The fourth Joaquin Family Reunion was held Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Susanville Indian Rancheria. Photo by Sam Williams

Joaquin family gathers to remember

The fourth Joaquin Family Reunion was held Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Susanville Indian Rancheria.

The Joaquin family consists of more than 360 living descendants of Sau-Weep, the last headman of the Wadatkuta Numu (Wada-de-cuta Paiute), whose homelands cover regions that include the Honey Lake Valley and parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In June 1866, immigrants who moved into the valley heard about an encampment of “renegade” Indians near Eagle Lake. The immigrants found the group of Wadatkutas at Papoose Meadows (named after the fact), where they had camped to gather roots and fish near a spring there.

Sau-Weep was the lone survivor of the massacre. A young man, he was shot in the back, but had the wherewithal to jump in the water and breathe through a reed pretending to be dead. All others in the encampment were killed, including children and infants. This became known as the Papoose Meadows Massacre because a baby could be heard crying after the killing was done.

During the mid-1800s, it was mass chaos in California. Gold miners arriving from all parts of the world soon found out gold and silver were scarce and turned to state-sanctioned bounties placed on California Indians. Numu scalps brought in 25 cents per head, while other tribes living in suspected gold areas, such as the Atsugewi (Pit River) people living near the northeastern region of Eagle Lake to Lassen Peak, brought in $5 per head.

Later in his life, Sau-Weep worked for a farmer who grew alfalfa in the Honey Lake area near Milford. At that time Indian people were forced to take on last names, so he took on the farmer’s last name — Joaquin. Because he was not allowed to use his Numu name among whites, he became known as “Old Man” Joaquin. That was the name he used for the remainder of his life.

Sau-Weep and his wife, Mattie, had 10 children (four did not have children). During the birth of their last child, Lena, Mattie passed on. Sau-Weep raised his children alone while working and relying on his older children to help.

He later sold Cu-ui trout, only known to Pyramid Lake, to those establishing ranches and farms in the Honey Lake Valley. He was noted for being tall with a straight posture. He wore buckskin beaded gloves as he drove his horse-drawn wagon throughout the valley from Pyramid Lake through the Honey Lake Valley.

He became blind later in life, but went on to raise many children and grandchildren, living to be 110 years old, passing on in 1935. He witnessed the lifestyle known for tens of thousands of years erode to a much different world.

Throughout the Honey Lake Valley, including the Susanville area, through Milford and Eagle Lake, and over to Pyramid Lake, Wadatkutas had lived off the land and thrived for many thousands of years.

In the early 1900s, newcomers put up fences over Numu gathering areas, preventing them from obtaining traditional food and medicine. Until then, Numus didn’t need housing as we know it and gathered whatever they felt like eating. One day they would gather plums or acorn, the next day, maybe fish or a jackrabbit. They had medicine readily available, such as To’za, a medicine that looked like a potato. It sounds like it was a wonderful life.

All that changed as Indian children were taken away from their parents and forced to go to Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools or institutions.

There, children were prohibited from speaking their languages or practicing traditional ways. They eventually came home to a much different life.

Due to the destruction of ancestral lands, many federal laws were enacted, most notably the Indian Termination Act. Its intent was to assimilate Indians into mainstream society, forcing them to abandon traditional ways. Without consent, the Wadatkutas’ status as a recognized tribe was terminated and individuals were deeded small allotments of land. Most of these allotments were around the Janesville, Johnsonville and Susanville areas.

Sau-Weep was forced to give up his lifestyle and had the first ramshackle house at a place called “Indian Heights, or Rooster Hill” on the outskirts of Susanville.

Due to the failure of the Termination Act, the Landless and Homeless Rancheria Act was enacted. Indian people who came to the Susanville area to work in logging and farming jobs were included in the establishment of the Susanville Indian Rancheria. The SIR became a federally-recognized tribe in 1969, consisting of four tribal groups. These tribes included descendants of the Honey Lake Paiute, Atsugewi/ Achomawi (Pit River), Maidu, and Washoe. Originally, one person was named from each tribal group and their descendants were to become future members.

Credit must be given to Sau-Weep’s grandchildren, Albert Calvin (Lena’s son), who encouraged Freda Owens (Libby’s granddaughter), and Harold Dixon (Helen’s son) to assist in the establishment of the SIR.

Sau-Weep left a legacy of resilience that his now elder descendants encourage the younger generation to not forget. The language, traditions, stories and lifeways need to be remembered and practiced through action and prayer —- to honor his legacy.

This is why we gather together as the Joaquin family — so we don’t forget the past and remember the sacrifices of Sau-Weep, the lone survivor of the Papoose Meadows Massacre.

We gather to remember.

Cindy La Marr is the great granddaughter of Sau-Weep, an original member of the Susanville Indian Rancheria, and past president of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), the largest Indian education advocacy group in the nation.