Let’s Save Us Some Souls!

The new preacherman at the Christian Church of Apache Oklahoma, looked me up after he’d been in town a while and invited me over to his place. Turns out he was interested in becoming a mission-nary to Africa and wanted to meet one of the real-deal Africans he’d heard and read so much about. Maybe suss out just how much we needed saving?

A HUGE man, six feet and nine inches tall, Ron Elrick wore a string tie, a 10 gallon stetson and cowboy boots, making him damn near eight feet tall fully dressed as he stooped through doors and bent down to shake people’s hands. I met his tiny little wife who was seemingly half his height, and two lil daughters. He was an ex-Canadian Mountie and a picture on his mantelpiece showed him towering over John Wayne, when Wayne was in Canada to film a movie.

The actor Mountie in the movie had to be shorter than John Wayne!

Soon he invited me to join him on a men’s retreat to “God’s Forty Acres” in NE Oklahoma (the yanks are way ahead of Angus Buchan in this “get away from the wife, go camping on a farm, and when you get back tell her you’re the boss, the head of the house, the patriarch – the ‘prophet'” shit. I mean, this was 1973!). I had made it known from my arrival in Apache that I would join anybody and go anywhere to see the state and get out of school – I mean hey! I’d already DONE matric!

So we hopped into his muddy pink wagon with ‘wood’ panelling down the sides – it looked a bit like these in the pictures. We roared off from Caddo county heading north-east, bypassing Oklahoma City and Tulsa to somewhere near Broken Arrow or Cherokee county  – towards the Arkansas border, anyway. Me n Ron driving like Thelma and Louise.

Non-stop monologue on the way. He didn’t need any answers, I just had to nod him yes and he could talk non-stop for hours on end. At the retreat there were hundreds of men & boys just like him, no women. Unless you count them who made and served the food. The men were all fired up for the Lawd, bellowing the Retreat Song at the drop of a hat:

“In Gahd’s Fordy Yacres . . !!”♫

We musta sang it 400 times in that weekend. If I was God I’d have done some smiting.

We left at last and headed back, wafting along like on a mattress in that long slap wagon, when Ron suddenly needed an answer: Had I ever seen a porno movie? WHAT? I hadn’t? Amazing! Well, jeez, I mean goodness, he felt it as sort of like a DUTY to enlighten me and reveal to me just how evil and degraded these movies could be. So we detoured into Tulsa. Maybe he regarded it as practice for the mission-nary work he was wanting to do among us Africans?

We sat through a skin flick in a seedy movie house. It was the most skin ‘n pubic hair ‘n pelvis ‘n organs this 18yr old boykie from the Vrystaat had seen to date so it was, after all, educational. Thin plot, though.

I suppose you could say I got saved and damned all on one weekend.

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footnote:

Ron did get to Africa as a mission-nary. He was posted to Jo-hannesburg. Lotsa ‘sinners’ in Jo-hannesburg, I suppose. I’m just not sure they need ‘saving’ by a Canadian Mountie.

The Subway

Greg Seibert arrived in Harrismith from Ohio in 1972 as a Rotary exchange student.

In 2014 he was sending sister Sheila some of his pictures from those wayback days. He wrote: Here is one I’m sure you will like. It is one of the very first pics that I took in Harrismith, probably the day after I got there. You or Koos took me down to the field hockey field. I remember people saying it was by the subway. Boy was I impressed! The only subways that I knew were the underground trains in London and New York! Imagine little Harrismith being so advanced as to having one of those!

Well…I was a bit disappointed…lol!

New York subway’s Grand Central Station

The feature pic and this pic are not the Harrismth subway, but do give an idea of what it looks like. I’m looking for some actual pics of our illustrious subway.

Wounded Knee, the A.I.M and Me

The Native Americans in Apache welcomed me very hospitably. One concerned Rotarian drew me aside at the time of the 1973 Wounded Knee incident which was very big news in Oklahoma. Oglala Sioux and AIM activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. US Marshals, FBI agents, and other law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area.

Wounded Knee 1973

The activists had chosen the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre for its symbolic value. The military was armed, the protesters were not. The Rotarian told me to be careful; the AIM was restless and could kidnap me to make demands. He certainly meant well, but it sounded far-fetched to me. After 71 days the occupation ended. Two protesters had been shot dead.

I got nothing but inclusive friendliness from the many American Indians, as they called themselves then, at school. At school they were classmates and Apache Warrior teammates in athletics and football. They invited me to a traditional pow wow one evening, and they presented me with gifts at one of their functions. 

. . .

Melvin Mithlo was a year my junior at school. He was a keen member of the American Indian Movement AIM and was fascinated by stories he had heard of the Zulus in South Africa. He would ask me about them and teach me about American Indian history. Given my avoidance of history – I gave it up in high school as soon as I could – and the poor white-wash version of history that we were taught anyway, he taught me way more than I taught him. Not that he learnt his history in school. The real history of the American West was so much more crooked, sad and brutal than the star-spangled bullshit taught by teachers. As in South Africa, they would be following the official white-wash school syllabus.

Melvin taught me about the AIM which, just before I got to Apache, had gathered about 800 members and people from other Indian groups from across the United States for a protest in Washington, D.C. known as the Trail of Broken Treaties.

He also taught me about Wounded Knee the tragic last hurrah of Indian independence in 1890. Briefly, Native Americans were squeezed into ever-smaller areas and every time they were allocated land, promises were reneged on and more and more land was stolen by settlers or government. Any resistance was depicted as hostility and the army – and vigilante bands – were sent in to murder any resisters – or even peaceful people. Many settlers believed the only real solution to the “Indian Problem” was extermination.

In broad strokes, U.S. government policy toward the Indians of the Great Plains and Far West went through four phases in the 19th century:

  • Removal from lands east of the Mississippi;
  • Concentration in a vast “Indian territory” between Oklahoma and North Dakota;
  • Confinement to much smaller “reservations” on part of that land; and
  • Assimilation of the Indians into white American-style farming and culture, through the allotment of even smaller, individual tracts of barren land. More honestly called the termination of the tribes.

The natives lost at every step, they were lied to and cheated at every turn, and their territory and rights shrunk with each new phase. The saying ‘White Man Speak With Forked Tongue’ was simply the plain truth.

Around 1890 a Paiute holy man in Nevada preached a new sort of nonviolent religion. If Indians gave up alcohol, lived simply and traditionally and danced a certain slow dance, the Great Spirit would return them their lands, and white ways and implements would disappear. By the time the belief reached the Northern Plains and the Sioux tribe, it had garnered a slightly more militant message and spread widely among the hopeless and despondent tribe. The “Ghost Dance” terrified whites and Indian agents, and when a band left the main reservation to dance on the Badlands of South Dakota, the U.S. Army sent in the Cavalry. Tribal police were sent to arrest Sitting Bull at his home, and in the violence that followed, Sitting Bull and more than a dozen other men—both policemen and supporters of the chief—were killed.

490 cavalrymen then set out in the winter snow and surrounded the Ghost Dance band along Wounded Knee Creek. The soldiers began disarming the Sioux when a gun went off. A massacre ensued, and the soldiers fired four new big machine guns down into the encampment from all sides.

Wounded Knee machine guns

Virtually all the Indians – one hundred and forty-six of them – were killed, including 62 women and children. It was a massacre. Twenty-five soldiers were killed, most of them probably shot in crossfire from their own forces.

Wounded Knee grave

The U.S. Army – desperate to depict the incident as a “battle”- in a despicable, dishonest aftermath, awarded no fewer than twenty ‘Medals of Honor’ to the troopers at Wounded Knee. They have never been rescinded.

(Shades of the British defence against the Zulus at Rorke’s Drift after their big thrashing at Isandlwana. Eleven Victoria Crosses were dished out there to act as fig leaves and little was said of the equally despicable massacre that followed the defence. I wish I had known that inside story to tell Melvin!)

The Massacre at Wounded Knee was the biggest domestic massacre in U.S. history. One hundred years later both U.S. houses of congress issued a half-baked apology of sorts: only a voice vote was taken, no-one had to stand up and be counted; no reparation was offered; no shameful, undeserved “Massacre Murder Medals of (dis)Honor” were rescinded.

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Bugged by Bugs in a Red Bug in Canada

north america map

Stage Three (in yellow on the map) of my Great North American Road Trip started in Cobleskill in upstate New York, where Stage Two had ended.

A red VW Bug swept up the drive and out poured three lovely Okies and an Aussie. Sherry Porter, owner of the Bug and twins Dottie and Dale Moffett. Sherry had been a favourite high school teacher of the girls in Ardmore a few years prior. Jonathan Kneebone was an Aussie, a character, say no more. Liked a beer.

We headed north to the Canadian border. At the border the man leaned in, asked “All American?” and was about to wave us through when Jonathan and I said “Um, no”. “Australian” said Kneebone and the man made to step back again and wave us through when he registered what I had said. “Uh, come with me please sir. I need to check your passport,” he said. An hour later we were off again – to Montreal. That’s where you see Dottie sitting on the grass.

On to Ottawa where we bumped into Indira Ghandi on a state visit to Pierre Trudeau. She chose to arrive while we were staring at some government building or other. I’m not sure I’ve seen another head of state in the flesh ever. Oh well, one’s enough.

Somewhere around here I dinged Sherry’s car! “I’ll drive!” I shouted as we headed for the pub. I promptly reversed and BANG! I got out and saw to my great relief – how horrible was this!? – that I’d hit a huge Dodge pickup with a bumper a yard deep; not a scratch on it! Poor Sherry’s prize VW wasn’t so lucky. I wrecked her left rear fender and light and I had no money to pay for the damage. DAMN!! Sherry of course was an absolute star about it, bless her!

Dottie, Dale, Jonathan, me and Sherry in Sherry's Bug: Canada here we come!

Then Toronto, Waterloo and up around Lake Superior, Sudbury, Sault St Marie, Thunder Bay. What a sight Superior was! Biggest stretch of fresh water imaginable. For a Vrystater, awe-inspiring! We camped en route wherever we could squirrel away for free. Only once were we shoo-ed, but by a Mountie with a big hat, so it was worth it!

Canada Mountie, Patrol Car

Here we used a rock for a mattress. We had just woken up but Kneebone was already being Australian!

Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?) in Canada

Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?)

Once we stayed in an old railway station converted to a sort of backpackers, the track ripped up and turned into a trail. Then we needed to go canoeing. When in Canada, canoe! So we hired two boats in Quetico National Park, Lake of the Woods (take all these names with a pinch of salt; these are 45yr-old memories!). Internet pictures of the area:

After one night we turned back and ran, tails between our legs! We had spent the day trying to dodge dark clouds of midges and no-see-ems, or black flies. When you ran your hand through your hair it came out covered in blood. That night we pitched the tents on an island in a cloud of mozzies. We lined up with our kit, zipped open, dived in and zipped up immediately. So fast that we only had fourteen million mosquitoes in the tent, a fraction of what was hovering and zeeeee-ing outside! Ama-azing! Canada sure has bugs!!

But what beautiful country:

Lake Woods 3

As we’d cut our canoe trip short we decided to carry on into Manitoba, but Canada is vast, so we soon cut back and headed south for the US border at International Falls, into Minnesota, across the Mississippi River where its still quite small and headed south for Iowa, where I had to leave the gang.

My host family from Apache Don & Jackie Lehnertz were up there and would be driving me back to Apache via Iowa, Missouri and Kansas on Stage Four. I’m afraid I slept a lot of that trip!

map Road Trip USA Home to Apache 1973

 

 

Road Trip Out West

Jim n Katie Patterson, wonderful host family in Apache took girlfriend Dottie Moffett and I on a special trip out west, driving across the Texas panhandle to New Mexico, where Jim’s Mom Merrell had a cottage outside Red River in the Sangre de Christo mountains.

Granma Merrill's Cottage outside Red River

Granma Merrill’s Cottage outside Red River

Here we stayed with the gang – the wonderful group of Apache friends the Pattersons hung out with: Manars, Hrbaceks, Mindemanns and Paynes.

After a terrific stay there, we headed off to Vegas in their Ford LTD via Colorado and Utah

Colorado1973 (4).JPG

The LTD, with Dottie Moffett, Katie and Jim Patterson

In Colorado we rode a historic steam train from Durango north to Silverton.

Then via Utah, where we visited Bryce Canyon and Zion NP.

Bryce Canyon small

In Vegas we stayed at The Stardust on The Strip. I learnt to gamble, I learnt to win. I battled to lose. Dottie was a good luck charm! I kept winning small amounts so kept on and on gambling, determined to lose. Finally as dawn approached we were down by a considerable fortune – $10 – and could go to bed.

We saw Joan Rivers being delightfully rude and Petula Clark warbling away (also Joan warbled a song and Pet told a joke!). I learnt a Vegas rule when saw Jim slip the doorman a cri$p note to get us a good table!

StardustSign1973

1973 Vegas strip scene

After Vegas we stopped off at The Grand Canyon: We stared down at this awesome sight from the lookout on the south rim. We only had a few hours there, so we’re just look-see tourists. Suddenly I couldn’t stand it! I had to get down there.

I started running down the Bright Angel trail. It’s about 10km to the river. I’ll give myself an hour, I think. The run was easy on a well-maintained track with the only real obstacle being the ‘mule trains’. Only once I had to step off the trail and let a bunch of mules pass. I made sure I was on the upside!

Bright Angel trailhead
Bright Angel Trail seen from the South Rim. Grand Canyon NP, Arizona.

At first it was all open desert trail, but at Indian Gardens I was surprised by the amount of greenery in the canyon. From the rim it looks like all desert, but in the protected gorges there’s green shrubbery and even some tall trees.

Indian Gardens Grand Canyon.jpg

In well under an hour I got to just above the river. I stared in awe at the swiftly-moving green water. I had never seen such a large volume of water flowing clear like that. Our South African rivers mostly run muddy brown, and I wasn’t expecting clear water. Right then I thought I MUST get onto this river! I’d started kayaking a couple of years before, but if I’d been asked I’d probably have said on a raft, little knowing that in eleven years time I would kayak past that very spot, under that same bridge in 1984 on a flood-level river!

bridge grand canyon.jpg

1973 on foot

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (27)

1984 in kayaks

The hike back out was steep, but hey, I was 18yrs old! Cross-country running had been my favourite obsession the year before, so no (or an acceptable amount of) sweat!

Then we headed home, by and large following the old historic Route 66 – the new I40. Flagstaff Arizona, Albuquerque New Mexico, Amarillo Texas, and back to Oklahoma. To Apache and then Dottie on to Ardmore. What a wonderful trip with amazing people!

I learned later:

  • The name Colorado was for its muddy colour and its clarity is in fact an undesirable artifact because of the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell upstream;
  • The 10km climb down Bright Angel is about 1000m vertically, and every metre you’re going back about 100 000 years in geological time!
  • They tell you Do Not try to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day!
  • Jim has hiked the rim to rim hike through the canyon a number of times since – an annual pilgrimage – the last time he did it he was 70!

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***most pics off the ‘net – I’ll add my own as I find them!***

Road Trip with Larry USA

My four-stage 1973 road trip started in Apache Oklahoma. We drove down in the Ford LTD in Stage One to stay with Mama and Papa Hays, Katie Patterson’s folks, in Shreveport Louisiana. There we ‘visited’, played golf – I recall smacking the ball under big old trees draped in lichen, or old man’s beard – and ate superbly. Larry and his sister Ginny joined us, having driven down from Cobleskill NY and we got ready for Stage Two of my Great North American Road Trip: Heading north-east in a grey Volkswagen Bug.

Ginny, Katie, Mama Hays, Jimmy, Papa Hays, Larry, Mary-Kate in Shreveport LA
Ginny, Katie, Mama & Papa Hays, Jimmy, Larry, Mary-Kate – Shreveport LA

One more passenger meant we needed a U-Haul carrier on the roof.

Larry VW Bug Shreveport

I remember surprisingly little about this trip north-east! We left the Red River and crossed the Arkansas River near Little Rock; I remember camping:

Larry VW Bug Camping

I remember crossing the mighty Mississippi River in or near St Louis, where the Missouri joins it;

The only thing I remember clearly is hoping my ID would be checked at the door when we went for my very first legal beer at a TGIF bar in Missouri (it wasn’t).

And I remember getting to Larry’s hometown Cobleskill, a beautiful little town in upstate New York, and meeting his parents.

The Wingert's place in Cobleskill NY

That’s a really vague and sketchy recollection of a magic route! Larry doesn’t remember much more. In fact he confidently remembered the VW Bug as being red! ‘Tis not only my memory glands that are dodgy, I’m relieved to tell.

He’s going to ask his sister Virginia. She’ll know more.