Thursday, March 25, 2004

Researching Posey

As I walked through the door of our home last evening, I almost collided with my wife and son. My two daughters peeked around the kitchen door with what I assumed was a, Dad's gonna get it and we want to witness what happens look. My wife's hands were on her hips; her brow was furrowed; her eyes were narrow slits, as if she was in great pain; and she was leaning slightly forward. All signs indicated she knew that, in spite of numerous warnings, I had once again left the shower curtain inside the basin.

I figured Spenser had given me up to save himself. I noticed that my son had that jackrabbit in the spotlight look, and was almost sure my conclusion was accurate. The boys' bathroom is our responsibility, and while mold and mildew don't bother Spenser and me, it really gets under Laurie's skin. As I began to formulate a plan to shift the blame back to my son, and come up with my own innocent look, Laurie wagged her finger at me and shook her head.

"It's not that", she said. As a sigh of relief escaped me, I gave Spenser my most blistering look and said, "What's he done now?" Laurie, Spenser and the girls all appeared irritated. I could see that my theatrics were ineffective and were also wearing thin, so I stopped my charade and just stood there waiting for the hammer to drop. When Laurie saw that I was ready to listen, she explained that Spenser and two of his classmates had a history fair project due in a few days. The problem was that they had not even started. Laurie said she had a church talk to prepare by Sunday and was unable to help him. Spenser jumped in at this point and began explaining that between regular school work, basketball practice, scouting, honors band, piano lessons, church projects and whatever else 14 year old boys do to fill their spare time, he was behind schedule.

I shook my head knowingly, and told Laurie that I could handle this; she seemed relieved. Turning to Spenser, I said, "You are off the basketball team mister! It's a silly game anyway, a bunch of skinny legged, undernourished, sissies running up and down a court, trying to throw a ball into a peach basket." I went on, "Now if you had been a wrestler like your old man, I might have written that report for you. Wrestling, now that's a mans sport!"

I looked to my wife for support and found none. The look on her face knocked me off of my soap box, and brought me back to reality. I directed Spenser down the stairs towards his room and the computer. I knew it was going to be a lesson in endurance for everyone involved. Spenser told me his group had chosen Posey, a local folk hero to the Ute tribe and a prickly individual to the locals, for their subject. Posey had been responsible for the last Indian war in the United States, and had given his life to the cause. Spenser said that his first choice was me, but his mother had nixed the idea, explaining that I wasn't antique enough. I don't know where that boy got such a smart mouth!

As Spenser, his friends and I immersed ourselves in the legend of Posey, we began to realize that there was a great deal of controversy and confusion about his life and death. Fortunately, there is a good body of information relating to him. Articles and personal histories written or told by local pioneers, Indians and historians provided more data than we could possibly digest. It was a good thing Laurie pitched in with her conscientious mothering skills to help finish the report, or more blood would have been spilled. The boys turned out a well researched, unbiased, balanced, "A" quality report.

In doing our research, we found that one of the best information resources for local history is Blue Mountain Shadows magazine. Numerous forward thinking individuals have taken the time to gather and publish volumes of local history. The published stories are fascinating, and full of personal perspective. Searching for information on Posey reintroduced me to the wonder of this periodical. During the process, I found an article about early Bluff by Michael T. Hurst that captured my attention.

The article speaks of Bluff, and the human suffering and sacrifice associated with its founding. What really hit home for me was Mr. Hurst's summation of Bluff's place in the historical record. In the article Mr. Hurst stated, "The persistent story of Bluff is not the story of it's settlement, not the story of the hardships endured there, and not the story of wonderful, innocent bygone days. The real story of Bluff is the story of the people who live there." For me, this statement best explains how I feel about San Juan County, Bluff and especially Twin Rocks Trading Post.

The people who walk through the front doors are what makes running this business so enjoyable and entertaining. It's a personable and heart warming experience to be a part of this adventure. Steve and I both find a great deal of satisfaction in what we do at the trading post. The relationships we have developed through the years are what we treasure most. Such are the rewards of endurance. One day we may even be antique enough to merit a history report.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, March 19, 2004

Trading Post Kids

Isn't it odd how easily children can make you glow from the inside out? A few weeks ago I was at the school to pick up Kira when, Gabby, one of Kira’s friends walked up behind me, put her small hand in mine and strolled down the hall with me, explaining that her mother had given permission for her to come play at our house. The gesture was so unexpected and genuine that I felt happy all day, and started thinking just how fortunate I am to have the kids at the trading post every day.

The next day I was once again standing in the school when Cindy and Tarrik, my sister and nephew, stopped to talk. As we waited for Kira, Tarrik, who is six years old, stood at my side wiggling his front tooth. Cindy looked at me with an, “If he keeps that up, I am going to faint” look, and said, “Uncle Steve, will you please just pull that tooth?” I reached in and gave the tooth a tug. It came out so easily that Tarrik didn't realize it was gone until he put his fingers back in his mouth to continue the wiggling. When all he felt was a hole, he looked at me and said, “Hey, what happened?” I opened my palm and showed him the small lump of enamel, which resulted in a broad semi-toothless grin. He immediately began asking Cindy whether the Tooth Fairy was going to arrive at their house that night. Once again, the emotion was so honest I had to smile.

Almost every day after school, Grange will peek his head through the front door of the trading post and say, “Uncle Bearwee, may I have a Starverst?” This question generally translates to, “Uncle Barry, may I have a Starburst candy?” Although Jana and I have given Barry several stern warnings about filling the kids with sweets, and reminded him that Grange’s last dentist bill was $500.00, he still keeps a bag of candy in his desk to bribe Kira and Grange, and the kids are attracted to the desk like a quarterback to the prom queen.

Having the kids in the store reminds me that Barry, Craig and I were roughly Kira’s age when we started working. We were employed at the Plateau service station south of Blanding, where we always had plenty of Pepsi, peanuts and potato chips. In fact, there was such an abundance of junk food available at the filling station that I became a bit of a pork chop. It was not until high school that I grew into myself.

Having been through that experience myself, you might think I would be a little more understanding when Kira and Grange are beating a path across the trading post porch to the cafe to spend whatever money they can scare up on candy. I have frequently witnessed Grange standing at the display counter of the restaurant negotiating with Uncle Craig or Aunt Susan when he can only scavenge a few nickels and wants to buy a Peppermint Patty. In spite of my sugar reservations, it may actually be good training for him. If he can talk those hard cases out of their candy, he may do all right in life. He should have his master negotiator certificate before he graduates primary school. Of course he won't have any teeth by that time.

The kids will frequently run into the store and duck under my desk when I am talking to a client or working on a project; just like it is their natural right. My clients have gotten used to this, and just keep right on talking. I assure them that my kids are trained not to disclose confidential information or to horn in on their business prospects.

As the kids sit under my desk, a hand will jut up from time to time and a voice will say, “More paper, please,” or “Another marker, please.” After a while, a refrigerator masterpiece will emerge and off the child will go, on to the next project. I am often reminded of a photograph I once saw of JFK in the oval office with John Jr. under his desk. I am sure JFK felt the same sense of happiness and security from having his children under his desk that I feel when Kira and Grange are crouched at my feet.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Historical Connections

I am certainly not an archeologist or anthropologist, and don't claim to know the whats, whys or hows of the ancient or historical people of the Southwest. I do, however, find it fascinating to see what they left behind and to contemplate their lives. Having the opportunity to roam the back country of San Juan County has provided me some perspective on these incredibly hardy people of the past.

River House Ruins
River House Ruins, just east of Twin Rocks

A recent visit from my wife's twin sister, Lisa; her husband, Wade; and their son, Keegan, forced me out of the trading post and into the red rocks. Steve agreed to man the store while Laurie, Lisa and my mother-in-law focused their attention on a wedding quilt. This gave the rest of us an opportunity to slip away and get dirty. Wade had brought his four wheelers with him, and I rented another, which gave us ample horsepower to get to many points of interest in a short time frame.

So four young people and two young of heart climbed on the four wheel machines and headed to River House Ruins, which are located on the San Juan River. You can guess who wound up on the back rack. Picture my 12 year old daughter, Alyssa, astride a bright red, rip roaring Honda, traveling up a drift of sand or over a cobblestone river bed at a high rate of speed, and you will know how anxious I was as I sat mounted just over the back wheels, holding tightly onto my iron perch. Needless to say, it was a thrilling ride.

Our starting point was Comb Wash. With Alyssa's unbridled driving bravado towing everyone along, it didn't take long to reach our destination; River House Ruin, which is an amazingly well preserved Anasazi cliff dwelling. The ruin is accessible to both river runners and four wheel drive vehicles, so it is visited often. Most people respect it's fragility, and tread lightly when visiting the site.

Rock Art just east of Twin Rocks Simpson children near Twin Rocks Trading Post Simpson children near Twin Rocks
Simpson children at River House Ruins, near Twin Rocks

The kids were entranced when we sat near the ruins and discussed the hardships these ancients must have endured. They lived face to face with the elements on a daily basis, with no warm, safe, heated or air conditioned retreat. Peering into the dwelling exposed us to the harsh reality of surviving in this intolerant climate. Sleeping on the hard sandstone in a cramped, dirty and, most likely, vermin infested hovel, and attempting to gather enough nourishment to survive another day must have been extremely difficult.

It was a bit unsettling to view pottery shards imprinted with the fingerprints of people from more than seven hundred years ago. We viewed the gnawed cobs of dwarf corn, and wondered how it could have sated the hunger of the ancient children. It must have been a rare and desirous treat to eat the sweet, fresh corn; one our children cannot begin to fathom. We imagined the restless spirits of these long lost individuals blowing around us and through the rock houses on the cool breeze.

We discussed the literary intentions of the ancient ones when we viewed their rock art. The others all had different interpretations, and were each sure he or she understood the message the creator of these illustrations was trying to convey. I contended that it is virtually impossible to get into the mind of a human being that lived so long ago. The lives we live and the experiences we encounter are far too different to even relate to each other. I reminded the kids that it is believed that much of the myths and legends of the local Native people are rooted in the Anasazi culture; maybe it is possible to begin to understand the intended message after all.

We found it hard to leave River House and the feelings it provoked, but we had ground to cover; our fast paced lifestyle demanded it of us. We backtracked to the old Barton trading post and the base of San Juan Hill. Both spots have familial implications for Wade and the children. Once again we discussed the past and the trials the pioneer ancestors had faced.

Standing inside the broken down walls of the old trading post, imagining doing business with the Indian people of so long ago, put me in a nostalgic mood. The establishment was built on a remote cap of red rock, on the edge of an untamed river that could wash their improvements away at any moment. Only remnants remain of this long lost era. We stood at the base of the hill and looked up in amazement at the old Mormon Trail. We imagined what it must have been like facing this gargantuan undertaking, after being beaten down physically and mentally for months.

Simpson children at River House Ruins near Twin Rocks Backcountry four wheeling near Twin Rocks Trading Post In the back country near Twin Rocks Trading Post
River House Ruins, just east of Twin Rocks Trading Post

When I closed my eyes and let my mind wander back to that historical event, I could almost see the undertaking unfold. Bawling oxen teams unwilling to attempt the ascent. Whips cracking in the dry desert air, strong backs bent to the task, bloodied limbs of both man and beast as they strained and stumbled at the overwhelming climb towards the end of their journey. It was a moment in time that we can only imagine, and wonder if we could match the strength, endurance and sheer willpower of those pioneers.

As all those questions swirled in my head, I began to wonder whether I would even survive Alyssa's return assault on a old double track road. Luckily Alyssa decided to ride with Spenser and let my baby girl, McKale,. ride with me. It was a much more casual ride back, with McKale's arms wrapped around my waist and me at the throttle. As we made our way back to the truck, I considered how the prehistoric and historic residents of this land survived the hardships and trials of their time. I am sure love of family and a sense of community had a great deal to do with their success.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Confessions of a Trading Post Lawyer

Several months ago one of our friends was in the trading post talking with Barry and me about our weekly stories. After a time she said, “I don’t know which of you is more . . . .” Apparently she had decided not to finish the sentence. Barry and I stood there waiting for the next shoe to drop, but it never did.

When we realized she was not going to complete the thought, we protested that she could not just leave us without an explanation. After a while she relented and said, “believable.” I readily agreed that Barry was more believable than I, since I thought it more interesting to be “unbelievable.” I’m not sure that’s what she had in mind.

One of my friends is a well respected attorney in Salt Lake City. Shortly after we met, he mentioned the early days of his legal career when he was a country lawyer in northern Idaho. Since his clients couldn’t afford to pay cash for his services, they paid in whiskey, chords of wood, beef and the like. I believe it was the whiskey that pleased him most. In any case, I think those were extremely happy times for him.

I often think of Jesse and his country lawyer stories when I am practicing law from my trading post office. I have decided that I was destined to be a trading post lawyer. When I first moved to Bluff, I refused to practice; thinking that chapter of my life had closed. Then Rose, my mother, found me a client. I reluctantly agreed to a meeting, and invited the client to visit me in my trading post office. I was sure that when he saw me sitting at my desk on a folding chair he would reconsider his decision to retain me.

Rather than being put off by the folding chair and the old desk, he readily agreed that I was the lawyer for him, and the relationship was begun. He had been brought up on the Reservation, and was accustomed to taking chances. That was over 10 years ago, and we have had many successful ventures together. He often teases me that I have made a good living while he trained me.

During my years as a trading post lawyer, I have had some truly memorable experiences. One moment I am selling a ring and the next, settling a wrongful death claim. I go from selling a business to selling pottery. The transition can sometimes be a little tricky, and would drive most people insane. In any case, I think it is unbelievable that I am fortunate enough to live in such a beautiful place and do the two things I enjoy most; working with Native American artists and practicing law.

My situation seems to be a right brain, left brain thing. The artists stimulate my creative side, and the clients challenge me to think through some complicated issues. Last year I met a psychologist who married a woman bookstore owner. At the time of their merger, he was busily engaged in a healthy practice. One day his wife convinced him to spend a little time in the store. Since he loved books anyway, he found the experience extremely enjoyable. The small bookstore grew into a bookstore, restaurant and art gallery.

We had several good laughs as he explained how he would be in the restaurant bussing tables or doing dishes because one of his employees hadn’t shown up for work that day. When his patient arrived at the appointed time, he would leave the restaurant and go upstairs for the session. When the consultation was concluded, it was back to bussing tables. I almost shouted, “Yes, I have done exactly that with our restaurant.”

We ended the conversation by concluding that such experiences made us more rounded individuals, and that our clients and patients were well served by the humility and exposure we have gained from bussing tables, washing dishes, taking food orders, selling rings and buying pottery.

After he was gone, I began wondering whether my clients might be willing to pay a little extra for my vast practical experience. Next time I see Stephen, I will ask him if his rates reflect his dishwashing skills, and I might even call Jesse to see how he was able to get paid in whiskey. After a long day conducting business and practicing law, a little nip might do me some good.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post