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Raised Indian in a White Mans World a Day at Age Five

Updated on May 18, 2021
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.

White mans world

As a child my world was split in three. One thing my mother was adamant about was obeying the laws of the land. She sent me to school as was required any other American child.

My time away from school, spent both at her house, and in the wild was in training to be an Indian brave. Where we lived there were more Mexicans than whites. This was the third world. From these three backgrounds my life evolved. When school started my neighbors didn't go to the same school.

It was a struggle for me because English was not a language used anywhere around me. At home we spoke Cherokee. I had learned Spanish because it was either learn or have no friends. My mother spoke Spanish however it was not the language spoken in our home.

My real life

My grandmother had been born in Missouri. Her mother was more Cherokee than white. She was two generations from those who had walked the trail of tears. Members of her family had taught her the Cherokee language. My grandfather was part Mohawk, A promise my grandmother made him is why my life revolved around being raised to be an old school American Indian.

A day at age five

Today is an exciting day, grandmother is taking me to the woods for the weekend. It’s November, kindergarten had started for me in September, and my fifth birthday was in October. Not too long ago we took a long car trip. Mother says we are a long way from grandmothers house now.

We are closer to an Indian reservation than I have been other than driving through them on the way to California. My grandmother talked to the tribal elders and has permission to take me to the reservation to use unused land to teach me the way of my forefathers.


School won’t start again until Monday so we have almost three days to play. My mother as usual asks grandmother if my younger brother can go with us and once again grandmother says no. He is three and makes it hard to play games.

We took him with us once a while ago. We spent most of the time running after him. This meant there was no time to play and learn. Becoming Indian is mostly games. My big brother has never gone to the woods with us as he is needed at home to help with the other children.


We both have a backpack on our shoulders which contains some food and the things grandmother needs for cooking. We don’t carry sleeping bags or water because grandmother says the woods will provide what we need. My back pack always has snacks, mom and grandmother say a growing boy needs lots of food and water because it takes lots before you become a strong man.


Once we get to our place in the woods we make a fire. Every time we have been in the woods this is the first thing we do. This was to take care of our most important need. The water from the stream was not a trusted source of water unless it was boiled. Pots for boiling water were necessary at this time.My job is always to find lots of sticks to get the fire started.


Then we walk to the steam put in strings with worms on them. Food is the second most important thing we need. The worms we use are smaller than the ones we used at grandmothers river.

Grandmother says "you don’t need a big worm to catch a little fish." She says "if you don’t use little worms the fish will eat part of the big worm and swim away". “We don’t want to feed the fish we want catch them so we have food to eat“.


This afternoon we are learning to make trails which are easy to follow. Grandmother says "there are many ways to do this and we are going to do a few of them," This is good because playing with rocks and bending tree branches is fun. She says "never use sticks unless it is an absolute emergency."

The reason for this is animals can move them easily and people can either knock them over or pick them up for making fires. Rocks are more fun anyway. Bending tree branches to where they will stay bent without breaking is fun too. Sometimes they break which grandmother says "is a bad thing". “We are not trying to hurt trees just using them to show us the way home.“


Every time we leave the campsite she puts a little water in my mouth and tells me not to swallow it. More often than not, a few minutes later it is gone. She says it will get easier not to swallow in time and for now practice is important.

Sticks and rocks

We go off in the direction the sun is moving across the sky. My job is to find rocks and bend tree branches so we can find our way home. Sometimes grandmother leaves me for a little while to put little strings out to catch animals. Grandmother says "your supposed to be able to see the last pile of rocks or bent tree branch when you make the next one."


She is also showing me the things like one side of the tree trunk a different color and telling me "you can tell which direction you are going just by looking at a tree." It is important to pay attention when grandmother says something because she does not say things more than twice. A new lesson has to be learned every time not enough attention has been paid.


We always have to be back to the campsite before dark because you can’t see the rock piles and bent tree limbs when the sun goes down. Today it’s especially important as we don’t have a bed made. We also need to check the strings we put in the water and fix supper.

It’s easy to tell when we are getting close to camp because the smell of the fire then the flames show us the way. We don’t go there yet, we have to find out if we are having fish for supper. At the stream we find six fish, they are mostly very small but it will be enough. The fish here are never as big as they were at grandmothers river but now there are only two of us to feed.

Deer Tracks

If an Indian couldn't find food they didn't eat.
If an Indian couldn't find food they didn't eat. | Source


When we get back to the campsite we find one of the water pots empty. An animal had knocked it over., We have to go right back to the stream. This time grandmother brings another pot too because we need water to cook with. We are having tacos for supper. She boils beans for a while then adds the fish we have caught. She has shown me where to gather green things at the edge of our area to put in them also, today most of them get thrown away.


We have fun making the shells to put supper in, this evening grandmother says "a ghost would have more color." Her favorite saying when this happens is "you really are a white Indian", then she laughs a lot. She cooks the shells on a rock which she had me put into the fire a while ago.

True Indian bed making

After supper we make our bed, its easy here because there are lots of dry leaves. We have to be extra careful to make sure there are no ant homes where we put them cause its no fun waking up with ants crawling on you. This happened last time we camped and those bites itched for a long time.

Clean up time

Then we go to the stream to take a bath. The water here is cold so my baths are fast. It’s not fun when there is no sand within easy reach to get clean with. This place is special because there is more sand than those round rocks.

When my bath is finished getting back to the fire is the first thing on my mind. It's important to stand on the trail where grandmother says while she gets clean too. We don’t have any way to get dry other than sitting by the fire.

This time is special because grandmother gets out her special twigs and cleans our teeth. The twigs taste good and “do a good job of getting the uckies out of our mouths“. After this, when my body is dry my clean clothes go on. Grandmothers clean clothes are always a little wet when she walks back up the trail.

Good night

She always tells me "good little Indians go potty before they go to bed. If there is a wet spot we have to move to another place in the woods tomorrow." So it’s off to the potty tree for me. . This is one of my favorite places. The trees keep me warmer when the wind blows and the stream has a spot really close with lots of sand. We lay down together and grandmother tells stores of times long past until sleep overcomes me.

My home at age five

Arlington California:
Arlington, Riverside, CA, USA

get directions

Pedley California:
Pedley, CA, USA

get directions

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Dennis Thorgesen


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    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      9 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Flickr This was part of the life I lived as a child. I was about three years older when things got real serious. My original intention was to do a hub showing a day, weekend or school vacation for every year spent on the mountain with my grandmother. When I was eight I was given a choice, my choice was to keep learning how to survive as my forefathers. Thanks for reading and wow more than once.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My mom told me were from the Seneca tribe, in ny. Very touching story, this is it from one of your experiences? I enjoyed reading it, several times.

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      9 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Born2care2001 these years of my life gave me the most important lessons of my life. There is another partly finished. I honestly don't know when I will find the voice or time for it. Like a few others I know life is busy now. As "the brains of the business" and with so much new happening time for my projects is rare.

      Thanks for dropping by and reading about my life.

    • Born2care2001 profile image

      Rev Bruce S Noll HMN 

      9 years ago from Asheville NC

      Wheelinallover, I often wonder why my ancestors failed to understand that we could have learned so much from Native America, like what I learned through your story here. I greatly appreciate you sharing a piece of your childhood and I hope you find creative ways to share the other stories you have within! Under a 1000 words is unimportant to me, especially if your heart is in them! Bring them to the surface and grace us with their wisdom.

      I would be greatly blessed to know more.


    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      9 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Looking back this was a bittersweet time of life. School brought a third language into my life. None of my peers spoke Cherokee and very few spoke Spanish. The only time I was truly happy was when I was in the forest with grandmother. Glad you enjoyed my history thumbi7 and thanks for sharing.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 

      9 years ago from India

      It is very nice to read your childhood stories. You had lot of fun in childhood.

      Thanks for Sharing

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      10 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Thinking back now I realize my grandmother was what my age is today when she while she was walking for hours in the forest teaching me the ways of our ancestors. I don't know that I would have the strength yet she spent an untold number of hours with me, without a safety net and for many years.

      My biggest problem has been keeping any of the idea's for the newer hubs down to 1000 words. I have several "started" but have to learn how to condense them to under 1000 words. They don't break up well either which is sad.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      10 years ago from Summerland

      wheelinallover - It sounds like your grandmother was a very wise person indeed! I would love to read more of your childhood stories with your grandmother in the future. Voted up and awesome.

    • W.R. Shinn profile image

      W.R. Shinn 

      10 years ago

      How marvelous. W.

    • wheelinallover profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      10 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Thanks LisaMarie These hubs about my childhood might have never been written, and that would have been a shame. For me its a way to reconnect with my past in a way I never believed would be possible. For nine years these memories were locked away in my brain. My mother, grandmother, and father died while my memory was gone. Not only are they fun to write they were fun to live resspenser.

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 

      10 years ago from South Carolina

      These are great stories you are telling, wheelallover. I hope they're as much fun to write as they are to read!

    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 

      10 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      Golden memories that you are lucky to have. Thanks for sharing.


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