EARTH, MOUNTAINS, WIND AND OPTIMISM [HUNTER GRAY 5/5/02 FROM IDAHO]
"Nothing lives long, only the Earth and the
Mountains," goes a traditional
Cheyenne death song -- sung at Sand Creek in Eastern Colorado when the
blood-thirsty Colorado militia led by Colonel John Chivington [a Protestant
minister] swept in on a November day in 1864 and slaughtered almost 500
unarmed and peacefully encamped Cheyenne and Arapaho. Many killed were
children and Chivington's cynical rationale which he gave to the Denver
press -- "Nits breed lice" -- stands starkly as Mortal Sin on the Land of the Free.
The Earth and the Mountains are continuing to live -- and are doing just
fine. We've been 'way up there and we've just seen them.
When my head's full -- thinking thoughts profound and otherwise; dealing
with the responsibilities of New Century Life; fending off human mosquitoes
even as I, along with many other committed souls, try to cut a new trail or
two to the Sun -- I like to go back to Roots.
And some of those are the Earth and the Mountains -- where all of the
contours of geography blend together in a natural, mutually strengthening
Solidarity. And that's a message to Humanity -- deep and high. Solidarity.
And then there's a very special family place up there. Very, very special
The cold west wind was blowing at least 60 or 70 mph early this morning when my oldest daughter, Maria, and I and our faithful Shelty topped-out on one of the very high rocky, cedar ridges in the far-up rough country that rises
rapidly for miles right out our back door. I've got a top-grade
wide-brimmed, high-crown hat for this land of super-wind, wild rain and
snow, and often relentless sun: an Akubra Cattleman -- from Australia. But if
it didn't have its braided Kangaroo chincord -- adjustable and, if necessary, neckskin tight -- that great hat would likely be sitting somewhere in a cloud over Wyoming right now.
I should add that Size 15 high lace-up steel-braced Vasque Mountain boots
often keep me from heading to Wyoming on the Wind Sea as well.
We had come up earlier, just two weeks ago -- right after most of this
winter's continual, drought-killing heavy snowfall accumulation had finally begun to fade. Green grass has had to struggle hard through these past two years of tough and bitter and gritty dryness. But two weeks ago, after this long and wet winter, grass was just pushing up all over -- spotted with the first
arrivals of a full color spectrum of wildflowers. Water was flowing
everywhere and the wild animals were happy. From one high point I had looked 250 yards or so down to another, lower ridge -- and saw, for us an always good sign: a large, gray coyote trotting along. Dark, heavy clouds were moving in and we'd no sooner returned down to our still far-up and on-the-edge home, than heavy rain began to fall -- followed a day later by a great deal of wet and formidable snow. Four-wheel drive time for my Jeep, once again.
Almost all of that recent snow was gone this morning. The green grass and
flowers are now everywhere -- along with even more water. The animals,
moving up into the high country for the summer and early fall, are very
happy indeed -- except for the lion-killed deer whose remains we saw. And the lion, of course, is happy -- as are the coyotes that had obviously scattered portions of the deer while finishing off the lion's leavings. And happy, too, are
certain birds that aren't vegetarians.
It's a kind of Utopia -- for almost everything.
I've often thought of bringing my one-half Bobcat cat, Cloudy, a non-spayed
female up with me into this generally pleasant setting -- hoping that
perhaps a young Bobcat male might come bouncing out of the trees and give
us the litter we'd like. But, I then remember -- from many decades ago -- what happened to my good and close coyote buddy. He'd been given to me as a gift in a northern/western state -- a tiny pup with his eyes still closed --
by people for whom I'd done some effective social justice activist work. A
mother dog with her own litter took him in until he was weaned and then he
and I left for the copper country of Utah and then Arizona -- where,
increasingly big and impressive, he became very well known. He received all
of his medical shots and lived congenially with me -- never as a pet but as a
full equal -- for a long time, in a number of challenging settings.
And then, when I was situated work-wise in extremely rough and isolated
mountain country on the Arizona / New Mexico border, he met one of the much smaller Arizona coyotes -- a lady of course -- and left me pronto. He did return briefly to me, a few times, but always with her -- and was also seen frequently by cowpunchers and woodsmen and the several prospectors who always recognized him because of his considerable size, and who never harmed him, and who gave us reports. The only coyote in that vast region with all of his shots, I'm sure he lived long and productively -- and I know I'm now related some way to every coyote from Alpine, Arizona down into the old Clifton-Morenci copper mining district and over into the high and vast Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico.
But I miss him. And so I think for my Bobcat mix, Cloudy, we'll find a
relatively domesticated Bobcat male at stud and see how that goes. I'll
contribute much to the Earth and the Mountains -- but I won't contribute
But, Wind! -- was that wind up there this morning really strong. Super,
And even as it battered and pounded and pushed, it also swept through me
with a cleansing intensity that left me lighter -- but very, very clear-headed.
And as I saw the green grass growing and the water flowing and the Earth
blending and the animals fending [productively] and the trees bending and
the Sun sending -- I felt a great wave of optimism. And that powerfully
positive force took root in me, deep and high.
And I know Humanity will make it -- and make it just fine. May well take
time but we'll get there -- into the Circle of the Sun.
But there is something else Up There where we go so often -- something very,
very special. The Family Place. The Special Valley. That gave many years
of winter camp protection for some very important direct ancestors of ours.
And because it did, we're here -- literally -- on Earth. And that Valley
gives much, much Courage and Strength and Vision to us today. It always
So here's something of mine on that: Why we came here, Why we stay:
[ Note by Hunterbear: This published article of mine was written a little
over a year ago -- and now, of course, five years have passed since the
Great Dakota Flood which brought us back to the Mountain West and into
IDAHO AS PLACE [HUNTER GRAY] PUBLISHED IN THE MAY/JUNE 2001 ISSUE OF NORTHWEST ETHNIC VOICE
Almost four years have passed since that day in mid-May, 1997, when my
wife, Eldri, and I stood and looked at the massive floodwaters of the Red
River of the North. Those, born of a dozen blizzards, and after having
engulfed virtually all of Grand Forks, N.D. -- forcing the evacuation of
over 50,000 people -- had stopped only three hundred yards east of our
way-out-on-the-far-edge home. I had never trusted the Red River.
We decided then to move -- and back to the Mountain West. I had grown up
in the tough, racist, quasi-frontier Northern Arizona mountain town of
Flagstaff -- a half-breed Indian kid with a deep rebel streak that led me to
wander the West early on and become a life-long socialist in my late teens;
join what was left of the old-time I.W.W. in the mid-1950s; develop my
innate organizer's gift and a thousand related skills in a mounting number
of hard-fought social justice campaigns. I went to college at different
points, married Eldri with her Saami/Finnish background and values similar
to mine. We went off on our own River of No Return which shifted back and
forth between my full-time organizing/part-time teaching -- and full-time
teaching and full-time organizing. When we looked that day at those hungry
Red River floodwaters, I had recently retired from Indian Studies at the
University of North Dakota.
We picked Idaho - Southeastern Idaho -- Pocatello. I knew the town --
railroad center, phosphorous mining and refining -- from my early wanderings
and a few later ones. I certainly remembered hearing once -- from someone,
somewhere -- that Big Bill Haywood had taken his bride, Nevada Jane, to
Pocatello for their honeymoon. But it was the rough country around
Pocatello that pulled me especially -- hell, yanked with the greatest
poignancy. The major "culture hero" in my own family -- the great role
model -- had been and still is a St. Regis Mohawk [Iroquois] ancestor from
up-state New York, my great/great/great grandfather, John Gray [Ignace
Hatchiorauquasha] who, with his 16 year old Mohawk wife, Marienne Neketichon [Mary Ann Charles] had come into the Columbia and Snake River country in the early 19th century with the fur trade. It was he who organized the other Iroquois fur hunters into what were essentially strike actions [ among the first ever in the Far West] against the fur bosses -- Alexander Ross in 1824 and Peter Skene Ogden in 1825 -- and ended a viciously exploitative pricing system and quasi-indentured servitude. John Gray was tough -- the sharp and cutting toughness of Mohawk flint. He was also a hell of a formidable knife fighter.
The Grays had maintained a key Southeastern Idaho camp in an upper valley
surrounded by high, rough ridges -- very good indeed for lookout
scouting -- not far to the west of the Portneuf River: and now,
generations later, just west of Pocatello. And it was there, in that
rugged and high up cedar-spotted valley that always faces the eastern sun,
that my great/great grandfather was born -- the oldest of the Gray sons.
The family records indicate his arrival in succinct but fascinating fashion:
"Peter Gray, born 1818, born in the Rocky Mountains." [My youngest son is
named for him.] In the mid-1830s, John Gray, with the other Iroquois, took
his family 'way east of the Rockies to French Settlement on the Missouri,
later to become Westport and finally Kansas City. There they faced floods
and many human enemies and, although John Gray got back briefly to the
Rockies in 1841, he was murdered at Westport two years later. And I always
felt that he and his family regretted at so many many points ever having
left the secure and rugged country west of the Portneuf.
And so we came to Pocatello in the summer of '97: myself and Eldri; our
youngest daughter, Josie; and my oldest daughter, Maria, and her two
children -- Thomas and Samantha. Rescued by me just before the Red River
flood struck, Maria and her little group had lost everything. Our families
now joined, we brought our cats, our rabbits, and a turtle on the long
westward trek out of the Western plains and into the Montana mountains and
down into Southeastern Idaho. And I bought a home 'way far up on the western frontier of Pocatello -- right on the very edge -- and less than an hour's up-hill hike to the special valley and protective ridges of my ancestors.
And that is exactly how and why we came here.
But, no sooner did we arrive, than it became clear that my reputation as a
"known agitator" had preceded me. Police began almost immediate
surveillance. We began having weird phone problems -- sometimes with a
crudeness reminiscent of our civil rights years in the Deep South. Heavy
mail delays -- including innumerable stalled and sometimes opened Priority
packages -- became commonplace. [Three detailed complaints on my part to
regional postal inspectors at Seattle have gone unanswered, unacknowledged.]
Our garbage has been surreptitiously searched. Idaho State University --
here at Pocatello -- has fled whenever I've sounded it out about part-time
teaching. All of these -- and much much more -- including harassing phone
calls -- are continuing.
But with only an exception or two, our immediate neighbors -- people who've
gotten to know us on a personal basis -- are friendly and fine.
And the sky is a very deep blue. When I look out my front picture window,
almost all of Pocatello is well below me, and I see far above it -- over to
the many mountains. And I can go out our back door and be in cedar country
in a couple of minutes -- and on my way up, ever up, to the high ridges that
surround our special valley.
And all of us here -- myself, Eldri, children, grandchildren -- have made
other friends: a special rattlesnake buddy [about whom -- and about our
human enemies -- I wrote an essay which Against The Current published in its
January/February 2001 issue], mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions whose
tracks we always see, special coyotes.
And, always, there is the very special valley and the protective ridges.
I was still a kid when I learned the enduring importance of the old Wobbly
motto: "Better to be called Red than be called Yellow." Some years ago, I
recovered, via FOIA/PA, around 3,000 pages of my FBI file [1950s to
1979] -- not counting several hundred pages they still won't give me. I've
survived FBI witch-hunting, and many social justice arrests, bad beatings,
an effort in Mississippi to kill me which left me seriously injured. And
So we stay here and we keep fighting -- just like we always have: Native
rights, worker rights, civil rights, civil liberties.
And always, too, there are the spirits of my ancestors -- always with us,
always around. They walk with us -- very glad indeed that we have
finally come back. And that we'll stay for a good while.
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear] Micmac / St Francis Abenaki / St Regis Mohawk
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Hunter Gray [ Hunterbear ]
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