Indian Baskets and Coyote Dentures

Panamint Shoshone Indian Baskets

Inyo County’s county seat is the small town of Independence, CA. To me, it will always be associated with the Eastern California Museum and the writings of Mary Hunter Austin (1868-1934). Curiously, the museum and Mary Austin’s house are just across the street from one another. I have always thought that Austins The Land of Little Rain and The Basket Woman are two of the best books written about life in the Eastern Sierras over a century ago. The Austin house is not open to visitors, but you can always cross the street to the museum to buy her books and learn about this incredible writer.

In fact, there is little about the Eastern Sierras that you can’t learn about from the museum. If the Owens Valley and its continuation northward to the Nevada state line is of any interest to you, you owe it to yourself to spend at least half a day at the museum. There you will learn about the miners, the Indians, the Japanese interned at Manzanar, the pioneer men and women, the mountain climbers, the water wars, the geology, the railroads, and the farmers.

One of the most incredible displays is a set of dentures using coyote teeth for a dentally distressed resident by the name of George Washington Hancock. While we visited the museum, we heard two visitors walk in the door and immediately ask about the “coyote teeth.”

The Coyote Dentures and the Story Behind Them

The collection of Paiute and Shoshone Indian basketry is world class. I particularly liked the Panamint Shoshone designs on their baskets. I was disappointed to learn that these baskets were made for early tourists to the area, as the Indians were much too pragmatic to bother about designs for something so utilitarian as a food container. Yet the designs came from somewhere and are visually striking.

In many ways, it is recommended to visit the museum at or near the beginning of your trip along Highway 395. Wherever you are going, whatever you are planning to do, you will find answers here in this museum which is owned and run by Inyo County. There are no admission fees, but I strongly recommend you make a donation so that this outstanding institution can continue to highlight one of the most interesting corners of our country.


When Your Beliefs Are Not Open to Change

George Carlin defines Frisbeetarianism as the belief that, when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck there. But there is a version of Frisbeetarianism that affects us while we are still alive. All too many of us treat our values as fixed in place, impervious to all attempts to change them. Are facts contrary to your values? Well, then, adhere to “alternative facts,” or, as I call them, lies.

I remember years ago going to a coffee shop in Cambria, California, for lunch. At the next table were a couple of ranchers discussing how Rush Limbaugh was such a God-fearing man. Did these ranchers care to know that their beloved Rushbo goes to the Dominican Republic loaded with Viagra to have his way with loose women? Or that he has had problems of addiction to Oxycontin, the so-called “Hillbilly Heroin” that is an opioid? And that’s only the beginning.

These men would be offended if I brought up any of these points. Why? Because they conflict with their beliefs and values.

We all have beliefs that affect our behavior. That’s why I get my news from CNN and NBC rather than Breitbart. Oh, occasionally I look at Breitbart.Com, though it fails to move me in any positive way. But I have changed my political affiliation lately to Independent, because the last several elections have soured me on the Democrats, thus changing voting behavior that goes back to the election of 1968. I also look warily at Progressives of the “Brie and Chablis” variety that populate West Los Angeles.

The point is that my beliefs are still in flux. What used to be a wide paved road has become for me a pitted dirt path that can lead me into making horrendous and immoral decisions. I consider myself a person who is still evolving.

And by no means do I wish to sail onto the roof and get stuck there.

Going Independent

Goodbye, Donkey! Goodbye, Elephant!

This summer, I have re-registered to vote as an independent. Ever since I came to be of voting age, I have been a Democrat. For a while, I even tried to help out in a congressional election—my man lost—and even donated money to the party at various critical junctures. Of late, I did not particularly care for the leadership of the party. I did not like Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I do not like Tom Perez. And, as time passes, I do not care for the way Hillary Clinton screwed up her presidential campaign last year; and I am not altogether sure I would have liked it all that much had she won. Granted, she wouldn’t have been as bad as Trumpf. From her ivory tower, I think she has totally lost touch with the voters, a large percentage of whom hate her for various reasons—many of them trumped up by the Right.

My first presidential election was in 1968. I refused to vote for either the Democratic (Humphrey) or Republican (Nixon) candidate. Instead, I wrote in Otto Schlumpf, a Franciscan priest from Santa Barbara, for president and comedian Dick Gregory for vice president. Both were actively against the Viet Nam War, as was I.

Over the years, the Democrats have been wasting the many successes of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lyndon Johnson came close when it came to domestic policy, but was a total washout in Viet Nam. He wisely withdrew when he realized how badly he had messed up. Too bad: He could have been one of the great ones. (But then Viet Nam made dunces out of a lot of otherwise smart politicians.)

I will probably still vote mostly Democrat, though no longer in the primaries. I don’t know what will happen to the Republican Party—nothing good, I hope—but I may conceivably vote Republican in some local elections, as I have done in the past, especially  when I voted for Schwarzenegger for governor of California against the Democrat Phil Angelides in 2006.

In time, I would like to see more than two major political parties in the U.S. And I don’t mean single-issue parties like the Libertarians and American Independents. The Democrats and Republicans will continue to morph over the next few years, most likely in a way that is unacceptable to me as a voter.

So now I’m an independent.

Independence Day 1821

Declaring Independence Was One Thing, But Winning It Another

Declaring Independence Was One Thing, But Winning It Another

Peru is now celebrating the 193rd anniversary of its own Declaration of Independence by José de San Martin in Lima, as shown in the famous painting above by Juan Lepiani. As with our own Declaration of Independence, there was still a lot of fighting to come. Worse still, disunity was rampant. So much so that San Martin left for Europe in disgust and remained there until his death in 1850. Compared to what happened in South America, our own struggle for independence was a cakewalk, thanks largely to Admiral de Grasse and the French navy.

Let me give you a brief timeline. First there were the native peoples of what is now Peru, who were mostly gobbled up by the Inca empire. Then the Spanish came in under Francisco Pizarro, defeated the Incas, and set up a European-based government. All went somewhat smoothly under the Peninsular War of the early 19th century, in which the English, abetted by Spanish guerrillas, drove Napoleon’s French out of the Iberian Peninsula—at the cost of messing up their colonies in the New World. All criollo (native-born white) officials were replaced by new administrators from Spain. So, feeling disenfranchised, the criollos rebelled under Bolivar, San Martin, Sucré, O’Higgins and others. They won, effectively driving the Spanish from South America.

Even to this day, Peru is largely a criollo-run country, even though whites constitute only 15% of the population. Naturally, the 45% who are Amerindians and the 37% who are Mestizo (mixed races) currently feel disenfranchised. Is Peru due for another revolution? In a way, it had one in the 1980s and 1990s under the Shining Path and the MRTA guerrillas, who were defeated in a series of bloody confrontations in which thousands of innocent people were killed.

It is inevitable that the non-whites in power will be replaced by more of the people from the Altiplano and jungle regions as time goes on. There may be other Independence Days to come. Who knows?

After all, there are people who feel the same way in the United States, people who dress in 18th century costumes with tea bags dangling from their hats.