Tuesday, June 7, 2011 • Native Americans honor influential ancestor

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, June 7, 2011 edition of the Lassen County Times.

The elders of the Joaquin clan gather for a group photograph during a family reunion held at the Susanville Indian Rancheria Resource Center. Pictured from left, front row, are Lucille Calvin, Marian Calvin, Harold Dixon, Freida Owens, Josephine Valdez, back row, Aaron Dixon, Joe Ruiz, Barbara Marshall, Georgene Smith, Vivian Brazzanovich, Romaine Calvin and Nick Padilla.

More than 100 descendants and family members of one of Lassen County’s most famous and influential Native Americans gathered for a family reunion at noon Saturday, May 28 at the Susanville Indian Rancheria Resource Center.

While the Lassen County immigrants have early settlers such as Issac Roop, Peter Lassen and William Weatherlow to thank for bringing the area we know and love into existence, many Native Americans look to Old Man Joaquin, a member of the Paiute tribe, in a similar way.

The money collected on this money tree will be used to pay for a grave marker for Old Man Joaquin, the only survivor of the 1866 Papoose Meadows Massacre near Eagle Lake.

Joaquin, Sau-weep in his native language, was instrumental in obtaining the original 30 acres for the Susanville Indian Rancheria. Joaquin was the man of the day as the old ways of the past changed into the new ways of today.

Rancheria resident Earnie Meadows, Joaquin’s great-great-great-grandson, said Joaquin went back to Washington, D.C., to help get the Native Americans in the Honey Lake Valley recognized as a tribe and obtain some land on which to live.

“That’s what they gave him — that rock pile on the Lower Res,” Meadows said with a chuckle.

He said his mother led the tribe for 13 years and the tribe made a lot of progress and gradually more and more Indian people obtained grants for houses.

“He (Joaquin) helped obtain the acceptance of the Red Man, and it’s been a battle to keep it ever since, from what I’ve seen,” Meadows said. “In one word he was an innovator. He saw something, and he went for it. It was all for his people so they could have a place to call their own. He was about his people.”

Ironically, Joaquin is perhaps best known as the only survivor of the June 1866 massacre at Papoose Meadows near Eagle Lake.

According to the Jan. 6, 1978 issue of the Lassen Advocate, Joaquin was born around 1830 and grew up roaming from Pyramid Lake near Nixon, Nevada to Eagle Lake near Susanville with the Watachtuca Paiute Tribe, sharing the same nomadic lifestyle as his forefathers had since the 1700s. As a young man, he served as a scout for Chief Winnemucca and later became a headman or sub chief of the tribe.

As he wandered, he frequently camped in a small meadow near Eagle Lake during the summer to dig roots, fish and hunt. In June 1866 a party of whites attacked a band of 11 Paiutes, and Joaquin was the only survivor.

The story is well known in Lassen County, how Joaquin suffered a gunshot wound to the back, but managed to run down Papoose Creek. He eventually made it to Eagle Lake where he broke off both ends of a hollow reed and swam underwater to a small island in the lake, breathing through the reed.

When the massacre finally ended, according to the Native Americans’ version of the story, the only sound that could be heard was that of “a baby crying in the wind” — and thus the meadow got its name.

Joaquin died in 1935 at the age of 101, 105 or 110 depending upon the source, leaving more than 200 descendants.

Meadows said there were many stories about Joaquin he heard growing up.

One story took place when Joaquin was on a hunting trip near Eagle Lake. He was riding a horse back to the Honey Lake Valley when his horse spooked and took off as fast as it could.

“He couldn’t stop it, so he just hung on,” Meadows said. “He was hugging the mane and hanging on, when he could hear the sound of something breathing, and it was almost like breathing on his neck. It was right behind his horse, but you know horses go fast. When I was a little kid they made it sound like a ‘nuna,’ a monster or ghost or bad thing … ”

Meadows said the storytellers changed the story so that maybe it was a bear, but he wondered if a bear could really run as fast as a horse for very long.

“He could feel its breath, kind of like a deep growl when it exhaled,” Meadows said. “It scared the hell out of him. He didn’t even look back. He just took off because he was trying to get home. Halfway between here and the top of the hill, it just quit chasing him, I guess. He was pretty rattled when he got home and told the story. So they said, ‘Yeah, that was probably the Eagle Lake monster.’ It’s a true story, but they’d use it to keep us out of the lake when we couldn’t swim.”

The relatives at the reunion shared a large feast of homemade food and deserts, and many of the elders took advantage of the opportunity to meet the youngsters of the family.

A money tree was set up in one corner to collect money for a headstone for Joaquin, and many family members brought their family photographs and old stories to share.