Indian George

Indian George

Indian George 1918 – J. Whitleaw Collection

Indian George Hansen (also know as Indian George Inyo) is the best of the Indians alive at the time of the Silver Stampede into Panamint City, the golden years of Ballarat, and the early mining of borax by John Searles.

That name was given to him by the white men when he was employed as a wood-packer at Panamint City in the early 1870s. His Indian name was Bah-vanda-savany-kee (meaning boy who ran away).

Indian George remembered the immigrants who were part of the Jayhawker, Manly-Bennett Party in the winter of 1849-1850. These stalwarts came across Death Valley and the Panamints. George’s name is connected to these immigrants. He was called “Boy who ran away,” because when he saw the white men he was afraid and ran away.

He was a small by at the time and had never before seen a white man, much less “cows” the oxen drawing wagons, nor the wagons themselves.

George was born at Surveyor Wells in Death Valley about 1841. He died at around the age of 105 and is buried somewhere in the Mesquites. No white man knows where the Indians hide their graves. He is thought to be buried near the Indian Ranch in Panamint Valley, ten miles north of Ballarat, where he lived the winters for over 80 years.

In 1930, his family consisted of his sister, “Old Woman”; a daughter, Isobel; a granddaughter, and Molly who herded the Angora goats which had been provided by the Indian service.

Molly and the goats wintered at the Indian Ranch which had a crude water system built to supply water from Hall Canyon. It was a system of flumes which brought the water to the ranch for irrigation and domestic use. This water system was intact until very recently when vandals destroyed it along with many other historic relics of the Indians life at the ranch.

Warm Springs, near the Indian Ranch, was used for grazing the goats. In the late spring. Molly took the goats up to the Panamints where grazing was better and water was abundant.

For many years before Molly, the Indians had camped in Pleasant Canyon near the Stone Corral in the summer. After most of the Indians had died or left the area, many returned to the old summer camping ground and poked around obviously looking for something. Miners in the area were never able to find what the Indians were seeking.

The food of the Indians in the Panamints like in the other mountains of the Mojave Desert was pinion nuts, wild animals and a umber of edible plants. Squaw tea plants are numerous in the higher elevations of the Panamints from which a hot drink was brewed.

George Pipkin was privileged to learn first hand from some of the Indians about their families, customs, and legends. George and his wife, Ann, were resident manager and co-owner of Wildross Station at the entrance of Death Valley Monument through Wild Ross Canyon from 1946 until 1950. Here much of the material for the book was gathered.

Sometimes Mike, the crippled son of Indian George, would come on his crutches along with his three sons, Leland, Dugan and Buster, to live at the ranch. They lived at Darwin most of the time.

George and his family, like many Indians of the eastern Sierra, are classed as Shoshone. However, locally they were known as the Panamint Indians.

Indian Ranch, still an Indian reservation, is leased from time to time for grazing purposes upon bid.

Indian George Hansen

Indian George in 1920s

Indian George and his people got their salt from Searles Lake. That was how he met John Searles. He and his father worked for Searles, alongside the Chinese brought into the Mojave Desert for road building and other labor tasks.

When telling about Ballarat, which Indian George called “Kow-wah,” he said, “Many men come. Houses spring up over night. Freight teams and stages coming-going all the time. Many saloons, much firewater. Lots shooting and fights. No place for Indian. Good place to stay away from.”

For many years it has been commonly believed that the county derived its name from the Mono tribe of Native Americans name for the mountains in its former homeland. Actually the name came to be thought of, mistakenly, as the name of the mountains to the east of the Owens Valley when the first whites there asked the local Paiutes what the name of the mountains to the east was.

The local Paiutes responded that that was the land of Inyo. They meant by this that those lands belonged to the Shoshone tribe headed by a man whose name was Inyo. Inyo was the name of the headman of the Panamint band of Paiute-Shoshone people at the time of contact when the first whites, the Manly expedition of 1849, wandered, lost, into Death Valley on their expedition to the gold fields of western California. The Owens Valley whites misunderstood the local Paiute and thought that Inyo was the name of the mountains, when actually it was the name of the chief, or headman, of the tribe that had those mountains as part of their homeland.

“Indian George,” a fixture of many of the stories of early Death Valley days, was Inyo’s son. Indian George’s Shoshone name was “Bah-Vanda-Sa-Va-Nu-Kee,” which means “The Boy Who Ran Away,” a name he was given when he became terrified of the whites and their wheeled wagons and huge buffalo, none of which the Shoshone had ever seen before when they came wandering down Furnace Creek Wash in December 1849. In 1940, when Bah-vanda was around 100 years old, J.C. Boyles, a Panamint Shoshone who had become educated, came back to the Panamint valley and interviewed Bah-Vanda at length about the early days of his life, including the events of 1849, and it is in this interview that Bah-vanda refers to his father, Inyo. — The Desert Magazine, February 1940


The above information was copied from Desert Magazine and the Searles Valley Historical Society “OL’ TIMER” Volume IX No. 3 July, August, September 1994 newsletter, where this excerpt was reprinted from the book Ballarat – Facts & Folklore (1897-1917) written by Paul Hubard, Doris Bray and George Pipkin.

Last Update: 03/03/2013

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *