Post-Y2K Cross-Cultural Trials, Trucks and Unwelcome Wisdom

The Cohoe women raised and sheared the sheep, made the dye, hand-wove this rug.

As the post-non-Y2K hard times hardened, I did a lot of scrambling trying to make ends meet. One by-product of that squeeze was that I began doing some trading with the tribes for pottery, rock art, rugs, and other products to resell.

This got me acquainted with a Navajo man who became a running buddy for a while. Curtis Cohoe.  [Not to be mistaken for his namesake, the Mescalero referred to on several posts.]  A man about 50 years old. Pine Hill (Self-determination) Rez. Good family, a generation earlier. His mom and aunt still raise sheep, shear, dye the wool with dye they make from crushed rock and plants, and weave good rugs the old way.

Early in his life, Curtis started out pretty well.  He was intelligent, talented, and I’ve always assumed he must have attended a university.  When he was being an artist everything he did was in demand.  He was an excellent shade-tree baling-wire and chewing-gum vehicle mechanic, and he could chop a cord of wood with an axe almost as fast as I could cut one with a chainsaw.

Worked for the US Forestry Service as a fire fighter, then as a Ranger in California until things went haywire. Back in New Mexico, a cop raped his younger sister and got by with it. Curtis came back and beat the cop to death with his fists, which got him 10 years in prison.

Once that decade of bars was over, Curtis never really got back onto the right track. He had a lot of anger in him, and he had some brothers who were in and out of prison a lot, who kept the pressure on from the law. (Curtis was fairly frightened of one of the brothers, whom he described as a bad-ass. The other was an evangelical preacher who sold some drugs and stole in between times).

Curtis was much of a man in a lot of ways when he was sober, or mostly sober. I’d known him a considerable while before I ever saw him drunk, never realized he was sometimes a drinker.  He shifted his residence frequently between the family place on the Rez and Grants, New Mexico.  Maybe that’s how it escaped my notice. 

But early in our friendship one day I drove up to a place he was doing some artwork painting on a table top in an alleyway next to the railroad track in Grants. I was just in time to see three semi-drunk Din’e toughs in their mid-20s approach him, exchange a few words, and start swinging.

By the time I got out of the truck to help him he didn’t need any help. The two fully conscious ones got to their feet and left at a stumbling run.  The less-conscious one stuck around long enough for me to try to stop the bleeding by tying a bandana around his head while Curtis intermittently kicked in his ribcage.  I’m glad I never met the brother Curtis was scared of and considered a badass.

I don’t know whether I knew Curtis didn’t have a license to drive an automobile.  He frequently drove my truck running errands and chores.  I had no qualms about loaning the Ford pickup to him when he needed to go out to the Rez for one reason or another provided my old Isuzu was running okay. 

One day we were preparing for a trading trip to Shiprock and Curtis left in the Ford to get it gassed up for the trip.  When he didn’t come back for a couple of hours and I saw a wrecker go past towing my truck I immediately went over to the wrecker to find out what was going on. 

“Is this yours?”  He grinned because he knew damned well it was mine.  My apartment was no more than 150 yards from his yard and we both occasionally had coffee a few feet apart in the Chinese restaurant between his place and mine.  “Your damned Indian’s in jail.  Towing fee on the truck’s $50.”

What did he do?”

“They stopped him for a routine traffic check.  He didn’t have a license and when they called it in they found out he’d had a lot of DWIs.  He’s going to be in there a while.”

I paid out the $50 to get the truck out of hock and seethed about it considerably.  It would have been too easy for it all not to happen and I found myself thinking Curtis had about outlived his usefulness in my affairs.

But mutual acquaintances brought me a message from Curtis asking me to bail him out of jail, telling me how sorry he was about it all.  He was going to be stuck in there for at least six weeks if he couldn’t raise bail.  Swore he’d pay me back everything he’d cost me.

I wasn’t Mister Moneybags, but I could squeeze $500 if I had to, and I did over a few days, selling things cheaper than I’d intended.  Once he was released he brought a friend from the Rez over and told me he was going back to Pine Hill for a while.  Asked if he could borrow my pickup for his friend to drive him back out there.  His friend had a license, and I loaned it to him, figuring it would be gone for a day, maximum.

The truck never came back.  Curtis and his friend evidently got drunk on the way to Ramah and got chased by a Navajo-hired cop on the State Highway until they ran the truck into a tree, Curtis driving.  I wasn’t long finding out he was being held in the private penal facility outside Grants, and that he was looking at two years in prison, and I was looking at losing the bail money.

A week or two later I heard a guard had grabbed him and Curtis knocked him down.  He was now looking at no-less-than five years hard time.

Everything else being equal I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still there.

Sometime afterward I had a buyer for one of the rugs his mother and aunt made, so I stopped in on her for a visit at Pine Hill.  Naturally the subject of Curtis came up.

He needed to stay out of town,” was all she said.

Old Jules

 

28 responses to “Post-Y2K Cross-Cultural Trials, Trucks and Unwelcome Wisdom

  1. Good one, Jules. There are some folks – myself included, when I was younger – that should just “stay out of town.” The sooner we figure that out, the better off we are.

  2. Alcoholism tends to cost not only the sufferer but all those around him (or her).

    • Rumpydog: Doubtless you’re right about alcoholism. But I don’t know whether Curtis was an alcoholic, or wasn’t. About all I know about him is what I observed and what he and others told me about his life. Started out with a full run at it and hit a brick wall. Humpty Dumpty. Gracias, Jules

  3. I found myself grinning anticipating how this story was going to end. As sorry as I am you lost your truck and I know you could ill afford to give your truck away your story reminded me of family I used to have in the Buckridge District in the interior of BC. They weren’t native but when my cousin was asked if he had native in him he said, “Nope but I’ve been in a few!hahahaha”.
    Good post!!

    • Carrie: I’m obliged you came by for a read. I’m guessing the in and out of whatever we might be presents enough difficulties to compensate for what we mightn’t. Gracias, Jules

  4. Very entertaining, though a sad tale. Still, well told!

  5. The passing of time softens many a scar. Loved the story.

    • Good seeing you, Ed. Glad you came by. Over time the scars discover they aren’t terribly deep if they’re confined to collateral damages, I reckons. Curtis was all collateral damage. Gracias, Jules

  6. Now you’ve done it, you’ve triggered memories that I have been trying to suppress because I just ain’t into mental pain.
    I don’t know what I’m going to do with these stories I have because I cannot tell them. When I try it’s like driving splinters under the fingernails of my mind.
    Oh well it’s back under the bed for me.

    • Hi Oldfool: I appreciate your visit. A man collects a lot of those under-fingernail bamboo slivers in a lifetime, it seems. Ought to be worth something, but as nearly as I can tell in my own life, they just hang around trying to find a way under a fingernail again. Gracias, Jules

  7. Reality and downward spirals. That was one hell of a good story Jules.

  8. I just love your stories! Very sad tho. And thanks for sharing this video. It’s breathtaking. The past few weeks I’ve felt a need to visit Monument Valley for some reason.
    Anyhow, I look forward to reading many more posts. I say you do deserve an award. 🙂

  9. You’re an old softie and you tell a fine tale. Thanks.

  10. Hey Jules,
    I’ll tell you how I feel about this one. I know alcoholism. I have known too many. I know that every person is responsible for the choices they make and the actions they take.
    Having said this; I also know humiliation and degradation at the hands of the Federal Government.
    Our ancestors didn’t come here and steal this country from a bunch of alcoholics. They made these people alcoholics to make the theft and the killing easier to do and to justify.
    As much as it is possible for a human to be; the Native Americans were a noble people. Noble for their independence, self sufficiency, oneness with the Earth and for their willingness to accept the white man and share the land.
    As payment for their nobility and independence they were murdered, raped, incarcerated, marched until they dropped dead, resettled on the worst land we could find, given none of the rights of citizens and yet required to obey our laws, addicted to alcohol, had their culture and language obliterated when they were forced to give up their children to white schools, or white families as is the case in South Dakota now where the Department of Child protection routinely steals children from their Native American mothers for literally no cause and adopts them out to wealthy white families looking for…………what?…….a servant? Now why do you suppose they would do such a thing? Because the federal Government pays them for every child they take from it’s parent. And since it might cause a big fuss if they took white kids; (Might?) they choose to steal Native babies becuase nobody cares. No one is surprized that they have to take so many Native American kids. Because they all believe the anti-Indian propaganda that has been drilled into their heads since childhood that Indians are no good. They’re dirty, dishonest, drunkards, wife beaters, etc.
    And I see it as just another example of exactly what is going on today.

    It would have been so easy; so logical way back in the 19th century to just pick a big piece of really good land; say a couple states big; up in a corner of the country; turn it over to all the Native Americans and leave them alone. They would have had to control their population growth and the multiplicity of different nations would certainly proved a challenge but they would have been free to work those matters out for themselves. They have never wanted to part of this country and they shouldn’t have had to.

    It’s an example of that same attitude that is killing our nation today. I must have it all. Not some. Not enough. All of it. No one else can have any; of the money; of the land; of the freedom.

    And if those folks back then were anything like those today (and i suspect they were) they were also so brainwashed by money and stupid, that they thought the poor native bastards felt the same way and needed a good raping and killing to put them in their place.

    “Hi, you Native Americans. How you doin’. We’re from the Government; and we’re here to help”

    So I’m not excusing your friend actions although I have to say that I don’t blame him one tiny particle of a bit for killing that cop. To that I must say “Bully”. I won’t make a blanket statement but when the Justice System fails you and consistantly fails you and everyone else who comes into conflict with the influential or the states criminal forces; what is a man to do? Some; those with backbone quietly take care of matters for themselves. And I can’t blame them.
    And I know; I know what people will say. “Killing is never ok.” “Vengence is mine sayeth the Lord.” “That’s why we have laws and courts and an appeals process and blah; blah; blah.”
    Let the rapist cop go on to rape and maybe kill other women? Other people’s sisters, wives, daughters, sons?
    I suppose it’s one way to go…………
    But it’s not mine. I can kick back and let the system kick me around and take my money; my dignity; my pride; and steal my rights if I have to; but let someone touch my children or my wife and we are now crossing into the “Twilight Zone” where all the rules are different. If the Justice system won’t stop them; then I must.
    My conscience is willing to bear the burden of having killed; if it stops a Rapist/Murderer with no conscience at all.
    Ok; Ok; I know. Judge ; Jury; and Executioner; yaddah; yaddah; yaddah.
    I know – But my family? Well there it is.

    So everytime I hear about the case of a Native American with a story like this one; I can’t help but to wonder; what would this man have been, had he been given the chance to grow up in such a Native American Nation? What great store of talent and creativity did we destroy when we virtually exterminated the the great tribes of America?

    • Angrymanspeaks: We’re all born naked, amigo. Each of us has our own trail of tears if we’re prone to crying, and each of us has a job of work letting the earth absorb the tears and leaving them behind. What happened before Curtis was born, you were born, I was born, has nothing at all to do with Curtis, you, or me. I don’t know what Curtis should have done, nor what he shouldn’t because I wasn’t him. But I don’t think what he did had anything to do with dead white men before he was born. He inherited a piece of land out there I’d be delighted to live on, had free cradle to grave health and dental care available, all manner of advantages for education you and I didn’t inherit. He made choices I might have made if I’d been him, but not because of something happened too long ago to mean anything.

      I like to think I was a true friend to him and there’s no way for me to look back and see where it was reciprocated. Not because of his tribal history, not because of alcohol, but because he was Curtis, whatever that entailed being.

      Yeah, the government stinks, and frequently human beings stink. You and I have almost certainly done our fair share of odiferizing during our lives. But blaming what we are, what we become on anything besides choice doesn’t appeal to me because doing so would suggest we couldn’t have done something else. I think we could.

      Gracias, Jules

  11. A tragic story, all too common. This could have been part of On the Rez. We raped the great indiginous cultures of this country, then were horrified at the resulting destruction in the social fabric of their lives. I take some small comfort in the rising tide of young American Indians who use all forms of art to build their futures. But I am also saddened beyond measure at the way so many can’t see any future for themselves.

    • lifeintheboomerlane: I never raped anyone, never raped any culture. I think the inclusive ‘we’ mightn’t fit. What I said in response to angrymanspeaks in his comment more-or-less applies to this one, also, thinks I. Human beings have a hard row to hoe getting through this lifetime. There’s no evidence they’ve ever had it easier. I wish them all best in their struggles, but I don’t put any credence to the notion Native Americans have it any tougher than anyone else as a result of what dead men did to other dead men before any of us were born. Gracias, Jules

  12. I love the way you tell a story, and love your frame of mind in the subsequent context of the commentary. For some reason not known to me you make me think of the smell of Sassafras. Go figure. I think you are swell.

  13. You are a lyrical story teller.

    I accepted responsibility for my own piss poor choices as soon as I made them, took the consequences for irresponsible actions. When I claim my choices I’m not a victim. We know who we are deep inside.

  14. What with all the responsibility people would like me to accept for the errors of dead people, I’m afraid I can’t handle any new burdens at this time.

    It seems likely that misbehavior looms larger on our own consciences than anywhere else. I don’t know about you, but forgiving myself is harder than forgiving anyone else- possibly because I hate disappointing myself when I know I could behave better.

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