Raised American Indian in a white mans world
My early life must have been much like a Serrano Indian child 500 or so years ago. We lived in the country which belongs to them. The Highland foothills in southern California with the San Bernadino mountains in the background was my home, as it is theirs. Their lives must have been much like my own ancestors the Mohawks and the Cherokee. They Both gathered what the foothills and forest provided for them, hunted small game, and lived in huts made of wood.The Serrano Indians had the desert from the beginning where part of my people were put there by the white man many years after he arrived in America.
As young children they would help their mothers gather whatever they could find to eat. For me this was walks with my grandmother beside the river near her home picking berries and carrying home whatever fish were on her bait lines. My grandfather had died when my mother was eight. My grandmother was fulfilling a promise made to him before he died. His wish and her promise was to have one of his grandchildren able to live the way of the people. He spent his last two years bed-fast and talked constantly about how “the people lived” and what they were able to do. At about age eight the children would start learning to set traps. In my case there was no man present except on weekends and special occasions so grandmother showed me the way.
Serrano children must have learned to navigate the foothills and mountains with their fathers sometime before they turned ten. At ten it was expected for me to run about a mile through unmarked forest and return within fifteen minutes with the water my grandmother had put in my mouth before the trip still there. My stone knife was made after the first successful trip.
There is no way for me to know when Serrano male children got or made their first bow, for me it was at age twelve. There were so many talks about how to use it and what not to do, it’s a wonder it ever got used. Well at least that was my feeling at the time. Once it was my weapon it took even longer to learn how to hit anything. If not for traps there are many nights we would have gone to bed hungry. When we were in the forest we lived off the land.
At age twelve running four miles a day five days a week was part of my training. My ancestors had run thirty miles a day and it was going to be expected of me at age fifteen. At this time we started spending time on the desert too. It was part of where we were and survival there was as important as breathing. Since grandmother was not raised near a desert we did what the ancients must have done. We followed animal trails to find out what they ate and where they found water. We always trusted their water sources but there were a few times we found out what an animal can eat a human cannot. We never carried a canteen so didn’t stray so far we couldn’t reach a known water source quickly (about four miles) for the first month.
Grandmother said it wouldn’t do use white mans inventions (like a water spigot or canteen) when you are learning the ways of the people. The Serrano people knew how to weave baskets which would hold water, we did not. There were times we did find spigots as we lived in a white mans world. They were never used though.
At age thirteen time was spent alone on the desert and in the mountains. There were times when there was no one around for three and four days at a time. Grandmother had found a few places that were rarely used and that is where my trials took place. There were specific instructions given for what to do when someone came into the area where my training was happening. It was to hide from anyone including her for the proscribed time. She came into the area every hour the first day then slowly cut the time to twice a day, then not at all once she figured out she was being obeyed. During the following months she taught me to hide my trail, how to be so quiet no one could hear me, and how to find a good place to hide and stay till danger had passed. Let me tell you this is hard for a thirteen year old. It would have been harder though to handle the disappointed look on her face if I had failed. She also taught me to watch the trail, both front and rear, and what to avoid so no footprints were left, also how to walk and run without excess noise.
My grandmother told me in the early spring of my thirteenth year, my tests of manhood had been passed and she wouldn’t be returning for years. My life changed a little after she left, my mother trusted me to go to the mountain and desert alone but never for days at a time. Running remained a part of my everyday life, however the thirty mile a day mark was never reached.