The Old Coyote of Big Sur – Dr. Jaime de Angulo

“Jaime de Angulo was a medical doctor turned anthropologist who bought a ranch in Big Sur [in 1915] … His appearance, in the 1920s when I first saw him, was dramatic in the extreme. He came riding down our hill to Rainbow Lodge [in Bixby Canyon] on a black stallion, wearing black chaps, a black shirt and a black sombrero, along with a huge turquoise studded Indian silver conche belt from New Mexico. His long black hair flowing in the wind, his blue eyes flashing, he was beautiful rather than handsome and was given to passionate gestures, speaking with his hands as well as his tongue. And he talked rapidly, brilliantly, usually about linguistics, the American Indians, or Freud. He tried to make love to my mother and called her bourgeois when she refused.”

A Wild Coast and LonelyBig Sur Pioneers by Rosalind Sharpe Wall (1989)

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Jamie de Angulo (pronounced HI mee – de ann GOO low) was born, on January 22, 1887, in Bois de Boulonge, the richest neighborhood in Paris. His parents, wealthy, devoutly religious but highly neurotic Spanish expatriates, were both minor members of the Spanish aristocracy. His father, Don Gregorio was a wealthy eccentric germaphobe who’d fled to Paris after a bitter family squabble over his wife Ysabel’s inheritance.

Avenue Bois De Boulogne, Paris, 1880

Jaime remembered his father bicycling through the French countryside and the locals calling, “le millionaire espagnol”‘ as he rode by. Jaime called him “penny wise and pound foolish.” Don Gregorio saved scraps of cloth and string, and was too cheap to have business cards printed – but hired a private train carriage for family summer vacations. According to Jaime’s biographer Andrew Schelling, Don Gregorio, “seems to have obliviously spent most of the family money – his wife’s family – on a lifestyle that is puzzlingly affluent and absurdly religious.”

Jaime remembered, “For my father was very pious, read the holy offices every day, like an ordained priest.”

Don Gregorio also spent several hours each day setting each of the more than sixty timepieces in his collection.

“My father would have thought himself dishonored if he had to drink anything but champagne,” wrote Jaime. He described his dad walking through the fashionable streets of Paris barefoot and wearing a gardener’s hat, oblivious to his absurd appearance – his wife walking far behind him, too embarrassed to be seen with him.

Born into a multi-lingual family, Jaime spoke with a French accent flavored with some of his parents’ Spanish. As a ten-year-old, he would go alone to the Musée Guimet. He remembered:

“There is in Paris, near the Trocadero, a wonderful museum – it contains a magnificent collection of statues, paintings, and books, 3 floors of them devoted to the religions … I gained the friendship of a guardian, a queer type who had educated his own self in the museum’s library. He let me borrow many books. That’s how I discovered to my great relief that not all religions were as flat, as absurd, as dead and boring as the Catholicism of my people. That was the beginning of my rebellion.”

His mother died in 1901, when Jaime was fourteen years old. He endured four unhappy years at the Vaugirad, a Jesuit boarding school, but was ultimately kicked out on account of his atheism. Jaime complained that his father kept him, “in schools of Jesuits where we are forbidden to read books on physics and chemistry, and biology!” His daughter and biographer Gui Mayo wrote, that he, “was convinced that religion was a hoax – at least Catholicism – and that everybody knew it.”

Jaime wrote years later, of his days at parochial school, in a letter to his sister:

“When nostalgia hits me … I see the sad courtyards, the Jesuits with their narrow spirits, with their odious rules, the somber dormitory where I cried myself to sleep nearly every night in my bed…”

S.S. La Lorraine April 26, 1907 farewell dinner menu

When he was eighteen, he got into an altercation with his dad and left Europe. He boarded the S.S. La Lorraine on March 25, 1905, at La Havre, and sailed into the port of New York seven days later. He had $120 in his wallet and reservations to stay at the swank Hotel Lafayette, at Ninth Street and University Place.

Jaime had a childhood fascination with the American Wild West. He took a train across the continent to Denver, Colorado. He bought a horse, saddle, and a six-gun, and talked his way into a low-paying job in the as a cowhand on a ranch in Carbondale, just South of Glenwood Springs (elevation 6,181 feet). However, working alone as a “night-hawk” cattle herder in the Roaring Fork Valley proved to be dangerous and punishing work. The coarse, peasant food – mostly beans and biscuits – was awful, it was freezing cold, and he slept poorly.

Jaime wrote in Coyote’s Bones:

“… it’s a darn lonesome job riding round and round the dam critters all night and singing so they won’t get scared and stampede and the sagebrush looks weird in moonlight and the nighthawks, i mean the real ones, the birds, come plummeting down out of the darkness overhead and they straighten out just over your head with a wooosh that’s enuf to scare the pineal gland out of the bravest jesuit-bred lad of 18…”

Jamie remembered that the “wild birds” and “old timers” (veteran cowboys) were “a little off their rockers” and looked like “old vine stems.” Nonplussed by cowboying, he moved from spread to spread, for several months, finally riding north to Wyoming. Then he took the train to San Francisco where he purchased a ticket on a boat bound for South America. Somehow ended up in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where he worked as the foreman of a work crew. He wrote to his father, requesting enough money to get back to San Francisco.

San Francisco earthquake damage, 1906

The following spring, he boarded the S.S. Acapulco on March 20, 1906, and arrived in the harbor of San Francisco, California twenty-seven days later. He  checked into one of the best hotels in town –but  he was awakened in his hotel room at 5:12 a.m. by violent shaking.

It was April 18, 1906, the day of the great San Francisco earthquake. He spent his first days back in the city fighting the fires that followed the temblor. He wrote in a letter to his father in Paris:

“Across from my open window a brick wall collapsed, making a terrible crash … The length of Mission Street all the houses burned, and slowly, block by block, the flames advanced. Then began the most lamentable spectacle That I’ve ever seen! Processions of miserable people dragging their baggage, trunks, with them … Old ladies half-dead of fear and three- quarters mad carrying parakeets or canaries in the cage.”

He escaped the burning city and fled 250 miles to the south, to Santa Maria, where he sought sanctuary in a house of prostitution, as a guest of the madame – or so he said. He was nineteen years old. Severely addicted to alcohol, he was already drinking heavily.

“I never sobered up until I left,” he admitted.

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Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Martyland, circa 1910

Jaime studied medicine at Cooper Medical School in San Francisco, before traveling to Baltimore, Maryland, where he entered Johns Hopkins University medical school for the spring semester, in 1908. He began dating one of his classmates, a Vasar graduate named Cary Fink. They were married in 1910.

In 1912, Jaime received a medical degree, but like his wife, he didn’t want to go into medical practice. As he put it, “it was not considered elegant at the time.” As far as he was concerned, modern Western medicine was “a pile of junk.”

In his article, “The Wild, Anarchist Homesteader of Big Sur Who Preserved Native Languages” (2021), Leath Tonino wrote:

“Another kind of medicine exists, the kind that involves plant allies and prayers, not hospitals and starched lab coats, and de Angulo encountered it while cattle ranching in extreme northeastern California, a harsh terrain of sagebrush and jackrabbits, home to the Achumawi, or Pit River Indians.”

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Cary Fink

According to Rosalind Sharpe Wall, Jaime and his wife, Cary, both believed in eugenic marriage [reproduction to preserve perceived racial purity]. Beginning in the late 1800s, eugenic beliefs and policies based on common racist and xenophobic attitudes, were popular in the United States and Europe. Although Jaime was a progressive bohemian intellectual with few horizons on his thinking, his belief in the then popular science of eugenics, stinks of political incorrectness in our century.

The February 13, 1912, issue of the Courier-Journal(Louisville, Kentucky) newspaper reported:

“[Dr. deAngulo] … referred to the marriage of an imbecile man and a feeble-minded woman, which resulted in the birth of nineteen feeble minded children, now being cared for at public expense … The great centers ‘for the manufacture of criminals, epileptics and drunkards are found in mountainous regions and in little islands off the coasts, as off the coast of Maine, where isolation results in intermarriage…”

Back in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1912, Jamie became a naturalized American citizen. In 1913, he moved to California, accepting a research position at Stanford University, studying fruit flies. On a trip to the remote northeast corner of the State of California, he bought into a horse ranch at Alturas, the seat of Modoc County, population 6,200 – a century later, the city population has swelled to 8,907. After the rancho collapsed, in 1915, he sold his shares for eighteen horses. With the assistance of a ranch hand named Boggs, he drove his small herd of horses 500 miles in mid-winter, across the state to Big Sur and up to his new homestead on Partington Ridge.

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The following story, written in 1928, appears in Jaime’s, The Lariat and Other Writings:

It was Sam Seward who first told me about the Big Sur country. Sam taught English and literature at Stanford. He just returned from a ten-day hike on foot from Monterey in the north to San Luis Obispo in the South. “You never saw such landscape!” he had said. “I did not imagine it was possible … like a dreamland, somewhere, not real … imagine: only a trail, for a hundred miles, bordering the ocean, but suspended above it a thousand feet, clinging half-way up the side of the sea-wall, and that wall at an incredible angle of forty-five degrees, a green wall of grass (he had seen it in winter – throughout the summer the green is brown-yellow) and canyons with oaks, redwoods, pines, madronyos, bluejays, quail, deer, and to one side the blue ocean stretching away to China, and over all that an intense blue sky with eagles and vultures floating about … and nobody, no humans there, solitude, solitude, for miles and miles—why! in one place I walked thirty miles between one ranch and the next! – what a wilderness, what beauty, it’s a dreamland, you must go there…”

Mexican vaquero in angora chaps, circa 1900

It was around Christmas time [of 1915], and I was loafing in Carmel (which at that time was not much more than two scores of houses or so); and one day, as I was riding my horse along the road, I saw two vaqueros on horseback [David Castro’s sons Antonio and Rojelio “Roche” Castro]. But these two were real vaqueros, and dressed up for going to town – nothing funny or clownish, but the real old stuff: angora chaps, big rowel spurs that tinkled with the gait of the horse, wide sombreros (but not ridiculous); they were riding half-broken colts with jáquimas [halters] and fine horsehair mecates [ropes]… And were they good-looking, the whole outfit of them, horses, men, and equipment.

Since they were paisanos I needed no introduction, and I stopped them: “Where do you come from?” “Allá de la costa del Sur, allá lojos al diablo… from the coast to the south, from down there to the devil … we are on our way to town to spend Christmas with our mother.” “Is there free land down there?” “Plenty of it, hermano, but too wild, too steep, too far from everywhere… nothing but coyotes and deer…” “Fine!” I said, “that’s just what I am looking for….  Will you take me down there, when you go back.”

And that’s how I made the acquaintance of El Mocho [Roche Castro], as we used to call him (like so many vaqueros he had lost a thumb in the coils of the reata), the best horse-breaker I ever knew, and the most reckless, daredevil plenipotentiary whose laughter could be heard half a mile away.

He called for me, a week or so later, one morning, on horseback. And although we started early we did not reach his home, at the very end of the wagon-road, until nightfall … That was the end of the wagon-road. The next morning we started on the TRAIL! I shall never forget my first impression when I saw that coast. I was aghast. I stood still. I looked and looked. What a panorama. The coast made a gentle curve so that I was able to see it for all of thirty miles or so – a wall of green rising so abruptly out of the seat, not really perpendicular but half-way so. Headlands succeeded headland, like the wings on a stage. And along that wall, a thousand feet above the ocean, the trail.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Are you bemused? encantado?”

“Yes… estoy emocionado… que hermosura!… yes, this is the country I was looking for.”

“Wait, you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until I show you the place I have in mind for you.”

So we started again on the trail. But I was not used to such height and I felt dizzy. I had to get off my horse and lead him. We came to a bad place: there had been a slide, there was practically no trail left. But the Mocho never got off his colt. Then the colt lost his footing, went off the trail, and started to plunge down that slide of loose rocks… My heart was in my mouth… In all the years I spent around cowboy camps and horse-ranches, I have never seen a rider like this Mocho… he was off the saddle like lightning, the colt turned a somersault and started to roll down toward the ocean, and the Mocho leaping twenty feet at a time, after him… he managed somehow to get ahold of the horse’s head by the jáquima and keep him from turning over again. Then they scrambled back to the trail, and went on.

After some riding we arrived at a cabin and dismounted. That’s where I first met Clarence, ex-Mormon, not much over 5-foot but as strong as an ox, with a flat voice of the nearly deaf, a little wizened face and a heart of gold … Clarence lived there all alone with a pet pig whom he had trained to sit on a chair at a table … We had a cup of coffee with him, and remounted our horses…

We followed the Country Trail again for two or three hours. Hanging on the mountainside, 1000 feet above the ocean, then dipping into the wooden Canyon with giant redwoods, oaks, medronyos, maples (maples!); I was struck by the diversity of trees; Then out again onto grasslands, the trail curving around these “knees of the gods”; Then in again into the next canyon… in, out… in, out…

At last Mocho said, “Here we go up to the place I have in mind for you to homestead” (he said esquatar – a barbaric neologism, from squatter, to squat!!)”. So we turned off the County Trail and started straight up the mountain side… And I must confess I got dizzy and had to get off my horse and lead him, much to Mocho’s amusement. Another hour’s climb and we were there, [on Partington Ridge] sixteen hundred feet above the ocean… but I mean above the ocean – the ocean, the blue Pacific, was there, practically under us (not more than a rifle shot away), six hundred feet below… and gulls flying, and we were looking down on them so far down that they were the size of white pigeons.”

What a scene! Yes I lost my heart to it right there and then. This is the place for the freedom loving anarchist. There will never be a road into this wilderness… it’s impossible!

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In Big Sur, Jaime found a neighborhood even less populated than Alturas. Roche Castro had filed on the bulk of the original 1874 John and Laurie Partington claim. Jaime paid Roche $10 an acre – 50% down and 50% when he’d proved up on the homestead, usually five years later. Jaime received a homestead patent in 1920.

“I asked Roche Castro to stay for a while, because I was a greenhorn,” Jaime remembered, “and I wanted Roche to show me how to run cattle, etc., until the end of the year.” Jaime claimed that Roche’s dad, David Castro, a former vaquero at the Cooper Ranch (Rancho El Sur), was the best roper in the state of California. “He never missed,” said Jaime, “not once, and could rope from any position, not looking. He used a twenty-foot loop.”

Leath Tonino wrote in her 2021 article: “The Wild, Anarchist Homesteader of Big Sur Who Preserved Native Languages,” published in Adventure Journal:

“Cowboy, doctor, ethnographer, grammarian, homesteader, poet, teller of tales—all along the Pacific Coast, especially in the middle zone (Big Sur cliffs plunging to white surf, Berkeley bookshops holding centuries of lore), de Angulo is a legend, a cult figure. His status partially derives from the valuable work he did with Indigenous Californians during the 1920s and 1930s, documenting threatened languages and recording oral histories. But let’s not forget that the Golden State adores its weirdos, oddballs, counterculture freaks, subversive bohemians, and questing eccentrics, and that de Angulo, a self-described ‘freedom-loving anarchist,’ checked each and every box…”

Jaime de Angulo on his horse, Hudini, Big Sur, circa 1920

Jaime was notorious for riding his horse naked, save for a bandana tied around his neck, and his long black hair flowing behind him. His biographer,  Andrew Schelling wrote that Jaime was attempting to “make sense of a civilization that had run amok,” – one that was “fast discarding what people had done for five thousand years.”

Leath Tonino notes that, on Partington Ridge, Jaime didn’t “erect a proper house until 1930—a shack sufficed—and this minimalism, this forced exposure, allowed for a type of rigorous self-experimentation, a 24/7 investigation into the archaic elements of his own psyche … Anecdotes abound featuring de Angulo ascending the steep slope behind his shack at dusk, inviting the spirits to meet him there at the ridge crest, that border separating the human realm from the wilderness, the realm of everything else.”

At that time, Jaime’s nearest neighbor on Partington Ridge was Roche’s cousin, Alejandrino Boronda, a cattle rancher with 1,400 acres. Jaime, Roche Castro, and Boronda enjoyed getting drunk together and conversing in Spanish. Rosalind Wall wrote, “[R]iding up and down the coast trail on horseback, [they] gave outsiders the impression that the days of the dons had not yet ended.”

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In his book The Lariat and Other Writings, Jaime described the view from Partington Ridge:

“[S]o remote, as if holding a secret, brooding under the sun… at the edge of the water, rising like a wall gazing moodily over the same ocean, toward China and the other side of the world…

“How can a thing be so wild that it is so full of life and charming variety, of young trees and deer grazing in the gay clearings, the chatter of blue jays and the red trunks of the madronyos. And yet it is so wild in there that you cry with the loneliness of it. You feel a creeping panic in your heart. perhaps it is because we are civilized and do not understand these things. We have other gods and we can no longer pray to the tree.”

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When the United States entered the First World War, in 1917, Jaime enlisted in the army psychiatry program. First Lieutenant Jaime de Angulo, Medical Reserve Corps, was assigned to the medical research board at the Signal Corps Aviation School, in Long Island, New York, where he taught courses in psychology.

After the war, he was employed briefly at Stanford University as a genetics researcher. In 1918, Cary gave birth to their daughter, Ximena. In the 1920 U.S. census, Jamie and Cary and their infant daughter, are living in the redwood cabin Jaime built on Eighth Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea, with a 45-year-old Chinese manservant named Him Sam Poon.

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Nancy Freeland, 1925

Jaime got a job at the University of California at Berkeley. Although he was still married to Cary, he soon became romantically involved with the linguist Lucy Shepard “Nancy” Freeland, a graduate of the anthropology department from a wealthy New Jersey family. Their love affair became the scandal that rocked the local academic community.

It is unknown whether Jaime and Cary had an open marriage by default, or by mutual agreement. By almost anyone’s definition, he was a womanizer.

In his 1989 thesis, An Homage to Jaime de Angulo: A North American Ovid, Barry Eisenberg wrote about the man they called, The Old Coyote of Big Sur:

“But in another sense, there is no denying that Jaime de Angulo was a kind of coyote. The more one reads, the more one supposes that there wasn’t a woman born that he wouldn’t proposition. Tragic, devil may care, Jaime de Angulo.”

D. H. Lawrence

The poet Robert Duncan claimed that Jaime and D. H. Lawrence were lovers. Another report says that Jaime rejected Lawrence’s romantic advances because he didn’t like the way Lawrence smelled. In the 1920s, when the two men went together to a hot spring near Toas, New Mexico, Jaime embarrassed Lawrence by chanting out loud before entering the baths.

The poet and family friend, Jeanie Greensfelder, knew Jaime intimately:

“But one more thing. Jaime’s smell. I never knew him to bathe. He ate meat, drank alcohol, smoked and didn’t wash his clothes, but his body had a sweet and lovely odor, like ripening nuts, or a pine tree warmed by the sun.”

While in Berkeley, Jaime explored his interests in cross-dressing, in order, he said, to know what it felt like to be a woman. He let his long hair grow even longer and dressed in women’s clothing. Nancy taught him how to walk, sit, and stand like a lady, but she couldn’t do anything about his voice.

One day when he was first practicing going about in drag, they went grocery shopping. Worried that Nancy would forget to buy avocados, he became increasingly anxious until he could no longer contain himself and blurted out, in a high falsetto voice, “Avocados!” Everyone in the store slowly turned and stared at him. That was the last time he opened his mouth when in drag.

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Alfred L. Kroeber

Alfred L. Kroeber was, at this time, one of the most prominent American anthropologists. Often referred to as “the father of California anthropology,” he would publish his influential Handbook of California Indians, in 1925. Nancy was Kroeber’s best student. When she introduced Jaime to Kroeber, Kroeber was so impressed, he hired the brilliant self-taught ethnologist and linguist as a summer lecturer.

But Kroeber couldn’t handle Jaime’s cross-dressing, bi-sexuality, and philandering ­– what he politely called “erratic” and “unstable” behavior – nor the fact that Nancy and Jaime (who was still married to Cary) were living together openly.

A story survives from Jaime’s days at U.C. Berkeley, where he was the only lecturer on campus with long hair. One morning he showed up for his 8:00 AM class wearing a tuxedo and white tie. As the day progressed, he proceeded to get drunk and, being very sensitive to alcohol, soon became so inebriated, he wound up removing all of his clothing and climbing campus flagpole. Predictably, he was fired, and Kroeber subsequently blackballed him from the U.C. Berkeley academia. Incensed, Jaime wrote to the poet Ezra Pound, saying “He [Kroeber] is a Bastard.”

In the fall of 1921, Cary divorced Jaime. Her interest was psychology, so she took their three-year-old daughter and went to Switzerland and became psychiatrist Carl Jung’s translator. Years later, after she married Peter Baynes, she wrote what is considered the definitive English translation of Richard Wilhelm’s I Ching: Books of Changes.

Jaime married Nancy Freeland and started working professionally as a linguist ethnologist, and anthropologist, and writer. However, he wasn’t an academically credentialed linguist, so a lot of his contemporaries didn’t take him (or his work) seriously.

In her article, “Jaime de Angulo’s Relational ‘I’: A Morphological Poetics,” published in Paideuma: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics Vol. 41 (2014), Anna Elena Eyre wrote:

“Nevertheless, de Angulo fashioned a semi-career out of his passion for grasping the tongues of his chosen state. Between 1927 and 1937, he received more financial support from the Committee on Research in Native American Languages than any competing linguist, and the eminent Franz Boas (the Committee’s director) claimed that [Jaime] likely had possessed superior understanding of California languages. The funders ‘didn’t give a damn about my private morals so long as my phonetics were right,’ de Angulo once commented. However, he did acknowledge his outsider position, a position that was seemingly fated from the start for an iconoclast who bristled at institutional constraints. Hence [Jaime’s] famous, self-deprecating line: “Decent anthropologists don’t associate with drunkards who go rolling in ditches with shamans.”

However, getting drunk and rolling in ditches with shamans was precisely how Jaime conducted his research – and with impressive results.

Achomawi man (left) and Jaime de Angulo, in Alturas, California, circa 1925

His first field work, in 1921, entailed six weeks spent in Modoc County, California, among the Achumawi people. According to Peter Garland:

“Jaime de Angulo believed that ‘going native’ was the best way to confront native cultures. His particular delusion was that as a Spaniard he was more ‘native’ than other ‘white men’. Among the Achumawi he pretended to be a ‘non-white’, a savage descendent of a ‘Castillian’ tribe, a ridiculous con-game that was worthy of Coyote himself. But they saw through his charade, while remaining his friend.

The academic community, however, was less kind concerning these coyoteesque outrages. Reports that he liked to ride around naked on a horse in Big Sur (where he was said to have gotten drunk one night and burned down the house), and others like it, led to Jaime becoming a cult figure in California after his death.”

In Coyote Bones, Tony, a Pit River, says: “I like him [Jaime] very much . . . but he makes my head ache.”

He happened to be in the right field at the right time. In the early 1920s, there weren’t enough trained anthropologists to document the rapidly disappearing Indigenous American languages and cultures. A decade later, there were plenty of anthropologists with Ph.D. degrees and outliers like Jaime deAngulo were squeezed out of the field.

Ironically, his wonderful essay about his early experiences with the Pit River Indians in the 1920s, wasn’t published until the month he died – in the autumn 1950 issue of the Hudson Review under the title “Indians and Overalls.”

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Although graduates of the Linguistics Ph.D. program considered him an amateur, Carl Ortwin Sauer – “the Dean of American historical geography” – called him:

“A rare, rare spirit … ignored almost completely by his own contemporaries, Jaime de Angulo was one of the most insightful men I have ever met.”

Rosalind Wall grew up in Bixby Canyon, in Big Sur. She remembered that:

“There was a feeling, especially when he talked of anthropology, linguistics, mathematics, physics, psychiatry, philosophy, a field he knew well, of extraordinary lucidity – – rather like a pure gem in whose center existed deep, still, quiet pool, rather like a crystal. The feeling one got at such moments was of pure beauty; and was at times such as these that those who knew Jaime felt to the fullest the purity of his genius which, when so directly contacted, was akin to music, poetry, the stars, flame, the cosmos.”

When Jaime returned from doing his field work in Mexico in the winter of 1923, to his great dismay, they had begun construction of the Carmel-San Simeon highway. On December 14, 1923, he wrote a letter to his ex-wife, Cary:

“[Y]ou can picture … the fever on the Coast. People rushing down to buy land as if to a Klondike. All land gone sky high. Partington Cañon is sold to those people … from Carmel … who have formed a trust company and bought it to ‘preserve the redwoods’…

“But my coast is gone, you see. It will be an altogether different affair … My first reaction of course was one of intense sorrow and horror. My Coast had been defiled and raped. The spirits would depart. And as I travelled with Mr. Farmer (the stage man) past Castro’s place, past Grimes’ cañon, and contemplated the fearful gashes cut into the mountain, and the dirt sliding down, right down into the water in avalanches, my heart bled.”

Edward Sapir

On May 12, 1925, Jaime wrote a letter to the pioneering American linguist, Edward Sapir, offering some details about how he travelled when doing field work:

“Ye Gods! Only twenty days left, and a million and a half things to do yet! We will be away all summer. Off on a gypsy tour, in a ‘house on wheels’ namely a sort of prairie schooner affair with bed, stove and table, the whole on a Chevrolet truck chassis, which is being built for us right now, and in which we will successively camp and visit the Pomo, the Achumawi, the Miwok, then trek across the desert to our beloved Taos. Does it not make your mouth water?”

Andrew Schelling, the author of Tracks Along the Left Coast – Jaime de Angulo & Pacific Coast Culture (2018), explained:

“During the 1920s and early ‘30s he was a self-trained linguist, the finest recorder of Native California languages and old time stories on the Pacific Coast. He worked on almost thirty Indian languages. He was a bohemian counterculture anarchist who carved a homestead out in Big Sur, when that jagged, gorgeous coast was days from the nearest stage post. He wrote short poems full of power and medicine, not like anyone else’s. His greatest work was oral though—100 broadcasts called “Indian Tales” he did for Berkeley’s KPFA radio in 1950. These hold what I call the real history of California, and form one of the great ungraspable works of American literature. His bohemian life, serious fieldwork, and wild reputation turned into a cycle of trickster tales. Stories have circulated up and down the Pacific Coast for a hundred years.”

Jaime’s Indian tales, begun in 1928 as stories for his children, were about the travels of Bear-Man and Antelope Woman, Fox Boy and Baby Quail. When asked he replied, “…don’t ask me if these stories are true. Of course they are true!”

Jaime’s daughter and biographer, Gui Mayo wrote that, for most of his life, Jaime avoided poetry. He wrote to her in 1944, “I have never known what art is, and I have always wanted to know.” However, according to Peter Garland:

“[Jaime’s] thorough knowledge of Garcia Lorca’s poetry shines in his own mysterious verses. In French he evokes Rimbaud, and following his tracks in English, Spanish and French in Home Among the Swinging Stars I encounter the astonishing enigma which is the soul of Jaime de Angulo.”

This short snippet is from Home Among the Swinging Stars: Collected Poems of Jaime de Angulo, published in 2006:

coyote coyote in the hills

why do you bark?

for the moon over the mountain

for the moon in your heart

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Achomawi man and child, in Alturas, California, circa 1925

There are passages in his writing that are thought provoking. In Jaime in Taos, he wrote:

“Don’t you see the meaning of it all? In Europe we can go back to our mother the earth through the spirits of our own ancestors. They inhabit the soil, the trees, the rocks. In America the soil is teeming with the ghosts of Indians. Americans will never find spiritual stability until they learn to recognize the Indians as their spiritual ancestors…

“No Tony. I don’t wanna know just for curiosity. I wanna know because I think the whites have lost their soul and they must find it again. Some of the things the whites have lost, the Indians have kept…”

“God!… [Y]ou have no idea how much that has hurt me… do you realize that that is just the sort of thing that kills the Indians? I mean it seriously. It kills them spiritually first, and as in their life the spiritual and physical elements are much more independent than in our own stage of culture, they soon die of it physically. They just lie down and die. That’s what you anthropologists with your infernal curiosity and your thirst for scientific data bring about.”

In an essay written in 1925, called, “Do Indians Think?” Jaime explains how the Indian, unlike the white man, thinks with his heart as well as his mind:

“So here he does it but he doesn’t do it much. It’s too difficult to keep his thinking separated from his feelings, from his emotions, from a multitude of impressions that force themselves upon him every moment of the day… besides, when you do that, you feel bad, you feel all alone, you feel cut off from nature, from the trees, from the grass, from the mountains and animals.”

The following is from The Lariat and Other Writings:

“Beware, white man, of playing with magic of the primitive.

“It may be strong medicine.

“It may kill you.

“Ye, sons and daughters, foster children of the cities, if ye would go to the wilderness in search of your Mother, be careful and circumspect, lest she lure you into her secret places, whence ye may not come back.”

*          *          *

Ezra Pound

Jaime’s biographer, Andrew Schelling, likened Jaime’s Indian Tales to “Ezra Pound’s Cantos or James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, they are compendiums of an entire world.” Ironically, none of Jaime’s works were published in his lifetime. Schelling explained, “[H]e died before he had any books in print, so he became more of a legendary figure, instead of a literary figure.”

The expatriate American poet Ezra Pound called Jamie de Angulo “The “American Ovid.” Pound wrote to the poet Robert Creeley, saying: “[Wyndham] Lewis and Jaime de Angulo, the only two writers alive who don’t put me to sleep within five minutes.”

Jaime was friends with (or corresponded with) such luminaries of literature, art, and science as Pound, William Carlos Williams, Carl Jung, Henry Miller, Harry Parch, Henry Cowell, Marianne Moore, Harriet Monroe, and Robinson Jeffers. Gary Snyder, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet wrote of Jaime:

“[I]n fact, I have heard it said that he was the only human being that Robinson Jeffers would let into his house at any time of the day or night.”

Galloping along the beach on his Arab stallion, Hudini, Jaime was one of Carmel’s more picturesque figures.

Robinson Jeffers photo by Edward Weston, 1933

After the death of their first child, the poet Robinson Jeffers and his wife, Una moved from Santa Barbara to Carmel. One day, in the summer of 1915, the Jeffers met Dr. de Angulo his two wolfhounds on the sand dunes near Carmel Point, at the bottom of Ocean View Avenue. Jaime asked the Jeffers to dinner at his Carmel cabin, which he called “Hidden Away.” The Jeffers were already quite hungry. In Jaime’s kitchen, they sat and watched as he cooked porterhouses steak over an open fire in the fireplace, while Cary prepared the potatoes. When the steaks were broiled to perfection but the potatoes were far from done, they all sat down at the table. Jaime glanced at the two wolfhounds, at the Jeffers, and back at the dogs.

“A pity if they were to go hungry,” he said. And he tossed the steaks to the hounds.

Although it sounds like folklore, Jaime’s friends swore it was a true story. Una and Robinson, famished and flustered, went back to their log cabin on Monte Verde Street and reheated leftovers.

*          *          *

Nancy and Jaime’s first child – a son named Alvar – was born in February of 1924. Their a daughter Guimar was born in November of 1927. After nearly two decades of homesteading in the tiny cabin, Jaime finally began building a house on Partington Ridge, in the early 1930s.

On Saturday, August 12, 1933, a small group of U.C. Berkeley academics gathered at Jaime’s ranch on Partington Ridge in Big Sur. They were bound for a Saturday night dance at Stanley Park (named for Alvin Dani’s son Stanley)near present-day Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This was during one of the worst years of the Great Depression and at the time of the Roosevelt Highway construction project (now Highway One).

According to Barry Eisenberg:

“One account of the incident has it that de Angulo was living with his mistress and had taken [his nine-year-old son] Alvar that night without Nancy’s permission, but this is in no way corroborated by other accounts.”

It is unknown whether Gertrude Jane Cothran is the mistress to whom Eisenberg refers. The Monday, August 14, 1933, issue of the Monterey Peninsula Herald reported the following:

Tragedy interrupted a happy weekend party in the Big Sur Saturday night and brought death to a nine year boy and serious injuries to his father and a woman guest. The child was killed and the other two persons injured when the automobile in which they were riding plunged from the coast and crashed 200 feet into rugged Torres Canyon, eight miles South of Big Sur.

The dead:                   Alvar De Angulo, 9

The injured:              Dr. Jaime DeAngulo, 46, Berkeley educator and scientist

Miss Gertrude Cothran, 25, San Jose

Both of the injured people were under treatment at the Monterey hospital today. Dr. DeAngulo is suffering from a fractured hip, fractured shoulder, bruises and shock.

Miss Cothran has a concussion of the brain, multiple lacerations and abrasions. Both are expected to recover.

The accident happened while the party was en route from Dr. DeAngelo’s summer home on the coast ridge to a dance at Stanley Park, Big Sur. The automobile, a coupe owned and driven by Miss Cothran plunged from the highway shortly 8 o’clock, pinning the dead child and Dr. DeAngulo in the wreckage.

Thirteen hours later, at 9 o’clock Sunday morning, a passing motorist, L. P. Bolander Jr. of Oakland, heard faint calls for help and found Miss Cothran lying beside the road. The woman was brought to the hospital here and helped summoned for Dr. DeAngulo…

It was not until after 1 o’clock Sunday afternoon, however, 17 hours after the accident, that Dr. DeAngulo was extricated from the wreckage of the automobile and placed an ambulance headed for Monterey.

Before the injured man could be moved it was necessary to administer an anesthetic which was rushed the 50-odd miles down the coast…

Mrs. DeAngulo, her six year old daughter Guimar, Mrs. Gerald Van DeGreindt wife of a Berkeley chemist, and sister of Miss Cothran, and Mr. and Mrs. M. Moravec, [of] Berkeley, were all in the party which left the DeAngulo summer home and started to the Big Sur dance.

Oakland Tribune, August 15, 1933

They all rode on horses down the steep trail to the highway shortly before dark. While Dr DeAngulo, the little boy and Miss Cothran went ahead in the ill-fated car the others followed in a second machine.

In a statement to the Herald today Mrs. Van De Greindt said that she saw the tail light of Miss Cothran’s car only once after they started. Shortly after the start Mrs. Van De Greindt noticed a sedan moving south at high speed and ‘hogging the road.’ She believes this machine may have forced the car driven by her sister off the highway.

Arriving at the dance the second car full of pleasure seekers was startled to learn Dr. DeAngulo and his companions had not arrived. They waited for a time and then started back to the summer place believing the doctor in Miss Cothran might have decided to return home. It was recalled that Dr. DeAngulo had said it was “fun enough”without dancing.

All of the horses were found at the foot of the trail, however, and Mrs.Van De Greindt, thoroughly alarmed, kept watch by the roadside all night. Sometime Sunday morning she was informed of the accident by a passing highway department car.

The following day, the same paper reported:

Today the state highway patrol officers received a letter from L. P. Bolander, Oakland man, who found Miss Cothran beside the road many hours after the accident. Bolander, who said he studied the skid marks at the scene, expressed the opinion that the DeAngulo car had been ‘run off the road.’

*          *          *

In one account of the accident, Jaime could hear his son Alvar moaning in pain, but could not move to reach him. After several hours the moaning stopped.

The poet Jean Greensfelder, who was a personal friend of the de Angulos, wrote:

“[T]he story of Jamie’s son’s death was told to me by several people … one person told me the boy had drowned in the creek, unable to get out from under his father … Another told me that a broken rib of Jaime’s had pierced his son’s heart.”

One wonders if Nancy never ever forgave Jaime for the death of their son Alvar. Jaime could not forgive himself. He was never the same – friends say he was forever changed by the tragedy. He drank more heavily and descended unsteadily into madness and alcoholism. He became notorious for feuding with his neighbors. He was plagued with depression for the rest of his life.

*          *          *

Jaime de Angulo

At the end of 1936, Jaime, Nancy, and Gui moved back to San Francisco. The following year, Jaime returned to Partington Ridge in Big Sur.

He was amused by the average Gringo’s ignorance of the Spanish word “sur,” meaning south. He received the occasional letter addressed to Dr. Jaime de Angulo, Big Sewer, California.

Around 1937, Jaime got the idea to open a dude ranch on his remote Partington Ridge property that he called Rancho de los Peasres (literally, “The Sorrows”). He wrote a prospectus and he and his business partner – a woman named Jewell – thought it was a great idea.

The prospectus read as follows:


Monterey County, California

This would like to be a dude ranch, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s very hard to describe this place because it does not resemble anything else. If you are looking for crooning cowboys, don’t come here! Not a cowboy on the place, not a cow, not even a picturesque corral.

If you’re looking for comfort, don’t come here! You will have to sleep in a tent or under the stars. This place is still in the wilderness, far from civilization.

The food is nothing extra. The cook is crazy. Sometimes he cooks in Chinese, sometimes in French, and again in Spanish, and sometimes his own. He cooks when he pleases but he never objects to using his pots and pans nor his kitchen. Anyway, the kitchen is also the dining room, and the dining room is also the living room, there is nothing cozy about any of them.

If you expect good horses, don’t come here. The country is too rough for good horses you cannot trot, much less gallop anywhere around here. Our horses are as sure-footed as goats (otherwise they would not have survived) but even at a walk you risk your neck at every turn of the trail ­– and the risk is yours.

If you expect good fishing, don’t come here! The streams back in the hills are full of SMALL trout that is not sport. But to get there…! It takes a whole day’s riding to get there over an abominable trail. In fact, it’s not a real trail… nobody goes there.

We will take you there anytime you like, and cheerfully. We are used to it – but you aren’t. Saddle-weary and tired, you will have to sleep on the ground in a weird canyon. You won’t be able to sleep. You will get the heebie-jeebies, and you’ll spend the night feeding the fire.

The caballerango-guide is as crazy as the cook, and furthermore is bad tempered. His language is awful. So, if you are squeamish, bring some cotton for your ears.

We have warned you candidly of the lack of comfort in this primitive place. But if you care to risk coming, then bring the roughest kinds of clothes, a bathing suit (the beach is right under us, but 1600 feet below), your rifle (ours is not very good); besides deer you will find here quail ­– both valley and mountain – wild pigeons, doves, squirrels, pumas, lynxes, foxes, coyotes and coons. Bring your own tackle (surf and stream). We are not good sportsmen. We catch them in our hats.

Bring your own literature. You will find nothing here except a collection of New Yorkers and National Geographics, several books on botany, and a few silly novels and a couple of scientific works.

As to the weather, in April and even May it is still pretty raw, but the hills are at their greenest, and the wildflowers in bloom. In June we are liable to shiver in the fog a whole week, and the hills are beginning to turn yellow. July and August are fairly good, sometimes hot. But from then on to Christmas it is wonderful! Lazy, soft days full of languor and longing, the ocean so still, the hills asleep in the warm sunshine. From Christmas to April it is hell, with one storm on the heels of the last.

In tiny print Jaime ended with the following:

“Our rates are $10 a day, flat this includes everything: food, horses, camping trips, guides, and everything! Children ought to pay double, but if they are handsome and intelligent they pay just like the others. Our address: Los Pesares, Big Sur, California. (For telegrams, add “Mail from Monterey.”) We cannot care for more than six.

“And remember, dearie, no recriminations.”

*          *          *

Jaime’s cabin on Partington Ridge, Big Sur, California

Suffice to say, the brochure was effective, in as much as no one at all came to Los Pesares. However, Jaime’s business partner, Jewell, had had expectations of making money, and was very disappointed.

Feuds were a common problem in the isolated Santa Lucia Mountains, where there were many large cattle ranches and few fences.

By this time, Jaime’s neighbor Boronda had quit drinking, which only made him meaner. “After that,” Jaime remembered, “Boronda began not to see people. He grew sour.” Boronda even got into a feud with his cousin, Roche, and wanted to run him out of the country.

Occasionally, Boronda’s cattle would stray onto Jaime’s property. When Jaime complained, the two angry men began arguing. Jaime’s Spanish temperament got the better of him and he started riding around with a revolver in his belt and a rifle in his hand. Unable to contain his rage, Jaime shot and killed some of Boronda’s stock.

As compensation for the failed dude ranch fiasco, Nancy had paid Jewell off with $200 and sent her home. But, according to legend, Jewell went directly to the office of the Monterey district attorney’s office and convinced them that Jaime was part of a big cattle rusting outfit. Apparently, she was a good actress – they say she received a $500 reward for turning him in.

They took Jaime to the county jail in Salinas. The women cell was empty, so he was locked in there. But he had severe claustrophobia and began to shriek. He went into hysterics “I’m going insane!” he screamed. The sheriff was summoned. They took Jaime to the Kimball Hotel on Alvarado Street in Monterey, where he put up in a suite at the expense of the county until he was arraigned.

In the end, the cattle rusting charge was changed to grand theft, making probation possible. Jaime paid a $10 fine and went home.

*          *          *

Henry Miller at his desk in his cabin in Big Sur

Jaime’s whole philosophy may be could be summed up in a single statement. Once, when his grown daughter, Gui, confided in him about her literary aspirations, he hold her, “Go with your crazy idea – it’s always right!”

In A Devil in Paradise, published in 1956, Henry Miller wrote about a visit on Partington Ridgewith Jaime and the French astrologer Conrad Moricand:

When I brought out the bottle and glasses – the bottle only half-full, by the way – I anticipated trouble. It did not seem possible that these two individuals, having traveled such divergent paths, could get along together for long. I was wrong about everything this day. They not only got along, they scarcely touched the wine. they were intoxicated with something stronger than wine – the past.

The mention of the Avenue Henri-Martin – they discovered in the space of a few minutes that they had been raised in the very same block! – started the ball rolling. Dwelling on his boyhood, Jaime at once began to mimic his parents, impersonating his schoolmates, re-enact his deviltries, switching from French to Spanish and back again, acting as a sissy, now as a coy young female, now an irate Spanish grandee, now as a petulant, doting mother.

Moricand was in stitches. Never did I believe that he could laugh so hard or so long. He was no longer the melancholy grampus, nor even the wise old owl, but a normal, natural human being who enjoyed himself…

Not to intrude on this festival of reminiscence, I threw myself on the bed in the middle of the room and pretended to take a nap.

But my ears were wide open.

In the space of a few short hours it seemed to me that Jaime succeeded in rehearsing the whole of his tumultuous life. And what a life it was! From Passy to the Wild West – in one jump. From being the son of a Spanish grandee, raised in the lap of luxury, to becoming a cowboy, a doctor of medicine, an anthropologist, a master of linguistics, and finally cattle rancher on the crest for the Santa Lucia range here in Big Sur. A lone wolf, divorced from all he held dear, waging a personal feud with his neighbor Boronda, another Spaniard, pouring over his books, his dictionaries (Chinese, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, to mention but a few) raising a little fruit and vegetables, killing deer in season and out, forever exercising his horses, getting drunk, quarreling with everyone, even his bosom pals, driving visitors away with the lash, studying in the dead of night, coming back to his books on language, the book on language, be hoped it would be! – and finishing it just before his death … Between being twice married … his beloved son, crushed to death beneath him in a mysterious automobile accident, a tragedy which had a lasting effect upon him.

A renegade and a reprobate … spending his days and nights comparing, classifying, analyzing, dissecting roots, declensions, prefixes and suffixes, etymologies, homologies, affinity and anomalies of tongues and dialects borrowed from all continents, all times, all races and conditions of man … this Angulo, the savage, the scholar, the man of the world, the recluse, the idealist and the very son of Lucifer.

Stove in Jaime de Angulo’s home on Partington Ridge, Big Sur, California, photo by Wynn Bullock, 1956

In 1939, Nancy moved back to Berkeley, so Gui could attend grade school. In 1942, after the USA entered the Second World War, Jaime, who was out of money, moved to the East Bay, where he and Nancy worked in the Richmond shipyards.

In 1943, Nancy divorced Jaime. He moved to San Francisco, to “the compound,” a bohemian cluster of of cottages. Broke and depressed, he attempted suicide, dramatically cutting his throat from ear to ear, but did not die. In San Francisco, he rented a small apartment and gave private lessons, surviving on a small allowance from Nancy. Andrew Schelling wrote:

“His neighbors, among the staircases, balconies, planter boxes, and tiny courtyards of North Beach and Chinatown, were old- left bohemians, artist, and out of work scholars like himself, lesbians, and gay men.”

In 1945, Jaime returned to Partington Ridge. He would dump his trash over the edge of the precipice, where is spilled down in a long chute that could be seen from the Coast Highway below. Rosalind Wall remembered:

“Jaime grew increasingly slovenly. His house was filled with beds which were concrete slabs on top of which mattresses and bedding were placed come, sometimes only bedding. There were numerous fireplaces, built like New Mexico fireplaces, some beehive shaped with antlers above them. All the bedrooms led off onto an outside terrace, no corridor between. The roof looked like a patchwork quilt, it had been mended so often … In the living room, if you could call it that since it was not detached from the rest of the house, he had a wood stove and on this he did his cooking. It was a small ordinary wood stove, the kind that is used for heating, not for cooking; And it had no stove pipe. There was a smoke-hole in the ceiling, like an Indian smoke-hole, but when the wind was blowing right, the roof got very filled with smoke. Guests simply had to put up with it.”

In Robert Cross’ Big Sur Tales, Burt Tolerson remembered:

“Usually I’d find Jaime inside the dome-shaped mudplastered room, reading from the light of his abalone shelled fireplace … It smoked terribly, out the hole in the roof, but Jaime didn’t seem to notice, except to ask me [to] help him drag into the fire the smoldering log which protruded outside the only door in the room.”

Cross commented, “Apparently Jamie never owned an axe…”

*          *          *

Portrait of Gerd Stern. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui

The American a poet, painter, and sculptor, Gerd Jacob Stern, was born in 1928. In the late 1940s, he accompanied George and Bard McCarthy Jr. (AKA Mac) to the Los Pesares Rancho, high on Partington Ridge. Stern described the experience in From Beat Scene Poet to Psychedelic Multimedia Artist in San Francisco and Beyond, 1948-1978 Oral History Transcript:

“I arrived in California, and I stayed with Bard and Mac … The first day [they] pick me up in a Model A [Ford], and they took me down to Big Sur, to Partington Ridge, where we stayed with one of their good, close friends, Jaime de Angulo … Quite an experience for a New York boy. They pick me up at the airport and it was the weekend, so we’re heading for Big Sur, I’m sitting in the rumble seat coming down the California coast, and we’re going to the ranch.

“You can imagine what a New York refugee thought a ranch was going to be like after having seen Abbott and Costello in the West or Bob Hope or Shirley Temple movies. Anyway, first we stopped at an auto wrecking yard just before Monterey in Seaside. And there’s this character right out of John Steinbeck runs the yard and then there’s this big guy who’s a fishing boat engineer called Sandy Justice. There’s mucho alcohol.

Novelist Lynda Sargent (left) and Jaime de Angulo (right) in the main room at Rancho de los Pesares, photo by George Cain, late 1940s. Note the shaft of light on Sargent, coming through the smoke hole in the ceiling

“I ride with Sandy to the ranch in dump truck, and then we got this winding, dirt road, and it’s late at night, and we go up the mountain and go over the edge. We have to shovel, and it’s madness, and I think it was about 6 o’clock in the morning, and we wind up on the top of this ridge and here’s Jaime de Angulo dressed in basically nothing and with his hair coming down to his whatever, and his beard, and he’s burnt by the sun, and he’s obviously drunk. And he looks at me and he says, ‘Shalom!’ [laughter]

“I am with Bard and her husband, whom I’ve just met, and a drunken Sandy [Justice] – I had never been driven anywhere by someone who was drunk. Then Jaime recognizes my accent, and he says, ‘You must have come from somewhere in Germany near the French border, but you’ve grown up probably in New York City; not in Brooklyn, for sure!  [laughter]

“Then we go into his house, and he has a fireplace in the middle of the room, and he’s made a big hole in his roof for the smoke to go out. I’m sleeping on basically a concrete slab with kind of an Indian blanket thrown over it.

“All of a sudden, I feel at home. I don’t feel alienated or strange. I feel okay ­­– this is it: life.”

*          *          *

Jaime’s daughter and biographer, Gui Mayo

Robert Cross, former president of the Big Sur Historical Society, related the following story in his book Big Sur Tales. Douglas MacChesney, a retired national forester remembered when, as a nineteen year old recently-married greenhorn, his first assignment was to “go and meet the homesteaders.”

A two-day ridgetop ride put him just passed Timber Top, at the Coast Ridge Road trailhead leading down to Frank Partington’s ranch about 2,000 feet below. Frank sent Mac over to Jaime de Angulo’s Rancho de los Pesares:

As Mac dismounted his horse, Jamie’s daughter emerged from the smoke lodge to greet him. True to the rural fashion of the day, her dress was a simple potato sack with arm and head slits cut out…

“Only trouble was,” recalled Mac, “she was a very pretty girl of at least 16 or so…and had obviously worn the dress since she was maybe 10… so the sack now barely covered her navel… And as I told her my name, I jumped back on my horse and rode down the canyon trail as quick as my horse would go.

“I never met her father, but I still hear old Frank Partington’s laughter echoing down the steep sidehill through the tan oak trees.”

*          *          *

In his 1989 thesis, “An Homage to Jaime de Angulo: A North American Ovid,” Barry Eisenberg wrote:

“Jaime de Angulo was to become one of those charmed and damned souls, who, for the sake of his own spiritual survival, wage a lifelong war with the blindness of their familial, religious milieu. He was a twentieth century pilgrim on a quest to recover his most primitive being, to assume his most contemporary, complex, world honoring sensibility. And ultimately de Angulo had to face his own blindness and cruelty. This quest was to inform all of de Angulo’s writing, whatever its various tones, styles or formats.”

The serpentine dirt road up to Rancho Los Pesares is extremely steep and narrow, with many switchbacks. So, it’s tricky to negotiate the road, even in a pick-up truck. But somehow Jaime (or was it Sandy Justice) managed to drive several old yellow school busses up to Los Pesares where they sat in the dust for decades.

Henry Miller lived just a few miles down the road from Jamie’s ranch on Partington Ridge. Jamie would often show up at Henry’s house, unannounced, and Henry, a fellow alcoholic, would invariably pour Jaime a glass of wine. Jaime was very sensitive to alcohol, and easily inebriated, he would end up insulting and abusing everyone in the house.

Henry Miller wrote in A Devil in Paradise, published in 1956, that there was, indeed, “something satanic about him.”

Van Wyck Brooks painting by Henry Ernest Schnakenberg, circa 1950

The American literary critic, Van Wyck Brooks, recipient of the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for History, wrote of Jaime de Angulo in Scenes and Portraits, Memories of Childhood and Youth:

“[Although] one no longer saw the caballeros of the eighteen-forties with strings of bells on their embroidered pantaloons, Jaime de Angulo, with his Arab horse and his red sash and El Greco beard, had all the look of a remnant from the earlier time….

“There was never a figure more to fantastic than Jaime de Angulo came to be in those days when, living alone, looking out at the Pacific, a decayed Don Quixote, ragged and mad, he boxed with a pet stallion and carved his meat with [that] great knife that hung from his middle.”

*          *          *

Jaime de Angulo, circa 1945

Rosalind Wall said she never went to visit Jaime without bringing a half gallon of red wine. In A Wild Coast and Lonely, she wrote:

“Jaime could be gay and brilliant when drinking (he always was when I was there) and would dance and sing Indian chants he’d collected in the southwest, sounding sometimes like a coyote howling at the moon…

“But Jaime had also a dark side, a perverse and contradictory side – and his enemies called him crazy, bohemian, drunken, dangerous, even a devil. Although he denied it, his temperament was very Spanish. His dramatic sense, his need to play a role, to be a buffoon, a star, a madman, a tragic figure, a rebel, a martyr, ruled his life and made it in the end a wasteland, a tragedy – except for his work … Jamie professed to hate Spaniards and the Spanish temperament. This he had gotten from his father, a Spanish nobleman, who thought all Spaniards were Barbarians. Jaime once stated to me categorically that all Spaniards were ‘brutish, insolent, haughty, impolite and boorish’ – adjectives that could at times have been applied to himself…”

“After Nancy and Gui’s departure, Jaime lived in filth. There is no other word for it. His clothes were dirty; his blue jeans could have stood up by themselves; and his dishes were dirty. He thought hygiene was a lot of nonsense despite his medical training. He had found, in the course of living with the Indians, that such things mattered less than people thought they did.

“He washed his dishes in cold water without soap. Every plate, cup or glass was encrusted with dirt or grease and one simply had to ignore it. It was really difficult to drink out of a filthy glass that looked as if it hadn’t been washed for decades, but grimly one somehow managed – wearing a smile on one’s face.

“One day I arrived at Jaime’s at lunchtime, having walked up the steep trail from the highway, and he invited me to lunch. We ate stewed chicken, sitting out at the long refectory table overlooking the ocean, and we talked about anthropology, [and] marriage and marriage customs in various primitive societies. Jaime disapproved of marriage and advocated free love – except for eugenic marriage. Marriage, except when it led to the production of children, confined the spirit and destroyed relationships, he emphasized. He was very impassioned on this subject so I kept quiet.

“The stewed chicken was very good considering the fact that it had not been thoroughly cleansed and still had some feathers on it and that underneath the table the entrails were being devoured by hornets. I ignored all this … thinking. ‘Well, so you wanna be an anthropologist. You want to do field work and live among primitive peoples.”

*          *          *

In Big Sur Tales, Robert Cross tells of Burt Tolerson and Big Sur librarian Katherine Short’s luncheon at Jaime’s house:

[T]he meal of local origin, including Eselen [sic] Indian acorn bread, perhaps some Trotter venison, and Frank Partington’s corn. Jaime contributed his daughter’s homemade butter from their only cow, and probably some local bee honey which his daughter had collected.

The honey could be a mistake on a hot summer day, however. Seems like the local bees resented Jaime’s raid of their hives, and so the race would be on for his guests to finish their meals before the bees swarm their plates first.

Jaime took no note of all the buzzing and asked Burt and Katherine to please set their dirty plates on the floor.

A whistle from Jaime, and his pack of dogs, who had been resting in the shade of a tree until beckoned by their master, raced in, surrounded the redwood slab table… and before we knew it the plates had been clean…

Jaime circled the table, collecting the plates…and unceremoniously jammed them on the only shelf over the fireplace, intoning perfunctorily, ‘Well that’s it for the dishes!’

Apparently Jaime got along just fine without running water, which was too far down the canyon to bother with every day.

*          *          *

Jean Greensfelter visited Jaime at Rancho de los Pesares during the Second World War. His alcoholism was severe. She describes him arriving home from a shopping trip to Monterey with a case of rum. He brought two bottles into the house and hid the remaining fifths in the brush on the steep hillside, outside. In the middle of the night, she was awakened by his drunken cries, as he searched, in vain, for the hidden bottles on the moonlit mountainside, “Gawd daaamn – where are you? Come to meee.”

Andrew Schelling wrote, “When I think of Jean’s story I shudder. It is too close to Jaime’s accounts of Achuwami doctors, singing in the brush for their medicines: “Raven, you, my poison, COME.”

Henry Miller wrote in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:

“Cultured though he was, versed in so many things – medicine, folklore, magic, anthropology, languages – what he really craved was a virginal world, a world unspoiled by man.”

There’s a story that Jaime pushed his cookstove off the precipice when he learned that the United States had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Miller wrote:

“[D]ear Jaime de Angulo! A beloved, hated, detested, endearing, charming, cantankerous, pesky, devil-worshiping, son-of-a-bitch of a man with a proud heart and a defiant soul, filled with tenderness and compassion for all humanity, yet cruel, vicious, mean and ornery. His own worst enemy. A man doomed to end his days in horrible agony – mutilated, emasculated, humiliated to the very core of his being. Yet even unto the end preserving his reason, his devil-may-care spirit, his defiance of God and man ­­– – and his great impersonal ego.”

Miller offered a description of Jaime’s appearance in the late 1940s:

“A bright headband around his forehead – – his dirty snot rag, probably. Brown as a walnut, gaunt, slightly bowlegged, he was still handsome, still very much the Spaniard – and still utterly unpredictable.”

Rosalind Wall described Jaime as he appeared the last time she saw him:

“[Jaime] had a black patch over one eye and was wearing a green eyeshade; otherwise he was stark naked except for a filthy pair of jeans and a wicked looking knife stuck in his belt…

“Even as an old man, bearded and grizzled … without that spectacular beauty which, as a young man had made him a romantic figure, he had a beauty that outshone his age and raggedness…

“He no longer had a car in those last years at the ranch. He had had too many wrecks, including the one in which his only son was killed. Once he carelessly threw a lighted match on top of a can of kerosene in the back of the car and burned up his manuscript on the Chinese language, said to be the best of its kind in the world. He rewrote the entire book, but evidently it got lost as it never turned up among his papers. Jaime rode horseback when he went anywhere, but there was one stallion he gave up riding permanently owing to the fact that he had ridden him down to the highway from his ranch on Partington Ridge [at breakneck speed] in only ten minutes. Jaime was drunk, it could have killed the stallion. He put him out to pasture after that.”

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Sandy Justice at Jaime de Angulo’s former home on Partington Ridge, Big Sur, California, photo by Wynn Bullock, 1956

One of Jamie’s most trusted amigos was Alexander “Sandy” Justice. Jaime left Rancho de los Pesares under Sandy’s care, telling him he could live there rent-free for the rest of his life. Barbara Wynn-Bullock, the daughter the famous American photographer Wynn Bullock, remembered:

“Rarely there, Jaime relied on Sandy Justice to manage the ranch in his absence … Sandy was a gentle giant of a man with a bushy beard, a penchant for cheap wine, and a soft heart for people in need. On any given visit, you never knew how many people might be staying at the ranch, supported mostly by Sandy’s generous spirit. No matter how limited his financial resources, he always had enough to share.”

Jaime was diagnosed with prostate cancer, in 1948. He got so sick, Nancy took him into her home 2851 Buena Vista Way in Berkeley – the house he had rebuilt for her after the 1923 Berkeley fire. She cared for him and he continued to work on his manuscripts. He wanted to be near her and Gui when he died.

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In the late 1940s, a decade after the opening of the new eight-million dollar paved highway between Carmel and San Simeon, Jaime wrote, after leaving Big Sur for the last time:

“Alas, nothing is impossible to modern man in his infernal progress: they came with bulldozers and tractors before very long and raped the virgin. Roads and automobiles, greasy lunch-papers and beer cans and their masters.”

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In her article, “Jaime de Angulo’s Relational ‘I’: A Morphological Poetics,” published in Paideuma: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics Vol. 41 (2014), Anna Elena Eyre wrote:

“In 1923, de Angulo first saw bulldozers attacking the hillsides to construct a road into Big Sur, and he wrote his wife [Nancy] a letter expressing his fear that ‘the spirits would depart.’ Tragically, the spirits weren’t the only ones. Ten years later, a car crash on the treacherous, headland-hugging highway injured de Angulo and killed Alvar, his young son—a traumatic event that effectively marked the termination of active fieldwork. De Angulo retreated further into the manzanita and oak thickets, into scribbling novellas and poems, into drinking, into sorrow, into a never-completed tome titled What Is Language? He increasingly unraveled…

“Insomnia and vivid nightmares. Divorce. A gnarly suicide attempt. A diagnosis of prostate cancer. Even with the end looming, though, there was more for the old coyote to realize, more for him to create and pass on. Just before his death in 1950, de Angulo developed a hundred “Indian Tales” broadcasts—his reworking of ancient indigenous narratives—for Berkeley’s KPFA radio. They can still be heard online, the voice theatrical, animated, lifting into song and dropping to a hum, slowing, pausing, sounding for a moment like that of a Spaniard, then a Frenchman, then a Karuk hunter, then an Achumawi healer, then a growling mammal, then a flickering ghost.”

Robert Duncan

Jaime was a life-long insomniac. He had vivid nightmares and slept so fitfully, he refused to take medication or painkillers, other than alcohol. During his final years, the San Francisco poet Robert Duncan worked as his typist. In Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography (2012) Michael Davidson wrote:

“Meanwhile, as Jaime de Angulo became weaker and more cantankerous, Nancy hired another nurse and Duncan braced himself for the worst. He admitted squeamishness at the sight of de Angulo, who was ‘withered, the head and skeleton in which mad (in all senses of the word) eyes rolled back in the sockets.’ ”

Jaime’s daughter, Gui commented:

“…he never returned to the Catholic church, not even of his death bed.”

Jaime became so ill that he could no longer be cared for at home. From his hospital bed he wrote to Nancy:

“I have had my fill of both the sorrows and the joys of life and I’m quite ready to join the dance of the atoms in the interstellar space … When I contemplate this dance of the atoms over such a fantastic range in time and space … I am filled with such a quiet emotion that all of the sorrows and disappointments of my life dwindled almost to a vanishing point.”

He died on October 26, 1950.

In one of his many letters to Nancy, he had written his own epitaph, “I have had plenty of fun and plenty of sorrow, in my life but it has not been a dull life, certainly.”

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Fannie Lake Lakely and Cinderella O’Neal, Achumawi Indians, Alturas, California, Circa 1925

Anna Elena Eyre wrote in her article, “Jaime de Angulo’s Relational ‘I’: A Morphological Poetics,” published in Paideuma: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics Vol. 41 (2014):

“[His best-known work … Indians in Overalls is a fascinating account of his first linguistic field trip – in 1921 – to the Achumawi tribe of northeastern California. The Pit River tribe had lived in the barren high country for thousands of years and, despite the harsh climate and difficult living conditions, they had developed an extraordinary complex language and a rich mythology … Of all the people he worked with, he felt closest to the Achumawi, among whom he discovered ‘the spirit of wonder, the recognition of life as power.’ ”

Indians and Overalls, published in 1953, just after Jaime’s death, is perhaps his most enjoyable book. It opens in 1921, the first summer Jaime spent learning from the Achumawi elders, in northeast California. Jaime meets his friend, a sixty-year old Indian named Jack Folsom:

“Hallo, Jack.”

“Why … Doc! Where you been all this time? What you doing down here now? Looking for another cattle ranch?”

“No. No more cattle ranches for me. I came back here to study the Indian language…”

“Have you still got the same woman?”

“Yes. Lena. Big and fat. She still talks about you. She never knew a white man who was willing to sit down and eat with Indians!”

“Say, Jack, may I stay with you?”

“What you mean, Doc? You can’t live with Indians!”

“Why not?”

“What would the white men say? They wouldn’t allow you. They wouldn’t talk to you. They would think you were a dog like us.”

“To hell with the white men. I don’t like them either.”

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Jack Folsom (seated) with bow, arrows, quiver and headdress, and unidentified child, in front of his shack, Alturas, California, circa 1925

Indians and Overalls contains wonderfully descriptive paragraphs, like this one about Jack and Lena’s shack:

There was not much in that shack, except a few blankets on a pile of tule stalks in a corner. A good deal of the sky could be seen through the roof. There was a cooking stove, but it had no legs and reposed directly on the floor. Lena had removed the legs so that she could squat on the ground while cooking. She felt that was the proper way to cook, just like a campfire. Many Indian women are quite fat, but Lena was a mountain of flesh, and getting to her feet was a strenuous operation. It surprised me to see how much she could do without raising her fundament from the floor. She could roll over and reach a frying pan six feet away. But “rolling over” does not describe adequately that peculiar motion, besides imparting to it something of the undignified. Have you ever observed in an aquarium and octopus creeping over a rock, it was like that. The rolls of flesh seemed to creep over the floor in advancing waves of cotton print, a brown arm uncoiled itself, the frying pan was reached inexorably.

Indians and Overalls introduces the reader to the enigmatic, diminutive, and sightless, tribal shaman, old Blind Hall:

About noon Blind Hall arrived in the old rattling creaking swaying buggy with his old woman and the old decrepit horse. I knew right away I had seen him before somewhere, sometime; that massive face, the sightless eyes, the very thick lips and quite a lot of white beard for an Indian. “Hallo, white man, I remember you, you stop once, we camp side road, you give me canned beans, bacon, you eat with us, you treat me good, you alright, I remember you, I remember your voice – I am pretty sick now, dropped my shadow on the road, can’t live without my shadow, maybe I die, dunno …. I doctor myself tonight. You stay, you help sing tonight.”

Blind Hall calls his medicine “my poison.” The Indian word is damaagome. Some Indians translate it in English as “medicine,” or “power” sometimes “dog” (in the sense of pet dog, or trained dog). Blind hall was not boastful … He was full of quiet dignity; as to his age, goodness knows…

Old Blind Hall (left) and Jaime de Angulo, Modoc County, California, circa 1925

Blind Hall was groaning and bellyaching about the pain in his ribs. We were sitting in the sun. “Give me a cigarette, white man. Mebbe I die. I dunno. That autocar he knocked my shadow out of me; shadow he stay on the road now can’t find me; can’t live without my shadow!… It’s too bad, mebbbe I die… tonight I doctor myself, I asked my poisons… I got several poisons… I got Raven, he lives on top mountain Wadaqtsuudzi, he know everything, watch everything… I got Bullsnake, he pretty good too… I got Lousie, Crablouse, live with people, much friends, tell me lots of things… I got Jim Lizard, he sit on rock all day, he pretty clever but not serious, he damn liar … Sometimes I doctor sick man, call my poisons come over my head, they fight, Raven he says that man poisoned. Bullsnake say no he not poisoned, he broke rule hunting … and then this here Jim Lizard he say, Oh! let’s go home that man going to die anyhow! … Then Raven he shake his finger at him and say: Who ask what you think? Why don’t you help our father?” (The poison calls the medicine-man “my father,” ittu ai – the medicine-man call the posion ittudamaagome, “my damaagome,” [pronounced da MOGG oh may] or whatever you want to translate that word by: medicine, poison, power…) “You can go home if you want to, we will stay here and help our father. Then Jim Lizard maybe he stay and help and maybe he tell me lie. I can’t depend on him… Ohh… it hurt me inside here. Maybe I die. Everybody die sometime …. I ask my poison tonight. You white man, you help, you sing too. More people sing more good. Sometime my poison very far away, not hear, lots people sing, he hear better.”

That evening we all gathered at sundown. Jack Steel, an Indian from Hantiyu who usually acted at Blind Hall’s interpreter, had arrived. He went out a little way into the sagebrush and called the poisons. “Raven, you, my poison period come! … Bull-snake, my poison, come … Crablouse, my posion, cooome … You all, my poisons, COOOME!!” It was kind of weird, this man out in the sagebrush calling and calling for the poisons, just like a farmer calling his cows home.

We gathered around the fire; Some were sitting on the ground, some were lying on their side. Blind Hall began singing one of his medicine-songs. Two or three who knew the song well joined him. Others hummed for a while before catching on. Robert Spring said to me: “Come on, sing. Don’t be afraid. Everybody must help.” At that time I had not yet learned to sing Indian fashion. The melody puzzled me. But I joined in, bashfully at first, and then when I realized that nobody was paying any attention to me, with gusto.

Blind Hall had soon stopped singing, himself. He had dropped into a sort of brown study, or as if he were listening to something inside his belly. Suddenly he clapped his hands, the singing stopped abruptly. In the silence he shouted something which the “interpreter,” Jack Steel, repeated. And before Jack Steel was through, Blind Hall was shouting again, which the interpreter also repeated, and so on, five or six times. It was not an exchange between Blind Hall and Jack Steel. Jack Steele was simply repeating word for word what Blind Hall was shouting. It was an exchange between Hall and his poison, Raven. First, Hall would shout a query … Then Hall would listen to what Raven (hovering unseen above our heads) was answering – and he would repeat that answer of Raven which he, Hall, had heard in his mind … Then Hall made a sort of grunted “Ahhhh…,” and relapsed into a brown study. Everybody else, Jack Steel included, relaxed. Some lit cigarettes; others gossiped. A woman said to me: “You did pretty good; you help; that’s good!” Robert Spring said to me: “Sure everybody must help. Sometimes the poisons are far away. They don’t hear. Everybody must sing together to wake them up.”

The woman who had praised me for singing said for my benefit: “He asked Raven if he going to die. Raven say he don’t know; ask the others.” Blind Hall started humming another medicine-song, and everything went on like before. That way four or five times. At one time he got pretty excited and started to jump and dance, and fell down. It must be hell to be blind.

The whole performance lasted about a couple of hours. Then everyone everybody dispersed … The next morning Blind Hall felt much better.

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Categories: California History.