The day the sky was on fire

Usually when I hear a odd old story I can figure out what might have happened based on current knowledge. This story, by my Grandmother, is very strange and I could never figure out what happened.

Long ago the many bands of the tribe had gathered for a celebration. It was a multi-day affair and as usual the people were having a wonderful time. It was in the mid afternoon when a great roar was heard in the east. As the people looked east it was as if though the sun was rising again. In horror the people saw that the sky was on fire. Like a great blanket of fire being pulled over the world as the sky was slowly being covered. There was no screaming running and hiding, Indians weren't like that. They simply stared in disbelief. The roar became louder and louder and the fire advanced over the world. When 2/3 of the sky was covered it stopped and begin to slowly recede. It eventually went away and it never happened again.

No one was able to explain what happened. The leaders and the medicine men could offer no explanation. No explanation of angry spirits, prophecy or legend.

I have an old aunt that may still remember this story but if not then I am the last person to know of the day the sky caught fire.

Wounded in Action

During World War II many Indians went to fight in the various theaters of war. My mother's cousin, Gene, ended up in Italy. While in Italy he met a woman whom he eventually married and brought into this country. While they were courting he tells this story of how he was wounded in action.

She lived in a two story house. She was so in love with him that when his unit was ordered to move out she locked him in the bedroom on the second floor and refuse to let him out. He tried to break down the door but it was too strong. He told her that if she did not let him out he would leap from the balcony. She refuse to let him out. He said it wasn't too far down and he knew that he would survive the leap. He jumped and in order to make it more dramatic he said he yelled all the way down. When he landed on the ground he landed sideways and his leg broke. He said that when it broke he really had something to yell about.

And that was how my uncle received the Purple Heart for been wounded in action.

Of course the certificate did not exactly say what type of action.


Sometimes I wonder where we local Indians get our customs and traditions. Up until the 50's there was a Halloween tradition called the night of the Who-dee-dos. Who-dee-dos means something like goblin. It reminded me of the "Night of the Living Dead" movie series. The series had Zombies terrorizing the living.

During Halloween night the good people of the reservation would go the small local church to pray the night away. Outside the church the Who-dee-dos could be heard screaming and yelling. Sometimes they would reach through the windows of the church and grab anyone who was near the windows. If they could drag someone outside they would tie them to a tree for the rest of the night.

If you were caught outside of the church you would be drug to a tree and tied up until morning as the Who-dee-dos would yell and taunt you. The Wo-dee-dos would wander the reservation in groups looking for mischief. They would board up your house so you couldn't get in. They would scatter hay all over your yard. It was quite a frightful night.

Eventually the night of the Who-dee-dos were regulated out of existence by the tribal council. I thought it was some type of Mexican custom but no Mexican I know of ever heard of it. I wonder where it came from? My Father says the Who-dee-dos were the young men of the reservation, at least he thinks they were.

The Fox

My Grandmother told me the darndest story about foxes. Now my Grandmother went away to Indian schools when she was a child. I have read that some children lost some of their culture and language when they went away. My Grandma did neither. She learned a lot about the outside world and had refined manners but she remained Indian.

When she was a child she heard, from the old folks, that a fox can whistle like a man. There are something's that the old people say that cause you to wonder if it could possibly be true. She never believed it because she had seen foxes all her life and never heard them whistle. In those days there were not so many roads and getting from one place to another required walking. Even when I was a kid and there were paved roads people generally walked over old trails through the foothills. Even if you had a car it would be silly to drive just a mile or so. Then again my Grandmother never did learn how to drive and all her life she would always walk to visit a neighbor or walk to church. She was very comfortable and confident when she went through the countryside. If you see someone walking through the reservation today you would thing that they are illegal aliens as no one walks anymore.

She was still a young woman when this happened. One day she was walking down a trail and heard someone whistling. The person was coming in the opposite direction and she could tell the person was close. Feeling odd that someone would be on the same trail she was on, because she usually did not encounter someone on that trail, she went away from the trail so she could see who it was. She hid herself behind some bushes and saw who it was. It was a fox. It was whistling just like a human. As it walked in front of her it stopped whistling, paused and looked in her direction for a moment. It then just kept on walking and whistling. My grandmother was astonished. Her mind told her it couldnít be happening but she actually saw it.

She immediately told many people her own age about the whistling fox. No one believed her.

As an elder grandma she told me.

I donít believe it.

The Dog

When my father was a very young he worked as a surveyorís helper.  He walked all over San Diego County and knows the backcountry very well.  He remembered a time when he found a lost puppy.  As he walked through the brush, looking for some previous survey teamís marker, he heard a whimpering.  He searched and found a tiny puppy that was in a state of distress.  He placed it in his hat and gave it some food and water.  He wondered what had happened to the mother but in the backcountry there are a lot of things that could happen.  He figured, that for some reason, the puppy was an orphan and was probably going to die without care.

 It just so happened that my Dad knew of an Indian family nearby.  They owned a ranch that they had homesteaded off the reservation.  There were a lot of relatives working there with a large amount of livestock and children.  My Dad carried the puppy in his hat and brought it to the family.  Like a lot of rural families back then a good dog comes in real handy.  The family gladly accepted the puppy and my Dad left feeling real happy because he had rescued the dog.

 Some months later my Dad met a member of that family and asked what ever became of the puppy he gave them.  The person told my Dad that after the puppy grew up they found that it wasnít a dog after all.  It was a coyote.


The Turkey

 Looking back from today most families were poor.  Back then, as kids, we really didnít know it.  But there was one family that, even as a kid, I knew they did not have what most families did.  There was a mother, father, and eight children.  Four boy and four girls.  Not too long ago one of, the now grown, sisters talked to my sister about being poor.  It was Thanksgiving time and she told my sister about Thanksgiving at her house when they were kids.  When Thanksgiving would come near she would look out the window, from time to time, waiting for Ms. Kotroche to come.  Ms. Kotroche was one of those people who helped the Indians.  Ms. Kotroche would go from store to store begging for food for the poorer Indian families.  The lady told my sister that she would hope and hope that Ms. Kotroche would bring a turkey for them.  Once and a while there would be ham but it was important to have a turkey so that when the kids in school would talk about eating turkey she could also talk about eating turkey.  She would find herself staring down the dirt road waiting for Ms. Kotroche to come.  They could have a nice meal and she wouldnít have to be ashamed and hope that no one would ask her how Thanksgiving was when her family couldnít afford to have turkey.  So she would wait and wait and stare down the old reservation road, hoping that she wouldnít have to be ashamed again.

The Silver Dollar

Many years ago when my Father was a young man, he was working and earned some money.  He remembers that he had a silver dollar in his pocket.  Actually, back then there was no other coin dollar but the silver kind.  He was hunting down in the Los Conejos part of the El Capitan Indian Reservation.  Sometimes rabbits get hunted out so he couldnít find any that day.  Being a young guy he decided to practice his shooting.  To this day, he is  87, he is the champion .22 marksmen of all the reservations.  The reservations used to have an annual rife match and my dad was sure to take home the limit in prizes.  Being an inventive person he decided to use his silver dollar as a target.  Back then that was a great deal of money.  Maybe being $50 in todayís money.  Seeing how a loaf of bread was about 15 cents.  So he took his dollar and planted it in the ground.  He went back fifty paces and took careful aim.  He hit the dollar with his first shot.  Happily he went up to find his dollar so he could admire his marksmanship.  He never did find that dollar.  He looked everywhere and could not find it.  He returned for several days and never found it.  A few years ago he took me down to the exact spot to show me where he lost that dollar.  The ensuing fifty years had not at all dimmed his memory.  This time he didnít look for it or ask me to look around.  The buck was pretty much gone forever.

 I sometimes try to imagine how her felt when he lost that dollar.  He had to go tell his Dad it was gone.  There were probably many things he wanted to do with that dollar and then he couldnít do them.  He must have felt real bad at the time because he still knows exactly where he lost it.  Sometimes he tends to forget where he puts things, once finding tickets to a Charger football that he bought, and not used, many years ago.  But if you ask him about that dollar he will take you to the exact spot where many years ago it was lost.  So if your ever down at the old reservation and find a silver dollar with a .22 bullet hole try to remember how opportunities can be lost, if you donít plan for all outcomes.