50 Years Ago

'Hallelujah Trail' makes the news

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

July 17, 2014

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Another big budget movie is preparing to film on the Navajo Reservation and it is anything but politically correct.

Well, for 1964 it was probably politically correct because there was no one in Indian Country who was protesting having non-Indians play Indian roles in movies. And there were no complaints about making fun of Indian names.

The movie was "Hallelujah Trail," a comedy about Indians, booze and life on the frontier. It starred Burt Lancaster as an army colonel and Lee Remick as a temperance leader. It also starred Martin Landau as Chief Walks-Stooped-Over and Robert Wilke as Chief Five Barrels.

Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai gave his total support to the movie, which in July 1964 set up its temporary headquarters in a small building on 4th and Coal in Gallup.

The producers of the movie set up the office to hire Navajos as movie extras during the two or three weeks of filming in the Tohatchi, N.M., area. This was a major operation as some 50 supporting players as well as the leads were also on hand along with more than 100 people assigned to the production staff.

Gallup hotels and restaurants were packed during the filming and Native craftsmen and women, especially those who lived in the Tohatchi area, also did well selling blankets, rugs, jewelry and pottery.

Lancaster was reported to have spent several thousand dollars on rugs for his Hollywood home and Remick purchased a lot of inexpensive jewelry to give out to crewmembers when the shoot was over.

The Navajo Times did its part by publishing stories about the shooting and encouraging Navajos to sign on as extras.

In other news, the war between the factions within the Navajo Tribal Council took a different path as members of the old guard began calling for the firing of Marshall Tome as the editor of the Navajo Times.

Howard Gorman, one of the members of the old guard, sent a letter to Tome and Nakai, calling for Tome's firing because of statements he made on KGAK Radio on July 12, 1964, praising Nakai's handling of the tribe's social security department.

The interesting thing about all of this is that Tome published the letter in full, something that the former general manager, Chet MacRorie, probably wouldn't have done.

Gorman called Tome incompetent and being under Nakai's thumb for the statements he made on KGAK and added that tribal law didn't allow tribal employees, which the Time's workers were, to get involved in tribal politics.

This marked a turning point in the relations between Nakai and Tome and for once they seemed to be on the same page. However, it put the Navajo Times in serious jeopardy because it was the Navajo Tribal Council and not the chairman's office that controlled the paper's funding.

But Tome continued to send mixed signals about which side, if either, he was on. On the same day he printed the letter from Gorman accusing him of going over to Nakai's side, Tome published an editorial praising Pat Nelson, the head of the tribe's police department.

Nelson had been fired that past week by Nakai, another victim of the fight between the Council and Nakai.

Tome, in his editorial, praised Nelson for bringing professionalism to the police department and for replacing many of the command staff that were non-Navajos with Navajos that he had trained to one day head the police department.

While expressing disappointment at his leaving, Tome said that he hoped that Nakai's decision would ultimately lead to the appointment of the first Navajo police chief.

Jack Anderson was named the acting police chief and he immediately made the headlines in the Gallup paper when he wrote a letter to the police chief in Gallup saying his department would not be providing 50 officers to help provide law enforcement assistant during the upcoming Gallup Ceremonial.

Nelson had promised the 50 officers but Anderson said that providing this many officers would jeopardize "the necessary strength of our force upon the reservation."

Anderson said he realized that the population on the reservation decreased significantly during the four days of the ceremonial as people camped out around Gallup to enjoy the events.

But he also said that statistics indicated that break-ins increased sharply as the reservation's criminal element realized that a lot of the homes would be left empty.

He said it was possible that the department could spare 10 officers but Gallup Police Chief Manuel Gonzales turned his offer down, saying that he would get by with the men on his force with the help of county deputies.

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