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Cano Graham & the Western Shoshone


For countless thousands of years, people all over the world have prized volcanic smectite clays for medicinal use. Among the cultures using them in healing and religious rituals was the Western Shoshone tribe, which inhabited an area from northern Utah and southern Idaho to southern California. The center of the tribe’s healing rituals was a series of sacred caves and baths near what is now Tecopa Hot Springs, California. The calcium bentonite clay in these caves and baths was unmatched for purity and therapeutic efficacy, and the Western Shoshone lived above the world’s biggest deposit.

Late in the nineteenth century, white explorers in the American West wrote about the healing power of smectite clays. After confirming the reports, the largest pharmaceutical companies bought most of the smectite mines, and they used the clay as a binder for their drug and supplement tablets. They left the mine near Tecopa Hot Springs alone, though, partly because of its remoteness, partly because of the inhospitable terrain surrounding it, and partly because they couldn’t secure the legal rights to it. The Bureau of Land Management owned the land, and the Western Shoshone retained their rights to use it.

In the late 1970s, Cano Graham moved into the Mojave Desert near the southern end of Death Valley. An actor who had helped Lee Strasberg found the Method Acting School, Graham was fed up with Hollywood’s decadence and avarice, and he vowed to avoid all human contact. Despite this vow, he befriended many of the nearby Western Shoshone. This took a few years.

After gaining the tribe’s trust, Graham was allowed to participate in its religious rituals. The Western Shoshone showed him their healing caves and baths, and they told him about the healing power in the clay. It was their “amazin’ healing mud”, as he told a friend later. His life, he said, was forever altered by the discovery.

To be continued…

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