native baskets

A View into Mono Life

For two colorful and accurate portrayals of Mono Indian life, we recommend the following books:
* “The Northfork Mono,” by Edward W. Gifford, 1932. Coyote Press facsimile reprint available at

* “Walking where we lived: memoirs of a Mono Indian family,” by Gaylen Lee, a North Fork Rancheria tribal citizen. The book is published by University of Oklahoma Press, 1998 and available at many bookstores or over the Internet.

Below is a review from web site on Gaylon Lee’s book: “Non-Indians reading “Walking Where We Lived” may have to re-think everything they once believed about California’s indigenous population. On the eve of the state’s sesquicentennial celebration, Gaylen D. Lee offers a view of the Gold Rush and subsequent settlement of California by Americans and immigrants that is clearly, from his perspective, nothing to celebrate. But Lee’s book is hardly a whining narrative of the atrocities suffered by the native people of California. Instead, it is a celebration of his family and families like them who have managed to survive and perpetuate their culture, religion, and values despite the onslaught of intruders.

Following the pattern of the seasons, Lee describes the lives of his ancestors, historical events which affected them, their loss of freedom, and the endurance of a way of life in the face of generations of adversity. “Walking Where We Lived” is rich with detail. Lee’s description of the daily activities of his family and forbears is based upon knowledge passed to him and actual experience.

As a child he accompanied his family to gather acorns, berries, and plant materials. He watched the women make baskets which he says are still used in his home. He learned to hunt and fish in the old way. Although he understood English, he spoke only the Nim language prior to beginning kindergarten in the mid-1950s. The generally peaceful life lived by the Nim and their fellows all over California was shattered as Americans moved to claim every inch of the new state following secession of the territory by Mexico and the world-famed gold rush. Stories of the Mariposa Indian Wars in the spring of 1851, and other skirmishes are generally told from the point of view of Central California settlers eager to rid their new land of pesky savages. “Walking Where We Lived” offers a view from the other side.

It is not surprising for a man in Gaylen Lee’s situation to be angry, and anger surfaces occasionally in his book. The region surrounding his life-long home place was once traversed freely by his ancestors. Now the land is fenced off and paved over. Rivers are dammed. Animals which once lived with and helped sustain the people are seldom seen. What is surprising, in the face of generally accepted lore about the Indians of California, is that Lee’s family-and others-have maintained their culture and sense of community despite near annihilation.”