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Nov. 5, 2009
More than 1,000 say goodbye to Sonny Jim
CHURCH ROCK, N.M. - Memorial services were held for American Indian rodeo cowboy legend Sonny Jim on Oct. 29 at the Red Rock Convention Center.
The weather was cold with icy road conditions in the morning and the service was delayed one hour to give those traveling some extra time. The convention center was filled to capacity with over 1,000 guests coming and going throughout the event.
T.J. Holgate, master of ceremonies and good friend of Sonny Jim, stated, "The number of people in attendance is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the friends that Sonny Jim had across the country."
A procession of cowboys and cowgirls began with his daughters and close family each carrying one piece of his outfit such as his cowboy hat, medicine vest, headband, boots with spurs, and his cigars.
Sonny Jim strongly believed in his cultural teachings and he wished to return to the spirit world by cremation. For members of the Modoc Tribe, cremation was customary and sacred.
The memorial was unique and undoubtedly different from most funerals but that was the way Sonny Jim was - unique.
Chester Brown, spiritual advisor to Sonny Jim, stated, "We cannot find the words to express the feelings we have for our loved one, Sonny Jim."
A memorial honor song was sung by the Long Walk Descendants, followed by a prayer song for the children and family of Sonny Jim. Sonny danced in powwows at exhibitions doing the southern straight dance.
Powwow, rodeo and basketball are usually held at the same time on many reservations and that was one of the things Sonny Jim loved about Indian Country.
Amos Johnson, Navajo Nation Council delegate and family member, said the weather was symbolic of the rain that nourishes the earth. "The snow is a good sign," he stated.
The memorial service also included a eulogy for Wayne Johnson because he had no family or relatives. He lived alone and Sonny Jim was his closest friend and caregiver. Wayne was 75 years old when he and Sonny Jim were shot and killed Oct. 23 in Grants, N.M.
"Indian Love Song" and "Journey to the Spirit World," two of Sonny's favorite songs, were played as a special song dedication to him. One was written by the late Buddy Red Bow, a close friend.
Special tributes were given by family members. Cheewa James, sister, stated that Sonny Jim's parents met in Window Rock. Sonny's father, Clyde James, worked for a BIA irrigation program in the 1930s and his mother, Luella James, worked for BIA housing services.
They married at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup. Then they moved back to the Klamath Indian Reservation in Oregon where Sonny and his two sisters were born. Sonny Jim was born on Dec. 28, 1940.
Cheewa James said, "Sonny, with all of his wandering, finally came to where his heart was to rest forever, and that's here among the Navajo. I thank you for the love and care you gave my brother...he loved you back, he loved this land, he loved the people...he was a part of you."
Tributes were made by Sonny Jim's sister, Viola James, as well as his brother, Woody Crumbo Jr. "Sonny had one of the biggest hearts that God ever created so my challenge to you is let's all go out there and take a little bit of the Sonny Jim that touched us and let's try to be as compassionate as he was," Crumbo said.
His daughters Sonlatsa Sunshine Jim-Martin, Valara James and Sharon LaMothe also gave tributes to their father as they stood on stage with their families. They reflected his family reunion held during the Navajo Nation July 4 celebration this past summer and how they honored him for four full days.
Sonny Jim had over 18 grandchildren. One of Sonny Jim's classmates from Taos High School played a special flute song as the memorial service continued.
Steve Stevens, pro rodeo cowboy, shared his stories of Sonny Jim.
"Sonny taught me a lot...he taught a young boy to be a man. Sonny gave me the opportunity to learn about horses and now I live in Texas and train horses for a living and it's all because of you," Stevens said as he left the stage in tears.
Holgate said, "It is admirable how Sonny committed his life to help others...he turned city boys into steer wresters or college basketball players into cowboys. That is a trade in itself when somebody has that kind of talent, motivation and patience."
Marilyn Help, entertainer and family member, sang a Navajo horse song to honor Sonny Jim.
At the conclusion of the service, rodeo partner and adopted brother Sy Johnson spoke:
"He was an amazing guy who did amazing things...he used to say it's not the size of the cowboy, it's the heart that counts. Rodeo life is a tough life so you got to be tough."
From the Tohono O'Odham Nation in Sells, Ariz., Johnson asked the family to stay strong and stated that Sonny Jim taught him that each one of us has the strength if we look inside ourselves at who we are.
"Sonny taught me that everybody is unique and it's displayed right here in this hall. He was tough, so pull your hat down tight and go and keep that memory in your hearts and minds. Thank you, Old Man, for those memories."
Sammy C, Gallup sports announcer and businessman said, "I am honored to be here to honor the great legacy of Sonny Jim... I'm going to miss my friend, Sonny Jim. When I was a kid, I looked up to him. We had a tribute in July to honor Sonny at Sammy C's Sports Pub in downtown Gallup, where he autographed a picture and signed the basketball floor. He touched so many lives. There were no barriers to Sonny Jim. There was always a will and a way for Sonny Jim. He lived in the Wild West and died in the Wild West way and I am glad to have been a part of his life."
A benediction was given by Timothy Begay. A recessional concluded the memorial service as guests offered their condolences to the family.
The wife of Sonny Jim, Bobbie James, proceeded out to the rodeo arena to honor her husband with a victory ride. It was snowing outside as she mounted her horse and led Sonny's horse around the arena fully saddled, symbolic of his last ride.
Then, Matt Vail, a basketball star turned steer wrestler by Sonny Jim, got set in the gate to haze a steer for Sonny Jim's last steer-wrestling event. Those close to Sonny knew how proud he was of Matt Vail. The snow began to stop and the sun came out as guests cheered.
In the hall, family and friends continued to grieve and reminisce as Chucki Begay and the Mother Earth Blues Band played familiar songs from the family reunion in July. Sonny Jim was a singer and sang again for the first and last time with this band and his good friend, Stoney Yoavella. The band wrote and sang the following song in loving memory of him.
Cowboy's last ride
(words and music by Chucki Begay and the Mother Earth Blues Band)
The rodeo is calling your name
It's time to take that last ride to fame
So get on the spirit horse and ride back home
Rodeo was your way of life
Took you away from your family and your wife
Chasing a dream...that cowboy dream
Ride cowboy ride all the way to the other side
The spirit horse is waiting for you
So ride cowboy ride all the way to other side
The spirit horse will take you home
Cowboys never say goodbye
They just get on their horse and ride
Cowboys never say goodbye
They just get on their horse and ride away
Ride Sonny ride all the way to other side
The spirit horse is waiting for you
Ride Sonny ride all the way to the other side
The spirit horse will take you home
Paula Ann Shirley-Nakai
FORT DEFIANCE - A memorial service for Paula Ann Shirley-Nakai, 55, was held Nov. 4 at the Family Church Assembly of God in Fort Defiance.
Paula was born in Deer Spring, Ariz. She was Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for Maii Deeshgiizhnii (Coyote Pass Clan). She died in Fort Defiance.
Paula received her master's degree in psychology from Northern Arizona University. She pursued her passion to help students by working as a guidance counselor with the Window Rock School District.
Paula was a devoted Christian, loving mother, wife and grandmother. Her greatest love was her family, making a home and spending time together was her passion.
Survivors include her husband, Herbert Nakai of Fort Defiance; sons, Kyle Max of Vacaville, Calif., and Lydell Max of Fruitland, N.M.; daughters, Shaina Max of Mesa, Ariz., and Ashley Shea of Fort Defiance; and brothers, Harold Shirley of Flagstaff, Peter Shirley of Yakima, Wash., Patterson Shirley of Gallup, Patrick Shirley and Percy Shirley, both of Deer Spring, and Peterson Shirley of Vancouver, Wash.
Paula is preceded in death by her father, Paul Shirley Sr.; grandparents, Juan and Mary Shirley; brother, Paul Shirley Jr.; and sister, Laura Joe.
Tsé Bonito Mortuary was in charge of arrangements.
CHINLE - Funeral services for Morningstar Mesteth, 31, will be held today, Nov. 5, at 10 a.m. at the Potter's House in Chinle. Burial will follow at the Chinle Cemetery.
Morningstar was born Dec. 15, 1978. She was Tábaahá (Edge Water Clan), born for Sioux. She died Oct. 30, 2009, in Flagstaff.
Survivors include her daughter, Mariah Mesteth; sons, Terrell Mesteth and Myrle Mesteth; and mother, Leona Eskeets.
Morningstar is preceded in death by her father, Pete Mesteth; aunt, Delores Eskeets; and grandparents, Leonard and Marie Eskeets.
Tsé Bonito Mortuary is in charge of arrangements.
Mark S. Lewis
HOUCK, Ariz. - Funeral services for Mark S. Lewis, 80, were held Oct. 28, 2009, at Good News Mission in Houck, Ariz. The Fort Defiance veterans officiated the honorary 21 Gun Salute. Interment followed at the Houck Community Cemetery.
Mark was born May 10, 1929, in Sanders, Ariz. His clan is Honaghnii (One Who Walks Around), born for Dibelizhini (Blacksheep). His nali is Bizhebah (Rough Musrache), and his chei is Silversmith No. 1 (Goldtooth) and Hostan Tso (grandmother). He passed away Oct. 23, 2009, in Albuquerque.
Mark graduated from Fort Wingate High School on May 23, 1957. He served his country in Korea and Viet Nam Wars. He retired after 23 years of military service in 1970.
He completed courses in introduction to psychology from the University of Maryland and was able to fly a single airplane as a pilot. He was employed by Arizona State Labor program, the Navajo Tribe, director of Veterans Affairs and Division of Labor, retiring in 1995.
His hobbies included silversmith work, fishing, Chinese cooking, flying single engine aircrafts, repairing televisions, photography, auto mechanics and song and dances.
Surviving Mark are his sons, Tom S. Lewis of Gallup, Ted Lewis of Gallup, Bill Lewis of Albuquerque, and Stewart Lewis of Houck; stepsons, Art Preston of Lymon, Colo., and Ernest Preston of Fort Apache, Ariz.; daughter, Lillian Lewis Solis of Rio Rancho, N.M.; sisters, Irene Lewis of Window Rock, and Mildred Saltwater of Sanders; and 16 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and numerous nephews, nieces and great-nephews and great-nieces.
Mark is preceded in death by his son, Dr. Ervin Lewis; parents, Tom and Lillian Lewis; and sister, Isabelle Lewis.
Pallbearers were Pedro Solis Jr., Sean Lewis, Nolan Lewis, Louis Saunders, Eddie Harker, and Leo Eriacho.
Honorary pallbearers were Tony Eriacho Jr., Myron Eriacho and Reginald Lewis.
Mark will be dearly missed and will be forever in our hearts. We, the family and relatives, would like to thank everyone for all the prayers, love and support given to us at this time of grief.
Cope Memorial Mortuary in Gallup was in charge of arrangements.