John Kennedy, 93-plus years old, a resident of Oasis in Fish Lake Valley for the past 26 years, born in Death Valley between 1915 and 1919, passed away Feb. 12, 2013 at his home surrounded by his family.
John Kennedy was given a birth date of Aug. 1, 1919 by the federal government at a time when records were not kept for many native Shoshone Indians who were not born in the hospital. John Kennedy always said that he was born in Death Valley, and most elders from that era have always acknowledged that he was born in Death Valley, but earlier than his assigned birthday. His brother, Raymond Kennedy, who preceded him in death, had stated that his brother John was actually born in October of 1915. The 1920 Census and his kindergarten records support that he was 5 years old in 1920. Whatever the true date of his birth, he lived a long life.
John was taken from his family by the U.S. federal government when he was very young, and, as he stated, he could not even tie his shoes. He was placed on a train by government officials with his older sister Nellie and they, along with other native children, were sent to Carson City to the Stuart Indian Boarding School. Because he could not speak English and the children were punished for speaking their native language, he was beaten repeatedly for over a year until his father was able to come and take him from the abuse and hide him for several years. He was taken from his family in later years by U.S. officials and was sent to Sherman Indian School in Riverside. In those years in the boarding school system, he took up boxing, where he eventually went professional. His record was more than 30 professional fights, all by knockout. He was etching his way to a title fight when he decided to join the Army in 1941 after a fallout with a girlfriend. He served as a surgical technician during World War II in many battles on Pacific Islands in the war with Japan. He was honorably discharged in Dec. 21, 1945.
After the war, he returned to Death Valley to his family where he had an adobe home prior to the war. However, when he reached Death Valley, to his dismay, there was no home and many family members had passed on. The National Park Service wanted all Timbisha Shoshone removed from the National Park, so they had washed his home down while he was away. He took that as a slap in the face by the government that he had just served.
After finding that he did not have a home, he then went from place to place doing odd jobs for 20 years in the Western U.S. He had a mechanical mind and was very good with his hands and had no problem finding work. In 1966, he began a relationship with Laura Alberta (Bertie) Gillon Smith. Bertie, recently divorced, had five children of her own. Bertie and John had a son in 1967 who they named John Joseph, but he was always called Joe by everyone. John raised Bertie’s five children, Kitty, Anita, Ramona, Juanita and Jonathan, as his own. They began their life together and lived in Burbank for the first year or so before moving to the Owens Valley where they resided at Rawson Creek, south of Bishop. In Rawson Creek, he used his mechanical mind and hands to build a home for them where they lived until 1979, at which point they moved to a small rented trailer on Pa Ha Lane on the Bishop Indian Reservation until 1986, when he and Bertie moved to their land in Oasis.
His passion in life was his connection with the Mother Earth which was held sacred to him through his teachings from his parents and grandparents. He loved to play hand games with other Shosohone and Paiute Indians at celebrations held in the Owens Valley and various locations across Nevada. He would play all night and sometimes into the next day. When he was young, he grew up hunting big horn sheep, deer, rabbits and other wildlife for food and continued to enjoy hunting and fishing to the end of his life. He took his stepson Jonathan and his son Joe hunting, fishing and camping when they were young boys and taught them to take these animals in a respectful way, the same way it was taught to him by his elders. He also maintained the tradition of gathering pine nuts each fall in the mountains surrounding Fish Lake Valley.
Bertie passed away on Feb. 28, 1990. In 1991, after living alone for some time, he asked his son Joe to come back and live with him to help him out with things around his home in Oasis. Joe and Patricia Armitage, along with their infant daughter, Candace, moved to Oasis and made their home with John. As time went on, John was blessed with more grandchildren, Maurice, Marlon, Marshall and Marvin Kennedy, whom he really loved and enjoyed spending time with. He was always happy living and spending time with his grandchildren and they kept him young the past 22 years.
John was preceded in death by his wife, Bertie, his parents, Joe and Annie Kennedy; his sisters, Nellie Thompson and Alice Kennedy; and his brothers, Herbert, Harry and Raymond Kennedy.
He is survived by his son, Joe Kennedy and wife Patti; and grandchildren, Candace, Maurice, Marlon, Marshall and Marvin Kennedy. He is also survived by his stepchildren, Kitty Brown, Anita Kimmons, Ramona Earl, Juanita Smith and Jonathan Kennedy, along with their families.
A traditional cry dance was held at the Kennedy residence in Oasis on Friday night, Feb. 15, and he was laid to rest and returned to the Mother Earth at Oasis Cemetery on Saturday, Feb. 16 with graveside services attended by close family and friends. A reception following the service was held at the Kennedy residence.