Carson woman to show woven history
Jean McNicoll, 78, used to walk down to the highway from her home on the Carson Colony to catch a bus that would take her to Carson High School.
“When I was at the school, I was in the high society,” she said. “And when I came home from school, I got off the bus and I was in my world. It was like I was living in two different worlds.”
In her world on the reservation, then on the outskirts of town with only six homes, there was no running water, no indoor plumbing, no electricity.
While her classmates watched popular television programs from the era, such as “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Lone Ranger,” McNicoll was learning traditional Washoe crafts such as beading and basket weaving from her mother, Viola, and grandfather Henry Moses Rupert.
“They showed us how to gather willow, how to prepare it,” she said. “I was 10 when I made my first basket. We didn’t have no toys to play with, and the folks made it look like fun.”
Despite her differences from her schoolmates, McNicoll said that the class of 1953, made up of 53 students, was a close-knit group.
“I didn’t have the flashy clothes or fancy things,” she said. “But I was their friend. I was one of the group. It was just like one big family.”
And for their 60th high school reunion last month, McNicoll wanted to give her friends a closer look into her life.
“This reunion is interesting because a lot of my classmates, even though we went to school together for 13 years, don’t know what I do,” she said.
She said she never visited any of her white friends in their houses, and none of them came to see her.
If they had, she would have been happy to have them, she said. Despite the somewhat primitive living conditions, she loved her home.
“It was paradise,” she said.
Her grandfather, the first to settle on the Carson Colony, used ponds to irrigate a grassy field where he grew a garden of vegetables, berries and melons, McNicoll remembers.
“It was like a park, with ducks and ponds and grass,” she said. “In the summertime, we would swim in the ponds. In the winter, we sledded on the frozen ponds. We tried to ski on the mountains with the snow. Even though it was hard times for us, we had so much fun.”
With little money and no car to easily get to town, the family relied on a diet similar to their hunting-and-gathering ancestors — wild game, berries and pine nuts.
“My grandfather taught me to hunt and fish,” she said. “He really taught us a lot.”
She still collects pine nuts in the fall, using her own cylindrical baskets that strap to her side.
“We tried all the modern gadgets to use,” she said. “They were too much work. These baskets are the easiest to use.”
In the summer months, she collects what she calls gray seeds or sand seeds to make into a porridge or pudding.
Known as Jean McNicoll professionally, where she worked in the medical field for 30 years, she is known to her classmates by her maiden name of Rupert.
Her family always referred to her by her middle name, Harriet, which her grandfather shortened to “Yetta,” which is how she is known among most of her family and friends.
She often travels to area schools to teach her traditions, share her crafts and trace the history of the Washoe Indians and the Carson Colony.
“I like to create,” she said. “I just love this land. I love to teach everyone about our world, and what it has provided for us. Mother Earth provides everything in the world for us. I have wisdom and knowledge, I want to pass it on to other people.”