History and the people who make it: Lilly Sanchez

Lilly Sanchez [LS], of Nevada’s Western Shoshone tribe, and her daughter Virginia [VS] and granddaughter Cora Burchett [CB], were interviewed by Ryan Morini [RM] in December 2012.

This is the 40th in a series of transcript excerpts from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program collection at the University of Florida.

Transcript edited by Pierce Butler.

LS: My name is Lilly Virginia Sanchez. I was born in Duckwater, where my grandfather always lived, under the willows. We never go to doctors those days, we just have our grandmother as a midwife.

RM: When were you born?

LS: 1923.

RM: Were you delivered by a midwife?

LS: Yes, by my grandmother, Mary Blackeye. My parents was Agnes Blackeye Penoli, and my father was Frank Penoli.

RM: Did your mother stay in a separate house or dwelling when she had you?

LS: They followed their traditions. Move out of your family home. They’ll put tent or whatever out there for you to have your baby. You stay there for whole month. And you don’t eat meat; that’s not good for your body, because you ache if you eat meat when you’re having your babies. And you don’t go around to other people until month is over with. Then you go take a bath—well, we never had showers at our house. We used to go down to the swimming pool, or whatever we call it, and take a bath early in the morning so you’d be all clean to get back into your own home with your other family.

RM: Was the swimming pool the warm springs up there?

LS: Grandpa fixed it as little swimming pool, where the water runs down the field there. It’s kind of lukewarm, where we all take baths. All the Blackeye family.

RM: What was your grandfather’s name?

LS: Will Blackeye. People always call him “chief,” but he said, “I’m not chief, I’m just trying to lead my people.”

RM: Why did they call him chief?

LS: Because he always have Fandangos there, every fall. Where my sister lives, under the trees, people from all over come in September. They stay for five days, and they had their dances.

RM: Did you keep a garden then?

LS: Yes. We had a lot of fruit trees, but most of them dried up. We had a lot of plums, gooseberries. And rhubarb. Grandpa, he works for most of the ranchers there, so he get plants from them. Grandpa grow a lot of vegetables, like carrots, parsnips, turnips, green beans, potatoes, and what else? Onions, garlic. He was good at it. I don’t see those kind of gardens anymore.

My Grandma Mary would give me the little lard bucket—we don’t see those lard buckets anymore. “Take this with you, and go down where grandpa’s irrigating.” So I’ll go and bring home the gophers. The gophers get under and make holes where grandpa is irrigating, so he kills them. I bring them home, and grandma would clean them and put them in the oven and roast them.

Me and grandma always prayed. Thank the Great Spirit for the day, or the night. You have to pray before you pick anything up, or gather food. You always pray to it. Grandma was real good at doing things. But those plants. Most of them are gone. I can’t find them when I look. They dried up—because we don’t have the weather like we used to. We had lot of snow and rain. But not anymore.

We went to the public school, down on the Irvin Ranch. We all moved down there in the wintertime so the kids could go to school. We walk across a field about maybe two miles to school.

RM: The whole family would relocate so you could go to school?

LS: Yes. We have little mud houses down there, what we live in. It’s a one-room house. We didn’t think it was hard.

RM: Did you eat a lot of wild meats when you were growing up? You mentioned the gophers.

LS: The gophers, and the prairie dogs, and we don’t eat mice because they’re dirty. [Laughter] They’re always into something and eating dirty things. But you would eat gophers, chipmunks, groundhog. Cottontails and jackrabbits. I liked to go hunting.

VS: Tell him about the insects, Mom. The family ate insects, like that June bug, and the ant eggs.

LS: Yeah, them little June bugs. They come in the spring. They’re little tiny beetles. We used to catch them and bring them home, and mom would roast them in a pan and put it in the oven. But we usually killed it by pinching the head. I thought they were good. Crunchy. You take the legs off. It tastes like popcorn.

VS: Locusts.

LS: Locusts, that’s what tastes like popcorn. But it tastes almost like a locust. They’re just little.

Yes, ant eggs. Grandma used to put them in the oven, the ant eggs, and use the winnowing— the ant eggs would stay in and the sticks and everything would fall through the bottom.

We used to go fishing. Those fish were good, the saibenkwi. They’re almost like a trout, but have a little green stripe down on the side. We used to eat a lot of meat. Rabbits. Ducks. Prairie dogs. Gophers. A lot of duck eggs, fish, guumbe. We don’t eat rats. No, no mice. They’re dirty. [Laughter]

Tules? We eat the soft part of the tules. Saip. That’s where they used to get it, above Little Warm Springs there. A lot of those have good roots that’s really white, and when you peel it, it’s really good. I haven’t eaten it in a long time, there’s no tules.

So these cavalry soldiers or whatever—that’s the time they went from McGill, other side of Ely. Two doctors, Indian doctors, could see what’s going to happen. This woman and man went to McGill, toward Spring Valley. There were people up there in the canyon, they warn them that the cavalry coming, going to kill them. And they didn’t believe these two people. That woman was a doctor, and man was doctor—they were strong, so they got away. They went over to Spring Valley. There were some more Shoshones down there, where they massacred lot of people. They went down and warned, some of the people got away, but not all of them.

Then they went down toward Cherry Creek, Railroad Valley, they massacred those Shoshones down there. Then they seen these Duckwater people camped [for a] rabbit drive below Currant Creek, down the valley. Those soldiers come over after they massacred the people, and they seen these people with their fires burning in the valley, and they were happy. They had a scout, leader, he said, “Don’t bother these Shoshones, they never bothered anybody.”

But the soldiers were going to get rid of these people in Duckwater. So grandma’s grandma went up on that big white mountain above Currant Creek, Idjago’. They walked up there, and my grandpa was only two years old. They went up and hide under the rocks. They could see that cavalry coming up the valley. They had one young teenage girl with them after they massacred all the people down below.

My grandpa and grandma always talk about what happened. I was little, three or four years old. I hear that all my life.

Grandpa and my two aunts went down to the McGarry store. Someone told them, “There’s a guys that’s been,” you know, “hurting people.” Especially the women, they would just do anything to them. Grandpa and his cousin and my two aunts, Minnie and Mary—those guys caught up with them in Duckwater.

Grandpa had a son, Dick. Grandpa told his son, “Go get a gun!” So he got his gun and went back. I guess my grandma trying to stop him, but he was on his horse. Got to the wagon where grandpa and them were. Those two outlaws were going around, circle them, you know, scaring them.

This one guy, Jack Hooper’s dad, had a bullwhip. He was using that on them two, to keep them away. But they didn’t stop, so they seen my uncle Dick coming with a horse with his gun. They went after him. Grandpa yelled at his son, “Don’t let them take your gun away! They want to kill us all!” So Uncle Dick, that’s when he shot that guy that was on the horse, trying to pull him away and take his gun. He shot him and he fell. And the other one got scared, he took off and he fell into the ditch someplace. I don’t know whatever happened to him.

RM: So if people called your grandfather “chief” sometimes, they must have really respected him. Did they call him “chief,” or did they call him “taikwani”?

LS: They always call him Dupui, “blackeye.” I think the white people start calling him chief. He said, “I’m not a chief! You know, I look after this family.”

RM: How’d he get the name Dupui?

LS: He was born with a birthmark, it cover one eye.

CB: Grandma, didn’t you say he got that name because his mom ate a bird?

LS: Oh, when my grandfather’s mother was pregnant, Sally, they didn’t have anything to eat, so somebody kill a butcherbird. It has black eyes. So that’s where he got his name, from the butcherbird.

RM: Did anyone still eat grass seeds and things?

VS: Mono. Those little red seeds.

LS: But those are so fine! You have to get lot of it to make a meal. [Laughter] Lot of work! People used to work so hard for their food.

RM: Did you have to do any other stuff, like get, I don’t know, gather sagebrush, or anything like that during that time?

LS: I don’t remember. But you always have sagebrush to bless yourself with. Bohovi. You have to get up early, and don’t touch your face. If you’re itching someplace, get a stick and do this. And cover your head. You going to have a gray hair if you touch it. I guess I touch my hair so much! [Laughter]

VS: Didn’t you gather the wood? You had little piles?

LS: Yeah. Gather that, and just pile them up there. But the last pile, that’s what you take down to your little camp. For fire. And you don’t drink cold water. That would hurt inside of your stomach, they tell you. So you have to boil your water, and get it lukewarm. That’s what you drink. And don’t eat red meat, anything that got to do with meat. It’s not good for you. Because you’ll be hurting before your age. But those things, I think it’s gone. Nobody follow that anymore.

RM: Do you remember the nuclear testing?

LS: I wasn’t there. People talk about it, and said their gardens—I guess the dust or whatever came over. Killed their plants.

RM: What do you remember about the wars? WWII, do you remember a lot of relatives going off to war?

LS: Yes, lot of men went to it.

RM: Duckwater’s got a long list of veterans. Was that a stressful time for everyone? Were they worried about the troops?

LS: They were worried about it. But I don’t know the worrying helped any. [Laughter]

Search for “Lilly Sanchez” at http://oral.history.ufl.edu for the full transcript of this interview.

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