A quadriplegic horse gentler helps reservation boys through their dangerous teens
Copyright (C) 2009 by Lisa Jones. From the forthcoming book Broken: A Love Story by Lisa Jones, to be published by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., N.Y. Printed by permission.
Daniel Addison was 17 years old and skinny when I met him five years ago, although it was hard to say for sure because he wore such oversized clothes. When he rode a horse near his home on Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation, he flopped and clinked around in the saddle like a heap of black laundry encrusted with chains.
Daniel was Northern Arapaho Goth.
Once I said to him, "It must be really easy to do your laundry since everything's black."
He looked blank.
"When all the clothes are black, the colors don't bleed onto each other," I explained.
He looked at me quietly for a few seconds, then said with real feeling, "Yeah, but black fades."
I was at Daniel's house because I was writing a book about his father, Stanford Addison, a quadriplegic horse gentler and traditional healer. An endless stream of visitors came to Stanford's house seeking help with troublesome horses and neighbors, or relief from cancer and bipolar disorder. I was a frequent visitor over a five-year period, and at Stanford's I experienced enough joy, pain and transcendence to change my life. But that's another story. Suffice it to say Stanford was the gentlest and most powerful person I'd ever met.
One evening, Stanford was saying something to me like "when people are angry, they flare red," and I was letting the statement work slowly through my white, unmystical synapses when Daniel yelled, "Aaaa!"
He was about four feet away from us, scrutinizing his face in the bathroom mirror.
"A hair!" he hollered. "On my chin!" Being from a Northern and hairy race myself, I grew up believing that for 17-year-old boys finding a hair on their chin would be an occasion for joy, or perhaps relief. Not for Daniel.
He came over, thrust his chin into my face, and said, "Can you see it? Can you see it?"
I couldn't, I promised.
"Oh, man," he said disgustedly. "I look like a man who lives on a island."
What did that mean? Maybe he meant someone who'd survived a shipwreck. Or maybe for a Plains Indian whose life is all about roaming the Wyoming sage in his grandma's borrowed Cutlass Sierra -- which Daniel had done with satisfaction until a couple of months before, when he swerved to avoid a horse in the darkness and totaled the car, emerging characteristically unscathed himself -- maybe for a young guy like that, living on an island would be a confining, bad, hairy experience.
I loved Daniel even though he bred pit bulls. He gave them delicate, feminine, frontiersy names -- Daisy, Eve and Nell -- but the dogs were still killers in the "I'm just playing but oops now I'm killing" way of their breed. They killed my favorite dog at Stan's, a little mutt named Mark that ran with the pack around the house. Daniel was there when this happened, and had been bursting to tell me about it for months, but he had been sternly instructed to tell me the little dog had been killed by a porcupine. Mark was six months dead when I found out the truth, and I was grateful for the lie.
I loved Daniel even though he wrote violent rap lyrics. A lot of the boys at Stanford's did this. His house sheltered a rotating cast of several boys. There were nephews and other relatives, plus kids the tribal justice and social service systems brought to Stanford to house and mentor.
What made Daniel unusual among his cousins and peers was that underneath the Goth clothes, underneath the part supermodel, part scarecrow presentation, underneath the rap lyrics, underneath all that, he was serious. More than serious; he was priestly. Other than his clothes and the pit bulls, he owned one thing: A DVD of the movie The Passion of the Christ, which he loaned out only with great hesitation.
Me: "Daniel, have you ever considered going for it as a Native American rapper, or using your looks to become a model and help your dad pay to get some decent fences around here?"
Daniel: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."
Stanford, from his bed: "Hey, it ain't a bad thing to make some money, if it helps other people out."
Daniel, Daniel. Kicked out of Wyoming Indian High School in the ninth grade for fighting, he'd spent the last two years flopping around his grandma Stella's house, which stood about 200 yards down the road from Stanford's, borrowing cigarettes, using the phone to talk for hours to a girl who lived 12 hours south in Pueblo, Colo. This presented a geographic challenge requiring the extraction of money and rides from not only his own grandmother, but his girlfriend's as well.
He could charm his grandma out of $20 in about 20 seconds.
"She talks all tough -- ‘I ain't giving that kid another penny!' " Stanford told me, "and then he comes in and sweet-talks her and she gives him 20 bucks! It's embarrassing."
Stella Addison was tough, but she'd borne nine children and now she was past 70. She was tired. Sometimes she had her grandkids and sundry relatives living in her house on a tight leash, badgering them to make pineapple upside-down cake and Spanish rice for dinner. Other times there was a brawl.
I didn't know what part Daniel played in the brawls at Stella's, but I never saw him implicated. He was quiet, a Goth priest out in the yard playing with his dogs, moving below the radar of conflict and loss.
But then things started to change.
One night, a guy Daniel knew named Luke came in and started picking a fight. Luke cuffed Daniel, danced around, delivering some stronger, more serious punches to his face. Daniel leaned out and decked him in the nose.
Luke was taken aback.
"Why'd you do that, Daniel?" he asked, hurt.
"Cuz, man, you hit me first!" said Daniel.
It went from there, until Stella waded into the middle of the fight and broke it up, yelling, "I'm gonna call the cops on you kids!" and then did so.
"She called the cops on me," Daniel told me later, his eyes lit up with triumph and affection and acceptance of the rightful order of things.
As the years went by, the teenage boys at Stan's house took on the appearance of a bunch of pirates, or rap stars from East L.A. Daniel even named one of his pit bulls Compton. The boys' clothes were black. They wore skullcaps and chains, and their hairdos were intricate combinations of shaved skin and corn rows braided close to their skulls. There was Daniel, who moved from his grandma's to Stanford's. There was his big brother Beau, who sometimes stayed and sometimes didn't. Daniel and a lot of the other boys liked rap; Beau listened only to traditional Native music. Left to their own devices, it seemed to me the boys would have become completely nocturnal.
But there were horses to be fed, and wood to be cut for the sweat lodges Stanford held twice a week. There were probation appointments to be met, and court appearances, and occasional stints in jail for breaching the peace or public intoxication. One of the sweetest boys told his high school teacher he was thinking about blowing up the school, which he later told me was good for a visit from an official from Homeland Security.
At first, I positioned myself a polite distance from these boys. And by polite I mean safe. But the house wasn't big enough for the distances I preferred. There was no way to dilute human contact here. And soon enough, I found these boys in their raven-colored clothes were vulnerable and sweet. I started hugging them and pulling their hair and loving them. I streaked Robert's hair blond for the second time in a year.
Stanford commanded an enormous amount of authority over them. If a group of horses escaped, he called Beau, if Beau was around. He was dazzling on a horse. He rode a stallion called Fabian, a big, rippling bay. Fabian's neck arched even though Beau didn't hold him back. He galloped at the slightest urging from Beau, who would turn his baseball cap around so the brim wouldn't catch the wind. Fabian liked to do his walking and trotting in complicated sideways or diagonal gaits. Beau glided sideways, loose-hipped and straight-backed, his body always centered exactly over the horse, never off-balance, never inclining to where it was just a moment before.
If a visitor needed to be smudged to receive spiritual protection, Stanford would call Daniel out of his roost at the back of the house and he would crouch with effortless teenage grace at the feet of the visitor, holding an eagle wing. His cousin Suzi would kneel next to him with a metal bowl with some burning cedar inside, and he would use the wing to buff the person with cedar smoke.
Maybe the boys could take direction from Stanford because at their age he had done all of the bad stuff they liked to do, and more. His stories of his past were all sheer reckless exhilaration. In the early 1970s, he ran away across the South Dakota border to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Tension was beginning to build around the town of Wounded Knee, which was torn between the tribal government of Dick Wilson (backed by the National Guard and the FBI) and the activist American Indian Movement. The Wounded Knee situation would eventually lead to an infamous shootout in which two FBI officers died. Stanford loved the brewing tension of the situation -- loved sneaking over the rough ground to get close to the National Guardsmen on patrol.
After sending his uncles out to pluck him out of the South Dakota grass, his parents decided to send him out of hitching distance from South Dakota -- to Oakland, Calif., where he'd stay with his brother, Glenn, Glenn's girlfriend and their new baby.
This was fine with Stanford.
"Home was too hard," he said. "Not much food. Too many people. Too much drama."
But Oakland was Black Panther territory. On Stanford's first day in seventh grade at Frick Junior High School, three black ninth-graders surrounded him and told him that Indians were stupid troublemakers, not just on Pine Ridge but everywhere. Why, they asked him, were Indians even in this country?
Stanford weighed the wisdom of answering this question. These guys were big and strong, two years older than he was, on the verge of manhood. He was a skinny Arapaho boy with long hair. So he kept silent and walked away, but the ninth-graders came after him, taunting him and telling him they were going to teach him some manners. Then they picked him up and rammed him headfirst into the brick wall of the school.
He woke up in the school nurse's office. A diminutive Asian man peered down at him:
"I am Mr. Toy," he said. "Do you want to learn to defend yourself?"
And so every afternoon, Stanford and Mr. Toy would do karate.
"He was real mean, boy," said Stanford. "Never a compliment. He worked me real hard."
But Mr. Toy was Stanford's savior. He gave him what he needed to survive junior high. Stanford didn't lose a fight for the rest of the year. In fact, he didn't lose a fight for the next six. He went home, grew to 6-foot-1-inch tall and 175 pounds, and kicked ass whenever necessary. Which was plenty of the time. He got into it with four hostile cowboys at a bar in Shoshoni, Wyo., when one of them refused to pay the $50 Stanford had just won from him in pool.
"I got started fighting them, and the bartender asked the cowboys if he should call the cops. They said yes, so I ran for the car," Stanford remembered. "And my friends were all in there, hiding!"
Toughness ran in the family. Stanford's father, Mervyn, calf-roped and trained his own horses. "I wanted to be real tough for him," said Stanford. "I think that's what impressed me the most was the way he trained his horses, and the fighting stories."
When Stanford was about 6, he watched his father take on his own brother-in-law. "My dad didn't want to fight him, and turned his back, and the man was going to hit him with the pipe, but just when he swung down my dad turned around and caught that pipe. He worked him over pretty good."
Stan might be a holy man now who worked tirelessly to heal anyone who asked -- a man with no respect for meanness or senseless violence -- but he never lost his respect for toughness. As for the boys' skirmishes with the law, to him these were a modern version of counting coup -- the game warriors used to play with each other: You rode in and tapped your opponent and dashed off again, showing your superiority without hurting him.
"That's right, man," the boys would say from the kitchen table when Stanford told his fighting stories. They were smoking cigarettes, looking rapt, as if brandishing pipes and running from the police were the most fun things to do in the whole world.
Although Stanford's stories recollected his heyday of macho rebellion, his body showed one logical outcome of the same thing. He was a rolling cautionary tale. He reminded me of the metaphorical Catcher in the Rye -- shepherding Native boys through the hair-trigger years from their late teens through their early 20s. Of the six Addison brothers of Stanford's generation, only two had entered their 30s in sound physical shape. Two had died in their 20s -- one when his car slid off the road into a corral fence, one of suicide. Stanford and his younger brother Jay-R had both been disabled in car crashes.
The boys were interested in Stan's past, but he was interested in their present.
"Hey, Daniel, sing that song you just wrote," he'd say when there were visitors in the house.
"Listen to this," Stanford would tell the visitor. "It's good."
Once, a carload of us parked in downtown Riverton while one of his nephews went into a store for a CD. After some minutes, which I spent thinking about how it was 4:00 in the afternoon and we hadn't even had lunch yet, the nephew came out of the store and leapt into the truck clutching a paper bag.
"Let's see it," said Stan. The boy took out the CD -- it was his favorite band, Cradle of Filth.
Gawd, I thought.
"Cool," said Stanford.
He didn't expect the boys to be saints, but Stanford didn't allow any drinking or drugs at his house, and I never saw any. The boys took in Stanford's interest and concern and sometimes pissed-off commands through their silent black absorbent exteriors. In return, they would get him his cigarettes, feed and water the horses, and carry him to the truck and drive him to whichever house needed to be smudged of troublesome spirits, or help him go to the bathroom, or stay awake at his bedside all night when his pressure sores went septic and he got a fever.
One summer a few years ago, the state parks people called Stanford. They wanted to re-enact the 1866 Fetterman Massacre, in which Arapaho, Cheyenne and Sioux warriors ambushed and killed 80 U.S. soldiers. It was the 140th anniversary of the event. They had the cavalry and infantry lined up; did Stan have any warriors? Sure, he had warriors. I wasn't there at the time; we were on the phone. I imagined him looking over at the boys sprawled on his bed, watching Beyonce Knowles dancing on MTV. He was up to his neck in warriors. He had Beau, and Daniel, who could handle a horse well enough. Stanford hustled up these two, plus four friends and one kid currently living at the house. In 10 days, he got them onto horses often enough that they were ready to drive to Fort Kearny, in the northern part of the state.
In the park museum's bathroom, the boys painted their faces. Beau put black-and-white horizontal stripes on his face. His head was crowned with a coyote pelt, some feathers and a pair of antelope horns. He looked like something from a Grateful Dead album cover. Daniel painted the right side of his face black and had lines on either side of his mouth up to his eyes. The other boys' efforts to appear warrior-like were less successful: A boy named Brandon painted big red circles around his eyes -- "He looked like a rodeo clown!" Stanford laughed. "Daniel got mad -- ‘Take it off! I'll paint you!' -- but Brandon still wound up looking like a Care Bear."
Then they mounted the five bareback ponies Stanford had brought up in a borrowed trailer, whipped the saddles off the two dude-ranch horses the parks people had provided to round out the Indian herd, and galloped flat out over the rough ground towards the soldiers. The park superintendent told me he was amazed at the bravado and speed of their attack, but Stanford saw three of them fall off, one of them so often that the rider resorted to leading his trotting horse by the reins and running after the infantry, threatening them with his hatchet.
"The soldier guys, I think they wanted to laugh, but then again, I think they were just happy the Indians showed up," said Stanford. "But Beau and Daniel looked good. All they had to do was not smile and people thought they'd get scalped. Beau snuck up to one of the cavalry guys. He turned around and went ‘Whoa-oh-oh!' "
He laughed so hard at his own story he had to rub his eyes with his limp hands.
Stanford had orchestrated all this from a body that could no longer do his favorite thing in the world, which was ride a horse. And while the Arapahos and their allies prevailed in the Fetterman Massacre, within a few years it was all over for the Plains Indians. If Stanford had tended toward bitterness, historical or personal, or if he'd have been scared of the Arapaho riders looking less than stellar on horseback, his group of latter-day warriors would never have left the reservation. But Stanford wasn't bitter, and he wasn't afraid, either.