Monday, June 29, 2009

Rounding Up Morongo Roundup Memories

Where was everyone?

It seemed that absolutely no one was home at the Morongo Reservation on that hot day 54 years ago. But a reporter wrote that as she coaxed her car along a winding road into Portero Canyon, “the noise of bawling cattle gradually drowned out the sound of its toiling motor.”


“Then,” Ruth Little reported in the May 30, 1955, Daily Enterprise, “as we reached the small grass-carpeted forest of black walnut and cottonwood trees surrounding the corral, the din crescendoed into bedlam.” It seemed everyone was there, from grandparent to infant. And so were hundreds of bellowing cattle and a blazing fire with about 40 branding irons in its coals. 

It was time for the spring Morongo Roundup.


Robert Martin, Morongo Tribal Chairman, will round up Morongo Roundup memories in the next Dorothy Ramon Learning Center Dragonfly Lecture starting at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 6, at 17 West Hays, Banning.


Each year, from generation to generation, the Morongo Indian cowboys drove hundreds of cattle from the foothills, valleys, and deserts, branded and vaccinated the calves and got them ready for market. The roundup was a major Southern California event. Reporters flocked each year to cover what they saw as a colorful story, but for the Indian cowboys the roundups meant endless hours of sweaty and difficult work.


Although the big roundup is no longer held and the Upper Corral stands silent, Morongo tribal members still run cattle. 

They also are still passing Indian cowboy traditions to newer generations. 

Tribal chairman Martin’s grandfather, for example, ran cattle and worked in the annual roundups, and Martin, himself now a grandfather, worked in the roundups as a teen-ager. His family’s next generations of Indian cowboys also have cattle and are riding, roping, and rodeoing.


Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, a nonprofit that saves and shares Southern California’s American Indian cultures, languages, traditional arts and history, this year is exploring the Indian cowboys’ often-unrecognized place in history. The Learning Center is featuring lectures such as this one, in which participants are encouraged to share their own memories. Donations at the door will benefit the nonprofit.


The annual Dragonfly Gala, scheduled for Aug. 8 at Morongo Community Center, also will feature an Indian cowboy theme.


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