people firmly in a timeless, primordial way of life.”[38] The operettas Pocahontas and The Captain of Plymouth and the song By the Waters of Minnetonka were also popular and depicted the “Indianist” music and confirmed many “non-Indian ideas about Indian culture.”[39]

At the same time, tourism grew and with it the notion of collecting and seeing Indians first hand as part of a Northwest experience. Basket making was encouraged by the Department of Interior as a means of earning income and with the baskets, photographs of the basket makers were made and even sold as postcards. Through the early 20th century, literally hundreds of tourists traveled by day rail to see Indians in the Puyallup hop fields. “See them play their native games” one promotion reads, and “secure one of the beautiful Native Woven Baskets.” [40] Tourists visited the Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula and were feted by Indian performances and treated to the opportunity to purchase from Indian basket makers. (see picture) Now it was authenticity that was longed for by the EuroAmerican audience.

End Oral Presentation Here

There is much more to mine from Katie Gale’s story and the history of Native American women living on Oyster Bay….for example how did the off reservation women interact with and support each other? How did they interact with reservation women? How did they interact with EuroAmerican women? For example, we know of many stories of Native women acting as healers and midwives to white and Native women in the region. This includes Louisa Tobin, a cousin of Katie Gale. What were the boundaries of their acceptance beyond that role and others they played in their maritime communities?

Thanks for your interest today.







[1] Research Files, Katie Gale’s Tombstone: The Work of Researching a Life

by Llyn De Danaan. Oregon Historical Quarterly. Winter 2005.


[2] See “The Straight Mind and Other Essays” by Monique Wittig. She defines “angle of approach in the context of discussing Djuna Barne’s work: “a constant shifting which, when the text is read, produces an effect comparable to what I call an ou-of-the corner-of-the eye perception; the text bears the mark of that ‘estrangement’. P. 62.

[3] I owe much to the work of bell hooks, “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center,” and Gramsci’s post-colonial theories. See Kate A.F. Crehan, “Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology.” Chapter five of Crehan’s book discusses the power relations that maintain subordination of the subaltern and the “cracks and fissures that could potentially lead to their overcoming it.”

[4] Karen Leong cited by Margaret Jacobs, Pacific Historic Review, p. 592 and      Susan Armitage   “Wetern Women’s Biographies,” Western American Literature, 41, No. 1 (spring 2006), 72. Cited by Margaret Jacobs, ibid.

[5] For example the wonderful and popular book Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America by Linda Lawrence Hunt, Anchor, 2005. A great story of an exceptional  Norwegian immigrant woman in late 19th century Washington State.


[6] Quoted in Margaret D. Jacobs, “Getting Out of Rut: Decolonizing Western Women’s History,” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 79, No. 4, pages 585-604. 2010. P. 592.

[7] Cited by Margaret D. Jacobs, ibid., Susan Armitage, “Western Women’s Biographies, “ Western American Literature, 41, No. 1, (Spring 2006), 72.

[8] Albert Hurtado, Intimate Frontiers: Sex, Gender, and Culture in Old California (Albuquerque, 1999). See also “Settler Women and Frontier Women: The Unsettling Past of Western Women’s History,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, Women’s West (2001), pp. 1-5.


[9] A story of Katie Gale’s contemporary, Sally, is an example. She was married to a white man and lived and laboured with him for years as his spouse but was never allowed in his sister’s house and was denied any of their jointly earned wealth after his death and in the aftermath of two lengthy court hearings. The legality of her marriage was challenged by the dead man’s birth family and her legal standing was examined in courts and denied. She had been picking oysters from her “own bed” before she met and married the man and was well known to be making a good living on her own.


[10] I am indebted to Margaret D. Jacobs for introducing me to the concept of “sensory regime” and the conversations about it in post-colonialism literature. See: “White Mother to a Dark Race,” by Margaret D. Jacobs, “The Anthropology of Colonialism,” Peter Pels, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol 26 (1997), pp. 163-183; “Racial Malleability and the Sensory Regime of Politically Conscious Brazilian Hip Hop, Jennifer Roth-Gordon, 7 July 2013, American Anthropological Association.

[11] Gray H. Whaley, “Oregon and the Collapse of Illahee: U.S. Empire and the Transformation of an Indigenous World, 1792-1859.”


[12] Not in the sense in which this term is used to describe Thai society. I mean it in the sense of the fluidity of the bilateral kinship system and marriage as well as the relative lack of structurally determined leadership and interaction between and among bands and individuals.

[13] Other terms…nation, consolidated bands of…..etc.

[14] Stevens treaties, 1854-55.  Donation Land Claims Act, 1850.  Homestead Act, .


[15] Sally

[16] Renamed Mason County in 1864 in honor of Charles H. Mason, the first Secretary of Washington Territory. One of the signs of increasing white settlement and EuroAmericanizing/colonizing is the substitution of Euro-names for Native names.


[17] Jonathan Raban, “Passage to Juneau: The Sea and Its Meanings”, Vintage, 2000. p. 70.

[18] The Canadian influx may have to do with the fortunes of the Simpson and Grisdale families who emigrated from Quebec. S.G. Simpson formed the Simpson Logging Company in Mason County 1890 and was joined by a relative and neighbor George Grisdale in 1889. George’s letters to his brother Bill may have been typical of the seductive descriptions of the area being written home. The trees, he said, were “really big and tall and thick” and had to be seen to be believed. At the same time, more thousands left the Maritimes due to worsening economic conditions. (cite Thornton)

[19] Japanese do not appear in the area census rolls until the early 1900s.

[20] The Homestead Act of 1862 Declared that any citizen or intended citizen could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land. The Indian Homestead Act  of 1875 extended the Homestad Act of 1862 to Indians provided they gave up their tribal affiliation.

[21] Forthcoming book by Candace Wellman, The Peace Weavers: 19th Century Intermarriages at the Edge of the Salish Sea. This is to be a group of biographies of indigenous women married to army officers and settlers on the 1850s in one geographic cluster of intermarriages in the Bellingham Bay in Washington Territory. Also see Jean Barman’s new book, French Canadians, Furs and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest.  Jean Barman  September 2014 University of Washington Press. (UBC Press)



[22] See “Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870. Sylvia Van Kirk. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983. Also Gray H. Whaley, “Oregon and the Collapse of Illahee,” University of North Carolina Press, 2010.



[24] Assimilation Era in Federal Indian Policy was 1887, the beginning of the allotment period, and 1943.


[25] “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies,” Ann Laura Stoler, The Journal of American History, Vol. 88, No. 3. December 2001. P.4. “Settler Women and Frontier Women: The Unsettling Past of Western Women’s History,” Albert L. Hurtado. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, Women’s West (2001) pp. 1-5.

[26]  Ann Laura Stoler “Intimidations of Empire: Predicaments of the Tactile and Unseen” in Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History, Duke University Press,  2006. page 4,   Quoted in Margaret Jacobs page 602

[27] Example of one female shaman is the prophet Kauxuma-nupika who traveled from the plains and plateau to the lower Columbia in the early 1800s warning of coming disease and whites. Whaley discusses the role of “Madame Coalpo in the Columbia fur trade and comments that women were often at “the helm” of fur trading expeditions. Gray H. Whaley, “Oregon and the Collapse of Illahee,” University of North Carolina Press, 2010, p. 42.

[28] Many biographies, including those of contemporary women leaders, are available. See Esther Ross’s (Stillaguamish) biography, Betty Mae Jumper’s autobiography, with Patsy West, A Seminole Legend: The Life of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, Lakota Woman, by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes , or Wilma Mankiller and Michael Wallace’s Mankiller: A Chief and Her People (1993). Also see stories of Lozen, the prominent Chiricahua Apache warrier and prophetess, and Mildred Cleghorn, first tribal chairwoman at the Fort Sill Reservation.


[29] Whaley, ibid. p. 45.

[30] This term was used to denote certain relationships between Indian women and EuroAmerican men on Oyster Bay. Indian Country Today ( circulated an account of the historical uses of the term written by Vincent Schilling.

[31] Raban p. 161 and the painting of the loom.

[32] Jonathan Raban p. 160

[33] A new exhibit at MOHAI (Seattle’s wonderful revitalized Museum of History and Industry in its new home on South Lake Union) allows spectators to push buttons and watch hills around Seattle and Elliot Bay disappear as these features rise into the sky on long fish lines and vanish into the “clouds” as it were. With just the push of a button, the course of the Duwamish River becomes a straight line rather than the meandering oxbow it once was. There seems to be no ironic commentary or critique of this….we push buttons and “poof!” there goes Denny Hill.

[34] To Win the Indian Heart: Music at Chemawa Indian School, Melissa D. Parkhurst, First Peoples, Oregon State University Press, Corvallis. 2014. p. 34.

[35] Ibid. p. 28.


[36] Sisters of Providence were especially active in establishing schools for Metis children.

[37] For a story of Edward Curtis’ life and work see Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan. 2012 Houghton Mifflen. The book further glorifies  an already glamourized man and it’s a “good read.”

[38] Melissa Parkhurst, To Win the Indian Heart. First Peoples. Oregon State University Press. Corvallis. 2014. p. 58

[39] Ibid. p. 59

[40] Authentic Indians: Episodes of Encounter from the Late-Nineteenth Century.  Paige Raibmon. Duke University Press. June 2005.

BUNKHOUSE BARDS January 20 Version

Bunkhouse Bards:
Some Notes on Songs of the Timber Beasts


LLyn De Danaan

Scratch the urbane surface of just about anybody I know, and stories of a grandfather or great grandmother who worked in coalmines or the woods come pouring out. I suppose that’s in part due to the company I keep (often determined by my affection for those who share or appreciate my own Irish-Welsh working class heritage). Or maybe it’s a fascination I have for people who have stories to tell. A few months ago, I listened to a fellow musician tell tales about his grandpa’s fiddle which he played with a cello bow when he joined in with the Quebecois instrumentalists in his logging camp. From another pal, I heard the story of a banjo playing father and a pair of grand parents who ran a big logging camp near Spirit Lake, Idaho. That story was embellished with tales of the team of horses that hauled logs out of the woods and a pet bear that lived on kitchen leftovers. Many of these anecdotes  are based  real or inflated but inevitably fond memories of ancestors who not only lived in the rough but also filled their evenings with music as they lounged beside warm stoves in the evenings. These were the dark, after work hours when laborers fetched their instruments from under their bunks or off the rough iron hooks on walls that held their duffels and gear. Those work calloused hands, sometimes missing a few digits, fetched fiddles, spoons, banjos and musical saws and joined in joyous harmony. Feet scuffled and clogged in time with the melodies and, sometimes, instruments[1], that traveled with them and their fore bearers from across the Atlantic and then migrated with them over the vast North American continent all the way to the Pacific Northwest. These were tunes that bonded the working people, entertained them, and gave them a barrelful of laughs at the end of arduous and danger filled days underground or in the woods.

Perhaps the most evocative telling of such sessions in literature is one written by Alistair MacLeod in his brilliant novel of Cape Breton called “No Great Mischief”:
“The sun moved higher and heatedly across the sky, yet no one seemed to think of sleep. It was as if we had missed the train to sleep and there was nothing we could do about it in our present state. The music dipped and soared and the leather-soled shoes snapped against the reverberating wood. Sometimes a fiddler would announce the name of a tune and the others would nod in recognition and join him in “The Crooked Stovepipe” or “Deeside” or “Saint Anne’s Reel,” “The Farmer’s Daughter,” or “Brandy Canadien.” At other times the titles seemed lost or perhaps never known, although the tunes themselves would be recognizable after the first few bars. “Ah yes,” the fiddlers would nod in recognition, “A ha,” “Mais oui,” and they would join one another in the common fabric of the music. Gradually the titles from different languages seemed to fade away almost entirely, and the music was largely unannounced or identified merely as “la bastringue,” “an old hornpipe,” “la guigue”, “a wedding reel”, “un real sans nom.”

The stories, these songs, are filled with the awe and heartache. Their evocative themes reminded a singer or player of all the people with whom one had played this tune before. They could make a fiddler’s heart beat faster or bring a tear to the eye.

The songs played in the “old days” were far different from those recorded and produced in the past 50 years. Indeed the “logging song” genre, starting with “The Frozen Logger” by James Stevens, is rife with “pseudo-folklore.”

The newer songs are composed by “singing loggers” who came from the woods but became known as individual performers and recording artists. Their songs are based upon their experience in the woods but draw heavily on the conventions of country and western music, and, interesting as they are, seem not to have captured or transmitted the spirit of the coarse lives of the woodsmen or ”shanty” boys in the east or during the early days of the Northwest logging. The singing logger genre seems disconnected from the woodsmen’s music’s 19th century roots. Those roots, admittedly, are not easy to find. Even folklorists have been accused of “censoring” or rewriting what they heard from the old timers for they were often bawdy songs and even the names of tools and the work in the woods were loaded with sexual innuendos that made the greenhorns blush.


Sometime in the late 1960s or early 70s I visited Camp Grisdale. It was called the “last” of the logging camps and was situated up near the southern boundary of the Olympic National Forest. The men and women who lived there were surrounded by steep slopes and were slammed by up to 160 inches of rain a year. It was a clear day when I arrived. I was hauling a reel-to-reel Sony Portapak camera and video tape recording outfit with me. It seemed heavy as heck but in reality was only about a 7-pound weight slung from my shoulder.

Simpson Timber Company owned Grisdale. It was opened in 1946 and represented, company reps said a, “departure from traditional living arrangements,” in the Washington forests, “where lumberjacks bunked in ragged railroad cars perched on sidings.” These camps in the early to mid 20th century may have been much like that one described by Molly Gloss in her tale of the Northwest called Wild Life:

“It was a highballing twentieth century camp, not an ox to be found , but a shed for storing piles of heavy chains and coils of wire cable under cover, and a great long machine shop where men were mightily engaged keeping the mechanical devises and enginery in working order. In other respects a camp entirely ordinary for its size: the commissariat fifty feet in length; the cookhouse and dining room perhaps ten feet longer than the store, and wide in proportion; five bunkhouses with accomodations each for twenty-five or thirty; to say nothing of meat house, oil house, smithy, stables, filing house, and a tent church of the Northwest Lumbermen’s Evangelical Society. ozens of tents and shacks stood at the perimeter, homes of men who valued solitude or men whose families were were with them in camp.”


Grisdale was built to be permanent and to, “serve a wholesome, stable community for a man and his family.” The company men’s characterization of the old logging camps was at least a tad hyperbolic and that of the new was loaded with feel good words: wholesome, stable, and family. Loggers would have described their old lives differently as well as their goals for a better working situation. Indeed, it was the hard work of the unions, not the largesse of companies like Simpson, that got the workers the “modernized” camps like Grisdale. The unions, including the I.W.W. or Wobblies , worked hard in the 19-teens to assure 8-hour days and better, healthier, and economically more just work climate for the loggers.

Insert (Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks)

The song “Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks,” sung to the tune of “Portland County Jail”, describes exactly what the loggers wanted and it could have served as a blueprint for Simpson and Grisdale:

“Take a tip and start right in—plan some cozy rooms
Six or eight spring beds in each, with towels, sheets and brooms;
Shower baths for men who work keeps them well and fit
A laundry, too, and drying room, would help a little bit.”

The recording (cited above) on YouTube is Joe Glazer’s rendition. Glazer was called “labor’s troubadour.” He published “Songs of Work and Freedom” and was a founder of the Labor Heritage Foundation to “curate and promote the culture of the American Labor Movement. He recorded many of the songs from the I.W.W. period in the Northwest.
A second version of the song was recorded in St. Maries, Idaho. It is sung by Earl Gleason whose family had over 100 years of experience in the Idaho woods where Harold Barto of Ellensburg, Washington collected the song in 1917. William Alderson. who got the song from Barto, says it is sung to the tune of “A Son of a Gamboleer.”
The words vary somewhat from the published I.W.W. version:

Fifty thousand lumberjacks
Goin’ in to eat
Fifty thousand plates of slum*
Made from tainted meat,
Fifty thousand lumberjacks
All settin’ up a yell
To kill the belly robbers
And damn their souls to hell.
There is also a recording of Gleason’s version on line:

James Stevens notes that before “radical college and newspaper sociologists got control of the I.W.W.” in the Northwest, the language organizers used to talk about the injustices visited upon loggers was full of the sound of “timber.” Employment offices were called “slave markets,” and “the first gang of logger delegates to go to an I.W.W. convention called themselves ‘the overall brigade.’” They went home with new jobs for the educated leadership: the “pink-pretties.” That language is reflected in Gleason’s version of “Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks”.

It was because of the unions and the effectiveness of the protests (that big logging outfits faced during strikes by the workers during 1917 and 1918) that the circumstances for the laborers began to change. Even then, Seattle and Centralia lumber timber owners, for instance, had not happily agreed to institute an eight-hour day and to improve the workers’ lot. The strike was long and ultimately bloody. You’ve got to read the history of the Everett Massacre and Centralia Massacre to put this period into some perspective and understand better the role that loggers and shingle workers played in insisting on better wages and working conditions.

By 1946 Simpson had to do better if they were to attract people who would stay in this soggy wet forest where the rain forest conditions would grow moss on your boots and mushrooms in your ears if you stood still long enough.

I visited Grisdale that day before it closed with my friend, Karen James and her father, Dave James who served as Simpson’s PR man and historian for many years. The Grisdale camp, James said, was a big investment for the company. It featured freestanding family homes, “a two-room schoolhouse, a gymnasium, and a grocery in the middle of the forest.”
When it closed in 1985 it represented the decline and demise of a way of life and the end of an era. “To the rigging-slingers and grapple-loaders, chokers and chasers, Camp Grisdale, lying at the end of a twisted, rutted road between civilization and rawest nature, was more than a job.” It was, locals said, a sad day for the men in the cork boots and red suspenders. Some had known nothing but the camps as had their fathers and grandfathers.

That day in the woods 40 miles up the Wynochee above Montesano in the Olympic Mountains, I stood near a team of men as they prepared to fell a behemoth of a fir tree. They made a huge undercut down low on the tree. Years ago, loggers notched the tree up high, inserted a springboard, and cut the tree from that position. You can still see tall stumps all around forests in the Northwest. On the stumps, you can make out the notches where the springboards were inserted. I watched these seasoned laborers in awe. Norman Maclean described their work and the altered state that loggers experienced as they engaged the trees, the saws, and their buddies:

“… A [lumberjack] could not remain a logger and be outworked. If I had to ask for mercy on the saw I might as well have packed my duffel bag and headed down the road. … Sawing it is something beautiful when you are working rhythmically together— at times, you forget what you are doing and get lost in abstractions of motion and power. But when sawing isn’t rhythmical, even for a short time, it becomes a kind of mental illness—maybe even something more disturbing than that. It is as if your heart isn’t working right.”

Those were the days when trees were felled with axes and long crosscut saws pulled with one faller at either end. The modern chainsaw was patented in 1926. The woods, subsequently, changed dramatically. But the chainsaw was here to stay and even cut its way into modern poetry, in the form of its earlier iteration, the cordwood or buzz saw:

“The buzz saw** snarled and rattled in the yard

And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood…”

These are the opening lines of Robert Frost’s ‘Out, Out—‘ in which a poor lad loses his hand and then his life to technology as it “snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled” just like a wild animal that turns on a man and leaps out at him. And just that quickly, the saw can take a life. The saw becomes a symbol of the modern world, of modernism itself, a kind of image for the rural wooded world as powerful and frightening in its implication as Metropolis was for the urban world. Man versus machine.  Metropolis the film came out in 1927, the year after the chainsaw was patented.

In Grisdale that day, as the men I watched cut deeper into the tree, great gushing buckets of sap flowed as easily as a waterfall out of the center of the tree. Like the boy’s blood in the poem, the life spills away. It was astonishing to see that much liquid coming out of what seemed to be a tower of dense matter, all fibrous substance to the core. But as I watched, millions of sap cells exhausted their carefully held supplies all at once and poured out their life stuff as the saws cut deeper and deeper. When the great wedge was finished to the satisfaction of the team, the team made a back cut. The sound of the chainsaws, an angry sound of a thousand troubled mosquitoes, was insistent. The team would have their way with the tree, no doubt. Then, there was a heavy, surprising earthquake, a ground trembling moment, as the colossus fell. Nothing could prepare me for the finality of that fall. It was like, I thought, the day I saw a grand, shining marlin I had caught die and turn dull and blank before my eyes. I was moved and afraid at the same time. I was afraid at what I was capable of doing to such majesty. A little voice inside me said, “this just isn’t right”. But even if those voices speak in the woods, or even scream in protest, they are ignored. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly men, have made their livings and fed their families pursuing and bringing down these giant trees or damming rivers, or slaughtering buffalo or chasing whales. It is the stuff of myth and song and great literature. Think Hemingway and Melville. Man and nature: the small insignificant man standing up to and conquering (or being conquered by) the mighty. The book of Genesis exhorts, “Go forth, multiply, and subdue the earth,” and we’ve been doing it ever since. There is danger, death, impossible odds, the risk of the gamble, in short, a human life against the great “it”.

We went back to camp that day at Grisdale and were escorted through a lunch line where raw men shoveled t-bone steaks on to their plates, some piling the steaks even higher than the precarious stacks of pancakes they’d had for breakfast. I didn’t hear what James Stevens heard when the loggers sat around the table and called out, “chase that java and canned cow over here, Stub” or “chase us a slab of that bull, will you Slim” or “chase along a bowl of strawberries” (beans) or even “chase down the punk and the skid grease” (bread and butter).

That was my day with the “timber beasts” of Grisdale. Their fathers’ and grandfathers’ history included tales of hardship, heroism, loss, and periods of radicalization including strikes called by the I.W.W. and, of course, these stories and tales were carried forward and informed by music.

The tape I recorded that day is, if I could find it, no doubt as nearly unreadable as the reel to reel tapes I found of singing loggers in the Evergreen State college archives. The Washington State Folklife Council has deposited audio and video recordings of singers such as Hank Nelson who grew up near Coos Bay, Oregon and worked as a timber faller in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, and Woody Gifford, known as a logger poet. During the performance I viewed on one damaged tape, Nelson wears a plaid shirt and suspenders. These and hemless jeans or “stag trousers” are so associated with loggers they are easily parodied. Suspenders and the cut offs are said to be safer in case of snags among other comfort and security features they provide. He has dark curly hair and expressive eyes. The person who introduces him says it was, “like getting a beast out of the woods,” to get him to appear. Nelson pays homage to Buzz Martin and sings a Buzz song, “I’m sick of settin’ chokers in the rain.” During his act, he brings his pal, Woody Gifford, on to the stage. Gifford provides percussion for the next tune by hitting an iron wedge with a sledge. I’ve used this gimmick myself now several times. People love it.
Some of the video in the archives was shot during a logger poet’s event sponsored by the Folk life Council. The audio tapes seem to have been, for the most part, collected by Jens Lund and features individual interviews. Although I have studio recordings on long play platters of Buzz Martin and Bob Antone, it was a joy to see a live tape of Nelson in performance with Gifford and hear his unvarnished tales of his work and life in the woods. The tapes are in poor condition but Randy Stilson, the archivist at Evergreen, assures me that they are not a loss and can be restored and copied for those who want more.

My first introduction to logging songs of the Pacific Northwest was listening to “The Frozen Logger” sung around the piano at the James house in the Seattle area during the late 1960s. Dave James had an original copy of the sheet music arranged and sung by The Weavers and signed by the writer, James Stevens. Stevens spent his young years in the woods and sawmills of the Pacific Northwest. He called himself a “hobo laborer.” We have him to thank for the popularity of the Paul Bunyan stories, first published in 1925.Stevens’ telling of the stories was based upon tales that had circulated among lumberjacks for years. The Weavers, who recorded The Frozen Logger, were out of New York’s Greenish Village and came together in 1946. At the advice of their manager, they softened their political rhetoric during the McCarthy era and the “red scare.” This was the early 1950s. It was not safe to be radical in the United States.

In spite of toning down their speech, two Weavers, Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, were denounced and called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The group had embraced pacifism and internationalism and pro-labor sympathies in the 1930s. Seeger was found guilty of contempt of court. The Weavers had recorded Frozen Logger on Decca Records in 1951,two years after it was published. Subsequent to the HUAC hearings, the group lost their contract with Decca the same year Frozen Logger came out and were banned from appearing on television and radio. As late as 1962, the Weavers were not allowed to appear on the Jack Parr show when they refused to sign a political loyalty oath.
Songs about unemployment and economic hardships among those who still work in the woods continue to be a theme of more contemporary singing loggers like Bob Antone and the late Buzz Martin. This one (below) on YouTube was recorded by Buzz Martin on the Ripcord Music label:

Martin made his own guitars, and, influenced by the Grand Ole Opry, began writing his own country western songs, most of them on logging themes. He worked in the woods as cutter, high climber and whistle punk and began performing in logging camps and in dances in the Northwest. He toured with his family ensemble called, appropriately, “Chips off the Old Block.” He died in 1983.

Don’t Call ‘em Lumberjacks!!!!
Sandy Boys, Shanty Boys, and Timber Beasts

“George H. Rogers was instantly killed at Bosewell’s logging camp on the 25th of January,” the Manistee Times reported in February 1869. “The deceased (was) with a large load of logs that turned partially over, when in the haste of the moment he seized an ax and severed the cord that held the binder. The released binder flew back with such a terrible force to crush his skull… This makes no less than eight men who have been killed in the lumber camps north of Manistee this winter.”

Many writers have dissected the language of the people who work in the woods. Translating the embedded codes and expressions used by loggers is essential to understanding the songs. Even the History Channel has a site with terms. In that glossary, we learn that a binder is “a hinged lever assembly for connecting the end of a wrapper to tighten the wrapper around a load of logs. Of course, we have to know wrappers are to make sense of this. You can’t find that definition on the History Channel site. I searched around and found the answer: They are the chains or wire ropes that encircle the load of logs. Now we can understand something of what happened to George Rogers in 1869. The Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest is another good place to learn the lingo and read essays specific to logging on the Olympic Peninsula in the 1920s and 1930s.
James Stevens wrote an article called “Logger Talk” for a 1925 edition of American Speech. In it he said, “Never call the worker in the woods of the Pacific Northwest “lumberjack.” In certain humors he may admit being a timber beast or a savage, but ‘logger’ is the name he has made for himself. He uses the term lumberjack” only in referring to the worker in the ‘toothpick timber, the small second-growth pine and hemlock, in Minnesota, Michigan, an Maine.” The men who bring down the trees are NOT fellers but “fallers” and to call them fellers brought a lot of laughter once when Stevens employed the term in the bunkhouse.

Stevens notes that the language changed with the change in technology. So if you are listening to old songs, such as those collected in the earlier part of the 20th century from old timers, you may find the language hard to decipher even if you know the terms used in the industry in the past fifty years.
Even by 1925, when Stevens penned the article on logger talk, the, “bunkhouse bards and minstrels are no more; the old ballads and stories are forgotten.” The old culture of the woods was quickly passing.
“Shanty Boys” is what the men in the woods in Michigan were called before lumberjack became popular according to one historian. Shanty Boys were a awesome lot:
“Life was tough and the work was hard. It still is. The real money went to a bank back out east while the blood sweat, and cooties were here. It’s still that way except maybe for the cooties. They walked tall, dove deep, swung a broad ax, and helped build a nation”

Franz Rickaby, who collected “pioneer” lyrics of North America and published them in several volumes, wrote that the term Shanty-boys was the preferable term for those who worked in the woods of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota during the 1870-1900 period. Rickaby also bemoans the loss of the old songs. It happened suddenly, he wrote. With the change in technology, “the romance of logging was gone. Gone were the feats, the prowess on the drive, for gone was the drive: the age of steel was upon lumbering—the impersonal age, the non-singing age.”

Rickaby collected “The Shanty-man’s Alphabet” as sung by Mr. Joe Bainter of Gordon, Wisconsin. Rickaby published it in his book “Ballads and Songs of the Shanty Boys.” The lyrics he printed include:

A is for axe as you all very well know,
And B is for boys that can use them just so.
C is for chopping and now I’ll begin;
And D is for danger we oft times run in.
And so merry and so merry are we.
No mortals on earth are so happy as we.
Hi derry hi, and a hi derry down.
Give the shanty-boys grub and there’s nothing goes wrong
Alan Lomax and Harry B. Welliver also collected the alphabet and published it in their archive of folk song volume called Songs of the Michigan Lumberjacks. Lomax says that the singers they recorded during this project’s life were “grizzled veterans of the Michigan forests.”
The version they printed was sung by Gus Schaffer at Greenland, Michigan and recorded in 1938.

This recording is sung by Brian Miller and performed at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison in 2011. Lomax notes that the alphabet song was sung/and being sung in many regions of North America and that no two versions are the same.
The Lomax and Welliver volume is a treasure trove of logging songs, some of which date back to “the days of square-timber logging.” Lomax and Welliver include a good list of references for further study.

Another classic recorded in two versions in the Lomax and Welliver collection is the “Jam on Gerry’s Rock.” Many have performed it. Here is one YouTube version sung by Dusty Leer. Dusty gives a good introduction to this tune.

In Virginia (and arguably those in Kentucky and West Virginia) the loggers along the Sandy River were called Sandy Boys. Though the song was published as a minstrel tune in Phil. Rice’s Correct Method for the Banjo in 1858. A Facsimile reprint is available from Elderly Instruments. But be forewarned: the book is full of “the worst kind of racial stereotypes (and anti-Mormon sentiment) common to the era.”
One of my current favorite tunes is an old time one called Sandy Boys. There are many recorded versions out there.
The chorus lyric is:
Hey Hey Sandy boys
Hey get along those boys
Hey Hey sandy boys
Waitin’ on the break of day

I can’t finish this little review of the logging song genre without a tip of the hat to the term “timber beast.” Once source says that the I.W.W. used this term to describe how big timber industry boss men treated the men in the woods. Loggers, singers, and writers picked up the term. It’s used as the title of a book written by Archie Binns who was a Shelton, Washington High School graduate, graduated Stanford, and later, taught writing at University of Washington and Western Washington when it was still a college. “Timber Beast” was one of several novels to his credit. It was published in 1944. Another source, Thomas Pynchon’s “Vineland,” also associates the term with the I.W.W.
U.Utah Phillips, a laborer organizer, folk singer, Wobblie, and train hopper, recorded the “Timber Beast’s Lament” on his album “Utah Phillips: We Have Fed You All a Thousand Years”, released in 1984 by Philo records, a company that published many folk artists.

“I’m on the boat for the camp 
with a sick and aching head; 
I’ve blowed another winter’s stake, 
And got the jims instead.
It seems I’ll never learn the truth
 that’s written plain as day,
 It’s the only time they welcome you
 is when you make it pay.
And it’s ‘blanket-stiff’ and ‘jungle-hound’ and ‘pitch him out the door’, ‘
But it’s “Howdy, Jack, old-timer,’ When you’ve got the price for more.
Oh, tonight the boat is rocky, 
And I ain’t got a bunk, 
Not a rare of cheering liquor, 
Just a turkey full of junk.
All I call my life’s possessions is just what I carry `round, 
For I’ve blowed the rest on skid-roads, of a hundred gyppo towns.
And it’s ‘lumberjack’ and ‘timber-beast,’ 
and ‘Give these bums a ride,’ 
but it’s ‘Have one on the house, old boy,’
 if you’re stepping with the tide.
And the chokers will be heavy, 
just as heavy, just as cold, 
when the hooker gives the highball, 
and we start to dig for gold.
And I’ll cuss the siren skid road, 
with its blatant, drunken tune. 
But then, of course, I’ll up and make 
another trip next June.”


Some key resources:
Woods Men, Shanty Boys, Bawdy Songs, And Folklorists in America’s upper Midwest. James P. Leary, University of Wisconsin

Leslie Anne Johnson, Logging Songs of the Pacific Northwest: A study of three contemporary artists, A thesis submitted to College of Music Florida State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Music, 2007
Norman Cohen, Greenwood Guides to American Roots Music: Folk music: a regional exploration. Greenwood Press, 2005
Songs of the Michigan Lumberjacks Recorded by Alan Lomax and Harry B. Welliver Edited by E.C. Beck. Library of Congress: Washington, 1960
Some other recordings of tunes collected by Lomax and Welliver are: a recording of The Falling of the Pine a recording of Once More Lumbering Go


*Slum probably from the Irish…used to describe something bleak. The origin of the word slum is thought to be the Irish phrase ‘S lom é (pron. s’lum ae) meaning “it is a bleak or destitute place.” From Wikipedia.

**Cordwood saws were once very popular in rural America. They were used to cut smaller wood into firewood in an era when hand powered saws were the only other option. Logs too large for a cordwood saw were still cut by hand. Chainsaws have largely replaced cordwood saws for firewood preparation today. Still, some commercial firewood processors and others use cordwood saws to save wear and tear on their chainsaws. Most people consider cordwood saws unsafe and outdated technology.

..Molly Gloss, Wild Life. Excerpt from page 93 of the 2001 Mariner Book edition.

[1] Who knows how many instruments didn’t make it. Dave Tarras, the klezmer virtuoso, had a wooden clarinet that was destroyed during a fumigation process on Ellis Island in 1921.

January 1 2014 Pureza has an Attitude

Very close to the end of the book. Page 214. Should finish up next week.


It’s been a real ride.


An Attitude Will Get You Somewhere


Rose didn’t ask to be born. She didn’t, “volunteer for any of this,” she liked to remind her mother Pureza and her teachers and the occasional priest who tried to world weary guidance to her.

I was right there when she made her way into the world, taking notes and even a few photographs. From the start, she had a certain attitude. “Oh Jesus,” Pureza yelled over and over between grunts and groans and coyote deafening screams. But Rose seemed to resist every thrust, every pleas to propel herself forth. It was as if she knew what awaited her and purposely stiffened up her little shoulders and stretched her arms out inside. It was awful to watch. With Sophia gone, there was no one with much sense to talk into the obstinate infant. “Oh God,” Pureza said, “This child will be the death of me.”

I watched Pureza try hard with this birth. At least her  bleeding this time seemed to be for something worthwhile. After the birth, She declared, “I’m gonna make this baby real happy. I’m gonna do right by this little child.” I watched her endeavor to keep this vow.

But the village by now was not a place to make a life for any child. Besides, Pureza knew nothing about making a life. She could not really help Rose see beyond the postman’s trailers and her own stack of romance novels. “I gotta get some kinda excitement out of life,” she said when she saw me eyeing the books. “If I’m gonna stay in this trailer and feed a baby and cook for a postman, at least I can have me some fun in between meals,” she told me, “even if its out of books. You seem to get something out of ‘em.”


Rose, however, to her credit, kept that resistant attitude she had from the start. She got tough quickly. In the early grades of school, she wore tight little jeans and a tee shirt that said “Don’t Mess With Me” and stuck up for herself in play ground fights at school. Rose took her attitude with her when she signed up for the softball team. “Just try throwing me out, sucker,” she yelled at pitchers when she stole bases. She was a fierce first baseman who could stop every ball that came her way. All through the fifth and sixth grades, she did fine.

By junior high school, she had a problem. She was developing. And she used her attitude to try to deal with this new body. She fended off the girls who mocked her as “stuck up.” “Go on you little junior sluts. See where throwing around all you got gets you. I’m gonna be somebody.”

She fended off the boys who teased and later tried to have sex with her. No body, not one person of these school chums, seemed to think about anything but sex and drugs and alcohol. They organized parties at this place or that and drank and drugged until the bleak life they inherited was wiped from their consciousness.

Rose continued to have what the people called “an attitude.” Pureza said it everyday as if she wanted to undermine this determined daughter of hers. “She just doesn’t get along. Always has to be different,” Pureza told me between pieces of Whitman’s Samplers and glimpses at the Oprah show. She was a large woman now. She moved with difficulty. Her thigh flesh hung like a closing curtains over her knees and the lard of her multiple bellies made it difficult for make any sense of her vagina. She sometimes searched for her, wondering if it was still there, through the agency  of a cocked mirror.

Rose, meanwhile, stayed fit and different. She kept away from the other kids and listened to stories the old women in the plaza still told occasionally. She helped Pureza around the house and stopped by the post office to help the old postman, while he was still at the job, sort mail when she got off school early. Then after high school, she worked there part time.

She did make some efforts at conventionality as defined by her cohorts. For example, one year she went with the other girls to have long acrylic nails glued over her own. That was around nineteen ninety-one. I think she had just turned thirty. She decorated these nails, by use of a tiny paintbrush and jars of model airplane shellac, with miniscule American flags. Everyone down there was doing it to show off their patriotism for the Desert Storm War. “You should see these nails of mine,” Aunt Henny (for that is what she called me). They are great. I can’t do a thing with them on. Can’t type. Can’t wash dishes. Can’t even sort mail. They’re kinda like the way those Chinese women got out of doing anything by binding their feet.”

She wore earrings that swept her shoulders, a style much in vogue among other young women. For a while, she held her ample hair back from her face in the popular “banana clips” that other girls wore. But aside from these superficial accomadations to normalcy, she was, on the whole, clearly different from the other girls and women in and around Solución.


She took her attitude with her when she went to the grocery store for Pureza or to the drugstore to get medicine for her Dad. She didn’t take “nothing from nobody.” It wasn’t easy for her. Her hair, still glinting red here and there when the sun hit it, was rich and thick and, when unclipped, fell down her back and framed in cheekbones with a great mane. Her breasts were large and well formed and her hips were slim. She was nearly five feet eight inches tall, and so taller than most of the women the locals were accustomed to seeing. Men and boys whistled at her, called to her from cars, and even screeched to a halt when they saw her in the cross walks in town. She tried keeping her eyes straight forward. She tried to seem to ignore them. She tried “flipping them off.” She tried making herself ugly. But she was always aware of them. And nothing seemed to dissuade the gawkers.

It was during this period that I came to know Rose best. I was an old woman from outside the village. She could confide in me because I wasn’t part of it all. I remembered, when we became friendly, that grand parents and great grand parents can play an important role with youngsters and do all over the world. So many of the constraints to real friendship that hold between parents and children disappear between grand parents and children. I listened and felt quite warm toward this bright young woman. She really had spunk and I liked her immensely for that.

To supplement the post office worked, she tried working as a checker in the Furr’s supermarket to make a little extra, but came home exhausted from fending off young and old fellows all day long. The post office was easier because she was surrounded by men who cared for her and protected her, including her old Dad.

One day, sometime soon after the Desert Storm nails, she called and told me that she had found one of the old people in the hills who still knew how to weave. She became her student. She began to go there, after her post office hours. She was good. She learned quickly and the weaver took her as an apprentice. “I’m gonna do this, Aunt Henrietta. The old woman is gonna teach me for nothing in exchange for a percentage of my profits. She is just sure I’m gonna sell.” I’d never heard her so happy. “What about those nails? How can you weave with press ons?”

“Oh, Auntie Henrietta, I took those off weeks ago. They were just for fun. This is for real.” I believed it was.

Even her early work was flawless. People who found the old weaver’s little shop remarked on Rose’s designs. It was wonderful work they said. Rose learned to weave the old way. She learned to card the wool and spin the yarn. She learned to find the plants for dyes and how to mix the dyes and care for the wool. She cared for the weaver when her back was sore and she was too tired to cook for herself.

Rose’s attitude was reserved for the outside world. Inside this world of weaving, she was a woman who had finally found her way. She found out about classes in the nearby towns and learned from other weavers and her skills increased and her dedication to her own life became fierce. She found an abandoned house inside the plaza walls and moved in there so she could concentrate on her own work and stay out of trouble that seemed to come to Pureza’s trailer and the trailers that surrounded it.

So, while all around her life was raw and dead ended, Rose had beauty and purpose.

Sometimes she found herself thinking about other places and wondering if she would ever see verdant forests or the ocean. She wondered if she would ever need an address book for she knew no one beyond Solución to call upon. She wondered if she would ever need a suitcase. She did sell enough of her work to buy a used Datsun. Sometimes, she thought, there is nothing really binding me. I could leave. I could go anywhere. But she dismissed these thoughts. They had not taken on the properties of obsessions or even dreams. Though she had an attitude, it seemed for a long time that Rose would live out her life amidst the arroyos and desperations of Solución, stopping in to see Pureza now and then. She could even imagine growing old, getting well known for her craft, winning prizes, getting her own apprentices, and eventually dying without passion for anything in life but her own work. Well, that would be enough, she thought. That would be plenty. She had a grim determination to do well, to make her own way, to be beholden to no one. Just occasionally it was lonely being Rose.

Poor Rose didn’t understand the desperations of Solución anymore than anyone else. She wondered why her warp strings broke and the spiders waited by the door and Barney, her mottled grey Australian Shepherd dog, frightened out of a deep sleep stood and barked into the dark plaza for no apparent reason.

And she wondered what it was that entered her dreams night after night and made her heart pound in her ears and made her skin drip with hot sweat.

Pureza wondered, too, but without the aid of dreams or conviction of vision. She sat in her trailer, all alone because by then the postman had died. She sat alone eating fried potatoes and eggs, listening to the fights in the trailers nearby, and trying to stay cool, calm her fears, and sleep through the night.


Pureza’s wondering was a passive sort of wondering. But Rose was different. I knew even then that Rose’s wondering would lead to something. Rose, I knew, would not give in.







[Miracles rest simply] upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears hear what there is about us always.


Willa Cather, Death Comes to the Archbishop

December 31, 2013 The Death of Wisdom


Nearing the end of the book!!!! Happy New Year to ME!!


The Death of Wisdom: 1960 A.D.


Rose was Sophia’s last delivery. She was nearly one hundred years old at the time of the birth. That was by her own reckoning, so give or take a couple of years. Her back, like the much younger Consuelo’s, was bent in a permanent bow and her hands were knurled into ten corduroy roads from years of arthritis. Given their similar coma shaped postures, Consuelo and Sophia women walked the village together looking like punctuation marks as they stared at the ground beneath their feet. The advantage, they found, to these walks was that they occasionally found loose coins and once or twice spotted and captured previously uncataloged species of insects.

Sophia was much healthier than Consuelo, even though considerably older. She still had the skin of a young girl and could eat anything placed before her. She had all her teeth and masses of thick grey hair. So it was a surprise to all that within four months of Rose’s birth, Sophia was gone. She simply didn’t wake up one Sunday morning.

The casket in which Sophia traveled to her well deserved and most conclusive resting place was borne high above the heads of the villagers. The sturdy backs and rough hands of several women of the village supported it there. It was taken to the village cemetery, an acre or so of consecrated ground now dotted with crowds of minimalist crosses. It had been measured and fenced years ago, placed decidedly on a small hill well outside the plaza. The grave dug for Sophia was not so very far from the resting place of Consuelo’s husband and quite near the three large white crosses that had looked over the village for centuries.

Not only were all of Solución’s women present to pay tribute, but even Rosalie, now a grandmother and reveling in this new status, and Mary made a quick return for the funeral.


The women of the village made vast banners of white satin with Sophia’s name painted in enormous red letters on them. The banners gave a nautical air to the procession, almost as if Sophia were being swept out to sea on a magic ship. Villagers also brought out various plaster saints, painted in brilliant yellows, oranges, Marian blue, and green. Tall bronze and gold plated crosses from the church were lofted high on their shoulders and carried in procession. Ramona and Epiphany carried a large painted plaster of the Virgin of Guadalupe between them.

That August was one of many periods when no padre served the parish, thus the elder women were led in their ritual procession by Matilda Toad. Matilda had become a sort of a spiritual leader of the village women for her questions continued to puzzle and challenge them and her oddities had gained her much respect and status over the years. As they processed to the cemetery, she rang bells and burned incense and sprinkled what holy water was still on hand from the last priest’s blessings and the christening of Rose.

Matilda Toad was, of course, not allowed actually to speak during the ceremony. Thus she presided without actually saying anything in words. No one else said anything during the ceremony just to be sure that nothing acted as catalyst for Matilda’s odd proclivity for swearing and repeating what others said to her. The grave side service was not altogether silent. Matilda had learned over the years that she could sing that which she wished to express and do this without the embarrassing consequences of her affliction. Thus, in a full rich contralto, Matilda sang the life history of Sophia and praised her contributions to the community. Since Matilda was not a very creative person with respect to music, she had only melodies she had learned in childhood to draw upon. Thus, Sophia was eulogized to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down and The Farmer in the Dell.

The casket was pelted with fresh roses taken from the church’s morning’s crop by all the women as they sang songs they made up about Sophia’s life. No one cared if Matilda felt compelled to repeat these. In fact, her echoes only strengthened the message of each verse. As the casket was lowered into the grave, several women felt obliged to throw themselves upon it. Women, the roses, and pine box began a dark descent together. The pulleys strained, the ropes broke, and four villagers were trapped momentarily within the deep pit and on top of Sophia. The rest of the women formed a chain and pulled everyone safely to the rim of the hole. The women, though rescued, were bruised, dirty, and spiritually shaken by the experience. The trip back to town was solemn and shuffling and all the women crept silently to their own homes where they stayed for several days.

Yes, the women were satisfied that they had done the right thing by Sophia but dared not look at one another even when they resumed their outdoor duties and wanderings. The fiasco at the gravesite was, they believed, an omen. Sophia, they knew, had somehow held them all together during the last sixty or so years. Sophia had a kind of dedication and spirit that no other one of them possessed. Their ancient fears were once again rekindled.

Yet, there was an abiding happiness, too. Even if the women were fearful about a future without Sophia, it seemed, once again, with this new baby, that there was something to look forward to in life.


Pureza Moves On


When the baby was three years old, Pureza left Consuelo’s house and began to co-habit with another man whom Rose was led to believe to be her father. He was a post office employee. He was not Irish, nor randy. He was not exciting. He was a plodder and a minimal but steady provider and made sure that Rose was well cared for.

Pureza, however, lived with the fact that she was still married to the Irish cowboy. She heard nothing from him, but searched for him over the next twenty years. Pureza finally was able to track the husband down. He was working a played out silver claim near old Ophir, Colorado. He could barely breathe at the 9,000 feet altitude and had taken to sleeping so much that he no longer had time to drink. “Who the hell are you?” he asked when she knocked on his cabin door. “Your soon to be ex-wife. Sign these papers,” she demanded. “I got no wife,” he didn’t remember her, he grumbled, but did as he was told. As soon as he signed, she told him, “Now you got no wife, asshole.” Pureza didn’t linger. She took the papers from his hands, got back into the old Plymouth she’d borrowed for the trip, and sped back down the mountain. She was home that evening.


Pureza rewarded the faithful postal worker for his kindness by never telling Rose about the first husband, her father. Pureza fully repaid him by marrying him as soon as the divorce from the old, broken cowboy in Ophir was final.

The village priest, one who had come in to the village and somehow managed to stand the flying eggs and winds and peculiar habits of the villagers for more than two years, helped her with all of this. He was embarrassed by how many in his parish lived in sin or in civil marriages not blessed by the church. Even the marriages that were blessed were on the whole cursed. Men left wives for other women. Men murdered wives and children in their sleep. Children turned on parents with knives and guns. And the parish faithful prayed on Sundays but used and sold drugs through the week.

Even the church fellowship meetings were not safe. Pureza’s  friend Gloria met a nice man there one Sunday night and married him, albeit with foolish haste. He beat her and whipped her, so that the scars on her back were still bright and shiny reminders of those days. They were divorced within six months.

His friends and drugs were packed up and moved out without much trouble. But soon bricks began to fly through the windows of Gloria’s trailer home. “I married you for life!” the ex-husband screamed from behind stands of rabbit brush while the content of her garbage cans turned into frightening conflagrations and glass from the windows fell all around her feet.

The man eschewed condoms and motorcycle helmets among other protective devices. This became something he lived to regret.

One night, he stopped at a drive through liquor store window and bought a quart of Mad Dog 20/20 on his way to his bi-weekly rant at Gloria. He roared off with his bottle coddled in a wrinkled brown paper bag and was just swallowing the last few drops, head tipped far back, when a drugged cousin in a Ford pickup plowed into him headfirst.

Chuckie, for that was what they called him, was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. By this time, both his parents had died in an automobile wreck while running drugs up from the Mexican border to Colorado. So he was on his own now in his fancy wheelchair, provided to him courtesy of various social service agencies. From it, he made daily telephoned threats to Gloria through a little headset microphone. He made it down the mile and half dirt road between her house and his about once a week on his wheelchair, a little cross and bones flag flying above the dust his rubber tires kicked up. There, in her yard, near her struggling solitary red rose bush, and always in the bright sun, he sat screaming obscenities while Gloria showered or did dishes or smoked and read Gothic novels waiting for him to leave.


Clearly, the priest had a full plate if he was to make anything of this parish. Helping Pureza with an annulment was the least he could do. Marrying her to the man with whom she lived would be a statement to the whole village, if only symbolic.

This priest’s stamina and good will might just energize the flock and provide a balance to Matilda’s steady and unresolved questions. And he had managed to stand up to all the flying eggs for several years. Yes, he was considered to be a good man.

Within a few months of Pureza’s annulment he was dead, bashed over the head with a rock by a hitch hiker he had had the bad luck to pick up just outside of Taos. He died unshriven. His reputation was besmirched by rumors that the murder was a result of sexual solicitation gone awry. He was also, after his death and during the subsequent inquiry by the diocese into its circumstances, found to be guilty of simony. Of course he had taken money for a variety of pardons and occasional masses. How else was he to support himself? And what an easy way for the parishioners to redeem themselves.

Pureza’s husband, the postman, died in the summer of nineteen ninety-seven after a lifetime in the post office in Purgatoria. “Good man. Stood right in that same spot, behind that same counter, at least since the Tet Offensive,” one of his buddies said. He grew old and gray behind that counter. “He must have gone through the elbows of half a dozen regulation sweaters in that time.” His official issue blue slacks became moth eaten. His official issue blue pin striped shirt became frayed at the collar. That’s what stability got him. Wrecked knees and scruffy clothing.

The remarks made at his memorial service were half in admiration and awe, half in pity. “Poor old guy,” someone said. “It was his knees, they just gave out, standing there all those years.” He died within six months after retiring to the comfort of a recliner in the living room of his trailer home. His heart just couldn’t push the blood around a seated body.

Along with his meager pension he left Pureza the five shabby trailers he had owned. They were filled with equally shabby renters. Some were runaways. One trailer was used as a meth lab by its inhabitants. Pureza did not know or care. It was the income from these that helped to support her and upon which she would depend for the rest of her life.




December 30, 2013 Pureza and Financial Schemes

Next two chapters of book.  Up to page 295. Will definitely finish revision in January. Happy me!!



Part III





Pureza, a loose limbed, weak minded, exceptionally flabby child, turned into a flabby teenager with unexceptional brown hair and forgettable eyes. Perhaps the hardy genes that originated in the snowy mountains of Andalucia had run their course. Perhaps they had been inalterably thinned by eccentric couplings through the years. Some of these were not even revealed to other villagers nor certainly to me. In any case, here was the lumpy and forever fretful Pureza. And it is she we will now have to tell.  She became the mother of Rosada (of whom we will speak later) and was the child of Rosalie, left behind while Rosalie flew about strapped to the wings of freedom, her partner, Mary, at the tiller. How, everyone wondered, could such a lively woman as Rosalie produce such a flaccid child as Pureza? “Can you imagine the father? What a lifeless little man he must have been. Probably a raisin farmer,” the people speculated, and just a wrinkled and lifeless as the fruits he packaged.

Pureza, of course, spent little time with Rosalie, so there was not much opportunity for her grand spirit to rub off on her daughter. The child did receive frequent surprise packages full of exotic and often edible goodies that would have sparked the imagination of most any other child. Also, Rosalie sent copious clippings of her escapades from newspapers around the country, and even a few from a successful European tour. The pictures that accompanied the news stories showed the WACO nicely, but it was hard to see Rosalie. “Where is she grandma? I can’t see Mama anywhere?” “I don’t know dear. Often, Rosalie was that slim speck of a toothpick standing on the wing of the aircraft, the picture shot by someone standing on the ground while Rosalie was balanced several hundred feet overhead.

Consuelo could not make out the likeness of Rosalie at all, even when she got right down on the image with her eyeballs. Then the image became a mass of grey and black dots to her. We’ll have to wait for Hermes to help you.” How often Pureza had to be reminded that grandmas was blind was a sorry gauge of her intelligence.

Consuelo enlisted the help of Hermes to read the letters aloud to her and Pureza before Pureza had been to school and learned to read them almost by herself. Two syllable words eluded her most of her life. “Hermes,” she’d call out in the direction of his door if he himself had not delivered the letter. He was still often sitting on his painted chair so it was not so hard for him to hear her. “Hermes, letters are here among my packages and manuscripts. I can smell one, “ Consuelo cried out. Rosalie wrote to Pureza on mauve notepaper scented with orchid perfume. “It must be for Pureza. And, here, I can feel another the same size. Maybe for me.”

Hermes made his way quickly to Consuelo’s side and opened the treasured missives as Consulelo called Pureza and held her close against her bosom for the reading. Hermes pointed out Rosalie in the photographs with the tip of a finely sharpened pencil so Pureza might see her or at least the place where he supposed her to be. Sometimes Rosalie had helpfully circled the speck.

Consuelo took it on faith that Hermes told her truthfully about what came in the lovely pink envelopes addressed especially to her and that arrived bi-weekly for as long as she lived. She also took it on faith that Hermes was keeping her books accurately and depositing the generous checks that floated out from the pink envelopes. “Dear little man,” she said to him after the first two or three of these, “Do whatever it takes to make me rich.” Indeed, Hermes was taking care of business and Consuelo had nothing to worry about or want forever.

Meanwhile, Pureza grew but did not thrive even with the best of care and surrounded by love as she was. Her robust exemplars, Sophia and Consuelo and even Juanita, were not able to foster a will in the child. She wandered off on an unworthy path at an early age. She often wondered, when she was older, where and how she had misplaced herself.

She rationalized that she had the disadvantage of many more choices to make than her parent and grandparents had. Times were different, she told herself. Even so, she could not hide, even from herself, the many ill-considered decisions she made.

Pureza, you see, in addition to her other shortcomings, was one who as a youth wore her heart on her polyester sleeve and was, thereby, ever in danger of bleeding to death. She seemed to believe it was her duty to take on everyone’s suffering, especially the suffering of rudderless and predatory men. No one in her ancestral family had taken up this particular burden before.  They had loved and lost or tolerated and reproduced. But they had never willingly carried a cross for an emotionally and psychologically impaired man. She reckoned, it seemed, that bleeding to death from a broken or over-exposed heart was better than slitting her wrists. That was, of course, also a rationalization. Still, she believed that the church would have less trouble pardoning a slow suicide than a more overt, quick one. So she bled from her teenage years on for this man and that. She supported them, put up with all kinds of silly behavior, and made herself a fool over them.

Indeed, her life had been, as they say, no picnic. But she had invited the ants.


There were a series of disastrous adolescent affairs with older fellows she thought she could reform. But then she met the cowboy.

He was a randy, red haired, Irish cowboy. She met him in a bar. “Hey babe, come on over here and have one on me,” were his first words to her. “Come on, don’t be shy now. Sit right down here. What’re you drinking anyway?” He was tall and muscular, a lean fellow and not bad to look at then. He was, he declared good at his work and valued by the ranchers by whom he was employed. It was true that he was known for his ability to hang on to any bucking horse and rope a calf in thirty seconds flat. He had a dozen or more rodeo belts and had even competed for the title of All American Cowboy once. “You ever go out with a real cowboy? Let me tell you sugar, if I can ride a bronco I sure guarantee you I can give you the best ride you ever had,” he said to her and winked. He did indeed transfer his skills to the bedroom, including the bucking and roping.

She went home with him to his little trailer that night and stayed for the next week. She found out that he drank just about anything he could get his hands on. He drank in the morning. He drank in the evening. Moreover, he was morose and evil tempered most of the time. If the telephone rang, it was a creditor. Stacks of unpaid credit card bills littered his kitchen counter. Several cans of dog food, half consumed, took up most of the refrigerator shelf space. No dog was evident anywhere.

Yet, there were the dimples, the broad even-toothed smile, the moist doe eyes. She stayed on. She reckoned that something about the bucking and the falls and endless close escapes had rattled his brain. She forgave the screams in the night, and the nightmares he reported in which a team of clowns often appeared.

The drinking and bad temper, rather than warning her off,  aroused Pureza’s fatal attention. “Oh honey,” she’d say. “You just need some of my good loving,” she cooed when he yelled at her about imaginary flirtations she was presumed to be having when they went to the bar at night or when the bacon she bought and cooked for him in the morning was too crisp.

He would have been of no interest to her if he were only a successful rodeo rider. But because he was evil, difficult and poor, Pureza found him endlessly fascinating and decided she would have some of what she called adventures with him. “Yes, baby, I’m in it for the long haul,” she told him.


So he took her with him to the next rodeo date up north. They left for Denver in his older model Chevrolet. They put their few clothes in grocery bags and stowed them in the rusting trunk of the car. They stashed a case of beer on the floor behind the driver’s seat. The car’s transmission chattered. The seats were torn and filthy with foam popping out here and there. The windows wouldn’t roll down, so the two rode in the stench of their own sweat and breaths.

Empty beer cans soon cluttered the back seat; each can was tossed in that direction as soon as it was drained. And many were drained. The cowboy drank his “brews” all along the way, pausing briefly at rest stops so he could relieve himself. There was that to be thankful for. They drove up through Pueblo and Colorado Springs, drinking but otherwise silent except for the occasional curses when the cowboy had to change gears or stop for gasoline. Or when he said, “Woman, give me a goddamn beer and make it fast.” Pureza convinced herself that all of this was romantic. She joined him in another.

When they arrived in Denver, she married him in the office of a justice of the peace and imagined herself triumphant, wedded as she was to a handsome rodeo king. She thought of the women who would envy her. She pictured herself standing by his side, hanging on to a loop in the back of his jeans, patting his bony behind, as he won buckle after buckle. She pictured the wealth that would follow his wins and the small ranchero they would buy. In her dreams it had with flowers all about and, eventually, scrawny fair-skinned children riding on their own ponies. He pictured nothing because he was always inebriated.  He didn’t even know they had married and at times could not remember his wife’s name.

Then, just weeks after the wedding, he rode drunk and fell under the weight of a bronco more evil tempered than himself. He tried to hold on as the horse placed all of its intention on destroying that scrappy entity he felt on his back. He worked to deposit the thing on the dusty ground of the rodeo ring. Clowns, it vowed silently to its bright horse brain, would not distract him. Not this time. It thought, “This is not worthy of me, that thing,” the horse muttered as it bucked up and down and up and down and without cease. The horse won, of course. In one last fling of its rump, it made of the man a helpless feather of a thing that floated groundward and hit with a pitiful grunt. Then the horse purposely threw himself on top of the hated creature. The horse got up, first on its knees and then to proud, full standing position, head up in victory. It gave out an earth shaking bellow then pranced all around the dusty arena, braided mane and tail waving like the flag of the conqueror it was. Not much of a victory, truth be told. The man was unworthy to begin with. Now, he could not get raise himself to salute his better. His legs were crushed.


While he recovered, Pureza nursed him in a cheap, dirty little motel at the edge of Denver near where Route 25 and Route 70 cross. It was, she thought at the time, her finest hour.

The motel was home to migrant workers and ex-convicts. There were fights there in its unkempt, garbage strewn courtyard every night. Sometimes one could hear screams from behind the closed doors of dark rooms. Babies cried incessantly as if they were being tortured. Women called out for help. One dared not respond if one valued one’s own life. In any case, Pureza ’s heart was able to bleed for only one human at a time. Pureza stuffed her ears with cotton and stayed in the room with the cowboy. She watched soap operas, drank, and heated cans of ravioli and spaghetti on a little propane camp stove. The empty cans were strewn around the torn linoleum floor of the hovel.

There was not much money. So the canned food was the cheapest they could find. Pureza would not eat dog food. They spent the rest of what they had on alcohol. The man took to begging on the streets. His legs were so bad, he couldn’t ride again. But he could walk, or rather drag himself, though uncomfortably, with crutches. He always had a stash of liquor in a small duffle bag he carried with him on the streets. It was slung over his shoulder. The bag was emblazoned with the words Pan American. No one mistook him for a tourist. Even Pureza dimly realized that he was no longer exciting. He was filthy. His red hair stood up stiffly all over his head. Sometimes he could barely talk. Sometimes he urinated all over the bed during his drunken sleep.

One day in December when the two were out walking to no purpose, the man tore a piece of cardboard from a refrigerator box he found in an alley. He stooped down on a curb and, with the stub of a crayon, laboriously made a sign. Carefully, in very large letters he traced the letters, going over and over them until they were bold and quite readable from nearly a block away. Pureza was given the sign and told to sit on that very corner with it. “BLIND. PLESE GIVE GENERSLY.” Blind and illiterate, she thought to herself. Pureza could spell the word “please” she didn’t catch the problem with “generously.” A small shoebox was placed at her feet. On it he had written, “DONASHUNS,” another misspelling that escaped her. He said she’d know how to behave as a blind person since her grandmother was blind. “You oughta be good at this. You been around it enough.”

The sign seemed to burn into the skin of her hands even though it was freezing outside. Even wrapped in all the clothes she owned, every part of her was cold except those hands. She kept her eyes fixed heavenward and the box at her feet for the entire day. Meanwhile, he had gone, he said, to work the next block. “We gotta do something, you know. We got no money left. We gotta get some funds somehow.”


Pureza peeked now and again to see if anyone was around or noticing her. No one put money in the box. As the skies darkened, the air temperature dropped dramatically. After the mountains obscured the sun all together, she thought she couldn’t stand it anymore. She was hungry but didn’t dare to move.

Street lights came on and he still didn’t return. “This isn’t much of an adventure,” she thought. Her grandmother would be disgraced by a blind person begging, let alone a pretend blind person, let alone her own granddaughter. She had been taught that it was not possible to be poor or without if one had family, land, the means and will to work, and pride. No infirmity could do damage to the soul.

When she could stand the dark cold no longer (or the thought of Consuelo), Pureza got up from the curbstone and tossed the signs in a garbage can. “No more. I can clean up and find some work. I’m not doing this, goddamn it.”

She began to search for him, fearing he was ill or had fallen or was asleep and drunk in some byway. “He could freeze to death,” she thought. “I’ve heard of people freezing. It wouldn’t take much tonight.” The dumpsters they’d looked into in the past weeks weren’t hard for her to find again. And the alleys. The patrons in the cheap bars they visited knew her, called out to her. None had seen the cowboy. Some of them snickered as she left. “What a hard case. What a pair of losers.” Finally, she returned to the motel. Everything was gone. That is, the car and the remaining canned goods. And the rodeo buckles.

Consuelo got the call on Christmas day. With Hermes’s help, she had done well for herself. Hermes had not only kept a substantial amount of the money Rosalie sent in a savings and checking account. He had managed to build a herd of cattle in her name and to hire good men to manage the herd.

A small mail order business brought in money. Hammered tin and enameled images of saints were sent all over the world in small boxes that bore a delicate calligraphed label that joined the names of Hermes and Consuelo. Hermes hammered the tin and Consuelo, lowering her head so that her eyes were within an inch of the tin so that she could just see, and using a very fine pony hair brush, created beautiful portraits of the saints. One could order these lovely little tin and enamel saints for one’s own name day.

Consuelo continued to write, of course, and she received a small income from the royalties attached to her previously published work. Consuelo was content with her life and reasonably wealthy compared with others in Solución. There was plenty to share and to treat Juanita like a queen until the day she died.


Ramona, also enterprising as ever, had opened one of the nicer stores for tourists in the village.  She took work on consignment, including Hermes’and Consuelo’s saints, and made a good income for her household. Her little shop had become a kind of informal community center where people who did not drink or fight could always find conversation and companionship.

Consuelo was in Ramona’s store sitting near the wood stove having a cup of Yerba Matte with the affable proprietress when the call came from Pureza. The desperate granddaughter had called around the village with her last nickels searching for her grandmother and finally remembered her habit of sitting with Ramona in the store. Even though it was the Christmas season, the store, she knew would be open for the tourists, mostly skiers this time of year, who were looking for the quaint and unusual upon which to spend their money.

Life was never a surprise to Consuelo. She who had, some thought, been singled out to suffer for the village’s sins, was never concerned to plan or worry. Life, she had come to believe, unlike many others in the village, was a series of random events. The life of the village was not really cursed nor blessed. There was no room for such thinking so far as she was concerned. Rosalie and Mary’s meeting was random. That an altar  fell upon her was random. Whatever she would be told on the phone was not connected, in her mind, to anything else that had ever happened or might ever happen. There was no God, no divine plan. No, the call was not a surprise nor was it expected. It just was.

Pureza wanted Consuelo to come and get her. But Consuelo, though wealthy, did not like to spend her cash. Sometimes the bank called Hermes and suggested he help her decide to invest the money that was sitting in savings and checking accounts and not working for her. It may as well have been under her mattress he told her after these calls.

He had managed to persuade her to buy a few bonds and stocks but Consuelo wouldn’t risk much. “You never know when you’ll need it,” she was fond of saying. “Just let it be, Hermes, one day we’ll all be glad I have it.” So she would not write a check for a bus ticket and would not take any money out of the savings account. The cash she had could be spent on groceries and necessaries, but not on something like a trip to Denver. Even one to rescue her own granddaughter. So she directed that one or two animals be sold to raise the money for the Denver trip the sole purpose of which would be to fetch Pureza back to the village. Consuelo didn’t mind selling the cattle. The cattle would produce more of themselves. Money, she believed, would not. Anyway, selling cattle to support a female relative was not unheard of in the world. She’d read about bride price in other cultures in one of the magazines she wrote for. Except that, she mused, that was something the husband would have paid in order to procure the wife. This did seem a bit upside down.

So, Consuelo sold the cattle and directed Hermes to purchase roundtrip bus tickets for the two of them. Hermes had to go. He would be her eyes and advisor. He also bought a one way return for Pureza.

Consuelo and Hermes found the motel, glad that there had been only a light snowfall in the city. She convinced Pureza to leave the few things that were still hers and they took the next bus home through the icy mountain highways. She was pregnant though didn’t know it for another month or so.



Sophia fed her broths during her pregnancy to build up her strength and made certain that she ate lots of green vegetables and well cooked meats. Consuelo and Sophia watched her like a couple of Minerva’s owls and kept her away from any temptations for alcohol or inappropriate male company.

She was given a few little jobs around the house. She split kindling and kept the fires going during the winter and spring before the birth. She was expected to iron clothes and stir a variety of soups and potions for Sophia in exchange for the good care.


Among men, only Hermes, well over seventy, was allowed in Pureza’s company. He read to her, of course, to keep her entertained.

Pureza had a lackluster spirit and though she was surrounded by female wisdom, she took in nothing, showed no interest, and asked no questions. Pureza had learned to crave only one kind of excitement and this always, for her, lead to disaster. Other than her interest in men, she had inherited much of the village’s general lack of curiosity and absence of determination. No amount of Sophia and Consuelo’s attention and advice could overcome her listless will and dullness.

The baby, conceived around winter solstice, was an August baby. The Perseid meteor shower announced her coming. She was born at home with the aid of Sophia. Pureza delivered a small, light skinned, dark-eyed baby. She was a robust baby. She was striking to see from the very beginning. She was a source of great awe and wonder because she was the first baby of her generation actually born in the village among the women to whom she was kin. Even Rosalie, though born in Solución, had been kept under wraps for several days. No one had seen Pureza, either, as a new born. Pureza, Rosalie’s little one, was at least three months old when she first arrived in the village and was deposited with her grandmother.


So this baby, little Rose, was a first experience, for many of her direct kin, at actually looking at a new born.

The villagers thought this might be a large baby but didn’t have much with which to compare her. So someone said, get a bag of flour and we’ll see how much she weighs by hefting her, then the flour. Sophia went with Consuelo to her cupboard and found a five-pound bag of Red Rose flour. They took it back to the cradle. Ramona put the baby in her large right hand and the flour in the left. The baby was decidedly heavier. Epiphany was sent to find another bag of a Red Rose. When she returned, the second bag was stacked carefully on top of the first and the baby and bags once again held in the air over the cradle. By means of this experimentation everyone decided that the baby was about the weight of two five-pound bags of Red Rose flour. That, plus her very pink complexion and auburn hair with decidedly red and blond highlights, is how she came to be called Rose most often rather than Rosada, her given name. Rosada was the name on her birth certificate and Pureza’s way of honoring her absent mother, Rosalie.

Sophia was still concerned about the baby’s health after the pregnancy, though she seemed stout and sturdy, and so followed some ancient customs she found in her books and encyclopedias. She required Pureza and Rose to be confined for sixty days after the initial presentation and viewing. During those sixty days, Pureza was taken out of bed twice daily and seated on a chair with an opening in the seat that allowed an herbal steam to rise up to her female parts. Sophia’s skilled hands had rubbed mother and baby’s body with sweet eucalyptus oils and swaddled little Rose closely against Pureza to increase the circulation. So no one aside from Sophia and her mother, and Matilda the Toad, who, in the absence of a priest christened the baby, saw little Rose again until she was over two months old.

Rose, oh Rose. I remember her birth because she came along the summer that I was working on an ethnobotany of the area with several women herbalists in the village. I’d collected a lot over the years from Sophia. However, I couldn’t absolutely trust Sophia’s information because she was so ecumenical in her approach to healing. Some of her recipes were taking directly from other traditions, including the Eclectic movement journals. I needed a check and balance system before I published anything. I was there most of the summer that year and part of the fall for I’d taken a sabbatical year. I was close to retirement and had some semesters owed me by the University.

I had known Pureza, of course, from her childhood. Consuelo always kept me abreast of her life though Pureza and I never did become very close. I was much closer to the older women whom I’d known for so many years. Pureza was a little too removed from the old ways to be very interesting to me professionally. She hadn’t bothered to learn any of the old stories, so she couldn’t tell me anything new or anything that would deepen my understanding of the village’s history. What she did know was confused.


We were all happy that August. Abundant flowers filled the air with sweet scents. It was a good year for fruit. The piñón crop was extraordinarily large. When Sophia announced that the baby was past danger and could come out to be seen, the women of the village collected money and purchased this sweet baby diamond stud earrings. Ramona took a needle and an ice cube with which to numb her small lobs and pierced them straight through. The earrings were threaded through the tiny holes. The women sang and cooed to this baby with the diamonds.

Pureza’s had someone of her own, someone she could keep close to her, someone she could successfully bleed over.




Financial Schemes


There were no jobs when this baby of Pureza’s came along. There were never jobs. There was no money. This was the condition of Solución. Of course, when people worked the land and put their backs into, there was always enough to eat. But as the years went by, fewer and fewer people made the effort. Pureza’s habits and predisposition toward life turned out not to be flukish but rather seemed to define the character of a whole generation. This had been building for years. More and more the people thought of themselves as forsaken and helpless. It was what might be called a mind set.

Though no individual could imagine creating a different life, people from the outside came to the village occasionally promoting schemes that promised to bring more money to the village. Residents of Solución gathered and listened stonily when such schemes were presented to them.

For example, just a year or so after the Dawson mine disaster of 1913 in which a number of distant cousins and uncles were killed, and after several long seasons of sun spots and the drought and after the apple trees had all but died and the beans and chili fields were parched, a couple of French fellows came to the village and promised a grand revitalization. Their scheme was fool proof, they said. They would buy all the garlic that the villagers could possibly produce. It would all be loaded into large trucks and driven to the Gulf and from there shipped to France. In France it would be distributed all over Europe. Garlic is easy to grow, they said. All you need to do is stick the little cloves in the ground and from each clove comes a bulb. There is little else to do, they said. There will be garlic galore. You will become rich.

People pulled out failing chilies and withered beans and all their other dying crops. Men, women, and children took to the fields. They bore heavy canvas bags loaded with garlic cloves purchased on credit from markets all over the next valley. They convinced the sellers that they would repay with interest. They convinced the sellers, and themselves, that they would soon be wealthy.

Soon there were acres and acres of garlic sprouts. In fact, the village smelled of garlic especially after a light rain and when the sun came out and beat against the ground.

The French fellows promised they’d be back at harvest time.      Indeed, when the stalks of the garlic began to turn brown and dry and the bulbs were ready to dig, the fellows came.

The crop was abundant; the villagers were excited. Everywhere you looked there were villagers with baskets as large as small tractors filled to bulging with braided garlics. Whole families tugged and pulled and scooted the garlic to the center of the field where the sale would take place. Ramona was there with her child, Epiphany, now a stout young woman of fifteen. She had managed a large plot all on her own. Her garlic bulbs were the largest, people said. Hermes, a keen, if short, young man, had followed his enterprising sister’s efforts with interest and had calculated the expense/return ratio on his toes almost daily. He helped with the braiding of the garlic from the comfort of his little chair. He counted on at least having enough profit to buy a new suit and pair of sandals.

Juanita, in her fiftieth year, still robust and fit, had grown and picked enough to fill two of the largest baskets. She was dressed in a black velvet gown and wore a lace mantilla that draped her handsome face for the sale day. She rode Paulette who was looking her best in dress braids and striped blanket.

Consuelo, recently injured, was still immobile and cared for daily by Sophia. Sophia dressed her in a soft yellow dress and placed her in a cushioned blue wheelbarrow so that she could be pushed to the fields and join in the fun of the day even if she couldn’t see it. Everyone was there. Even the newly employed Matilda the Toad went to the fields dressed as always in her icons and ears plugged to minimize the chance of repeating nastiness.


As Sophia pushed Consuelo along, she described the scene to her. Each person from the village was dressed in his or her finest. Women were in long gowns. Some held parasols. Others had lace scarves over their heads and shielding their faces from the sun. Men were in dark suits, many too tight around the chest and waist for them. Children were in church clothes, smocked dresses and little suits with short pants and collarless jackets.

Someone was strumming a guitar. Ramona fetched a toy piano from her lunch basket and joined in. The buxom Epiphany jumped up from behind Ramona’s skirts and startled villagers. Even at fifteen, she was still a surprise. She began dancing to the music, her ample skirts a havoc of color compared with the dark attire of most villagers and against the amber of the field itself.

In the center of the field, the French fellows had set up a little table and were engaged in inspecting garlic bulbs that the villagers had assembled before them.

The French fellows looked very serious. They were both thin, and dressed in slim, pinstriped suits. They each had tiny moustaches, just narrow lines above their pursed lips. They talked with one another in their language. They picked and pulled at the bulbs and broke them apart and ate whole cloves and measured them with little metal rules and calipers. This inspection lasted, it seemed for hours. The fellows were more and more serious looking, even grim. Hermes, who had pulled his painted chair up near them, listened intently and was seen to do a number of quick and complicated figures using both feet.

Villagers grew quieter and quieter as they watched these serious French fellows and noticed the sour expression on Hermes’s face. Finally, not a sound could be heard except the low mutter of the inspectors. There were no more festivities. The toy piano was put away. The guitar rested in the shade of an old apple tree. Epiphany’s dance ended. Without her, the landscape was overwhelmingly grey and brown; the people were somber in their black clothes. The deep blue sky clouded over while they watched.

At last, the French fellows stood and one of them came forward from behind the table. He spoke to the crowd and he said, his forehead all wrinkled and his eyebrows pulled together and his mouth tight, the lips seemingly missing altogether, he said, these garlic bulbs will not do. They are too small. And with that the French fellows gathered their calipers and note pads and lunch buckets and thermoses and bottles of Vouvray and got into their Model “T” Ford, and rode away while the villagers stood silent. And that was the end of the garlic scheme. The garlic that had not been collected for inspection dried to dust in the fields and that was that. No one had a penny. Everyone was in debt. The watchers thought, maybe they will leave. Maybe that will happen now.

But they didn’t leave. The villagers accepted what happened with their typical faith in the order of things and dug even more deeply into their love of tragedy.

Another entrepreneur came with a scheme. This was much later. Pureza was a teenager and hadn’t run off with the Irish cowboy yet. In fact, had this scheme not been such a disaster, she may have stayed home with the baby, her grandmother, and had a much more pleasant life.

This entrepreneur built a big steel building near the village and on it placed a giant painted sign. On the sign he painted the picture of a jolly lop-eared rabbit in full stride. The rabbit was a purple one and ran against a bright image that depicted a field of cornflower yellow. Above the lop-eared, smiling rabbit were inscribed the words, “Thumper Industries.”

This entrepreneur, it must be said, was quite a pleasant, honest fellow, if naive and altogether ignorant of market place economies and local taste and preference. It might be said that, on his behalf, and to the relief of the villagers, he was not French. He promised villagers that they and he would all get rich. The entrepreneur said that the villagers would raise rabbits and he would process and sell them. Rabbit meat, he said, was not presently part of the everyday diet of people in the region, but once the folks tried it they would love it.

Some were still living that remembered this promise of riches made by schemers in the past. These few were suspicious. Things simply do not change for us, they thought. They went to the church and prayed for the eradication of desire or wanting they found in themselves. The younger ones did not heed the warnings of the elders. They did not pray. They told the fellow to count them “in.” Their wanting was for things their ancestors never dreamed of and couldn’t possibly understand.

So, in the end most people were persuaded to join the scheme. Most everyone, except Consuelo, was quite poor and really did need something. Having lost the knack and will to grow their food, they all took to building hutches. Any spare lumber was turned into a hutch. Even Juanita, now nearly ninety, had a dozen hutches. Hermes, a short, middle-aged man, helped construct a few. Matilda Toad, a warty seventy, had fourteen.

Villagers purchased does and bucks from the entrepreneur as a loan against their first “crop.” Soon the village had hundreds of rabbits eating rabbit food purchased on time. They ate by the hundred-pound bag. The lusty creatures, their fur many shades of brown and grey, drank all the water the people could haul or pump or pour.


“Thumper Industries” massacred the first hundred or so of the rabbits. Their bodies were wrapped, weighed, and taped in white paper, then carted off to market. The furry little rabbit feet were returned to women in the village who were to dry and prepare them as charms to be sold in east coast specialty stores.

Everyone in the village was busy every day feeding, watering, hauling food, taking rabbits to slaughter, working in the factory itself, or fixing little looped chains on the lifeless, boney feet of the rabbits.

These were bright and hopeful days, and villagers thought about the new tin for roofs they could buy or how they might improve the irrigation ditches or where they might purchase seed potatoes or bags of beans and thus begin their lives again. They ordered and read Sears catalogues. They clipped pictures of mirrors and chairs and stoves they would buy and wrist watches they would wear. Oh yes, these were hopeful days.

But as you may have guessed, the rabbit meat did not sell. The rabbit meat did not sell at all, you see. Oh, yes, a few pounds here and there. But nothing of money to pay the villagers came of it. “Thumper Industries” had no cash with which to make its payroll. Villagers were in debt to feed stores and farm suppliers. The hutches were bursting with new bunnies, dozens born, it seemed, each day. No one could tell the male from the female and keep them one from the other and thus reduce the population growth. No one.

Villagers ate as many of the creatures as they could stand and then opened the cages and turned them all loose. There was nothing else to do. They would have to survive on their own now, these lop-ears. Coyotes, of course, had a field day. But the rabbits ate every bit of vegetation within a mile radius of the village before they fanned out to meet their fate in the high desert and dry hills beyond the old orchard and garden land.

Thumper Industries closed its doors. But this was not the end of the village’s financial fiascos.

Even the tiny Solución branch of the Chamber of Commerce, sponsored by business people in Purgatoria to assist the several fledgling businesses behind the church and in the plaza, primarily set on attracting tourism, went under because people did not pay their dues and the president embezzled what little money there was. Even Walmart by-passed Purgatoria and every other town in the area for a long time. The watchers filled the sleep of the Walmart promoters with anxious nightmares. “I’ll lose my shirt if I get involved with this,” the men thought through sweat wet sheets and gnashing teeth. So, until recent years, when the watchers gave up on trying staunch the flow of cheap goods and cheaper values into the community, there was no hope for employment even there.


Was there nothing successful? The watchers laughed at the garlic scheme and egged on the enthusiasm for Thumper Industries. The watchers laughed, but not with much humor.





December 29, 2013 About Rosalie

Rosalie: 1918


Nineteen eighteen was another hideous year for the village. It was difficult because the Spanish flu pandemic had hit many families. Sophia did what she could to help Consuelo around the time of the birth, but she was busy visiting sick families all over the area, including the nearest pueblo. The Indians were losing many people this time. They died, great numbers of them, chanting and mourning in grand circles together. And, indeed, it was these moments of shared community grief that spread the disease among them even faster

Consuelo and her young daughter, in spite of the sad time, survived without much help except from Juanita, of course. Juanita  had become nervous and excessively watchful and fearful of leaving her house or allowing Consuelo and her baby out of her sight. They were nearly quarantined from world. Juanita’s memory of previous experiences with the flu came crashing in on her and she could hardly eat or sleep from worry.

“Please God,” she prayed. “Please. I lost my sweet baby so many years ago and now my darling Consuelo, the consolation you sent to me, is blind. Spare her and her fine little girl. Pass this house this time.”

And God or, to be precise, the flu did pass Juanita’s house.


In spite of the hardships of her late adolescence, Consuelo matured into a splendid woman and someone of whom Juanita was exceedingly proud. She let nothing stand in the way of being successful in life. The daughter that she called Rosalie was astonishingly beautiful. It cannot quite truthfully be said that Rosalie was the apple of Consuelo’s eye for she had never seen her. She could, if she came in very close to the child, make out the shape of her lips and the color of her hair, and the hair she regularly touched hair and let her finger tips work her way to the soft cheeks. These tips were very like the gentle pads of rabbit feet and tickled just a bit. “Come near my darling girl. Let me feel your face. Let me run my fingers through your sweet hair,” the trembling mother said through her darkness.

Thus by looking closely and stroking her, she came to know and appreciate her child very well. And she cared for her as best she could, which was very well indeed. She fed her the most delightful fruits and soft breads and sang to her at night.

Others in the village made Rosalie embroidered vests and appliquéd skirts of many colors and little corduroy pants. In addition, many tiny outfits were passed to her from other children. She had Consuelo’s own vests and velvets, Epiphany’s smocks, and Hermes’s walnut suit. “Oh my dear,” Sophia and others said to Consuelo, “If you could only see this child of yours. What splendour.” And the girl was grateful for all the clothes and the praise. She had nothing to complain of and wanted for nothing. Life was as good as she ever knew it to be.


It was in the happy corral parties that Rosalie learned to samba dance. Indeed, the seeds of Rosalie’s future were planted in this corral and sprung out of the thwarted lives of the women in her family: Juanita’s early losses and Consuelo’s blindness had not staunched the flow of ambition and hope that flowed through their veins. They gave this young woman the grit to seek a different kind of life. Had it not been for their boredom and the decision to conduct rehearsals in Paulette’s corral, that life may not have come to her.

When she was about fourteen, a traveling performance troupe came to town. It was a small troupe comprised of, in addition to the maestro, one clown, two musicians, and a pair of dancers. The all rode elegant Arabian mares. The group had traveled north from South America to Mexico by foot, rail, mule, and wagon. In Mexico, they had earned enough money to purchase the Arabians and a brightly painted circus wagon from an aged maestro whom they knew only by the name “Popcorn.” He was from Indiana and said he could no longer stand the arduous life of touring.

Two gigantic Clydesdales named Tiny and Knat pulled the wagon. Another rig, pulled by a second set of smaller Clydes, featured a good sized animal cage, divided into two. In one half of the cage lived a pair of Bengal Tigers. Three brown bears, all of whom could croon tunes, swig beer from bottles, and wrestle human beings on a bet, swaggered around in the other half. A Dromedary camel on a long red leash walked sullenly behind the cage wagon.

“Here ye, Here ye,” the maestro called from the driver’s seat of the main wagon as they approached the village. “Ola. Greetings. Show tonight.” A conga drummer began to beat out a rapid tattoo from atop his horse. A guitar appeared from deep within the saddle bags of a second horse and that rider struck up a lively tune. The camel spit rhythmically and the bears crooned.

The wagon, since they had acquired it, had become their home and stage, for the sides could be taken down so that the bed became a stage and the sides could be reassembled to create backdrops for performances. At night, the troupe slept under the wagon between the wheels. Food and cook pots were stored within it along with costumes and props.

They set up in the plaza for the evening show while villagers watched the odd little group and wondered at the animals, staying well away from them.

At long last, the sun fell behind the mountains, kerosene lanterns were lit and the show began. The dancers’ repertoire featured an exciting number never seen by Solución villagers. It was called the samba and though originally a folk dance, had become popular in the ballrooms of Rio De Janeiro in the past decade. Though the villagers had not seen it, the dance had just been introduced to film going North Americans in a movie called “Flying Down to Rio” and was now being taught in ballroom classes in cities everywhere. At the end of the performance, the audience members were invited to join in.

Rosalie, being young, beautiful, and supple, took to the dance immediately. “My God,” the leader said to the other performers as he watched her, “This girl will bring us such business. What a beauty.” He saw dollar signs dancing in his head.

So she was asked to join them. She happily left for a life in show business.

She brought to the troupe other specialty acts that she had perfected in the corral performances. She could walk a tightrope, having taught herself to do this on a wire stretched between two apple trees on the plaza. She had also learned to play a horn, a C melody bright silver York saxophone that allowed her to toodle right along with pianos without special music.

And her performances did, in fact, bring in large audiences. Eventually, Rosalie learned to do a samba on a tightrope while playing the saxophone. There was standing room only after that.

She stayed with the samba troupe for months, but was seen performing near Delano, California by the owner of a large vineyard that supplied the Butler Raisin company. This was a time when much produce from California and other parts of the world was shipped in wooden crates. These crates were made inexpensively, but were fine shipping containers for they held up on trucks and trains and could be stacked easily. Growers adorned these crates with beautiful labels that advertised their products. The crates were used as displays in stores and the labels became useful in attracting customers. At first the labels were simple, but after a few years skilled artists, often immigrants, were hired to design the labels. The immigrants’ labels romanticized the products and life in the far west where much of the produce originated. There were jolly cats, pink cheeked babies, and Indians in feathered headdresses depicted on the labels. But there were also pin up girls. Rosalie, the vineyard owner thought, would be a lovely model and she soon, with his support, became the poster girl for Butler’s Raisins. In the raisin ads she was posed as some version of Cleopatra in silks and sheer laces, thus to imbue raisins with a kind of foreign allure. Her arms were covered with coils of brass snake bracelets and her neck was adorned with heavy copper bangles. Her giant hoop earrings matched the necklace. She was a sweet, pale Cleopatra and her image, within a year, adorned every single box, bag, and bin of Butler’s Raisins and did so for years to come.

It was because of this exposure that Rosalie decided she must return to the village. For you see, everywhere she went, Rosalie was recognized, especially by Italian men who were major consumers of raisins during this period. And of course she was easily spotted by railroad workers, hobos, and green grocers who regularly saw the label on the shipping crates. At first the Italians and hobos and grocers were simply drawn to her beauty. But then, after a moment or two, she was identified as the Butler Raisin girl. Perhaps it was her face. Perhaps the trademark earrings and bracelets that she persisted in wearing wherever she was. In any case, someone would inevitably call out for the others to see. “Ayyyyah. It is the raisin girl. The raisin girl. Come see.”  Crowds would gather and the young Rosalie was mobbed. In those days, it was impossible to have a personal life or go out in public after having one’s image imprinted on the packaging of raisin products. So Rosalie returned to the village.

She returned to Solución in the heat of summer of nineteen thirty seven. It must have been sometime in mid-summer because the green gage plums were nearly ripe and the dahlias were just beginning to bloom. Everyone remembered the night that she returned to the village. One old woman told me,  “You know, that girl knew how to make an entrance. The day she came back was the day that we got electricity! That was no coincidence.” Just at the moment that Rosalie stepped out of a handsome black Buick sedan that drove her right to Consuelo’s front door, all the prewired lights in every house in the village went on. A dark man with a pencil thin moustache got out of the driver’s side, opened the trunk, and carefully placed a leather trunk and a black patent leather band box on the ground near the door. Rosalie stood stunned like a deer in headlights as people came out to greet her, back lighted by the gleaming bulbs that shown from within their brightly lit houses. “It’s Rosalie,” they called to one another. “Rosalie,” they said, “Welcome home.” At first they hardly noticed that there was a baby in her arms. It was a baby girl whom Rosalie had named Pureza.

No one asked about the origin of this baby Pureza. The village inhabitants had, in part out of self-protection, lost the habit of asking about anything. The village was, in short, devoid of curiosity. This matter of fact arrival was a way as natural as any to come about a baby, people thought. It was the way of the village to become populated by surprise arrivals. And if the village were to continue to be populated at all, no one could be fussy about how that might happen. No one knew if Rosalie had birthed this baby and no one cared because of course this baby lived here now and this baby was part of the story. And, as I said before, no one was any long curious about much of anything.

One day, two or three years after her return, Rosalie was picking ripe pie cherries. As she was athletically inclined, this was no challenge. She was up moving about the trees behind Juanita and her mother’s house. She had strung up some ropes between the several cherry trees so that she could walk across these to pick without having to go up and down a ladder and move such a heavy thing from tree to tree. In this way she could also continue to exercise her wonderful capacity for balance.

Her mother, barely able to make out her Rosalie’s dark form against the light sky, was sitting near the corral and writing in her leather bound journal. Consuelo wrote everyday for Consuelo did not just write for herself but wrote for publication. Writing had become the work of her life.

It was odd to watch her at her work. She had a very thick pair of glasses and fastened the journal to a small portable desk on her lap. She leaned over the journal and the desk so that her eyes were within about one inch of the paper. She gripped an elegant tortoise shell fountain pen between the thumb and fingers of her right hand. The pen tip moved on the page and her nose rested on top of her thumb as it moved. In this way, she could almost see what she was writing, one word at a time. Incredibly, she wrote a few short stories, many nonfiction articles, and at least two novels from this seemingly impossible position.

Consuelo was, as I said, nearly always occupied with this writing, for as you can imagine, it took a long time just to fill a page. It was only when a story or article was completed that she allowed anyone to read. She could not see enough words in sequence to make sense of the whole of her work. So she needed someone to review and tell her if it made sense. After a friend, usually Hermes, did read a manuscript and she was assured that it held interest for a general reader, she wrapped it in a brown envelope and sent it out to some popular magazines of the period for an editor’s consideration.

At first her articles were of a purely practical nature: “The Harvest and Pickling of Green Walnuts,” was among the first and was published in Good Housekeeping. This followed by an article on “Green Walnut Brandy.” She popularized many of Sophia’s home remedies, including laxatives, in a Good Housekeeping series. She wrote a much reprinted article on hot bedtime drinks. Her fictional stories were snapped up by Women’s Friend magazine. These tales featured the lives of desperate rural widows who are rescued from penury by elegant traveling ministers or salesmen. She also wrote poetry, usually sad, poignant poetry on the subject of lost love and thwarted desire. Many of the magazines in which she was published found their way back to the villages and Consuelo was a local celebrity. She even made a little income in this way.

The writing was not necessarily a bad thing, it was not necessarily good. Though Consuelo was content, she was usually quite removed from the life around her that she could not see. She was an attractive woman all of her life, even with her somewhat empty eyes. But her good looks and sweet face were seldom seen or appreciated by others. You see, not only was her face pressed down into her journal most of the time, but after years and years of writing, and in part as a consequence of the bone stiffening injuries she had received when she was sixteen, she was eventually not able to move from this position. In her old age, she moved crab-like about the village, head always bent, nose to the ground.

This day in the orchard, while Consuelo wrote, Rosalie was up the cherry trees happily picking, and humming to herself. The garment she wore had a deeply plunging neckline. The bodice was made of a bright red and yellow poplin hand painted with merry butterflies. The dress had puffy sleeves and a tiered skirt of many colors. From her earlobes hung long blood-red cut-glass earrings that caught the sun and projected piercing red patterns of light onto the ground below. She danced on the ropes from tree to tree, often bursting forth in song, and attracting birds of all feathers and of sorts never seen before in the village. When she reached high into the trees to pluck the highest, plumpest prizes, the juice of the cherries she found there ran down her arms and into the openings of her sleeves. She frequently popped tart cherries into her lovely mouth and the juice coated her lips and chin. Rosalie was still, in some ways, a child. She was, in fact, still in her early twenties, in spite of all of her adventures.

Sleeping prettily on a blanket just beside Consuelo was Pureza. That little girl, now nearly three years old, was resting and being good while Consuelo wrote. This had become the way of things since Rosalie’s return and the arrival of the baby, Pureza. Rosalie flitted around the village, Consuelo wrote, and Pureza slept. Everyone was satisfied with this arrangement.

Consuelo was writing only her most personal thoughts on that day. She had been occupied with a feeling of enormous happiness. How glad she was, she thought, that things had worked out as they had. How content she was not to have the old man in her life. And though she bore no ill feelings towards him, she was relieved that he had not lived for her to cook and clean for all her life. She wrote about the love she felt towards her daughter and granddaughter. How wonderful life seemed even if she was growing into the shape of a crab and couldn’t see very much at all.


After a bit, she decided that this could all be said better in poetry. And here is what she wrote that day:


Piñón comes so seldom to its ripeness

like my heart

full just then and now

be ready

for when it is time

you must taste


As Consuelo was writing, fumbling in her blindness with the paper and the pen, and just able to see Rosalie’s form and more than able to hear the birds, she could feel as well as hear the sound of a horse’s hooves beating at the ground.



Rosalie gets out of Dodge: 1940 A.D.


HK had a niece, the youngest daughter of his sister. Did you think that HK was the only creative genius in his family? No. HK’s family bubbled over with geniuses and his sister and her daughter were two of them. His clever niece was a flyer by vocation. She was one of the first of the Indian women who flew airplanes. Lots of Indian women in those early days of flight earned their wings and flew mail, mutton and beans, corn and flowers, bags of Red Rose flour and handmade corn husk dolls all over the mountains and from village to village. And HK’s niece was one of these women. She knew how to soar.

Mary, for that was the name of HK’s niece, had heard about the brand new Spartan School of Aeronautics and entered the first class in Tulsa in the late Fall of 1928. She joined the famous Spartan Dawn Patrol and learned cross-country and formation flying. She and four other Indian women roomed together in the Spartan dorms and formed the historic Spider Women Corps. They went out at dusk, ostensibly to get in their required flying time for certification, and flew in elaborate patterns over the Oklahoma night skies. Only Cherokee and Chiracauhua Apache people, of mortal people in the flesh, ever witnessed the forms the women made in the sky and only they could read the subversive messages these forms relayed. Those Indian people who watched the night skies thrilled at the flyers’ skill and carefully copied all of the messages they saw in secret books that were concealed deep inside footlockers under beds. These books were fetched out and read aloud upon occasion to children and grandchildren so that the words were kept alive.

Fan letters by the handful arrived for the women each day while they were at Spartan. No one out side of the group was ever the wiser to what the women were doing with their flight hours, nor did they know why the women received so much mail.

Mary and one of her roommates, my friend, Mildred, became quite expert at creating these puffy sky messages and encrypting them in Dené or the old Cherokee syllabary. Mildred, then still a resident of Oklahoma and recently returned from Haskell, had known lots of Cherokee people during her lifetime. So she’d studied the syllabary and was quite adept at reproducing its letters. The women loved making the flowing Cherokee symbols in the skies. Those required skill. They especially liked the curlicues that represented the sounds of que and qui and quo and quu. They worked hard to make sure that their messages contained many of these sounds.


There is a picture of Mary shaking hands with Eddie Rickenbacher in the Spartan archives. Richenbacher liked visiting flying schools and encouraging new pilots. In the photo, the two are framed behind by the struts of a spanking new Waco. It was the year before Rickenbacher was awarded his Medal of Honor but ten years after the end of the war in which he shot down something like twenty six German planes. He is tan, smiling, in his helmet but with the goggles pulled up above his eyes. Mary is looking right into the camera, goggles on her head, and a parachute strapped to her back.

After graduation, Mary came home and bought her own UBF Waco bi-plane. It was such a smooth and steady aircraft that it seemed sometimes to fly by itself. And this was the same Mary, this flyer of the Waco bi-plane, this rebel, this handsome genius sister of HK who came riding into Rosalie’s life that day.

As Rosalie came down out of the cherry tree, skirts flouncing all around her, her toes with their painted nails just touching the earth, cherry juice dripping down both her arms all the way past her elbows and past the place where the puff sleeves ended around her firm upper arms, she saw Mary and met her eyes. She saw her yellow jump suit and flyer’s helmet (which she wore even when riding upon a horse!), and she saw the leather bag slung over her shoulder, emblazoned with the words “U.S. Postal Service.”  And she saw Mary’s handsome, deep brown face. Suddenly, for the first time in her life, Rosalie felt shy. Mary dismounted and walked toward Rosalie, leading the horse behind her. “And you are?” Mary asked. “I am Rosalie.”

“Ah. Consuelo’s daughter, yes?”

“Yes.” Rosalie found that for some reason she could hardly speak. Her throat was dry and scratchy and her eyes were watering.

“Your grandmother gets lots of mail,” she said as she forked several letters out of her pouch.  “Publishers. Magazines. I’ll be bringing her mail to her now. It’s my new route.” Mary was diffident. Her eyes looked to one side of Rosalie’s face, past her.

Consuelo called out a hello. She had known it was Mary from the horse’s gait, but she couldn’t hear what Rosalie and Mary were saying.

“That’s my daughter. Did you meet my daughter?” she called out.

Mary pulled more letters and a small package from the postal satchel and walked with more than confidence to where Consuelo was sitting.

“That’s all for today. Want me to read them?”


“No dear,” Consuelo took the letters and put them down near Pureza’s little sleeping body. “I’ll ask Rosalie or Hermes to read for me later. Thankyou.”

Rosalie stood and watched and said nothing.

Mary, quite a bit older than the young Rosalie, had had a little infatuation with “Aunt” Elsie who was so much a part of her life. Elsie, as we have seen, was her uncle’s best friend and companion. Mary had always adored her. But she also knew, though it surprised her, that this what she instantly felt for Rosalie was quite different. She didn’t dare to look at her again, except just once, when she was back in the saddle and just about to ride away.

“Nice to meet you,” she called out. But her eyes still could not meet Rosalie’s eyes. There was something like pain all over her body. She went back to HK’s house and spent the evening scrubbing herself with sage and singing to the moon.

Mildred likes to tell me the about the letter she received from Mary shortly after that encounter. They stayed in touch after Spartan and saw each other occasionally.

In nineteen forty Mary had turned forty. Mildred never knew her to have any romantic interest in anyone and didn’t think she ever would. So it was a complete surprise to read four full pages in which Mary described a young woman whose sole claim to fame seemed to be that she could dance the samba and had been the Butler Raisin pin-up girl. “Good God, I thought. There’s more to this than meets the eye. A samba dancer! My word,” she laughed as she told me. This enthusiasm for another human being apparently did not sound like Mary. In fact, it sounded down right reckless. Mildred chuckled and waited to hear further developments.

Consuelo, who had never been out of the village and did not have the experiences that Rosalie and Mary had, did not quite understand what happened next. Mary, the flyer, it seemed now was always around. Consuelo could not see the looks that lingered, the shy smiles, the gentle courtesies. Consuelo could not see the arms that touched for just a moment now and then or the finger tips that brushed each other when the two sat on a blanket in the orchard with a picnic lunch and read together. Consuelo could not see anything that was happening. All she knew was what she heard. She heard soft giggles and the rustle of clothing at late hours. Sometimes she called out to assure herself that they were indeed in the house when they became very quiet. “Rosalie? Mary? Are you here?” “Oh, yes grandmother,” Rosalie would answer. We’re just peeling potatoes and thinking,” Or folding clothes or cutting out cookies, Rosalie would say. Sometimes this was near the truth. Consuelo had no way of even imagining to wonder what was really going on. The women didn’t want to bother her with it all. Besides, it was occasionally frightening and quite new to them. They were never sure what they would say to her. They had no words for it.

Consuelo did know that Rosalie was happier than ever and singing and bouncing about the house watering new plants and encouraging fragrant blooms. Those she could smell throughout the air. Rosalie spent hours polishing furniture with bee’s wax. That she could feel when she touched a chair or a table. She heard Rosalie laboriously hammering nails into the wood framework that provided structure for the adobe and from those nails Rosalie hung Butler Raisin Girl pictures that Consuelo, of course, could not see.

Because her mother could not see very much, and Rosalie had been so seldom home until the past few years, no one had paid much attention to how things looked in the house. Now it seemed to matter.

The little house became a showplace. It was inviting, fresh, and full of expectation. Visitors exclaimed, “How nice the place looks, Consuelo! And it all smells so good! Are you expecting visitors? Have you got a new man coming by, ha ha.?”

But it was Mary who came calling regularly and Consuelo needed ask no one to get her mail for her. Mary brought it. And she brought baskets of figs and bags of sweet onions and bouquets of sweet peas and holly hocks. Rosalie placed these in tall vases all around the house and on window sills and in niches next to plaster saints. Mary gave Consuelo enough bags of Red Rose flour to last her a year. Consuelo grew a bit tired of saying “Thank you” every time the horse rode up to the door and Mary dismounted. She finally said sweetly that she had plenty of flour. She began to worry it would get wormy before she could use it all.

Small talk and whispers gnawed at the happiness the women felt together. What Consuelo could not see, others could. It was irritating to have always to be running into this one and that who suspected things, in spite of their discretion. Sometimes everyone in the plaza would simply stop talking and stare at them as they walked past. Occasionally a man would sneer at them and offer to take care of their needs or ask to join them, then laugh meanly.

Then there were old lovers or jealous would be suitors of many stripes turning up at Consuelo’s door. Consuelo in her innocence would graciously feed the guests who then found reason to simply sit chatting all afternoon or evening so that there was no privacy to be had. This was particularly tiresome. Rosalie and Mary were drained by all the interruptions and quite ready to be finished with it. They were too happy with each other to allow others’ judgments and designs to spoil what they had.


One day, she and Rosalie got into the Waco and flew away. They soared into the clouds with Rosalie’s earrings glinting in the sunlight and her scarves and lovely hair flowing from the open cockpit behind them. Mary, in her helmet and goggles, pulled at the yoke to gain altitude, pushed on the left rudder pedal, and then held up her hand in a big okay sign for Rosalie to see.

They had a good time indeed in their lives from then on without being at all mean about their leave taking. In fact they simply left and sent loads of money to Consuelo and the baby, Pureza, for their upkeep and safe keeping. Everyone who knew and loved them well was delighted to receive cards and letters and pictures of these two. The photographs were passed all around. The pair and their adventures provided fodder for lively   conversations among Consuelo, Sophia and Juanita, Epiphany, Ramona, Hermes, and HK.

Rosalie, still keenly balanced, became a wing walker, known as the most daring and flamboyant in the air show industry, and was ultimately rated instrument, multi-engine, and aerobatic pilot.

Rosalie and Mary were famous, oh so famous, barnstormers (though World War II shut them down for a bit) throughout the United States and they were happy, oh so happy for all their days. They lived to be very old and very eccentric. They had a wonderful house somewhere on the Pacific Coast and filled it with mementos of their days in the air.

They never, never played golf or tennis but instead took occasional flights in the old Waco who came to be treated much like a family dog.

In the village Consuelo continued to write and to raise her granddaughter, the baby called Pureza, the baby, like herself, who had unknown beginnings.



December 19, 2013 Consuelo Marries the Old Man and Diversions

Consuelo’s Odd Marriage


Tiny half-formed apples rotted on the trees the year that Consuelo married the old man. Even they were few and not worth harvesting for there had been no rain. Beans pods shriveled before the fruit within could mature. Corn was ravished by a plague of rats.  No one danced. No one sang. It was a bitter time.

She married an old man with a long beard. She was his third wife, though some people said she was lucky to marry at all. “What kind of harsh luck is this,” she wondered? “And on top of everything else.” But she was not lucky. Luck had nothing to do with it. She certainly was not lucky in the marriage. That is,  until the old man died and that was luck enough.

The man she married was an old Anglo man of Irish descent. He was not so kind although not really as awful as some of the acidic and antique single or widowed men who rode in and out of the canyons and valleys around the village in search of succulent young wives.

Consuelo’s old man came to her bedside soon after word of her blindness had spread beyond the village. News of her misfortune had traveled even deep into the little dry canyon where he had built a diminutive hermit’s cabin from smelly railroad ties and bits of bitter brush and dried bones. He imagined living out the rest of his life there and alone.

Juanita reluctantly admitted him to the house the day he arrived on his dusty mule. She guessed his errand. Indeed, he went straight to Consuelo’s bedside. “My dear girl,” he began. “I am not a young or handsome man, but I will care for you and give you respectability. Marry me and you will be happy again.” That any care or respectability might come from this union was a lie. That he was not young or handsome was a perverse understatement. But, of course, Consuelo could not see him and no one had the heart to tell her the truth.

Consuelo was still listless. Her fractured frame and bruises were healed. But she was still blind and did not wish to be a burden to her mother. Thus she answered the old man, “Of course I will marry you. How kind an offer.”

This old man was not only deluded about his looks and age, but he was also had pretensions.

You can see his pretensions to being someone he was not in their wedding photograph. He is seated and tucked all about as if a lord or congressman. His beard is neatly trimmed but recklessly long like that of an eastern potentate’s. Though it is predominantly white, the beard is darker and grayish around the edges and near the temples. It must have been impossible to keep such a beard clean. It must have been regularly full of bits of food and pine pitch and vermin.

His left hand is tucked, Napoleon style, between the buttons of his waistcoat. Over his collarless white shirt and dark waistcoat, he wears a long black coat, clearly frayed at the wrists. This long coat is ill fitting, especially about the shoulders and the elbows. His pants don’t nearly seem to match the coat. The later is pin-striped and the former not.

The hems on the trousers look rough and are sewn with little care, almost as if merely basted. His shoes or boots are worn and not at all polished. In fact, they appear to be quite dusty as if he had just walked in from his farm and appeared just in time for the picture to be taken.

Yet, he wears his trousers and boots with a certain arrogance.

His lips are tight against his face. These lips are not smiling or frowning, just there, as if drawn onto his face and served no purpose at all. On his head he wears a flat broad-brimmed hat of the kind you might imagine an Amish countryman to wear.

His right leg is crossed over his left and his right hand rests on his right knee. He does not quite address the camera but looks off to somewhere quite distant, a place unconnected to the world in which he lived, to his young wife, and to the moment. It is clear that he believes himself to be a gentleman of means and importance to dress so and assume such a stance.


Consuelo as a youthful woman of about sixteen stands next to him. She is to his left and short and unseeing. It is clear that she is blind. Her eyes are vacant and languid and one seems to be looking off to the right while the other is peering sightlessly and lazily up toward the ceiling.

She is slim and dressed in a dark dress buttoned down the front and draped all around her tiny hips and stomach. The bow around her neck is bigger than her face. Her hair is parted at the middle and drawn back severely to a spot somewhere behind her head.

Her right hand rests lightly on the shoulder of the “old gentleman,” as he enjoyed referring to himself. He was not a gentleman, but an old rounder or knave. He was a horse thief and a gambler. He worked his former wives to death, forcing them to sell his puny crop of apples, apples each had cultivated and harvested, in the streets of far off towns. During the harvest season, he left the  current wife with her baskets of apples in these towns to fend for themselves. He returned, sometimes, several days later.

At home, when they were not working the streets, he forced them to care for all the animals and entertain his card-playing friends deep into the night. He did very little himself to support the household but gamble. And at this he was not successful. His wins, few and far between, were more than cancelled out by his losses.

If there were no money in the house, he sent the current wife out door to door to sharpen knives and scissors and offer to do laundry or read fortunes. If they came back empty handed, he sent the wives out to steal chickens from his neighbors. These he obliged them to sell, squawking and indignant, in a village some distance away so that the chickens would not be recognized. If that didn’t bring in sufficient income, he offered his wives to road crews to act as common roustabouts. This is the man some considered a lucky match for a young blind woman.

It must be said that by the time Consuelo married him, he was still a grim tightwad but not so active in his nefarious pursuits and was often content to sleep at night rather than entertain his chums. At his advanced age, he was rarely interested in chickens or horses or anything else for that matter. He tried once or twice to convince Consuelo to take in sewing or to iron for people or sell tortillas in the plaza. But Consuelo found that if she assented to his requests but did nothing, he forgot all about it by the next day. He couldn’t write, so he did not record his orders to her and all was lost in the fog his mind had become.

In fact, the old gentleman lived only long enough to consummate the marriage. This peculiar occasion happened one autumn night after Consuelo had taken the day’s stiff washing off the clothes line. It was after she had folded sheets and shirts and put them into a chest of drawers. It was after she had served the old gentleman a bowl of noodle soup seasoned beautifully with dill and fennel. It was after the dishes were cleared and remaining bits scraped out the door for their few elderly chickens who managed now and again to provide an egg or two for their meals.


The old man was still in his dark wedding suit and hat for it was soon clear to Consuelo that this wedding suit was actually the only clothing, other than his shirts, that he owned or ever wore.

So still in his suit, the old man took his place upon the bed. “My dear,” he called to her in the kitchen. “Will you not join me tonight. I am so lonely and so cold.” Until this night, she had slept on a small cot in the kitchen and had not been troubled by him. She assented to his request. She lay by him, at first stiffly. He was cold. His hand reached out to her, an icy, bony paw of a thing. She felt a twinge of pity. Amidst the drapes and trousers and watch fobs and buttons and bows he managed, with her complete consent, given out of mild curiosity rather than desire, to conceive the child Rosalie.

It was not too many days later that he died of unknown causes. He died quite suddenly and in his bed (which he had not left since the consummation). In fact, his death was a rather unnoticed affair because it took place on the same day in 1916 that Pancho Villa invaded the United States and raided the little town of Columbus, New Mexico.

Everyone heard about the invasion and were quite excited by the news. Ramona had her old uniform somewhere and began tearing through trunks to find it. You see, Ramona had decided to cross the border and become a soldier in the Mexican Revolution in 1910. Sophia was exceedingly proud of her when she announced her intentions. She came home, one day, dressed as a soldara with bandoliers slung over both of her shoulders. She wore a tidy uniform jacket with brass buttons down the front and on the pockets, jodhpurs, and a bright white pair of spats over her boots

She found the uniform. It had only a few moth holes in it, but otherwise was fine and it still fit over her bosoms and hips. She polished the buttons, darned the holes and was ready to go within a couple of hours. “I must go. He needs me,” She said, speaking of Pancho. She borrowed Paulette, saddled up and rode south as quickly as she could. Paulette, being overweight, was not the fastest of mounts she could have chosen from the horses resident in the village. But she was a faithful old friend. They rode in splendor, south, once again, to the border.

Of course the whole thing was over as quickly as it started. It was, historians said, a factor in the decision of the United States to enter into the war raging in Europe. Something was said at the time about a letter from the Germans to the Mexican government. Whatever, General Pershing himself arrived in southern New Mexico to protect the borders from further incursions and Ramona was right there when the American troops arrived looking for Pancho. There she was, and can be seen in photographs in the archives in Mexico City, right next to Pancho, in support of the revolution as always. She knew nothing about the Germans or the European front and slipped across the border and back home some days after Pershing left.

When she returned to the village, she was greeting with cheers. Her adventure was a cause for food and drink. Ramona, still in uniform, sat in the plaza surrounded by admirers as she sipped lemonade and told stories of the encounter and described Pancho and his soldiers. Everyone loved Pancho. There was not a house that did not have a picture of him hanging on a wall. And everyone loved Ramona for her bravery and daring. Thus it was Ramona’s return and Pancho’s bravery was the talk of the village and everyone forgot about Consuelo’s loss and its circumstances.

The old man’s death was not only quiet but almost, as I said, unnoticed. He was buried high on a hill outside the village, his grave marked by a cross constructed of painted Mountain Ash. It was painted a bright white. His final resting place was near where three large crosses planted by the villagers had stood for many years representing the crosses on Calvary Hill. They were firmly rooted in their bases of stones. They had recently been freshly white washed and gleamed in the sunlight. The old man’s cross was mounded at its base with roses from the church. Other than the cross, there was nothing there to commemorate the old man. His name was inscribed on no stone and in no family album or Bible.


Back in the village now and away from the horrid ranchero of the old gentleman, Consuelo remained distant and quiet. She doubled her domestic efforts, though she did laundry less frequently and ate only to sustain the growing life within her. This little, fragile and wholly unexpected being was all that she attended to aside from her own mind and soul.





Lest you have come to believe that the villagers, prone from the founding days to embrace suffering, dwelt only on the tragic elements of their lives, let me assure you that there were occasional joyful diversions. It is hard to believe that anything could have lifted spirits after yet another round of flu and the blinding of the wonderful young Consuelo. Yes, she was permanently blinded when the altar fell on her that day. Yes, she could see if she got really close to something and squinted. And she could make out dark forms moving against bright backgrounds. But for all intents and purposes, she was blind.

Blind as she was, and now a pregnant widow, she was never the playful young woman she had been. She took to exploring (or perhaps creating) her interior life. Yet she, too, did not dwell constantly upon her tragedy. She became a writer.

No one seemed to know just why and how she came to write. She had been moved, after the old man died, back to her mother’s household. And of course she began to sleep in her own astonishing bed again. She slept beneath the limbs and branches and under all the birds and nests. But now she really listened to the leaves rustle as she went to sleep at night. She reached up and touched the leaves when she first awoke. She heard the birds gently chirping throughout the night. She felt the seasons come and go from the comfort of her bed. Sophia still occasionally came and bathed her in lemon balm and rubbed her with sage and saxifrage most mornings now that she was back in her mother’s home. She frequently massaged Consuelo’s limbs and put chamomile compresses on her eyes before she helped her to dress for the day.

Then, Consuelo, supple and scented went haltingly into the plaza and walked about the village smelling the blooming flowers and listening to the sounds of voices and horses and dogs and cats. She still felt love and tenderness for all the world.  In fact, she felt even more love after her accident, for everyone in the village with great hugs and kisses greeted her. They adored her so much. And this new life, these new sensations, must have inspired her to take up pen and paper and record what she learned.

Consuelo’s determination to embrace life was one joy for the villagers. Another were the periodic performances in the plaza. At least once a month a troupe of dancers came up from Chihuahua. The troupe danced merrily for several days. They danced in and around crosses and the twin graves, and around apple trees and large tables laid with generous platters of corn and grapes and sliced apples and large jugs of tea and lemonade. Everyone took time from their chores and chatting to clap and sing and join the dancers while they were in the village.

But this was not enough diversion for people like Juanita and Consuelo and Ramona and the sweet young Epiphany. They could not be satisfied to be mere bystanders. They organized their own entertainments. They rehearsed songs and practiced violins. They had a viola and concertina and learned to play these. They worked on dance routines. All of this practicing and rehearsing was accomplished in the small corral to the rear of the plaza and the houses. This was the corral where Paulette, the horse, lived and was directly behind the house of Juanita. Paulette, of course, having her corral thus honored, joined in and rehearsed a few numbers of her own.

Ramona was the informal leader of the group. She had actually gained some considerable fame on the toy piano. She had a collection of them. One account puts their numbers at thirty-seven. They were of all colors and sizes and shapes except, of course, that they all were of the size to be considered toy. Ramona, as we have said, was a somewhat large young woman. She appeared even larger when seated at a toy piano.


When she was first learning to play, and before Epiphany could walk, she tucked the baby in her bosom, sat on a small red woven cushion placed on the hard dust of the corral, and bent over a piano. She made, with this small instrument, a magnificent sound. Later, by the time Consuelo and her baby joined the group, Epiphany herself would sing with her mother.

Paulette often danced. She demanded that her dress blanket be on her back before performing. It was red and gold with thin black stripes and long fringe that hung down either side of her withers. Someone, often Epiphany as she grew older, braided her tail and her mane. Epiphany sat upon the horse to do this or climbed a railing and reached out to the horse. The horse, loving the braids and the attention, stood still while Epiphany worked, just breathing quietly and occasionally blowing through her nose and lips while the braiding was happening. She loved Epiphany almost as much as she loved Consuelo.

The rehearsals in the corral were quite enough to engage this group and keep them happy and full of good spirit on even their worst days. The participants in these joyful days were mostly women, except for Hermes.

The rehearsals in the corral happened weekly, though sometimes not all of the performers were available. Ramona, for example, was otherwise occupied during the Mexican Revolution. But stories of her escapades were woven into the corral performances upon her return.



Two New Chapters: Consuelo is a Patient and Matilda Comes to Tend the Church

If you have not been following along (and who has?) you may enjoy these chapters for themselves or you may wish to go back to the beginning and read forward.

The Patient


The church was no longer simply a place of worship and wonder, but something that had to be approached with a certain wariness. People who had heretofore been merely superstitious and prone to read meaning into every event were now terrified of their own shadows and peered upwards at ceilings and lintels as they passed through doorways. There was no one who was fully at ease.

Consuelo lay in her (now much lengthened to accommodate her several years of growth) walnut bed after her horrible mishap. Its leaves wrapped tenderly around her, but she didn’t heal. Sophia, who ministered to her everyday, declared that she suffered from, in addition to her many wounds, vagotonia, an irritability of the vagus nerve. The symptoms of such were clear to Sophia, who spent days consulting her books. The child sometimes complained quietly of very cold arms and at other times suffered from heat. She was often drenched in sweat no matter what the condition of the ambient air. Sometimes it seemed she had no blood circulating through her fingertips and these then turned a dark blue. Sophia covered these sweet, small hands with woolen mittens and massaged them vigorously.

But there was more.

Most dreadful of all was the fact that Consuelo could not see.

And as a consequence this trauma and the state of her dearest Consuelo, Juanita never had another menstrual period after the day of the accident. It must be said that it was the time in her life that this cessation of flow might be expected, but nevertheless, there are, remember, thought to be no simple coincidence in Solución. This inability on the part of Juanita to never henceforth bear a child seemed to be, to those who heard of it, part of the curse.

Rumors about the whole incident and Consuelo’s condition flew, of course. The stories were, though worrisome, endlessly fascinating to villagers and each teller added details to make their particular tales the more beguiling to listeners. Also there was an unspoken competition among the residents. Each wanted to have been the only one to see this or that or to have heard such and such. Each wanted to be the special friend to whom a particular morsel had been passed on.

Some claimed to have seen a mysterious visitor, all dressed in black and bearing a basket of beans, when they passed by Consuelo’s home that morning. Others said they had seen lightening in the clouds high over the Sangre de Cristos just as Sophia appeared at her window. One said a devil had been seen cavorting on the roof of the church just moments before the loud crash was heard from within.

Villagers reluctantly tore themselves away from their gossip, their books, their snacks, their story telling and their lazing about and took to repairing the church as soon as the dry season was upon them. They made new adobe bricks; they mixed earth with water and pounded and pressed it into molds. They removed molds and set the green bricks out to dry in the sun until they were baked solid. They lifted the bricks, nearly forty pounds each, and slowly rebuilt the back wall and reinforced the roof itself. They mixed mud with straw and kneaded it by hand and filled gaps and covered all the new work. They plastered all over the wall and the roof. They mixed ground gypsum and white washed each wall. They lifted the great altar and replaced and repaired Santos and posts and mirrors. They applied paint where paint had chipped away. They once again, like their forebears centuries ago, gave up their meager savings and purchased and applied gold leaf where gold leaf had been loosened and spoiled in the mud.


But no one could do anything to repair Consuelo. She lay quietly. She never complained. She did not cry out. She didn’t move.

Sophia consulted all of her old journals and wrote to other Eclectics far and wide. She made visits to healers in neighboring villages for advice. She even called Eclectic headquarters in Cincinnati  from the public telephone exchange in the nearby town of Purgatoria.  She tried all the remedies she had learned over the years. She ground mesquite to a powder then placed the powder in a wet cloth and squeezed the liquid onto Consuelo’s eyelids. She rubbed her sweet crumpled body and the still open wounds with a decoction made from snakebroom. She brought all of her wisdom to bear in her efforts to heal Consuelo. Indeed, she stayed up night after night mixing this herb and that. She prayed until she trembled with exhaustion

Consuelo was also prayed over by other women of the village. They donated old dresses so Sophia had fabric with which to make clean poultices and fresh strips with which to bind the cedar splints to her broken arms and legs.

Consuelo was often held Sophia’s arms, her lips gently parted, and given willow and aspen tea to sip. Mugwort tea for energy was dripped slowly between these dry lips.


Still Consuelo was for the most part silent and still. No one was surprised that Sophia seemed not to be able to heal Consuelo. Sophia had no control over what had come upon the Consuelo and she would have no control over what would ultimately happen to her. Consuelo’s trials probably contained some message, yet to be worked out, for all of them.

After a while, even with their public belief in fate, the women, secretly blamed themselves just a little for their neglect of the church. They pooled their resources and hired someone to look after it from now on.


Matilda: 1916


They hired Matilda, “The Toad,” to be a kind of seneschal. She was someone’s mother’s cousin returned from a trip to the outside world that had lasted several years. They called her “The Toad” because of her numerous, quite evident, warts. She had a warty face and warty hands. Her feet fed warts. Her knobby knees had several warts on each. Her ears were warty. Even her breasts had warts, some large and hairy. Her hair was thin and modestly pulled back and pinned at her neck. Her light brown face featured high and prominent cheek bones. Her dark, wide eyes were set deeply into the dusky hollows under her forehead. She could have been a model for  a dia de los muertos candy skull except that she was dark and far from sweet.

Now, returned from who knows where, she was nearly thirty and without immediate kin or funds. She needed housing and she needed work. So she was hired by the women and given a small room attached to the back of the church to call her own.

The church was also hers in a manner of speaking. She was to care for as if it were her baby, her child, and her most precious possession. She swept and cleaned it every day, polished pews with bees’ wax, dusted pillars with long handled mops, scrubbed floors on hands and knees, and checked the roof each day for signs of cracks or weakness.


Wherever Matilda had journeyed, it seemed to have caused her to take up odd habits indeed. For example, Matilda was a living chapel. All over her apron and her striped cloth coat and full cotton skirt were pictures. All up and down her sleeves and on her breasts were pictures. These small pictures were beautiful, colorful little enameled miniatures encased in hand-hammered tin frames. These were lovely portraits of people, men, women, and children, painted with tiny, delicate brush strokes on copper or ivory (though not a few had been done of chicken-skin and one or two on mere cardboard). These, it turned out, were likenesses of villagers who had died many years ago. Or they were pictures of people with whom Matilda had once been acquainted but who had themselves gone away from the village and not returned. She herself had made these portraits in her years of absence, having trained herself to be a miniaturist  as she traveled here and there and having called upon the memory of those she had known and lost as her subject matter. How astonishing was the beauty of these images in contrast to the lumpy, warty visage they adorned.

On each miniature was a single, carefully calligraphed question: “Donde Están?”. The question, written of course in her own cramped hand, was a plaintive one, indeed. Because, you see, despite Matilda’s service to the church, her faith was weak and this question was not rhetorical but sincerely asked. She wondered everyday while sweeping and while oiling woodwork in the chapel. She wondered while carrying the trash and renewing holy water and scraping candle wax from floor and altar. She wondered to herself: “Where, oh where, did dead ones go?” She wondered if each has a soul. She wondered that if each had a soul, was this soul of substance or of spirit. Most of all, she wondered where the souls went. So she wore her questions on her clothes and hoped, someday, to have answers. Indeed her clothing created a sort of heirophany or manifestation of the sacred for the villagers, not unlike the 16th century Voronet blue monasteries of Moldavia which, in lively cartoons, told the story of the Last Judgment. The villagers of Solución, like those ancient Romanians, did not respond well to abstract theological questions but were stimulated to excess by pictorial symbolic universe.  Matilda was nothing if not that. Matilda, in her aprons and copper and ivory pictures became a living altar, never quite a part of the profane world, always forcing her queries as she walked about the village.

Matilda was not a likely candidate to carry the burden of this problem of the nature of the soul and an after life. She was in every other way a pious, simple seeming woman. She kept a cross tucked into one hand and kissed it frequently and firmly. A lively portrait of Mary in a blue veil was stitched onto the pocket of her canvas vest. In the pocket she kept a hankie and a bit of celery root or cinnamon to chew on while she worked. She had few failings and no known kin or animals to live with her, though it was rumored that a familiar cat slept under her bed but never showed itself to anyone but Matilda. And though she was in a constant state of consternation, musing, as she was, about the nature of the soul, she dared not speak of it as we shall see.

The villagers considered her to be the answer to the mystery posed by Consuelo’s tragedy. Matilda’s presence in their lives, they believed, finally revealed the meaning and message of the whole event. It is easy, in retrospect, to trace the compelling sequence that will help you to understand why so many of the people of Solución came to accept Matilda as God’s messenger as they did and why Matilda’s aprons and vests presented such a compelling, God sent, damnable challenge to them.

As inhabitants of Solución saw it, if the village had not been plagued for centuries by spirits that frightened them, the women would not have slept in heaps. If the women had not slept in heaps, the women would not have neglected their duties. If the women had not neglected their duties, the adobe on the roof would not have failed. If the adobe had not failed, the rain would not have entered the church. If the rain had not entered, the altar would not have fallen. It certainly would not have fallen during the time that Consuelo was kneeling there praying.

And, the icing on the cake: if Consuelo had not been struck, there would have been nothing to feel guilty about and the women would not have hired Matilda. There would have been, for the villagers, no daily encounter with a walking assault on their already rocky faiths. Thus the question of the nature of the soul and what happens after death would never have been raised. By the logic of the villagers, it was the very spirits who had plagued them all along who were responsible for Consuelo’s blindness and ultimately the questions raised by Matilda’s presence. As the villagers saw it, they deserved Matilda. She had been sent as a consequence of centuries of faithlessness to confront and test them and their beliefs once and for all.

The test had to be met. There was no turning back. Now the women and the men and even small children worried and wondered at their futures in new ways. With no priest to guide them, no answers to Matilda’s questions were forthcoming from any authority. So some people lived inside the boundaries of a fiery fear, as strong as the one the women of generations past had felt but also different. And the advantage of this new fear was that it didn’t require giving up any old ones. No, this new fear was a fear of something they’d never thought to fear before: this fear was for their mortal beings and of a hell that surely awaited them for doubting. The answer many if not most found was simple: they became apostate and embraced a purely secular life. There was no point to anything, they came to believe. It was this condition in which I found most of the villagers when I began my fieldwork.

Though Matilda’s pictures and questions were odd and challenging enough for any reasonable village to endure, there was something even odder about her with which the people had to contend.

When Matilda was spoken to, you see, she repeated in full what ever it was that was said to her. She repeated what she heard, but more loudly than the speaker had spoken. In fact, she repeated others’ utterances very loudly indeed.

Sometimes children came up behind her while she swept or while she rubbed the altar rail. These rascally children whispered nasty things. “All the village is damned to hell and the fuckers who live in it will burn through eternity,” they yelled behind her back. And she, without intention, repeated at the top of her lungs, “All the village is damned to hell and the fuckers who live in it will burn through eternity.” The bad children snickered quietly from their hiding places as Matilda repeated these nasty things, always quite loudly, in the church and before the Holy Mother. It gave them particular pleasure if a villager were coming in just then to pray and heard Matilda’s words. No matter how often they had been told of her affliction, none could stand to hear these kinds of things spoken in the church. And they never could stop the little boys from teasing  Matilda in this way.

Matilda could not, you see, help herself. To her complete dismay, when she was addressed by the children, her lips moved and her voice yelled out: “I am a shit head. We are all shit heads. Oh Fuck, Fuck, Fuck.”

The children laughed and ran out of the church. Matilda would kneel and cross herself. In her mind she knew what she had said and she prayed to be relieved of this burden of odd speech. And yet, though she believed in her heart that these words were not hers, she also wondered if her affliction was sent upon her as a punishment for wondering about things she shouldn’t and for causing doubt among the other village people.

At the end of each day of work, after the torment of the children, she was exhausted. She returned to her little room to eat cold bread and tinned cheese and perhaps a piece of fruit. She fell asleep in tears atop her tiny cot and braided bedspread.

You might see now why her faith was weak and why she prayed incessantly and why she wondered where souls go. You might understand better why she wondered what souls are. She was tormented in the day by children and in the night by her own questions. She lay, sometimes in sheet-soaking fevers, and got up every night to record her visions and her questions and her fears, as many saints before her had done.


January 6, 19….

He appeared to me again riding on a silk blanket and wrapped in a dark cloud. As he passed over my head I could see the wounds and the blood dripping from his palms. He called out to me, “Sister Matilda. Do not fear. Your secrets are safe with me. Tell me lots more. I really enjoy hearing from you.” I thought this a strange thing for the Christ to say, but answered, “Oh Lord, I would tell you more if I was sure I could trust you.” At this, he turned into a frightening thing, a massive black bear with teeth bared and claws snatching at the air. He also had wings, large things like fans. I knew then that I had almost been fooled. It was the very devil asking me for my soul.


Her tired, warty fingers were thoroughly calloused by her nightly writing so that they were hardly able to grasp her grandmother’s ancient ink pen. Yet she wrote, and wrote in a fine hand.

We would have all, I believe, liked this Matilda Toad very much. We would have admired her clean small room and pretty braided bedspread. We would have found her quaint and studied all the pictures on her clothes and wondered at this archive that she kept upon herself. We might have found her seeming religiosity admirable. We might have believed her willingness to question sacredly held beliefs an indication of great courage on her part.

But though we might have admired her, we could not have talked with her. We could have had no dialogue or conversation. You see, she would have simply echoed our own words.

“Good morning, Matilda. Would you care to sit and have some tea?”

“Good morning, Matilda. Would you care to sit and have some tea?”

“No, my dear, you are Matilda. I asked you first.”

“No, my dear, you are Matilda.”

“YOU are Matilda.”

“YOU are Matilda.”

She would look sad and tired. We would be incapable of getting off the merry go round.

Though she would look us in the eye and raise an eyebrow or provide entertaining inflection, the words that would come back would always be our own no matter how hard we tried.

It can be unsettling to hear your own words coming back to you. It can be much more unsettling to hear them come back almost immediately. You would have wondered along with me if Matilda was simply mocking us. It could seem, this repeating, to be mocking. The less secure of us would hear our words as foolish and our vocabulary a reflection of our stupidity. We might learn to speak fewer words or to weigh the need to speak more heavily and perhaps to fall into silence all together. And so it can be said and thought that Matilda had a generally dampening effect on conversation in the village except among those who found it amusing to hear Matilda say things that they themselves found in someway to be taboo.

If we truly wanted to have tea with Matilda, we would simply lead her by the hand to the tea table. We would refrain from asking, “sugar?” because her retort would be, “sugar?” No, we would learn to lift the bowl and pass it under her nose.

But what if Matilda initiated conversation, you might ask. Matilda stuttered so badly when not repeating another’s words that she could not be understood at all. The stutter was born of the fear that the words arranging themselves in her throat, on her tongue, and by the curves and puckers of her lips were not hers at all. She was so unsure of her authority in speech that she kept silent.

So the leaky roof led to the downfall of Sophia, the blindness of the baby, the prominence of Matilda in village consciousness, and a village full of fearful, doubting, mostly silent and largely secular people. This was not a pleasant village. Once again, the watchers thought surely no one would stay under such circumstances. Once again, they were wrong.



Sophia’s Work and Consuelo and the Altar: December 13 Installment of The Romance of the Village of Solución: Tales Collected by Henrietta Pouissiere

Dear Reader, Woe be unto thee if you are attempting to join us at this stage. You will have a dickens of a time working your way back to the beginning and then coming forward. This will be very much like doing archeology. If you want to just enjoy this section, you probably need to know that this is the history of a village collected and transcribed by a plucky old anthropologist named Henrietta. Henrietta is the “I” in the story. She spent many summers in Solución but only dared to collect her work from those summers into a single volume when she was  her dotage.  In fact, she did not publish these stories. Her journals and notes were found in the  drawer of her long abandoned desk.

Sophia’s Work


While the children were small, and while the little family lived together in their house on the plaza, Sophia’s kitchen must have been a place of delight. Its ever well stoked and kindled stove warmed it. The space within it always smelled of hot bread or tortillas, or green tomato pie, or smoked fish, people told me. Its walls were lined with heavy, deep wooden shelves and on the shelves were jars and jars of canned deer and elk meat, pickled salmon, pears and peaches, guava jellies, and apricot preserves. You see, Sophia traded chilies and beans for fruit and meat with people all over the region. She traded with cousins in the northwest. She traded with uncles in the mountains. She traded with aunties who traveled to Panama. Moreover, in her work as midwife and healer, people often paid her with food. Sophia did not ask for or require or in anyway expect to receive payment for her work. She had become a gifted healer and midwife and did what she did out of love and in gratitude for and honor to her gift. But nevertheless, the people whose babies she saved and children she nursed to health gave her what they could. Some never stopped giving.  Some brought her a jar of jam on the anniversary of a birth or a healing. Others brought loads of split firewood or mesquite kindling and left it on her doorstep They called her “sister” or “auntie” or “grandmother,” titles that changed according to the age of the customer and Sophia’s own age. “Here, sister,” a man would say, arriving with a sack of beans, “I’ve brought you a little gift for your help with my arthritis. See how I can bend and stretch?” And he would put the bag down and touch his toes with his fingertips. “Oh, Auntie,” a woman would say as she stepped over the threshold. “Oh, Auntie, here is a fresh bunch of onions from my garden. And look, here is little Sophia already three years old and healthy as a young colt, thanks to you.”

Not all of Sophia’s shelves were stacked with jars. Some of them had books. Sophia had learned her healing craft from her own mother and grandmother and aunties. She knew many “traditional” remedies. But Sophia was a person who enjoyed learning. She studied medicine from many sources and delved into the mysteries and new discoveries of the art when stumped by a symptom or when new epidemics came along. Volumes of reference materials were stacked in bookcases and squeezed tight between jugs of vinegar and sacks of dried corn.

She joined the Eclectic movement, a group of doctors and health practitioners who were interested in all manner of alternative healing methods. She avidly read all the publications and research bulletins that came out of the movement’s headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. In fact she contributed to the Eclectic movement’s periodic journals when she came up with a new theory or brew.


In truth, her kitchen was not so much a kitchen as a laboratory and in it hung bunches and bunches of drying plants for use in her medicines or poultices. These hung there always seeming to be drying and always ready: scouring-rush for women with menstrual difficulties (although these plants were rarely to be found anywhere in the region and had to be sent from relatives who  lived elsewhere), the rhizomes of licorice fern to ease labor, leaves of dock to stop heavy menstrual flow, several species of lupine for headache, heath leaves for the purification of the blood, bellflower and silvergreen for boils, coltsfoot for sore eyes and swelling reduction, and bracket fungus for deodorant. There were also, hanging or stashed in cupboards, dried freshwater eels and strings of dried clams and smoked baby oysters from family on the northwest coast, and large bunches of oregano, fennel, hops and dill.

The wood burning kitchen stove was quite large and next to it sat an enameled hod filled with neatly cut lengths of piñón pine and a trimly stacked pile of pitchy mountain cedar starter twigs torn from fallen limbs. The stove was pulled well away from the wall and behind it and between it and the wall was room for large metal water well so that water could be heated for baths while Sophia cooked. She kept basins of water on top of the stove, too, to humidify the house or bath Epiphany or Hermes when they were still babies. She sometimes had several pots of teas or infusions cooking or steeping at once. Lovely packages arrived by post from China and Japan and India with blocks of black tea or Ayurvedic soaps or roots of ginseng. These were placed in the hot water on the stove and heady infusions were made of them.

Later I learned, through the wife of a clerk in the office, how the postal workers ooohed and aahed at the stamps on these packages, the tidy but indecipherable return addresses, and the smells that filled their workroom whenever one of them arrived. “Look at this, George. Look, will you, at these stamps. Elephants, I tell you. And an old gentleman with a turban and moustache!” “Smell this, James. What can be in here? It makes me dream of naked nymphs and plump thighs.” Sometimes they had to put the packages outside their little workspace until Sophia came to fetch them lest they fall into deep, dream filled trances from the vapors the boxes emitted. They could hardly wait until the end of the day so that they could go home and tell wives and children (if they were lucky enough to have them) about the billows of visions they received from the packets and about the mysterious stamps that had conveyed the packages hence from hard to imagine places.

Oh, Sophia was a student of the healing arts and known by everyone around. And babies there were who knew they owed their little lives and beings to their Aunt Sophia. They came to name their own babies Sophia and that is why there came to be so many Sophias all about in the hills and valleys and beyond far beyond the village. At first they were numbered, as in Sophia 3 and Sophia 4. But soon that system was impossible to maintain. When someone called for Sophia, ten or twelve little girls ran helter skelter across the plaza and the original appeared at her door with a spoon in hand or a pot on her arm wondering what the fuss was about.


Sophia did more than deliver babies of course. She had taken heroic measures to help the people during influenza epidemic of 1899 as we have seen. She was renown among the villagers and the Indian people who lived nearby for her work during the pandemic of 1918. Yes, Sophia was loved by everyone and was loved because she was reliable in her love and selflessly remained engaged in learning about things that might ever be useful to the peoples’ well being.

Here it was, in this house with the kitchen that produced wonders that Hermes lived when he was a baby and young boy. There he was with his mother, Sophia, and his sister and her baby Epiphany. Here it was that Hermes, the boy in a never really growing body, dressed in a walnut dyed suit and eating peas and gruel and ripe peaches and strawberries in season lived. Here he lived and ate and sat looking all about but mostly straight forward. Here is where the tiny baby Epiphany snuggled and cooed.


The Significance of the Leaky Roof: 1915 A.D


But perhaps I have gone on too long about Sophia and her brood. There is the matter of the leaky church roof and how it came to have significance. This is a story often repeated to me and told in many versions.

But there is information you, reader, will need in order to understand this story. First, it is important to know that flat adobe roofs leak more than pitched tin ones. This particularly disastrous leak about which I will tell you occurred before the church had a tin roof. That new roof that one might have seen in photographs was put on the crumbling old building during the mid nineteen sixties.

No, this leak came in the old days. The pre-tin days. The leak occurred with regularity once it started because once adobe begins to leak it will not patch itself. The leak will get worse. The adobe will become soft.

This particular leak occurred because in those days when it began the women were still occupied with their fantastic dreams and ever-present fears rather than with their duty to keep not only their own homes but also the community in good repair. They spent so much time enjoying being piled into one house together that often large groups of women could be found chatting in great knots not just at bedtime but throughout the day. The conversations seemed endless. How could they find so much to talk about?

It seems from what I was told that not all of these convivial gatherings were necessitated by fear in spite of what the women told the men. Fear became more and more a convenient explanation for their behavior from what I can tell. In fact, it was never clear to me from the stories I heard whether there was much fear at all by around nineteen fifteen, the time when the leak came to have significance for the lives of the villagers. Not that the voices and ghosts didn’t come around, but just that the women were accustomed to and largely unbothered by them. The ghosts were just something that happened to be part of living in Solución. “What can you do? It’s been like this for as long as anyone can remember.” They said to each other. Still, the women gathered and snacked and read and neglected some necessary tasks. Some things in their households and in the village suffered more than others on account of their snacking and lounging.

For example, the women had not gotten round to plastering the church for two or three years. Remember this church was of historical and spiritual importance for the people. This was the church that was associated with the founding priest and his miracles. His image was prominently displayed there. The roses still bloomed fresh there every day.

And, still, priests refused to serve there. So no one was really in charge of care taking it or taking notice of it though the women were by tradition and habit supposed to at least clean and plaster it.  Most people who entered had heads bowed and eyes closed in prayer. So nothing was seen. And now, the women neglected it. They just never got around to even thinking about it, though they did manage to break off their slovenly habits in order to get to mass and serve tea to whatever visiting priest was officiating.

But the plastering, alas, was not accomplished. It should have been done each year. It should have been done by the women. That is how it always had been. What’s more, the men were so preoccupied with amulets and glass eating and trying to care for their own needs given that the women were seldom available to them except in the daylight hours, that it certainly wouldn’t have occurred to them to plaster a roof. Certainly it did not occur to them at mealtime. They had come to associate meals with the one time of day that they might be with their wives or lovers. An embrace before a quick tortilla and beans, a snuggle before a sopapilla, or a violent roll about under a soft   Rio Grande blanket made of the wool of the churro before a chili relleno was all that could be hoped for.

“Hernando, dinner is on,” a woman would call. Hernando, having been nearly unable to contain himself during the previous hour, sprang from his bench as if jerked upward on a string by a giant puppet master. He dashed from his bench on the plaza to his house. “Gabriela, my darling, I love you.” Gabriela, now used to this dinnertime routine, allowed herself to be grabbed and danced into the bedroom. The couple made certain that the door behind them was locked for the sake of the children. There amidst the fluffy, ruffled bed coverings the pair tumbled and rubbed bellies and delighted one another. In a little while, they straightened themselves, pulled hair back into respectable places, opened the bedroom door, and walked out with as much dignity as they could muster. They sat themselves at the table and began to eat their now cold dinners. Curious children and grandmothers hardly looked up when the shyly grinning couple joined them. This was the way of the villagers.

The call to dinner and the smell and look of hot beans became so associated with sex for the men that most had erections throughout their life whenever they saw sacks of dry beans in the local general store or green beans ripening in their gardens. Even later generations of males had trouble when they passed the little sacks of beans in plastic bags at the Furr’s super market in Purgatoria. In fact, sons and grandsons learned from their fathers that beans and sex went hand in hand and they grew up associating legumes with desire. And none of the men ever, ever, after about nineteen hundred, could stomach a hot bean. Cold beans, yes. But something other than eating always had to happen for them, even if by their own hands, when the beans were fresh and hot.

Thus men did not notice that the women were neglecting their duty to the church

So during the fourth year of the women’s complete disregard of responsibility to the church, it rained so hard and the roof was so undone that a great sheet of water ran down over the altarpiece.
The Altar


The church was one of the buildings in the square of buildings that surrounded the plaza. The houses about the plaza and were adjoined one another to make long rows and form this square. There were just a few openings in the square, purposely left here and there for footpaths to the fields and orchards. Around the outside of the square of houses, set back about one hundred yards so that each house had room for a corral and kitchen garden, was an adobe wall. Irrigation ditches surrounded the village and one was dug through the wall, and between the openings to the plaza so as to water the trees and gardens planted within. There was a single lane wide enough for the passage of carts and buggies and wagons. The lane led through the largest notch between houses and ended at the edge of the plaza proper. Much later this lane was widened for the use of automobiles and motorcycles and trucks.

All the houses faced into the plaza and had a view of the founding twin’s grave and the site of the Little priest’s trance, thus the village history was easily kept alive. The original jumble of grave goods had long since disintegrated into a great mound of organic matter. Apple trees had been planted just next to the grave and they did well for many years, producing large quantities of fruit and providing shade for those who sat there most of the day. Juanita’s and Sophia’s original houses faced the plaza and the apple trees.

On the side of the plaza directly opposite from where Juanita raised Consuelo in the walnut sprouting cradle and from where Hermes sat and Ramona lived with Epiphany, was the ancient church. And though it was a humble structure, its altar was grand.

It had four great wooden pillars or posts. They were gently tapered upwards, smooth as a baby’s bottom and cleverly painted and marbled with sullen pinks, quiet reds, and compelling greens by craftsmen whose fathers had seen the grand alabaster and granite and serpentine pillars that held up the domes of the grand cathedrals of Europe or the Haggia Sophia in Istanbul. These much smaller pillars in this humble church had been made to resemble, from a distance, those of the finest churches. They rose the full height of the altar screen and were capped with great finials that resembled peaks of soft ice cream sundaes.

Framed between the pair of left posts was a painted image, touched with gold leaf purchased at great expense by the villagers, of a winged saint bearing a crown of stars. He held a serpent in one hand and wore a cloak covered with great wet tears of heaven. The borders of his cloak were made of mirrors that caught light and reflected strange crooked, unintelligible images back to worshippers. In front of the saint, guarding a path that sloped up toward him, were two mangy orange dogs with large, bared fangs. The allusion to the esoteric and specifically to the mystic Tarot  escaped all but one or two itinerant Roma who stopped in the village once or twice to repair copper pots and sharpen knives.

Between the right two posts was a painting of a winged messenger holding a large sunny orb in one hand and a bloody clock in the other. The hands of the clock were set at midnight. The messenger’s wings were made of overlapping bits of broken glass. Behind the messenger were two burning towers. Look closely, above the image of the towers, and you would see the lion of Mark, the eagle of John, the calf of Luke. These images all proclaimed to the worshippers the mysteries therein to be revealed with proper prayer and attitude. Again, only the Roma really understood the significance of any of this.

In the center of the pairs of posts was a gilded portrait of Christ himself. In his right hand, he held a scepter made of roses and wore a gilded crown as tall as his own Middle Eastern face was long. In his left arm he embraced a tiny version of himself, a simulacrum Christ in every detail. On almost every other available surface of the screen were painted roses. Where they were not, there were saints.

Oh, yes, there was a crucifix painted here and there, but these seemed beside the point. There were so many other miracles recorded on the screen and present in the church that a reminder of a mere resurrection seemed inconsequential or a grand theological afterthought.

On the ceiling just above the altar and the screen was a great painted rainbow flanked by a quarter moon and a bright orange sun. Both orbs bore benign faces. There were brightly painted stars, streaks of lightening on both margins, and wonderful, floating clouds in the dark, bright sky.

Each image on the altar screen and on the ceiling above could be read as surely as one could, if schooled, read a Tarot deck. Here was a representation  of one’s journey through life.

But though these images were barely understood, worshippers  scanned the screen looking for signs as they knelt before the altar to receive communion. They watched to see where the light hit the screen, if on a crown or near a streak of lightening. The altar, in this way, spoke to the people of the village. It told stories and entertained children. It insisted on being noticed and commented upon. In its magnificence it overwhelmed even the magic roses that appeared each day. For most religions, the presence of these flowers would have been miracle enough. But not here in this village.


Before the altar screen was a plain unpainted wooden plank that stood on four sturdy oak legs. On top of that were two hammered and punched tin candlesticks with candles and a bowl of fruit

One fine day, Consuelo, around sixteen years of age, went across the plaza, singing to herself and stepping lightly with a little skip. It was a lovely, sunny day, welcome after a week of rain. The hills were turning green with the fresh moisture and little budlets of promised flowers appeared here and there about the plaza.

As she entered the church, she dipped her fingers in the holy water by the door and anointed her forehead. She curtsied to her Lord and crossed herself. Then she strode down the aisle and placed herself just in front of the altar, crossed herself again, and got onto her knees. Why, you might ask, did Consuelo pray? Her life was so perfect, why would she feel a need for prayer? She prayed for the old lady who had brought her to the village. “Holy Mother,” she began, “Thank you for the life I have by the grace of your holiness and the abundant gifts of God the Father.” She prayed for all the women who feared. “Holy Mother, be with us always in the dark fears of the night. Be with those who do not know thy salvation.” She prayed for the doñas in the canyons. She twisted her beads in her hands and prayed for little Hermes and Epiphany. She prayed with an innocent belief that all would benefit by her prayers and that the world would be a better place on her account. She prayed to be a force for good.

The flat roof of the church had been made with a gradual slope and there were gutters of a sort in each corner of the roof to help guide rain to the ground below. But the joints were weak now and where the leak had first begun, a great crack had opened just over the altarpiece. As Consuelo prayed on this particular day, a sheet of water came from the place where the adobe had weakened all along where the back wall met the back roof. This was not so much a sheet of water that came down but something more aptly described as a waterfall. When the water came rushing down the wall and onto the altar, the altar and all of the many mirrors and glass bits and images came crashing forward. And there, just at the moment, in front of that great golden altar with all its fanciful, magnificent posts and hand carved railings and gold leaf covered santos, there, just at that moment Consuelo, now a young woman full of joy and hope, was praying on her knees.

It is important to realize that nothing in this village was ever believed to happen by chance. There is no such thing as a mere accident. In retrospect, in fact, the neglect that the church had suffered was seen as entrancement by some villagers, more evidence that they were cursed and the target of some bewitchment. The neglect was certainly seen as a “cause” of the great rift that enabled the cascade that made the altar tip forward.

However, not only was the neglect of the church believed to be brought about through entrancement, but that Consuelo was in front of that altar in that little church in the plaza at the moment when the rain poured in and the altar fell was not, they believed, a mere coincidence.


Consuelo was, of course, crushed under the weight of the great altar. No one knew if she would live.



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