As the post-non-Y2K hard times hardened I did a lot of scrambling trying to make ends meet. One by-product of that squeeze was that I began doing some trading with the tribes for pottery, rock art, rugs and other products to resell.
This got me acquainted with a Navajo man who became a running buddy for a while. Curtis Cohoe.
A man about 50 years old. Pine Hill (Self-determination) Rez. Good family a generation earlier. His mom and aunt still raise sheep, shear, dye the wool with dye they make from crushed rock and plants, and weave good rugs the old way. The next generation was less successful in most matters.
Curtiss was much of a man in a lot of ways when he was sober, or mostly sober. Which sometimes happened. One day I drove up to a place he was doing some artwork painting on a table top in an alleyway next to the Railroad track in Grants. I was just in time to see three semi-drunk Din’e toughs in their mid-20s approach him, exchange a few words, and start swinging.
By the time I got out of the truck to help him he didn’t need any help. The two fully conscious ones got to their feet and left at a stumbling run. The less-conscious one stuck around long enough for me to try to stop the bleeding by tying a bandana around his head while Curtiss intermittently kicked in his ribcage.
Early in his life, Curtiss started out pretty well. Worked for the US Forestry Service as a fire fighter, then as a Ranger in California until things went haywire. Back in New Mexico, a cop raped his younger sister and got by with it. Curtiss came back and beat the cop to death with his fists, which got him 10 years in prison.
Once that decade of bars was over, Curtiss never really got back onto the right track. He had a lot of anger in him, and he had some brothers who were in and out of prison a lot, who kept the pressure on from the law. (Curtiss was fairly frightened of one of the brothers, whom he described as a bad-ass. The other was an evangelical preacher who sold some drugs and stole in between-times).
Another time I’ll tell you how Curtiss came to be back in the pen for another five years, last I heard.