Sunday, November 22, 2015
Oshá: New Ways
Weather: Rain Monday turned to snow late in the day and fell into a thick mass in the night. The ground wasn’t frozen yet, and the snow either evaporated or sank in by the next day. This morning’s temperature was down to 17 degrees; other days it’s been in the mid-20s. With the water now in the ground, I imagine the soil is freezing.
Trucks beginning to appear along road sides with firewood for sale.
What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on fernbush, yuccas, grape hyacinth, columbine, catmint, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort, Jupiter’s beard, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, tansy, yarrow, coreopsis, purple and golden hairy asters; rose stems, June grass.
What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, flax, pinks.
What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.
Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches.
Weekly update: Bands living outside the natural range of Ligusticum porteri have been reported as using it. Leonora Curtin found the Yuki of northern California used oshá "to ward off rattlesnakes" in 1957. More recently, Gregory Tilford said the Blackfeet and Bitterroot Salish of western Montana called it "bear medicine." The one was a prairie band, the other moved into Montana from the Pacific coast.
John Kartesz’s map of the plant’s distribution shows the Apia native to Colorado and New Mexico from the eastern face of the Rocky Mountains west through Utah into eastern Nevada and reaching down into north central Arizona. It’s also found in Chihuahua and Nuevo León. He considers reports from Idaho and most of Wyoming to be questionable. Nothing official has been recorded for Montana or California.
More than likely, people outside the mountain areas obtained their roots through trade or family connections. Rose Chaletsin, a Kiowa Apache in Oklahoma, told Julia Jordan that, "Way back, they get it from somewhere up north. They ain’t got it around here. They get ‘izeelk’ah from the north there, in Canada and Montana, and in them Black Hills." More recently, she said a friend gave some to her husband. They put it in the fire, like cedar, or when they were sick.
Connie May Saddleblanket told Jordan the plains Apache "get it from those Northern peoples. Get it from Cheyennes." She added, they put it in the fire and "smoke themselves with it." Her sister-in-law, Louise Saddleblanket remembered her father got medicine fat from a Mescalero friend and that he would cut a piece to "put it on the coal."
In the 1930s, Gilbert McAllister was told the same Apache group put cedar or medicine fat on the fire during the first night of mourning. "It is just like you could see the dead. They put this in the fire. You could think of him in your mind." Another tribal member, Gertrude Chalepah said they used the root when they renewed the family medicine bundle, "but they did not know how to procure more of it" in the 1960s.
Michael Moore thinks the recent diffusion of oshá to other groups has been occurring through the powwows and other pan-Indian meetings. The attraction is that it is called bear root, and the bear clan exists in a number of tribes. In many traditions, bear is associated with medicine.
In an interview with Wren Cottingham, he remembered visiting a man at Hopi named Leroy to buy corn. He took some oshá with him as a gift. The man’s wife’s family were members of the bear clan. They placed it in two woven baskets, sprinkled it with corn pollen and took it into a back room. The woman, her sisters, mother, and daughter associated it with their clan because it was called bear medicine.
Alfred Whiting did not mention oshá in 1939 in his Ethnobotany of the Hopi.
They, like many, were attempting to recover a heritage that was lost to the Spanish and then the Americans through things half-remembered or reconstructed. The irreparable break in tradition came in the nineteenth century when bands were moved onto American reservations or, in the southwest, had their Spanish land grants circumscribed. Like the Plains Apache women, they lost the ritual context for the plants they used, and lost touch with the groups who supplied them.
Many no longer could go into the mountains where bears lived. As a result, some have come to think that because they were affiliated with bears, they must have had friendly relations with them. A few might even think of bears the way born again Christians think of their Savior as a beneficent daily presence.
The last assumption is unlikely for most. Bears were predators. One reason they were adopted as totems was they were beyond human control. If anything, they were a bit like the vengeful Jehovah of the Jewish Old Testament.
Antonio Valverde led an expedition of men from the Santa Fé presidio and northern pueblos, along with warriors from the Sierra Blanca Apache, on a campaign against the Ute and Comanche in 1719. The were traveling along canyons of the eastern face of the mountains. Snow fell when they were north of the Purgatorie river in late September, and sleet drenched them above the Arkansas in early October.
Three times bears attacked or crashed into their camp in late afternoon. It took "many spear thrusts and arrows" to kill one whose "strength and size were [...] formidable." Another, larger than a donkey, grabbed a horse’s tail, "held him down and clawing viciously, tore a piece off the rump."
Moore thinks natives didn’t need to have observed bears to have made the association with them. He said he once came upon a hillside area near Taos dug up by claws. Nearby he found recent droppings with oshá roots sticking out.
He also found more likely connections between Taos, the Hopi and oshá. Leroy put chunks of the root in his corn field where the acequia dumped its water to kill cutworms. Moore said, he learned about this from relatives living in Taos pueblo. He, no doubt, got roots from them.
Notes: The connection between bear and oshá in the popular imagination may have emerged in Colorado. See William Bowen’s 1895 views quoted in the post for 25 October 2015.
Students at the University of Maryland surveyed botanists in many states in 1999 for distribution information on oshá; they had some reports of it from Idaho and Montana, along with cautions that some of the previous claims were based on misidentified specimens.
Curtin, L. S. M. Some Plants Used by the Yuki Indians of Round Valley, Northern California, 1957, cited by Dan Moerman, Native American Ethnobotany, 1998.
Jordan, Julia A. Plains Apache Ethnobotany, 2008.
Kartesz, John. "Range Map for Ligusticum porteri", Floristic Synthesis of North America, 2010.
Lewis, Orrin and Laura Redish. "Native American Bear Mythology," Native Languages of the Americas website. He’s Cherokee. The bear clan existed in the south among the Creek, and in the southwest among the Hopi, Navajo, and some pueblos. In the north, they mention the clan among the Ojibwa, Menominee, Mi’kmaq, Huron and Iroquois. Caddo and Osage lived on the prairies; Tlingit, Tsimshian, Nisgaa-Gitksan, and Salishan were in the northwest.
McAllister, J. Gilbert. "Kiowa-Apache Social Organization," in Fred Eggan, Social Anthropology of North American Tribes, 1955; quoted by Jordan.
Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants: In the Field with Michael Moore, Volume 2: Southern Colorado, filmed by Wren Cottingham, 1994; section uploaded in two parts to You Tube as "A Talk on Oshá."
Tilford, Gregory L. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, 1997.
United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Germplasm Resources Information Network. Entry for "Ligusticum porteri J. M. Coulter and Rose" includes the Mexican locations.
University of Maryland, Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology Program. "Draft Proposal to list Ligusticum porteri in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora," December 1999.
Valverde y Cosío, Antonio. Diary of the campaign against the Ute and Comanche, 1719, translation in Alfred B. Thomas, After Coronado, 1935.
1. Black mesa at dawn, 6:30 am on 17 November 2015. The Los Alamos airport was reporting freezing fog, which may explain the mists rising from the arroyo north of the mesa.
2. Tchicoma at the same time. You can just see a band of white mist between the white badlands and the mountain behind.
3. Tchicoma at 7:50 am. It’s now light and possible to see snow on tree boughs has turned the east-facing mountainside white.
4. Tchicoma at 11:15 am. The snow is now rising in wisps of mist. Snow is about half gone from the badlands.
5. Tchicoma the next day, 18 November 2015, at 10:30 am. From a distance, snow is nearly gone. No doubt, it continues in shadows and low places. Snow is all but gone from the badlands.