Brief Description: Author fondly recounts his twelve childhood years living with California Native Americans. Adaptation of book for adults.
Historical Era: 19th Century
Date Range: 1850s
Keywords: Native Americans Choinumne
Original Publication: 2018
Suitable for Grades: 4-8th
Target Audience: Middle Grade
Adapted from Mayfield’s Indian Summer: Traditional Life Among the Choinumne Indians of California’s San Joaquin Valley, this is a young person’s version of an incredible true story of a young white boy whose family migrated from Texas to settle in California’s San Joaquin Valley in 1849. His mother died and his father, who worked briefly in Fremont’s gold mine in Mariposa and later raised cattle and horses, and was unable to care for eight-year-old Thomas. So, at the suggestion of the local Choinumne women, and by mutual arrangement, Thomas started to live with them. His father was of the opinion that he “was in better company with the Indians than [he] would be staying around the white town with him.” [P. 91] Given the reputation of Gold Rush era California, I have to agree.
Young Thomas was treated as one of their own, learning their language, playing games with the other children, learning their traditions. This book is a primary source document of the customs of the Choinumne. There are chapters on language, games, clothes, homes, medicine, and food, including the preparation, hunting and gathering of food. Thomas stayed with the them almost the entire time until he was seventeen years old, at which time he was sent to conventional school. When he left the Indians in 1862, there were only about 40 people left of the original 300 or more. [P. 134] The white settlers had started to push the native people off the land, rounding them up into reservations, and many died of disease.
Because he talked funny, Thomas was bullied at school. It took Mayfield many years to tell his story, in the last days of his life, “because [he] had very little to tell that the white people liked to hear. I knew the Indians in their natural state and I know that they were the finest people that I had ever met.” [P. 129]