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Mount Shasta as a Visual Resource

Native American Artists of Mount Shasta: 1908

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Grant Tau-hin-dauli [Towendolly] (1873-1963)

Portrait of Grant Towendolly.  From Marcelle Masson, editor.  A Bag of Bones.  Happy Camp:  Naturegraph, 1990 - portrait of man wearing glasses

Grant Tau-hin-dauli, last chief of the Trinity River Wintu Indian tribe, painted in oils at least three scenes of Mount Shasta.216 As a turn of the century Indian chief, and as the medicine person of his tribe (shaman), he is perhaps an unlikely a person to adopt the Western European style of art. But he was by all accounts an extraordinary person, one who was respected by his fellow Indians and White friends alike, not only for his Indian knowledge and story-telling abilities, but as well for his reasoned attempts to understand the gap between the two cultures he inhabited.

The artist's roots go back to the Trinity River Valley area, a region just over the high ridges west of the upper Sacramento Canyon. In the early 1850s, the Trinity River was overrun with gold miners, and many of the the local Indians were forced to flee to the Sacramento Canyon. Some of these settled at the medicine site later known as the Upper Soda Springs, and one of those refugees was the chief and shaman, Wi-tau-hin-dauli. 'Wi' means 'chief' in the Wintu language, and perhaps naively, he was called Wi-lliam, or Bill, by the McCloud family, who in 1855 bought the Indian healing site. The elder chief then lived and worked for the McCloud family, and in 1873 his son Grant was born.

The Upper Soda Springs later became a reknowned resort, with wealthy and educated visitors coming from all over California, and the healing waters were even shipped world-wide. During this time many of the most famous artists in California would pass through the narrow Sacramento canyon, and many of them were to stay at the Upper Soda Springs resort. It would almost certainly have been the exposure to these visiting artists that prompted Grant to learn to paint in the European tradition.

Lily and Grant Tau-hin-dauli used with permission of the Masson-Gomez Family - a woman, a man and a dog
Lily and Grant Towendolly.
Courtesy of the Masson-Gomez Family.

Grant's adoption of the White man's art might have been a radical departure from the accepted conventions of Indian life. The traditional education received from his revered father (who was the elder chief and shaman) can be gathered from the following quote:

When I was old enough to go out hunting and fishing, he used to take me different places up and down Sacramento and McCloud rivers. My father pointed out and told me of the mountains where good and evil spirits live and also in places on along the rivers. My father told me when I grow up to be man to follow same ways as his. He told me be always with the good spirits when up on mountains and up and down these rivers."217

Mount Shasta by Grant Tau-hin-dauli courtesy Frank LaPena - painting of a snow covered two peaked mountain with hills in the foregound
Mount Shasta by Grant Towendolly.
Courtesy Frank LaPena.

He followed his father's advice all his life, lived to be 90 years old, and was a close friend of many fine people. But he nonetheless would keep communication open with the non-Indian people of the region, and of all the activities the white man was capable of, landscape painting was perhaps the most in harmony with nature.

In 1966, A.E. Treganza, then professor of Anthropology at San Francisco State College, wrote a preface to a collection of Grant Tau-hin-dauli's spoken stories (edited by Marcelle Masson):

The real character of these stories is Laktcharas Tauhindauli, better known as Grant Towendolly, Wintu Indian, philosopher, mystic, shaman, and above all an intense human being who believed in life and man.

My contact with Grant was sporadic and for short periods of time, but the exchange between two people was open, warm, and fluent. Grant lived in three worlds: the contemporary Caucasian world from which he had no escape; his Indian world which directed his inner feelings and emotions; and last, a world of the super-natural, for he was one of the last of the Wintu Shamans. I am indebted to Mrs. Masson for introducing me to Towendolly for it was he who gave me the key to the ceremonial use of Samwell Cave and explained many of the heretofore mysteries surrounding it. The way Grant talked is the way Mrs. Masson recorded his stories and this is the way it should be. The way one talks is the way one thinks and the purpose of this book is to reveal how other people view the world. 218

The Tau-hin-dauli family tradition and attachment to northern California continues on today. One of the direct family descendents, Mr. Frank LaPena, a nationally recognized artist and head of the Native American studies department of California State University at Sacramento, has become an articulate spokesman for the knowledge of the tribal elders of northern California. He often visited the Tau-hin-dauli families in Dunsmuir, and he studied with many elders of the Wintu and other tribes. He states that:

Despite a dissonance between the traditional and contemporary ways, we confirm the ancient teachings of the earth to have valid lessons for today. Art helps to create order through the use of symbols. These symbols help to maintain the connection between traditional and contemporary cultures by reminding us of our responsibility for the way we choose to live, the way we relate our lives to thew sacred universal connection of the sacred circle.

In Northern California, as in other Indian areas and regions, certain themes flow through the consciousness of the tribal society and its members. The themes are related through creation myths, stories, and songs. These, in turn, relate to the understanding and controling the philosophical and ethical foundation that helps makes a good and meaningful life.219

Mount Shasta by Grant Towendolly. Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California - a tall two peaked snow covered mountian with hills and trees in the foregound
Mount Shasta by Grant Towendolly.
Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.

Apparently for Grant Tau-hin-dauli and Frank LaPena, the earth was and is important, and behavior towards it is strictly proscribed in subtle ways. As an example, LaPena states:

[W]hen my uncle died, I went to Mount Shasta with the bundle of my hair that I had cut off as a sign of mourning. Mount Shasta is the last place on earth the spirit visits before traveling to the above world. The cutting of the hair is a sign of grievance and respect.220

Mt. Shasta by Frank LaPena courtesy of Frank LaPena - an etching of the moon over a two peaked snow covered mountian with trees in the foreground
Mt. Shasta by Frank LaPena.
© 2001 Frank LaPena.

Mr. LaPena's art is alive with myth and symbol of California's far North. His artwork harkens back to the times before the greed for gold and timber brought severe changes to the land and culture of the local Indians. Viewing Mr. LaPena's art may be as close as one can get to viewing the essence of the art of the first residents of the Mount Shasta region.

[216] One painting is owned by the Redding Art Museum, and two others are in private collections.

[217] Quoted in the Siskiyou Pioneer. August, 1947. p. 20.

[218] Quoted in Masson. p. vi.

[219] LaPena. My world is a Gift from my Teachers p.10.

[220] LaPena. The World is a Gift. p.1.


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