Feb 23, 1945
Ira Hayes was a Pima who had hardly ever been off the reservation in Arizona before he enlisted in the Marines. He never learned how to cope with his wartime memories or his fame as one of the iconic flag raisers. He drank himself to death at age 32.
My progress on Tracking Nana has been slowed recently by Edge Effects by Robert D. Temple. It’s a hefty 600+ pages, which I pick up to browse for a few minutes and then get engrossed in for hours.
An obsessive after my own heart, Temple became fascinated with border name places and went in search of them. (We’ve all heard of Texarkana, and some of us have been to Texico, but there are hundreds of others all over the U.S., from Vershire to Mexicali). Along the way Temple researches old railroad timetables, follows current and out-dated maps, questions gas station attendants, waitresses and small-town librarians, and tracks down the old coots who are the repositories for local history and folklore, It makes for fascinating reading.
Geronimo died Feb. 17, 1909, age about 80. In 1897, he wrote to President McKinley: “It is my land, my home, my father’s land, to which I now ask to be allowed to return. I want to spend my last days there, and be buried among those mountains. If this could be I might die in peace, feeling that my people, placed in their native homes, would increase in numbers, rather than diminish as at present, and that our name would not become extinct. ”
But like Nana, Geronimo died at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Two bills that would have represented a very small step toward bringing their descendants home to New Mexico both failed in the state legislature this year. Ironically, chief opposition to their return comes not from the whites who evicted them 130 years ago but from their cousins the Mescalero, who are afraid a new casino would cut into the profits from their Inn of the Mountain Gods.
Both Utah and Wyoming are considering the firing squad as an alternative to lethal injection, at least partly because death penalty opponents are doing their best to shut off the drug supply, although in both states the debate seems to focus on what is the most painless and efficient method of ushering the subject out of this vale of tears.
But “humane execution” is an oxymoron, and Rodney Balko makes the point that the condemned may suffer more from lethal injection than from a well-placed bullet. The process is designed not to benefit the victim but to spare our own sensibilities.
If we as a community, acting through the law enforcement and judicial system, decide to kill somebody, each of us should be prepared to shoulder that shared responsibility. Instead, we send the poor bastard off someplace out of sight to be quietly put to sleep, just as Dad promised us the puppy was going off to live on a farm in the country. It offers a comforting delusion.
Stoning makes sense as the ultimate expression of this shared community responsibility. Think this man or woman deserves to die? Pick up a rock and pitch in. If the firing squad was randomly chosen from the jury pool it would serve as a less messy version of this shared community responsibility. (Anybody not personally prepared to pull the trigger should be excluded from sitting on the jury in a capital trial anyway.)
If that’s too barbaric for modern times, maybe we should restore public hangings. It’s true these occasions often attracted the wrong type of crowd, and you may want to turn away from the grim scene. But at least we are collectively bearing witness to what we’re doing. They say Judge Parker watched every hanging he ordered from his courthouse window; he believed it his duty.
I’m no expert on hangings, but I know they weren’t uncommon on the frontier. Based on the anecdotal evidence, I’m not sure that rough justice was any more unfair or misguided than today’s elaborate and prolonged proceedings. And I’m not sure the old way wasn’t more merciful in other ways. Personally, I believe I would rather be dragged out of the courtroom and strung up from the nearest cottonwood, the bang of the judge’s final gavel still echoing in my ears, rather than spending years locked in a little cage listening to lawyers argue.
I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
Gaze at the moon ’til I lose my senses
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever, but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in
— Cole Porter & Robert Fletcher