That tribal talk a week or so ago got me thinking about an old Mescalero bud I’ve known on and off through the parts of this lifetime that matter. We go long times without seeing one another, but we top off the long spells by bumping into one another in unlikely places.
Kurtiss and I first met working on Skeeter Jenkins’ ranch near Kenna, New Mexico. Must have been 1958, ’59. Skeeter wasn’t a joyful man on his ranch-hands. He’d berate Kurtiss by comparing him to us white lads, then he’d turn around five minutes later and tell us we weren’t half as good cowboying as that damned Apache over there.
I guess the only good that came out of that job was the bond that formed between Kurtiss and me, and the lifelong lesson I learned about not trusting ranchers. Old Skeeter cheated all of us spang out of a hard week pay and spread around the word none of us were worth the board he’d furnished working for him. Fortunately, he’d done that sort of thing before, so nobody paid him any mind when it came to hiring us for other jobs, which we frequently got screwed out of our pay on, same as with Skeeter.
The last time I ran into Kurtiss must have been 1998, ’99. He and a couple of Arizona broncos were sitting on the tailgate of a truck parked for a powwow in Albuquerque when I came across them and a case of beer that was too close to gone to be any good. When we’d killed what was left of that case we kicked out of there and spent the night singing ’50s rock and roll songs, getting roaring drunk and filling in on the minutia of our lives since we’d last met.
Spent a good bit of time talking about Y2K also, which was much on my mind at the time, and they’d never heard of it. I expected that and explained to them. Those Apaches thought that just might be something really fine.
Kurtiss immediately thought of a state cop over toward Ruidoso who’s bad about kicking around folks who’ve had a bit much to drink, “I hope nobody gets to that prick before I do.”
Those Apaches demonstrated some rich imagination concerning the nuances of Y2K aftermath. “We’ll be able to run raids on the Rio Grande tribes like the old days!” This didn’t interest the Arizonians. They were fairly sure Mexico would be open for a bit of raiding, though, and better pickings.
Then Kurtiss went thoughtful. “I’d sure as hell like to kill me some Navajo.” He told the old story of Bosque Redondo and all the slaughter the Din’e did to the less numerous Mescalero during the decade years they shared the reservation. Apache numbers there were decimated until only 1800 were left alive when they escaped the rez and went back to Mescalero.
Bosque Redondo was fresh on his mind because of Navajo whines he heard at the Gathering of the Tribes Powwow. “Mescalero’s too large for such few people.” (The enormous Din’e Rez is getting jam-packed these days, by comparison.) “They ought to take some of that land away and give it to us,” was the general theme.
“We fought our way down,” Kurtiss quoted himself. “And you guys multiply like rabbits.”
This led to some laughs and sneers about the theme of the Gathering of Nations Powwow, “Celebrating 400 years of unity (among the tribes)“.
“I wonder where that was,” one of the Coyoteros grunted. “The Apache never saw it and neither did our enemies. Those Mexicans and Pima and all those town Indians were lucky the whites came along to save them.”
Mostly those guys were in agreement in their scorn for other southwestern tribes. “They don’t know how to use the land,” gesturing with a nod and a slight pucker of the lips.
A whole different view of the end of life as we know it.