LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. – Years from now, people from another generation in another decade will study the Pakaanil language. And James “Jimmy” Andreas Sr., this generation’s last fluent speaker of Pakaanil, will be there, guiding them.
When Andreas left this life, he left behind a great gift – the gift of his language. He helped start the Pakaanil language program, which now includes classes at three sites. He left behind educational video recordings of himself speaking the language, which will be subtitled in Pakaanil and English.
“We have a good chance at it,” Tubatulabal Chairwoman Donna Begay said of fluent Pakaanil speakers emerging in the future.
So it was fitting that when people gathered in Kern Valley to say “Adau gimsha Jimmywal” (“I’ll see you later, Jimmy”) to this self-styled “Indian cowboy,” it was a casual ceremony steeped in the language that he knew, spoke and loved – a language that will survive because of his work.
“He wanted us to keep it simple, to focus on our language,” Begay said of the service. “There were quite a few prayers.”
Andreas passed away July 30 near his cabin on the Miranda Indian Rancheria in Weldon, two weeks before his 78th birthday.
The memorial service was held Aug. 9 at Sierra Mortuary and Funeral Home in Lake Isabella, followed by the burial at Cottage Grove Cemetery in Onyx. Between 300 and 400 people attended; visiting dignitaries included Tejon Indian Tribe Chairwoman Kathy Morgan. The California Highway Patrol and Kern Valley Sheriff’s Department provided traffic control.
At the cemetery, local veterans rendered honors. Julian Behill, Steven Gonzales and Chance Valdez sang the Mountain Lion Song in Pakaanil.
“My father was an elder of the Tubatulabals of Kern Valley and he was a full-blooded Tubatulabal, a very well-respected man,” his stepdaughter, Samantha Riding-Red-Horse, wrote in an announcement of his passing. “We will all miss him very much. He was the last fluent speaker of our Pakanapul language. I learned a lot from him. Thank you, Dad. Alsana dung (Bless you).”
Andreas was preceded in death by his former wife, Gloria Mae (Stone); his parents, Willie and Josephine Andreas; eight older brothers and sisters; his son, Billy Andreas; and his grandsons, Mickey Ray Andreas and Lonnie Swain.
He is survived by his stepdaughter; a daughter, Elaine (Andreas) Wolfram; two sons and daughters-in-law, James “Jimmy” and Wendy Andreas, and Louie and Tammy Andreas; grandchildren, Martha Button, Melissa Wolfram, Cody and Kayla Andreas, Cory and Jordan Andreas, Megan Davie, Travis Andreas, Christine Andreas and Joe Andreas; and many great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
He will be missed by his close and dear friend, Robert Gomez Jr.
Andreas was born Aug. 18, 1930, in Onyx, in the heart of Tubatulabal country in the Kern Valley. He was a cowboy at age 12, saw action as an Army soldier during the Korean War and was honorably discharged. He was allowed to return home early when his mother passed away.
He worked as a logger in Bishop and Redlands, and then returned to being an “Indian cowboy.” He was a cowboy for 50 years, last employed by the Sprague Ranch.
“Mention a cow trail in the Kern Valley and surrounding high country, and Jim has been on it,” his family wrote in an obituary. “He loved cattle and horses.”
He was a skilled cowboy, well respected by other cowboys in the area and region. His sons are well-respected cowboys following in their father’s footsteps.
Andreas started the Pakanapul Language Project with Gomez, in 1995 (Pakaanil is a dialect of Pakanapul); his nieces and nephews are also active in the project. Andreas shared his knowledge of the language and of the culture as well.
The project evolved into a school next to the Tubatulabal government office in Mount Mesa, with classes Monday through Thursday. A language team also teaches classes in Bakersfield and Ridgecrest.
Betsy Johnson and Anthony Stone are now “close to being fluent,” Begay said. Other current students are Sherry Click, Bertha Eller, Dale Johnson and Virgie Russell.
In addition, a new day care center in the South Fork area of Lake Isabella has asked the language school to give it a name in the Pakaanil language. In May, Andreas was the subject of a report on KERO-TV Channel 23 in Bakersfield.
“We are working with [linguist] Lindsay Marean; she’s been very instrumental in helping us establish a dictionary,” Begay said. “Dr. Martha Macri, director of the Native American Language Program at UC – Davis, is helping us with a National Science Foundation grant for endangered languages to put subtitles on those videos of Jim speaking, subtitles in our language and in English.”
Begay said Andreas’ passing is a major loss to the Tubatulabal people and the community, but he had been struggling with health issues and was ready to go.
“We’ll miss him, but he’ll always be with us one way or another,” she said.
Indeed, as Marean told KERO-TV in that program in May, “Jim is the future of the language.”