Thursday, December 17, 2009

Honoring Indian Cowboys

Each year Dorothy Ramon Learning Center celebrates a theme.
In 2009 we celebrated Indian cowboys.

Our annual Dragonfly Award, for high-soaring achievements in saving and sharing cultures, this year went each to Indian cowboys Rodney Mathews and George Tortes. The two cowboys received this honor in summertime at our Dragonfly Gala.

Rodney Mathews, center, with wife Eunice, receives Dragonfly Award from Learning Center President Ernest Siva. © Carlos Puma for the Learning Center.

Rodney Mathews, 74, of Morongo Reservation was born to Margaret and Henry Mathews, Jr. He had five sisters. Mr. Mathews and his wife, Eunice, have been married more than 52 years. They had three children. He worked for Cal-Trans for 38 years and was a Morongo Tribal Council member for more than three decades. He is a lifelong member of the Morongo Cattleman's Association.

Mr. Mathews was nominated for this award by Morongo Tribal Chairman Robert Martin, himself a cowboy, for his leadership in the Cattleman's Association and for his cowboy skills.

George Tortes sent his regrets that he was unable to attend the Gala while recuperating from surgery. His message to all attendees was to live their lives fully.

Mr. Tortes was raised on Santa Rosa Reservation. His mother died when he was about six years old. He grew up riding, roping, and racing, and has lived a long cowboy life, branding his cattle with a G Bar T.

The exceptions were a brief stint at Sherman Indian School in Riverside, which ended when Mr. Tortes ran away and spent several days making his way home, and later in life, his proud service in the U.S. Navy.

Mr. Tortes is remembered fondly as the last surviving member of a group of Indian cowboys called the "Brush Poppers," for the ways they herded cattle in the steep and thick-brush-covered Santa Rosa Mountains.

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