Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Remembering Dorothy...

In 2014, I had finished an oral history interview with a North Fork Mono Elder and we began to talk about whom I should contact next for our Madera County Native Americans Digital Collection. Not being Native myself, I was having a hard time reaching local Indian families and this particular Elder could sense this and quietly told me "you should go talk with Dorothy Sherman..she's a nice woman and will help you".

I called Dorothy that afternoon and after explaining who I was and what I was working on, she invited me to her home.  I was a little surprised when I first met Dorothy as she is not Indian, she is white but had married Kendrick Sherman, the son of Lee and Mae Sherman of North Fork. She shared with me that her maiden name was O'Neal (as in the town O'Neal's in Madera County) and that she had grown up in Madera County "pretty much all of her life".  Sensing my interest in her history, we both agreed we would start with her family history and then discuss Kendrick and his family.

She was born in 1922 and as a young girl, one of her favorite things to do was ride her horse Pedro, especially at the O'Neal's Rodeo that was held every year at Easter.  I had heard of this Rodeo from some of the North Fork Mono Elders and I can confirm through their recollections and photos, this was quite a grand rodeo.  Hundreds of people from all over would come and watch the rodeo and have a great time.  Dorothy's horse, Pedro, was a "big ol' buckskin horse" that at one point was banned from Chubb's Pack Station which was located at Jackass Meadow in Madera County. His crime was knocking all the saddles off the corral fence there, actions which are not tolerated by any horse at a pack station.  I asked her why he wasn't tied up to prevent him from doing this?  Dorothy, innocently and sweetly, explained that Pedro didn't like to be tied up and eventually, after this incident, she found the only way to tie him up was to put a mule halter on him.  I suppose the look on my face revealed my lack of knowledge on this subject area so she then explained that a mule halter has a chain on it so when the horse pulls on it, it tightens up.

Dorothy on Pedro top left corner

Dorothy's beloved horse, Pedro

I'll never forget her expression and the sound of her voice when talking about her beloved Pedro..it was as if she were 18 again, full of life and love for her beloved horse, the fun they had and the shenanigans they would get into.

Dorothy married Ralph Pruett in 1953 and in 1969 they divorced.  She shared that they had one child, a son, whom she sadly admits not having a close relationship with.  During this time, she began working for the County of Fresno and while living in Fresno she became active in the Young Democrats.  In full disclosure, I admit I am a political history junkie so any goal I had set for this interview went out the window as she talked about her involvement with the Fresno County Young Democrats group.  She was re-elected President of this group in 1955, just in time for Fresno to host the California Democratic Council Convention and she was very proud to wear her "Adlai Blue" colored suit she purchased especially for the Convention.  Adlai Stevenson was one of the leaders of the California Democratic Council and Dorothy admired him very much.  She was so proud to show me her scrapbook of articles and photos during this time in her life and she graciously allowed me to scan the scrapbook for inclusion in our Digital Collections.  I kept muttering "what a life you've had Dorothy" and she just nodded her head smiling.
California Democratic Council Convention, 1956
Dorothy (2nd from right) and Adlai Stevenson (3rd from right)

Letter from Adlai Stevenson to Dorothy, 1956

Our discussion turned to Kendrick and she shared that he was one of four sons born to  Lee and Mae (Polkenhorn) Sherman.  In 1977 they married and enjoyed painting ceramics and going to Pow-Wows until his death in 2007.  She lived in the home they shared and it was filled with memories of both of their families. She asked if I had collected many photos for my project and I replied that I was "stuck"..I had researched and obtained quite a bit of information about the North Fork Indian Mission and the Mono families, but no photographs.  I added that through documents and interviews, I had become quite fond of a cowboy named Pinky Bethel, but I  had no photo of him.  She then turned to her bookcase and pulled out a photo of Pinky Bethel for me to have for the Collection and I couldn't help but start to cry.  I had read so much about this man, and I often thought what a manly man he must have been to been named Pinky...and there he was! She was very fond of Pinky Bethel as he had worked for her grandfather, John O'Neal, and had braided rawhide quirts and reins for Dorothy's horses.  She added he was one of the best cowboys and horseman she had ever met.

Pinky Bethel at the Clovis Rodeo

Just when I didn't think it could get any better, Dorothy retrieved Lee and Mae's photo scrapbooks that she had cared for since marrying Kendrick in 1977.  Placed in these pages were hundreds of photos dated from early 1900's through the 1930's of the North Fork Indian Mission students and their families, North Fork Mono Indian Cowboys, and later Lee and Mae's own children.  Many of the photos were not identified and I have spent the last 3 years researching records and meeting with individuals in hopes of identifying most, if not all, of the photos in these scrapbooks.  

North Fork Indian Mission Mothers and their Children

Left to Right:  Lee Sherman, Willie Pomona and Jim Tex

Back Row, Left to Right: Jim Moore, Gene Tully, Bill Major, Jack Norris, Johnny Sherman & Singing Jack
Front Row, Left to Right:  Jim Jackson, Mike McDonald, Mike Riley, Housen Lavell, Joe Burns and Tom Burkhead

Left to Right: Florence Sherman, Frances Sherman and Polly Sherman-Poulton

North Fork Bible School, 1938

I hadn't spoken with Dorothy for almost a year when I heard of her recent passing, but I am confident she knew how much  I appreciated her generosity and enthusiasm for sharing both her and Kendrick's family histories and photographs.  I have often referenced her photos as being the Collection that "expanded our Native American Collection".  In reality,  her Collection became the cornerstone for Madera County Library's Digital Collections and our Library, as well as our Community, will forever be grateful to her and I will always remember the time we spent together.  


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