Friday, July 17, 2009

Pick and Shovel Ending

Dear Readers,

I have decided to discontinue Pick and Shovel while I engage in new projects. I may start another weblog on a new topic, but for the time being will not continue posting to this site or my other research blog, Lewis and Clark Trail Watch.

Thank you to everyone who has read, commented on, and responded to Pick and Shovel, and who has sent me emails with so many interesting questions and communications.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Last Winnemucca

One more item before I start writing about mission sites: about a year ago, I had a post about Sarah Winnemucca and her father, Chief Winnemucca, as well as a tongue-in-cheek post about an article in the Sun tabloid in which Mark Twain supposedly once wrote about the prophecies of a Paiute man named "John Winnemucca" (and of whom I could find no actual evidence). The Winnemuccas were a well-known Paiute family who were influential in Nevada, Oregon, and northern California during the 1800s. A bronze statue of Sarah Winnemucca was installed in the U.S. Capitol Building in 2005 by the state of Nevada.

My daughter recently alerted me to an article about the death of Frank Winnemucca last February, the last direct descendant of Chief Winnemucca, who was his great-great-great-grandfather. According to the article, Frank Winnemucca was a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in Nevada and a speaker and teacher of the Pyramid Lake dialect of the Paiute language. He was 77 at his death.

In the article, family member Mike Kane notes that "Frank really felt the language was important to pass on to the next generation . . . He was really fluent in the Pyramid Paiute dialect, and he helped develop the master's apprentice program that pairs an elder up with a nonspeaking member."

Mr. Winnemucca was able to see the statue of Sarah Winnemucca in Carson City, Nevada, before it went to Washington, D. C.

The article concludes: "
Winnemucca's death is a loss to the culture and history of the Paiute people, Kane said. 'It represents a big gap that nobody will be able to fill. He was the last direct link to Chief Winnemucca, and he was fluent in the Paiute language and knew the culture and the way of life.'"

Friday, July 11, 2008

Springs Preserve in the Heart of Las Vegas

I make two or three trips to Las Vegas, Nevada, each year to visit family. One place I've always wanted to see over the years was the site of the original oasis that provided the reason for anyone stopping in the middle of this harsh desert landscape. I finally visited the 180-acre Springs Preserve this past March and it was well worth the wait (or procrastination) because the city (or state?--the site is part of the local water district) has developed the site beautifully, with museum facilities, demonstration gardens, and trails. Check out their awesome website.

Las Vegas is a relatively young city, established officially in 1905. But for decades, non-native travelers crossing the desert to and from California would stop at this collection of artesian springs to rest and get water for themselves and their animals. Eventually, the city we know today developed here, with casinos and gambling providing much of its revenue from early in its (short) history. Today, the Springs Preserve is surrounded by housing and commercial development--it is right across the street from a big shopping mall--but the fact that years ago someone thought to protect it is amazing and fortuitous, especially considering this is Las Vegas, land of demolition and imploded landmarks.

Here I share a few photos from my visit. Not shown is the new facility being constructed for the State Museum of Nevada, which will be moved here from a different location. I wish now I'd taken a picture because the building promised to be quite impressive. Also, portions of the several interpretive trails are still being developed, including the exact sites of some of the springs.

Springs view
From the balcony of the visitors center, looking eastward over part of the Preserve to the Las Vegas Strip in the distance. The building in the picture is part of the Desert Living Center.

Collapsed structure
The collapsed structure (or "spring house") that once covered one of the springs. An interpretive sign indicates that this tree has been there a very long time and can be seen in historic photographs. It and other cottonwoods were planted by settlers to provide more shade.

An interpretive sign near the site pictured above states, "For about 12,000 years, Big Springs provided water that nourished grassy meadows and supported life of all forms. Native peoples, European explorers, Mormon pioneers, ranchers, settlers, and entrepreneurs came to this oasis. For much of the twentieth century, Big Springs supported the city of Las Vegas. The modern-day metropolis is where it is because of the springs that once existed here." Alas, the springs dried up in 1962.

I love this sign about a "future historic" project! I believe the plan is to reconstruct the spring houses that protected the wells, but I sort of prefer the old collapsed structures. They seem more authentic to me.

I think this must be the hippest museum/interpretive facility I've ever been to: beautiful "green" buildings, demonstration xeriscaping (low water use) gardens, cooking lessons in the great outdoors, classes in "sustainable living" and "cultural studies," jazz concerts, even a Wolfgang Puck restaurant! (Chef Puck is considered one of the industry leaders in using organic, locally produced, sustainably harvested, and humanely treated food sources.)

Part of the truly impressive demonstration garden. It's a bit hard to see, but the metal structure behind the Joshua tree is a refreshment stand shaped like a giant watering can. The spout sticks out to the right of the tree in this picture.

Garden closeup
A closeup of some of the cacti and succulents in the garden.

I look forward to returning and seeing the state museum in its new home, as well as new interpretive signs and so forth as they are added. I do not recommend going to the Preserve in the middle of summer unless you can really take the heat, but at other times of the year, it makes a nice diversion from, well, the other diversions in Vegas.

[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2008.]

Friday, July 04, 2008

Camas Fields Forever

One of the major staple foods of traditional native cultures throughout the Northwest was (and for many, still is) the edible roots of numerous plants including the blue-flowered camas (genus Camassia). Wild root crops abound at this latitude, with its cold winters and fairly short growing season, and indigenous societies at similar latitudes elsewhere in the world also devised ways to tap into this subterranean bounty. In the Northwest, the camas and other plants including bitterroot, wild carrots, wapato ("Indian potato"), and balsamroot, were dug by the women with a digging stick featuring a curve at the pointed end for prying the roots out of the ground. Huge amounts of bulbs and roots could be harvested this way for roasting in firepits or other means of preparation and storage.

The camas fields of old were vast and impressive. Today's fields are smaller and scattered due to a couple hundred years of encroachment and development by nonnatives, but in some places, one can get a sense of how they must have looked in the precontact past. Southeast of La Grande is the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Refuge, which boasts a few camas areas at its eastern edge. I took these pictures last month when the plants were in bloom. From a short distance, they look like deep blue water, and this was, in fact, how early nonnative visitors to the region described them.

Ladd Marsh camas
A swath of camas in bloom in Ladd Marsh, looking northwest. Beyond the first line of trees, you can see some of open water ponds of the marsh. Mt. Emily is in the background. The city of La Grande sits at the base of the mountain.

I had hoped for a less overcast day because when the sun hits the fields, they are unbelievable. Unfortunately, it was cloudy for several days, so I had to take pictures before the plants stopped blooming. But I think it's obvious how beautiful the fields are.

Camas 2
The scene immediately behind me while taking the first picture.

Camas closeup
A closer view of the flowers. Camas must be harvested while in bloom to see the color of the blossoms. Never eat the white-flowered variety: they don't call it death camas for nothing!

Long before I saw the camas in bloom myself, I had read a fascinating book called
Wilderness Kingdom: Indian Life in the Rocky Mountains, 1840-1847 (translated and edited by J. Donnelly, 1967), a collection of the journals and paintings of Nicolas Point, one of many Jesuit missionaries stationed in the Northwest beginning in the 1840s. (I am preparing a whole series on the interpretation of the missions and missionaries in the Northwest.) Point, like many of his fellow Jesuits, was an artist as well as a writer and astute observer, and left to posterity a collection of tiny paintings done in the field which now provide an invaluable record of the people and places he encountered. Like many others, he was amazed by the camas fields. Below is one of his miniatures depicting the brilliant blue color.

Point painting
Nicolas Point's painting of camas in bloom. This is close to the actual size of this and many of Point's paintings. Wilderness Kingdom is now out of print, but I was fortunate to find a copy on eBay. I'll say more about Nicolas Point in a future post.

It pleases me to photograph similar scenes 160 years later! To this day, Northwest tribes, who maintain treaty rights to hunt and gather traditional wild foods even off the reservations, celebrate the first harvest each year of roots, berries, salmon, and so forth. Sometimes the public is invited to these ceremonies to learn more about the importance of these foods to the native people of the Northwest, not only in the past, but to the present day.

Update (7/6): Here is a historic photo of a Nez Perce woman processing camas bulbs, from an article about camas on the website Discovering Lewis and Clark:

Nez Perce woman
Caption on website: "Annie Yellow Bear pounding camas bulbs, Kamiah, Idaho, c. 1890. Photo courtesy of Nez Perce National Historical Park, Stephen D. Shawley Collection."

[All photos of Ladd Marsh camas fields by K. Dahl, copyright 2008.]

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Heritage Tree Succumbs to Storm

Many states have a collection of what they call heritage trees, old or famous or historic or unusual trees that contribute to the historical and cultural meaning of a region. Here in Oregon, one of our heritage trees happens to be the largest and tallest Sitka Spruce in the country, 216 feet tall and growing in the beautiful Coast Range along Highway 26 east of the Seaside/Cannon Beach area.

Unfortunately, we must make all that past tense. The tree was damaged in a storm last year and then as reported on Oregon Public Broadcasting today, the high winds of the past couple days finished the job, toppling the tree above the 80-foot point along its trunk.

Since this area is considered to be part of the Lewis and Clark Trail, you can see a photo of the tree on this L&C website. All life comes to an end, even the life of a grand old tree that was miraculously spared the logger's sawblade and ax in the early history of the area.