Born and Reborn
My name is Rosa Yearout in English and my Nez Perce name is Wi’cesa, which is translated as “Born and Reborn.” This is the name that my mother, Rena Katherine Ramsey, had and she had received that from her grandmother, Wicesa. My maiden name was Spencer. My first marriage was to Larry McFarland. We were married for about 15 years when we lost him in a car accident. I was a widow with seven children when I met and eventually married a bachelor, Jonathan Yearout, my current husband. He was from the Yakima Valley in Washington and he moved here to Lapwai, Idaho. We’ve been married for 33 years.
I am an enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe, but I have lineages from the Cayuse, Yakima and Flathead Tribes, as well on my father’s side some Anglo blood. I was born and raised in Kamiah, Idaho, on the Nez Perce Reservation. However, I have spent all of my adult life in Lapwai. I moved here as a teenager.
I’m 65 years of age, or as my Mom would say “65 years young.” My parents and grandparents on both sides are all deceased, so I find myself as the elder in the family with the responsibility of preserving our family story and passing on our culture and heritage to our children and grandchildren. The best way I found to do this is to not only learn the stories but to continue that oral tradition that our native people have and carrying our history forward.
My husband, Jon, and I together with my first husband, Larry, we have 9 children – all grown – and 22 grandchildren and another expected soon. No great grandchildren yet. Where I live today is near a village outside Lapwai called Sweetwater. We have a ranch that we named M-Y Sweetwater Appaloosa Ranch. The “M” stands for McFarland, the seven McFarland children and the “Y” for Yearout, the two Yearout children that we have. We raise registered Appaloosa horses. Also we have the new Nez Perce Registry horse, which is a cross between the Appaloosa and Akhal-Teke, an ancient and sacred horse from Turkministan. My family have always had horses and when I give presentations I usually discuss the horse, especially the Appaloosa, and I mention the Nez Perce Appaloosa Horse Club, a group that we’re involved with, to teach adults and youth to ride and I mention the Nez Perce National Historic Trail – its history and my experiences riding it.
My family ties on my Nez Perce side go way back, prior to the time of Lewis and Clark. Thanks to the historians in my family, I’m aware that many of our ancestors have been involved in significant and historical events of the Tribe of this area. My great-grandfather, Paul Showaway, was part Nez Perce, but he was also the last hereditary chief of the Cayuse Tribe. The other things that I give presentations on are aspects of healing, primarily concern of mine is the work that we can do to heal the wounds between our Christian and non-Christian members of our tribe and our people in whatever way we can
With that I believe that concludes my little summary of who I am – a little of what I do.
Qe’ciyewyew, thank you.
Storyteller Rosa Spencer Yearout, 65, is an enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe (Nimiipuu) and lives on the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. She and her husband, Jon, own the M-Y (McFarland-Yearout) Sweetwater Appaloosa Ranch located near Lapwai. She is the mother of nine children and 22 grandchildren. Her Nez Perce name is We-ste-sa, which is translated as “born and reborn,” a name handed down to her from her mother and great-grandmother. Rosa is a descendant from the White Bird Band of Nez Perce (Salmon River-Seven Devils country), which includes Chief Pah Wyanan. His son was Chief Red Grizzly Bear (xaxaac ‘ilp’ilp), who Lewis & Clark met in 1806. Chief Red Grizzly Bear’s son was Black Eagle (tipyehlehne cimuux-cimuux), who was one of four Nez Perce warriors who traveled to St. Louis, Missouri in 1831 in search of “the good book.” He and another warrior became ill, died and are now buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. Black Eagle’s son was Wottolen (Hair Combed Up Over The Eyes), who was a prophet and a warrior in the 1877 Nez Perce conflict. Wottolen and his wife We-ste-sa’s son, Sam Lott (Many Wounds or ‘ilexni ‘eewteesin’), was a tribal historian and one of the main interpreters for L. V. McWhorter’s books, “Yellow Wolf, His Own Story” and “Hear Me, My Chiefs,” which document the Nez Perce version of historical events. Rosa’s mother was Rena Katherine Lott Ramsey, an expert cornhusk weaver and instructor, storyteller, and was fluent in the Nez Perce language. Rena’s parents were Sam Lott and Cecelia Showaway Williams, whose mother, Ida, was Yakima, and whose father, Paul Showaway, was part Nez Perce and the last hereditary chief of the Cayuse Tribe.
Rosa’s father was Titus (Tiger) Spencer (lapit sux’latamo or Two Owls), who had a lifelong career as a movie extra, primarily in Indian roles. His parents were Mary Penney and Johnson Spencer. Mary’s father, Ben Penney, was a gold miner and soldier from Arkansas and her mother, Elizabeth, was Nez Perce and Flathead. Rosa was raised by her maternal grandmother and learned that side of her family history well. However, she’s continuing her lifelong quest to learn more about all of her other relatives, especially her father’s and the history of the other tribes and relatives in her lineage.
Originally, the Nez Perce Reservation had thirteen millions acres of land located in eastern Washington and Oregon and north-central Idaho. Today, there is only 10% of the original acreage. To the east of the reservation are the Bitterroot Mountains separating Idaho and Montana. In the west are the Blue Mountains and the Wallowa Mountains along the Idaho-Washington and Oregon borders. In the north are the Clearwater Mountains and in the south there are the Seven Devil Mountains and the Snake and Salmon Rivers. Elevations vary from very high peaks to sea level. There are prairies and valleys and it’s fairly isolated.
The legends Rosa shares tell about the horse’s role with the Nez Perce. Although the earliest Nez Perce traditional stories didn’t mention horses until the late 1600’s or early 1700’s, she has various stories of how the Nez Perce came to get the horse. Maamin is Nez Perce for the Appaloosa horse (derived from “a Palouse horse”). It is believed that this word came from “Mormon” because Nez Perces had traded with some Mormons for horses of this type. The Nez Perce was noted as the first tribe to selectively breed horses, especially the spotted Appaloosa, because they revered their gentleness, endurance, surefootedness, speed and beauty.
In presentations, Rosa discusses the different cultural artifacts, arts and crafts, tribal dances and music, health and healing and the environment. She learned about medicine dances, sweat lodges, pow wows, and root feasts from her traditional grandmother, Cecelia. Rosa has horse trappings and regalia handed down from her great-grandmother and her grandmother. The Nez Perce had parades to show off their regalia, horse trappings and their horses. Audiences are interested in crafts so Rosa relates how dresses are made by the old method (from deer skin hides and brain tanning), beadwork and cornhusk bags. On the topic of horses, she relates her experiences of growing up with horses, riding trails with the Nez Perce Appaloosa Horse Club and on the Appaloosa Horse Club’s Chief Joseph Trail Ride. In 2005 she received an award for completing 13 years (1,300 miles) on this ride that follows the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, on which she has made presentations.
Foreign groups from Spain, Holland, Belgium, France, Japan and Austria, American tour groups, horse fanciers and the general public that come to the reservation compile some of her audiences as well as youth from the local area. She’s also traveled and done presentations for the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Park Service, private tour groups and during religious retreats on religious topics and/or pilgrimages that she has made.
Among some of Rosa’s accreditations: She was a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, which was presented by the Native American students at Lewis and Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. She assumed her mother’s traditional role as the Whipwoman for the annual Chief Joseph and Warriors Pow Wow, which is held at Lapwai during the 3 rd weekend in June; was an advisor to the Pleasant Company (American Girl) for their Nez Perce Kaya doll and books; serves as the Native American Representative on the Idaho Catholic Diocesan Pastoral Council, an advisory group to the Bishop of Idaho. Rosa retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1994 after working at the Northern Idaho Agency in Lapwai for 35½ years, mostly as a Forestry Accounting Technician. She served ten years on the Lapwai School Board and a term on the board for the National Tekakwitha Conference, which is an organization focusing on Native American Catholics. Rosa is an officer and past president of the Nez Perce Appaloosa Horse Club.