Robb Hill/Robb Hill Photo
Robb Hill/Robb Hill Photo
It was a month after Leland was decapitated that Charlie read about the accident in the local newspaper. Leland had been driving his cousin's 1975 Plymouth after knocking back a six-pack of Bud with the boys over at his aunt's double-wide in Tygh Valley. He was driving fast over the pass on the east side of Mt. Hood. I guess he didn't see it coming, but he was hit hard by a double trailer truck that had slid on a patch of black ice that took off the top of his car and his head at the same time. Leland's guardian spirit must have been looking the other way. I heard about Leland from Charlie, who heard about it from his ex-wife Etta, and I called Yazzie to let him know. We felt it was only right to get together and tell stories about the guy that we'd shared saunas with at Timberline Lodge and seen fall off every bull he'd ever tried to ride. I'd met Leland at the All Indian Rodeo in the valley and I guess you can say we were close, because at the end of that night after Etta and Charlie were arrested for spousal abuse and public drunkenness, I stayed and slept with their two small kids in the back of the van while Leland was passed out underneath it.
The week after Charlie discovered what had happened, he got all of us together at Johnny's Cafe in the Dalles to read the article and mark the passing of Leland. The article was small, and, like Leland himself, made little difference to anyone who might pick up the paper. We chose a table near the window and sat in a circle drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Yazzie had brought his newest girlfriend from Warm Springs who was black-haired, young and whose eyes shined when she looked at his face. I was the only palomino at the table. Charlie, Etta, Yazzie and the girl were all Indians, mostly Nez Perce.
After telling an hour of stories about Leland's short life, the table got serious.
"I guess they gave him an Indian burial, washed his body, wrapped him up and buried him with his horse," Yazzie said, while running his thumb over the article.
"And his head," said Charlie as he took a big swig of black, bottom-of-the-pot coffee.
"They did it right," Etta added as she blew out a huge cloud of smoke away from the table.
"Now we do the Giveaway." Charlie looked around the table for responses.
"What's the Giveaway?" I asked quietly in a white person's voice.
"When we're done mourning him, we divvy up his leftover stuff to tribal members who need them the most." With that, Charlie took out an oil-stained kerchief and opened it up in the middle of the table. All that was left of Leland was two packs of Luckys, a crumbled up candy wrapper, a Zippo lighter with an American flag on the side and two condoms. There was also a receipt from a 7-Eleven for two six-packs of beer.
"Just enough to go around." Yazzie shook his head, picked up the condoms and got up from the table. He headed for the door with his arm around the girl.
We followed his lead and each took our own small piece of Leland. We left Johnny's smelling like tobacco, much, much sadder than when we came in.