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Trickster: An Anthropological Memoir

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    "A real page turner. Kane has turned her first fieldwork experience into an engaging 'Margaret Mead meets Tony Hillerman' narrative, with vivid characters, many tricksters, and even a mysterious death." - Louise Lamphere, University of New Mexico

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9376-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-8)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. 9-9)

    The only “real” people in this book are historical figures such as Jack Wilson (Wovoka) and his nephew; Corbett Mack; my professors; some of my family, and me. Everything written here happened, but the majority of the characters are composites, shadow-people who cross boundaries between one real person and another. For ethnographers who may be interested in local naming, I have followed the local patterns but have used no local names except those mentioned above.

    The Northern Paiute people of Nevada, along with many other American Indians, were named by someone else, sometimes by pre-Contact neighbors or later by European...

  4. [Illustration]
    (pp. 10-10)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 11-12)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 13-18)
    Alice Beck Kehoe

    I visited Yerington, Nevada, in 1995, wanting to see where Wovoka had lived. Wovoka—Jack Wilson to the whites—was the famous Paiute prophet linked to the shocking massacre of Indian people at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in December 1890. His people have a small reservation outside the town of Yerington.

    For supper that night, I chose to go to Yerington’s “family restaurant.” It was nearly empty, and the young waitress was friendly. I told her I had come because Yerington was where Wovoka had lived. “Who?” she asked. “Wovoka. Jack Wilson. The Paiute Prophet.” “Never heard of him.” “Are...

    (pp. 19-24)

    My father is doing that peculiar one-step that brides are supposed to do. My legs are a lot longer than his, so I’m almost running in place beside him. We’re like two pistons, bobbing and misfiring down the center aisle of Holy Succour Church.

    Glancing up toward the front of the church, I spot something no skittish 1960s’ bride should see before her marriage. A banana boat. On the altar. I’d guess the scale of the model is about 1:15, maybe 1:20. On the right, the Epistle side, there’s my beaming groom, Francis, his jaw suddenly set a little too...

  8. CHAPTER TWO At Home on the Range
    (pp. 25-41)

    I ride into Yerington, Nevada at noon, down the deserted main street, past the dusty bar, the courthouse, the faded stage-set wooden storefronts. A couple of tough-looking men in Stetsons and boots squint at me, giving nothing away. One spits at a loping yellow dog.

    This is the life I imagined: the big sky and me, alone out on the range, maybe sleeping under the stars at night, up with the dawn and out into the crystalline desert air. Free—my only possessions my hat and boots, and maybe my horse, although I’m not all that keen on horses. No...

  9. CHAPTER THREE The Kah’ nii
    (pp. 42-48)

    The next morning, an almighty clap of thunder reverberates off the walls of my sweltering garage, waking me from a dream of…what? Being inside a kettle drum. I wait for the welcome drops of rain. It’s the beginning of my second full day in Yerington.

    “Eileen? You in there? It’s Paulette. Open up.” She thumps again on the metal overhead door. Paulette Chapman is a respected, feisty, middle-aged Tribal Council member; last night she walked straight up to me on Main after Larry left and asked me what I was doing. When I explained that I was making a map...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Missing Bomb City
    (pp. 49-54)

    Up at first light, and ready to mingle, I stride into town, a Woman on a Mission. This is real anthropology—meeting interesting people, interjecting subtle questions, taking lots of good notes. I’m almost a professional now. I’ll have to be careful; I don’t want to look too intimidating.

    “You look homesick, Sweetie,” Paulette calls from the bus stop on the other side of Main Street.

    “I’m not.” Our professor in Reno warned us about being homesick, so I’m determined not to be. I also don’t have Culture Shock—he warned us about that too, so I have set my...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Anthropology: A Mirror for Man
    (pp. 55-69)

    Another deafening dawn wallop on the overhead door, and I’m out of bed like a greyhound out of a trap.

    Eddie again. “Some old guys in the Colony say you need to talk to them.”

    “About what?”

    “Dunno. Maybe they’re on the warpath, Maybe they want a nice white squaw.”

    I look away a second to check the time, and he’s gone, but I can still hear the snickering.

    Seven a.m. and already nearly 90 degrees. I should go out to visit James Kelly this morning and find out about the pamphlet, but I don’t have a car yet, and...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Two Italian Towns
    (pp. 70-76)

    First thing though, before the sun gets too hot, I take a local taxi out to James Kelly’s house on the Ranch. Each house is on its own plot, and most have additions, but they’re all unpainted, like those in the Colony.

    “Not here,” an old woman says from behind the screen door.

    “Is he coming back soon?”

    “No idea.” Her mouth is set in a thin line, etched like a seam on her face. She latches the screen.

    “I just want to say hello to him and explain what I’m doing here.”

    “He knows what you’re doing here. Writing...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Not Worrying
    (pp. 77-85)

    A university teaching assistant arrives from Reno with a car for me.

    “Mother of Mercy,” I groan. Funny how the old expressions come back when you’re upset. “I’ll never be able to use this.”

    “Best we can do if you want to get out to the Ranch. And we need you to pick up the other trainees for our seminars in Reno.”

    “But where did the university get this?Howdid they get it?”

    “Beats me,” he shrugs.


    “You’ll get the hang of it.”

    “I meant—”

    “Gotta run,” he says, and hopping into a normal, everyday car...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT The Tribal Council
    (pp. 86-94)

    This is the Day; tonight I’ll meet the Tribal Council.

    “It’s 7:30 at the old schoolhouse out on the Ranch,” Cyril says. “I’ll be there to stick up for you.”

    Although Paulette Chapman never calls him that in so many words, every time she mentions James Kelly, I envision a Caligula. Other people tell me the Council has a delicate balance of power: James has been the chairman forever, but a couple of the Chapmans run it, or think they do, or maybe some people just think the Chapmans run it, or maybe, if I check my notes, I’ll see...

  15. CHAPTER NINE Why Anthropology?
    (pp. 95-103)

    “I want you to light a fire under some a them girls,” Reverend Parks says.

    “See if they have any ambitions in life except mooning around over boys.”

    So, the next time I meet Thomasina in our usual place, on the curb in front of the post office, where she can see boys and I can bump into people casually, I ask her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

    “Dunno. What about you?”

    Well, of course, that was The Question.

    I ask others. “Dunno” is the answer I usually get to this question, although when I...

  16. CHAPTER TEN Crossing Boundaries
    (pp. 104-114)

    “I admire your balls,” Eddie says. “Whoops, sorry.” He smirks, nodding his chin at the police car. This isn’t an old Paiute custom; he’s trying to keep his lard-laden hairdo in place. He slips into the casino, while I go into the post office to send my weekly batch of notes to the university.

    I use the car more now, since Cyril has been telling me not to be silly. “Worry about your grade, instead.” Often with me, uninvited, are three or four of the most obstreperous teenaged Paiute girls, usually including Charlene and Thomasina. Sometimes the girls seem like...

  17. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Murder
    (pp. 115-123)

    “Your mother called,” Jennie says. “At 6:00 a.m. Must be something.”

    A guy just off the night shift, trudging by the booth when the call came, left a note on Jennie’s porch. Jennie’s house and the curb in front of the post office are becoming my knownloci operandi. I phone my mother back at 10:00.

    “Ma, you called at 6:00 a.m.”

    My mother holds no truck with time zones. “All I know is it was 9:00 here. Dad wants to talk to you,” she says. “Don’t let him run up my bill.”

    “Eileen, how ya doin’?”

    “Fine, Dad, how’re...

  18. CHAPTER TWELVE Drawing Lessons
    (pp. 124-133)

    “You want to do something about that car,” Eddie says.

    I’m lounging in the swing on Cyril’s porch, reading. Eddie’s dropped by with Curly, apparently to throw some rocks. He certainly doesn’t have my copy of Driver, which I’ve begged him to return.

    “I couldn’t agree more.”

    “Flames would be nice. I could get some decals.”

    “Where’s my copy of Driver?”

    “Dunno. Somewhere. I don’t bother with it.”

    “Oh, sure,” Curly says. “You should hear him. He can’t shut up about some stupid people up somewhere on the coast. He’s read about them in your book, and now he thinks...

  19. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Kinship Patterns
    (pp. 134-140)

    About six weeks into my fieldwork now, and I’ve finally figured out why I’ve felt queasy since I arrived. I hate turning up on the reservation every morning and grilling people. I hate the anthropologist’s desperate neediness, cloaked as it is in friendship.

    I like the people—who wouldn’t? But in this field you have to make friends with people to get information, and you often make enemies by publishing it. Who else works this way? Spies, for one. The safest way not to make enemies is to work with people who can never read what you write. That might...

  20. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Game-Playing
    (pp. 141-148)

    “Officer Wickham says you owe him a statement, down at the station,” Cyril looks worried, of course.

    Now what? I hoped Wickham had decided I wasn’t involved in whatever happened. I haven’t looked for my notes from the day the elderly Indian died. I rummage though my file boxes, can’t find anything for that day. They have to be in here somewhere, because I always lock my files. My paperwork is breeding under the bed: field notebooks, typed notes, carbon copies, journal, diary, census, maps, genealogies, kinship charts, photographs, budget, newspaper cuttings, notes from my mother, letters from Francis, Professor...

  21. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Two-Thirds of the Way
    (pp. 149-156)

    In bed, picking fluff off the blanket. Eleven p.m.

    One of my Pittsburgh professors told me a secret a few months ago. It’s common knowledge, he said, that many anthropologists have a breakdown, usually temporary, about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through their fieldwork, whatever its length. The excitement and certainty wear off, they begin to understand how complicated things really are, and they see how little they know. They’re more convinced than ever that people are hiding things from them.

    I’m about two-thirds of the way through my fieldwork period, and this is the day I can’t take...

    (pp. 157-169)

    “Miss! Lady! Psst! Here!” The three guys are still drinking across from Jennie’s house. Now one, Junior Russell, described by Morgan as a man with a great future behind him, beckons me over. “Listen,” he says with the pained earnestness only a drunk can muster, “you want to be real careful of those half-breeds in town. Stay away from them.”

    From collecting local genealogies, I know of only a few “half-breeds,” and three of them are there under that tree. Two have white fathers, and the third’s father is Mexican.

    One of them escorts me across the lane to Jennie’s...

  23. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The Rabbit Net
    (pp. 170-177)

    “You want to give me a hand here,” Reverend Parks announces. He’s enmeshed in a dirty gray mess of hemp. “This here is thewi há?plant. I’m making a net for the rabbit drive.”

    “Rabbit drive?”

    “How we gonna hold a barbecue without rabbit? I got a promise of a deer carcass from Chet, but we need some rabbits. Acourse you’re ’sposed to cook them in a basket, on a pine wood fire—you best write that down—but I ain’t got time to be making any baskets. It took me an hour to make a foot of net.”...

  24. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Ethnobabble
    (pp. 178-185)

    I ‘kwye!” Larry mutters, sweeping Eddie’s dice into the weeds in Jennie’s yard. He’s lost $5.00 to Curly.

    “You owe me $4.00,” Eddie demands, and Curly meekly hands him 80 per cent of his winnings.

    “You know what that word means, don’t you, the one Larry said?” little George asks Wilmalee Conroy, who’s dressing a Barbie doll in a tutu and tiara. “It means something really bad.”


    “Itdoes. It means….” He leans close to her and whispers.

    “What doesthatmean?” She frowns.

    “It don’t mean that at all,” Curly butts in. “It means one of those little...

    (pp. 186-199)

    I’ve lost my notes.

    Only a few pages are gone. I can’t focus long enough to reconstruct what’s in them, and I’ve already sent the originals off to the university. When I was searching for the copies of my “Willie Jackson” notes for Wickham, I thought they were just misfiled. No.

    I search my lockbox over and over. The last page before the missing ones is yet more about rabbit netting, but it ends withI paid the bill and we left Rickett’s at 8:45. The next page begins in mid-sentence:familiar, somehow, but it was too dark to be...

  26. CHAPTER TWENTY … and Reprieve
    (pp. 200-207)

    I haunt the post office, waiting for the university to send me photocopies of my lost notes. The department has confirmed what I already know: they didn’t get any extra carbon copies from me. My fears are real. The carbons are somewhere in Yerington.

    Thomasina and Charlene join me; they’re still waiting for Paul Anka’s reply.

    Nancy hands me a bulky letter from my mother, with some photos and a newspaper cutting headlined “MAN FOUND DEAD OF BULLETS IN JAIL CELL.”

    Dad’s still laid off. By the way, why are you writing me all these questions about the Mafia? They’re...

    (pp. 208-214)

    “Here’s somethin’ will interest you, Hotshot,” Walker says when I stop by the jail on his second last day. “Somebody’s joined the Reverend’s church.”

    Finally! Someone fresh, who may actually be able to explain why the church appeals to the Paiutes. “Who?”


    No chance of an explanation there.

    “Yeah, she came over with some Paiute ice cream her ma found at the bottom of the freezer. Boy, taste of that sure took me back. Anyhow, she says she’ll be safer with the Reverend’s Mission. Otherwise the Catholics might get her and she’d have to go to school in gloves...

  28. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO The Mission
    (pp. 215-220)

    “INDIAN MISION REV∀IAL AUG 2–9!! ALL WECOME!” proclaims the banner over the Mission front door. A few cartoon faces decorate the edges. Charlene, the “I HATE TO DRA” girl, stares up at it. “I did all that,” she marvels, more to herself than to me.

    The main action at the moment, not quite a bustle, is outside the Mission behind the three-sided windbreak that circles the tinykah’ nii. The windbreak doesn’t look 100 per cent traditional, even to someone who’s never seen one before. It’s built of sagebrush branches interlaced with ordinary fencing, reinforced by odd bits of...

    (pp. 221-227)

    The Mission is over. It feels like the day after my birthday, the day after Christmas, all those dead days when the world looks ordinary again. Some day when I’m old, perhaps I’ll look at the onetulescar on my finger and remember this small event in a small town, one that meant so much. Or maybe it just meant a lot to the Reverend and me. And I might remember that I wasn’t able to do what I’d come to do, find a neat correlation between the old and new religions.

    But I do understand Coyote and the...

  30. Epilogue
    (pp. 228-238)

    Anthropology survived my fieldwork. Or did it?

    The history of anthropology since the 1960s would make a good bodice-ripper. We were very promiscuous with our intellectual neighbors, ungrateful upstarts who then pillaged our discipline and scolded us severely. We stopped talking to other anthropologists. Indeed, with the advent of postmodernism, some anthropologists no longer evenunderstoodeach other.

    I set out for Nevada having been cosseted in the bosom of anthropological silverbacks, Grand Old Men who had, at most, two or three gentlemanly tiffs going on at one time. The Four Fields—cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, archeology, and linguistics—were...

  31. Discussion Points and Exercises
    (pp. 239-244)
  32. References and Further Readings
    (pp. 245-248)