James Warren Mooney was born January 3, 1944 in Grass Valley, Nevada County, California.
My first memory of life is being held snug and secure in my mother’s arms, and a wool hat protecting me from the winter cold. The sun was shining on a tree-lined, snow-covered park, in the small mountain town of Grass Valley, California.
My second and third memories are about sneaking sips of alcoholic drinks as my mother (Ruth Aleta), and two other women entertained five U.S. armed service men in a bungalow next to the San Francisco Bay. Another memory was of being slapped, repeatedly, and being thrown back and forth with one of my legs caught between the headboards of a bed mattress.
I have vague memories of Rex Mooney dressed in his military uniform, and holding my hand while I was looking at grass growing between bricks that made up a type of sidewalk. I was later told by my mother that Rex (her divorced husband) had picked me up from San Francisco, California to take me to Washburn, Missouri, to live with my Grandparents (James ‘Jamie’ Henry and Mary Ella Mooney), Rex’s parents.
The following storied account of events are a summarization of stories that was told to me by Chief Little Dove, and later confirmed to be true by my Mother, her sister Tammy, my Grandfather Harvey Bennett (My Mother’s Father) and United States Federal Attorneys.
Lying in the middle of a strawberry patch on my grandparents’ Washburn farm, in southern Missouri, I was barefoot wearing bib overalls, while plucking strawberries one at a time, placing them into my mouth, savoring every bite. It was midsummer, and the atmosphere was humid. Enjoying the protective, loving environment of my grandparents, I felt safe and secure, gazing into a cloudless, clear, powdery blue sky.
Two older boys came up. One of them called out to me, “Hey, injun boy, you wanna come down by the pond and play with us?” I was really excited at the prospect of making some friends. I ran to the top of a small mound and stopped, seeing four boys and three girls. One of the girls had dark skin (my cousin.) She and two other girls were playing around my grandparents’ pond.
As the boys saw me come over the mound, the boy who first called out ran up to me, grabbed one of my arms and pulled me in the direction of the other three boys. This older boy flung me to the ground, a few feet in front of the other boys and yelled, “Come on guys! Let’s welcome this redskin piece of shit to our pond!” Instantly, all the boys were holding me on the ground and taking off my overalls.
The moment it was evident what was going on, the dark- skinned girl ran to me in an attempt to rescue me. One of the girls lapsed into uncontrollable hysterics. The remaining girl took off running to get my grandmother.
As the dark-skinned girl struggled to free me from their grip, three of the boys turned their attention to her, flinging her to the ground. She landed hard, her head hitting the point of a large rock, killing her instantly. This act shocked the boys suddenly into what they were doing. The boy who was holding me threw me into the pond. Two other boys jumped into the water, holding me under until I stopped kicking and then took off running.
As my grandmother came over the mound, she saw her newly arrived grandson floating head down in the pond. She knew instinctively that her granddaughter was already dead. With grandmother’s long, braided, graying hair falling loose from the bun on top of her head, she ran as a ferocious lioness would, to protect her young. She jumped in the water, pulled my limp body out of its watery grave. She pounded on my chest, screaming in her native Creek language (which she only spoke with her immediate family), “You cannot die! You WILL not die! You have things to do and you will NOT DIE!”
By this time, my spirit was hovering above the pond and calmly observing my grandmother pounding on my chest. I can see the body of my cousin, with bright red blood oozing from her head, and her large, dark brown eyes staring into the unknown. One girl is sitting with arms rigidly holding her head between her knees. She shielded her eyes from observing anything outside of her own hysterical behavior. The other girl is crying while standing next to my grandmother. My grandmother is commanding me to live. I do remember being calm and peaceful while listening to Ella’s exhortations. To me, my grandmother’s words were mere echoes, coming from a long tunnel in eternity. Suddenly, I see nothing but pitch-blackness, a moment of excruciating pain slices through my body, and then suddenly, a gurgling sound escapes from the inner parts of my soul. Unexpectedly, a mixture of water and stomach fluids come spurt out of my mouth and nose, gushing right into the face of my grandmother. Suddenly, my body again goes limp; however, this time, my spirit and body are connected. It seemed as though I was asleep and waiting.
As Mary Ella forcefully expressed what needed to be done, James (Jamie) Henry Mooney (my grandfather) strongly resisted capitulating to Mary Ella’s undaunted desire, and with sound reasoning. “If we are discovered we will be burned or hung for practicing witchcraft, you know that, Ella!” He embraced Ella for what seemed to be an eternity. Then, as Jamie surveyed the ashen face of his granddaughter, he released a heart-rending scream.
A cloak of darkness, woven in the heavenly, moonless summer night overhead, a canopy is threaded by millions of stars. Mary Ella and Jamie, having prepared an earthen Sweat Lodge, stood silent in a thin gully, beside the waning spring that fed the pond.
In the Sweat Lodge, my body begins to acknowledge my spirit, both totally aware of the environment in which I have been placed. There is enough safety present to come out of my coma. There is warmth from the symbolic womb of my birth mother, the firm yet loving embrace of Jamie and, also, the matching darkness wherein my spirit has been residing for twelve hours. It is two in the morning, the next day in Missouri.
With the sides of the gully hiding the sacred fire’s glare, Ella heard the awakening cries of her grandson.
Ella opens the door to the lodge and begins to spread a good portion of the yellow and orange heat radiant colored coals to the mouth of the opened door to the Sweat Lodge. She leaves a good portion of the coals in the circle of fire, representing the original Source of the “Heavenly Spirit”. As Jamie firmly embraces me to his chest, I felt the sparse hairs of his chest on my cheek. As the radiance of the coals reflects his steaming, mud-caked, naked body emerges through the door of the Sweat Lodge. The earth and sky spirits hear his mumbling chant, hiyata, hiyata, yaa-na ya-na ho, yaa-na ya-na ho, hiyata, hiyata. He carries me in a slow, methodical hot-coaled walk, from the doorway to the Source (fire). Upon reaching the yellow and orange center of the Sacred Circle, he lifts me up with his hands under my armpits, straight up in the moonless night, and offers me, his grandson, to the powers of the East (New Beginning), to the South (Innocence), to the West (Death and Renewal) and finally to the North (Wisdom and Understanding.) He pronounces to the heavenly, star-studded, early morning sky, “We present our grandson, ‘Flaming Eagle.’ ” “Mary Ella and I have done our part. He is now yours to do with what you may.”
James Mooney Genealogy
History of the Seminoles from Osceola to the Trail of Tears