Stained glass windows inside the Holy Rosary Mission on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Raymond Bucko, SJ
Notes from Indian Country
Singing the old Holy Rosary Mission fight song
Monday, November 30, 2020

Gerald Clifford was known by his friends at the Holy Rosary Indian Mission Boarding School as “Plum.” How he got that name escapes me, but many of the boys at the mission had nicknames with no derivation.

Gerald’s father was Bob Clifford, the greatest coach in the history of the boarding school, and they lived on the mission grounds in a house out by the highway. Gerald was so religious in those days that he even considered becoming a priest at one time. In fact his older sister Geraldine went on to become a nun.

Bob Clifford, Jr. was his older brother. Bob was extremely intelligent and the horned rim glasses he wore made him look even more so and he was given the nickname “Professor.” Of course the mission boys just called him “Prof.” He loved to hunt and one day he was out hunting on the mission grounds when he tried to climb through a fence with his rifle and the gun went off and shot him in the leg. The bullet hit an artery and he made every effort to make it home, but it was not to be; he bled to death. I think the “Prof” was destined for greatness if his life hadn’t ended at such a young age.

Anyhow, it turned out that “Plum” was also extremely intelligent. In fact he was one of the youngest students ever to be admitted to the School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. Plum started a consulting organization called ACKO, an acronym for Artichoker, Clifford and Killer and it was based in Boulder, CO. I was trying to start the American Indian Chamber of Commerce in those days and I had an office across the hallway from Plum.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

One time, after a long day at work, Plum and I decided to go to one of the college bars near the University of Colorado just to visit and have a beer or two. You knew it was a college bar by the toilet seat hanging on the wall behind the bar that had a sign on it that read, “Miss America Sat Here.” It was true, a co-ed from the U. of Colorado went on to win the Miss America Contest and she did frequent that bar as a student.

Of course, when mission boys get together their conversation invariably turns to the boys and girls at the boarding school. And so we reminisced for a bit and all of a sudden Plum, after his third beer, started to sing the old fight song from the Holy Rosary Mission.

“Rah, blue and white; we’re going to fight, we’re going to fight for you. Rah, blue and white, with all our might we’re going to see you through,” the song went and the next thing you know Plum and I are both causing everyone in the bar to look at us as we belted out that old fight song.

I think it serves to remind me that no matter how much I hated the old Holy Rosary Mission Boarding School, guys like Plum and I could still draw some good memories from our schools days there. We laughed about sneaking into Brother Schlenger’s garden and stealing tomatoes and an occasional head of cabbage, which we ate raw.

We chuckled about standing at the dining room tables praying, “Bless us oh Lord for these thy gifts” as we eyed the stack of bread on a plate in the center of the table, “Which we are about to receive through thy bounty,” and before we could even say “Amen” everyone was diving for a slice of that bread.

As often happens with boys from the boarding schools, we shared a lot of memories, good and bad, about those boarding school days, and we both knew those memories would always be a part of who were are and who we will always be.

Plum passed away not too long ago, as have most of the old mission boys I grew up with, but to this day I will never forget how we sang the old mission fight song in a bar in Boulder.


Tim Giago (Oglala Lakota) is the founder of the Native American Journalists Association and of Indian Country Today. Contact him at najournalist1@gmail.com.

Note: Content © Tim Giago