The Shoshone Tribe numbered just a few hundred when thousands of Mormon pioneers started to settle in what is now southern Idaho and northern Utah. Darren Parry is the former chairman of the Shoshone Tribe and shares what his grandmother taught him about Native American life.
Darren: Her home was a classroom. Out back there would be 10 to 20 deer skins in various forms of brain tanning, that she, herself, would do. [She would] scrape the hide from all the hair and sinew and brain tan these animals so she could have the leather to work with. That’s how I grew up. I thought every grandmother’s home was that way. She had a small garden. In there, the most favorite thing for me was the rhubarb. She grew rhubarb and she would always cook it down and put a lot of sugar in it so you could actually eat it. But I liked it off the stock. I talk about that in the book. Man, it makes my mouth just pucker now, thinking about taking a bite. It looks like purple celery, but it doesn’t taste like it. But just growing up in that culture and hearing the stories about how the coyote stole fire. We actually published a book that’s on the shelf over here, a few years ago as a tribe about how the coyote stole fire. All of these books have animals and characters that speak and that’s how we disseminate knowledge to the children. It’s almost always immersed with the coyote, and the stinkbug and a porcupine. They’re in every story you could imagine. So they tell the story.
Darren: They tell stories about being honest, and just ideals that you’d want your children to know and learn. But they were told in such a way that they were told by animals. Because the animal kingdom is just part of life. It was as much a part of life as being human was. She really instilled in me a desire to just want to learn everything I could about our culture, how we live differently. I remember the pot of stew and I tell this story in my book. There was always a pot of stew on the stove, every day that I was there, with homemade hot bread. I asked her one day, “Why do you always have the same pot of stew on the stove?” She said, “Because in our culture, you never have anyone in your home without feeding them.” As I gotten older, I didn’t think about it then, that made no sense to me then.
Darren: But it made sense to me now. She lived and her parents and grandparents and great-grandfather lived in a time and place where they were probably hungry more times than they were ever full. So, that was an important thing, when a visitor came to your home or lodge or teepee that you fed them. If you had anything to feed them, you fed them because they needed it, first of all. But it was just a lesson on how to take care of one another. So, let me tell you. My grandmother, being the historian she was, she had visitors every day. So now I know why the pot of stew was there. Guys like Brigham Madsen, these great historians that ended up writing about the Bear River Massacre, would visit her home because she was the subject expert. She was the primary source, with a culture that doesn’t have primary sources. People ask me all the time, “Well, where’s the primary source of that?” Well, when you have oral history, that’s the primary source.
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