Coming of Age into the Red [A Native's Memoir]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Wed Sep 4 21:37:31 MDT 2002

His old Stetson pulled hard down just above the eyes in his weather-lined
face, Frank took a stick and drew three circles in the sandy soil on the
edge of our greasewood campfire -- its low, dancing flames keeping at bay
the chilly winter cold of that semi-desert Arizona night.

"Lenin saw it this way," he told me.  "These are the things that strangle
the people.  Capitalism. Government.  Church."  And he then drew a complex
of intricate, interactive lines between and around the Circles.

And, just a few yards to the west of us, we could hear in its little gorge
the rushing water of the Verde River, just joined by Sycamore Creek which
came down from the north out of that massive, splendid and vasty wilderness
area called Sycamore Canyon -- my own great traditional hunting region.

And only a few miles to our west loomed Mingus Mountain on which blinked the
lights of the old copper camp of Jerome. Now -- with the ore just played
out -- it was headed toward ghost and artist town status. But it was once
the hell-blasting scene of legendary Wobbly and then other class war
struggles -- some of which went well into my own Teen years.

I was a young Native -- 18 -- when that campfire burned on the Verde that
winter night.  And I
got a very thorough lesson in class struggle ideology -- not from a college
prof-type in a suit -- but from a Levi-clad cowpuncher turned artist because
of a back broken from a horse throw.

He was, of course, a great deal more than that.  Born in 1913 in upstate New
York, his father a construction engineer who later did contract work in the
developing USSR, Frank Dolphin had briefly attended Syracuse University and
then went with his parents to live in a small town in Southern Arizona.
While his father worked abroad in the Red East, Frank drifted into
California, labored in the "Factories in the Fields,"  became a militant and
Left farm workers' organizer during the great waves of  Red strikes in the
Imperial Valley and the San Joaquin.  Framed up on a murder charge, he left
California, went into the Teton Basin country of Wyoming, established a
small ranch, married and had a couple of kids -- boys.

Sometimes things -- even things in as beautiful a setting as the Tetons --
just don't work out.  The War was coming on fast. Pearl Harbor was still to
occur but  Canada was now fully embroiled. Frank joined the RCAF, rose to
the rank of First Lieutenant, serving in the New Hebrides.  After the War,
drifted back into Arizona, working for various cow outfits in the northern
part of the state.

And then he was thrown by a spooky horse.  And he broke his back.

He never rode again.  For awhile he worked as a cow camp cook -- a major and
very important vocation.  But even that was tough.  Horses and wagon, rough
country, long hours, heavy weather.

In time, he came to my home town of Flagstaff.  There he became an  art
student of my father -- who was the first Native hired as a professor at
Arizona State College.  And Frank was, even then, a damn good artist.

That's when we joined forces.

For my part, I was entering a Critical Transition.  I was very much -- as a
friendly and complimentary reference on my behalf later given the Army by a
top U.S. Forest Service official said -- "a nature boy."  I spent a lot of
time in the woods -- as much as I could -- and had ever since I could button
my Levis and pull on my engineer's boots.  My parents were permissive but
grade school and high school were, to me, prisons -- and some teachers and
all administrators seemed to see me  as one of the guys for whom God had
especially designed punishment.

My best high school memories were not classes.  They were our match-winning,
champion rifle club  -- of which I served as president -- and our very
wide-ranging hiking club. In each case, the faculty sponsor was an effective
teacher -- and eminently kind -- and a friend.

In the woods -- and as the years passed I went into ever more rugged and
remote areas -- I could be my own person.  I was always hunting, sometimes
trapping.  Claiming to be the legal Federal work age of 18, even as I was
actually some years younger, I worked very capably indeed over several
consecutive seasons  for the Coconino National Forest as a firefighter and
as a  remote fire lookout/radio man.

Early on in forest fire fighting, I saw, first-hand, virulent anti-Black
hate and violence in a fire camp  -- and years later I wrote an
award-winning short story about that, "The Destroyers."  But in other such
camp settings, coming in from the fire lines to eat and drink coffee and
catch some sleep, I heard talk -- very interesting talk -- about the work
situations in the nearby metal mines and lumber camps.  Favorable talk about
militant unions, like the old Wobblies, and some of the newer radical ones.

Things -- Big Things for me -- were happening.  Flagstaff, a rough and
racist mountain town bordering Indian Country, was being challenged on
the human rights front by my parents and others of
conscience in a very tough crusade. And that effective and long-enduring
struggle included people from all Native tribes of the general region and
other ethnicities as well.

There was a new War -- and a Red Scare.

There was a lot of talk about "Communism."  In the final semester of my
final year of high school, our English teacher, essentially a nice guy,
brought men from the American Legion to our class to warn us about That.  We
were told It was in the unions -- and that It was also, through something
called the American Friends Service Committee, trying to agitate the
Navajos in our very own setting.

I grinned on that one.  The young AFSC couple, Quakers starting work in the
vast and very adjacent Navajoland, were living temporarily -- at that
precise moment --  in our house on the far edge of Flagstaff.  There, they
meeting  many Navajo leaders. They also met other activists such as Chicano
leaders -- and, too, Wilson Riles,  principal of the small Black
elementary school, whose graduates then went into the fully integrated
Flagstaff junior high and high school complex.

I was at virtually the end of high school when I read a copy of The
Communist Manifesto that an older academic friend of our family lent me at
my request from his own vast library.   I was surprised at how it stirred my
planting seeds for sure.

So too and very much did Granville Hicks' excellent biography of Jack Reed
stir and plant, that next fall when I started in as a freshman at my
hometown Arizona State. [John Reed:  The Making of a Revolutionary,
Macmillan, 1936.] Mother had suggested I hunt up and read that one.  The old
Anglo Mississippi-born lady who was college librarian  looked suspiciously
at the book and  then at me.  But I was an Indian and so was Dad who, of
course, was a  professor as well -- and she said nothing, at least not to
any of us. The book had not been checked out since 1938.

And then, in due course, Frank came into the picture as an older student of
Dad's.  And he arrived just before I completed my young life-long Mission:
to kill a very, very large bear.

That was mandated from almost the Hatch onward.  It didn't come easily. It
took a super long time indeed to accomplish.  And then, one warm October
mid-day, well off-any-road and far, far down into the huge and remote and
heavily forested western slope of the Sycamore Canyon wilderness,  I came to
a rare wonderful  spring of pure water emanating from the rocks in an aspen
grove. Flowing in a small stream two hundred yards down a leisurely slope
through the yellow pines and scrub oak and even some red maples, it
culminated in a kind of level clearing  -- a "park" as we call it in the
Southwest -- which was about 20 yards across. There the water gathered,
surrounded by and mixed with  green grass.

And there in the mud I saw the many fresh tracks of a huge black bear.

And so, under a scrub oak tree, surrounded by its fallen acorns mixing with
old needles from the pines, I waited.  Hour after hour  deeply into the late
afternoon.  My 30/30 Winchester lever action with the long octagon barrel
and the curved metal buttplate leaned against a low oak limb, right handy.

And then, looking once again at my Hamilton wrist watch -- the high school
graduation gift from my folks -- I saw that it said 5:10 p.m.  And I looked
up, across the clearing.

And there It was.

It was a huge black bear,  a male, walking smoothly on its fours just inside
the timber along the edge of the clearing, its massively long arms reaching
full out and
moving back and then forward again in easy, flowing  graceful coordination
with its
huge back legs.

Still seated, I cocked my 30/30 rifle, aimed and fired.  The bear, not
mortally hit, turned and ran directly away from me.  Standing tall, I now
fired by pure instinct -- one of my best shots ever -- hitting It in the
back area.  It turned, snarling and pawing, and I fired five more shots into

I had killed it. A huge bear.  I was now a Full Man.

The sun was dipping far down toward the western rim of the Great Canyon as I
cut the throat of the bear and drained the blood, then gutted him.  Propping
the body cavity open with sticks in order to quickly cool the meat, I also
covered the area with my sweat-stained and human-odorous shirt in order to
discourage any scavenging critters from getting too close.

Then, literally covered with the Red Blood of the Bear, I climbed out of the
Canyon in the darkness and, eventually reaching my vehicle, made it back to
Flagstaff on the remote woods roads.  It was very late. But my parents were
fully as pleased as I.

My father and I and one of my two younger brothers -- and Frank -- left
very early the next morning with bedrolls and three day's rations for
Sycamore and the Bear.  It took Dad and I several trips and every bit of
those three days for us to get all of the bear meat -- in several huge
hunks -- out of
the super steep Canyon.  Green blow flies laid maggot eggs in the bloody
hide and we had to abandon that -- save for several furry strips which I cut
off.  During this back-breaking struggle  -- hundreds of pounds of meat from
the huge bear whose live weight was estimated as being at least 650
pounds -- Frank cooked for us, assisted by my little brother.
And that's where I got to know Frank Dolphin well.
And he certainly came to know me.

After that, a lot happened fast in my life.  Frank told me many things --
radical and militant organizing accounts and sagas and organizations and
movements. On things like Wobblies and Communists he had some pithy advice.
"You ride one horse," he told me,  "and, when it goes down, you find another
and  ride it.  Keep going always, full ahead."

It wasn't all Revolution and such.  One hilarious account involved his
spending six weeks in a brothel at Elko, Nevada painting appropriate murals
on every wall.  During that extensive, strenuous period, in which all his
needs were attended to much more than adequately, he never "saw the light of
outside day -- neither the sun nor moon."

Even at the time of the campfire on the Verde, the Army loomed in my future.
Still 18, I finally volunteered. Before I left, Frank carefully painted an
excellent oil portrait of me -- seated and wearing my Levi jacket -- and
caught so very well the stubborn Native nuances in my still-searching face.
"This is for your family," he said, " Especially for your mother."  Pausing,
he then he went on, "in case something  should ever happen."  Again he
momentarily hesitated, "If or whenever."

He was a realist but I've been lucky.

When I came out of the Army, an epoch later, with an honorable release from
a full stint of active duty, much indeed had flowed together in an
irreversibly committed River of No Return,   I was a Red. And I've been one
ever since.

I went on to many, many radical social justice activist things all around
the Land. And I saw Frank, who kept on painting fine stuff, over the many
years to come.  In various news media, he sometimes saw me in all sorts of
colorful and strenuously challenging situations -- and he also heard all
sorts of accounts from my family. And he had no hesitation
about telegraphing me once  from a Montana jail for funds to pay a large
fine for whatever Sin -- and I sent it all and more by return wire.

Frank died in early 1973 at a wide place in the road called Dolan Springs --
far out yonder in extreme Northwestern Arizona and close to the Nevada

The oil painting he did of the earnest 18 year old Native who was struggling
hard to find his bearings in the high winds turbulence of the very early
'50s hangs now from the wall of our Idaho living room. And it's on our very
large social justice website, Lair of Hunterbear

All of the bear meat -- rich and strong -- every single bite of it, was
eaten by my family and close friends over several years.  When I returned
from the Army, I resumed my eating.  It lasted for a very long time.

And His skull, with feathers attached and the salvaged strips of furry hide
dangling, hangs always wherever I am. It looks down from my wall, right here
in Idaho.  It looks at Frank Little, Cherokee Indian, and  Wobbly martyr
lynched at Butte  by the copper boss thugs in 1917. It gazes at a photo of
Jack Reed at his typewriter.  It looks at a sketch my father gave me in my
baby crib of the Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant [ Thayendanegea] burning out
the Anglo settlers in up-state New York in the 1770s.

And the Skull sees a bust of Lenin -- and his 45 volumes. And sitting right
alongside those great works are several splendid books from my special
Saint, Ignatius of Loyola -- founder of the Jesuits.

They all look at the Essence of the Bear -- the Skull.

And They all go together.  All of Them.

Now and then, I can close my eyes and  smell the greasewood fire and  hear
the Verde in its gorge. For a moment, I see the creased and friendly face
under the old Stetson.

And then, as I Fight On, I draw three circles in the dust and sand.

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear] (strawberry socialism)
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