My friend Sam Deloria mentioned that, from what he’s been reading, he is led to believe that the last of the Indian Wars is between me and Tim Giago. He asked jokingly if it is true that I have held a grade-school vendetta against Tim for the past 65 years, as Giago claimed in a letter to the Teton Times. I told Sam that it is not true. Here’s the real story.
Tim and I attended school together at Holy Rosary Mission on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1940s. We were the best of friends then, and resumed our friendship for a short while in the 1970s, after many years apart. The memories of those days are still precious to me, despite hard feelings that have developed since then. We shared a boyhood world of fantasy and heroic deeds. We grew up in the era of WWII, which movies and newsreels and furloughed heroes and flag-draped caskets brought home to us. We both dreamed of serving in the Navy, and although I ended up in the Army, he fulfilled his at sea in the Korean conflict.
In our age group, Tim stood out as the smartest and most sophisticated. Most of his summer months out of school and a couple of years in grade school were spent in Rapid City, a hundred miles away from Pine Ridge. It was the second largest city in the state, with a population of perhaps 30,000 at the time. From Tim’s description, we envisioned that it must be among the largest cities in the world. Tim was a street-smart city lad.
Tim’s latent career in journalism was destiny, perhaps, for he was always a great storyteller. When we were in grade school, he would regale us with the story line of entire movies, replete with horrific descriptions and sound effects. In Rapid City there were three theaters, he told us, and a person could see a movie anytime, not just on Saturday night like at the mission school. We were incredulous. Movies that were shown at the mission school were horse operas mostly, and played, scratchy and censor-gapped, many weeks and months after they had played in Rapid City. Tim would preview them for us, with only tantalizing hints of surprise endings. Groups of us would crowd around him in the noisy playroom, straining for every word.
In the summer of 1943, my mother took me and two brothers by bus to Rapid City to find work. We rented a shack from a slum lord, – a converted moving van, windowless and dank, in the Indian ghetto known as Coney Island. My mother found work in a café kitchen, where Tim’s mother also worked. That brought us together again, and we would venture out to see the wonders of Rapid City. Those were wonderful summer days.
Each September Tim’s mother would bring him down to enroll him at the mission, but it seemed he was always gone by spring. Digging through the musty photos and the yearbooks in the mission archives, I find him in few of the class pictures, the band pictures, or altar boy photos, all of which were taken in the spring time. But in my memory I can see him in various stages of growing up; so he was obviously there several years as he claims, even though the class photos and school year books don’t bear that out.
In the late 1940s, he went his way and we didn’t see each other for many years. I did receive a letter from him while he lived in California in the mid-1960s. In the letter he went by the name of Gallegos, which he said was the original spelling of the phonetic version of Giago, and said that he was exploring his roots. We did not continue our correspondence, but that letter lies somewhere in my musty old files.
We met again in Denver in 1973, where he was, as I recall, writing poetry and operating an American Indian Chamber of Commerce. In celebration of our reunion we had dinner together in the Top-of-the-Rockies restaurant. At that time I was Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, and I remember telling him that I sometimes regretted leaving journalism, even for the honor of heading up NCAI. Tribal self-determination was being demanded more and more by tribal leaders and the militant movements, and that meant that the Indian press would be needed for an informed public of tribal citizens.
Three years earlier, I had been a principal in the founding of the American Indian Press Association, and saw that as something truly historic. I told of our dreams in AIPA of a national Indian newspaper with inserts to localize news for the various regions of Indian Country. On a bar napkin, I drew a map of the US showing how the tribes were regionally organized, culturally and politically, and how these intertribal organizations provided ready markets for the concept of a regionalized national newspaper. But we decided that such a national paper would unfairly compete with the tribal newspapers, which comprised much of our own AIPA membership.
He talked of his dissatisfaction with his life at that time, and I suggested that since he enjoyed writing he should consider journalism.
It was a wonderful evening reminiscing and laughing at our childhood mischief. Tim commemorated the occasion in a poem titled “Wobbie,” my nickname from our youth. The poem is included in his book, “Aboriginal Sin.”
Later on Tim became a TV reporter on Indian affairs for a Rapid City channel; then in 1981 he established the Lakota Times, one of the first private-sector Indian news periodicals since the various Indian periodicals in the heyday of the Oklahoma oil boom. The Lakota Times was truly a milestone in the history of the Indian press.
When I received the first issue of the Lakota Times, I felt pride that our conversation about the Indian press that night in Denver may have had something to do with Tim’s decision to go into journalism, and I wrote him a congratulatory letter, offering my help if he ever needed it. However, in 1984 I received a letter from Tim which threatened, “If I wanted to use my newspaper to attack you or your business I have the perfect vehicle to do it with...” His anger was in reaction to my inability to help him get a BIA grant for his newspaper business. He claimed that it was selfishness and unwillingness on my part to help him. Despite a Nixon-like disclaimer that followed, the threat was clear, or why would he have even written it in the first place. That letter too is in my files.
From that point, our lifelong friendship was over.
Since then, I have objected to inaccuracies and exaggeration in his telling of boarding school experiences, and in his recalling historic events, such as the Wounded Knee massacre. But despite what might seem to Sam as warfare, even in jest, I have never attacked Tim, in print or otherwise. On only five occasions in the past twenty years I have written articles that call attention to inaccuracies in his historical facts. And I will continue to do so.
Charles E. Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and living with his wife in Omaha, Nebraska. He may be contacted at Cchuktrim@aol.com.
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