[Marxism] ON THE BLUE

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at hunterbear.org
Fri Jul 2 14:13:19 MDT 2010

July 2 2010.

The other day, an interesting looking package arrived. It was from my brother, Michael, about five years younger than I who divides his time between New Mexico and the outskirts of Phoenix.  In one of our rather rare phone conversations, he had said he was going to send me a copy of a book on the Blue River country of extreme east central Arizona and its local people. ["You'll see lots of people we know," he told me.]  We had both spent a good deal of time in that rugged and thoroughly beautiful region and, when I was fire lookout and radio man on extremely high and isolated Bear Mountain [reachable only by miles of trail], he was across the way as lookout on smaller Blue Mountain, which had a road of sorts.  Occasionally, we'd visit by radio. [My youngest brother, Richard, a little more than six years younger than I, has never really been a woodsman, and instead became an accomplished artist and teacher, and moves in different circles and worlds.  But we do hear from him.]

Michael was right about the book -- Down on the Blue: Blue River 1878-1986 -- and he was on target in figuring I'd like it. Physically attractive and big and relatively heavy, hardbound with 267 pages on good solid paper with several final pages of local food recipes and a excellent index, it contains a myriad of sections on Blue River history and a whole raft of small cattle ranch families -- many of whose names are personally familiar.  There must be at least 200 photos, mostly family in nature but others as well, e.g., distinctive horses and mules, a grizzly hide [the last grizzlies were supposedly "taken" in that region about the time I was born, but there are great black bears and much other wild game all over.]  Once started, the book is difficult to put down.  Its format and organizational method might not  please the purists of the American Historical Association but it does its job very nicely.

Originally labeled with the Spanish word for blue, Azul, the Blue River and tributaries start near the tall timber town of Alpine, Arizona [close to 7,000 feet altitude -- very close to the New Mexico border and adjacent to that state's problematic Catron County -- and the river, always within Arizona, flows southward for a little less than 30 miles, steadily and sometimes dramatically dropping in altitude until it merges with the San Francisco River near Clifton [county seat of Greenlee] where the altitude is about 4,000 feet or so and the "timber" is mostly scrub. Clifton is a component, with adjacent Morenci, of an old Phelps Dodge copper fiefdom, now essentially inactive.  

>From Bear Mountain Lookout, in addition to virtually all of the Blue region,  I could see much in all far-off directions: Escudilla Mountain far to the north, westward to the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache reservations [with whose lookouts I often talked by radio], eastward to the nearby Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico and then far beyond to some of the Pueblo country and toward Albuquerque; and southward to the 'way down smoke from the copper smelter in the Clifton-Morenci district -- and then 'way on down into Old Mexico.

"Before the white man came," most of the Natives in the region were travelers or wandering hunters and most of those were from the various Apache tribal groups and a much smaller number of Pueblo people [mostly Zuni and Laguna.].  The earliest Anglo settlers -- there don't seem to have been any of Mexican background in the middle and upper Blue reaches, though many settled around the lower Blue and Clifton ages ago -- were mostly of old "British" stock -- Scots and Scots Irish -- mainly from  Texas, Ozarks, Southern  mountains but a few from the northern West.  The speech mode of most remains that which is my own [still common in rural Arizona, especially in the northern sections] -- what the linguists tell us is "Southern Highlands" or "Highland South". [I have a good American English linguistic map in my Webster's dictionary which sketches out this far flung dialect that even embraces portions of Kansas.]  

In short time, despite the geographically scattered nature of the small cattle ranches and related enterprises, a strong and cohesive and insular sense of community developed on the Blue.  There are many, many more of such settings and communities around the country than most urban people will ever realize.

I had done, of course, though legally underage, a good deal of forest fire fighting and some lookout work before I went into the Army.  When I eventually came home, some things had changed in the Coconino National Forest set-up out of Flagstaff.  While many of the old faces remained, Bill Brainerd, a foe of lumber company greed [Southwest and Saginaw Manistee], had been transferred from the Flagstaff region to Alpine [then the Apache National Forest and now the Apache Sitgreaves.]  When that happened, my good buddy, Joe Janes [the "Wise Eastern Bastard" who everyone wound up liking], joined Bill at Alpine.

So I hustled down there to hunt up these two good friends.  And that's the first time I saw the Blue Country -- about 55 years ago.  Joe immediately took me into the setting, introducing me to a lot of people and an enormous amount of fascinating timbered geography and the River itself. [In time, I traveled some of that country and often skinny-dipped in the cold and unpolluted waters of the Blue.]  My most special place in the Universe, of course, is the deep and vast Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area southwest of Flagstaff -- but the Blue ranks high with me.  One of the first families I met was the Marks family -- and one given much space at the outset and in other portions of this book -- centered at a small ranch spread with the modest home essentially unchanged since the latter 1800s save for running water and electricity and such. Over some years, I occasionally stayed at their place.  

Whenever I was there, a Marks or two and I would make a pilgrimage to a small building not far from their house where resided a gunny sack left many, many years before, by Benjamin Vernon Lilly,  the Alabama-born and Mississippi-raised lion and bear hunter, whose favorite range was the Blue country and the nearby Mogollon Mountains in extreme Western New Mexico. He's been tagged by some historians as "The Last of the Mountain Men."  Mr Lilly -- he is still remembered and referred to by that courtesy title -- had left the sack, which contained several of his home made hunting knives and a box of .33 WCF cartridges [for his 1886 Winchester lever action] and some clothing with the Marks family, planning to pick it up on a return trip through.  He never made it, dying at Silver City NM in 1936.  The Marks family kept it just as he'd left it and we always handled Ben Lilly's possessions religiously. And this book on the Blue and its people, of course, has a good piece on him.

In the years since I was often in the Blue country, some things have changed.  New people have moved in from  Phoenix, the East, California.  Fortunately, much of the region is now Federally and formally designated Wilderness Area, well protected against undue encroachments.  But a good many of the old families still remain on their land -- and I doubt there's much real contact between the two quite different cultures.  Most of the "original" people rarely  go to Phoenix or Albuquerque  -- and Clifton to the south and Springerville to the northwest are the big towns.  Younger people have gone into the military and/or wound up at University of Arizona and Arizona State and gone on -- but many return. [As a Maine Indian relative put it to me once during a visit of mine to the Penobscot country, "We always come back to the reservation, don't we -- sooner or later."] Sometimes Blue people would occasionally work, usually not too long, in the copper mines and mills and smelters to the south and southwest and usually joined a union -- one of the crafts or Mine-Mill in the old days, then later the Steelworkers. The oldest and the newest photos in the book and all of those in between show virtually all men wearing Stetson hats and only a few with latter day cloth ties. 

And lots of photos of men with rifles, too.  And sometimes hunting hounds.

When, on Bear Mountain, my great coyote friend, Good [who had all his immunization shots],  left home -- soon to team with a female -- I made a few radio contacts with USFS personnel who, in turn, spread the word to the Blue ranchers.  My coyote, a Nebraska/Wyoming variant of the species, was much larger than Arizona coyotes and colored differently.  "When you see that big gray coyote," people told other people, "That's John Salter's coyote. He's the young guy up on Bear Mountain. Joe's friend.  Don't shoot that coyote."  

And no one ever did. Brother Michael saw Good a year later, fed him a biscuit, Good wagged his tail and then moved on.  I always say I'm probably related to every coyote between Alpine and Clifton -- maybe between Springerville and Silver City.

In the late 1990s, Bruce Babbitt, then Clinton's Interior Secretary, ordered the reintroduction of Mexican wolves into the Blue country. Bruce, from Flagstaff, and more a contemporary of my youngest brother, was, although he liked to hike, always basically a "town kid." He went east to Notre Dame to school.  I doubt he was ever in the Blue region -- but he should have gone there and personally explained what Interior was doing with the wolves. [Most Blue folks have always been Democrats and have always gotten on well with the US Forest Service.]  Bruce did not go to the Blue and some ranchers, often barely making it financially, felt justifiably threatened.  Someone or some people killed those wolves almost immediately.  At that point, following the Clinton style of operation, Bruce threatened FBI and ATF retaliation.  That, of course, produced even more resentment and no compliance of any kind and matters polarized sharply.  Finally, belated Federal diplomacy and the developing Interior policy of compensating ranchers who'd lost stock eased the situation on the Blue and new wolves were introduced and remain.  Some problems continue, however, in nearby Catron County, New Mexico which, as I've noted, is a rather problematic and considerably different place.

So, it's a great region -- the Blue country -- and a damn fine book.  But the book does stop short of mentioning some colorful history.  Slim Joy and his business/post office establishment is discussed -- a small and old-timey establishment, way down in the Blue country, which was a combination saloon and post office and gas station. In 1960, his gas cost 75 cents a gallon -- very reasonable considering the substantial logistical difficulties.  The saloon component was popular, very reasonably priced.  The post office worked just fine.

But what isn't mentioned in the book is this little gem:

Around the time I was often in the Blue setting, and for the first time in decades, maybe ever, the US Postal Service decided someone -- a bureaucratic traveler -- should go into that remote area and do an inspection of the far, far outlying outpost.  Eventually someone did.  He was horrified to note that the saloon and the post office were in the same -- the one and only -- room.

Slim Joy promised to construct a wall within the room. Securing that pledge, the Postal guy left for his version of civilization. Slim immediately hung a large tarp across the room in such a fashion that the two dimensions were, technically speaking, physically separated.  That worked for the longest time.  I think, post office-wise, that there's something more contemporary around there these days.

Joe Janes and I visited yesterday by phone.  He's ten years older than I -- he was 18 in the WW2 Battle of the Bulge -- and is not in good health these days. He and his wife live now in extreme western Washington State and he doesn't get out much.  We visited for a long time and will talk again in a few months.  He'd seen the book awhile back, somewhere.  We talked a great deal about the Blue and its good people.

"You know as well as I do, John" he remarked, "that those people are living in the last century."  He quickly corrected himself, adding, "The century before last."  He didn't say it disapprovingly.

Well, Joe's right -- and that's a big plus for me when it comes to places like the Blue and the Indian lands. 

The Horrors and Catastrophes of our world mount -- and mount again. And much has changed in Arizona as it has in many places.  But the land -- the earth and the rivers and the mountains and canyons -- and the people -- remain. 

Always have and always will.

[The book again: Down on the Blue: Blue River 1878-1986, compiled and edited by Cleo Cosper Coor, and published in 1987 by Git A Rope Publishing, Payson, Arizona -- now into its eight printing as of 2009.  My copy was sent by Chase Creek Marketplace, PO Box 1672, Clifton, Arizona 85533.  I have no idea of the price.  There is an updating Volume II but Michael didn't think either of us would be too interested in that.]


 http://hunterbear.org/KAY%20OH%20TAY%20GOOD.htm  [My coyote buddy]

http://hunterbear.org/reminiscence.htm  [Drinking episodes with Joe Janes and other wild doings]

http://www.hunterbear.org/new_mexico.htm  [For my New Mexico Radical Tourist's Guide with an updated and attached piece on Catron County, NM]

Hunter [Hunter Bear]

Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk 
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´ 
and Ohkwari' 
Our Hunterbear website is now more than ten years old.
It contains a vast amount of social justice material -- including
grassroots activist organizing. Check out http://hunterbear.org/directory.htm

Our very well organized and successful civil rights and anti-Klan campaigns
in the Eastern North Carolina Black-Belt counties -- including many of
our pertinent Hunterbear referral links:

And See: Hunter Bear's Movement Life Interview:

See: The Stormy Adoption of an Indian Child [My Father] and its
accompanying essay on Minority Adoptions and Native Land
and Resources:

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