A Few Things Zuni – Part 1

During the early 1990s the Coincidence Coordinators conspired to make Zuni Pueblo and the geography surrounding it a major focus in my life.  I mentioned a bit about Zuni here:  This is Zuni Salt Lake, but over the next couple of whiles I’d like to tell you a bit more about them. 

At the time the overwhelming part of my salary was paid by FEMA and a part of my job involved mitigation of recurring natural disaster damage behind federal disaster expenditures.  In New Mexico a huge percentage of the recurring expense was located on Navajo lands, but flooding on the Zuni River reared its head as a concern during the same time period.

Meanwhile, the Coincidence Coordinators got into the act.  The search for the lost gold mine was being driven by documents from the US Archives, New Mexico State Archives, fragments of mention from 19th Century newspapers, later-in-life memories of men connected to the events and documented in books, topo maps and other researched sources.

Keith and I, examining and submerging ourselves together during that phase of my search, concluded the areas to the east of Zuni, and to the south were prime candidates for the location.  Candidates based on what we knew at the time.  Wilderness Threats.

By my own recollection that phase of the search lasted only three, maybe four years, maybe less.  But it led by numerous routes, into more than a decade of closer association with Zuni, both as a tribe, and as a geography.  I’ll be posting more about that, about Keith’s and my explorations, about the Zuni pueblo and the people living there, and about some aspects of the history and culture.

But I’ll begin by posting this piece of doggerel I wrote a long time ago about my first visit to the Zuni Rez and my first encounter with the Zuni and Ramah Navajo.  That meeting with the Zuni Tribal Council burned itself into my memory as few things I’ve experienced this lifetime have.

Flooding on the Zuni land
Tribal chairman calls
Upstream Ramah Din’e band
Over grazing galls.

Ancient ruins I travel past
Forgotten tribes of old
And finally arrive at last
On Zuni land as told:
Tribal council meets, he chants
A time warp history.

I Listen long the raves and rants
And river mystery:
Navajo must have his sheep
To have his wealth, it’s plain.
Too many kids, too many sheep
Too little grass and rain.
Forgotten white man wrongs and deeds
The raids of Navajo
Corn that didn’t sprout the seeds
And stumbled Shalako
More sheep grazed than in the past
Arroyos grew wide and deep
Siltation settled hard and fast
In riverbed to sleep.

Navajo siltation choked
An ancient channel bed
Water rose above the banks
200 cattle dead
Houses flooded, ruined cars
Fields of grain were lost
A playground field a channel mars
And who should bear the cost?

The tribal chairman Ramah band
Listened to my tale
Stony silence, steady hand
Informed me I would fail.

“If those Zunis don’t like floods
Tell them to reduce the chances;
We’ll hold back our streams of muds
If they’ll call off their damned rain
dances.”

(Doggerel to smile by)

Old Jules

10 responses to “A Few Things Zuni – Part 1

  1. I’ve never made it out west in the US but always wished I did. Might be too late for me now, so I’m glad to read your experiences.
    Thanks for the poem too – I’m more of a prose person but as I’m starting to get an understanding of your sense of humour, I thought there might be a surprise in store and I was right! I did like ‘I listen long…’ as a good turn of phrase; it says a lot in three words.

    • heretherebespiders: Glad you’re enjoying it. I don’t expect much interest among the readers for my ruminations and reminiscences of this sort. But the blog traffic’s light during this pre-Yule time and I decided to indulge myself by telling some of it. I figured a few folk might be inclined to read it because the blog gets a surprisingly broad range of readers.

      The Zuni Tribal Chairman at the time of that meeting and until he died several years later was a Cherokee named Robert Lewis. Over time Robert and I became well acquainted and friendly. Years after the event described in the doggerel he confided to me laughingly what he’d done, setting me up for that Tribal Council meeting, chant, dozing Council members, recitation of the long history, all of it.

      Turns out it’s the standard treatment for visiting white officials they’ve had no past association with, and aren’t certain what strategies work best with them. He said I impressed him with my absorption and patience, sitting him out, then replying with an impromptu chant of my own long enough to try his patience, put the Council the rest of the way to sleep, and decide they’d take a different tack next time with me. Thanks for your interest. Jules

      • I actually assumed they were ‘taking the piss’ in the great Irish fashion. The Irish love to play with tourists: give them exactly what they expect, laid on thick, and see how they respond. I’m glad you gave it back to them in spades, that is the only way to make an impression! I know little about the first people, and of course I’d like to know more without that skin of protection over the facts – especially from a white man’s POV, what other view will I understand?

  2. I am so pleased I discovered (discovered?) Old Jules. Much of the writing reminds of my many visits to Texas and the Southwest, and the memorable people I met along the way. Keep Writing.

    David

  3. wow
    great words
    I wanted to move to New Mexico–Prescott
    Flagstaff, is where my mother is.
    I am going to love reading.

  4. liked the tale. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Doggerel is a dirty word, defined by perception, opinion & jealosy…

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