On the freeway, a merging of minds

By Duane A. Beyal
Special to the Times

Feb. 27, 2014

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"I don't agree with this Martin Luther King Junior Day and Black History Month," said Chuck, "and I'll tell you why."

The day had been shortening and the sun was getting low. I was standing beside Interstate 40 at the exit to Tohajiillee with my thumb held out to the uncaring traffic. Then a big white flatbed truck honked and pulled over. I gratefully ran up to the vehicle and climbed in. I said I was heading for Gallup and he said he would get me there.

The reason for his opposition to Black History Month, he explained, is that the Native Americans have been robbed and massacred and lost nearly everything.

"They should receive a true and just recognition," Chuck said, "before anyone else."

He drove fast and we passed semi-trailers and other vehicles as the miles fled under us. Chuck was a white guy with tattoos on his arms and with his sandy blonde hair tied in a ponytail. His cab was a mess with bags here and there. Empty coffee cups littered the floor. On his flatbed he was hauling a large bale of hay, circular and about six feet high.

"All I'm saying is that we should honor the tribes of this country before we honor anyone else," he declared.

As the sun began to set, he talked about horses, hunting, other hitch-hikers he had picked up and a trek he took with his wife in a mule-drawn wagon.

"We left Kentucky and rode our wagon all the way to Arizona," he said. "I love that lifestyle. Any you meet all kinds of good people along the way.

"The White Mountain Apaches are really good people," he said. "They welcomed us with our wagon."

On this evening, he was driving to his place outside of Kingman, Ariz., thinking he'd get there tonight, take a nap, then take the truck to a small town in California so he could get paid. He picked up trucks like this one and drove them across the country.

We pulled over at the Dancing Eagle Casino to get gas. I got down to get something to drink and was surprised to see he had only one leg. He said a driver passing another vehicle had hit him head-on on his motorcycle causing him to lose his leg, among other injuries.

But, he said, the accident happened because he put himself into the situation where it happened. If he had stopped for any reason before it happened, he might have avoided it. So he played a role in what transpired and made his peace with the loss of his leg.

"I remember I was hitch-hiking and some local Indian boys picked me up," he said. "They worked at the casino and when they got off they picked me up again and took me to Grants.

"They were good people, too," he said.

He then asked me if it was true that land was controlled by the females in my culture. I explained that the boys who had picked him up were probably Laguna-Acoma and that is a different tribe than I am, which is Navajo. But there could be some parallels between our cultures.

He then launched into a talk about how he helps people learn to get along with horses.

"Horses are very sociable, like dogs or even other people," he said, "and I help people to handle their horses the right way. A lot of people just get mad at their horses when the reason the animal is acting up is pretty simple."

He had a friend who had just gotten a horse but when the animal was saddled up and ridden out of the corral it would go a short distance then start bucking. He counseled the owner to try a different length of cinch and to talk to the horse, to rub its shoulders.

Finally the owner, in the course of rubbing the horse's shoulder, noticed that it reacted when he touched one spot. So Chuck said the problem is the saddle. It's rubbing the horse the wrong way and the bucking was the horse trying to say there's something wrong with this equipment.

"After that, he and the horse got along just fine," Chuck said. "As I've said, many people would just have gotten mad at the horse and everything would have been bad. But just treating your horse like your dog can eliminate many problems. Horses -- like dogs -- depend on us for many things, not the least of which is companionship."

Regarding hunting, he said he doesn't hunt anymore because the whole idea of killing a deer for its head was contrary to his beliefs.

"I used to hunt deer all year," he said. "I'd track them and follow them throughout the year so when the hunting season came I'd know where to go to find them. I'd even pick out which deer I was going to harvest.

"But after a while, I couldn't justify it anymore so I stopped," he said.

He spoke nonstop, hardly pausing and I let him talk. He covered many other topics during our drive to Gallup. When he finally pulled over and let me off, the evening was nearly complete and I shook his hand.

"It was good talking with you," he said.

"Same here," I said, as I shook his hand.

Then he pulled away into the darkening night and among the lights of the traffic. I stood and watched the big truck disappear, and thought about his philosophy and ideas, so much like my own.

Good trip and good luck, Chuck, I said as I headed home.

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