Got warriors?

A quadriplegic horse gentler helps reservation boys through their dangerous teens

  • Daniel Addison, a Northern Arapaho teen, on Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation.

    Sarah Kariko
  • Copyright (c) 2009 by Lisa Jones. From the forthcoming book Broken by Lisa Jones, to be published by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., N.Y. Printed by permission.
  • Stanford Addison, quadriplegic healer, foreground, surrounded by his "outlaws."

    Sarah Kariko
  • Stanford Addison works a horse from his wheelchair.

    Sarah Kariko
  • Stanford Addison gets help stretching from Robert.


Page 3

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?"

Stanford did.

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.

High Country News Classifieds