Our Family Heritage and a Legend or two…

by SmithorJones on June 17, 2008

in Cool Stuff, Family, Smith, WebStops

Like a lot of boys growing up in the 60’s, I was fascinated with the stories of the American “Old West.” You know, Cowboys and Indians. I was riveted by stories of rugged cowboys, and yet at the same time appalled at how the “Indians” had been slaughtered. Even as a young child I appreciated the differences in cultures. I could never understand why people thought they should kill people just because they were different. It sadden me that this happened not just because of the loss of life, but also the loss of culture and knowledge of the land that these People had; knowledge that each side could have benefited from.

In any event, likely because of this fascination I had, my mother once told me that she was part Cherokee. Wow! That meant I was too! This knowledge pleased me greatly. Later she said, with a twinkle in her eye, “well, my little finger is Cherokee.”

Hmmmm, I pondered…what did that mean? Well, my mother was born in Oklahoma…not too far from where Roger Miller grew up, I might add…but I digress…Dang Me!

She, like many Americans had a diverse ancestry – Dutch, perhaps some German and possibly some Irish. She was likely at least half English (her maiden name was Teasley, and her mother’s maiden name was Armstrong). So, did she have Cherokee in her? Well, apparently she had some…but I now understand the “little finger” analogy.

Frequently, people born in Oklahoma in the 20’s had some Cherokee in them. This is because the survivors of the Great Cherokee Nation were repatriated to a reservation in Oklahoma and to a large degree, eventually absorbed into society. At the same time however, it is usually understood if a person says they are “part” something, they are at least one-eighth (one of their parents being a fourth). In this case, it appears that she may have been one-eighth, but more likely she was one-sixteenth. If that is true, that makes me one thirty-second Cherokee and my children one sixty-fourth. So…if my mom was a “little finger” – then maybe we’re all fingernails – or possibly hangnails!

So, okay, maybe I didn’t actually have a strong blood heritage with the People of this continent, but that in no way dampened my interest in American History, especially the settling of the West. The rapid changes that took place on this continent may not have their equal at any other time in the history of the world…and I have always found all of that fascinating. My interest especially in the local tribes continues to some extent to this day. I recently read a book written by Thomas Jefferson Mayfield called “Indian Summer” Traditional Life Among the Choinumne Indians of California’s San Joaquin Valley. It is a reprint of a book originally published in 1929 and a quick read, but very interesting for anyone interested in that sort of thing.

My father had a unique approach to dealing with my interest. He liked to tell the Legend of Falling Rocks. Now each time he told it, the story differed slightly. You’ll have that with Legends. My father could tell this story in 5 minutes, or he could take 45 minutes or more (depending on where we were driving) to tell the story. And, as he told the story, he used to scare the daylights out of us …my mother and us kids…not so much by his story telling, but by looking at us in the backseat as he’s telling the story, while driving! My father, you see, felt very strongly about actually “connecting” with his audience. I can still remember the feeling of terror as he looked back to see if we were all paying attention, and we’d see one of the curves in the road looming before us and thinking…we are going to die! Amazingly, we survived the telling each and every time. He told that story so much, we could tell it…word for word.

Recently, I was trying to remember the story to tell it…having lost the ability to quote it word for word now that I’m no longer held captive in the back seat of the family sedan. A quick “Google” of The Story of Falling Rocks netted me quite a few different versions of the same Legend. It appears that other children grew up like I did – with their father driving along the winding roads of (in my case) the Sierra Foothills, telling them the Legend of Falling Rocks.

One version that I read online recently came the very close to the version my father told – although my father’s favorite version was MUCH longer – and of course more exciting because we never knew whether we’d survive the telling of the story. I got quite a chuckle out of the creativity shown in this version of the account. Maybe you will too.

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