Not so clear or simplified, but important


It became clear to me. Simplified.

Like the Navajo woman staring out to the west in a R.C. Gorman painting. It is not what you say that is important. How do you say it?

The woman, of course, like most of Gorman’s paintings, has big feet and hands, abnormally so, as she stares off the page. An inverted sphere, or bowl, describes the light to me. A faint shadow, back on the unseen wall behind her jet-black hair, fills in the detail. The geometric design on the bowl reminds me that not all of life is a circle.

The steam rises from the hot swirling water to soften philosophy in front of me. It is an intended, programed, planned softening.

Folklore says the Ute figure Ouray spent a lot of time in the latter part of his life, languishing in his namesake springs. Utes thought of the springs as sacred ground. Others say the waters softened the edges on his Arthritis, or aches and pains from the strange path he followed.

Ouray popped up like a Forest Gump figure, from culture to culture. From family connections with the Jicarilla Apache, to the French, Spanish and Mexican traders of old Santa Fe, to the negotiations (perhaps with no authority) in Washington ... with Otto Mears, Kit Carson, and the “great white father” Abe Lincoln. Being an Indian was more complicated then. Choose your battles, careful who you befriend. Choose your enemies.

My own family struggled with it. Enemies or friends? Keep them close, and closer. Great-grandmother Minnie Buce Carrigan described the horror in her book, “Captured by the Indians.”

“My father began talking to the foremost Indians,” she wrote. “My brother has told me that father asked them to take all his property but to let him and his family go. But the Indian replied in the Sioux language, ‘Sioux cheche,’ (the Sioux are bad.) He then leveled his double barreled shot gun and fired both barrels at him. He dropped the baby —she was killed — and running a few yards down the hill, fell on his face, dead. The same Indian then went to where my mother had sat down beside a stone with little Caroline in her lap, reloaded his gun and deliberately fired upon them both. She did not speak or utter a sound, but fell over dead. Caroline gave one little scream and a gasp or two, and all was over with her. The cry rang in my ears for years afterward. My father was 33 and my mother 30 years of age, when they were so cruelly murdered by the Indians.”

After witnessing the murder of her parents, my great-grandmother was captured by the same band of Sioux, and then finally liberated 10 weeks later.

Even so, she seemed to hold no grudge. She later worked as a cook on the Rosebud Sioux reservation at the Indian agency. My granddad Owen, grew up there.

Though, in those days, they didn’t give you much time to grow up. He worked as a cowboy with a cattle outfit moving herds from the Dakotas to Arizona with the seasons, from age 12, until a horse threw him and he broke his leg. He later homesteaded here in Colorado. He didn’t say much but when he did, I remember him being able to converse in English, Sioux, German, Galic, a bit of Ute and little Navajo.

Growing up and Southwestern Colorado, I had some experiences myself with Navajo, Ute, Hopi and the Pueblos of New Mexico.

I saw a measure of racism toward native Americans. Things that were just not fair, not right.

It is what you say, that is important. But how do you say it? It’s not really so easy to articulate. The lines are both straight, and yet, curve. An intended, programed, planned softening. Elegant, but not so simple.


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