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Rosie Hicks, Nuwä basketweaver

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

Nuwä basketweavers were some of the finest basketmakers in California, a state that historically has been home to many of the country's best basketmaking traditions. One of them was a lady named Rosie Hicks.

Rosie was born about 1890 and was the daughter of Luisa (Louise) Marcus, who was the grandmother of noted Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Southern Paiute) elder Andy Greene, who is depicted on the Nuwä mural on the side of the Hitching Post Theaters on Green Street in Downtown Tehachapi.

Andy has passed away, but his son Monty is still living, and Monty and Jill Greene's daughter Brandi Greene Kendrick and her family still live in Tehachapi. Rosie Hicks was the sister of Ramona Greene, who was Andy's mother, so Rosie was Andy's aunt.

Luisa Marcus was a basketmaker who apparently taught both her daughters Ramona and Rosie to be weavers and they both made excellent baskets -- the Greene family still has some of Ramona's baskets, and the Tehachapi Museum is preparing an exhibition of the Greene family basket collection.

About 10 years ago while the late Janice Williams, a descendent of Kawaiisu weavers, and I were giving a basketweaving demonstration, we were approached by a man who said that he had some baskets that were woven locally.

The man lives in Kern County and while he wishes to remain anonymous, he did allow me to photograph baskets that he said his mother had purchased from Rosie in the 1940s and 1950s. They are lovely, well-made examples of the Kawaiisu basketmaking art that were constructed from deergrass seed stalks as the foundation, which were then wrapped with split willow and yucca root, unicorn plant (also known as devil's claw) and western redbud.

Rosie saw tremendous change in her lifetime. When she was born in the Kern County mountains in the late 1800s, there were many fluent Nuwä speakers, more than 100 tribal members. There were also a number of basketmakers still at work, including Emma and Sophie Williams, Martina and Rosie Collins, and others. By the time she passed away in the late 1960s, there were no active basketmakers and a dwindling number of fluent speakers.

When Rosie was growing up, she lived with her family in what was known as "the Indian Camp" just east of the entrance to the Monolith Portland Cement Plant (now Lehigh Southwest), and perhaps at another Indian encampment not far from the mouth of Sand Canyon. Rosie is believed to have had only one son who died young, and in the latter years of her life she lived in the town of Tehachapi.

Rosie spoke only a little English and conversed mostly in Nuwä. Like most transitional Nuwä women, she never drove a car and when she was living in a remote cabin and wanted a ride from Claude Butterbredt, she would say to him "Stop, I catch" meaning she wanted him to stop when he went past her house so she could catch a ride with him.

Rosie Hicks was a humble, unassuming and talented basketmaker, and it was gratifying to learn that some of her artwork has survived intact and protected and is still in Kern County.