you drive west from Salt Lake City toward Wendover on I-80 and
then head south to Skull Valley, you'll pass through some harsh,
barren-looking country. For hundreds of years, this area has been
home to the Goshute Indians, some of whom still live on the Skull
Valley Indian Reservation.
them, it wasn't a desert, it was a smorgasbord," said Virgil
Johnson, a Granger High School history teacher and member of the
Goshute tribe. "The Native American people lived off the land.
They used what was available to survive. The Creator took care of
them, and because of that, many of the Native Americans are hooked
to the earth and to nature."
the casual observer may not notice this smorgasbord pine
nuts, elder berries, choke cherries, watercress, wild onions and
asparagus, as well as deer and rabbit.
a recent community class at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center,
Johnson helped acquaint students with some of the foods he was raised
on while growing up on the reservation.
of Johnson's childhood memories are of the annual pine-nut camps
in the fall. He said pine-nut collecting still goes on in the fall,
although it's not as common today. "It was a mainstay of an
indigenous people here in the Mountain West," he said. "That's
what they lived on during the winter months."
about two weeks, Johnson's family went out in the wilderness near
the Utah-Nevada border to harvest pine nuts from the pinyon trees.
Johnson's uncles would place canvas under the tree, then use a long
stick to shake the pine cones onto the canvas.
others would dig a big pit, throw in some rocks and build a fire
in it. Then they would put the fire out and place the pine cones
to roast on the hot rocks in the pit.
pit was covered with canvas and soil," Johnson said. "Then
the next day we would take them out, the cones would pop open and
the nuts would be already cooked."
grandmother, Bessie Pikayvit, had a wide, shallow woven basket called
a winnowing tray. She would put some of the nuts on the tray, stand
in the wind and flip the nuts in the air. All the empty shells would
blow away, and the good nuts would fall back onto the tray.
pine nuts by hand is time consuming, but Johnson's grandmother had
her own technology large grinding stone, called a metate
(ma-TA-tay). You put the nuts on the stone and then press a smaller
stone (called a mano) back and forth over the shells to crack them.
The nuts would go back on the winnowing tray and be flipped.
of Johnson's favorite dishes was pine-nut gravy, which is made by
grinding the nuts into a fine powder on the metate and then mixing
with water. He shared some of the rich, nutty-flavored gravy with
the students over mashed potatoes.
was so good, I would eat it like candy. I would dip the bread in
it or have it with rabbit or deer meat to go along with our dinner,"
metate could also be used to pound deer jerky into a fine powder
and mix it with berries or make gravy with the powder. "Jerky
was another mainstay during the winter," Johnson said.
bread is another Native American food, and the basis for what some
call "Indian tacos." They're also known as "Navajo
fry bread" and "Navajo tacos," but it's common to
many other Native American groups besides the Navajos, Johnson said.
(The Native American Technology & Art Web site, Nativetech.org,
lists fry bread and Indian taco recipes submitted by members of
numerous tribes, including Cherokee, Lenape, Nez Perce, Cree, Mohawk
"When I go there (Navajo Hogan), I always have beans and chili
on my fry bread, because that's what I grew up with, I didn't grow
up with tomatoes and all that other stuff on it," Johnson said.
those who want to cook it at home, the Navajo Hogan sells packages
of fry bread mix. Johnson's cousin, Tomi Bear, and her daughter,
Candace Bear, used the mix that contains blue corn when they helped
class members make fry bread.
corn is for special occasions, like weddings and for ceremonial
purposes," said Tomi Bear, who lives on the Skull Valley Reservation.
Espinosa, co-owner of the Navajo Hogan, said Navajo tacos aren't
deep-fried scones "They're totally different."
Bear said this summer she'll begin learning how to make her own
winnowing basket and other baskets used for gathering berries and
seeds. During the school year, the 13-year-old goes to school in
Dugway. During the summer, she attends powwows and other tribal
activities. (Her father is Leon Bear, the Goshute tribal chairman.)
want to marry somebody who is Goshute, and I want my children to
grow up as Goshute and to live on the reservation, because I have
a good life there," she said.
Bear said her cousin, who grew up in Tooele, tells her the reservation
is boring with no movie theaters and shops.
even he says there's a peaceful feeling out there," she added.
Tomi Bear showed the Utah Cultural Celebration Center group Indian
tea, also known as "Mormon tea" or
tea." "When the pioneers came, they drank it and called
it Brigham tea, but we were drinking it long before the Mormons,"
tea comes from a short, light-green shrub called joint fir that's
a member of the ephedra family. The tea is brewed from the plant's
Bear said the Goshutes and Piutes were considered poor tribes because
the Spanish didn't introduce them to horses.
they were pretty much stuck on foot. So, you'd go around water sources
and find rabbit and birds and ducks, and an occasional deer. When
you got lost, you didn't run around. You sat and listened for the
frogs, because they will take you to water. You watch the birds,
and they will take you to water, because they have to drink. The
people were quite intelligent, that they could survive in such a