True Story: Apaches Columbia River
(c) Leo G Campbell 2/13/2017
True Story: Apaches Columbia River
In 1987, I was tooling along on Washington State Route Highway 14, in my white, 1972, 2 door, Ford Torino, going east into the Columbia Gorge.
A nice day in late May, sun was out, about 75 degrees F. Very little vehicle traffic.
I saw two male figures ahead, trudging along my direction, they both wore tan thick, winter coats, and had straight black hair, headbands, and to their shoulders.
I passed them, then slowed to a stop in about a hundred feet, parked on the highway shoulder (only a two-lane highway), got out, and gestured. They were Native American, dark gold skin, both slender, their thick tan winter coats, and very-washed jeans, and so-worn boots.
I can’t remember their names (did we even exchange names?), and only one spoke much English. He rode in the Ford’s shotgun passenger seat, the more silent one, in back. I asked Front Seat, where they were headed.
He just said, “We don’t know. Where we are.” Stared. Ahead. Then,
– “We rode on, in the empty boxcar, north from California, until it stopped, they said, it was Portland. We waited two days, but the train
– it, never moved, again.”
– “Then, we are here – in your white,very warm, good car.”
Pause. He asked Back Seat, something. “And we thank you, we are tired.” Some, small-medium, smile. And, I guessed, good and hungry.
“Whites say, that our tribal nation, is poor. How much do we need. To keep any white man, away?”
Our white, ’72 V-8 Ford engined, the Torino rode on.
We passed Beacon Rock, a huge lava-stone basalted monolith, mountain-sized, on the right side of the car.
I explained, that it was very high (850 feet), was the inside core of a volcano – the outside, had been washed away in the Great Missoula Floods of 14,000 years ago (I never told them that shit), that carved out the Columbia Gorge, and left the wide Columbia River, there.
And told to them, the campfire legend: an Indian princess was denied marriage to her lover by her the Chief, father, and in sorrow, she had climbed Beacon Rock, and died in mourning, at the top.
It would have been nice to stop there, and climb the old graveled pathway to the top, which had a magnificent view of the entire Gorge, but I wanted to press on.
I normally didn’t pick up hitch-hikers, and knew nothing about my Indian riders. I wanted to drive a few more miles, and cross the Columbia River at The Bridge of The Gods, go south into Oregon.
We crossed the fifty-cent toll bridge (my treat), and pulled into the large dirt parking lot, outside of the Cascade Locks burger restaurant, which I felt was not a relaxing place, to bring my new friends.
There were Celilo Indian, tribal members’ old pickup trucks, parked on the river side of the same lot, Celilos (for at least 10,000 years, right here) catching, selling, trading, smoked fillets of Columbia river salmon.
For $3 you got a heat-sealed clear plastic bag, with 20 ounces of smoked salmon fillet, skin on, no bones. Good deal meal.
I bought us each a bag, and we sat at a cedar splinter-wood, picnic table. Seats were wood tree, stumps. No Cokes, no fancy Perrier bottled water.
We ate it dry, salmon delicious. Just us Indians, white man…
Quite a nice, big parking lot. Saw, heard above, over the big blue river, the shrill ‘beep’ of a (I guess), brown or golden eagle. White Eagle. Or. So Or – Big Deal.
Some Celilo, admired the white-manned, Ford HT Torino. Big gassy Ford V-8 engine.
We did not leave a crumb, and dropped the trash into a steel barrel for the purpose. Napkins were by Levi jeans.
Back in the Ford Torino, I reminded them about the seat belts. Then I remembered my visit to Powell’s Books, and the rolled-up Southwest Indian map, I had purchased there for $2, last week, still on the dashboard.
I pointed to it, and said to Front Seat, to open it up, which he did.
The map was in black ink, and showed southern Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. And the twenty or so, Indian reservations there, each with tribal name.
Front Seat unrolled the map, and held it up high enough, so Back Seat could hunch over the car seat, and study it, too.
Stoically, Back Seat reached an arm over the seat, and pointed to a spot on the New Mexico portion of the map.
Front Seat nodded, and said, “That is our Mescalero rez. We are Mescalero Apaches.” Stoically, also.
Neither of them, showing the slightest bit of astonishment – at this white guy, who fed them, and who just happened-to-have, a nice Southwest Indian map, on his nice white Ford, dashboard.
I was too ignorant to astonish.
True It All B.
I started the car, and asked, “To Portland?” they nodded. I asked, “Where in Portland – the train?”
“No,” they said in unison, “To Miss-i-one”.
It took a few seconds, then I said, “To the Mission? The Rescue Mission?” Yes, both nodded vigorously. Front Seat, then both in unison, “Miss-i-one. Miss-i-one.”
Well then, okay by me. It was a Christian, transient facility at the west end of the Burnside Bridge; they were known for their good works.
I drove in Cascade Locks, for a few blocks, then got on, ramping to Interstate 84, headed west – to Portland.
We rolled up the windows, and I turned on the Ford’s ancient air conditioner. Left the radio & stereo off. I drove. They, still in their thick winter coats, rolling and unrolling the map, looking at it, and talking in Apache.
Mebbe So, Goes Th’ Apache?
True It All B.
Front Seat said, “We got a ride west, from the Mescalero rez, to Los Angeles (“Loss Awn-Ge-L-gelz” or something), then we found the train, the railroad yards.” Nuff said.
I had done far stupider things, when I was in my late teens, as now, they were.
I pulled up, the old ’72 Ford Torino, at the northwest corner of 2nd and North West Burnside, parked the car at the curb illegally, and we three, got out.
I took my wallet, and divided the little cash to them, about ten dollars each; they took it solemnly and in silence, each looking into my eyes, and nodding. Peace.
They had sensed, that I was as nearly, poor as them. They saw something richer, perhaps, than me. I looked too, and nodded. We shook hands, nodding again. Silent. Stood a few seconds, there. They turned.
I turned away, got back in my white man’s 1972, 2 door Torino (hardtop) car, drove off home. It was a nice day, the sun was still out, here in Portland, Oregon, in late May, 1987.
That evening, after a few beers, I thought about them, and hoped they would be all right. They were quiet and decent, albeit poor, Native Indian, Mescalero, Apache, men.
Apaches – a tribe that history has called, very fierce and treacherous. Trying to save Apaches.
Then, I remembered, when I was still married, my wife and I had signed up, to sponsor a child, through Save The Children, which is still, a very fine international, charity children’s group.
We paid $15 a month for several years, at least until she divorced me.
Save the Children, sent us a nice letter, with a little scrawled signature at the bottom, by the child, and her name, and her Indian reservation, and her small, color Polaroid, photo.
She was a victim of her mother’s alcoholism – “fetal syndrome” something, with a damaged mind, stunted body, and the promise that – she would probably die, before, she turned to the average, 16 years.
Ah, this was 1987… we had sponsored her in 1973, when she had been… 9 or 10. So, 14 years ago.
I got another can of beer. Sat back down,
– now let’s see, she would be… now… 23 or 24. Not. Because.
American Alcohol Fetal Syndrome.
Oh, God Me.
She – never got this far, here, before, she died…
In late May, in 1987. I once knew her name, little Indian girl, and Save The Children, had told her, about us.
All I can remember,
– even up to my real now-time, here… in 2017, is the name of her Apache tribe, and their Mescalero Apache rez, in southern New Mexico. Current tribal count: 3156 souls. Living.
And I remember, Front Seat and Back Seat. God Bless. And Her.
– Leo G Campbell, Portland, Oregon 2/13/2017.