August 27, 2020
AFTER THE U.S. AIR FORCE proposed expanding its control over the 1.6-million-acre Desert National Wildlife Refuge, which overlaps the Air Force's 2.9 million-acre Nevada Test and Training Range, an array of opponents coalesced. Among those voices, the Moapa Band of Paiutes’ were not always the loudest, yet they’ve been in this fight the longest. Before European settlers arrived, the Southern Paiutes, of which the Moapa are one tribe, occupied some 30 million acres now spanning from Southern California through Southern Nevada to south-central Utah and down into northwestern Arizona. The region holds lands that are still sacred to the Paiute; specifically, the Moapa Band of Paiutes revere an area they call Tuhut, known to English speakers as the Desert Refuge and Sheep Mountains. The tribe’s Vice Chair Greg Anderson explains Tuhut’s significance, and why they don’t want the Air Force to control it.
Tell me about your connection to Tuhut .
The connection to me is, it’s almost like who we are. We’re connected to all parts of life — the ground, the rocks, the springs, the mountains, everything has life. When we go out there, we have a prayer. Whatever we take, we give an offering. That’s how our people are. It’s sad we can’t do the things we used to do on the land.
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Why can’t you?
When the U.S. Government took all our land away (in the early 1900s), we were down to 1,000 acres. In the '70s, they gave us 71,000 acres back, and that’s when we started doing economic development. … But our people have always been blocked from the areas that are considered federal land. The Air Force and BLM won’t let us do traditional activities like hunt bighorn and gather pine nuts.
You’ll at least have access to the part of your homeland that’s in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, as long as it stays open to the public. Is that why the tribe opposes the Air Force’s plan to take over the refuge?
Yes, and we don’t feel that we can trust them to take care of it, because of what has happened at Pintwater Cave on the bombing range.
What happened there?
They said they were going to be good stewards of that land. The different tribes involved with Nellis (Air Force Base) took a field trip up there two years ago, and we were quite disappointed, because we saw projectiles sticking up out of the ground and debris from explosions all around the cave. … They let us take field trips every two or three years, but you can’t have ceremonies or anything. You can’t do a prayer. You can’t go and talk to the gods without the Air Force tagging along.
What’s the significance of that place?
It’s the cave. It’s a power cave, a healing cave. We go up there to sing our songs and give offerings for prayer. The young people went there to get their power.
Can you tell me about any of the ceremonies?
People would bury umbilical cords up there. The girls’ umbilical cords were put in pack rats’ packs to keep them busy, so they would be good workers, strong. The men, they’d take the boys’ (umbilical cords) up there on the mountain and put them on the bighorn sheep trail to make them good hunters. We can’t do anything like that anymore.
That’s also where the Salt Song trails are. Those are the songs we sing for our dead people, to help them pass along and move to the other side. The journey makes a complete circle all the way around our homeland. I’m one of the singers for our tribe. It means a lot to us that we can’t go up there when we need to.
How many times have you been there?
What was it like?
Beautiful. When I went there, the trail leading up was like a sheep trail, but scattered with crystals all the way around it. Now, they’re all gone. The Air Force says they’re protecting these areas, but I think differently. That’s our main goal, to protect these places that are our ancestral land.
Where do you sing the Salt Songs now?
Here in our village, in the multipurpose room. And sometimes outside.
How was it before the reservation, when you could go to the sacred places?
They never sat on chairs. They sat on the ground, so they were connected to the Earth. The songs are about guiding the person to where they’re going. The first four songs call all the spirits that are out there. Their family, friends, all the spirits are coming to honor that person. They’re excited to take them to the other side. And that’s what happens. Then, the next year, the memorial, we do the same thing, and this is his final journey. It’s taking him on that trail, taking him through the Spring Mountains to Mount Charleston, where they cross over.
What are you hoping for?
Our hope is to get the cave back. We have to turn back history. We Native Americans have been here all our lives. We just became citizens in 1924, and here we fought these wars for the U.S. It really bugs me that we’re not treated in the right way. The true history is never told of what (the settlers) did to us.
What’s something you’d like people to know?
The mountains have stories written on their walls about what happened. There are stories of when they (the settlers) brought smallpox. They’re written down. … They’re not rock art. They’re telling the stories from generation to generation. We’re not getting that through to the people. … The people of Southern Nevada need to learn a little history and who we are.
Editor's note: The first sentence of this story was changed to clarify that the Air Force's proposal would give it primary jurisdiction over parts of the Desert Refuge that it currently co-manages with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as adding up to 276,000 acres to the Air Force's 2.9 million-acre training range.
After this story was published, the Nellis AFB Public Affairs/Media Relations department submitted this response to clarify and contextualize some of Anderson's statements.
“The Air Force and BLM won’t let us do traditional activities like hunt bighorn and gather pine nuts.”
All hunting activities are managed through the Nevada Division of Wildlife. The State of Nevada establishes requirements for obtaining hunting tags and licenses. For hunting on the NTTR, the Air Force works with both NDOW and USFWS by reducing operations on the ranges to allow the hunts to take place annually.
As for the claim of lack of access for pine nut harvests, in 2007 the Air Force funded Native American tribes’ access to the Nevada Test and Training Range to reconnect with their ancestral lands and conduct a pine nut harvest. This effort was documented in a video titled “Gathering Devah: An Ancient Pine Nut Harvest Tradition.” The Air Force has repeatedly worked with tribal members to conduct follow-on harvests and will continue to do so in the future.
“When we go out there, we have a prayer. Whatever we take, we give an offering. That’s how our people are. It’s sad we can’t do the things we used to do on the land.”
In addition to allowing tribal members to harvest for pine nuts on NTTR, on 7 Oct 2018, eight tribal members prayed, blessed and cleansed an aircraft crash site in the Southern Range so as to restore balance to the environment.
“They said they were going to be good stewards of that land. The different tribes involved with Nellis (Air Force Base) took a field trip up there two years ago, and we were quite disappointed, because we saw projectiles sticking up out of the ground and debris from explosions all around the cave. …”
This statement is in reference to Pintwater Cave. Of the 57 times Native Americans have visited the NTTR since 2017, 13 visits have been made to Pintwater Cave. During one of those site visits, Native Americans identified two large bombs in the vicinity of the cave entrance. Range personnel, the base Native American liaison and members of the Consolidated Group of Tribes and Organizations (CGTO) worked together to identify protective measures the Air Force could employ to protect the cave should the ordnance have to be detonated on site. Upon inspection by military explosive experts, these bombs contained an inert filler and were simply removed from the area.
These lands have been selected by the U.S. Government to be utilized by the Department of Defense to test and train the men and women protecting this country. As such, ordnance has been used by the military since the 1940’s and can be found within these borders. The Air Force, especially in this particular case, went through extraordinary precautions to protect Pintwater Cave and include tribal members in their actions. Mr. Anderson was offered the opportunity to participate in developing the protective measures for the cave but he elected not to.
“What was it like?
Beautiful. When I went there, the trail leading up was like a sheep trail, but scattered with crystals all the way around it. Now, they’re all gone. The Air Force says they’re protecting these areas, but I think differently. That’s our main goal, to protect these places that are our ancestral land.”
The USAF has protected these areas. Anything removed from Pintwater Cave is in the possession of USFWS.
The Air Force has deemed the Pintwater Cave area off-limits to military personnel. The Pintwater range and cave site are the responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To further protect the sacred cave site, the Air Force nominated Pintwater Cave for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The Air Force, in conjunction with the CGTO and USFWS, consistently monitors the cave’s condition and those findings are discussed at semiannual meetings held with the 17 affiliated tribes.
The Air Force will continue to meet its responsibilities to protect sacred Native sites and provide as much access to their ancestral lands as possible without degrading military testing and training. The CGTO has now been operating and partnering with the Air Force for over 23 years with activities such as participation in semiannual meetings, review of proposed Air Force actions, scheduled visits to various sacred sites on NTTR, and attendance at annual professional cultural and archaeological professional training.
STURDY SHOES? CHECK. Field glasses? Check. Provisions? Check. David Gessner's Leave It As It Is: A Journey Through Theodore Roosevelt's American Wilderness takes the reader on a trek through the thorny history of Western public lands. Blending travelogue, biography, environmental study, and nature writing, Leave It As It Is strides down perilous paths bloodied by genocide, fords rivers of corporate greed, scales a steep slope of pragmatic optimism, and provides thoughtful perspective on the future. The panorama of information — scientific, personal, political, historical, ecological — inspires rethinking of our national "wilderness" at a time when hope for a withering planet is in short supply.
Holding the book together is Theodore Roosevelt, Virgil to Gessner's Dante. Gessner — an accomplished environmental writer with nine books to his credit — is no apologist for Roosevelt's racism, his genocidal policies, or his love of hunting. Rather than excusing Roosevelt as a "man of the times," Gessner presents the unvarnished truth, including Roosevelt's claim that the "only way of solving the Indian question" was extermination of the buffalo, among other atrocities. Gessner sketches Roosevelt's robust life (1858 -1919) in mostly quick strokes: childhood illness; Ivy League education; speedy climb through government ranks; forming, training and leading his own Rough Riders cavalry regiment in the Spanish-American War; taking office as the youngest-ever president after McKinley was shot; re-election to the presidency; authoring some 40-plus books; and Nobel Peace Prize.
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What interests Gessner is evidence that Roosevelt was the first, and perhaps only, environmental U.S. president — trained as a naturalist, dedicated to habitat preservation, following science, and connected in a profound and arguably visionary way to nature. Roosevelt battled monopolies and predatory wealth to protect U.S. wilderness from private incursion, setting aside 230 million acres of public land, mostly in the American West. In addition to 18 national monuments, 51 federal bird reserves, and four national game preserves, Roosevelt created five national parks, the U.S. Forest Service, and 150 national forests. At a time when the majority of his contemporaries romantically viewed nature as inexhaustible, Roosevelt understood that the fate of the passenger pigeon (2 million circa 1907, extinct by 1914) and buffalo (millions in the wild in the 1860s, 23 in 1902) would befall other species unless land for wildness areas, such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, was protected.
Gessner follows Roosevelt's footsteps in the West, seeing for himself the landscapes that moved our 26th president to reflection and rapture. Along the way, he deconstructs the myth of "wilderness" as a peopleless place, a concept that resulted in the brutal eviction of indigenous peoples from ancestral lands newly christened as national parks and monuments. He also ruminates on the cow — a non-native species — and cowboy myth, pointing out that today's rancher, a glorified symbol of self-reliance and independence, is a front for corporate interests and actually dependent on the welfare state. The Bureau of Land Management leases around 148 million acres of grazing land at such abysmally low rates that it costs the agency considerably more to lease than the fees bring in. "Cowburnt" public lands — chewed up ecosystems with despoiled waterways — supply less than 1 percent of U.S. beef production, while cowboys own only a fraction of the land cattle graze on. Gessner notes that the Bundys, who rail against socialism, never mention that the government has been subsidizing their families with grazing rights for generations.
Comparing Roosevelt's ecological foresight to the environmental myopia of our current presidential administration, Gessner embeds in Utah at Bears Ears National Monument. Signed into law by President Obama's December 2016 proclamation, Bears Ears partly owes its existence to the Roosevelt-era Antiquities Act (1906), which protects "wilderness" sites of cultural and historical value. Bears Ears' 13.5 million acres were meant to safeguard spectacular archeological and ritual sites continuously occupied and/or stewarded by indigenous peoples since the Clovis period 13,000 years ago. As a sanctuary, Bears Ears protected geological, paleontological, botanic, and wildlife diversity unique to the Great Basin.
On Roosevelt's birthday in October 2017, the Trump administration, apparently at the behest of uranium miners, reduced the monument by 85 percent, undoing all the work that the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe, Hopi Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni did to prevent further destruction by extractive industries of their sacred lands. In a policy first, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition had hoped to jointly manage the monument with the U.S. government. Trump's boundaries slice pell-mell through archeological sites and habitats, dividing Bears Ears into two separate, truncated remnants. Gessner marshals proof that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke refused to entertain research on Bears Ears' fragile cultural and environmental wealth. In doing so, Zinke set a dangerous precedent for plundering "protected" public lands by assenting to ignorance.
As the legality of the reduction of Bears Ears makes its way through the courts, the disappointment among Native American peoples is matched by their will to continue to battle for both legal stewardship and hereditary responsibility to protect biodiversity. People count, but so do all living things. Just as Roosevelt grew less indifferent and more empathic during his lifetime, we, too, can expand our compassion and generosity — not just toward our fellow humans, but also toward nature. More than a hundred years after Roosevelt's "leave it as it is" speech delivered on the rim of the Grand Canyon, we have to take the next step and bolster the nature we've managed to keep.
Toward that end, Gessner discusses the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), formerly supported by the Bureau of Land Management. Y2Y banishes herds of destructive cows, restores habitat, and links public lands in a north-south continental migratory path of roughly half a million acres. The vision of eponymous Roosevelt Elk taking the tunnel under the highway between habitat "islands" will be a magnificent sight, and a reminder that life everywhere is as passionate and worthy as human life. This is the spirit of Roosevelt that Gessner delightfully animates — one awed by the earth, by our land, and by wild creatures. This is our common ground.
Leave It As It Is: A Journey Through Theodore Roosevelt's American Wilderness, by David Gessner (Simon & Schuster, $28)
Note: In Anecdotal History, we use social media, traditional interviews, and a good dose of Googling to explore the more obscure chapters of Vegas’ past.
MOST VEGAS BARS are, well, just Vegas bars. The exceptional ones have scenes — those simmering social phenoms where subcultures flourish. Moby Grape certainly had a scene. Moby Grape was a Las Vegas rock club whose life cycle is best imagined as an '80s music-video montage of screaming guitars, huge hair, powerful drinks, and countless nights of howling rawknroll bacchanalia. Today, the site of the former club on Tropicana and Maryland that ruled the rock scene for nearly two decades is a Dotty’s (then again, isn’t everything?). Its tombstone may read 1972-1990, but in some ways Moby Grape is still alive: A handful of local bands that regularly rattled the club’s stage are still performing and producing music.
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And, wow, what great band names, ripe with smoldering innuendo, frisky menace and unironic, smoke-machine mystique! A random scoop from
Moby history: Max Force (pictured above), Jus Cuz, Fair Warning, Silent Rage, Rough Angel, Luv Hunter, AWOL, Painted Tears, Seduction, We Gotcha Daughter, Kaiser, Habitual Ritual, Vigilante, Little Sister, The Worx, Flesh & Bones, Nemesis (right), Release, Arsynal, The Point.
"Moby Grape was a rock ‘n’ roll version of Cheers,” says Davyo Thompson, a salon owner who used to frequent the club as a fan and as a member of the band (here’s another great one!) Teaser. “When it closed, my sex life went to nothing.” The club’s name was inspired in part by one of the original partners, Lloyd “Grape” Charles, so nicknamed because he used to make his own wine.
Let’s play time-travel and see what this place was about. On a hot Saturday summer night in 1986, you walk through the front doors to a storm of shrieking guitars from the stage. The scene is a riotous bramble of
teased hair, tattered jeans, beer bottles cluttering tables. The walls are lined with strips of carpet to dampen the monumental sound. Oh, and there’s a nonzero chance that the band vamping on stage is naked.
The Point played naked several times. I remember (owner) Stephen Tichenor screaming at me one night after a naked bout saying he could lose his license and we better not do that sh-- anymore. I don’t think we ever apologized. Sorry Steve, we won’t do it again ... especially since we’re old and fat now. — Aaron Olson, drummer
You navigate the cocktail tables — bumping into someone who may or may not be Mark Slaughter — and squeeze your way to the crowded bar for a drink. You know what you’re getting: Moby Grape’s signature cocktail, a concoction of grenadine, pineapple juice, and Midori melon liqueur called The F—ed Up Stoplight.
It literally looks like a stop light, green on the bottom, yellow in the middle, and red, grenadine, on top. At the end they would put crushed ice in it which would blur everything. Hence the name F—ed Up Stoplight. It was a main staple at the Grape. Everyone drank it. — Michele Tell
Through the blur and clamor at the bar, you see some familiar faces from the rock A-list of the time: Could that be comic Sam Kinison holding court at the end of the bar with Billy Idol? And hey, is that Ted Nugent with his unmistakable electrified frizz?
Anyone remember when Ted Nugent shot his “Little Miss Dangerous” video there? One of the hot barmaids, Verna, got to be in the video! — Mike Oswald
After a few F—ed Up Stoplights, you head toward the bathrooms. But good luck finding an open stall; they frequently doubled as functionally unisex hideouts for diehard rock ‘n’ rollers with fake IDs.
We’d always be on the look out for cops looking for underage drinkers. We’d always bolt to the bathrooms, either one, and stand up on the toilet until the coast was clear. — Christine Clemens Parrott
The rest of your night is an epic smear of caterwauling guitars, Long Island Iced Teas, a dance floor surging in denim, leather, and nylon. You seem to remember a $1,000 raffle giveaway and hearing stories about last Wednesday’s “torn T-shirt contest” in which female contestants wielding scissors snipped away at their Moby Grape T-shirts to rock songs on cassette tapes. When the party’s over, you head a few doors down to Family Billiards for some post-rock ‘n’ roll grub. Just don’t pull a dine-and-dash — apparently a favored pastime among Grape habitués hitting up the billiards joint after a long night.
I worked at Family Billiards 30 feet from the Grape graveyard and a lot of you pieces of sh— ran out on your tabs and I had to pay for your sh— … and I did. I had the best food and beer was cheap. And took care of you a—holes, best jukebox, and you [expletives] took advantage. I will pay [whoever tells me] who knocked over my ’51 pan head Harley, a—holes. — Jay Ruckel
The funny and ironic postscript to this reconstituted fantasia is the secret of Moby Grape’s success. The engine of this club that manufactured nearly 20 years of nightly live rock, near-mythical debauchery, and deep music-scene lore was Steve Tichenor, Moby Grape’s principal owner. Oh, Tichenor could throw back shots of Jack with the bands and the fans. But it was his tireless, singular commitment to the success of the club — whether it meant driving to Phoenix or L.A. to personally audition bands or orchestrate Moby Grape party buses for UNLV football games at the Silver Bowl — that turned Moby Grape’s measured chaos into a smoothly churning business model.
“Oh, I’ve always been a drinker, but I learned early on you need to maintain and stay in control,” he says. “I usually didn’t hang out with the bands too long after the show. I’d go home and go to bed. I had to be up at six the next morning to take care of business.”
As the ’80s came to a close and the sports bar craze cast its shadow on Vegas, a businessman made Tichenor an offer he couldn’t pass up. Tichenor sold him the lease and offered the Moby Grape name. The businessman declined to keep the name; he had his own visions of wild success as part of a sports bar chain called The Inn Zone. It lasted less than a year.
TWO INTERESTING and possibly unrelated things occurred recently: Using the very postal system it’s trying to dismantle, the GOP sent a voter registration form to my house in the name of my father, who (a) has never lived at this address, (b) left the state for good 28 years ago, and (c) left the planet for good 11 years ago; also, a vulture was seen in the neighborhood. I say possibly unrelated, but come on, this is 2020. You tell me.
It’s hard to blame the state party for its far-reaching recruitment effort, given Nevada’s blue lean in a seismic election year. As any old-school Chicago Democrat can tell you, things like address and a pulse are minor concerns when you need every vote you can get. Possibly it was a clerical error, but I put nothing past this New Normal.
I wish I could report that, as I stood in my dining room holding the day’s mail, I didn’t even remotely consider perpetrating a little good-natured
election fraud. You know, fill out the form, send it in, haha! A prank, really. Register my dad, reveal the hoax, share a backslapping laugh with those GOP funsters. Logistically speaking, I didn’t think it would be difficult. I’m pretty sure I could get Dad’s Social Security number and an accurate signature from the box of his papers in my garage. Naturally, I’d be careful to get every detail right — I wouldn’t want the state party to think I’m not taking its concerns about ballot abuse seriously.
Indeed, it might be fun to push the joke all the way to November 3, maybe have Dad "cast his vote" for the Green Party candidate he’d hate, whoever that is. Because my father was the sort of Republican invariably described as “rock-ribbed” — one who would vote posthumously if election law and quantum physics allowed it — a Green vote in his name would be my capstone victory in our long history of political bickering, which I miss more than I can tell you.
I’m not sure if the vulture showed up in a purely ironic capacity, or if, since we live near the open desert and a guy with a tiny dog, it was just a large, ugly bird looking for food. I didn’t see it myself, it was on a fence one street over, so I was dubious at first — I didn’t read a single fainthearted post on Nextdoor.com urging us to safeguard our pets while misspelling carrion. But my son took a picture of it. Vulture, all right. (Not the one in the photo, though. That's a stock vulture.)
I made the usual associations: death, decay, the picking-clean of bones. “It’s probably here about the postal service,” I told my son. Or just as a symbolic signal-boost for this year’s grim energies, in case we weren’t getting the message.
But maybe I was wrong about that. According to trustedpsychicmediums.com — which certainly sounds like a credible source — “People are quick to think about death, decay, and destruction when they come across the vulture.” But there’s more to the story: “Vulture symbolism also speaks about purification and the restoration of harmony in your life. ...” The word rebirth is used. Good omens all! And, just in time to audition as the spirit animal of the pandemic, “the vulture urges you to take control of your life and to be strong amidst the challenges.” Thanks, large, ugly bird!
And, hey, look at today’s Pony Express delivery: The state party sent my dad a follow-up. “Being politically active is linked with greater well-being and life satisfaction,” the flier says, upbeat as a vulture. I remember again our heated arguments — “the war aside,” went an opening ploy typical of Dad, “what’s so bad about George Bush?” — and I also remember the relish with which I’d head for his house every time there was a political dispute I knew we’d be on opposite sides of. Neither of us ever gave any ground, either. Which is why messing with Dad’s ballot, during this of all apocalyptic elections, would at last give me the final, ultimate word. After all, “the vulture can soar above its limitations,” I’m told, “and so can you!”
But no, no. No. Of course it would be utterly, irredeemably wrong to do that, and as far as anyone reading this knows, I did not.
Howie Hawkins, by the way; the Green Party candidate is Howie Hawkins.
Photos and art: Greg Anderson by Aaron Mayes; national park photo courtesy BLM; Moby Grape bands and crowd courtesy Davyo Thompson