Yosemite Valley Plan, A Threat To Indian Culture

Cultural Genocide

Chief Lemee – Not Miwok – Yokut and Washoe

Chris Brown dressed early on in Lakota Sioux regalia and then in a Miwok regalia, but still wearing a Sioux beaded vest, as he performed for tourists in Yosemite. This made Chris Brown extremely famous and well known amongst the Indians of California. He and Paiute Taboose Howard were now demonstrating for tourists on a regular basis. Chris Brown was a ‘story teller’ and according to the 1996 testimony of one of his cousins, Sue (Wilson) Holderfield, Brown or “Chief Lemee” made up many of the so-called “Miwok tales” as they traveled to schools and other places.

Chris Brown, his aunt Mary Wilson, and her family with white man dressed as a trapper. Indian Field Days 1925.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Sierra some of the Indians, who were mostly half-breeds by now, came in from Madera and started to perform for the tourists in Lakota Plains attire and got paid to do so. They danced and performed for the white tourists. The Park even created a ‘scripted’ scene where the Indians, mainly those from the western side, whooped and hollered, attacked makeshift cabins provided by the Park, and then burnt it down. One of those performers was Chris Brown.

This story reminded me of a story my older uncle told me about life in Yosemite.
The Southern Sierra Miwuks claim that Chris Brown, also known by his Yosemite Park demonstrator name of “Chief Lemee”, was their chief and kept their traditions alive.
The Miwuks claim as their chief, Chris Brown led his people in tribal affairs, led ceremonies, and negotiated between the Southern Sierra Miwuk tribal group and the Yosemite Park. But that was not true.
Chris was the son of Mono Paiute Johnny Brown and Lena Dick well known Yosemite Indians. Chris Brown was a self-described “Chief” who got a clever idea to make some extra money for himself, plus get some recognition.
During the mid 1920s the Park Service Superintendent got an idea to create an Indian Days in Yosemite to attract more tourists to the Park and offer them some entertainment. Yosemite Park Service sent out flyers and word of mouth to Indians on both sides of the Sierra. Here is a copy of the flyer.
Yosemite Indian field days flyer (see above), if any local area Indian dressed in “Indian costume” they would be paid 2 dollars, up to 5 dollars for two days of performing.
My uncle said that when the Paiute men saw that, many of them declined to entertain the white tourists in costume.
The Park Service even went so far as to travel to Mono County and ask the Paiute women to compete in a basket making contests. The Park did not ask Indians in Mariposa and Madera County because the majority of the women on the western side had stopped making baskets. The only ones who kept the basket tradition were the Paiutes and Monos and a handful of Yokuts.
The Paiute women did this because they later on got to sell many of their baskets for more money than they made doing menial work depending on the creativity and size. Also Indian people love to compete.

We have heard many stories were “Chief Lemee” would “exaggerate”.
More accounts.
On several occasions he would talk “Indian” in front of a group of white tourists with an Indian woman interpeting for him.
The woman got tired and with all the questions and said. “Why don’t you just ask…HE SPEAKS ENGLISH”.
Chief Lemee got mad with her, because it broke his “performance” and his mystique.
He was acting like a “Coyote”, which is a trickster in Paiute.
Addendum 2013: (Sent to me to add)
Chris Brown was a great guy or so it is told by many who personally knew him and lived with him in the valley.
Chris Brown also knew his bread and butter came from dancing for tourists in YNP.
It was also well known that he would play tricks on the superintendent as well as tell stories that were not true ( he would go into a trance like state when entertaining NPS officials and tell them they were walking on sacred burial grounds.) ( told to me by someone who knew him very well) Just to give them the creeps .
However he took advantage of his Indianness , he did it because he had to … What else could he do .
That doesn’t make him less Indian , that makes him a Indian who did what he had to do ….and still an Indian who was a rebel of sorts because he screwed with the NPS’ head if you think about it in those terms.But why now ( as said by Dave Forgang of the NPS now retired ) the NPS thinks of him as a true Chief.
He had magical powers and now they have elevated him to true CHIEF ( whatever that is ) Status so they can keep the myth going rather than look like idiots

Chris Brown would perform at local stores as “Chief Lemee, last of the Miwoks”.

Chief Lemee, or Chris Brown became a big hit with tourists and he was well photographed. The tourist used to pay Chief Lemee to perform. Chris Brown recruited some of the younger boys to dance with him and he would pay them. Many of them only did that for awhile to make extra spending money for candy and treats.

Now back to the “Spread the Wealth”, sorry but I had to lay out the history as to how that came to be.

So Chris Brown, Chief Lemee, was making quite a bit for himself as demonstrator and performer. Brown would put a small tin box in front of himself and then perform for the tourists and the more he put on a show, the better he got tips. One day, in the mid 50s, after Chris Brown was performing, the Park Superintendent, the government official, walked over to “Chief Lemee” and took his tin box away and told him that he was going to take his money that he made performing for the white tourists and spread it around to the other Indians now living in the Park as employees.

Chief Lemee was incensed. He asked why the Park Superintendent took his money and was giving it to others who did not dance and perform. The Superintendent told Brown that he had to share with the others, even though they didn’t dance or demonstrate. Chris Brown became mad and resentful because other Indians were now getting money he believed he had worked hard for. In his mind they did not dance for it so why should they get some of his money. Brown also didn’t like some of the other Indians living in the Park and now these same Indians were now going to get a share of his money he worked for.

That caused Chris Brown to become very resentful. That incident caused more division of the Indians that lived in the Park and shortly after that he stopped dancing for the tourists.

This is not an endorsement of any candidate, but just that the slogan “Spread the Wealth” around, made me remember why Chief Lemee started to curtail his demonstrations of “Miwok” culture in the Park.

The slogan also reminds me that Chris Brown was not a chief as the Southern Sierra Miwuks have implied because our early chiefs shared everything they had with our people, and the reason “Chief Lemee” danced was not for tribal pride or for ceremony, but because he was getting paid.


Spread the Wealth”: A Yosemite Indian tale. A story of Chief Lemee.

Yosemite Photo -1952

Viola Martinez biography, California Paiute.
Some of the Paiutes were shocked, and as young Indian children were imprinted with terrible memories of the “Yosemite Indian field days”, as written by Viola Martinez in her book California Paiute, page 40;

“One of the stops on Aunt Mary Ann’s route was Yosemite National Park. When the National Park Service was created in 1916, Yosemite officials and merchants introduced “Indian field days,” ostensibly intended to reinvigorate Indian arts, presumably including fine Paiute basketry. The field days quickly degenerated into stereotypical presentations of Plains Indians. Vi recalls her experience with Indian field days:
Yearly they had a big Indian festival where the people in charge of [Yosemite] Park paid the Indians to come…They would camp in there, and they would have this big ceremony. The first time I saw it, there was a live play where there were horses and houses were burning, Indians coming around and setting fire to them. I thought the Indians were terrible…I was little…I didn’t even know what it was all about. All I knew was that the Indians were horrible. They were coming in and killing the whites.”

Because a certain family was willing to do this they ingratiated themselves to the Park Superintendent who counted on them to now entertain the white tourists. They also started to call themselves Miwoks and started to claim they were the original Indians of Yosemite.

Chris Brown gave himself the Indian name of “Chief Lemee” and was the main person who entertained the tourists. He would dress in full Lakota Sioux regalia and put on shows. Later on a woman complained that he was not dressed in traditional California Indian style regalia and that Brown was dressed in a pan-Indian style. So Brown went to Tuolumne and picked up the style of Indians of that area, many of them who had kept their ceremonial dances and regalia. Brown, to enhance his ‘demonstration’ at the Park, took that tradition, since the Indians of Mariposa did not carry on this tradition anymore, and proceeded to entertain the white tourists.

Chris Brown was Paiute, Yokut, and Washoe based on his ancestry.
Now Sue Holderfield testified that he made up alot of Indian lore as a demonstrator for the National Park Service.
In Sylvia Broadbents testimony she said she began to doubt his testimony. It should also be noted the Southern Sierra Miwoks Petition for Federal Recognition stated he was their Chief which he reallywas not, just a performer.James C. Tucker SEZ: Chief Leemee, Chris Brown, used to spend his later winters at the ranch house home of Fred and Berniece Branson on Snow Creek, Bootjack, Mariposa County, CA. Fred was my Step-Grandpa and Berniece was my Grandmother (mother of Tom Tucker). I remember seeing Chief Leemee there at the ranch house when I was a little kid, and my Dad brought us all down to the ranch from Wawona Ranger Station via the Chowchilla Mtn. Rd. Long ago, but not far away!


May 10, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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