These six poignant vignettes recall Miwok Indians whom the author knew as a boy in Murphys, California, during the 1920s and 1930s. The Miwok were hunter-gatherers in the Sierra Nevada foothills when the gold rush overwhelmed them in the mid-nineteenth century. By World War I decades of violence, disease, and poverty had reduced the Miwok to 670 souls scraping by on the social and economic fringes of Anglo society. In twenty more years, Miwok culture had nearly vanished.
A few of the survivors come to life in Burrows's powerful portraits of Miwok old timers such as Mary, Walker, and Aaron who could recall the old days of Miwok autonomy and who still found strength and dignity in indigenous culture. Fading cultural memory, social alienation, and economic desperation, however, drove the younger Miwok such as The Brothers, Andy, and Dickie to destructive choices and behaviors that ultimately ruined their lives. Since World War II, the Miwok have re-established themselves as an indigenous tribe and continue to practice traditional rituals and ceremonies.