I have never spent the night in Covelo. The primary reasons that I have visited are rodeos, funerals and to clean or visit graves. My grandfather Elbert Perry 'John' Crabtree was from Round Valley. He was a lifelong cowboy and poured concrete septic forms on Thomas Lane in Ukiah for the first few years of my life, which were the last few of his. His brother, Francis 'Jap' and mother Ella lived on the Eel River near Dos Rios during my childhood and we would stop to visit on the way to Round Valley during these trips. He had more siblings, but I never knew them. Grandpa John died when I was two years old, but looms large in my personal mythology.
My first memory is of him taking me to the Red Bluff Round-Up. A clown did the old exploding outhouse/ass-on-fire bit and I was jarred into time and place, deciding that I very much liked this absurd life and its people. John would take me around, us both in cowboy boots, western shirts, jeans and hats. We hit backroom card games in downtown Ukiah cafes and often checked in at The Hub (a classic old news-stand/cigar shop) or Western Auto, both near the Ukiah Courthouse. John's Ukiah was all buckboard plank, cigar, beer and laughs, it seemed. Winos lived in the tunnel-bridge at East Henry Street and Chinese folks ran the high-ceilinged grocery at the old Victory Theater.
We were John's second family. His first family were always cheerful and engaging with me and mine. It was like we all existed together under his giant Oak of a life. He was scary for many, stubborn and fierce. For me, though, he was as tender as could be. I mourned his passing for many years. His children have never really recovered, I think.
John was Wailaki and Concow Maidu. Barrel-chested and skinny-legged, he was movie star handsome with sad cowboy eyes. He and my grandmother Dorothy raised their children first on Stipp Lane before receiving a simple home on Pinoleville from Dorothy's parents. They did farm-work mid-century. I do believe there was some drinking going on as well. My mother's story is hers to tell, but it seems that the household was rather rough and tumble.
I feel a kinship with the Cowboy-type of Indians out of Covelo. We are formed from the frontier experience more than the barefoot joy of nature. More fence than rolling hills, we reflect our bitter journey from many lands to that great reservation. Marched in on foot or kidnapped by wagon and train, our predecessors became different people there.
I cannot, in good conscience, claim Round Valley. I have not paid my dues and it is not my right. I wish someday to know that the people there would choose, in some part, to claim me. In my heart, though, I know that the sacred dirt at the Headquarters Cemetery will accept me.