Esha: Story of a Paiute Hunter

            Esha peered down from the top of the Eastern Sierra crest to his home in the valley thousands of feet below.  He had just returned from one of several trading journeys to the west side of the mountains that he took every summer.  It was something that he had done with his father and grandfather and would carry on the tradition with his descendants.  The summer hunting season was ending, and it was time for him to get back to help the tribe with the pine nut harvest.

            At 35, Esha was in the prime of his life, a successful hunter and well respected on both sides of the mountains.  He was a born shaman and greatly admired for his healing powers.  In the back of his mind he knew that if three people ever died under his care, he could be condemned as a witch and killed by his tribe.  He had fine tuned his survival skills from boyhood and learned to heighten his sense of smell, vision and hearing to better simulate the hunting methods of the animals. His concentration on a hunt was intense, as he walked through the brush with one arrow in his teeth and one ready to fire.  Any rabbit that darted out would become an instant meal.

            Esha lived in a spiritual world where hunting was a sacred mission, and animals willingly sacrificed their lives so people could live.  He didn’t feel separate from the animals but a part of them.  He had heard many stories about how humans transformed themselves into animals and vice-versa.  Before a hunt he would perform certain rituals at the petroglyph sites and sing the songs that had been handed down since the beginning of time.  At the end of the ceremony he would apply red ochre paint to the carvings on the sacred rocks.  This is where Esha received his vision of the world, and it was good. 

            It had been a smooth trip over the mountains.  He brought nice obsidian knives and arrowheads, salt, rabbit skin blankets and pumice arrow shaft smoothers.  In exchange he got from the Miwok people from the foothills of Central California:  shell beads (clam and olivella), a yew bow, redbud bark for basketry, soap root, quartz crystals and medicinal plants. 

            The shaman traveled close to the earth and became one with the land.  He went barefoot with little clothing and wore a necklace of soapstone beads and pendants.  He often rubbed pine pitch on the soles of his feet to make them extra tough.  He had a bow, quiver of arrows and a rabbit skin robe that he wore summer and winter.  One of his arrows served as a fire drill, and he used the bark from Juniper trees for tinder to start fires.  For food he had deer jerky and cakes made from pine nuts, seeds and currants.  Like all people from his race, Esha could live for days without food or water and travel great distances carrying heavy weight. It was unheard of in his tribe for anyone to complain about heat, cold or hunger, and anyone who did so would be shunned. 

            Esha loved the storms in summer and winter.  To him, high winds were like the spirits talking and displaying their powers.  When the weather turned wicked in winter and snow and wind battered the volcanic tableland, Esha and his family would wait it out in caves.  It was actually cozy when a fire reflected heat off the cave walls.  They would heat stones in the fire and bury them in the sand to sleep on.  That way everyone could keep warm all night long even in the coldest, most fierce storms. 

            He loved to hunt rabbits in winter when the sun came out after a cold, freezing night.  He followed the lead of the short eared owls that were masters of hunting in the sagebrush and gullies.  The rabbits and other critters were so slow to react from the cold that they made easy targets. 

            As he descended down into the valley from the crest of the mighty Sierra, he reminisced about his life in the land of Inyo, the dwelling place of the Great Spirit.  It made him happy to think back on all the great adventures he had hunting in the mountains during summer.  He was made for it, and it was made for him.  It was all about giving thanks to the creator and showing respect for what was provided to him and his people.

            Esha rarely saw any other hunters on his journeys, and to see a footprint was a shock.  He was never quite sure what was going on and knew that danger could lurk anywhere in the form of evil spirits, giants, witches, or half human-half animal beings.  These things were a very real part of his world and as mysterious as the carvings on the rocks.  He also knew that his medicine was good and powerful protection against harm from animals or people. 

            The greatest fear that Esha’s people had was from the slave traders, who would swoop down and kidnap tribal members.  That was the one thing that Esha had no control over, and it meant that the tribe had to be ever vigilant and cautious in everything they did.  Esha and his brothers were prepared to fight and die to protect their tribe from outside harm.  He mourned the loss of those who did lose their lives in such altercations with slave traders and hostile neighbors.

            When Esha died a great cry dance was held in his honor.  His legacy was passed on to a new shaman, who would have to deal with an invasion of Euro-Americans, a loss of culture and identity.  He would not have known what to make of the changes that were to come:  roads, power lines, towns, wagons and ownership of the sacred land.  He was blessed to live the good life, when man was a part of the land and not separate from it.  

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3 Responses to “Esha: Story of a Paiute Hunter”

  1. john Giannini Says:

    Thank you for the article there always interesting.

  2. Colin Says:

    Do you know what type of wood they used for the arrow shafts?

    • windyscotty Says:

      They used whatever was at hand but preferred the Yew wood bow and Bighorn Sheep bows. They were highly skilled at making bows, arrows and hunting. Taking down a Bighorn was no easy task.

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