Wednesday, February 14, 2018
A Native Take on Holbrook Arizona, A Town That Forgot Itself
Written by Na(Bahe) (Katenay)Keediniihii
Holbrook, do you know where this place is at in Arizona? If you says, Yes, but you really mean you have only pulled off, a block or two, from I-40, and ate at some restaurant chain or crashed at a motel chain, that was not Holbrook. Nowadays, you need to cruise on Hopi Dr and Apache Ave then you are in Holbrook! It’s kind of “dead” however. A few dinosaur statues are trying to reclaim the town, and what is active are the radiation being emitted from the tons of petrified woods for sale. The town’s die out might also be karma from how this past, Wild West town holds secret about the Apaches in the late 1800s.
Dineh use to call this place, Tiic Yaa Kin or house under a cottonwood tree. There’s an old painting of the Bucket of Blood Saloon and it is still there by the rail road tracks. The boarded up saloon and its steel beam-supported wall sit there with ghosts, and after your long ride, don’t expect to get your thirst cleanse there. The painting at the museum show an electrical pole at the front of the saloon, but a tree might have been there in front earlier. Like the current photo and which would easily inspired the name, House Beneath A Cottonwood Tree. Like many old towns or long-gone locations now buried under cities all across Turtle Island (aka USofA), Holbrook and its neighbor Winslow were one of those “cowboys and Indian” places. Where barbaric meet civilized natives.
I can feel the unsettling spirits behind those boarded up door and windows of Tiic Yaa Kin. Spirits that are still engaged in their brawls and sleazy card games. A famous story is that two “Mexicans” got into a vicious fight in the saloon and they either shot each other or someone else shot them down. Afterwards, the saloon’s owner described the scene, “The floor was like a bucket of blood.” Winslow has a similar story about these barbaric settlers.
Directly opposite from today’s ‘Standing on the Corner’ statue and on First Street, there use to be White Café, a saloon now in ruins. It was barely thriving in the 1970s. In the late 1880s, a wanted bandit bought himself a bottle of whiskey and he was immediately spotted. He hastily left and rode off on his horse toward the west. Lawmen went after him but the telegram was faster than the horses so, the outpost at Diablo Canyon knew who to expect. The shootout between the fugitive and the lawmen was brief and shortly after the fugitive’s decent burial, a fellow deputy mentioned, “Man never had his drink he paid for.” He was un-earth, bottle of whiskey dumped down his throat and he was rolled back into his decent hole.
Leaving the rail road tracks and passing the dinosaurs, Apaches and Geronimo are on my mind so I went to the old and precarious, Navajo County courthouse which is now a museum.
I entered through the ‘museum’ doors that were jerry-rigged with a few bolts and nuts, its big loose antique-looking handles, and a couple of dog chains hanging off it. I noticed a sketching of the great Chief Manuelito down in the jail area, just beyond the jailer’s desk. I wondered about the rest of the museum which was basically a collection of antique goods probably gathered from the local area, and old stuff from the courthouse days. I felt a chill and that something was watching me or that someone is around the corner. The one room that felt more ‘spooky’ was the one with the woodstove and the frontier kitchen. And for some strange reason, the jail had a calm vibe. A large narrow cage that was for 20 prisoners including a women’s quarter and one solidarity confinement.
Back at the reception desk, I asked the host lady about Geronimo and if he boarded the train in Holbrook. She said, “No, only his tribe came here. He was captured in California and was taken by train from there.” The ghostly looking lady referred me to a book that she claims has a picture of “his tribe” in Holbrook. On that picture, I can see Geronimo posing with his warriors all shackled, wearing a straw hat and sitting outside a passenger train. I didn’t say anything to the ‘left behind by the wagon train’ lady, but I did say, “A few places inside here feels haunted.” She replied, “Well, if you believe in ghosts, I’m sure you’d feel that way…”
“Before Geronimo went to fight alongside the warriors and after he lost his whole family, he said to the people in the camp, ‘In case I do not return, consider me dead.’ Geronimo left for White Mountain a holy place to our peoples and he only took with him a small bag of peyote. By the time people accepted that he was probably dead, he came back. Geronimo told the camp, ‘We will all have a hard time with this fight and when it is over, we will be taken away far from here. You will all come back, but I will never come back to my homelands.’”
In 2013, Indian Country Today noted in a 127th anniversary article, “On September 4, 1886, the great Apache warrior Geronimo surrendered in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona.” Other historical accounts do verify that this great warrior holy man and his warriors were marched to Holbrook to be put on the train for Florida. The rest of this people might have followed later, but they did all ended up in Holbrook. How and where they were processed before boarding the train in this modern day, dying town remains a mystery or hidden. Basically Holbrook wants nothing to do with the legacy of Geronimo.
Racism comes in many forms and from all direction, and the Arizona Historical Society prefer to deny a lot of native world history. But instead, they are so proud of their barbaric Arizona. For that matter, I shall refer to Holbrook as, Geronimo’s revenge, those old abandoned motels and restaurants that only accommodate more ghosts, ghosts that once had their ‘kicks on Route 66,’ the colonial wagon trail.
But in case you want to see this “dead” place or if you are Injun, or just want to honor the last great fighters against barbaric America, the Apaches, top in and get out near the train tracks at Apache Ave. Try to feel what it must have been like for many native ancestors on their last day they walked their homelands. Burn some sweet grass, offer some tobacco and pray that we all return back to the Center.