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Jane and Julian never spotted any rattlesnakes, but they did unknowingly share their bed that night with a poisonous companion. In the cool desert night, the warmth of a bedroll sometimes attracted scorpions and spiders. When they crawled out of their bedroll the next morning a black widow spider crawled out with them. Her father usually wore denim overalls and a long-sleeved cotton shirt, standard for Paiute and Shoshone men at the time. Studies of acculturation—written in present tense and centering on cultural changes brought about by contact and conquest—slowly began to appear in print.

Steward and many other anthropologists, however, still took more interest in the precontact past, and continued to reconstruct it through archaeology and ethnography. Then he sat back on his heels to admire the skirt. Eliciting and recording their complex knowledge of the land—not only its use but also its care, a spiritual matter—would have taken far more time than he could devote to it.

He concluded simply that no one owned bounded tracts of land. Several male informants would later agree 34 4. George Hanson, April He was used to that request from visitors. Instead of wearing overalls, he put on some posing clothes: a pair of pants with a slight drape, a clean cotton shirt, and a hat with a wide brim. Standing with hand on hip, he struck a jaunty pose in front of the old stagecoach.

His visitors, after stowing the camera and camping gear in their car, headed toward a place called Darwin in Panamint Valley.

They pressed on through rising winds and swirling dust, the beginning of a dust storm. Now and then Jane glanced at a thermometer they kept at hand while driving through the desert. It registered degrees Fahrenheit inside the car when it was degrees outside, and even higher when they rolled up the windows to keep out the dust. They reached Darwin in the evening and camped there. Decades before Los Angeles began taking water from the distant Owens Valley, the town of Darwin piped water from a spring miles away in the Coso Mountains.

The next morning Julian and Jane visited some Panamint Shoshones who lived on the outskirts of Darwin and who gave them the names of three men who might serve as cultural informants. Their different surnames came from two different settlers. Taking the name of an employer had become a common practice in the region during the years after American settlement. Gregory was about ten years older than his brother.

Knowing Hanson created a personal connection in advance, one that might prove useful when he asked Gregory to serve as an informant. He and Jane left Darwin and headed toward Olancha, where Gregory lived. They drove sixty miles through the gusting winds of a desert storm. The Los Angeles aqueduct had diverted the river water that long fed Owens Lake and supported the ducks that Shoshones hunted there in the fall.

In just decades a lake that covered more than a hundred square miles went dry, and the ducks disappeared. Columns of billowing dust, kicked up by the wind, rose high above the lakebed giving vivid testimony of the loss.

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A company had built a soda ash plant nearby. It mined alkali, or soda, from the dry bed, removed the impurities, and sent the soda ash to market for use in the manufacture of soap, detergents, paper, and other products. The trees had provided pine nuts that people gathered in 37 part 1 the fall for their winter food supply. When mining began in the area, charcoal kilns were built and the pinyon trees cut down to make charcoal for the smelters.

The trees did not grow back. Now the name held a new and grim meaning, at least in English translation. Shady cottonwoods gave it the look of a small oasis in the desert, presided over by towering Olancha Peak. George had been born about , probably in the area around the Coso Mountains. Mamie may have been the same age or as much as ten years younger than her husband. In photographs taken around the time that Steward met them, they look directly at the camera, each with an air of quiet dignity.


Their age, upbringing in the desert, and ability to speak English made them ideal candidates to serve as cultural informants. They agreed to work with Steward the next day. Just a month earlier Driver had recorded culture element lists for Indians living on the western side of the Sierra Nevada. Unlike Steward, Driver had genuine enthusiasm for the project, certain that statistical analysis of the lists would yield important results. Had they used nets in communal rabbit hunts?

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Had they used a hooked pole to collect pine nuts? With the next day settled, Jane and Julian drove to nearby Cartago, population thirty, a relic of the s silver boom. It had once served as the landing for steamers that plied Owens Lake, carrying cargo from the Cerro Gordo silver mines. Now standing watch over the dry lakebed, Cartago had little to offer travelers beyond lodging at a private auto camp with cabins, precursor of the motel. Years later, Jane remembered the cabins at auto camps in small desert towns as crude structures.

They were built by anyone who could nail two boards together, she said, and who hoped to earn some money from weary and mildly desperate travelers. Despite its shabbiness and the two black widow spiders that he evicted, it offered comforts, including running water, a bed, a small stove, and shelter from the wind and choking dust that they had breathed for the past two days. Dust storms had grown steadily worse in the area after Owens Lake lost its water and dried up.

The alkali-laden dust burned throats and eyes, and it caused respiratory problems for people living there. Julian and Jane carried water in two thirteen-gallon tanks and had carefully rationed it for days. Water for drinking had the highest priority because dehydration could be deadly. They each required as much as a gallon a day, two or three times the amount needed in a humid region. They also kept water in reserve for the car radiator in case it overheated on a lonely road in a waterless place.

The most 39 part 1 arid parts of the Great Basin lacked surface water for a span of hundreds of square miles. They never had enough water to wash clothing and sheets or to bathe fully when they camped, but they kept themselves reasonably clean, Jane recalled. They used water for more than one purpose if possible. After cooking potatoes, for example, they boiled eggs in the same water. Perspiration dried almost instantly in the dry heat, leaving a salty residue on the skin.

Because of their frugality with water, they saved enough for Julian to shave every day. When he hiked in the Sierra with friends, she added, he stopped shaving and looked just as disheveled as the other men. In the blessed shelter of the auto cabin they had water to shower and to hand wash their sheets and dusty clothing. Electric-powered washing machines with hand wringers did exist, but public laundries with coin-operated machines were still on the horizon.

They wore light-colored cotton, which had two virtues: it did not absorb as much heat as dark colors in the strong sunlight and it more or less matched the desert dust. Jane usually wore a sleeveless blouse and long pants, and Julian, a tailored shirt and pants. Hers consisted of the light cotton dress and scarf she had worn for the trip to the dunes in Eureka Valley, but thereafter saved for town.

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Their housekeeping cabin—unlike a less expensive sleeping cabin— also offered a sheltered place to cook and to eat. They used the twoburner stove to cook their meals and the desert refrigerator to store a few perishable items: luxury foods for desert travelers, which she and Julian bought whenever they had the chance.

Jane remembered 40 Shoshone Territory desert refrigerators as a framework of wood with burlap tacked to its sides and with a door that gave access to the shelves inside. They resembled a large cupboard, she explained, with an interior cooled by evaporation. A small spigot on top dripped water on the burlap, and the evaporation of water in the dry air kept the food slightly cool.

Butter and fresh milk and eggs—delicacies after their camping fare of mostly canned foods—could remain unspoiled for a day or so. Meat had to be cooked and eaten more quickly. An orange or an apple was their usual dessert. Sometimes they stocked up on oranges from Southern California before leaving a town. Paiutes and Shoshones, Jane recalled, and anyone else living in a remote corner of the desert, treasured the fragrant fruit.

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Eating oranges—savoring the sudden burst of tart and juicy sweetness— counted as a rare luxury. She and Julian often gave the fruit as gifts to informants and others they met on their journeys. Now and then they received a gift of pine nuts in return, but they never counted on hospitality during those lean years of the Depression. Too many people lived at the edge of hunger.

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