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American Indian life: Real life comparisons

Updated on November 14, 2017
wheelinallover profile image

In the middle of the 20th century there were only a few raising their children to be like the American Indians before Columbus.


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, four to eight years old, they would help their mothers gather whatever they could find to eat. In their free time they played learning games which would have them prepared for later years. When times were hard they gathered firewood and the older boys set trap lines.

My early life

When I was four there were walks with my grandmother beside the river. This was near her home. Picking berries and carrying home whatever fish were on her bait lines was the order of the day. At home I followed my older half brother and tried to help him feed the animals.

Why I was raised the way I was

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 how they were able to survive with no need of what the white man brought with him.


At about age eight the Indian children would start learning to set traps. In my case this started at age 5. There was no man present in my life until age 8. Then on very few weekends and special occasions so grandmother showed me the way.

Forest navigation

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.


Being raised in the old ways meant learning to make tools used by my forefathers. At age six I started working on breaking rocks. My first usable knife was completed when I was ten.

First bow

There is no way for me to know when Serrano male children received or made their first bow, for me it was at age twelve. My bow was made for my by my surrogate grandfather. 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.

Learning curve

Once the Bow was my weapon it took even longer to learn how to hit anything. Traps kept us from going hungry while I learned how to use it. When we were in the forest from age five we lived off the land.

If you don't see deer track there isn't much need for a bow.
If you don't see deer track there isn't much need for a bow. | Source

Running as a way to get around

At age twelve running four miles a day five days a week was part of my training. The pace was slow so it took about an hour a day. My Mohawk ancestors had run thirty miles a day and it was going to be expected of me at age fifteen.

Surviving the desert

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.

Preparing for the Right of passage

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. This was time to learn how to pass the right of passage into adulthood.

Right of passage into adulthood

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 I was becoming a man. 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. I was in the wilderness "alone" for a total of seven days.

What an Indian needed to know to survive

During the thirteenth year, after the right of passage, she taught me

•To hide my trail.

•How to be so quiet no one could hear me.

•How to find a good place to hide and stay till danger had passed.

•How to watch the trail, both in front of and behind me.

•What to avoid so no footprints were left.

•How to run and walk with very little noise.

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.

Final thoughts

My grandmother told me in the early spring of my thirteenth year, my right of manhood had been passed and she wouldn’t be returning for years. Life changed little for the rest of my 13th year after she left. 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.

© 2011 Dennis Thorgesen


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    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      20 months ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Thanks Audrey. I have written a book, just not on the subject of the way I grew up. When I lived in Southern California I believed there was no better area. This has since changed. Three and a half years of my life were spent in the Black Hills. By then it was much harder to enjoy the wilderness. The only time I felt at one with nature is when I was on horseback. I haven't been in California now since 1999. People tell me I wouldn't know the place.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      21 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      A fascinating story, Dennis. Have you thought about writing a book?

      I'm familiar with the areas where you grew up. As a child, my family spent time in these mountains and surrounding areas. I love reading about American Indian life stories as I've been told my ancestors were blackfoot.

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      6 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Welcome to my world ghost32. At some point I believe most boys dig holes and build "forts" underground. I know my half brothers did. If I was digging holes it was to cook in.

      In my case they were dug with sharp rocks and sticks. Some of the tastiest food I ever ate came out of those pits. Leaf wrapped rabbit with wild mint, lambsquarter and dandelion are quite tasty.

      Now I am stealing my own story. I have more started only nothing completed. Sadly most of my articles now are for my business. They are too promotional for hub pages. More are planned. At the moment I am waiting for a friend who is going to take me to take pictures.

      The new hubs will be on horse training. I am to be involved with training a few again. Every horse I have worked with gains about $2,500 in value. Not all horses can be trained to accept wheelchairs or disabled riders. Here I go again. Just look for more within the next month or so.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      When I read your comment on my Hub, I absolutely had to hop over here to read one of yours--and I'm glad I did. I don't have any Indian blood in me in this incarnation, but my connections run deep. My favorite grandmother Sarah (a step-grandmother, my father's father's second wife) was fullblood Mandan. My wife (took me 7 to get it right) is 1/4 Choctaw. And the list goes on.

      My own training in "the old ways" (be they white or red) came partially from my parents and early friends of the family on my parents' Montana ranch in the 40's and 50's, but most of it came from deep inside me, myself, and I. It helped that I read a lot. After reading how the old mountain men made underground caches, when I was 9, I slipped out behind the house when Dad was not home. Dug a bottle-shaped hole big enough for me to hide in, cheated a bit by scrounging some scrap wood to support the sod, and made a "lid" for the hole. With me in the hole and the lid pulled carefully into place, I disappeared from the world. There was no seam above ground to give me away.

      I made my first bow from choke cherry wood but never got good enough with it to bring in game.

      Anyway, not to hijack your Hub, gotta go Vote this Up (and More), sign up to Follow you, & get back to work. Happy wheelin'!

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      7 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Life is an enduring story. Although I am not happy about living life in a wheelchair now, even that change had value. Without it, my story and much of my grandmothers would have been lost.

      If my first son had lived he would have been raised in the way of the people. My second son born 13 years later was not. His mother wouldn't allow any language other than English to be spoken, although I did slip at times.

      In his whole life we spent 24 hours together on the mountain. I did teach him to make fire on one if his visits. He was 10 at the time.

      Thanks grinnin1 for stopping by and your wonderful comment.

    • grinnin1 profile image


      7 years ago from st louis,mo

      Wow what a wonderful story you've allowed us to be a part of. I never knew that was done now, being genuinely raised like the ancestors. I'm so glad I came across your hub. Wonderful!

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      7 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Mr. Happy Great question, thanks for asking. Unlike the Serrano Indians we weren't able to go to the coast. Arrowheads and my knife were made from the rocks I could find that would break. Since it was not far to lake arrowhead we made trips there. The rocks there were the easiest to break. I am not a geologist so can't tell you what kind of rocks they were. I do know they were not obsidian. They had no glass like look at all. They weren't quartz either.

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      7 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      My grandmother spent the last part of her life in a rest home. Whenever I was in the area, which at last wasn't much, she was taken out as much as possible. Given the choice she would have never been placed in one.

      I can't imagine living, not being able to speak my language. The only time she spoke Cherokee was when my mother or I were visiting. Knowing this my mother and I spent as much time possible with her. Thanks healthylife2 for dropping by and leaving a comment.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      "My stone knife was made after the first successful trip." - What type of stone did You use to make the knife, if You do not mind me asking? I know obsidian knives get quite sharp but they also break fast ...

      Great story! I am very happy to have come across your trail.


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. You must have had a very special relationship with your grandmother and learned so many survival skills. It's amazing that many of those skills we learn in childhood end up helping us as adults in ways we didn't expect. Voted up and shared!

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      7 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Someone once told me write about what you know. Since I lived my childhood I know it. Each person has a story to tell, in a sense their personal brand. The story ends only when we can no longer write it.

      This is why I create brands, they are the only stories which have no ending. Books have to end as do lives, a brand will last as long as someone promotes it. In many ways it is more of a challenge, you have to create something others can change to suit their style.

      Thanks for dropping by and your comment. Although my son is gone he has not been forgotten. I also have more empathy for those who lose those they love. For almost three years I helped others who lost people they loved.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      You had quite a childhood and I am sad that your first son died so young. Thank you for this Hub! Rated up and more.

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      7 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      I feel it is sad that this ended with me. By the time my second son was old enough he was being raised by his mother. I was no longer physically able to live as I grew up by then.

      There is no doubt my first son would have been raised in the old ways if he had lived. I wish now there had been more time with him. He died at three months old.

      Thanks Millionaire Tips for stopping by and reminding me where I came from.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      7 years ago from USA

      Thank you for sharing the story of your life. I find it fascinating how different people live, and it is good to know that the traditions carry on.

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      7 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      I am glad you liked it Lastheart. It is part of my life as a child. I actually wish I had spent more time finishing the series before I went into business. There are many lessons I learned which still have relevance today.

    • Lastheart profile image

      Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill 

      7 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

      Wow!!! I love this hub! Thanks for sharing.

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      8 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Becky I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did writing them. It is not often I have time to remember my past. If I had it to do over again not one bit of that part of my life would be changed. The mountains to this day are more of a home to me than anywhere.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 

      8 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      This is a very interesting hub. I will be reading more of your stories.

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      8 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      DzyMsLizzy it didn't seem harsh to me then and doesn't now. When you choose to live a certian way you just take what goes with the territory. My half brothers sat at home and did nothing while my time was spent doing what I loved. Granted there were times when food was not available so I went to bed without a meal or two at times. I have heard people say its actually better for our bodies if we do once and a while.

      Think about the rush it gives a child to bring in food for a meal. Our home life was poor and any additional food went a long way. Most of my trips to the mountain were successful in this respect. To this day I can still hit what I am aiming at with a rock.

      I do regret that my sons never really got to see that part of me. I worked a little with my second son but nothing like my life had been. I wonder if he would have turned out different if he had learned what I did as a child.

      My first child's mother learned to love that lifestyle but we only took our son before he was born. He was only three and a half months old when he died.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      8 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Fascinating article! Although I have not a drop of "Native American" blood, (even though I was born in this country--that particular 'politically correct' phrase causes some confusion at times), I feel a some kind of deep connection to the native ways and the spirituality of their lifestyle. I am not a follower of any mainstream religion--I am more in tune with the older pagan ways, and careful husbandry of the land and resources and kinship with animals speaks to me in ways difficult to explain to others. I could never take an animal's life for food, so I am a vegetarian, but I appreciate the Native ways of asking the animal's forgiveness for doing so.

      You had a childhood that many would find hard, harsh, or impossible, but it made you the survivor you are. You have a new follower.

      Voted up and awesome!

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      8 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Everyone who knew me well said the memory loss was a blessing at the time. Not remembering my walking life made it easier to explore the new world I now lived in. I don't know anyone who has lost the use of a limb who didn't entertain the idea of leaving this world. Knowing my ancestors would have left me to die heightened this feeling. For a short period of time it was the number one thought in my brain daily. It finally got so severe I asked for help. You are right it's the chicken's way out and as you can see I am still here.

      My father and grandfather struggled with senile dementia for a few years before they died, so I eat blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, strawberries and mulberries also.

    • DTroth profile image

      Diana Owens 

      8 years ago from My Little Hole In The Wall, HubPages, USA

      Completely understood. I know about physical pain all too well myself. Not that I would ever take my own life (or let somebody else take it for least not in these modern times now), but honestly, sometimes I actually look forward to the peace that death brings. I know that's selfish to think that way. There are a couple people here who would miss 23 year old son for I don't pray or wish I could die. It's the chicken shit way out anyway, and I've never been one to give up that easily! I'm as stubborn as a blind mule.

      I'm sorry about your memory loss. That must be so very hard on you. Honestly, I don't know what I would do if I completely lost my memory or at least big chunks of it. The process has already seemed to start for me, but I'm doing everything I can to keep my mind strong. I eat LOTS of blueberries (and other berries) and that's supposed to help.

      Be blessed and stay strong, Denna,


    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      8 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      I have been in the position of having to take an animals life to end pain. I can really understand the pain so to me it is humane. My ancestors pretty much even took human lives when it was the humane thing to do. I have not had to do this since I lost my memory so don't know how I would ask forgiveness now. Probably with christian prayer. The brain still processes a lot in Cherokee but not a single word has been properly spoken since the memory loss.

    • DTroth profile image

      Diana Owens 

      8 years ago from My Little Hole In The Wall, HubPages, USA

      I have actually heard of that before, asking their spirit for forgiveness, I just forgot. I didn't mean to imply you were callous in any way. There is definately a difference between having to eat an animal to survive and killing an animal for sport. But still...I doubt if I could, even to save my own life. I know that sounds really stupid, but that's just the way I am. Having said that, I actually have personally killed animals many times over the years, but it was only when they were suffering and beyond any kind of repair. That's kind of inevitable when you live out in the country and have a lot of critters in your charge. I believe there are worse things than death, and one of those is suffering in constant pain. If done humanely, they never even know what happened. ...and I always say a prayer for them when they go.

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      8 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      D I don't know if I took out the part about actually asking the animals spirit forgiveness for taking its life. It's a very spiritual thing and done from the heart. This was part of my life way beyond my teens.

      I learned from all animals, actually have followed their tracks to find water many times. Even the ones who's life I took were my spirit brothers. It was explained to me many times, protein was important when your in the wild, it's actually what kept Indians alive. You couldn't go to the store and buy other kinds of protein, so you did what you had to too survive. Then you ask the animals spirit forgiveness for the life you took.

    • DTroth profile image

      Diana Owens 

      8 years ago from My Little Hole In The Wall, HubPages, USA

      Hi wheelin'...

      Truly an amazing childhood you had. Even though it must have been hard on you at times, I envy you. To be that close to nature and living off the land...there's no doubt you're spirituality would run so deep. Of course you know me and my love for animals...I don't know that I could've trapped and killed any critters, but I guess ya gotta do what ya gotta do to survive!

      Thank you for sharing your beautiful history!

      Take care and stay safe,


    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      8 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      That's great, we have something in common. My grandmother's promise to her husband must have really meant a lot to her, she really did spend years of her life teaching me things a father or grandfather should have. Having spent a lot of time with her in the forest I know she loved it as much as I did. She was about my age now when she was teaching me and I honestly don't know from the way I feel most of the time how she did it.

    • JMHeller profile image

      Joshua Heller 

      8 years ago

      You have quite a history! My Grandmother was full blooded Cherokee. I wish she could have shared more of that me. Great hub Wheelin!


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