Texas' Peyote Hunters Struggle to Find a Vanishing, Holy Crop

Harvesting peyote is legal for only three people, and all of them live in Texas

Still, he went back in. Morales, who had spent the majority of his life working around peyote, had never used it. Now, with his Indian friends praying over him, he took the medicine.

"I've only taken it when I've been real sick," he says. Days later, Morales started gaining weight. He got off the couch and was able to walk without pain. He's not sure how it worked, but he's convinced that the medicine—along with the Indians' prayers—healed him. Now, when they come back to Morales' place, he cuts them a deal, selling them bags of peyote at $200 a piece, which amounts to a significant discount from his regular price of $350.

"You've got to have faith in the medicine," he says. "Without faith, it won't work."

Cactus spines and the occasional rattle snake are all in a day's work for Mauro Morales, one of three legal peyote hunters in Texas.
Daniel Kramer
Cactus spines and the occasional rattle snake are all in a day's work for Mauro Morales, one of three legal peyote hunters in Texas.

Morales says he's seen the medicine work for others as well. The most miraculous case he's seen happened when his brother was dying in the hospital. A doctor called Morales to tell him the brother had two days left. Morales started calling his family. At the same time, a group of Indians was visiting him to stock up on peyote before heading back to Arizona.

"One of them told me to write my brother's name on a piece of paper," he said. Morales wrote the name—Ajeo—and the Indians left. He didn't ask the Indians' names because he didn't believe it would work. "They told me not to worry because my brother wasn't going to die."

The family gathered at the hospital, thinking that it would only be a matter of hours. Days passed, and Ajeo held on. He didn't die for another six months. Weeks after the Indians left, one of them called Morales.

"He asked how my brother was doing," he says. "I said that he was still alive. He said it was the medicine. They were praying for him."

Other terminally ill people have turned up at Morales' door, looking for medicine. He would like to be able to help them, but if he deals to the wrong people, Morales' license to sell peyote could be revoked.

"One woman drove here from San Antonio," he says. "She had been taking chemo, and it wasn't working. Nothing had really worked for her, and someone had mentioned the medicine. But she didn't have the papers, so I had to turn her away.

"If you don't have papers, I can't sell to you," he says. Then, with a little smile, he adds, "but I can tell you where you might find it."

As Morales explains the magical power of the medicine, he inspects his supply. So far, business has been slow for the winter. It was still deer season in early January and Morales couldn't harvest much peyote if he wanted to. He sold about 5,000 buttons for December, which means that he netted around $1,750. Subtract wages for his handful of part-time workers, and it becomes clear that Morales isn't making much money, even though the price of peyote has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

He keeps thousands of buttons ready to sell. Stored in large wooden trays behind his house, some of them are covered by tarps and others by a makeshift roof. There's little security to protect his supply, but he says he's never had a problem with theft.

Morales bends down to demonstrate his technique for cutting the plant above the root so that it will grow back. He puts a button on a table and cuts a slice open. He offers it to me to smell. He gives me a little nod as if to indicate that I should try it. Without asking permission, I take a bite. Morales smiles. It tastes like a dirty, raw potato. The little button seems to suck all the moisture right out of my mouth. Suddenly, it starts tasting spicy, like a raw jalapeño. The feeling is intolerable, and I spit it out.

"Maybe you just don't have the faith," he says, winking at me.

Humberto Fernández—known universally as Don Humberto in the village of Real de Catorce, Mexico—eats peyote for breakfast. One button—it's just enough to get him going for the day.

Don Humberto was a young Mexican hippie bumming around California in the 1970s when he heard about peyote growing wild near a ghost town in the mountains of central Mexico. As it turned out, the ghost town—Real de Catorce—was close to his hometown in the state of San Luis Potosí.

"I was hanging out in the esoteric sections of bookstores in California and reading about the Huichol Indians and peyote," he says. "I said, 'Wow, that's where I'm from.' I didn't know anything about it growing up."

On a whim, Don Humberto moved to the town and started renovating a colonial building a few blocks from the cathedral. He turned it into a boutique hotel that catered to Europeans who had heard about peyote. About 10 years ago, primarily through word of mouth, peyote tourism in the town boomed.

Before he knew it, Don Humberto was hosting Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, who came to town to film The Mexican. He points to a corner of his restaurant where Pitt ate breakfast every morning for two months. Don Humberto, with his aquiline nose and stringy black-and-gray beard, looks like a Hollywood character actor—the classic ethnic bad guy. His involvement with The Mexican led to a bit part in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but his heart is still in Real de Catorce, where he's the most recognizable face in town.

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19 comments
Dyaln571
Dyaln571

God's flesh is for those who feast in humility of their own lack of knowledge. The quest for the truth is what makes us alive. Yatahe.

PCP Addiction
PCP Addiction

The Term “PCP” refers to Phencyclidine which is a synthetic drug sold in form of tablets, capsules or white colored powder. It is one of the hard drugs that could be smoked, snorted or swallowed. The drug came into being in the 1950’s as anesthetic drug but it was never approved for human use because of the many negative effect that comes with it.PCP has some streets names such as ‘angel dust’, ‘ozone’, ‘wack’, ‘rocket fuel’ and other funny names which is usually given by its users especially the addicts among them.The medical system of treating PCP addiction is also known as pharmacological treatment. This involves the use of certain drugs. The process actually begins with hospitalization whereby the addict is admitted and properly diagnosed.

Gary Terry
Gary Terry

No one has the right to decide what's best for another. That's the gift of choice from the Great Spirit. Anyone who stands between you and that inalienable right are not doing it for anyone's benefit but their own. Don't be fooled. Nature is the greatest teacher of all. Blessed be! Aho!

Akichita
Akichita

Peyote is powerful, and good medicine. It hurts my heart to hear bad words spoken of him. People say "they see the harm peyote brings on people" well i have seen the good. peyote is medicine. you must respect it or you will not go far. peyote is like a jet engine, you can fly to the clouds and touch the face of Creator, or, you can improperly angle it and fly right in to a tree. it is not something outside of you. the power is in your hands.I pray that everyone who needs the medicine can get to it, from now to forever. I wish the Peyoteros and the Wonderful People in the NAC prosperity and good and long lives my brothers and sisters.AHO!

mike
mike

I think that the law that allows ONLY Native Americans to consume/possess Peyote is absolute garbage. I thought that the gov't did not see the exsistance of a god or religion? Why should they have the right to consume something that I can't? I understand fully that they use it in a "Bonafied religious ceremony", so who's to say thats not my intent. I believe that there is no recreational usage of drugs, because all mind-altering drugs are taken exactly for that. You don't just take them to be "cool" you take them because you wish to gain some insite, spiritually or mentally from them.

M Gopher
M Gopher

In response to White Eyes: Being a life time traditionalist, I reject Christianity as superior to my culture. Christianity is what brought the scourge of peyote---as you can ask any peyote user, they believe in Jesus, just like you. Your racism is evident in your assumption that the inferior culture lost....Bear in mind the Vatican and organized Christian institutions have been and continue to be supported by military institutions and this has been the church-state modus operandi for centuries--it is the foundation of manifest destiny and the pillage and plunder of indigenous societies, wealth and culture. Native people are not vanquished people BUT FOR a constitutional government that barred African Americans the right to vote for almost 100 years after its founding, for women even longer, and citizenship to native people until 1924. One can hardly call that a true democracy. The doors to democracy were only opened after the plunder had been had.

As for the Peyote followers: The Native American Church should be held to liability as to the long term effects of peyote. What scientific evidence exists that this is a safe drug to use? I only agree with White Eyes in that peyote will destroy a person's mental health. I have seen this happen first hand, it is as destructive and even more pervasively harmful to native people than the introduction of alcohol. Peyote is not aboriginal to most if not all northern tribes and its use should be banned.

Doug White Eye
Doug White Eye

As the great French explorer and writer De Tocqueville said after his trips to the United States in the 1830s with respect to the American Indian: Two cultures collided, the inferior culture lost. Enough with this stupid romanticization of the natural state of the American Indian. Peyote will make you crazy. Worshipping nature is hip now, but asinine. Nature is cruel, it kills the young, weak, and infirm, civilized human beings do not. We as human beings stand outside nature in a sense. It is a huge farce that the Indians were "at one" with the environment. They were a tough and formidable foe, and we respect them for that, but they lost. Let's quit playing the "noble savage" victim game and while we're at it, ditch La Raza and their delusions as well.

Doug White Eye
Doug White Eye

As the great French explorer and writer said after his trips to the United States in the 1830s with respect to the American Indian: Two cultures collided, the inferior culture lost. Enough with this stupid romanticization of the natural state of the American Indian. Worshipping nature a la Darwin is asinine. Nature is cruel, it kills the young, weak, and infirm. We as human beings stand outside nature in a sense. It is a huge farce that the Indians were "at one" with the environment. They were a tough and formidable foe, we respect them for that, but they lost. Let's quit playing the "noble savage" victim game and while we're at it, ditch La Raza and their delusions as well.

Cheyenne
Cheyenne

TO Ojibewa, How can you claim to be a tradtional Native American, when you advocate for and approve of the eradication of peyote? One the beliefs, I as a proud Chippewa-Cree,Sioux-Assinoboine woman was taught, was to protect and respect the Mother Earth. That the Creator placed us on this earth to care and protect her, which also include all the plants and animals. For you to support and advocate that Peyote be eradicated is Wrong. I fully support your right to your beliefs. However, you DO NOT have the right to force your beliefs on myself or others. Whether or not you choose to believe that Peyote is a medicine and a blessing, is your choice and right. I, however, also have the same right and choice to believe otherwise. I have seen the blessing of Peyote. I have seen the wonderful blessings that come from using this medicine. Another thing, for you to "claim" that the Cree's from Montana are not members of a federally fecognized tribe. YOU ARE WRONG! before you try and tell people how they should believe, find out what being a traditional native means. To the ranchers. For you to fence and distroy Peyote is also wrong. I hope and pray, that you will never have anyone, bar you from your path, to the creator. That you will, never be persecuted, for you beliefs. How sad that we as a country will send our Men and Woman to die, in other countries,so that they can have the rights and freedoms that we supposedly do. That we will go to war so they get the right to choose however they want. when we won't stand up or speak out and protect the rights of the Native Americans who believe in using Peyote as a medicine. I thought that one of the founding principles of this country was the right to choose and believe the way you want and not be barred or persecuted for those beliefs. Wasn't that the reason given for the extrimination of millions of Native American people? How can we teach our young childern that each and every day? Yet, not protect members or followers of the Native American Church right to worship and believe in using Peyote? I hope and pray that the creator will open your eyes and your hearts, so that you would see the blessings he gives us in the plants he created for us to use. That the Creator will allow you to see that even though we may follow diffent paths to reach him. None of those ways are wrong, if we all end up in the same place in the end, its just we chose to take a different road, and he loves us regardless. Thank you for allowing me to express my thought and views on this matter, I hope it gives you a glimpse into seeing why protecting Peyote and the rights of others to believe the way they choose is important.

Emarthle
Emarthle

I disagree "Ojibway", I am of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma & believe that peyote should continue to be used. It's been here for thounsands of years, & yes not all tribes used it so why don't you leave it alone & let the rest of the nations take part in it. You don't speak for all the Natives!

M GOPHER
M GOPHER

I would like to express my support for the ranchers to continue to fence their land and destroy the peyote plant. The main threat to true native American culture is this evil thing. The only people that should be eating peyote are the people that live by it and can access it in the locality. For all other tribes, access, use and possession of peyote should be permanently banned. Not all tribes embrace peyote and as an Ojibwe Indian, it is forbidden in our tribe. Anyone that says otherwise is a liar. The Crees of Montana are ardent followers of the Native American Church. They are not legally descendants of a federally recognized tribe, so therefore, their use of this product is ILLEGAL!!! Any peyotero that is caught supplying these people can face prosecution. Please ranchers, help save the authentic cultures of Native America and destroy the peyote plant when you see it, deny access to peyoteros, its your Constitutional right of liberty and privacy over your property and eradicate this menace from American society. I am a traditional, drug free Native American. PLEASE STOP THE PEYOTE DRUG TRADE TO NORTHERN TRIBES, THIS IS NOT OUR ORIGINAL CULTURE.

captainfootlong
captainfootlong

@mike  Atleast let us keep our sacred plant!   It takes many years for peyote to mature and if it was accessible to everyone, it would be extinct.

James R Collins
James R Collins

you live in their back yard because the government saw it as their right from god. let them have at least this

Gary Terry
Gary Terry

I couldn't agree more... the distinction of native/non-native is just another bullshit law to keep you from what you need, (They don't want the sheeple to wake up.) and believe me "white man" are the one's who need this Great Plant Teacher's Medicine more than anyone else at this point in time. (I should know. I'm one too) The scourge of western society has placed us and our world at the brink of extinction due to the excessive greed and self righteousness of it's Abrahamic religious perpetrators. The delusion some people live under is staggering. If GOD is an omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient being... How can something GOD created be wrong? All herb bearing seed you shall use as meat. So says the bible... and yet "shite man" can't even abide by that. Pahana will be with us soon my brothers and sisters... soon we shall be free of "the west's" delusions. Don't be discouraged! The time is at hand! Celebrate and praise the Goddess! Aho!

doitoroko
doitoroko

You poor fool! peyote has been used  for thousands of years and there is no indication whatsoever  that it destroys  people's mental health I don't know what you saw "first hand" but I've seen also " first hand "that it doesn't. Let me tell you this if you think people can't be trusted to decide what  they put in their bodies then move to North Korea where they  keep people under control to prevent them from making  any "wrong" choices

al.s
al.s

I challenge you Doug, four years later as of 6/17/12, years later regarding your above post, I hope you are one of the few who followed the nuclear power plant in Fukushima post the earthquake/sunami on i 3/11/11. The potential devestation to life in the northern hemisphere due to the nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan is not reported here in the United States. Do you still believe the inferior culture lost? I know what the De Toqueville believed, and he had affect on future progress, but do you believe he was correct in his observation? Unbridled nature is a brute and agony, but at least we know the variables for the most part. Wind, Cold, Heat, Cracking Earth, Sky Boulders, Poisonous Plants, Poisonous reptiles and most animals with large teeth, land or sea. De Tocqueville was prejudiced by perfume. Perfume and that is what it is, icing, gravey, a sweetness that shortcuts the smell of labor and death. Has your ipad given you as sense of grandness?

al.s
al.s

Inferior because they did not have the means to master the elements of the "black swan" of their nightmares. There was no powerful Captain Kirk to lead to "best global practices" with trusty Mr. Spock to illuminate the glorious path to empathy and love.

al.s
al.s

truth comes from women and men who are tolerant, who do not hate or demand but who have witnessed and lived a life, of miracles and tragedies and gently nudge people along a path of wisdom and freedom of choice, liberty really. The woman who wrote this post is a gal I wish was my friend, I would be honored to have her as a friend. I am of a different "group" where so few think as I do or care for much more than the comforts money brings. My kingdom for a smiling faces around a campfire, and a wise one guiding me to healing, or just alone among then with a little peyote helping this misplaced 55 yo white woman who craves nature and rest from worry.

 
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