An Unforgettable Escapade
Ah, the dreams of youth. For the young, the future is wide open! Take a chance, go for it! I’m gonna live forever! Sometimes we wonder how we survived that dangerous confidence and exuberance. Have you ever feared for your life? Our neighbor Faith Gunther tells us a story this week of youth and big dreams, bold action, and, well… oops.
By Faith Gunther
As a senior in high school, like all young people that age, I pondered what the future would look like – what a possible career would be. Because the year was 1956-57 my choices, according to my parents, were secretary, nurse or teacher but I was fascinated with the many Anasazi (Early Puebloan) ruins in my area and seriously considered anthropology or archaeology. Early on I was an advocate for the Ute Mountain Indians who lived on their reservation south of Cortez.
Then a teacher by the name of Bill Mason came into my life and got me interested in journalism. For the next three years I worked for the Cortez Sentinel/Durango Herald newspapers after school and summer vacations. I was hooked! I was to become the next Brenda Starr Girl Reporter!
During one of those summers I decided to write an exclusive feature article. The Colorado Highway Department had been trying to get a meeting with Chief Jack House of the Ute Mountain Utes to obtain permission to build a road through the Four Corners area that would trespass their reservation. Chief House had been difficult to reach as he was up at his sheep camp in the mountains but I heard he had come down to Towaoc for the Bear Dances. I donned a black and pink squaw dress,1 pink moccasins (a favorite outfit of mine), grabbed the paper’s speed graphic camera and keys to the company pickup. I drove to the reservation, where in those days outsiders were not allowed at the Bear Dances.
I parked in a row with many other pickups and being real sneaky worked my way on foot up to a spot where I could get a shot of the dancers and hopefully the Chief. As I was crouched on the ground between two pickups I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and there was a very serious looking Ute man. He motioned with his head for me to stand up and his companion took my camera. They led me, one in front and one in back, to the side of the dancing encampment where I was held and without words being spoken, I knew I was to wait in that spot. The one with my camera was still with me. The other walked up to a wickiup where several costumed men were seated cross legged on the ground – some playing drums. There was one man seated in a folding type lawn chair. I waited and waited and the drums and singing continued and I was almost too afraid to turn and look at the dancers, but I snuck a peak. Two lines – one of men and one of women facing each other would shuffle up and almost touch and then shuffle back. It was an eons-old dance celebrating winter’s passing and the reunion of neighbors and friends.
Finally the other man returned after talking with the man in the lawn chair and said to me, “The Chief says you can have his picture if he can have yours.” In my thumping heart and knee shaking fright I had suffered all kinds of thoughts while being held captive – like, “Nobody knows where I am,” “Who will write the article about my body being discovered in a dry ravine,” and “What will my parents think?” I was so nervous that when my camera was handed back to me I forgot to take out the clip so the camera would record. The Chief pulled out a little Brownie type camera, took my picture and then the men had a laugh.
I was ushered back to my pickup. I didn’t have to be told to leave. My escorts didn’t say a word. They were soldiers. I didn’t get my exclusive story to write and publish, but I had survived and had a great Brenda Starr story to tell.
This story was first published in Lakewood AAUW Bylines and is used here with permission. Faith Gunther didn’t become a journalist but went on to become a teacher. Her adventurous escapade as a 19-year-old on the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation added credibility and interest to her teaching career for students in Southwest Studies or American History classes. She lives in Village Cooperative of Lakewood.
- “Squaw dresses” were popular among teenage girls in the 1950s. They were not authentic Native American costumes but, at the time, a fad. They would not serve well as a disguise.