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'We will keep being resilient' Tübatulabal Tribe members remember Keyesville Massacre 161 years later

On April 19, 1863 General McLaughlin and his men massacred 35 Tübatulabal men after they had laid down their weapons expecting a peaceful meeting.
Posted at 8:48 AM, Apr 20, 2024

WOFFORD HEIGHTS, Calif. (KERO) — Thirty-five Tübatulabal men were killed in the Keyesville massacre that occurred in modern-day Wofford Heights 161 years ago.

Several current Tübatulabal Tribe members came to a nearby memorial on the morning of April 19 to remember and honor those who were killed.

Those members also made sure to acknowledge and appreciate what they have been able to preserve and not just look back, but forward as well, sharing culture that has been revived and is getting passed down to future generations.

“This is a white sage. Sam, did you grow this?” Donna Miranda-Begay asked as she lit the herb to start smudging.

“Yeah,” Samantha Ridignredhorse responded.

The remembrance took place at the “Three Crosses” in Wofford Heights that were placed near the site of the massacre.

“It’s important to tell our story. It’s a part of a genocide upon indigenous peoples, certainly in the United States, but specifically of Califronia,” said Donna Miranda-Begay, former Chair of the Tübatulabal Tribe.

Donna Miranda-Begay is the great grand-daughter of Esteban Miranda, who was around 12 when the massacre occurred in 1863.

Captain McLaughlin of the Second Cavalry of Califronia Volunteers and his men killed 35 Tubatulabal men after the Tubatulabals put down their weapons expecting a peaceful talk. Esteban Miranda witnessed the murder of his father, grandfather and two uncles.

“If you can imagine that morning, the next morning, the women, the sister, the grandma’s were all scared because our people were killed for no reason,” Samantha Ridinghorse, another descendant of Esteban Miranda and historian for the Tübatulabal Tribe, said much of the culture and history of the Tübatulabals were lost after the massacre.

“It wasn't much some people say, but it is, because they took away our people that could read the sky, read the weather, read the stars, took away our people who could sing our traditional songs.”

Many that survived left to find safer areas to live.

“Which meant, they took our culture, our language, our way of being back then in these different directions, and had to assimilate into other cultures, other areas,” Miranda-Begay said.

Miranda-Begay told me that her great-grandfather left to live on the Tejon Reservation for safety, but eventually came back and was named Tribal Chief of the Tübatulabals. In this role, he was able to pass down Tübatulabal culture, as well as traditions he learned from other Native American tribes in California.

“He never forgot his language, the Paka’anil dialect,” Miranda Begay said, “The way that we harvest things, the way that we sing, the way that we present ourselves.”

For Miranda-Begay, it is not simply a day to feel sorrow.

“Remembering annually, the date of April 19th, we need to slow down and pay tribute to the people of the past, but also go out on a hike, go out and view the territories here.”

Miranda-Begay showed me a Tübatulabal village site, where evidence of her ancestors still exists.

The current day Miranda Rancheria, which was land allotted to Miranda-Begay’s ancestors as part of the Dawes Act, is the home for several of Esteban Miranda’s descendants. The land stayed in the family when Miranda Begay's great aunt refused to sell the land when Miranda-Begay’s grandfather wanted to.

She focuses on the blessing this land provides her.

“My grandmother and I used to harvest elderberry a lot.”

Since their language is preserved, she uses it to write new songs and prayers.

Performing research and using the oral histories that have been passed down from past Tübatulabals, current members have been able to revive cultural practices and create new ones.

“We are bringing it back, little by little,” Ridingredhorse said.

Twelve hundred acres of land was returned to the tribe last year in Weldon, and Ridingredhorse has been bringing back art forms like basket weaving.

For Miranda-begay April 19th is a day of reflection.

“Enjoy the beautiful cultural site and village and think about the way that they lived and today's world and where we are today. The accomplishments of our people. Getting through school, getting through raising a family. These are things I’m sure our ancestors would be proud for us to do.”

And at the remembrance, the continuation of a cultural practice that has been revived.

“It is documented in an archaeologist's book, that when his wife passed away, which was 1919, they did a wash-face ceremony in honor of him,” said Ridingredhorse.

Everyone cleansed their faces using spring water from the Miranda Rancheria.

“Ancestors, we are here and we are moving forward, and we are cleansing our ourselves of the wrongdoing, we are cleansing ourselves that you had to go through that and we are cleaning our face here to remember that life in front of us will keep going and we will keep being resilient and we won’t stop.”

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