Research Notes: Henry Rupert

Henry Rupert was a Washoe kid born in 1885, when there were still echos of the old life, when hunter-gatherers lived in harmony with the planet – and for the most part, among themselves. The Washoe had a specialized niche, wintering on the lower-elevation near Genoa, Nevada. They moved to the higher elevations of Lake Tahoe in the summer. Unfortunately for them, their summer territory was overwhelmed by White people and effectively ruined for Washoe purposes. Same deal with the winter grounds.

As a boy, Rupert was sent to the Indian school in Carson City. He ran away the next day. And again. He eventually absorbed enough modernity to become a typesetter for the Reno newspaper.

But Rupert also learned the old ways, became a shaman. He had dreams. Experienced dizziness and fainting when the lean-to and the ground whirled around him. You may have had such experiences yourself. He watched an elder shaman, Welewkushkush, healing people. Welewkushkush walked under the waters of Lake Tahoe without drowning. You have probably not done that.

Welewkushkush told him: “All kinds of sickness will look pretty tough, but it will melt.” He did his first cure, of a man with alcohol poisoning, in 1907.

Rupert learned hypnotic techniques in Reno. He trained with Monkey Peter, a well-regarded shaman. He acquired a second healer helper, a Hindu spirit, who taught him new techniques. Later in life, he would find third spiritual helper, a Hawaiian. Never stop learning. Eventually, Rupert divined that spirit and mind were both composed of ethereal spirits, and that the spirit world has three planes. (It still does.)

Rupert’s reputation as a healer spread. He successfully treated Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone patients, as well as Hawaiian, Filipino, Mexican and White people. Many were psychosomatic cases, including a World War II vet with visual hallucinations. His annual visits to a sacred Washoe site on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, eventually established the cultural significance of Cave Rock and became the legal basis for preserving the site from further development. It already had two holes blown through it for U.S. 50.

Rupert was buried at Carson Indian School, the place he’d first run away from. The cemetery is off from the campus in the sagebrush scrub and has about 170 grave markers, though time and climate have eroded much of the information that was inscribed upon them. The U.S. government recently launched a project to investigate unnamed graves – there could be 200 of them at Carson – and more fully document what generations of Nevada Indians experienced there.

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