Monday, August 5, 2013

Storytelling Is A Tradition

The Historian, 1902 by E. Irving Couse
Storytelling is probably the oldest method of conveying information from one generation to another. What kind of information does storytelling convey and how significant is it? The Native American’s survival was dependent on storytelling handed down generation after generation.

The storytelling included methods of survival for the tribe or clan under the most severe conditions. Survival was dependent on this method of preserving information from one generation to another. Religion was followed by survival as the next significant part of storytelling in the lives of Native Americans. Native Americans had no written language prior to the advent of the Europeans in the Western hemisphere; therefore storytelling was their only method of preserving the past and protecting the future.

The oral tradition of storytelling as a method of preserving cultures and their religions has been practiced since modern man evolved. To this day we all continue to tell stories about events, people, and places. Our methodology has changed little over the centuries, however, in the past five decades, the method of recording information has change dramatically. We are now living in the middle of the information age. Computers and other sophisticated recording equipment have changed the word-of-mouth way of storytelling. Television and home movies have had a tremendous impact on oral storytelling. Families still tell stories about family members and these stories are kept alive for generations without necessarily being recorded.

Another early method of storytelling was the keeping of a personal diary or journal. Many historians will vouch for the significant importance of the written word in diaries and journals. The written word can be studied and determined as to its accuracy when compared with other accounts found by more research. The introduction of personal tape recorders in the 1940s provided a method of making voice recordings of storytelling. These early recordings of significant historical events, and even accounts about lost gold are highly sought after today. A classic recording is the description of the German airship Hindenburg exploding in Newark, New Jersey on May 6, 1937. There are many other recordings that come to mind including those of Will Rogers and other personalities of the 1930s. However, the traditional method of oral storytelling remains the most popular among treasure hunters and lost gold mine searchers.

The difference between storytelling and history is often in the eyes of the beholder. Actually, there is a very thin, grey line between fact and fiction when it comes to storytelling or the written word. I have been writing stories about the Superstition Wilderness Area for more than thirty years. I often find readers who want each and every word documented. The truth is, not every word can be documented because much of my information is hearsay or oral history. Stories passed down from one generation to another generation. The accuracy of a story is always dependent on its source. During the past fifty or sixty years while following in my father’s footsteps I have tried to retain many of the stories I have heard around the campfires from old timers, especially those old prospectors and treasure hunters of the late forties and early fifties. Let’s face it, there are not many of us around anymore who took the time to listen to this early oral history about lost gold mines and treasure some forty to sixty years ago.

Why do those who like to search for lost treasure prefer to hear their stories orally from some knowledgeable historian on the topic, some one closely associated with the story or somebody they trust completely? This preference could be answered in the following way. Stories about lost gold mines and treasure require the opportunity for the listener to judge the storyteller’s information directly. Often the listener wants to interrogate or interview their storyteller as to his honesty, veracity and story’s accuracy. Usually the listener makes the determination as to the accuracy and facts contained within a story.

The story of the Lost Dutchman Mine, the Peralta Mines, the Peralta Stone Maps, and many other stories associated with the Superstition Mountains have traditionally been a part of oral storytelling until the first books were published in the 1930s about the topic. Even with the arrival of the first books on the topic storytelling continued to be a strong advocate of lost gold mine and treasure tales.

To this day one can find great storytelling in restaurants’ and lounges around Apache Junction about the Dutchman Lost Mine, Peralta mines, or the Peralta Stone Maps. I don’t want to confuse you with useless rhetoric, however, there is a very thin line that we all walk. This line includes establishing a sound and dependable source for our stories and stating what is fact and what is fiction. It is for this reason there are so many tall tales and confusing facts intertwined in our history of the Southwest when this simple rule is not followed. I must admit, I write to interest and intrigue my readers. I want them to share the same adventure I enjoyed gathering the information and writing it down. Not everything I write is pure fact and it is often not well documented. Some of the stories are just stories and tall tales.

Therefore, we as storytellers are actually telling other people’s stories and we can only be judged by our actions and deeds, not the story that is being told. I must admit I am proud of this long historical tradition of preserving the past, both true stories and tall tales.. We know these stories can sometimes be inaccurate. The final responsibility is up to the listener or the reader to separate the fact from the fiction.

July 29, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.