The Tape Chapter 3 – A Visit with Chief Chuckwalla

(If you have not been following the story of ‘The Tape’ or need a refresher, you can read Chapters 1-2 by going into our archives and looking under ‘January 2014’.)

by Bob Sparrow

While at our timeshare at the Marriott Desert Springs a few weeks back, I decided to take advantage of being near the home of the Cahuilla Indian tribe and follow up on the information given to me by Matt at Chapman University and pay a visit to the tribe. I had contacted Chief Chuckwalla and made arrangements to meet him in a coffee shop in Palm Springs. With The Tape in my hand and Don in my head, I walked into the coffee shop looking for the Chief. I stood at the entrance surveying the small, sparsely populated room when a voice came from my left saying, “Are you looking for a guy in a headdress and war paint?”


Chief Chuckwalla

Embarrassed that I probably was, I turned to meet Chief Chuckwalla, who was wearing a plaid sports coat.

“Good morning, I’m Bob, we talked on the phone”

“Yes, I’m Chuck”

“Oh, so it’s Chief Walla, your first name is Chuck?

“No, my first name is Mark.”

“So it’s Mark Chuckwalla?”

“No, I just use Chuckwalla because it’s the last remaining Inviatim word left in the English language, so I’m holding on to it. You can call me Chief.”

“So are you the current chief of the Cahuilla tribe?”


I felt like I was part of the Abbott and Costello Who’s On First routine.

Nonplused, I decided I would try to impress the chief with the fact that I’d done my homework on his tribe, by using a Cahuilla greeting. I smiled and said, “Yee-Makh-weh”

He stared at me just long enough to make it uncomfortable and said, “I think you mean Mee-Yakh-weh, which is how the Inviatim Indian would greet a friend. You, on the other hand, just called me a grapefruit!”

“Sorry.” I guess I never was much good with homework.

I continued, “I notice you use the word Inviatim rather than Cahuilla when you talk about your tribe, why is that?

“Cahuilla is the name that the Spanish gave to our tribe; it would be like calling the Italians ‘Wops’ or the Puerto Ricans ‘Spicks’.

(Don echoed in my head: “How’s this going for you so far, you’ve screwed up his name and now you’ve insulted his entire tribe?”)

I doggedly pressed on, “I don’t know how much Matt told you, but I have a tape that a dear friend sent me years ago in a language or various languages that I’m trying to translate, Matt believed part of it was in the Cahuilla, er Ivia language.”

(Don: “I was wondering when you were going to bring me into the conversation, are you going to tell him that I’m dead?”)

Chief: “Matt has done much to help the Inviatim cause. What is this tape?”

The Tape

The Tape

I held up it up and the chief stared at it

Chief: “Why did your friend send it to you?”

I told him I wasn’t sure.

Chief: “What does your friend say it says?”

(Don: “See I told you you should have told him I was dead!”)

“I actually got the tape in ’95 or ‘96, but when I asked him about it at the time and on several occasions after that, I couldn’t get a straight answer from him, so I just forgot about it. When he passed away a couple of years ago my curiosity was raised again.”

(Don: A couple of years ago, gosh, it just seems like yesterday – where does the time go?”)

The Chief and I sat down in a corner booth where it was relatively quiet and I pulled out my cassette player and popped in The Tape.   We both fell silent as I watched the Chief listen. His expression changed from dutiful to curious to interested, to visibly shaken when he stopped the tape and stared at me trying to decide what to do next.

Finally he stood up from the table and said, “You need to see something.”


Entrance to ‘Sec-he’

I followed him outside and got into his dusty Jeep Wrangler and we headed for the nearby foothills. After a few miles we left the main road for a seldom-traveled dirt road which, after a few more miles, turned into no road at all, until we were deep in the Santa Rosa Mountains. After about twenty minutes, we came to a narrow opening which revealed a boarded up, washed out ranch-style dwelling tucked in the back of a canyon behind an outcropping of granite boulders. As we neared the structure, we passed under a weathered wooden archway entry gate with a name carved in it that was barely legible; as we passed under it I read it aloud: “Sec-he”.

I asked Chief what it meant.

“Sec-he is the name the Inviatim gave to this whole desert area, it means ‘boiling water’; when the Spanish took over they changed the name to ‘Agua Caliente’, meaning ‘hot water’. Then the white man came and decided that neither of those names would help them sell memberships to private golf clubs or luxury homes for celebrities, so they changed the name to Palm Springs”.

Chief drove under the archway and parked the car in the shade of a Palo Verde tree in front of the gray wooden structure. He slowly pushes open the shack2front door that had neither locks nor hardware. The wooden floor creakes beneath our feet as I followed the chief to a small room off the main living area that had only a crude wooden desk and chair sitting on a dingy brown rug. Chief moves the desk and chair off the rug and slides the rug over several feet revealing a trap door. The hinges squeak as he slowly opened it. There is a narrow wooden staircase that leads into darkness. I notice for the first time, a kerosene lantern hanging on the wall next to the trap door, as the Chief pulls it down, lights it and heads down the stairs motioning me to follow.

To be continued  

7 comments on “The Tape Chapter 3 – A Visit with Chief Chuckwalla

  1. And Then, And Then…..
    Moe now you’ve got me hooked, Is Don down there playing the guitar after faking his death (after he went on bad mescaline trip?)
    I am also a proud recipient of a shell casing from Don’s funeral rifle salute-I reflect often, but not nearly as eloquently, about our friend and the many deep thoughts and wild flights of fancy he’d take me on.
    Love both Suzanne’s and your “life situation” reports!!

    • Great to hear from you Jim – we just never know where our friend Donald is going to show up. Stay tuned.

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