About denniscassinelli

Dennis Cassinelli, avid outdoorsman, history buff and archaeology enthusiast, is the author of four books about the Great Basin region. Raised in Sparks, Nevada, Cassinelli developed an interest in Indian artifacts as a young boy working on his family’s ranch. In the early 1990s, he painstakingly identified hundreds of projectile points to create the Cassinelli-Perino Artifact Collection, now located at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center in Gardnerville, Nevada.

Why no one ever told me about Uncle Bert

I suppose every family has an Uncle Bert hidden away in the dark recesses of family ancestry. I never realized our family had an Uncle Bert until my recent research into our family tree revealed he even existed. Certainly, none of the old family members I grew up with ever mentioned his name or even hinted that such a person existed. At first, I could not understand why no one had ever talked about anyone named Bert Cassinelli. I would have thought that the brother of my Great Grandfather, Pietro Cassinelli, would have been mentioned at some time or another during my lifetime.

I know from newspaper accounts that Pietro suspected Bert and cousin Vitoria of setting his house, haystack and barn on fire in February 1896, but this was never proven to be true. The case was taken all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court. The final award was for the plaintiff, Vitoria, in the amount of $305. This hardly was worth the time and effort — not to mention the bad blood — it stirred up within the family.

I do remember several times asking the older family members about the old days when the family started out in Dayton in the late 1800s. For some reason unknown to me at the time, they were reluctant to talk to me at all about the old family or the things that happened back in those days more than 100 years ago. I since have dug up enough information to form some opinions on why no one was willing to talk to me about the early days in Dayton.

Bert (or Bartholomeo) Cassinelli was born in Tuscany, Italy, in 1870. At age 18, he moved to the United States. Bert and his brother, Pietro (my great grandfather), along with two cousins, eventually found their way to Dayton during the waning days of the Comstock boom. They worked on a ranch of which Pietro was able to secure ownership. The family grew hay, garlic, onions, potatoes, livestock and vegetable crops, which they sold in Virginia City and other mining towns around the region. The following are some interesting newspaper accounts of things Bert did during the time he spent in Dayton:

“ARRESTED FOR FIGHTING: B. Cassinelli, of this place, got into a fight in Carson, with a Swiss, and pulled his gun to shoot. The Authorities in Carson tried to arrest him but he got away from them and came to Dayton where he was arrested Wednesday by the deputy Sheriff of Ormsby county, and taken back to Carson (Lyon County Times, Oct. 8, 1893).”

“AN ITALIAN INSTANCE: Bert Cassinelli and his cousin had a row with his brother and his wife last Thursday morning at the Fish Ranch across the river, and gave the man and woman a severe drubbing. Cassinelli, the abused party, had his brother and cousin arrested a few hours after and lodged in jail. They were taken to Silver City yesterday morning for trial before Justice Walker, Justice Hawkins of this place, being absent from town. The men were discharged at the hearing, the testimony showing that Bert Cassinelli asked for some money coming to him, and Pietro, his brother, then attacked him, and he only took his own part (Lyon County Times, Nov. 25, 1893).”

“FALL FIGHTS: Bert Cassinelli and A. Scanavino had a row last Thursday evening. Scanavino got hit on the head with a chair but afterwards got Cassinelli down and was putting a fine finish on him when he was interrupted by outside parties. No arrests (Lyon County Times, Jan. 1, 1898).”

“THE CORPSE DISAPPEARED: Thursday morning Butch Baglin found what he supposed was a corpse in the stable back of the butcher shop. A pair of feet were sticking out from between two piles of baled hay and Butch could not arouse the individual they belonged to. He therefore summoned the Coroner, Sheriff and a crowd to go to the stable, but upon arrival there the corpse was gone. It was discovered afterwards that Bert Cassinelli had only been taking a morning snooze (Lyon County Times, Dec. 16, 1899).”

“A CONSIDERABLY CHEWED THUMB: About six weeks ago Otto Schroeder, a saloon keeper, and Bert Cassinelli got into a fight at Dayton, during which the latter got the former’s finger and thumb in his mouth and chewed them considerably before Schroeder could get away. Schroeder did not pay much attention to the injured members at the time and dressed them himself; but in a few days his injured hand caused him much pain. He came to this city and Friday, Dr. Pickard amputated the thumb. The trouble was caused by Cassinelli calling upon his wife, from whom he was divorced a short time ago, and who went to live in a house owned by Schroeder. The latter ordered Cassinelli from the premises and a fight ensued. (Daily Independent, Jan. 16, 1902. Originally reported in the Virginia City Enterprise).”

The moral of the story is this: If you shake your family tree hard enough, some rotten apples are sure to fall out. Despite a few rascals, our family has endured and is proud to have so many members who contributed to the settlement of the Wild West. Times were tough in those days. It took tough men and women to cope with the conditions of the time.

And who knows — someday I may be the rotten apple who falls from the tree.

Legends of Spirit Cave: An Excerpt (Part 5)

As sunrise broke out on the plain over Ger-lak, columns of steam arose from the series of hotspring pools and drifted out to wet the tall clumps of grass with a cold white frosting. The wakening travelers began to stumble along the trail to the place where Bruneau had a huge bonfire burning and a breakfast of waterbird eggs he had hard-boiled in the hottest of the mineral water pools. The people eagerly accepted the warm eggs and a sweet sauce of wild berries and honey the hermit had prepared for them. The entire clan gathered around to accept this last hospitality from Bruneau and to trade with him generous portions of mammoth meat for trinkets he had made from stones, twigs and feathers.

Turtle saw Rama eating breakfast with her young daughter, but neither he nor Rama acknowledged the presence of the other. Two boys about two years younger than Turtle came running by where Turtle was standing and Turtle heard one shout back, “Hey, Turtle, did you get your lizard skinned last night?”

Turtle was enraged at the remark, so he ran after them in an attempt to take revenge for their crudeness. He was unable to catch up with them, or even recognize who they were in the excitement.

Some of the group began preparing to load up their possessions and burden baskets full of provisions to resume the remainder of their journey to Pyramid Lake. Turtle’s cousin, Yori, had a fine young pup he was training to carry a small burden basket. He threw some sticks for the dog to fetch while waiting for the other people to prepare their loads. Without thinking, Yori threw the stick into the hottest pool where Bruneau had just boiled the eggs. The dog yapped frantically for a few seconds, but was scalded to death almost instantly. Yori ran toward the bank of the pond to help the poor dog, but Bruneau grabbed the young man just in time to keep him from jumping into the boiling water after the pup.

Everyone gathered around to console Yori about the horrible loss of his dog. Bruneau felt especially bad, and immediately gave Yori one of his own puppies his bitch had borne just a few weeks ago. Bruneau apologized profusely for the accident and told the people there had been instances where people were badly burned entering this pond, not knowing it was where the scalding water first comes up from the Great Fire Spirit under the earth. From this pond, it flows off into the other pools where it cools enough for people to bathe and swim. Yori thanked the old hermit for the puppy, and cradled it under his arm as he shouldered his burden basket for the journey ahead. As the travelers formed a long, single file procession toward the south, Yori whispered to the tiny pup, “Be brave, little one, I will call you ‘Drifter,’ since we spend our entire lives drifting from place to place. Though you are tiny, I predict that one day you will have a brave and courageous spirit.”
For two more days the troop marched on across a desert trail that had now departed from the shores of the vast system of lakes and marshes. Their burdens were heavy, but the trail was smooth and not too steep, although it did pass through some low mountains and high meadows. The people were becoming anxious to reach Pyramid Lake and visit with the old friends they knew would greet them there. The group made camp in a small canyon with a grassy meadow just short of the ridge that overlooked the lake.

Supper was prepared quite quickly and the people gathered close together to set up their bedrolls for the night. Everyone knew that the next day would bring them to the camp of the Pyramid Lake people by mid afternoon. Turtle was unusually tired, so he retired early for the evening. Sometime in the early morning, Turtle at last had a dream he thought had some kind of spiritual significance. It was a strange sort of dream where people he did not know were asking him to walk with them out into the darkness of the desert. He had often heard that in order to become a shaman, one must have dreams that give spiritual guidance. At last he was having a dream, but he was not sure how to act upon it.

Knowing he would always wonder what would have happened if he did not act, Turtle decided to follow his dream and walk out into the desert as the dream had suggested. The desert is a spooky, mystical place at night, especially for a people whose entire life is guided by spirits, magic and superstition. It had to take a strong spirit and courage for the young man to venture out that night, alone in the darkness. There was an eerie wind blowing through the greasewood and sagebrush, making an uncanny, ghostly sound. The cool weather had brought an end to the song of the evening crickets, but the mournful sounds of coyotes yapping in the distance and the occasional “hoo-hoo” of an owl kept Turtle company as he ventured out toward the ridge overlooking the great lake. After a short stop to urinate, he walked on to a place where he could just see the glistening water of Pyramid Lake in the distance. A huge owl swooped down toward Turtle, just missing his head as it flew by and screeched at him.

Staring off into the distance at the beautiful sight of the Lake, Turtle nearly tripped on some clumps of sagebrush, then came around a large boulder and fell back, gasping in amazement at a ghastly sight. There lying before him, half buried in the sand, was the skeleton of some ancient animal, the likes of which Turtle had never seen before. The bones had become bleached white by the desert sun and the minerals in the bones emitted a phosphorescence in the dim moonlight that made the creature glow as if it were coming to life. Turtle was terrified by the sight of the large, strange-looking animal seeming to smile at him with bright, glowing teeth and huge, black eye sockets.

Turtle bolted from the skeleton site and ran back to the encampment, where he awakened Mauwee from a sound sleep. “Quickly, Grandfather, I need you!” cried the frightened young man. “I have found some evil spirit out in the desert, or perhaps a ghost. I need you to come along with me to help me to understand what I have found.”

Reluctantly, old Mauwee pulled himself from his bedroll and agreed to follow Turtle to the mysterious vision he had seen. On the way, Turtle told Mauwee about the dream he had and the compelling need he had to follow the urgings of the dream. When they arrived at the location, even Mauwee gasped at the ghostly sight of the white skeleton grinning at them in the moonlight. Phosphorus in the bones had absorbed the rays of the sun, causing a luminescence, or a glow-in-the-dark effect.

“Turtle, you have indeed uncovered a very strong spirit. Your dream took you to something very special, and I will try to tell you about this creature.” The pair sat down on a flat rock near the glowing skeleton and Mauwee began to tell his tale of the mysterious creature.

“Many years ago, there were vast numbers of creatures of great size roaming this land. You and I know of the mammoth we killed. There were many more of his kind, and even others of different sizes that lived here. There were giant buffalo, twice the height of those we see here today. There were long legged animals with humped backs that wandered the grassy slopes, and they were known as camels. The animal you see here is all that remains of a very special animal we called a horse. When my own grandfather was a boy, there were still a few horses running wild on the slopes and in the dry valleys where I was born. They are all gone now, but the spirits of some horses still live on, to glow in the night, just to let you know they still exist. It is a funny thing about spirits; they sometimes reveal themselves in strange ways in order to get you to understand them, and learn from them. The spirit of this horse is mighty strong. Without his strong spirit revealing him to you, we would never have learned of his existence. He was put here for us to find one day, and to learn about him. Much can be learned from the bones of an ancient creature, or even a man, especially if those creatures do not even exist anymore. Sometimes a wise, old spirit will do things like that, I mean, leave things lying about, waiting for people in the future to discover them.

“Let me tell you the story my own grandfather told me when I was a small boy. He told me that when he was a child, his family came upon a herd of horses when they still existed on the north edge of the Black Island Marsh. The hunters of the family killed one of the horses for food, but they also captured a young foal alive and took it home with them to eat later. My grandfather, named Jakfrink, began to tame the animal and taught it to be led with a woven sagebrush halter and rope. The family was in their winter camp, so the boy had time to build a small corral and work to tame the spirited, wild animal.

“One day, as Jakfrink led the horse out of the corral for a walk, the animal suddenly grabbed a big mouthful of Jakfrink’s hair and began to actually lift the boy off the ground by his scalp. Up and down, to and fro, up and down, the boy was tossed by the horse, screaming, arms and legs flailing. Suddenly, the entire hair and scalp was pulled from the top of the boy’s head. The scalped boy was tossed into the sagebrush, while the tall, big-boned horse bolted and ran to the nearby hills. He was last seen trailing the long stream of Jakfrink’s black trusses over his shoulder as he ran.

“The boy eventually recovered and grew to old age, but the bald scar atop his head was a constant reminder that his spirit was not quite strong enough to tame the wild horse. The spirit of the ancient horses was too strong for any man to tame. Most old shamans believe that perhaps one day, the horses may return to our land. Perhaps other men with stronger spirits may succeed in conquering the invincible spirit of horses. What a wonderful thing it would be for men to be able to ride like the wind, upon the back of a horse. For now, it is not to be. For now, all we have to tell us about these ancient wild horses are the bones his wise spirit has left here for us to discover.”

The two men bid farewell to the Spirit of the Ancient Horse and returned to camp, where they went to bed for the remainder of the early morning hours. Turtle snuggled in his rabbit skin blanket and dreamed of the glowing horse and the things Mauwee had told him until awakened by the sunrise.

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Legends of Spirit Cave: An Excerpt (Part 4)

The story continued: “First in small numbers, then in a great panic-stricken migration, my people fled in all directions. This is how we came to be here in the marsh country. Gradually, some of us were assimilated by lesser tribes; others continue searching for a suitable homeland to this day. Only I remain here to tell you this tale. I have not heard from my people in all these years since they abandoned me here in this place. With each passing generation, memories of the verdant north country diminish. The great fear we have of Tsawhawbitts, the evil spirit, remains constant as it is told and retold. It must be known that the lush hunting area of Jarbidge and the Bruneau river must be avoided as if there were a plague. Our tribal memory of this evil spirit will be handed down for many generations.”

Turtle-Who-Fights was enthralled by the story. He was intensely interested in legends and spiritual stories. He wanted to commit as many of these myths and legends to memory as he could.

With the end of the story telling session, it came time for the people to retire for the evening so they could resume their burdensome journey in the morning. Most everyone had enjoyed a soothing bath in the hotspring pools, and some, including Turtle, returned for a hot evening swim under the moonlit sky. Most of those in the pool were the youngsters of the group enjoying a playful session of splashing hot water on one another and dunking each other in the pool. Rama, the woman who was working on tanning Turtle’s medicine bag, and her daughter came down to bathe in the pool. The daughter was a wisp of a girl about nine years old.

Rama came over to Turtle sitting on the bank of the pool and sat beside him while she watched the young girl bathing in the pool. Rama said, “The medicine bag will not be completed until the group is camped in one place long enough to let the hides soak in the tanning solution.”

“That’s fine. I knew it would be a long while before the pouch was ready. Any medicine I have to put in the bag can wait until it is finished. I have all I can do right now trying to learn the ways of a shaman before I have need for a medicine bag.”

Turtle was startled when the woman reached over and clasped his hand and pulled herself close to him. “I admire you, Turtle, for wanting to learn the ways of a shaman. I am attracted to a man, regardless of his age, if he has ambitions of greatness. I think you have ambitions of greatness, Turtle-Who-Fights. I am sure that one day you will be a great and respected shaman.”

With that said, Rama called her daughter from the pool and left to retire for the evening. Turtle was flattered that the woman showed an interest in him. He was not sure what all that meant, but he too decided to fetch his bedroll and find a place among the tall clumps of meadow grass to make a place to sleep. The grass formed a thick, soft carpet between huge clumps of taller, plumed, wild ryegrass. Turtle rolled out his matting of woven tules on the grassy carpet, then reclined on the mat and pulled a blanket of woven rabbit skins over himself to keep warm.

The sky was brilliant with stars that seemed so thick as to touch each other in the unpolluted atmosphere. A half moon hung in the sky giving just enough light to see the outline of the surrounding hills. A family of coyotes yapped incessantly in the distance as Turtle reclined on his back staring into the heavens. He yearned to dream as he has been told all shamans dream to receive guidance from the spiritual world. Perhaps, if he really concentrated, a dream would come to him this evening to reveal some spirit, or some truth for him to act upon. The incredible stories told by Bruneau at the campfire kept creeping into Turtle’s thoughts. He tried to imagine which parts of the stories might be true, and which parts were probably just myth or entertainment. Eventually, the young man began to doze off to sleep, his mind filled with a multitude of topics for thought.

No sooner had Turtle entered a deep sleep, he was awakened by a strange presence, as if someone were standing over him. He felt as if someone were watching him. Peering out from beneath the rabbit skin blanket, Turtle stared up into the starlit sky. Sure enough, there was a figure of a person, only a silhouette, looming above him in the moonlight. The young man was so startled, it seemed his heart jumped up into his throat. He quickly sat up to see who, or what, it was that was standing over him.

“It is I,” whispered Rama, as she knelt down beside the bedroll. “I would like to share your bed with you tonight.”

Without waiting for a reply, the woman pulled the blanket aside and slid her naked body in alongside the astonished young man. She pulled the blanket back over them and snuggled against the man’s warm body to break the chill of standing out in the cold October air. For a few moments, neither of them spoke, they just cuddled and embraced and enjoyed the feeling of being held in each other’s arms.

At last, Turtle spoke. “You startled me. I was so frightened, I thought I must be dreaming that some great spirit had come to visit me.”

“A great spirit has come to visit you, my friend. I have a great spirit, and it wants to be with you.”

Turtle laughed, and said, “You know what I mean. You are making fun of me. I must say, though, I am very pleased you are here. I have admired you from a distance, never having the courage to speak to you, and always afraid of what others may say because of our age difference.”

“Shhhh,” Rama hushed Turtle’s words. “Do not worry what others may say. Tonight is just about you and me. It is our special time together. I have been without a man for four years. There are no available men of our group unrelated to me, for me to have as a mate. I find you sexually attractive, not as a mate, but as a special friend with which to share this intimate moment.”

The couple began to snuggle and explore each other’s bodies with their arms, legs and hands. Rama brought her leg up over Turtle’s thighs and he could feel the warmth of her soft beaver against his skin. He became aroused as he had never been before. He caressed her and buried his face in the long black tresses of hair against her neck and shoulders. He could smell the smoke from the campfire in her hair and the sweet woman smell of her skin. Turtle could feel her soft, warm breasts against his chest. As he slid down to kiss her hard, brown nipples, she began to fondle him and slide her warm fingers up and down his shaft, and he became more and more aroused.

In all of Turtle’s young life, he had never even come close to having a sexual encounter. Naked and partially clothed men and women were an accepted way of life among the marsh people. Merely seeing a woman’s unclothed body never aroused more in his mind than healthy curiosity. He suddenly found that mere visual contact and actual touching and feeling were quite different things, indeed.

Rama, on the other hand, was vastly more experienced and knew exactly what she wanted. She knew from past experience the pleasures to be had from intimacy and lovemaking, and she was determined to share this pleasure with her new lover that evening.

For several minutes, the couple continued their mutual caressing and fondling, until both were panting with desire for each other. Rama finally reclined and pulled Turtle up close to her and engulfed him. She squeezed and contracted as he entered her, a groan of delight escaping from her lips. As they locked into a tight embrace, he was pulsating and almost uncontrollably starting a slow, thrusting rhythm, breathing in short gasps of air.

As quickly as it began, it was over. Rama could feel the young man melting inside her. She knew he had finished long before she was even fully aroused. The woman pulled away from the spent Turtle, as he lay back sweating and panting. Rama, disappointed in the performance of the inexperienced young man, became angry and started to scold Turtle-Who-Fights. “Don’t tell me it’s over already! I cannot believe you have no knowledge of the needs of a woman. I really expected more from you after seeing what a strong, brave young hunter you are. When I had a man of my own, he would pace himself so both of us could enjoy the ecstasy of our love making. Your mother named you wrong. She should have named you ‘Rabbit-Who-Squeals,’ not ‘Turtle-Who-Fights.”’

Turtle was devastated. He tried to explain. “I am sorry. I have never been with a woman before. This was my very first time. I became so excited, it was over before I knew what was happening.” Nothing he could say would console the angry, humiliated woman. His first sexual encounter had ended in disaster.

Rama rose to leave and strode off through the moonlight. Turtle called after her “Please do not be angry with me. Won’t you still be my friend?”

As the woman disappeared in the darkness, Turtle heard the sounds of some youngsters giggling in their beds from the ruckus they had just heard. Another lesson learned for the future shaman.

Legends of Spirit Cave: An Excerpt (Part 5)

Legends of Spirit Cave: An Excerpt (Part 3)

Yellow Eyes said, “As you know, young friend, I have been a shaman with our people for many years. I have traveled to many faraway lands to study the ways of different people. I have watched you grow to the man you are today and I have an understanding of the ways of people and the spirit world. I know that old Mauwee has great trust and confidence in you and your abilities. He is anxious to have a new shaman of his blood to help guide his people through the difficult times that sometimes plague us. I must warn you, however, that learning to become a shaman is a lifelong endeavor. It will take many years of training and an absorption of many of life’s experiences. I suppose what I am trying to say, young friend, is that you are far from becoming a shaman. I am willing to help you learn, but please be aware, it will be several years before you will have earned the name shaman.”

Turtle was somewhat taken aback by the frankness of the words Yellow Eyes had spoken. He had not really thought it would take any great effort on his part to become a shaman, and to be accepted by his people as some sort of spiritual leader, freed from many of the burdens of the hunting and gathering lifestyle. After a few brief moments of contemplation, Turtle blurted out, “Well, what kind of experience do I need? Can you and others just tell me some things that would help me to become the type of shaman I would become?”

Yellow Eyes’ hunch had been correct. Turtle had vastly underestimated the effort required to become a shaman for the group. The old shaman, being the wise person he was, knew Mauwee was pushing Turtle along too fast on the road to greatness. He put his hand on the shoulder of the young man and gave him some of his words of wisdom, “Before you become a shaman, my friend, you will learn that old age and treachery will usually win out over youth and enthusiasm. I want you to be patient in your pursuit of your goals. It will not happen for several years to come. Let me tell you a story that may help to clarify what I mean.

“One time, long ago, there were many more buffalo along these slopes than you see here today. They were a breed of giant bison with exceedingly long horns. The hump on their back would stand well over a man’s head. One day, two of the giant buffalo bulls were standing on a hill overlooking a vast herd of their cows. One of the bulls was young and anxious, much like you are today. The other was much older and wiser, having spent many winters in the desert. The young bull looked out over the herd and said, ‘Let’s run down there and breed one of those cows.’ The older, wiser bull, chewing his cud, replied, ‘No, son, why don’t we just walk down there and breed all those cows?’”

Turtle smiled at the story he had heard. He knew Yellow Eyes was right about the issue of training and experience. He was somewhat embarrassed that the perceptive older man was able to understand these weaknesses so much better than Turtle himself.

Yellow Eyes then told Turtle, “I want to ask you a few questions. This is a test I sometimes use for young wannabe shamans. I am sure you know how deer droppings and rabbit poop are formed in little round pellets. Buffalo dung is found in round flat chips we can burn in our fires when it is dried. Bears crap in big, round steaming blobs full of grass and berry seeds. Everyone knows these things, but do you know why these things are true?”

“No,” Turtle replied after a brief period of contemplation. “I do not know why these things are true.”

“Well, let me see if I understand your desires,” said Yellow Eyes. “It seems to me you do not know shit, yet you desire to become a shaman. I must tell you young friend, you must educate yourself in all the ways of our world before you can fulfill your desire to become a shaman. First of all, you must decide what kind of shaman you will be. Then, you must devote your entire life, yes your very spirit and being, to learn the ways of the shaman you desire to be. Do not misunderstand me, friend. I believe you will become a great shaman one day. I will help you all I can. It is one of the duties I have in life. I know you will succeed.”

As was the custom among the people who traveled along the shores of the marsh, the group planned to stop for a couple of days to visit their friends who lived at the Lake of the Pyramid.

As the people prepared to begin their journey, there was a sudden realization that they must now pack with them a huge supply of mammoth meat in addition to all the other stores they had gathered for the past eight months. Some of the women had large burden baskets made of willow and bulrushes. Others had large flat bags woven from tules and grasses. The women usually carried all the provisions while the people traveled. This was said to allow the men freedom to hunt as they made their way through the countryside. Now it became obvious that in order to reach their winter storage cave, the men must share in the burden-carrying responsibility. The fun of the hunt was over; now it was time for the men to make some burden baskets and load up on provisions for the trip. There was considerable grumbling and cursing among the men who considered this to be women’s work The elders of the group met at the campfire to decide how to transport the bounty, and it was decided that everyone who eats must carry the food. The last thing the people needed right now was anyone running around hunting for meat, when they could barely carry what they already had.

And so, the group departed the Black Island Marsh loaded down with more supplies than ever before on their way south for the winter. Men, women and children all shared in carrying the wealth. Some young boys even made small pack baskets for their dogs. The animals bounced along as if unaware of the burden. Spirits were high among the people, despite the heavy loads, for they knew that after about five days they could rest again at Pyramid Lake. Normally, the journey may have taken less time, but this year the elders allowed five days, rather than the usual three or four. After that, it was only about another five days to the Stillwater Marsh, and their winter home.

After the second day of the journey south, the heavily burdened caravan of travelers came to the familiar hot springs at the southern end of the Black Island Marsh known as Ger-lak. The hot springs were a welcome resting place for people traveling the marshes. There were shallow pools of steaming water where the people could bathe and relax after incredibly difficult trips across the deserts and along the marshes. There was an old hermit who lived there named Bruneau who looked forward to the arrival of visitors. Bruneau saw the long procession of marsh people winding their way along the trail long before the people were near the hotsprings. He came running out to meet them with waving arms, not wearing a scrap of clothing. He was a friend of Mauwee and Yellow Eyes from many years of greeting them for visits during the annual rounds of food gathering.

Bruneau walked along with the travelers chattering in his excited tongue, making sweeping, waving motions with his hands and arms, obviously stimulated by the presence of human visitors. He was a businessman of sorts, and he was always ready to trade trinkets and items he had made while living alone at his camp, for food and other things brought by the visitors. It was understood by all that it was required to give the old hermit a generous supply of foodstuffs in exchange for use of the campsite and the bathing ponds. The troupe of travelers quickly made a camp for the night and settled down around a campfire to be entertained by old Bruneau during supper.

That evening, everyone feasted on fresh antelope Bruneau had killed and barbecued over coals of mountain mahogany. Pronghorn antelope had a distinct, sweet flavor relished by the travelers. This was a welcome change from the glut of mammoth meat the people had consumed over the past several days. After the dinner, Bruneau began his usual performance of storytelling. These sessions always fascinated the people, especially the youngsters, who were mesmerized by the talented old man and his performance of traditional mythical stories.

He began by telling of the time when his people traveled into this region from a land far toward the rising sun. He was a young man then, but he was plagued by painful attacks of arthritis soon after his arrival in the marsh country. It became so severe, he could no longer walk from the terrible pain in his joints. At last, the family of poor Bruneau could no longer carry him around with them from place to place, so they decided to abandon him. The family had come from a place called Jarbidge, but they had to leave to search for a new homeland. Having found the marshland of the Black Island Marsh unsuitable for their lifestyle, they decided they must move on. They knew Bruneau would never make the journey, so they selected a comfortable place for him to live by the hotsprings.

Bruneau was able to catch a few quail and rabbits with traps from time to time, and dig enough cattail roots to eat in order to survive. Every day, he soaked in the hotspring pond and even covered himself with the hot, soothing mud along the bank. He soon got accustomed to the sulfur smell similar to that of rotten eggs, typical of the hot spring pools. Eventually, he noticed that he was feeling less and less pain as he continued to spend many hours in the hot mineral water. After the first year, he was able to walk again and do a remarkable job of hunting and providing for himself. His only problem was the hunger for human companionship and the knowledge that he was confined to living within reach of the hot water in order to stay well. Fortunately, a few hardy souls passed this way every year providing him with precious companionship.

Bruneau’s story made the people realize that no matter how difficult things may seem, there was always someone else having an even more difficult time making their way through life. Soon it was time for the old man to tell the story of one of the traditional legends of his people. The marsh people had their own myths and legends, but they were always fascinated to hear the stories from other cultures and tribes of people from faraway lands. When asked how he and his family came to be in the marsh country so many years before, Bruneau began his tale.

“My people were driven out of their homeland long ago by an evil spirit in human form named Tsawhawbitts. We were an ancient civilization of people living in a lush hunting grounds along the Bruneau river, from which I got my name. We were a peaceful people, living in comfort along the fertile river valley. The grass there grew tall, the trees were green, wild game abounded, and fish were plentiful in the streams. Small bands of our tribe made their homes in many of the rolling valleys, enjoying a life of plenty, but the serenity of this existence could not be maintained.

“Gradually, a tale of superstition and fear passed among the encampments concerning an evil spirit in the form of a giant man named Tsawhawbitts, a giant who stalked the hunters with the same sure cunning they in turn employed in hunting wild game.

“Tsawhawbitts was huge! In one step he could cross the turbulent Bruneau. In a few fleet strides he could climb a mountain. No one was safe! On his broad back the giant carried a basket which he filled with our hunters for his own feast. Whenever he became hungry, the giant would pull out one of the men and eat them. From his great height Tsawhawbitts could spy on lone wanderers and swoop down upon them before they could flee. Snatching them up from the river bank or a tall pine thicket, Tsawhawbitts would stuff them in his basket and then disappear into a crater named Mount Ichabod where he made his home.”

Bruneau was a remarkable storyteller. He embellished his words with an entertaining display of dancing around, making hand gestures and acting out the story as he went along. He even had the good taste to cover up his previously naked body with a costume of his tribe’s traditional dress which consisted of tanned deerskin trousers, moccasins and a beautiful feathered headdress.

Legends of Spirit Cave: An Excerpt (Part 4)

Legends of Spirit Cave: An Excerpt (Part 2)

Presently, the members of the distraction team came splashing around the fallen hulk to congratulate Mauwee and Turtle. The six men hugged and laughed as they celebrated among themselves the success of their stealth and the kill. Despite the accident of Mauwee falling into the hole, Turtle had saved the day and completed the kill. He was instantly recognized as the hero of the hour, and his companions would not be stingy in heaping praise upon him.

The excited, joyous shouts of the women and children of the group began to ring out as they made their way to the shore of the marsh for the celebration of the successful venture. The other hunters of the group who had not participated in this hunt came down to the marsh dressed in full hunting regalia to show support and appreciation to the successful hunting party. Turtle’s mother, Yan-Mo, and sister Tani splashed out through the water to congratulate their successful providers. Similar welcomes were in store for the distraction team as their families came out to greet them. The small children of the band climbed upon the head and tusks of the mammoth and everyone marveled at the size of this wonderful beast.

A Columbian Mammoth was truly an incredible creature. He likely stood about twelve feet tall and must have weighed ten tons. The excitement the people felt upon the taking of a mammoth was justified. A group of fifty to a hundred hunters and gatherers roaming the marsh and desert lands would not obtain as much protein in an entire year as they had taken from this single event. This included whatever they may take in the way of bird eggs, waterfowl, fish, insects, lizards, snakes, woodchucks, rabbits, rats, squirrels, deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, elk, bear and buffalo put together.

No time was wasted in beginning the processing of the kill. Even with the large number of participants, it would take two to three days to process all the meat from the mammoth kill. The women immediately began to flense blanket sized sheets of hairy hide from the carcass. Bloody stone knives flashed in the autumn sun as long strips of red meat were quickly stripped from the bones. Young girls cut the big chunks into thin strips and spread them out on large boulders to dry along the shore of the marsh. A large pouch of salt from a desert far toward the rising sun was used to sprinkle over the meat to season it and speed the cure.

The men of the hunting party cut the heart and liver from the beast. The broken lance and the intact stone point were retrieved and returned to Mauwee. Warm, steaming liver was cut into large pieces and shared among the six members of the hunting party. The men gathered around the kill and ate their fill of the warm, raw, liver. They laughed and pointed at each other as they let the blood run down their faces and drip off their chins and down their bare chests. The massive heart was roasted over the morning fire as a reward to the hunters, but there was enough to feed all members of the group.

As the butchering proceeded, Grandfather called Turtle aside to walk with him along the shore of the marsh. They walked along the very footprints left by the mammoth the day before. After awhile, they stopped and sat upon a tufa formation along the shore. Mauwee pulled the mammoth point from his bag and handed it to the young man who had swollen with pride since the hunt.

With slow, deliberate words, the old man said, “Take this blade, as it is rightfully yours now. It was used in mammoth hunts untold ages ago when the animals were common along the shores of this dying inland sea. It will be of no use for that anymore, but use it as a knife. It will serve you well. Keep it as a keepsake, for you, your father, and I have all killed mammoth with it. It has been in our family for as long as we have been in this land. One day you may want to give the blade to your own son. For now, take this blade and start your own medicine pouch. It is time for you to gather together the possessions you prize most in life, things that will help you to one day become a shaman, as I have been for many years of my life.”

The young man was overwhelmed at the instructions being given to him by his grandfather. He asked, “What items should I gather to put in a medicine bag?”

“That will depend upon exactly what type of shaman you will become. There are many kinds of shamans. I was a shaman of hunters. I studied the ways of the hunt and the spirits of the animals. My bag contains things that aid in the hunt for game. Your own mother Yan-Mo is a shaman of medicine for healing people. She knows the herbs and remedies for healing the sick and injured. Her bag has the medicines she needs for these cures. Our friend, Yellow Eyes, is a spiritual shaman. He knows the spirits of people and of all things in nature. Every person, animal, tree, rock and mountain has a spirit. Yellow Eyes has studied these spirits and knows how to call upon them to help us in many ways. His medicine bag contains the things that help him to communicate with these spirits.”

“Forgive me, Grandfather, but I am young and unfamiliar with the ways of a shaman. Yesterday I was merely a boy, now suddenly we talk of me becoming a shaman. Do not misunderstand me, I do want to work toward becoming a shaman, it is just that this is all new to me.”

“I understand your apprehension, grandson, but without a nudge from the nest, a bird may never learn to fly. You have proven to me that you are ready to learn many things. It is time I help you on your way to learn the ways of a shaman. Your mother and Yellow Eyes will also help you to learn. Today, I have proven to myself that my days as an effective shaman are nearing a close. The people need wise and experienced shamans to guide them along through this harsh and unforgiving land. I am becoming too old and weak to be anything other than a teacher of the things I have learned over many years of life. When I fell into the marsh during the hunt this morning, the Great Spirit was telling me that it was time to pass on my knowledge to a younger, more capable person. My mind and spirit are strong, but my body is failing me in many ways you may never know.”

The old man had obviously deliberated long over the words he was speaking. It was as if he was performing a duty or obligation that life had destined for him. He was fulfilling a promise he had made to his own dying son, that he would see to the rise of Turtle-Who-Fights to manhood. With the limited vocabulary of a Late Pleistocene hunter, the grizzled old man continued pouring his words into the open mind of the young hunter.

“Go now back to the mammoth we have killed. Cut out his testicle sack, tan it and make a medicine pouch that will last you a lifetime. I predict that you, my grandson, will always carry powerful medicine in your pouch. You will need a very large pouch for the powerful medicine you will carry. Do not be concerned at this time what will fill the pouch. When the time comes, you will know what to carry in the bag. From this day on, you need not call me ‘Grandfather.’ I, and other men of the clan will consider you as an equal to us in the ways of men. My name is Mauwee and I expect you will refer to me as such in all talk. At our next campfire, I will introduce you to the others as a capable hunter and companion. All men of our clan will be proud to hunt with Turtle-Who-Fights. Now, set about to fill your bag with powerful medicine.”

Turtle felt honored to have been called aside by Mauwee to absorb the words the old shaman had spoken. Mauwee had other, older grandsons who had never received the attention Turtle had. The young man knew at that moment that he was to be considered as a man by his elders. He also knew he would have to live up to all the expectations revealed to him.

Upon return to the mammoth kill site, Turtle immediately followed the instructions given to him by Mauwee. He used the sharp-edged Clovis point to cut the testicle sack from the mammoth. Turtle took the sack to the women who were scraping the fat and meat from the large sections of hide they had flensed from the animal. He asked them to put the testicle sack in with the batch when they tanned the leather blankets. The tanning women were happy to comply with Turtle’s request. One of them, an older widow named Rama, only a few years younger than Turtle’s mother, Yan-Mo, came over to talk to Turtle and congratulate him on the matter of the successful mammoth kill. Turtle was so shy talking to the woman that he cast his eyes down to the ground as he spoke to her.

She said, “Do not be shy, young friend. It was a brave thing you did to kill the mammoth. I have no mate, and I have a daughter to raise. The meat from the mammoth is greatly appreciated by me and the others of our group. I will see that your pouch gets tanned. Perhaps someday you can return the favor for me.”

Turtle thanked the woman and was embarrassed at his shyness in talking with her. She is an attractive woman for her age, Turtle thought, I only wish she were closer to my age so I could get to know her better. There were not any unattached, unrelated women of Turtle’s age available for him among the people of his clan.

The next few days were spent along the shore of the marsh processing the bounty from the mammoth kill and preparing the people to face the coming winter. Practically all the meat was stripped from the bones of the animal, which was either eaten or cured for future use. The butcher site was a scene of chaos. Everyone participated in the work at hand. Even the small children chased away magpies, seagulls, and other scavengers wanting a taste of the bounty. The pet dogs of the group became so stuffed with scraps of mammoth meat, they sometimes puked it up, but usually they lie about with their distended bellies swollen in agony. At night, it was all the dogs could do to perform one of their required chores: to keep the coyotes and other predators at bay.

Some of the larger bones were smashed with rocks to recover the bone marrow. This rich, highly nutritious material was given to the young children to fatten them up for the winter. Some of it, and there was plenty, was mixed with ground seeds to make a rich, nutritious cake that could be carried while traveling. It was a special treat for the entire clan. Everyone in the group gained weight from the feast that the mammoth kill provided. Fortunately, they had already stored away considerable stores of non-meat provisions. With the protein provided by the mammoth kill, they would have no trouble getting through the winter.

Plenty of food and provisions to sustain the group through the winter was one thing. Having a place to serve as shelter for all to get in out of the bitter cold of the coming winter was another. The winters along the Black Island Marsh were especially severe. The region offered few caves where the people could seek shelter, but the abundant tules, cattails and other marsh grasses could always be used to construct a temporary shelter. The Great Ice Age had come to an end in the Great Basin. A few remnants of glaciers still covered the slopes of the higher mountains in the region. The marshes all froze over in the winter, making fishing and hunting of waterfowl difficult. It was nearly impossible for the women to gather the tender tule roots or marsh grasses when everything was packed in ice as hard as granite.

The traditional winter habitation site for the group was a journey of about ten days to the south. This was the area near the Stillwater Marsh, where there were many caves and rock shelters for the people to find refuge from the elements. There was also a large cave with a narrow opening, called Hidden Cave, where the people could store their provisions gathered during their spring, summer and fall seasons of foraging through the desert hills and along the massive system of marshes. With the completed processing of the mammoth kill, it was now time for the hunters and their families to gather their belongings and resume the journey to the Stillwater area.

When Turtle began to help his mother and sister gather their belongings and pack everything in baskets and bags for the journey, Yellow Eyes came by their shelter to congratulate Turtle on the successful hunt and the confidence shown to Turtle by Mauwee. Turtle was honored that the spiritual shaman for the group had come to pay him a visit. Yellow Eyes took the young man aside and sat with him along the shore to talk.

“Your grandfather has told me he has great pride and confidence in you, Turtle-Who-Fights,” spoke the wise old shaman.

Turtle, swelling with ego replied, “Yes, he and I talked about many things. Since I helped him to kill the mammoth, he believes I am ready to be a hunter and to learn to become a shaman, perhaps one such as you.”

Legends of Spirit Cave: An Excerpt (Part 3)