Thursday, March 30, 2023

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50 Years Ago: A fight, a shooting and a bartender

The Navajo Times is going after bartenders in light of a shooting that occurred in late October 1965 at a bar in Lupton.

In the strongest editorial since becoming acting managing editor of the tribal newspaper three months ago, and possibly the strongest in the five-year history of the Navajo Times, Leslie Goodluck spoke out on the senseless deaths caused by alcohol abuse on and near the Navajo Reservation.

What stirred Goodluck’s ire was the death of Junior Cooley, 22, at the Charlie and Mary Bar in Lupton on October 30, 1965.

According to Navajo Police Inspector Kenneth Clayton, Cooley was shot once in the heart with a .22 caliber automatic by a man named Jimmy Price during a fight at the bar. Price was the bartender.

Clayton said Cooley got in a fight with another Navajo inside the bar. The fight ended when Price threw out both men.

However, said Cayton, Cooley re-entered the bar and grabbed a bottle of wine and, according to witnesses, threatened Price and began chasing him with the bottle of wine in his hand.

Price ran outside, said Clayton, and called for his wife to bring him a gun. His wife brought him .22 Luger automatic and handed it to Price, who was running backwards, said Clayton.

Price then fired four shots at Cooley, who was standing still. He missed all four times. Then Cooley rushed at Price again and Price turned, and fired one more shot, this time over his shoulder, striking Cooley in the chest just above the heart.

Clayton said Cooley died at the scene.

The shooting is being investigated by tribal police from Window Rock and Lupton as well as by FBI agents from Holbrook. Price was not arrested and tribal officials said if it turns out that he felt he was in danger, the shooting would probably be considered justifiable.

The Charlie and Mary Bar was, at the time, located on the Navajo Reservation although there were tribal and federal laws making it illegal to operate a tavern on Indian land.

Clayton said the owners of the bar had an exemption because it had opened before the land was turned over to the Navajos,
In an editorial labeled “an open letter to bartenders who serve Navajos,” Goodluck had this to say:
“Ex-serviceman Junior Cooley, after being hit by the bullet, walked about 20 steps forward and fell to the ground, face down. At the time of his death, Junior’s body was approximately 40 yards from the entrance to the bar.

“Meanwhile, Louise Price, wife of the bartender, had called the police. We cannot help but wonder why the Navajo police were not called earlier when Junior was first causing the problem at the bar.

“The Navajo Tribe spends more than a million dollars a year to enforce law and order on the Navajo Reservation. Junior Cooley might be alive today if the police had been called in time.

“We have said it before and we will say it again – there are a lot of Navajos but they are not as expendable as some people seem to think.

“Junior Cooley was willing to sacrifice his life for the rest of us when he joined the Army. He spent three years overseas. If he had happened to stop a bullet when he was in the Army, he would have died a hero’s death.

“Junior’s life was of value to him. Junior’s life was of value to his family and to his friends.

“Bartenders who serve liquor to Indians or non-Indians should certainly known better than to expect to be treated with the same courtesy from their customers as the courtesy given to preachers by members of their congregation.

“Anytime someone is a bartender, he should expect a little trouble along with his profit. He should know how to handle trouble. He should know when to call the police. Customers are too valued to have them shot.

“Junior – special ‘good-bye to you’ – and we hope that your timely death will at least make some other bartender stop and think twice.”

Leslie Goodluck, acting editor, in future articles on the subject indicated that Price was not arrested in the killing but he did suffer some bad image problems that caused a decline in his business.

 To read the full article, pick up your copy of the Navajo Times at your nearest newsstand Thursday mornings!

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About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan wrote about Navajo Nation government and its people since 1971. He joined Navajo Times in 1976, and retired from full-time reporting in 2018 to move to Torrance, Calif., to be near his kids. He continued to write for the Times until his passing in August 2022.


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