Cindy Murray is a Global Volunteer and a social activist photographer who has been visiting the Blackfeet Reservation over a sequence of summers. She was looking for info about the rez and hit my online “book” called “Heartbreak Butte,” about the two years (’89-’91) I taught at the beginning of the high school in Heart Butte, a village in the foothills of the rez. (www.heartbreakbutte.blogspot.com) She sent me an email note and included a link to her online photo album. http://socialdocumentary.net/photographer/cindymurray She had no idea how it would hit me. I don’t think she realized that had I been in and out of the rez since 1961.
More than that, I was married to a white sculptor born there who portrayed the nineteenth century Blackfeet by using contemporary Blackfeet tribal members. Bob Scriver’s father had come in 1903 and founded the Browning Mercantile as a federally authorized trader. Some feel that the 19th century didn’t end until WWI. Even when I came in 1961, the people who posed for Bob had been born in the 1870’s and ’80’s -- the Civil War years. It was the Civil War cavalry veterans who finished the prairie clearances of tribes. This is not the sort of thing that is always conveyed to Global Volunteers.
The "old" Browning cemetery
The photo that really smacked me was of Hoppy Big Beaver’s headstone, or -- more accurately -- head “board.” Hoppy was one of “my” kids in my earliest teaching years. He was a big jolly guy. In terms of Hollywood casting, he was a little like a baby version of Gary Farmer. I tell two stories about him. One was about pulling into the parking lot at the county courthouse and hearing my name shouted: “Hey, Miss Strachan! Up here! It’s Hoppy! I’m in jail!” Sure enough, he was looking down at me from up where the holding cells were, waving his arm out between the bars so I’d spot him. I gave him a big arm swing and shout-out in response. Since Bob was the city magistrate and justice of the peace in Browning, I knew most of the drunks. A surprisingly likable bunch. It's crazy that white people are so scared of them.
On another occasion Hoppy was locked up in Browning in the tribal jail, in those days a truly awful place, a small cement building at the bottom of the water tower. When it got impossibly “grody”, the officers went looking for Ida Cut Finger, affectionally called “Ida Baby” in her street drunk role. While she dried out in jail, she scrubbed, and she was very good at it. It was agreed that while Hoppy was serving his time, he should still go to school, but he stunk of vomit and general dankness really bad. The superintendent of the time, Phil Ward, arranged for him to come up early with a deputy and use the PE showers in the morning. He was also supplied a set of sweats to be kept in a locker at school. I don’t recall him being either upset or grateful. He took life as it came at him.
From here on, I’m quoting a memory supplied by Verena Rattler, who knew Hoppy much better than I did. For a while she wrote a column for the Glacier Reporter.
Every time I see an Elvis Presley movie or see him sing and gyrate around, I think of my cousin, Vernon "Hoppy" Big Beaver. He would have been around 60 years old now. My Aunt Sarah (Running Crane) LaMott was married to Eddie Big Beaver, and they adopted Hoppy when he was just a baby. He was named Hoppy because at that time Sarah and Eddie were in Washington, picking hops.
When I was really young I remember a lot of people who couldn't find jobs around here, so they would go to Washington to pick apples or hops. Hoppy was a Red Horn. Jackson Red Horn is one of his brothers. If memory serves me right his mom was from the Stewart family of the Crow Indian Reservation.
Anyway, Hoppy was an only child to my Aunt Sarah, and she thought the world of him and therefore spoiled him a bit. Sarah lived in my Grandma Kipp's house at Blackfoot with Hoppy and her husband, Joe Evans. Hoppy's friends (Alfred "Small Fry" Guardipee, Galen Potts and Alvin Monroe, to name a few) frequently stayed with Hoppy at Blackfoot. They were close as brothers to him and were raised together. I and my brothers and sisters used to also go and stay at Sarah's, too.
Hoppy really idolized Elvis Presley. He dressed like him in tight fitting jeans, loose fitting shirt tucked in, with the collar up, and black, sharp-toed boots. He would gyrate around like Elvis and would sing like him. Sarah only had a wood stove, and Hoppy found a really big, long nail and he would heat it up in the stove and have me and Lucille curl his hair on top with it, and he would fix a hank of hair in the front to imitate Elvis. Ho, we really had to be careful not to burn him or our fingers. Then he would put the Brylcreem on so his hair was nice and shiny.
We were raised really close to Hoppy. He was close as a brother to us. Anyway, at a very young age Hoppy started getting in trouble with the law. He ended up in reform school in Englewood, Colorado. He would get out of jail here or there and end right back in there. I guess he was kind of a rebel in those days. Sarah and my mom would be so stressed out all the time, trying to get him out of trouble. My dad would always talk to him, trying to get him to change his ways, but Hoppy was stuck in his ways too much.
At one time Blackfoot, MT. was the end of the Great Northern while the tracks were built through Marias Pass.
He and his friends used to always hitch rides on freight trains at Blackfoot to Washington. Hoppy learned to play the guitar, and he would write me letters all the time from wherever he was and he'd write on them "500 Miles Away from Home." That song always reminds me of him.
Anyway, he got in trouble again and ended up in jail in Monroe, Wash. Sarah passed away around 1970 or so, and the authorities wouldn't let Hoppy come home for his mom's funeral. This really had a big impact on Hoppy because he loved his mom so much. When he got out of jail he came home for a while and stayed at our house in Blackfoot. He later went back to Washington.
I think it was around 1972 or so, and my brothers were riding their horses from Boarding School to town and they were going to let them go home to Blackfoot, down by the old dump road. Our horses really knew their way home. It was blizzarding, and I was waiting below Kicking Woman's in my old LTD and Harold Butterfly pulled up beside me. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was waiting for my brothers and I was going to haul their saddles and bring them home.
All of a sudden we just heard a really loud noise like someone was shooting near us. We couldn't see anyone around, though. Then my brothers showed up and unsaddled their horses and put their saddles in my trunk, released their horses and got in. I told them I heard a gunshot.
I lived at Last Star homes at the time, and my brothers and sisters used to stay with me in my new three-bedroom house when they weren't in boarding school. Mom and Dad still lived in their old house, waiting for a mutual home to be built.
I drove them up to Mom and Dad's. Dad came out and told us to get down to the jail right away because Hoppy got shot in Washington and he died. At that time, hardly anyone had telephones. Emergency calls were made to the jail and the police would deliver messages. I must have heard the gunshot when Hoppy got killed. Oh, that was so sad. My mom was crying really hard and trying to get in contact with authorities in Washington to bring Hoppy home. He married a girl from up there and had a baby girl, Verna Jo.
The police told mom that Hoppy was killed over a pool game. Hoppy died at a young age, too young. He must have been only about 24 or so. I remember Hoppy as a person who liked to have fun, have friends around him and he could really imitate Elvis. Oh, and did I say he had a lot of girlfriends, too?
His buddies, Small Fry and Galen, were really close to us, too. Small Fry went to the SIPI art school at Santa Fe and also went to Vietnam. He later had a family, raised his children and later died from cancer from that Agent Orange they used in the Vietnam War.