Apache Girl Grew Up in a Tujunga Castle
Recently a reader alerted me that one of the last “wild” Apache Indians grew up in Tujunga in the ’30s and ’40s. After doing some research I discovered that that Apache lived in Weatherwolde Castle, the historic faux-castle that was saved from the wrecking ball and restored a few years ago.
The story begins with the last surrender of Geronimo’s band of Apaches in 1886. Some of them refused to ever surrender and retreated into the mountains of southern New Mexico, drifting south into Mexico. They continued their war-like ways well into the 20th century, raiding ranches and retreating back into the Sierra Madre Mountains. The drifting bands were hunted by vengeful Mexicans, and slaughtered when they were found. There are legends even today that free Apaches still roam those wild mountains.
In 1931, Jack Harris, an adventurer, and his wife Dixie were in Mexico researching these “lost” Apaches. In the town they were in, a band of Mexican cowboys came back from a raid on an Apache camp dragging three captured Indian children with them. It had been a village of just women and children, and the men had killed the women and burned their homes. Dixie saw that the men were now drunk and intended to kill the children. She confronted the men, grabbed the children, then barricaded herself in her room until they sobered up. Dixie and Jack took two of the terrified children to a convent, but Dixie fell in love with the 3-year-old girl named Bui (Owl Eyes), and took her back home to Tujunga, to the Norman-style Castle (Weatherwolde Castle) they had just bought.
They named her Carmela, and at first she remained terrified. She remembered well the massacre and her life before that, always hiding, always on the run. As she warmed to her adoptive and loving parents she related her memories. She remembered that she didn’t know her mother or father, only a grandmother who raised her. The grandmother was a harsh, stern woman and their survival was predicated on silence. Carmela remembered that there was one child in the band who was too loud, always crying, and Carmela remembered that the grandmother strangled the child. Carmela remembered the gunshots of the Mexican ambushers, seeing her grandmother dead, and the fire afterwards. She was afraid of Hispanics all her life.
When she was captured she was dressed in a primitive buckskin dress and moccasins, and her possessions included some beads and a deck of leather cards, like tarot cards.
When she went to school in largely white Tujunga she stood out, with her jet-black hair and her starkly Indian features – dark skin, high broad cheekbones, and almond eyes whose gaze held an incredible bright intensity. She made fast friends with an Italian girl, perhaps the only other kid in the neighborhood who wasn’t blonde. When the neighborhood kids played cowboys and Indians, Carmela was of course always cast as the loser. Only she knew the harsh realty behind their games. Although she had opportunities, she never wanted to go back and talk to other Apaches, or find the other two children that she had been captured with.
Carmela grew into a beautiful young woman, graduated from Verdugo Hills High School, and went to nursing school. But she never married and remained with Dixie in the Castle. By the mid-’70s, Jack had died, and Dixie and Carmela moved to Italy, to an ancient stone farmhouse in the Umbrian countryside. Oddly Carmela felt at home in Europe. She told others that her move there felt preordained. She took up photography and traveled, immersing herself in European history and forgetting her own. She was completely happy.
She died accidently a few years later. She fainted, and hit her head in just the wrong place, dying immediately. She’s buried in Italy.
So goes the tale of perhaps the last “wild” Apache who grew up in Tujunga and lived most of her life in Weatherwolde Castle, and finished her life in Italy. A remarkable life – from wild Indian to cultured European, via our own Tujunga.