Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Last Indian War

As a young man growing up in the small southeastern Utah town of Blanding, I often heard the story of Paiute warrior William Posey, and how he was responsible for the last Indian war in the United States.

Posey: The Last Indian War
Posey; The Last Indian War

At the time, we lived on the south end of town, just two blocks from the home of Clarence Rogers, an old-timer who had been involved in the incident. At scout camp, fireside chats and various other outings, Clarence related his experiences, bringing to life the characters involved in the melee. Those who participated in the events seemed to come from the all too distant past, but in reality were only a memory away for Clarence.

To my youthful mind, Clarence’s cowboys, Indians, government agents and pioneers were towering figures; far superior to the likes of Superman, the Green Hornet or Batman. In the age of abundant automobiles and airplanes, I could envision those individuals sleeping out on the range, slinging guns, drinking whiskey and fighting just to survive.

With that background firmly planted in my subconscious, I was excited when Steve Lacy, an educator I had known from my high school days, arrived at the trading post with a copy of his latest book, Posey; The Last Indian War. The book details many of the stories I remember from time spent with Clarence, and fleshes out the incidents and people who led up to the battle.

As I read through the book, I was once again struck by how thoroughly things have changed in the almost one hundred years since Posey roamed the San Juan drainage. His was another world; one with seemingly no connection to the modern day. Around Bluff, one sees constant reminders of the hardships endured by the settlers who arrived in this river valley during the late 1800s, and the difficulties their Native neighbors endured as a result of this incursion into their ancestral homeland. There are also readily visible signs of the benefits derived from this interaction. It is clear, however, that the resulting relationship produced its share of conflict.

Barry and I joke about our ongoing battles with the contemporary warriors. We often feel pierced through the heart by their unhappy tales; mourn the loss of yet another pound of flesh when we are not competent negotiators; and lament the resulting scrapes, scabs and scars. Battle worn as we are, however, we still enjoy the fight.

In spite of our humorous outlook, Barry and I realize there is a contemporary war raging; one based in progressive thought rather than direct conflict, but a war none the less. It involves those of us with lighter skin trying, often unsuccessfully, to comprehend those of us with darker skin, and those of us with darker skin trying, often unsuccessfully, to integrate into a dominant society in conflict with traditional values.

Having been at the trading post for almost 20 years, I have seen countless skirmishes, and, to my satisfaction, have never noticed anyone sustain a lethal blow. In fact, I have seen many people, myself included, develop a deeper understanding of their neighbors as a result of the struggle. It is often heartbreaking to witness firsthand the pain associated with the Reservation, and difficult to cope with the economic hardships of this geographic region, but all in all it is a battle worth fighting and an investment that must be made.

The good news is that, although the end is nowhere in sight, there is progress being made. As a result of the struggles, the belligerents have come to understand each other far better than they otherwise might, and integration without loss of self is occurring on many levels. It has been a painful process, but as King Lear said, “You will gain nothing if you invest nothing.”

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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