My visit to the Gila River Indian Reservation in 1962 left an impression. As a cowboy, and all things cowboy, that visit was unnerving. Uncle Junior, my Mom’s brother, had made arrangements for us to visit the Indian school there. When I heard that I asked, “they have a school to teach how to be an Indian?” Everybody laughed, except me. As it turns out the first Indian school was established by the US government on the Gila River Indian Reservation for the Pimas and Maricopas in 1871 and Reverend Charles Cook was the teacher. It was an actual school like the one I went to in Paris, Ohio. I had my doubts. I truly thought that once they found out I was a cowboy that they would scalp me. I reluctantly went along.
At first, I kind of hid behind my parents. But as the tour went on, it was obvious that this school was pretty amazing. The teachers introduced me to their students and they treated me like one of them. We talked and asked questions about each other. They even taught me how to do the Eagle Dance, a dance for divine intervention because they believed Eagles carried messages to God. All in all, that day changed my entire view of the Native American. I learned that day to find out for myself before letting others prejudice my opinions or stoke my fears. Those kids were just like me, but in a different culture. Being young and impressionable, I went on an all-out commitment. I was into everything about Indians.
I brought some of their culture to my school by doing the Eagle Dance and sharing my experiences about the Indians. Playing cowboys and Indians had a whole new direction. Johnny West and Chief Cherokee became friends instead of foes. If the kids in school wanted to know anything about the Indians, they would ask me. No longer were we fighting the scalpers, we were just fighting bad guys, whatever they looked like. But then it got out of hand. My friends and I started this weird thing. I would hold my left arm straight like I was holding a bow. And pull an imaginary arrow out of my imaginary quiver, load up the bow, pull back the string and shoot it. This would start a chain reaction of several of my friends in class. All this was done behind the teacher’s back. When she turned around, we all suddenly stopped.
The rest of the class would laugh. Then when she was facing the chalkboard, it started over again. She caught on and out-drew us by turning around quickly. I was held up as the ring leader and got sent to the hallway. Not a place one wanted to be because the principal, Mr. Baldwin, was like the Ichabod Crane of Paris School. He would be inclined to take you up to his office and paddle you, then ask why you were in the hall. And sure enough, I heard his big wing-tips echoing down the hall. He turned the corner and I smiled and enthusiastically waved as if I was on an errand. He nodded and walked off. Psalm 127:4 says, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Not so much are kids with imaginary quivers of arrows in the classroom.