PART ONE - ZARAHEMLA
Buff speaking into tape recorder June 4,
Testing one…two…three. This is Buffington Journeycake PhD.,
former professor of anthropology at Mountain State University, La
Plata, New Mexico.
I slept under a bridge last night and walked into Sante Fe to
a bite to eat and see if someone I
knew was around the plaza. There
usually is every time I come through here. I’m hitching on my way
to see Bishop Louie and his wife Liz to record their memories of how
he became leader of the church
in Zarahemla Valley and how the
movement of the Circle began.
Today about two in the afternoon I was standing in the plaza
my bedroll on my back. All of a
sudden a shadow fell across from the
northwest to the southeast corner of the plaza with a wavy
like between yin and yang. I was standing just inside the brilliant
sunlight of the yang half –
the southwest. I looked up and saw a
huge cloud with a black belly and white fluff clinging to its
back. The line between yin and yang began to quiver. In a few seconds
I would be in the deep
yin shadow. Then I saw on the north side of
the plaza, well inside yin, someone I knew well was
under the porch that shades the sidewalk of the old Spanish
Governor’s palace, l
ooking at the jewelry the old Indian women
sitting on the sidewalk were selling.
“Hey, Nephi!” I hollered, waving my hand high.
“Buff!” he called back. In a couple of seconds we were
dancing around with our arms on each other’s shoulders in the yin
that now covered the plaza.
I’m a mixture = Cherokee and Delaware Indian and some
mysterious nationality people call Black
Dutch where I come from –
apparently meaning people of northwestern European ancestry who
happen to be dark brunet. I’ve also got some Black Irish thrown in
– more of the same dark ancestry.
But Nephi looks more Indian than I do, although he was born
Altdorf – his father’s parents were
from Germany and his mother’s
were from Norway. He’s five foot eight, about four inches shorter
han I am. His skin is several shades browner than mine. He has
straight, dark brown hair that hangs
down his back. Where I am thin,
Nephi is gaunt with deep-sunk eyes.
More than his nose or ears, his smell is distinctive. If you
a piece of old leather in the back
pocket of your jeans and never
take it out, and you travel across a thousand miles of desert and
sleep in your jeans every night and never take a bath – then, at
the end of your journey, pull that
piece of leather out and smell it
you will know what Nephi smells like. Not bad, but a strong smell for
a strong personality, something of his very selfhood.
At once the rain started and we ran under the porch of the
“Would you like something to eat?” I asked.
“Sure, Buff,” he said. “But we’ll have to get away from
the plaza. It’ll cost you too much in these high
So we started running hard. I didn’t want the rain to soak
through my bedroll because I keep my
tape recorder rolled up inside
my sleeping bag. My bedroll kept bouncing against my back as we
hurried along a couple of blocks and ran into a little café
that smelled like chili powder and onions.
Nephi took a look at the menu and said, “They’ve got menudo
for only a dollar. Let’s get two bowls
of menudo and some coffee.”
So that’s what I ordered when the waitress came.
Menudo is a soup of tripe and posole – in other words cow
and what most people call hominy.
But back in the state of Sequoyah where I come from, my
around Tahlequah say, “That stuff
you buy in cans ain’t no
hominy. That’s what you call skinned corn. You got to beat the
and break it up before it’s properly hominy/”
Cow guts and skinned corn, it’s still a great tasting soup.
warmed us up quick, so we forgot the
splash of cold rain water we had
just run through.
Right then I had an idea.
“Say, Nephi,” I said, “You’ve been around the Circle from
the very beginning.”
“Almost seven years now,” he answered. “Since I was
fourteen years old.”
“I’m on my way to see Bishop Louie and Liz before we make the
Circle again,” I said. “I want to
interview them about the
history of the Circle and write a book about it. So I’ve got a tape
in my bedroll and I was wondering if I could record you.
I’ve heard you tell a lot of stories around the
fire when we were
out in the open and I was hoping…”
“Buff, I’ve got a whole story I’ve been waiting for years
to tell,” Nephi said. “This whole one-third of
my life. Just get
your recorder and let’s get a refill of coffee.”
I untied the twine around my rolled-up sleeping bag and
I reached in and got my little tape recorder out with the little
plastic baggie containing some cassettes. And as I turned the
on, Nephi put his arms on the table, clasped his hands
together and stared straight at me, like he
was looking into the lens
of a camera.
He talked for eight hours, pausing only for my questions and
occasional drinks of coffee (we had
seven refills each.) We filled a
lot of tape and I jotted down notes in a spiral notebook. Part of
Nephi said is here, but the spirit will be on every page of the
book I am writing.
I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…Those are
the opening words of the Book of Mormon,
where I got my name.
I was Bill Altdoraf first. I said I would tell you the story of the
last third of my
life, but to make things clear, I have to begin
before my parents with my grandfather, Nils Lindquist.
He died before
I was born, so all I know of him is what my mother told me. He grew
up on a farm in
Norway – the main crop was rocks. I couldn’t
support him and his brothers and sisters, so somebody
had to leave.
He come to this country in 1892 when he was seventeen. He traveled in
called steerage, the hold of the ship, the cheapest place
to travel. Everyone was crowded together,
no separate rooms,
everybody getting sick and throwing up.
When he got to this country, he was big and strong enough
he could tell the immigration
people that he was 21 and they believed
him. He traveled across the country as a farmhand and a
worked his way up, went into business, made a lot of money. He was
elected mayor of
Portland, Oregon, in 1916.
Then all the Socialists and Communists and Wobblies started
making strikes and demonstrations.
My grandfather had them rounded up
– filled the jails with them, a couple of thousand. They all
theirselves by the name of the People’s Party, but my grandfather
said they was nothing but
They all said how much they wanted to do for poor people, but
said that was just bullshit. He had
been poor, but he had made his
way up. He made everything he had his own self and he didn’t need
nobody to help him – especially not the Red Radicals.
Then he come down to Southern California and made a million
dollars around LA selling real estate
in the twenties. He put his
money in the stock market. He got wiped out completely when the stock
market crashed in the fall of 1929. Right after that his youngest
child, Elsa – my mom – was born in
January, 1930. Here he was 55
years old and broke with two daughters to support. He got so
out, he died of a heart attack when my mom was 10 years old.
My mom went to work as a waitress when she was 16, but really
depended on her mom and then
when her mom died, she depended on her
older sister in the suburbs north of Los Angeles.
I’m not very political, but you know how it was when Robert
Taft got elected president in 1952 and
he died. Vice President Nixon
became president. Youngest president we ever had, but he made life
hard for people who worked – especially women.
My mom was making three dollars an hour as a waitress so she
became a stripper = that was six
dollars an hour. My dad was a guy
named Frank Altdorf who was a drummer in the band where she
stripped. I believe he’s alive somewhere.
As soon as I was born, 1957, me and my mom started spending
of our time staying with her
older sister. We rented a room by
ourselves sometimes, but we always ended up back with my aunt
husband. We spent our lives on couches in their living room.
I always knew that somebody didn’t want me around, though I
didn’t know where else to be. From
when I was a little kid, I was
pissed off at the world. I was in fights on the playground at grade
school. There are mountains to the north and east of LA. On bright
clear days when the sun was
going down I’d stand in my aunt’s
back yard and see the gold evening light on the mountains and I’d
wish I was on the other side.
The first time I ran away from home was 1970. I was twelve
old. Actually I didn’t run like on my
feet. I swiped a dollar from
my mom’s purse and took the inter urban train to downtown LA and
transferred to a streetcar. I took it to the end of the line, as far
east as it would go. By then the sun
was going down and the shadows
was getting long. I walked along until it got dark. There was
groves here and there, but there was still a lot of houses.
“Hell, I’m not running away from home, I’m walking away.”
I grumbled to myself. My feet was sore. I
had heard from other kids
that the Peoples Party youth group had houses where runaway kids
stay. I supposed I could look them up in the phone book, but I
didn’t want to. My mom had warned
me about them people. I didn’t
want to stay with a bunch of Red Radicals.
I sat down under a telephone pole which had the last light on
road. Up ahead it was all orange
groves and darkness. I was sitting
there in that little circle of light. My eyes started closing now and
then and my head was nodding. A voice up above me said, “Hey,
fellow, whatcha doin’? Need a place
I looked up. A big, broad-shouldered red-headed guy about 16
standing over me. I stood up as
best I could. I was a little creaky
in the knees.
“You one of them Red Radicals?” I says back.
“What’s the deal, then?” I asked.
“Nationalist Youth Corps. The Ku Klux Kan started us. My
uncle’s the Grand Dragon. We hate them
People’s Party ass holes.”
I was a bit suspicious. I didn’t know what this was, but I
tired and hungry and it wasn’t Red
Radicals, so I said “OK, I’ll
go with you.”
“The name’s Clark Forrest,” he said, stretching out his
hand and shaking mine.
“I’m Bill Altdorf,” I said, which was my name then.
We walked down a street away from the road until we come to a
little white frame house in front of
an orange grove. Light was
streaming out the windows into the yard. Clark knocked at the door. A
man about 40 opened the door. His eyes seemed froze up in a squint
and he looked me over.
“This kid looks awful young, Clark,” the man said.
“Oh, let him stay for the night and have something to eat,
Jim,” Clark said. “We can figure out what
to do with him tomorrow
“Oh, sure,” the man called Jim said. He got a big grin, but I
noticed he was squinting all the time, like
he didn’t want to look
straight at anyone. He was shorter than Clark and his hair was a dark
“Jim Einkorn,” he said, sticking out his hand and shaking
mine. His hand was red and thick like a
He led me to a table and went into the next room, which was a
kitchen. He opened up the
refrigerator and got out a plate which he
brought in and set in front of me – spaghetti and meatballs
onions. It was cold and greasy, but I was hungry. As soon as he gave
me a fork I stuffed myself.
When I’d had enough to eat, I noticed there was a painting
hanging on the wall overlooking the
table. It was a man with thick
dark hair that hung down over half his brow. Under his nose was a
little square mustache. His lips had this expression – kind of
nobly sad, I’d say.”
“Who’s that, Jim?” I asked.
“That’s Adolph Hitler,” Jim said. “Ever hear of him?”
“Nope,” I says.
“He was the leader of the National Socialists movement in
Germany,” Jim said. “It wasn’t bullshit
socialist like the
Communists in Germany or the People’s Party in this country, but
real socialists. He
could have been the great leader of the whole
German people, but the Jews and Communists
cheated him out of the
election in 1932 and he sacrificed himself – shot himself in the
head. He was a martyr – a victim of the International Jews and the
“You mean like the Red Radicals?” I asked.
“That’s exactly what I mean,” Jim Said. “He’s still got
millions of followers in Germany and there’s a l
ot of us in this
country too. I made the pilgrimage to his grave, a marble shaft 20
thousands and thousands of people there to lay flowers on
the anniversary of his death. Oh, just
think how the world could have
been if he had lived!” Jim shook his head, still squinting as much
ever. “Maybe, Clark can go over there to Germany to see it some
day.” Jim went on. “Maybe you can.”
“I guess I’d like that,” I said and I put my hand in front
of my mouth and yawned.
“Clark go get this kid something to sleep on,” Jim said.
Clark come back with a quilt which he spread
in a corner of the
living room. Over that was a thin fuzzy blanket. I curled up under it
and conked out.
Late that night a bunch of other young guys come into the
making a lot of noise. I woke up for
a minute. Then they went to the
room where they slept and I passed out in a deep sleep.
Chapter Two - Nephi Speaking
Next morning when I woke up I could see Clark in the kitchen
the stove fixing scrambled eggs in a
big skillet. These young guys
was waiting in line with plates and Clark loaded each of their plates
with a big load of scrambled eggs. All of them who could set around
the table. Some were in chairs
with plates of scrambled eggs in their
laps, but some had to sit on the floor. I noticed that every one
them set up stiff and straight like soldiers do in the movies.
Their clothes was like a uniform too – khaki trousers, khaki
shirts and ties. Their hair was cut almost
to the scalp like soldiers
except some of them had a lock in front that they let dangle over
forehead like that Hitler guy in the picture above the table.
But I noticed Clark didn’t dress like them. He had on blue
jeans and a red and green cowboy-type
shirt. His hair was short –
shorter than mine is now, of course, but it was a regular haircut,
shaved down close like the others.
Jim walked over, still squinting away, and handed me a plate
scrambled eggs. He had khaki pants
like the young guys, but just a
sweaty old T-shirt instead of the rest of the khaki outfit.
“We pay these young men 75 dollars a week to spread the
Jim said, sweeping his hand
around to include all these fellows
eating scrambled eggs.
“I regret we can’t pay them more,” he went on. “We pay
them only half the wages our Communistic government pays the kids in
its shitty little government jobs – like the Conservation Crops.
day these young ones will make what they are worth – many
times more than they would get paid in
the government busy-work jobs
for unemployed youth.”
There were smiles on all the young pink faces around the
Jim pointed his left forefinger in the general direction of the
picture on the wall. The man with the little mustache. He swept his
right arm backwards with his right fist doubled up. It was a grand
“The mayor in LA is named Gonzalez!” he bellowed. “Can you
imagine a Mexican mayor of Los
Angeles” And worse than that, the
President of the United States is a Jew – Sidney Lens! And
Vice President is a nigger woman, Ella Little! How low can
a white man go?” It was clear Jim enjoyed making speeches. All
around the room these young guys was going, “Yeah! Yeah!” from
deep in their throats. “Let’s give it to ‘em!” All the time
Jim was still squinting.
“OK, fellows, that’s enough of a pep talk for today!” Jim
said with a smile. “And get your dishes
cleaned up and get out
there and give them Jews what’s coming to them!”
In a couple of seconds they got lined up into the kitchen,
turns washing their plates at the
sink and stacking them. Then they
went back in the living room-dinging room to a big stack of
Each one grabbed some leaflets under their arms. They then fell into
formation and Jim
opened the door and they ran out in formation
shouting “Hut-two-three-four!” They sounded proud
– and like
they was having fun. They ran out and got in a little yellow but in
the front yard and drove
I could see why they was only getting paid 75 dollars a week
they wasn’t getting anything from the government. One of those
little busses was expensive to run with gas costing #3.12 a gallon.
couldn’t afford to spend too much with the kids and the bus
After the young guys was gone, Jim plopped down in a chair.
leaned forward. His squint opened
up a bit. He had dark, glittery
eyes that stared at me.
“Now, young fellow,” he said, “how old are you?”
“Sixteen,” I said.
“I’ll bet,” Jim answered. “You look about eleven.”
“I’m twelve!” I spoke up, kind of huffy.
“Be that as it may,” he said. “We’ve got friends in the
police departments around here, but if your
mother makes too much of
a fuss, they won’t be able to do very much to help us. We’ll be
and we don’t want trouble – not now, at least.”
“Clark!” he said loud.
Clark lifted his head from washing the skillet in the sink.
blinked and said, “huh?”
“You take my car and take the kid to the nearest streetcar
stop. Do you have any money?”
“A dollar fifty,” Clark says.
“Give it to the kid so he can get home. Get his address.
be good to have a contact who can reach
other kids in the grade
school. You got to catch them young.” I didn’t bother to tell Jim
that I wasn’t
very popular in grade school. I probably couldn’t
spread his ideas or anybody else’s.
Clark led me out to a garage and we got in a shiny new car.
“I don’t think Jim wants you around here,” he said as we
was backing out.” And it’s not the cop
problem. There’s only
2,000 cops in all of Los Angeles and these little piss-ant suburban
orces only have about 15 or 20 cops each. Hell, there ain’t
enough cops to bother much about all the runaway kids. The kids go to
the People’s Party or the labor unions or the government programs
the missions – or us. It’s just that, uh…”
“What?” I asked.
“Jim’s good at sizing people up,” Clark said. “And
there’s something about you – and he don’t want it around.”
“How about you?” I asked.
“I was glad to see you,” Clark said. “It’s good to have
somebody new to talk to. You see, after they’ve
been around Jim a
month they all sound just the same – like recordings of him. Jim
may be right
about the Jews and the coloreds and the Communists, but
I like to hear something different now and
then. So I’d like your
address. When I first ran away from home, I was almost as young as
you are. My parents are in the Klan, so they think it’s all right
for me to be with Jim. But look in that glove
compartment – there’s
pen and paper.”
I opened the glove compartment and got out a pen and paper
wrote down my aunt’s address.
We drove to the streetcar stop,
talking all the way. He was telling me about deer hunting, which I
had never done, and we both agreed about TV shows – what a crock of
shit they was. We had a good
laugh about TV. He let me off and we
shook hands and soon I was on the streetcar and then inner
train back to my aunt’s place.
I got a pretty hard talking-to
mother and my aunt and her husband, but after that I
didn’t go to
school no more that spring. I ran away again.
This time I hitched into LA. I got
far as a mission in the Main Street area of LA. There was a bunch of
old winos in long, dirty coats singing hymns in their off-key voices,
but there was a bunch
of runaway kids like me. I read some of the
Bible there, and it was beautiful. I felt something like it
when I fell in love with a girl for the first time. It’s the
feeling of wanting to believe – one of the deepest feelings I know.
The preacher at the mission told
could only stay there three days and then I would have
to call home
or leave. I begged him to baptize me before my stay was up. Me and my
went with my aunt to the Christian Science Church and
they don’t have baptism. Christian Science
was the only kind of
church I had known about before.
The preacher had me put on a white
and we waded out in this tank full of water, up to
my armpits. He
grabbed me by the back of my head and plunged me under that cold
water and I felt
a shock run all through my body when I stood up
again with my head out of the water. I closed my
eyes and I seen a
bright flash of light. I shouted, Oh God! Amen!”
Then I called my mom and the
let me have some money to take the inter urban train
back to my
aunt’s place. This time I got less hassle about running away.
On the living room couch at night,
thought a lot about the baptism. I would close my eyes
and see the
light again, but as days went on, it got fainter and farther away.
Still I felt that real
intensive wish to believe in God. I wondered
if that was what Jim could see in me so that he didn’t
want me in
his Nationalist Youth Corps.
That fall I started to school
but I stayed away a lot. I ran away again to another mission
begged the preacher there to baptize me – I wanted that feeling
back so bad. And he did.
Pretty soon I was simply wandering
over the LA area and staying with friends or in the
coming back to my aunt’s house. I would be gone a week at a time.
No one was
complaining. My aunt’s husband kept getting temporary
layoffs form his job, so there wasn’t much
money in the house. My
aunt must have figured that the less I was around, the less of her
eat up I got where I knew every alley in LA, all the
places where they gave away food and old clothes
and blankets and
what stores leave the best day-old food out in the back.
Then one evening I was standing in
aunt’s back yard, looking at the gold light form the
touching the eastern mountain range. All of a sudden I heard this
high, shrill whistle behind
me. I whirled around and I seen Clark
jumping over my aunt’s back fence into the yard. He had this
shit-eating grin on his face.
“Howdy,” he says. “Thought I’d
come by and see how you’re doing.”
“What are you doing around here?”
“I’m on an intelligence mission,”
he said. “That’s what I like to do for Jim. I like to run around
free. I couldn’t wear a khaki uniform and stand with my back stiff
as a board like them kids at Jim’s
place – and they couldn’t do
intelligence missions looking the way they do. Besides, the way
costs, I’m the only one Jim could trust to drive around in
his car and not waste money.”
“What about the bus?” I says.
“Don’t them kids waste money driving around giving out
“Well-uh-take my word for it. We
money for that. Enough said about it,” Clark answered
We both stopped talking a few
and looked east at the last light touching the tips of
from the sun going down into the ocean west of us.
“I want to go over to the other
of them mountains soon,” I says. “See the rest of the
“Me too,” Clark says. “I’m
gonna try to get Jim to send me on intelligence missions way off
there in other places. There are Nationalist groups scattered all
over the desert country and the
Rocky Mountains who hate the People’s
Party President – that Jew, Sidney Lens. I could make
them for Jim and see what the rest of the country looks like. It
would be great to climb a mountain some day.”
Then he looked at his watch and
real quick, “I gotta go now. He swung hisself back
over the fence
and ran down the alley before I could say goodbye. I heard his car
starting and taking
The spring and summer of that next
year, 1971, I spent a lot more time on the street, a lot of
away from my aunt’s house. School was already out of my life. I got
baptized a couple more
times. I always wanted to talk to Clark again,
see if he felt as much interest in spiritual things as I
did. I think
he always wanted to sit down and have a good talk with me. But I
didn’t see him again as
long as I was in LA.
My fourteenth birthday I was
on the freeway. That’s a big four=lane highway all
around the edge
of LA to keep the traffic from clogging up the streets in the middle
of town. They’ve
built freeways around the edges of big cities all
over the country now to give jobs to the unemployed,
but in LA we had
the first one. It was built in 1969, so it was just two years old
then and the glare
from the sunlight hurt my eyes. I closed them for
a second and put my hand over my eyes.
When I opened my eyes again, I
this skinny blonde girl up ahead of me walking along the freeway
carrying a bedroll with a knapsack on her back. It was Twyla, a girl
I knew from around the missions. She was a year older than me and a
little bit taller.
“Hey, Twyla!” I hollered. “Wait
up!” She stopped and I ran up to her.
“Your name is Bill, isn’t it?”
Twyla says. “I think I seen you get baptized twice. You know you
shouldn’t ought to do that, Bill.”
“Aw, Twyla,” I said. “I just
wanted to have the feeling, to know I’m right with the Lord.”
“It would be good to have a guy to
walk with me for protection,” Twyla says, “Even if you are
“Where are you going, Twyla?” I
“New Mexico – the valley of
Zarahemla, way back in the mountains,” Twyla says.
“What’s supposed to be there?” I
“Another kid I met around the
missions told me they got a new prophet there named Bishop
“God spoke to Bishop Louie about
everybody coming together and having a new home,”
Twyla went on.
“He’s supposed to be some kind of Mormon. I don’t know a thing
but I’m ready to get out of LA anyways.”
“But Twyla,” I says, “I was just
on the way to Lakewood to see a friend. I didn’t bring a
“Don’t worry,” she says. “I’ve
got enough covers for both of us.”
So I was ready to go to Zarahemla. It
sounded like the name of another planet. We caught our
we was gone.
- Nephi Speaking
An old lady took us where the freeway joined Highway 99 and
we got a ride in a truck east all
the way to Phoenix. The truck
driver talked with us for a while, but it was hard for him to hear
Besides, after you get east of San Bernardino, Highway 99 turns
from four lane to two lane. You
cross some mountains and the road
curves a lot, so the truck driver had to keep his eyes on the road.
He couldn’t talk to us, so mostly it was just me and Twyla talking
to each other.
Twyla’s mom and Dad come out to California from their farm in
Texas as back in the Thirties when it
got too dry and dusty to farm.
She had some of that accent like they did, like all these people who
come out to California from Texas and Oklahoma and Arkansas. In Los
Angeles we call them folks
cornballs. A lot of us kids around the
missions used to tease Twyla about the way she talked.
“My daddy was a big man in a Pentecostal church,” she
started, but then she looked to see if the
truck driver still had his
eyes on the road and wasn’t listening to us. Then she put her hand
ear and whispered, “He was in the church, but sometimes since
I was twelve, he’d come home drunk
and smooch around on me and put
his hand in the wrong places and stuff, I’d tell him that it was
sick and we’d pray about it together, and we went to church a lot –
I really like singing hymns loud
and speaking in tongues. But then it
would happen again and I started leaving home and hanging
out in the
missions. The preachers know me. They let me stay around longer than
they let the other
kids and I’d help them sweep the place up and
cook meals for the people coming in. And I’d try to
daddy and go back home again and things would be OK for a while –
then he’d be like
“Why didn’t you tell the cops?” I asked.
“What?” she says, “and have my daddy in jail? Look, he’s
got a good auto mechanic job. Who would
support my mama and my two
little sisters if he went to jail? My mama don’t want to go on
She don’t trust these People’s Party Communists and
their youth programs to take care of my little
sisters. She heard the
People’s Party don’t believe in God and she don’t want my
little sisters where
they would have to hear all that Communist
“Could you just stay at the missions all the time?” I asked.
“I thought about it,” Twyla said, “But I found out the
preacher at one of the missions where I hung
out is the same way my
daddy is. So I decided to get out of LA when I heard about a lot of
getting together at Zarahemla. Like I told you, it’s Mormon.
I have a Book of Mormon in my knapsack
now. I want to read it as soon
as I can to see if it agrees with the Bible.”
The truck driver let us off on the freeway around Phoenix. We
a long, hot dusty walk on the
freeway. With gas costing as much as it
does, mostly there’s just rich people and truck drivers on the
highways. Most of the rich people won’t give you a ride and a lot
of the truck driver’s companies
won’t let them give rides.
Finally it was dark. Twyla unwrapped her sleeping bag and she
handed me a blanket.
“Look,” she said, “Don’t try to do anything. I’m a
Christian girl and I’m bigger than you.”
I’d never been in this kind of situation with a girl before
my life. I was real curious.
A lot of people say Twyla is bucktoothed and homely but to me
will always be beautiful from
when I first seen her lugging her gear
along the freeway. But she was right. We didn’t hardly know
another except for seeing each other in church. Still it was kind of
awkward, me trying to go to
sleep three-legged, if you know what I
“Twyla got in her sleeping bag and I wrapped myself up in the
blanket she gave me a few feet away
from her. We got up at day break.
We was pretty lucky. We only waited a couple of hours before a
salesman picked us up.
“How far are you going?” Twyla asked.
“To El Paso,” the salesman says.
“Then let us off in La Plata,” Twyla told him.
So we got out in La Plata, a little town in the bottom of a
bowl shaped valley surrounded by
pointed hills. The weather was a
good deal cooler than Phoenix.
Twyla started walking fast, away from the main highway,
a smaller road that led northwest.
I practically had to run to keep
up with her.
“Come on!” she hollered at me. “We gotta get to Zarahemla.”
We followed the road up to the top of the ridge overlooking
valley where the town was. We only
had to wait an hour before a
pickup stopped for us and we got in. An old man in a cowboy hat was
driving. His face was all wrinkled and red-brown from years out in
the sun and wind.
“Ain’t you kids awful young to be a-hitch-hikin?” he says.
“Just take us to Zarahemla,” Twyla says back.
“Zarahemla?” the old man says, “Hell, the bus driver’s
too scared to stop his bus there anymore.”
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“People been a-shootin’ at each other up there,” the old
man says. “They got two churches fightin’
“But I thought there was just one church there,” Twyla said.
Her mouth was open and the corners
turned down, kind of surprised and
disappointed. “I mean, the only church I heard of there was the
“Well, they got two kinds of Mormons there now,” the old man
answered. “This new guy Bishop
Louie said God was a man and a woman
both and the other church started shootin’ at him.”
“Man and woman both?” Twyla said, and her mouth and eyes got
even wider. “I never seen that in
“Well, actually the Mormons have always believed God was male
and female,” the old man said back,
“Only they always worshipped
the man and didn’t talk much about the woman. Then Bishop Louie
split his church away from the other and said they should give equal
honor to both the male and
female. He made his wife Bishop along with
him. Then about a month ago, she run away with this
other man. She
went to Santa Fe and her and this other man got their own church up
lucky she got out when she did, because after she
left, the other Mormon church up the valley
started shootin’ at
Louie and his friends. A couple folks been hurt, but ain’t nobody
been killed as I
know of yet. But still it’s got folks plumb
scared, like I told you, and the bus won’t stop at Zarahemla.
The old man looked us over and chewed on his tobacco kind of
thoughtful. “Funny thing is,” he went
on, “the more dangerous
it gets, the more of you young folks there is showin’ up to see
at his church.”
Twyla cleared her throat- “Hmm!”
“I just want to see it,” she says, “to see if it’s God’s
work or not.”
“How would a young thing like you know?” the old man asked.
“I’ll know,” Twyla said, and she
pulled her lips together tight.
The road curved around the side of
mountain after another. Finally we come to where a
small gravel road
led away from the pavement and down into the valley of a little
river. From way up
on the ridge where our road was, you could see it
was a shallow brown river running over a rocky
bed, every now and
then flashing in the sun. Along the river was grove of cottonwood
meadows and cornfields with light brown adobe houses here
and there among the green.
“That’s the Pobre Clara River and
the Zarahemla Valley,” the old man says. “You kids are
first houses you’ll get to if you walk that road are Louie’s
people, so I guess you’re safe
still – no telling what them folks
from the other church further on up the river will do.”
He let us out – I says “Thank you”
and Twyla says “God bless you” and we started along the
road down a steep slope into the valley. All the way down the river,
Twyla had her head bent
down and she was muttering under her breath,
“A man and a woman both.”
Pretty soon we could hear the
Clara River rushing over the rocks. It’s a peaceful sound
fills the whole day and night wherever you are in the valley.
When we got to the first houses,
could see lots of tents in their yards. Some of them
tents, but blankets over frameworks of branches. There was campfires
lots of people standing around them. They was cooking up
food and coffee. Then I really stopped and stared – A lot of the
people – men and women both – was naked as the day they was born.
“Don’t stare at that,” Twyla
says. “That’s only the flesh. That’s not important. What we’ve
to find out about is the teaching.”
“But Twyla,” I says. “It’s kind
of chilly up here after Phoenix. I want to know what kind of
can make them folks run around bare-assed when it ain’t even warm.”
“We’re not yet at the place to
out anything,” Twyla says, touching my wrist with her
“Come on, let’s keep going.”
We come to a place where there had
a big frame building – but it was burnt down in
ruins, nothing but
black planks. A bunch of people was standing around, looking pretty
that’s where I seen Bishop Louie for the first time. He
was a short, scrawny guy about 26, barefoot, bow-legged, wearing a
leather loincloth and a leather vest and he had a cowboy hat on his
was shaking his fist at this blond guy about a foot taller
than him and he was raging at that big guy,
going on like Donald
Duck, “Wak-wak-wak!” And the big guy, who could have broke Louie
in two was
just hanging his head kind of sheepish. I supposed he must
be one of Bishop Louie’s assistants.
And right then Twyla called out
and strong and calm, “Bishop Louie!”
He forgot that big guy and wheeled
around and started walking over the gravel road towards
us. He had
two or three days growth of scraggly fuzz on his face and a big pair
of glasses on, but a
spark went out from him that hit me right
between the eyes. You could tell no one would ever dare
ask him by
what authority he did things.
“What is it, sister?” he says. He
had a rough, gravelly voice, not very deep.
“I’m here to ask you about your
doctrine,” Twyla says like he had nothing to do but talk to her.
“The doctrine I speak is not my
doctrine,” Louie says. “To understand it you must live among
people who are gathered here until you feel the leading of the
Spirit. However I do intend to say
some words tonight to the people
to give them some encouragement, now that our church has been burned
down. Meanwhile, I suggest that you two go over to that campfire on
the other side of the
church and have some food and coffee.”
Then he turned away from us and
striding right back up to that big guy and started
shaking his fist
and yelling at him again.
We walked around to the other side
the ruins. A woman with long light=blond hair was
there. She was
naked to the waist, but she wore a skirt that reached to her ankles.
She was dishing
food out of a kettle on a fire to a bunch of little
kids – all of them naked.
“Excuse me,” I says,, “We’re
kind of hungry.”
She turned around and looked hard
and says, “Why didn’t you bring your own bowls?”
“We just got here,” I says back.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she says,
looking a little softer and kinder, “It’s just that so many
who have been here a while and should know better.”
She turned back to the kids and
“Have any of you finished your dinner?”
She picked up a couple of battered
tin cans the kids held up. They was both still about
half full. She
poured what was in them into a bucket that must have been meant for
trash. Then she
took a ladle and got food out of the kettle and
poured it in the cups and handed them to us.
“Now keep these cups,” she said.
The food was boiled squash and
no salt, no pepper and no more taste than a mouthful
cardboard. But we gobbled down every bit of it. Then the half-naked
woman said, “Do you
want some coffee and me and Twyla both said
She got a big black coffee pot
beside the kettle and poured our cups full. The surface of
was speckled with ashes and it tasted like it had been strained
through an old sock five
or six times, but I drank all mine down.
“Now wash your cups,” the woman
I looked around. Twyla had
her bedroll and was curled up sound asleep on top of
bag. I took Twyla’s cup and mine and went where the woman pointed,
to a bucket full of gray-brown, greasy lukewarm water. A rag was on
the edge of the bucket and I washed and wiped
the cups – really the
cans, I mean.
“Remember the rinse water,” I
the woman say from behind me.
I went over to another bucket full
water that was just as gray-brown and greasy and
lukewarm as the
first bucket. I dipped the ‘cups’ in and sloshed them around.
Sure enough there
was a rag on the edge of this bucket too. I wiped
off the cups. Then I took Twyla’s cup and left it next
to her. I
found the blanket she had let me use by the side of the Phoenix
freeway the night before. I wrapped myself up and started to go to
Then I heard a little kid pipe up
high voice, “Why did you let that guy have my cup?”
“Shh, don’t worry,” the woman’s
voice said, “He didn’t bring one. He’s just learning how we
things here. I’ll get you another cup tomorrow.”
Then I was out like a light.
When I woke up, it was dark. I
over and I seen Twyla was gone. Then I could hear
singing. I looked
back and seen a red glow on the other side of the ruins of the
I walked around what was left of
church. I found a big circle of people standing singing
half-dancing but not moving from their places. In the middle of the
circle was a great big bonfire.
The stars looked like sparks form
the bonfire going up into the sky. I could see Twyla by the light of
the fire on the opposite side of the bonfire from me. She had pulled
her blouse off and now she was half-naked too.
Everyone was singing a song I used
hear in the missions in LA:
“I’ve got a joy, joy, joy deep
in my heart
deep down in my heart
deep down in my heart
I’ve got a joy, joy, joy deep down
Deep down in my heart to stay.”
Then Bishop Louie, still
bare legged in his leather loin cloth stepped to the center of the
circle with his knees sticking out in his kind of bow-legged walk. He
held out an open book in his
hand and started to give his message.
Four – Nephi
“Let him who has ears hear what
Spirit says to the churches!” Louie shouted in his harsh
the singing died away. All I could hear was the firewood crackling.
“We are being persecuted,” Louie
started. “Our church building has been burned because
some of us
come to church in the only clothing God gave them – not the
clothing for sale in human
All around the circle I could hear
“Yipee!” “Yahoo!” I looked around and I could see some of
people was still naked, though most of the naked ones had blankets
around their shoulders.
“The people up the valley,” Louie
went on, “they burned our church building down because
like the color of the clothing that God gave some of us. Some of us
here are Lamanites. To
those who have not read the Book of Mormon,
Lamanites are Indians! God gave them a red clothing!
church up the valley will tell you that the Book says that this red
clothing, this dark
skin is a curse from God. They say it is a shame
to those who have it. Our new message from God is
that the days of
punishment are over! The red skin is not a punishment anymore, but an
Everybody cheered again.
“We have a brother here who got a
black suit of clothing from God,” Louie said.
A tall black man in the circle,
and no blanket, raised his face to heaven and smiled with
closed and his fists in the air.
Then Louie started up again.
“The people up the valley,” he said, “will tell you no
black man can be a priest. But we have ordained Brother Maceo here as
a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek! And our sisters can
ordained priestesses forever after the order of Melchizedek!”
The circle started cheering so much that it took five minutes
Bishop Louie to get them to calm
down. He held his empty hand up and
held the hand with the book forward as he went into a kind of crouch.
Then he bounced up all of a sudden. The fire reflected whirls of
flame in his glasses.
“They say we break the Word of Wisdom,” Louie said, “the
Word that was given to Brother Joseph
the Prophet long ago. It is
true the Word of Wisdom says it is wrong to drink coffee and smoke
tobacco. It is true it is harmful.”
A few boos.
“Yes,” Bishop Louie said louder, “It is indeed
harmful. But we have brothers and sisters who have
just joined and
have not yet learned all that the Spirit has to tell them. These
brothers and sisters
are harming their flesh – but not their
“What goes into the mouth does not defile! What comes
out of the mouth, that does defile!” Applause
all around the
circle and cheers.
“We want to say to the red Lamanites – and to this dark child
of Egypt who is with us!”
Brother Maceo, the black man ducked his head and grinned,
shy. Then Bishop Louie started
“We want to say! They have destroyed only the church building,
not the church in our hearts! God-
our father in heaven above and our
mother in the earth below…” and Louie reached down and
handful of dust from near the fire and let it sift through his
fingers. “God is protecting us!”
Another five minutes of noise.
Then Bishop Louie said, “And now I will read some words of
comfort from the Book of Mormon.
Remember when the first
followers of the Prophet Joseph came here, they named this valley
Zarahemla for a city in the Book. Well, in Third Nephi, chapter
eight, verse eight, we read, ‘And the
city of Zarahemla did take
fire – and so it has.” He waved his hand in a tired limp way
ruins of his church. Louie continued:
“Now I want to read Fourth Nephi, the first chapter, starting
at verse two and I’ll kind of skim over,
but you’ll get the gist.
“And it came to pass…that the people were all converted unto
the Lord…both Nephites and
Lamanites and there were no contentions
and disputations among them…And they had all things in common among
them: therefore there were not rich or poor, bond and free, but they
were all made
free and partakers of the heavenly gift.”
People started to whoop so loud that Bishop Louie couldn’t
going. He stopped a few minutes.
Then he started reading and I could
hear laughter in his voice that kind of softened it so it didn’t
grate so much.
“And there still continued to be peace in the land. And there
were great and marvelous works
wrought by the disciples of Jesus…and
all manner of miracles…Yea, even that great city Zarahemla
they did cause to be built again!”
At that point the cheering got totally wild.
I heard a “Bonk! Bonk! Bonk”. I seen the black man was
squatting on the ground beating on a drum
made out of a section of
hollow log. Everybody was singing, but I couldn’t catch the words
and we all started dancing around the fire. People put their arms
around my shoulders and we was racing
faster and faster and my feet
seemed to go off the ground. But I looked out of the corner of my eye
and I could see Bishop Louie wasn’t dancing. He was just standing
there by the fire with his head
hanging down and a tired, sad
expression on his face.
Seemed like we just flew around the fire in a blur forever.
I started getting dizzy. I suppose
everybody else did, because the
circle started breaking up. People was plopping on the ground. I
plopped too. I felt warm inside and I knew what was keeping the naked
people warm. I gasped,
catching my breath and smiled.
Just then I felt a finger tapping on my shoulder. I looked
was Clark from the Nationalist Youth
bunch back in LA!
“Surprise,” he says and started to get that big grin for a
second. Then he set down beside me and
the grin faded and he looked
“I don’t know what to think of this place yet,” he said. “I
was on an intelligence mission for Jim. There
re a bunch of
Nationalist churches that have split off from the big Mormon church
in Salt Lake City.
We heard about one in Zarahemla Valley and Jim
wanted me to make contact. So I drove here. I was
at the other church
up the valley.”
“What are they like?” I asked.
“Oh, really they ain’t bad folks,” Clark said. “But I
didn’t know anything about Bishop Louie’s church
till I got to La
Plata. The whole town is talking about all the naked people here.”
Clark grinned again for a second only.
“Well,” he went on, “I drove by Bishop Louie’s people on
my way up the valley to that Nationalist
Mormon church. All I seen of
Louie’s folks was kids, kids who had even littler kids. And when I
that church in the upper valley, they was going crazy because
all that was going on down here – the nakedness and the coffee
drinking and tobacco smoking and that nigger beating a drum. Fuck
I like to drink coffee and smoke tobacco! Then they said
they was gonna burn down this church, so I t
ook off in the middle of
the night to warn the people here. Say – you know it’s trickier
to get through
this country than it looks.”
Clark rolled up his pants leg and I could see cuts and
and bruises all over his calf.
“I had some good falls,” he says. “By the time I got here,
the church was burning. But I talked all this morning to Bishop Louie
about what they’re doing back at that other church up the valley.
like now I’m doing intelligence for Bishop Louie instead
of for Jim. And that’s weird, because they got
a nigger here
and now I’m on these people’s side.” And Clark started shaking
“Man,” he went on. “I don’t know what I believe no more.
Up the valley they believe all the things Jim
says are right –
except I wish they’d let me have coffee and cigarettes. They
believe white people are
the true Israel and the Jews are from the
Devil. They believe the niggers are cursed by God and now
here I am
on the side of a nigger,” He said the word in a long, loud
“I just learned about this place,” I says. “It’ll be
several days before I can tell you what I think of it. All
I can tell
you is Bishop Louie has some kind of power.”
“He sure does, man,” Clark nodded. “When he talked to me I
wanted to do anything he wanted me to
– even to save that nigger’s
All of a sudden Clark threw his head back and growled from
in his throat- “Owwh! What am I supposed to tell my parents and my
uncle with all of them in the Klan?”
“I don’t know,” I says. “I don’t know where my dad’s
at and I have an aunt that I kind of stay away
from. I kind of miss
my mom, but it’s better to be on the road now. I don’t know much
We both just sat there quiet by the fire for a few minutes.
was a good smell of sweat and wood smoke in the air around the
circle. My sweat was part of it. I breathed it in deep. I could see
of light from the fire weaving over little groups of people
sitting on the ground in the shadows
talking in low voices like Clark
and me. I didn’t see Bishop Louie no place. He might have some kind
of power, but I seen in his face earlier that he could be sad and
lonely. I worried a little about how he
was getting along.
All of a sudden I felt a big wave of tiredness flow from the
bottom of my feet all the way up into my
brain where it beat against
the inside of my skull. I tried standing up and staggered a little.
“Excuse me, Clark,” I says, “I just gotta go to sleep. Do
you have bedding?”
“Oh I had bedding, a down sleeping bag,” Clark
answered. “I left the bag in Jim’s car near the church
valley – the Nationalist church. When I got here, Bishop Louie made
sure that they gave me a blanket. No one does without here. You may
not get the best, but you get something. But shit – I left
everything I own back up the valley and everything of Jim’s that
was with me, to be down here with a
bunch of naked kids and a nigger.
It’s like I gave up my whole life. I got a blanket but I can’t go
I grabbed both of Clark’s hands in mine – the first time I
ever done that in my whole life to anyone. I
held them for a minute
or two. Then I said, “Good night,” and headed back around the
ruins of the
church, weaving like I was drunk. I found Twyla still
awake, sitting on her sleeping bag, looking up
at the crescent moon.
She had her blouse back on and a wind breaker over that.
“What do you think now, Twyla?” I asked.
“Oh,” she says, “I think they’ve got some kind of
righteous power, so they must have the right
doctrine even if they
don’t express it in the correct way always.”
“You know, Twyla,” I says, “I never thought I’d see you
bare chested like that.”
“I didn’t think about it at the time,” Twyla said. “The
fire was too hot and a lot of people had all their clothes off, so I
took my blouse off. I didn’t feel lust of the flesh from any of the
guys. I think Bishop
Louie has a problem with lust of the flesh, but
he wasn’t throwing it at me. I took off my blouse
because that was
just the way it was. Now that you brought it up, I like being free
By then I was wrapped up in the blanket and the sound of the
Pobre Clara River was sending me off
Next day when we got up there was oatmeal for breakfast. It
tasted just like the boiled squash and
rice the night before – that
is, it didn’t taste. A bunch of us sat in a circle eating
the oatmeal around
the heap of ashes where the bonfire had been the
night before. Some guy in the circle stood up and
said the trench
where people went to shit was about full up. He said we should cover
the shit with
dirt and ashes and dig a new trench.
So some of us got together, mostly guys, but some girls. We
shovel and a coffee can full of
ashes from the bonfire place. We went
and filled in the old shit trench and put ashes in it. Then we
over and started digging on new shit trenches. The ground was real
rocky. We was lucky Clark
was there. He was strong as an ox and he
could dig into that rocky ground like a knife into hot
all of a sudden Bishop Louie showed up – said he wanted to talk to
Clark and I didn’t
see Clark again that day. The rest of us had to
work pretty hard without him. I got blisters all over
my hands. When
I got back to my blanket around supper time, Twyla told me she had
been out all
day long dragging in big dead firewood branches and
cutting them up with a hatchet.
That’s how our life went for the rest of the week, all of us
the camp working together to feed
ourselves wit more and more people
coming in all the time. I lost the can I had been using for a cup.
went to see Ivy, the woman with the long blond hair who had fed me
and Twyla when we first got
“Can I have a new cup?” I asked.
Ivy gave me a big talking-to about being careless, but
woman said, “Calm down, Ivy,” and ran
to her tent and got me a
bowl with a big ship out of it – but still good enough to eat out
One day Bishop Louie baptized three people in the river. I t
such a shallow stream he had to get
Clark to dig a little hole in the
gravel of the river bed. The people would take turns getting
Each one would kneel in the hole Clark dug out with just
their head and shoulders sticking above the water. Then Bishop Louie
would duck their head in the river. Each person told Bishop Louie a
name they wanted when they got baptized. Like a boy named Henry,
about my age, got down in the
river and whispered the name he wanted
in Bishop Louie’s ear.
“Brother!” Louie shouted, “I baptize you Eagle!” and
ducked him under. The boy walked back on
shore grinning proud and
happy like he had just become a man.
Then I felt that wish again like I had long ago at the
LA. I turned to Bishop Louie with
tears in my eyes and said, “Please
“What name do you want?” Bishop Louie asked.
Now all these days in Zarahemla I had been reading Twyla’s Book
of Mormon. Nephi was the first
hero in the Book of Mormon.
He had a father who loved him the way I wished I had. Nephi’s
told him a wonderful dream – that he had led his whole
family to the tree to eat this wonderful fruit
like no one had ever
ate before. And it was the greatest tasting, most nourishing fruit in
They ate it, including Nephi, even though the people who
didn’t eat the fruit made fun of him. And
Nephi stood up to his
older brothers when they tried to push him around – the way I
I could stand up to my mother’s older sister. Then
Nephi took his whole family in a little wooden ship
dangerous ocean to America, to the wilderness.
So I cried out, “Nephi!”
“Come on in the river,” Bishop Louie said.
I walked out and got down on my knees in the spot Clark had
hollowed out. I was naked. By that time
I was running around naked
all day. The river was cold to my bones. It meant more to me than
being baptized in a robe.
Bishop Louie said, “I baptize you Nephi in the name of the
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – and
the Mother – which is
all one God,” and splash! He put me under. I stood up and walked
back to the
shore dripping icy cold water with a fire inside me. I
was holding my hands over my head hollering “Hallelujah! “I'm
Nephi! I’m Nephi!”
I knew that was the last time I would ever get
baptized. I didn’t
know it was the last time Bishop
Louie would ever baptize anybody.
Chapter Five – Buff
This is Buffington Journeycake PhD again. Nephi had stopped
talking in my tape recorder. He took a
drink of his coffee. Outside
the rain was pouring down on Sante Fe.
“Didn’t Twyla get baptized?” I asked.
“No,” Nephi said. “She told me, ‘I was baptized once and
that was enough; I have faith in my baptism’.
Then she pointed at
me and said, ‘What you need more than baptism is faith – not just
in God, but in yourself.’”
“What about Clark?” I said.
“Oh, I says ‘Come on Clark, get baptized with me’, but he
shook his head. Here he was, this big,
strong guy and he was shaking
and stuttering. He just says, ‘I dug out a hole for other people to
get baptized in. I done them some good and that’s enough. I-I-I
just ain’t sure of what I believe. I want to
be with this
think but don’t know if I want to be part of it yet.’ – That’s
what Clark told me. So I got
the last of Bishop Louie’s baptizing
before he quit doing it.”
Nephi went on telling me his story long into the night. I
to use some of the rest of his account
later in this book, but I also
want you to hear the voices of some others.
When I finished taping and writing notes of Nephi’s memories,
the little restaurant was ready to
close. We walked outside. A strong
chilly breeze was blowing, tearing the clouds to pieces so that
stars showed through again, like bright fruit hanging almost low
enough to pick. Still the ground
in Santa Fe was cold and damp and
there were pools of water under the bridges and culverts.
“Where did you stash your gear, Nephi?” I asked.
“At the Maria Russell Mission, where else?” he answered.
“But they lock the door at eight. How can we get in?” I said.
“Ph, they’ll open for me,” Nephi said with a firm
nod of his head. Twyla might think Nephi didn’t have enough faith
in himself, but about some things he was absolutely sure.
We walked a few more blocks – Sante Fe is a big small town
nothing is very far from anything
else. We came to a one-story
red-brick house, maybe almost a hundred years old. The porch was
white painted wood, with a lot of Victorian gingerbread carvings. We
walked up on the porch and
started banging the door with all
Finally a sleepy young man in underwear opened the door and
“Look, you can’t come in. Come
back tomorrow morning before eight
“Go back to Taze and Rivka, whichever one is easiest to get
Tell them Nephi and Buff are here,”
Nephi said with calm arrogance.
The young man disappeared down the dark hallway. About 15
later a tall woman about 30
was coming out of the dark towards us,
putting a red imitation satin house coat over her yellow
She had long wavy, glossy black hair, uncombed and flowing down her
back and down
front of her housecoat.
“Buff, it’s good to see you,” she said, attempting a smile.
“Nephi, you should know not to come so late. You should have
brought Buff earlier.”
“It’s my fault, Rivka,” I said. “I kept Nephi up till
midnight recording what he has to say about the
history of the
Circle. Hey – you know, I’d like to record what you have to say.”
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, we’ll think about it tomorrow.” Rivka
had a noticeable New York accent, but
her voice was soft and lilting.
“We won’t think about doing anything tonight,” she added.
She hurried back down the hall to her room and I followed
to one of the dim rooms that
opened off the hall. We could hear the
soft whistle of breathing an occasional snore from the
bodies that covered the floor around us.
I followed Nephi around the edge of the room to the corner
he had his bedroll. We unwrapped
our sleeping bags and soon I drifted
off. I woke up out of a complete blank to the noise of people,
young, talking to each other as they lined up in the hall in front of
the bathrooms where they
would pee if they had to and wash their
hands and arms – which in the Maria Russell Mission they definitely
had to. There was a men’s line and a women’s line. Nephi and I
got at the end of the men’s
line and went through the routine. Then
we joined the line going into the dining hall, showing our
hands to a
young woman who stood at the door, examining for cleanliness. She
only sent a couple of
people from the line back to the bathroom to do
their washing over.
We stood at the table and a tall young man with big ears said
brief prayer. Then we sat down and
other young people brought in
breakfast – bowls of yogurt with strawberries in it – big, juicy
bits of strawberry. The tall young man who had said the prayer
mounted a high stool and announced, “I’m
Brother Malachi. I shall
read from Studies in the Scriptures by Charles Taze Russell.
He began to
read in a high, clear monotone.
Because I have studied anthropology and psychology, almost
book interests me – to learn how
the author’s mind works or to
figure out his unconscious assumptions about society. However I have
tried reading Studies in the Scriptures several times and I
have had it read at me at Maria Russell
Missions around the US, and
it never fails to bore me. So I was doing what everybody else did –
eating my breakfast and talking in a low voice to my neighbors. It
was no disrespect to the young
man. He had already had his yogurt, so
he had enough energy to plow through plenty of old Russell’s
Just then Taze and Rivka walked in. Rivka had her hair combed
brushed smoothly down her back
now like an ebony waterfall. She had a
strong face with a proud, sweeping high nose.
Taze was originally Thomas Tazewell, PhD. I was in his
on the Anthropology of Religion at
the University of New Mexico when
I was getting my doctorate there. I had always wanted to pull my
off and throw it at him.
Taze was 40 years old, about as tall as Rivka. He was
and with glasses over a pair of the sharpest little eyes I have ever
seen. He had shortened his last name from Tazewell to Taze to be like
the prophet Charles Taze Russell who had written Studies in the
Scriptures. Taze was all anybody
ever called him anymore. He had
the same crackle of authority around him that Bishop Louie did,
not as much. Nobody will ever be like Louie.
“Buff! Glad to have you back with us!” Taze boomed out over
the reading of Studies in the Scriptures, which continued
unabated. He came over and pumped it. He was wearing a turtleneck
slacks – he looked like he was still a professor.
Taze and Rivka found empty folding chairs at one of the
and scooted in next to me.
“I shall now read from the Commentary on Studies in the
Scriptures by Taze,” Brother Malachi
announced. One thing you
could say about Russell. His Studies in the Scriptures was
nteresting than Taze’s commentary on it. But I had a purpose
in being here now.
“Say, Taze,” I said. “I’m starting a history of the
Circle. I was thinking at first of just interviewing
Louie, but Nephi
here told me such interesting material last night, I want to record
the memories of
a bunch of different people. I was thinking about
interviewing you and Rivka.”
“Taze’s face started flickering back and forth between a
smile and a frown. He settled on the smile. “Uh-yes,” he said.
“come back to my bedroom after breakfast and we’ll talk into your
But we’ll have to make it brief – no more than an
hour. And Nephi, you can’t be there!”
“Ok,” Nephi said and turned to me. “buff, he said, “I’ll
go around town and see if I can get together
enough money to buy some
cigarettes. I’ll be back by the time you finish with Taze and
In a little more than an hour, I thought Taze and Rivka had
all they were going to say. I went out
in the front yard of the
mission and found Nephi there smoking a cigarette. We walked with our
bedrolls on our backs under the cottonwood and sycamore trees in the
park along the Acequla
Madre – the old Spanish irrigation ditch.
All of a sudden I heard a voice behind us calling “Buff!
I turned around. Rivka was running after us in her long purple skirt.
“Taze just got a call,” Rivka said. She took a few deep
breaths. Then Rivka continued:
“Taze had to go right away to meet with some politician at
ranch outside of town. I’ve got all the
day’s plans made for the
Mission – Brother Antonio will read from the Spanish translation of
Taze’s Commentary on Studies in the Scriptures at the noon
She gave a little laugh with an admixture of tiredness and
bitterness. Then she sat down on the
thick green grass under a tree
and looked up at us with a real smile.
“Go ahead, sit down!” she said. “So record me! I can take a
couple of hours off. I might as well say a
few things. It may make
Taze mad, it may make Louie mad, but isn’t this a time of
We sad down and I switched on my recorder. In what follows, I
have tried to splice together things
that Rivka told me there in the
park with what she said back at the mission. I am also including
Taze’s remarks. The explanations he taped for me on the beliefs of
the Maria Russell Missions are
briefer, clearer and more to the point
than those he gives in his monumental Commentary on Studies
In my family Social Consciousness was our religion. My
were such good people I could
scream. We went to a Reform Jewish
temple twice a year, but we had Social Consciousness for
lunch and dinner 365 days a year.
My father was a bureaucrat from the New York City Public
Authority. Hell, he lived the
Public Housing Authority. And
really, I can’t blame him. They have replaced most of the worst
slum firetraps with good, sturdy brick buildings. It’s true the
rooms are small and over crowded, but for
only a hundred and fifty a
month in New York, most poor people can have a good sanitary room –
rats, it won’t burn down. I’m sounding like my father now.
In the fifties when Nixon was President, he cut the funding
public housing. It meant more
homeless people sleeping in alleys,
more crime. Nixon talked like he wanted to do away with public
housing completely. Fortunately, some of his advisors must have
explained to him how crazy that
would be. He kept funding public
housing or we’d really have a mess on our hands now.
And my father went to bat for every one of the people in his
public housing that were in danger of
being kicked out because of the
cuts. He bled for them, man. He would stay in his office on
for them any night till midnight. He wasn’t home for me. And
if they had a place to stay, he was on
the phone to make
sure their heating worked and there were flowers planted around their
And God forbid anybody should find a rat in his
public housing. He never got overtime for most of this.
My mother was a social worker the same way = always bringing
some complicated soap opera
her clients were going through. She put
herself through the mill for them.
Then when Nixon got impeached for all those corruption
and Robert Kennedy got elected
the first People’s Party President
in 1964, my mom and dad danced around our apartment. I tell
every day was Hannukah. And when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated
in 1965, my dad flung himself
on the bed crying – big heaving sobs.
The doctor kept him home from work for a month – too much
danger of a heart attack. Most white
collar workers, you know, voted
Republican, not People’s Party. When you find office workers like
my parents who are strong People’s Party, very often they’re
Jewish. And it’s not just because Jews are idealistic. Out here in
New Mexico people think all Jews are rich, but in New York you see
beggars all the time. I have a bunch of relatives living in
public housing. My father would take me to
visit my old great-aunts
in these little cramped apartments and he’d talk Yiddish with them.
I can’t understand Yiddish very well, but I could gather my aunts
were full of praise for public housing after
the dumps they had
rented in the slums.
My father would work some nights till midnight; when my
got home from work, she would go
off to meetings of all sorts of
causes and movements. When I was a kid I was left with baby sitters.
Later when I became a teenager I was left alone a lot of nights. I
became interested in religion, which
my parents talked about very,
very little. It was my way of youthful rebellion and besides, in my
loneliness I wanted the companionship of spiritual beings.
I told my father, “Dan, I think there might be a God.”
And he said, “Yah yes, often in history religion has played a
progressive role in organizing the
oppressed to struggle for their
And I just went “Aaagh!” and went to my bedroom. He called
after me, “What did I say, honey?”
By the time I was the age to go to college, I was reading a
of library books on American Indian
Spiritual beliefs – especially
the Pueblo and Navajo Indians of New Mexico and Arizona. I was really
interested in the Navajo goddess Changing Woman.
So I decided I wanted to major in anthropology and study
Southwestern Indian religion. The
University of New Mexico at
Albuquerque had a good anthropology department; it was out there
close to the Indians and what’s more it was just as cheap for me as
most of the colleges in the New
York City area..
When I told my college plans to my parents, they said what I
expected – ‘We think it’s a good idea for
you to study
anthropology, honey. It’s good for you to learn about the culture
of oppressed peoples.
It might help in organizing them and…”
Once more I went “Aaagh!”
So I came out to the University in Albuquerque in 1968 and
how I met Taze – and Louie.
Chapter Six – Rivka
Buff, when you were in a graduate seminar with Taze I was
an undergraduate course from
him. A lot of people get one look at
Taze and he doesn’t seem that attractive. They read what he has
written and that leaves them cold. But it’s when you actually hear
him speak – he can even make
Studies in the Scriptures sound
interesting! And he’s so convincing. I never met anyone so
convincing in my life – until I met Louie in the spring of 1969.
The first time I ever met Louie, I was sitting in a student
hangout in the university area, drinking a
cup of coffee and studying
my lessons. Louie came walking up to me with a glass of orange juice
Of course he wasn’t wearing that leather loincloth. He had
jeans on and an old Future Farmers of
America jacket. But he was
wearing that battered old felt cowboy hat.
“Excuse me,” he said. “All the other tables are taken. Do
you mind if I sit here with you awhile and
put the make on you?”
I really believe he said that. I tried to laugh and said
Now that I think about it,, I had seen
Louie in different coffee
shops in the university area, putting the make on various women.
I’m fairly sure that if Louie took his glasses off, he would
walk straight into a wall two feet in front of
him. But the way those
blue eyes sparkle! He has a real prophet’s eyes.
He sat there across the table from me grinning with those
teeth. I had to let him sit there to
show him – and myself – that
he didn’t spook me. I picked up my cup and gulped down my coffee.
“You shouldn’t drink that stuff,” he said. “It’s
against the Word of Wisdom.”
“The what?” I said.
The word God gave to Joseph Smith,” Louie answered. “He’s
the prophet of our faith – the Mormons.”
Since I moved out west I had already heard a good deal about
Mormons, who are big in this part
of the world. I knew that they were
a very American religion – they followed a prophet named Joe
Smith who taught that the Garden of Eden was located near
Independence, Missouri, and the United States Constitution was
written under divine inspiration. And most Mormons believed that God
was physically a male Caucasian. No thanks. I preferred the Changing
Woman of the Navajos.
“But isn’t the Mormon church awfully patriarchal?” I asked.
“Everything’s so oriented to males.”
I could see Louie’s eyes narrow behind his glasses and get
little thoughtful crinkles at the corners.
“I’m afraid you’re right,” he said, “at least that’s
the way they teach it now. But the early Mormon
teaching says there
is a divine Father and Mother. They are-quote-alike in glory–unquote.
Mormon named Eliza Snow – the rumors I hear say she was
one of the wives of the Prophet Joseph –
she wrote a hymn to the
Mother. It goes like this.”
And he began to sing tunelessly:
“In the heavens are parents single?
No! The thought makes reason stare.
Truth is reason! Truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.”
“By the way,” he said, “My name is Louie McGowan.” His
face broke into this big natural smile and
he reached his hand across
the table and shook mine. It was one of the few times I have ever
Louie when he wasn’t on stage and it impressed me more than
any of the wonderful things I have
seen and heard from him since
then. Louie can tell the most fascinating stories I have ever heard.
is one of the wittiest people I know. But he’s always putting
the make on everybody he meets – if not
for sex, it’s to use them
in the plans he always has in his head. Just to see him with his
down, not playing an act – that’s a very rare and
Comment by Nephi
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized there’s a big sex
competition between Louie and Taze. They both
always have big crowds
of females following them with their tongues hanging out. There’s
of times I’ve heard Louie preaching to the females and
all he’s saying is “Follow my whanger!” But I’ll
say this for
Louie – he’s got a heart as well.
Now Taze, he preaches for hours, he writes books, he builds
communities, he gives away huge
amounts of stuff to the poor – but
all Taze has got is whanger.
I asked Louie, “What do you come to town for?”
“I come to town a lot to buy supplies for our United Order in
Zarahemla Valley,” he answered. “We
have community fields of
crops, a community herd of cattle. We broke with the main Mormon
in Salt Lake City like a lot of Mormons up in the mountains
have in the last 30 years. We’re trying to
get back to the way the
Mormons were in the early days – communal enterprises, what we call
United Order. I want to keep in mind what you said about women,”
and he looked me straight in the
eye and went on. “I hope that
someday we can introduce the worship of the female side of God like
they really talked about doing in the old Mormon times.”
He finished his orange juice in a few gulps, gave one last
and said, “See you soon.” Then he was
lost in the crowds pouring
out the restaurant door.
I didn’t think about Louie any more for a month. Then I saw a
big photo of him on the front page of
the Albuquerque Journal
– in a hospital bed in La Plata. He had bandages wrapped around the
his head and his arm in a sling. He’d been in a big fight –
about 50 people on each side, some of them swinging fence posts. The
barn of the Zarahemla United Order had been dynamited. It all started
because Louie had a revelation that baptism should be in the name of
the Mother as well as the
Father and also that Louie’s two wives
and some other women should be ordained as Mormon
Zarahemla community had split wide open over that – and so almost
did Louie’s skull.
At the end of the story there was a big denial by the Mormon
church in Salt Lake City that they had anything to do with anybody in
Zarahemla Valley or any of the other Mormon splinter groups that
still practiced polygamy. The Salt Lake City church insisted that
they had banned polygamy many
I have seen Louie since then when he has a revelation. He
into a trance. I believe him when
he says he sees a light and hears a
voice. I’m sure that happened when he had his revelation about
women. But I like to think that I started the whole process, that the
Mother was speaking to Louie
through me that day in the restaurant.
Also I was kind of disappointed to find out that Louie
had two wives.
As soon as the news of the religious war in Zarahemla broke,
talked about it in our class. He
said he was taking some of his
graduate students in Anthropology of Religion and he wanted some
undergraduate volunteers. I was one of two in our class that held up
our hands. The state police had
been to Zarahemla and made some
arrests on both sides, but there was still a lot of fear that it
be dangerous down there.
Taze was anxious to get down to Zarahemla, danger or no
was just beginning to realize the jealousy and competition of those
days between a lot of anthropologists. Taze had a reputation for a
good book-knowledge of anthropology. He knew the already existing
literature well and was able to develop some very interesting
theories, but he hadn’t done much in the field since his doctoral
dissertation from Berkeley for his work at Santo Toribo Pueblo. Some
of the professors who had been around the pueblo whispered behind
Taze’s back that the Indians at Santo Toribo wouldn’t talk to
Taze, so he had to make up a bunch of stuff for his dissertation.
Taze was eager to prove he was as good as anybody at field
research. I was pretty eager to see what
the field was like too. But
I didn’t tell Taze about my conversation with Louie at the
never have told him.
As soon as Louie got out of the hospital, Taze called him
for permission to come down and
interview him. As always when it was
a question of publicity, Louie said yes.
Taze says he invited you to come along, Buff. It’s a shame
didn’t. There were three carloads of us,
and with the way gasoline
costs, we were glad the university was paying the bill. We had a big
picnic basket full of sandwiches. We stopped to eat by the roadside,
looking up at the mountains. The
branches of the pine trees near us
were singing a chorus in the breeze. I gave my heart to that whole
Southwest New Mexico country then.
When we got to Zarahemla Valley, we found Louie and his two
standing in front of the
framework for his new church building. The
faction further up the valley who wouldn’t accept
teaching on women had seized the old church. Louie’s new church
which was under
construction is the one that was burned down by the
upper valley people shortly after I left Louie in
But on this bright clear day, the church framework stood
a deep blue sky with huge drifts of
white fluffy clouds. Louie’s
two wives stood behind him, along with another woman with a worried
look on her face who kept shifting from one foot to another.
All around Louie – as usual – there was a big crowd
applauding him. On this day he was to be
ordained Bishop of the new
church – the ward as Mormons call it.
Taze told all us students to take notes of the procedures.
to say? There were some prayers,
some hymns, some words said – not
really too different from the sort of stuff you read in Studies in
the Scriptures, only these words were supposed to be Mormon.
Louie, as he often does, tried hard to
look modest and as always, it
was difficult for him. I was standing straight in front of Louie, but
ave not a single flicker of recognition to indicate that we had
ever met before. Louie always was able
to keep a good poker face.
As soon as Louie was installed as Bishop, we were bracing
ourselves for the ceremony to ordain his
wives and free other women
as priestesses. We all knew that this might be a long, tedious one,
the women were to be given the two grades of the Mormon
priesthood in the same day, the Aaronic
– which most Mormon males
get at puberty = the Melchizedek, which males get upon reaching
adulthood and preparing for marriage.
We hadn’t even gotten through the Aaronic, and it was already
getting pretty wearisome for me,
when the women were kneeling before
Louie and he was supposed to put his hands on their heads
blessing. All of a sudden, the fidgety nervous-looking woman who had
been with Louie and his
wives when he got there, stoop up and ran
away from the others like a frightened sheep.
Louie ran after her, but he called instructions back over his
shoulder to his elders, who began
leading us in the hymn, “We’re
Marching Upwards to Zion.” Louie always did have a good sense that
the show must go on.
He caught up with her when she stopped to lean against a big
cottonwood tree and gasp for breath.
Then Louie actually got down on his knees in front of her and
begged her to come back. This is
another time I have seen Louie when
I believed he was not putting on an act.
Finally she followed Louie back to the ceremony. Louie raised
hand and we stopped singing in
the middle of the fourth chorus of
“Marching Upwards to Zion.”
“Folks!” Louie said. “Sister Zerena here” – he
indicated with his hand the woman who had run away
– “she tells
me there are some special circumstances that might make it difficult
for her to become a priestess. So there will be a private ceremony to
prepare her for the priesthood and then we will
give her the full
ordination – as we will now proceed to do with these sisters here.”
Then he laid his hands in blessing on the heads of the other
women and we got to the end of the Aaronic ceremony. Then we waded
through the Melchizedek ceremony – while Zerena stood all the
off to one side. She was still looking as uncomfortable as ever.
Taze was busy taking notes as all this was going on. I think
thing he learned from Louie was how
to conduct a religious ceremony
in grand style and not sweat the small shit. For me though, religion
has mostly been a personal thing of my relationship to the deity.
From my first introduction at Zarahemla, I have found I don’t
care much personally for ceremonies, although I have conducted a lot
of them since then.
At night fall we of the anthropology tribe set up tents and
a fire, which we sat around and
conducted our own tribal ceremonies –
a seminar out here in the mountains. Taze was at his best. He
drawing people out. So many were telling him how the fervent singing
of these old hymns
produced a warm, folksy feeling and they envied
the sense of community these Mormons seemed to
have. I put my hand
up. Taze called “Rivka!”
“I agree to an extent,” I said. “There were times I got a
little bored. Let’s be honest. There were a lot
of times I got a lot bored. But sometimes during the hymns I
had a sense of
what I was looking for in religion. In New York all my amusements
were alone – reading, listening to records, going to movies.
movie theater you’re alone in the dark with a crowd. This was the
first time I’ve ever come close
to feeling what it might be to have
a link with people”
“I hope you do find out some day,” a rough, grainy voice –
by now familiar – said from behind me.
Louie, who was now His
Holiness the Bishop came and sat down by me at the fire. I didn’t
know that Mormon Bishops are just plain Brother. But Louie will
always be Bishop Louie.
“My dad,” Louie began, “and his brothers, they went from
ranch to ranch on foot carrying their
saddles on their shoulders.
They broke horses, built fence, fed cattle, but to do cowboying and
own your own horse? That’s poor. They was what you call
Jack Mormons. They got baptized in it,
even went to church a few
times, but it was so people would accept them as fellow human beings.
lot of places in the Rockies, if you’re not a Mormon you’re
plumb froze out.
“They did like a lot of Jack Mormons, obeyed some of the
– like you couldn’t pay them to touch
coffee. But they’d get
out behind the barn and really get after that moonshine.
“I was the first male in my family to graduate from high
school. But I found myself like my dad and his brothers, throwin’
the houlihan – that’s going from ranch to ranch looking for work.
I was alone. But
then I found this community in Zarahemla Valley that
had broke away from the main Mormon church
in Salt Lake City.
“The Zarahemla Community was trying to find the true United
Order of the time of the Prophet
Joseph – a community like a big
family raising crops and cattle together. It was the first place I
hang my hat. Then I had the revelation that women should be as
much a part of the community as us
men – and you see what
When Louie finished, Taze began to talk about the political
social background of break away
Mormon communities like Zarahemla. I
could almost see Louie’s ears prick up like a coyote’s ears in
the firelight. I could fee; it in the firelight at a distance.
“The General Authorities,” Taze said, “that’s the leaders
of the Mormon Church – they ran their
flocks to vote Republican
like putting them through a sheep dip. That was OK from the Civil War
the Depression when the Republicans almost always had the
Presidency. Then in 1932 the
Democrats with 80% of the vote and the
People’s Party with 30% of the vote made a coalition and
Franklin Roosevelt president.”
Taze looked around the fire with a grin. He wiggled his
with an unspoken “Aha!”
“Ever since then,” he continued, “Mormon churches have been
breaking loose from control of the
General Authorities, because the
Depression has never really ended. First young, low-income urban
Mormons started voting Democrat and People’s Party. When the
General Authorities insisted on the Republicans, these young urban
people broke away.
“And up here in the mountains there are lots of little Mormon
communities that are horrified if the
General Authorities even try to
get along with the People’s Party. All these small ranchers and
farmers are afraid the People’s Party will communize their little
bits of property. So they do their own communization – only they
control it, not the government. They bring polygamy back in the open.
And they have fifty dozen splits – often with violence – like
you’ve had, Louie – only your split is the
first one I’ve heard
of that tries to give more rights to women.”
Then Taze stood up and yawned. Everybody else started getting
ready to go bed down in their tents.
And I was left alone at the
dying fire with Louie.
I looked at the outline of Louie’s
face in the light from the glowing ashes.
“Hey,” I said, “you didn’t
explain why that woman named Zerena ran away from the ceremony.”
“You promise you won’t tell?”
“OK,” I answered.
“Keep your word. Remember that
not an assignment in anthropology. Zerena is the wife of one of the
elders up the valley that we had split from. She ran away from her
husband and joined me.”
“As one of your wives?” I asked.
“Not quite,” he answered.
“Well, can’t you marry her?” I
“Not exactly,” Louie said. “See,
Zerena is not just married to Brother Bob – she’s sealed
to him for all eternity. There’s this little Mormon temple in
Arizona not far from here that broke away form the General
Authorities in Salt Lake City. It does services for a lot of us folks
in what Taze calls the breakaway Mormon groups. That’s where I got
sealed to my two wives. Regular marriage is only for this world like
the Aaronic Priesthood you’re supposed to get when you’re a
teenager. When you get sealed it lasts forever like the Melchizedek
Priesthood. So Zerena’s pretty anxious.”
Louie paused and stared at the
“Let’s say she spends her life
me,” Louie continued. “At the resurrection Brother Bob is
supposed to say her secret sealing name and call her from her grave
to spend eternity with him. He can either leave her in her grave –
or he might give her a pretty rough eternity.”
“And you believe this, Louie?” I
“In some ways I do,” Louie
answered, picking his words slowly and carefully. His hands were
imitating the motions of feet stepping on a path.
“Are you having sex with her?” I
“And all these women I see you
flirting with in Albuquerque?” I asked.
“With them too.”
“Louie,” I said, “how the hell do
you justify it?”
“I always said it was like
courtship,” Louie answered. “I thought I might get sealed to them
some day. But with Zerena it’s sort of different. The Prophet
Joseph was married to women who were sealed to other men. And the men
were his friends and they had passed away. But Zerena’s husband,
Brother Bob up in the valley, he’s alive and you better believe
he’s not my friend. And there’s something even worse.” Louie’s
head hung down.
“What’s worse?” I asked.
“Since I performed the priestess
ceremony today,” Louie said, “I know that temple in Arizona will
never let me or my wives in again. Oh man, I just gotta have a
revelation of what to do about all this mess!”
Louie’s predicament sounded just
exotic as anything I had ever heard in class that occurred among some
tribe on a Pacific island.
Now I understood for the first
that people in a culture different from mine really felt those
things. Louie was crying a little. I put my hand on his shoulder. I
will give him credit as everlasting as the Melchizedek Priesthood
that he didn’t try to do anything else. It was a beautiful moment.
“Say, I never did get your name,”
“Rivka – that’s Hebrew for
“Yeah, Rivka a Kaplan. I’m Jewish.”
“I think you’re the first Jewish
person I’ve ever met,” Louie said. “A lot of these mountain
Mormons don’t like Jews. They say us Mormons are the True Israel
and the Jews are Gentiles like everybody else who’s not a Mormon.
And they’re afraid of the People’s Party. They say it’s all
full of Jewish Communists like President Lens.”
“I hope you’re not afraid of me,
Louie,” I said. “My parents back in New York are the most
People’s Party Jews you’ll ever meet. I’m not so political
“Me neither,” Louie said. “I
learned more about politics from Taze in a few minutes tonight than I
learned before in my life.”
I noticed Louie’s voice actually
sounded softer. It didn’t rasp as much.
“I’ve got to get back to my
Louie said. “And Zerena.”
“They don’t know about what you
do?” I asked.
“They figure,” he said. “But they
don’t like it when they have to know.”
I clasped his hand briefly, then
for my tent and Louie walked off in the dark. The Pobre Clara River
was low that year, but there was a steady melodious gurgling as I
went to sleep.
I promised Louie that night not to
that conversation and now I have, but a lot of things have changed
since then and there’s enough stuff Louie has done…
The next day Louie showed us the
community fields of corn and beans. Louie’s church had one tractor
which ran on a corn alcohol/gasoline mixture. The rival church up the
valley had two tractors. Louie’s church had another tractor which
had been smashed up in the fight. The other church had kept most of
“There’s a dirt road from their
of the valley,” Louie said, “that leads to the highway that goes
to Arizona. They’ve got people with guns coming down that way to
join them. That’s why we need you all here to witness for us.”
On the third day we went back to
university in Albuquerque. We wrote up papers in Taze’s class on
what we had seen in Zarahemla. I was thinking less about Louie as
days went on and I was having to study for my exams.
I wasn’t in Zarahemla when Louie’s
second cousin Aries John arrived there in June. I was taking summer
courses. During finals week I got a letter from Louie care of Taze at
the Anthropology Department. He wrote that Aries John had come in an
old pickup with a tipi and a stack of books on spiritual subjects.
John’s books were a real inspiration to Louie. IN the month after
John arrived, Louie had 20 new revelations. In one of these
revelations, Louie was told to re-seal his wives and Zerena over to
Aries John, who had just been baptized and given the priesthood. This
remarkable piece of celestial repair work had been approved by both
God the Father and God the Mother. Louie had given John the secret
names of his wives so John could call them out of their graves at the
resurrection. The Father and Mother had given Louie a new secret
resurrection name for Zerena, which he had whispered in Aries John’s
ear. Louie, John and the women involved were all enthusiastic about
these changes and Louie wanted me to hurry down to Zarahemla. I wrote
him what day I would be there.
As I have said, Louie was
tried to tell Taze that I was going down there to get material for a
term paper in anthropology that fall. For that matter, I tried to
tell myself that I was going back to school that fall. But I knew
better. There was no place as interesting as Zarahemla.
I loaded up all the stuff I could
in my suitcases and stashed the rest with friends. I took the bus
from Albuquerque for La Plata. Thank God for government subsidies to
buses and passenger trains, when you consider what the price of
gasoline is. The trip to La Plata cost only eight dollars. Then I
took the Rural Service to Zarahemla. As a big city person, I had
never been on one of these before. To go one way, no matter how long
or short, the distance is a flat rate of $10 – unless you have a
season ticket. At each little village or group of farms and ranches
or gyppo logging operation, every household pays five dollars a month
to have the Rural Bus Service stop at their settlement. It’s worth
it. There are large empty areas with maybe only one or two gas
stations which are often closed unpredictably. And in back country
areas, gas can cost four dollars a gallon. It’s not as far from La
Plata to Zarahemla as from Albuquerque to La Plata, but it costs
The Rural Bus service vehicle was
painted in multicolored designs like a lot of them are in this border
country. The driver was an elderly Mexican man. On his bumper was
painted CON EL FAVOR DE DIOS, meaning BY THE GRACE OF GOD.
As GRACE OF GOD rolled along, I
see people along the road traveling free – hitching. Not only the
young men you usually expect to hitch but women – even one woman
over 60 years old.
Finally we stopped where the
road forked off the highway and plunged into Zarahemla Valley. The
driver let me off with my suitcases. There was a battered old red
pickup at the side of the road. A man was leaning against it. He
looked like Louie stretched out to maybe a head taller than Louie,
and older – over 30. His face and hair and beard were all
variations of the same reddish-brown shade – the color of the
cliffs on the other side of the valley. Above his high cheekbones,
his eyes were bright blue=green and good-humored. He walked over to
me and stuck out a big, red-brown weathered hand and shook mine.
“Good to meet you,” he said. “I’m
John Miles. They call me Aries John.”
“Uh - I’m Rivka Kaplan.”
“Well,” he said, “let’s load
your stuff in back and you can hop in the pickup.”
His voice was low-pitched and much
softer than Louie’s. Everything about this man seemed to indicate
someone who wanted to blend quietly into the background – even his
soft, faded blue jeans jacket and pants.
As we drove down into the valley,
noticed some tents in the yards of the houses where the original
settlers lived. There were new inhabitants walking around, most of
“What are all these new people
here?” I asked.
“OH,” he said, “it started when
Bishop Louie had the revelation that he could unseal his wives and
unseal Zerena from Brother Bob and seal ‘em all to me. A bunch of
young Mormon folks showed up. They wanted to know if Bishop Louie
could have a revelation that could unseal them from somebody so they
could get together with somebody else.”
“Did he have the revelations they
wanted?” I asked.
“Usually,” Aries John answered.
“Then they seen this was a nice place and they told their friends
and their friends told their friends – so more people been comin’
in here all the time. And a lot of women want the priesthood. We got
priestesses runnin’ around all over the place.”
“Who did you get the name Aries
John?” I asked.
“Born in April, the month of the
jumping forth, the leader.” He took one hand from the steering
wheel and made gentle, waving gestures, imitating an animal leaping
along. I couldn’t see this man with his soft voice and his
easy-flowing gestures as a leader.
“How do you lead” I asked.
“The books, the knowledge,” he
said. “I only have an eighth grade education, but I’ve traveled
all over, met many spiritual teachers and the books started coming to
me. Louie comes to my tipi and talks to me and then he knows what to
ask God for.”
“Why don’t you ask God?” I said.
“Louie is the one,” John answered.
“He’s the one the people will listen to and trust. I don’t
follow him. I don’t follow no man. But I kind of walk along by his
side and give help. That’s a leader, ain’t it?”
“Mmm,” was the best answer I could
make, but John didn’t notice as the gravel roared under the pickup
wheels. We drove up to Louie’s church, which was more than half
built. Next door stood a large white tipi. We went in and Aries John
introduced me to his three wives – I had not spoken to them when I
visited Zarahemla before. There was Emma, tall, gaunt and
red-haired,’ Cassie, short and dark-aired with obviously Indian
features and Zerena, blonde and starting to show a pregnancy. Cassie
offered me some of her green corn tamales.
But Aries John couldn’t lie back
relax as lord of the harem. We had only been there for a few minutes
when Emma stuck her head out the tipi entrance and then said in a low
voice, “John, you better go out and put tarps over the corn that’s
hung out to dry. I don’t like the looks of the clouds that are
John got up and went out to do
that while Emma went on boiling coffee. “I don’t drink it
myself,” she told me, “but John only got baptized and received
the priesthood a short time ago, so he’s not used to the way we do
Within an hour John was off on
dozen more errands from his other wives, all requested in the same
low voices. After all, they were his seniors in the Melchizedek
At last Louie came into the tent
tall, well-built very dark black man, about 40 with graying hair.
Louie introduced him as “Brother Maceo, the latest person here to
receive the priesthood.” I know that blacks had been traditionally
forbidden the Mormon priesthood. Brother Maceo shook my hand and
said, “Pleased to meet you.” I realized he was the first black
person I had seen in New Mexico outside of Albuquerque.
“Brother Maceo’s a skilled
carpenter,” Louie said. “He came here to help us finish the
church. Thanks to him we’ll have it done before the weather gets
“I am indeed rejoicing in God,”
Brother Maceo said with a smile showing that his upper front teeth
There was some take with Brother
about the technical aspects of building and then the feeling fell
over us all like shadows getting longer- outside it was getting dark.
Aries John came back from another
errand and went outside abruptly and brought back some long sticks
which he broke up into a little pyramid on the tipi fire. Then he sad
back and drank the coffee Emma had made. Although his only sound was
the sipping of coffee, his intense enjoyment could be felt –
somehow it was a part of the flames going upward.
Finally a troublesome little
became clear in my mind.
“Un, where do I sleep tonight?”
“Oh, you can stay in here with
and Zerena,” John said. “I’ll be in back in my little pup tent
I let out a breath of relief. I
pretty good idea of what Louie wanted when he wrote me such an
enthusiastic letter, but at least his desires were long range. I
would have a chance to look things over and make up my mind.
If only Louie had always been so
That night two more people showed
from off the road and went to sleep near me. Aries John’s tipi was
apparently one of the main temporary shelters for pilgrims and new
inhabitants of the Zarahemla community. Emmy and Zerena had a pile of
extra blankets ready.
Next morning I found myself
the whole business of getting firewood and cooking breakfast. Still
more new people were coming in. Aries John and Bishop Louie had both
gone off early for reconnaissance along the frontier between their
territory and the rival church up the valley.
I found myself with plenty of time
my hands, so I began looking through Aries John’s spiritual books,
which were stacked neatly on a Navajo rug on the side of the tipi
opposite the entrance. I was struck most by the covers of three large
volumes. They were bound in thick leather, gilt and elaborately
carved. One of the volumes had at the bottom of the front cover a
small circle containing – oh, what do you call a cross with lines
sticking out of the ends? A swastika.
All three volumes were by the same
author, William Dudley Pelley. I started leafing through the volume
with the swastika. This volume and the others consisted largely of
the travels of Pelley’s soul in the astral plane and his
conversations with the spirits of the departed about the world beyond
death and what should be done in this world. I remember one spirit of
a Cherokee Indian princess who expressed herself in a very flowery
way, something of a bore=Taze gets on my nerves now when he starts
going on and on in the same sugary way the princess in this volume
Then I turned to a long, rambling
discourse by another departed spirit. The spirit’s name at the top
of the page startled me a second- Adolf Hitler. I remember hearing my
parents tell about him – the nut right-wing politician in Germany
who got millions of votes by screaming that the Depression was all
the fault of the Jews. Then he shot himself in the head when he
couldn’t get elected Prime Minister. My parents started talking
about him when we first got a TV in April 1968, shortly before I went
to college in New Mexico. There was a report on the news about the
pilgrimage on Hitler’s birthday to his grave, which was a big, tall
marble monument. All around the monument, shrieking mobs from rival
right-wing youth groups were trying to get through police lines to
battle each other. The youth wanted to fight each other over which
organization was the real heir of Adolf Hitler.
My mother turned the TV off.
“Hey!” my father said, “I want to
see the rest of the news!”
“I wish we hadn’t gotten the TV,”
my mother said. “It gives me the creeps to see things like that.”
Then she turned and stared at me with her large, dark eyes. “Rivka,
did you see the hatred in those young people’s faces?” she asked.
“If that man under the monument hadn’t killed himself, that
hatred would have turned against you and your father and me.”
Tears showed in her eyes. That’s
she and my father told me about Hitler. Now I was reading what
William Dudley Pelley claimed that Hitler’s ghost told him.
“I was not only a political leader
men,” the late Hitler told Pelley. “My movement was also a
spiritual movement and the spirit is confined to no one land. It
flames wherever there are folk of noble race. Someday the spirit of
my cause will bloom in the great Rocky Mountains of your country and
grow into a great spiritual civilization which will replace the
materialism that has cursed our century.”
There were a good deal more of the
sort of messages from Hitler in the volume with the gilt swastika
carved on it. The other two volumes, which had been printed earlier,
were accounts of experiences of the spirit world with less famous
ghosts. I found myself breathing deeply. Hitler stayed on my mind and
I could barely taste the bean tacos we had when Aries John showed up
“Did you ever hear of a man named
Adolf Hitler?’ I asked John.
“No,” he said, “can’t say as I
“Well, “ I said, “Hitler’s in
one of the volumes you have by someone named William Dudley Pelley.”
“Oh yeah, Pelley,” Aries John said
nodding. “I got them three books by Pelley from this old man I took
care of.. It was last fall in this little village in a valley on the
west slope of the Rockies – beautiful place, too,” Aries John
smiled showing that about half his teeth were gone.
“Cliffs all around there,” he went
on, “sharp and steep like a knife cut through the granite, snow on
the top peaks all year and the whole village under the aspen trees
with silver leaves shivering every time there’s the slightest
breeze. Oh man, it was a beautiful place.”
“What about the old man?” I asked.
“He was real, real sickly.” John
said. “He had wanted to set up a spiritual community there in the
mountains. He had some younger folks there around him, his followers,
but they had to go away to Denver and places to get jobs – wasn’t
nothing for them in that valley. They sent me money to take care of
the old man. I stayed there with him, hunted deer so we both ate
venison. I hauled in firewood from the slopes where there was
juniper. I called the old man Dad. He told me he had been a follower
of this guy Pelley in an organization called the Silver Shirts. He
had a photo of hisself and Pelley in their Silver Shirt uniforms.
Then Pelley went to prison for fraud. Old Dad said it was a big frame
up. Anyways Dad said, “I know I’m gonna die, John. You could be
the one who sets up the great spiritual movement. These mountains
where we are will be the center of the movement. When I’m gone, I
want you to have my books by Pelley.’ That’s what he told me. I
stayed with him all through the winter and the spring. Then I come
here to be with my cousin Louie in June, after old Dad passed away.”
“Have you read any of Pelley’s
books yet” I asked.
“Naw, John said, “I got too much
wood to chop, too much other stuff to do. I’m still getting’
through all the other books I have – when I get time to read them.”
I was worried about the Hitler
Like Taze said – the Depression never really ended. There were
still all these unemployed young people on the road – and a lot of
them seemed to be headed to Zarahemla to hear what Louie had to
offer. What if Louie and Aries John got together over Pelley’s
books and absorbed the left-over wisdom of Adolf Hitler? What if they
got in contact with the Pelley followers up in Colorado where John
had lived? What then would they teach all the young people who were
I know this sounds like a whole
of “what ifs.” But I’m Jewish and it was pretty personal to me.
I knew it would simply irritate John and Louie if I tried to make a
big speech to them about – Watch out for this Pelley and Hitler
stuff!” Still it was one of these things that wouldn’t let me go.
So I made up my mind – no matter
got together permanently with Louie or not, I would always stay in
touch with whatever went on in Zarahemla Valley. I would always try
to be the best person I knew how – not only because I should
anyway, but to make the best possible impression as a Jewish person
on all these half-educated young people who were coming in. Something
was starting to happen here and I wanted to have influence on it for
That was the first major spiritual
commitment I ever made – and also my first major social and
political commitment. All my parents’ preaching on the side of life
which had bored me so much finally had some effect. Zarahemla – and
the Circle that came out of it – are still always in my heart.
That evening, Louie showed up for
supper after his innumerable errands. A lot of other people crowded
into the tipi. It was all Louie’s night. Aries John just sat
somewhere in the background and smiled faintly. Louie told stories
about his adventures for hours.
Louie at a fire telling stories.
There’s no way I can reproduce that. No way you could transcribe
them into print on paper. His rough voice all of a sudden turning
into so many different voices – what a mimic the man is! The subtle
overtones, the pauses – what a sense of timing!
Louie’s incredibly mobile face
contorting itself into all kinds of expressions – into the faces of
everyone Louie was describing. The gestures! All of us around the
tipi fire were laughing or staring at him, eagerly waiting for more.
I laughed till I cried – how can I sum up Louie better than that?
Finally the stories were over and
the visitors in the tipi were going back to their own tents. Louie
touched me on the shoulder and said, “Let’s go for a walk.”
We walked eastward out the tipi
into the dark. Louie cleared his throat a couple of times trying to
figure out where to start. For someone who had been so ready with
words in the tipi, he was having a hard time finding them now. We
walked out under tall, thick cottonwood trees, the trunks leaning at
an angle. And the stars – I have seen the stars now so many nights
in that high desert country and still every time they amaze me.
“Uh–“ Louie attempted to begin,
“I’m really surprised how peaceful it is in John’s lodge with
Emma, Cassie and Zerena all together. They never argue with each
other, they never nag at John. It’s so quiet. When they was with
me, I had to break up fights between them all the time. I’d be the
judge when they had some quarrel or other.”
Well, I thought, we’ll start in
direction and see what we get at. We walked further along the
riverbank. I could hear the river waters chuckling under the stones.
“Yeah,” I said. “I see Zerena’s
pregnant. I wonder in the resurrection, who will the child belong to
– her first husband or you or Aries John?”
Louie hung his head down. When he
again, I heard the undertones of a growl.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” he
said. “You don’t understand the scriptures or the power of God.
In the world to come, that child won’t belong to anybody. It will
be its own free person like one of God’s angels.”
Then he lifted his head and turned
me and said, “I need a child.”
His mouth and his eyes were both
open. He was looking at me like a worshipper gazing at a miracle.
All of a sudden his face changed
completely. His eyes got a fierce glint. His teeth sparkled in the
starlight like the fangs of a shark or a wolf. He reached out and
grabbed my writs.
“Louie! Let go right now!” I was
firm as I could be. I couldn’t let him see any fear. He let go and
backed off from me a little. Now his mouth turned downward like a
hurt four-year-old boy.
I knew definitely what I wanted by
“Louie, I’ll be with you,” I
said. “But first I have to go back to Albuquerque one more time to
take care of some things. You have to wait till then.”
“What things?” Louie muttered. “I
could take you up there.”
“I have my things to do first,
“You don’t trust me enough to tell
“IN some ways, Louie, I trust you
more than anyone I’ve ever met. But these are my things.”
“OK,” he said.
He turned away from me and trudged
in the dark. I headed back towards Aries John’s tipi. It got
cooler; a breeze started blowing. On the ridge to the east of the
valley a chorus of coyotes started on a high, high note that drifted
down the scale.
Next morning I walked with one
to where the gravel road forked from the highway and I caught the
southbound Rural Bus service. There were several red-faced, work-worn
old farm people on the bus going south to La Plata. Some were
probably going to the farmers’ market there. They had crates of
tomatoes, green peppers and other garden produce they had grown.
One old woman had a wire cage with
couple of hens in it, lined at the bottom with newspapers. Another
woman had a young pig. As the bus went around the curves, my stomach
got queasy. I found that pigs can control themselves in situations
like that. Chickens can’t. The wire cage smelled terrible and the
nervous hens squawked and flapped.
These farm folks had Rural Bus
season tickets, good for six months, so they got on and off without
paying. I still had to pay the flat ten dollar rate. I made up my
mind to get a season ticket as soon as I could.
In La Plata I paid eight dollars
take the bus back to Albuquerque. When I got there, I went to the
house of my friend Lucy Walton where I had stored a lot of my stuff.
I called my parents and said, “Hello, Mom, Dad, I’m withdrawing
from school at least for this fall.”
I could hear little gasps of
astonishment from the other end of the line.
“What is it?” My father finally said. “Do you want to go to
school back here in New York?”
“No,” I said. “I want to go stay in the Zarahemla Valley.
Zarahemla, that’s spelled Z-A- Oh, forget it. I
was down there this
spring with an anthropology class studying a social movement. It’s
the kind of
thing you told me about, Dad, a social movement that has
a religious surface form, but it really has potential as a
progressive social and political movement.”
“But can’t you stay in school and study the movement from
there?” My mother asked.
“Mom,” I said. “Do you remember when once you took me to
meet your old Uncle Zev? And he told me there’s an old Jewish
saying ‘ “If not now, when?”
“And so?” My mother said.
“Mom,” I said with pleading in my voice, “I’ve realized
life only lasts so long. If I want to know what’s
going on in life,
I’ve got to go there while I’m still young and strong enough to
get around in the
mountains and see for myself.”
“Young people don’t know,” I heard my father’s voice.
“You have much more time now when you’re
young than you realize.
It’s when you get older you find out what little time you have.
It’s now you
“I’ve decided, Dad,” I answered.
“OK!” he said with a blast of exasperated breath.
Many things that I have disliked have happened to me because
my decision, but I have not
regretted it. It is the decision that I
have built my life upon.
The next day I went to a doctor and got a prescription for
control pills. I knew that whatever happened, I did not want to get
pregnant until I was absolutely sure I was ready. I also know that
Mormons did not believe in birth control. I was determined that Louie
would never know I was taking
birth control pills.
I didn’t tell my parents the next part of my plan, which I
carried out as follows.
As soon as I got back to Zarahemla, I asked Aries John,
Louie?” He pointed to the small
adobe house where Louie slept at
night. I walked over there and knocked. When he opened the door,
before he could say a word, I told him, “All right, Louie, “I’ll
marry you right away but I want some
time to think before I decide if
I want to be stuck with you for all eternity.”
“Sealed is the proper word,” Louie said grimly. “I
accept your offer.” That evening we took the Rural
Bus service down
to La Plata and stayed in a motel there. I have read in romantic
fiction how two in
the intensity of the act of sex lose their egos.
That is not what I felt with Louie. I felt his ego
mine, like he was preaching to me with his body. If so, he was
preaching to the
already converted. I had already decided that Louie
was a great historical figure. My ego
appreciated his ego.
You could say I even loved the man.
Incidentally at this stage, Louie was still a very orthodox
Mormon. He still wore at all times the long underwear embroidered
with sacred symbols which he had received when he was admitted to the
temple in Arizona. When he got into bed with me, he unbuttoned the
underwear and peeled it off his
body, but kept it hanging from him by
Next morning when he took a shower in that motel bathroom,
more the sacred long underwear
hung from his ankle out through the
shower curtain onto the bathroom floor.
That day we were married by a justice of the peace. Then we
to the Rural Bus service window
at the bus station. I bought a six
month season ticket for $30. I knew it would be useful and also that
I would need a certain amount of space away from Louie now and then.
Then we took the bus back to Zarahemla.
That Sunday Louie baptized me as I knelt in the Pobre Clara
in a hole that had been dug out in
the shallow river by Brother
Maceo, the black man. Then we went in the church and Louie put me
through both grades of the priesthood. It was one of the best
ceremonies I have ever seen him do. I
was very moved. At the end,
Louie opened his Bible and said, “I’ll read from the Forty-fifth
“Hearken, o daughter, and incline thine ear
Forget also thine own people and they father’s house
…Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children
Whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth.”
I felt a sudden shudder. What would my Orthodox Jewish
grandparents in “my father’s house” think
of this whole
procedure? And I was more determined than ever to keep taking my
birth control pills
until I was absolutely sure I wanted to have
Louie’s children – whether or not I might make them
all the earth.” I never told my family I was married to Louie.
From then on more and more young people came flooding in to
around Louie’s church. Louie
put them to work planting and
harvesting the community’s crops, but he didn’t need to give many
orders. The young people farmed crews on their own. Each crew had its
own way of working
together. They set up their own kitchens with
their own crews for cooking and getting firewood.
Louie made sure
that they formed crews for digging slit trenches for toilets. He even
had one deep outhouse dug, but so many people were coming, there was
always need for more.
The young people would leave for a while, but many of them
come back usually bringing more friends. Soon most of the people
there were not of Mormon origin. Louie performed many baptisms,
ordinations to the priesthood, a couple of funerals. Sometimes he
married a young man to two
young women, a few times to three. Once he
married a young woman to two young men – tall,
twins. The only way I could tell them apart was that one of them had
a burn scar
on his stomach.
By this time, the summer of 1970, everyone was running around
naked for days at a time. Louie said
that the skin of a baptized
person was as good as a temple garment – his own sacred long
underwear. Aries John made a leather loincloth for Louie with all the
designs on it in beadwork that
were embroidered on Louie’s sacred
underwear. Louie took off his temple garment underwear. He
up reverently and put it in a box. From then on he wore the loincloth
Aries John had made.
Louie was getting less strict – he took off
the loincloth when we were in bed.
Young people would bring us boxes of food. Some of it, they
bought and some they found in the trash behind grocery stores in La
Plata or as far away as Albuquerque. People were always donating
money. I had a lot of work with a note pad, keeping up with the
finances of the community. Louie still wanted me to be sealed to him
for eternity. I still said, “No, I’m not ready yet.”
Louie said, “At least let me make you co-bishop with me. We need a
woman bishop to be in the
image of God – male and female.” So I
went through a long ceremony for him. After that a lot of
addressed me as Bishopess.”
Most days Louie worked at keeping his community together from
break until late at night. Then
he would dump his tiredness onto me
and everybody around him in the form of anger. I admired his
work, but got tired of him raging at me. Aries John could usually
calm Louie, but often John left Zarahemla Valley on mysterious
errands and then I had to put up with Louie’s tantrums to the
And when Louie was in a good mood it was often even worse.
didn’t take any wives besides me
in those days, but he acted like
he was married to every woman for ten miles around. The first
of times I caught him in bed with somebody else, I yelled and
screamed at him, but after that
I’d just go out in the yard and
drop myself down on a bench and sigh, “Oh, what’s the use?”
I wrote my parents about the great social movement under the
bizarre Mormon beliefs – the strong democratic spirit of the young
people camped in the valley, their comradeship, the way they shared
their possessions and worked together as teams of equals. But I never
told my parents that I was a
wife or a Bishopess.
As Bishopess and keeper of the church’s accounts, I could
a little off the church funds to go
down to the clinic in La Plata to
keep myself in birth control pills. Thanks to the People’s Party, a
of medical care is free, but birth control pills still cost a
There were always burns and cuts among the young pilgrims in
Zarahemla. I figured out how to
treat those things with band aids and
mercurochrome. But I had no idea what to do when there were broken
bones. And when Zerena had her baby that winter, all I could do was
stand there in the tipi
beside Emma and Cassie and Aries John and
hold Zerena’s hand and try to stay calm while she
screamed. None of
us any training in what to do, but Aries John and his wives had a
good instinct for keeping everything clean and sanitary. It was a
girl and she lived. Zerena named her Sariah, after
the mother of
Mormon prophet Nephi.
I realized that someone had to have some kind of medical
to take care of the growing
number of young people – and some old –
camped out in Zarahemla. I enrolled in nursing courses at Mountain
State University in La Plata in the fall of 1970. I also took a
course in anthropology from
you, Buff. That was when you first
started teaching at Mountain State and I first really got to know
My parents paid for my nursing studies. They were overjoyed
I was going back to college. I
sub-let space in a run-down old brick
The mansion had once belonged to a mine owner’s family. A
named Zephyr, in her fifties was renting the place and she sub-let
all the rooms except her own, mostly subletting to college
I paid Zephyr 60 dollars a month to sleep on a couch in a big empty
hallway. She was good company. I was there five days a week, not
having to put up with Louie’s rages and adulteries. Then
use my Rural Bus service season ticket and go back to Zarahemla for
the weekends and
Louie would be pretty decent.
It was in the winter of 1970-71 that Taze started showing up
again in my life. I came home one
weekend and found Taze talking with
Louie. Louie gestured at me and said, “Rivka’s been installed
co-bishop with me, you know.”
But all Taze said to me was, “Oh, hi. Gotta get more material
for my paper on new religious
movements that I’m gonna deliver at
the American Anthropological Association Convention. He t
to Louie and ignored me completely.
He talked to Louie about an hour more. Then he said, “Well,
gotta go see the folks up the valley so I
can get a complete picture
of the situation here.”
Then Taze jumped in his car and tore down the gravel road to
rival church at the upper end of
the valley. He stayed up there
overnight. He drove back to our place on Sunday morning just as
was getting ready to preach in church and I was getting ready to take
the bus to La Plata.
I took more courses at Mountain State that spring of ’71.
That’s when I got to know Manny Zamora,
the drama instructor at
Mountain State. Manny worked with chapters of the People’s Party
Alliance around the region. He was a tall, lanky guy with a
beaky nose. What amazed me was – he
was a New Yorker like me, here
in the middle of nowhere!
And there was Taze again. He said he had come to La Plata to
you, Buff, as his former graduate student, to help him with a paper
he was writing on Chicano folk religion.
How well I remember the day when you and I and Manny agreed
walk with Taze on a pilgrimage to
La Capillita, a little church in
the village of El Arado – the Plow.
La Capillita means the Little Chapel. A priest shows up there
once a month, but pilgrims are there
all the time. The Holy Mother
appeared there a hundred years ago. The Catholic Church hierarchy
does not recognize this officially as a valid appearance of the
Virgin, but the Chicanos go there on
foot anyway to fulfill vows that
they made when a child was born or someone got well of a sickness
any other miraculous good fortune.
Buff, I remember how you and Manny and I met on the porch at
Zephyr’s where I slept on the couch.
The sun was just coming over
the eastern mountains. We waited an hour, but Taze didn’t show up.
We finally started without him, so we would have some time to walk
the 15 miles to La Capillita, take
a good look at what was there and
It was just past the spring equinox. The buds on the trees
opened into pale green feathery baby leaves. The apple and pear trees
were wrapped in dreamy clouds of pink and white blossoms. We
on the road up the ridge eastward from La Plata. You started singing,
alabados – old Spanish folk hymns from New Mexico.
Then you sang some Cherokee and Choctaw
Indian Baptist hymns from
your own state of Sequoyah.
After that Manny started singing songs he had learned when he
street theater with his parents
in New York, songs from the many
nationalities of the great city – Italian songs, Polish songs,
Ukrainian songs. Finally he threw his head back and started singing a
Hassidic Jewish song full of nonsense syllables. He flung his arms
out and started whirling in a dance the way the Hassidic Jews
in the streets on Simchas Torah – the holiday of Rejoicing in the
Law. There was Manny,
dancing up the steep hillside with all his
might. It’s wonderful to have all that energy.
I started singing:
“We’re off to see the Wizard
The wonderful wizard of Oz”
And I was Dorothy skipping down the yellow brick road with
Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman.
Before we knew it, we were at La Capillita. We looked at the
vivid drawings of miracles in
colored pencil on sheets of paper taped
to the walls – The Holy Mother at the bedside of a sick child,
Holy Mother rescuing a miner from a rockslide and many more.
An old woman who took care of the shrine sold us sopapillas –
the puffy New Mexico hollow rolls, 30
cents each. They were special.
The old woman called them sopapillas de la Virgen – The Virgin’s
sopapillas. They were the most delicate, flaky sopapillas I have ever
tasted – with a flavor so good
they didn’t need dipping into the
bowl of honey the old woman held out to us. But the honey was
her own bees and flowers and had its own special nectar.
Walking back was mostly downhill, but it seemed like a
harder walk. We walked down the
main street of La Plata past
Kadderly’s, the coffee shop of the local elite. I looked in the
saw Taze at a table with a couple of men I didn’t know.
Manny identified them as two men who worked in the security
departments of the local copper and
We walked in Kadderly’s and I said, “Hi, Dr. Tazewell!”
He looked nervous enough to swallow his teeth. The other two
said goodbye and left. Taze got a
quick, sickly grin. “Won’t you
sit down?” he said, waving at the vacant seats.
Buff and I sat down and Manny pulled up a chair from an
table. “Uh, excuse me,” Taze said,
“for not going to La
Capillita with you today. I really want to do a thorough job studying
Chicano folk religion. That means I have to have a complete grounding
in the economic life of this area, which is
the context in which the
folk religious life occurs. Mmm, uh, that’s why I was talking to
Anglo fellows who work for the mining companies. The mines
are the main employers of Chicano
labor around here. We have to see
these things from all sides.”
As Taze talked he kept focusing his little dark eyes on me
he was trying to hypnotize me. “Why
don’t we all go over to
Zephyr’s?” I said. “She usually leaves some hot tea on the
stove for me when I
come in at night.”
So we went over there and we were sitting around the kitchen
table drinking hot tea and Taze was
telling us stories about the
strange ways of human beings in their various cultures. I was even
enjoying him and laughing. All of a sudden Zephyr walked in the
kitchen. She took a long look at
Taze. Then she shot me an angry
glance and strode out of the room with a grim frown creasing her
Late that night as I was lying on my couch, Zephyr walked up
beside me and said in a low voice.
“Don’t ever bring that man in
my house again.”
‘Why?” I asked.
“His energy is wrong for my place,” she said.
In those days I thought of Zephyr as a woman who was growing
older who had been disappointed in
love when she was young. I had
seen her have strange reactions to other men, so I didn’t think
of it. Taze kept coming back that spring and taking me for
coffee to Kadderly’s. And he would be all
the time at Zarahemla
Valley talking with Louie. Now he had more to say to me than he did
He was realizing that I was the Bishopess and people looked
up to me, maybe I was still sort of a
Then it was in the early summer in Zarahemla. Taze was
us. I was packing to go visit my
parents in New York who I hadn’t
seen in over two years. I had my stuff scattered all over the
bedroom. I was sitting in the living room with Taze.
“I’m sick of teaching about religion and writing
about religion!” he said. “You and Louie have helped
understand – I want to do something in the realm of the
Spirit! I’m quitting my job as a professor.
I’ve talked with the
board of the Maria Russell Missions and they want me to manage their
in this area. Did you know they believe that…”
Right then I heard Louie screaming in the bedroom. “Rivka!
He stormed into the living room carrying my birth control
“Oh, no,” I said under my breath.
“Louie, I have a right…” I started.
“You never told me!” he screamed even louder. And on
and on and on for an hour.
I had been away from Louie long enough on my own where I
put up with him yelling at me.
Finally I stood up and said, “Look,
don’t talk to me like that anymore.”
He slapped me so hard I stumbled. When I stood up again I had
tears in my eyes.
“Please,” I said to Taze, “when you go back to Albuquerque,
could you take me to the train station? I
might as well go visit my
“Uh-sure,” he said. “Louie, excuse us please.”
And that was the last I saw of Louie for some time.
Buffington Journeycake PhD once more. When I finished
Rivka there in Acequla Madre
Park, I hugged her and Nephi and said
goodbye. I put my tape recorder back inside my bedroll and
bedroll across my back and headed out of Santa Fe. I started hitching
Albuquerque south and west towards La Plata, where in
long past ages I had been a professor of anthropology.
At night I would unroll my sleeping bag in the desert by the
roadside. I would put my tape recorder
by my head and turn it on and
listen to the voices of Nephi, Rivka and Taze talking to me out there
the middle of the dark.
Their words led me along the curve of the Circle around
Louie. Although I had known Louie
for seven years, he still seemed to
be far away.
In the daytime as I waited for rides, sometimes I would take
tape recorder out of my bedroll and
copy the words into my notebook,
editing them into some coherent form as I went along. At this
I am looking at the words of Taze, now and then turning on the tape
recording I made of him
at the Maria Russell Mission in Santa Fe, to
make sure I got his words right.
What can I say about my childhood and youth? Just wasting my
in one of those pleasant tree-
shaded college towns around the Great
To compound the stupidity of my upbringing, I was a
son. I was really locked into academia.
My father was a professor of sociology. Since all I know of
world was university life, the only way
I could think of doing my
youthful rebellion against him was to become an anthropology
Besides that, I went to Berkeley, far beyond the mountains
deserts, beyond the edge of the
universe as far as my parents were
concerned. There at the University of California anthro
went through the intricate ritual flapdoodle of graduate school,
bowing and scraping
before the professors in my doctoral program.
Al this time I wanted to transcend these graduate school ego
games. At night after my official
classes I enrolled in Eastern
religious studies. Some of the biggest names in mysticism from India
and Tibet and their most outstanding American disciples taught at our
ashram. I’ll bet we had more
highly realized souls in our ashram
than any other ashram in the state of California. Why, I could tell
you about how…but we don’t have time to go into everything.
Anyway, being an eager pupil of these great masters, I
specialize in the anthropology of religion. Which brings us to one of
the most controversial episodes in my career, my doctoral
dissertation on factionalism among ceremonial leaders at Santo
The first thing to consider is this: I have known one
in my life, who claimed to live off
smelling the fragrance of roses
and lilacs. But he wasn’t a graduate student in anthropology. Even
they don’t eat meat, young anthropologists have to have their
beans and potatoes, you know.
Also, Santo Toribio is one of the Indian communities which
most closed off to outsiders. I couldn’t
stay there. I had to rent
a room in Gallup and buy a Rural Bus service season ticket to go 50
Santo Toribio and back every day. A month of that and I was
only spending four hours a day in the
pueblo, not enough to learn
anything before I had to take the bus back to Gallup. So I bought a
In the traditional anthropology ceremony of listing credits,
claimed that all the money to support
me in Gallup came from Mrs.
Pauline DeVenter, and elderly widow who also supported the ashram in
Berkeley where I drank of Oriental wisdom. What I didn’t mention
was that Mrs. DeVenter was a
major stockholder in the Thunderbird Oil
Company. And the money to support me didn’t come from
her stock; it
came from the Pristine Foundation, a tax-free trust fund set up by
other oil companies. The Pristine Foundation
supported me as it has a number of researchers into
I just didn’t want to list Pristine at the time. Mrs. DeVenter
arranged for me to get a
grant from them so I sued her name and let
Pristine be silent partners.
Well what of it? Some of the people who are the most deeply
concerned with spiritual things that I
have ever met have been oil
company executives. The problem is that most of the traditional
ceremonial leaders at Santo Toribio Pueblo believe that oil companies
– especially Thunderbird – are
trying to get mineral rights on
their tribal lands for as cheap as possible.
There is a lot of paranoia that the oil companies want to
at the sacred spots where the Kachinas
– the spirits of the forces
of nature – land when they come down from the sky to visit their
the people of Santo Toribio. So they couldn’t know where
my money came from.
Paranoia about oil drilling is the main reason for the
factionalism at Santo Toribio. Traditionally the
pueblo is led by 20
hereditary clan chiefs. There is also a little group of principal
chiefs over the 20 –
but no one in Santo Toribio will tell an
outsider like me who the principal chiefs are or how they are chosen.
Then in the thirties, the Roosevelt administration set up
tribal governments so Indians could handle jobs that were once done
by white government agents. Every place the administration tried
get the support of traditional Indian leaders, but at Santo Toribio,
only two of the 20 clan chiefs
would support the new elected
government. Three fourths of the tribe refused to vote in the
elections. Those who voted were called the Lightning Faction because
of the check marks they had
to make on their ballots to vote.
The biggest faction among those who wouldn’t vote was the
Little Mustache Faction. They got their
name from Adolf Hitler, the
German right-wing leader who killed himself in 1932.
The Little Mustache Faction think that Hitler is the True
Friend who was prophesized to come
to them. They believe he will rise
from his grave some day and walk across the ocean to rescue them
oppression by the whites. They probably got these ideas from the
polygamous Mormon splinter groups who live in the mountains near
Santo Toribio. Several of the splinter groups think Hitler was
The Little Mustache people are afraid that the Lightning
– that is, the elected tribal
government will grant oil leases to
companies like Thunderbird. The Little mustache Faction and the
dissident Mormon sects all want to keep out Thunderbird Oil and the
other oil companies, most of
which are very close to the big official
Mormon church in Salt Lake City.
As long as less than a third of Santo Toribio votes for the
tribal government, any oil leases the tribal government might try to
contract are invalid.
A few months before I started to work on my doctoral
dissertation, the Little Mustache Faction
received a terrible shock.
The oldest of the 20 clan chiefs – everyone calls him Uncle Denny –
of the big leaders of Little Mustache. He had his birthday
dinner of angel food cake and strawberry
soda pop with the two clan
chiefs who supported the Lightning Faction.
You see, until then none of the other clan chiefs would even
speak to the two Lightning Faction
chiefs except on urgent business
about planning ceremonies. Usually if they see the Lightning
chiefs coming, they will turn and walk the other way so the shadow of
the Lightning won’t
fall on them.
After the birthday party, the rumors started – “Uncle Denny
has lost his mind in his old age.” But he
led a lot of people –
strange to say, including many younger people – out of the Little
started his own faction who were called Cake-Eaters.
Uncle Denny sent world around the pueblo –
“Don’t vote in the
election. But Little Mustache from Germany is not the True White
Friend in the prophecy. Some day soon, a lot of people will come
together – white people, Indians, Mexicans, black people. When they
all get together in one place, maybe we will know who the True Friend
One of my main purposes in coming to Santo Toribio was to
out – what were the plans of the Cake-Eater Faction? Did they plan
to co-operate with the Lightning people? I think it is possible that
the Pristine Foundation financed my studies because they wanted to
know what the Cake-Eater
policy toward oil leases would be. Later, I
had people throw that up in my face a lot.
But back then, when I first came to Santo Toribio by Rural
services, I fell in love with New
Mexico. High above the village are
cliffs with horizontal strips of white limestone and pale gold
sandstone, as sharply defined as the stripes on a Gila monster’s
The village is on a small, pointed hill at the base of the
cliffs. A river runs between the hill and the
cliffs among dark green
peach orchards and cornfields. At the top of the hill is a small
style church which a priest visits maybe six times a
year. On the sides of the hill are adobe houses,
some of them painted
pink or pale green like houses in Mexico. Most of the houses are the
tan adobe color with strips of blue paint around the windows
and the doors to keep out evil spirits
and oil companies.
Naturally I was most eager to see Uncle Denny. But I asked
people, “Where’s Uncle Denny?” –
or Dennis García, his
official name, or El Tío (The Uncle) which is what the local
Chicanos call him.
Finally the ninth person pointed out the house.
Uncle Denny’s wife, who was about four foot ten
inches tall, with
long gray hair, opened the door and told me that Uncle Denny was in
the kiva – the
sacred underground chamber – helping to plan a
Every time I came after that, I had plenty of other people to
interview (or more often to try, to
arrange an interview with). Each
time I would ask, “Where’s uncle Denny?” And the answer was
always, “Uncle Denny’s in the kiva. He’s got a big dance to get
After a month and a half, I was driving from Gallup to Santo
Toribio in my own car, paid for by the
Pristine Foundation. One day I
was at the pueblo and I had parked my car at the head of what
possibly you could call a street. It was so bumpy, I was afraid I
might tear up my muffler if I drove on
I was walking down this rugged lane on my way to visit a
of the elected Tribal Council – the Lightning Faction – when a
12-year-old boy came running after me shouting, “Hey, mister, “I’m
Uncle Denny’s grandson! He wants to see you right now!”
I ran after the boy to Uncle Denny’s house. The boy knocked
a cracked old voice said,” Come in!”
I opened the door and saw Uncle Denny and his wife standing
table with three big plates of
fried chicken on it and three bottles
of strawberry soda (many old-time Indians didn’t recognize the
existence of any other kind.)
Uncle Denny was about five foot two. He had a big grin,
toothless, and good-humored
wrinkles all over his face – especially
around his big, thick glasses. He word a blue bandanna for a
headband, faded almost to dark gray and he had silver hair tied up
into a small bun at the base of
“Sit down here!” he said in a surprisingly loud voice. “Sit
down and eat with us!”
After years of vegetarianism, my stomach gave a heave at the
thought of all that greasy fried
chicken, but – anything for a
cause. Every time I started to ask him anything he’d say, “No
now! Let’s eat all this good food first!” and I had to
gulp down more of the stuff.
When we finished the chicken, we started on the strawberry
pop. Uncle Denny drank slowly
with now and than a little “Ahhh!”
of satisfaction like he was sampling a fine wine.
Finally I was able to put my most important question to him.
“Uncle Denny, do you or the other Cake-
Eaters plan to hold a big
meeting somewhere to greet the True Friend of your prophecy?”
“Us?” Uncle Denny said, grinning as ever. “No! No! It won’t
be our tribe that does it. Someone else
will call the people together
and then we’ll join them.”
“Who will call it?” I asked.
“I don’t know yet,” he said, “but I’ll live to see it
and I’ll be there.”
“Young man!” he said. “You’d better find out what the
Creator’s plan is before that day comes.”
And from that point on, he wouldn’t say anything important.
he wanted to talk about was how the corn crop was doing.
In the next six months, I interviewed leaders of the Little
Mustache Faction and the Lightning Faction. I met with any of the
clan chiefs who would speak to me and I interviewed every member of
the elected Tribal Council. Everyone – including the most
white-oriented tribal council members – was very smiling, polite
and evasive. I got no information of any value from them – except
Uncle Denny’s statement that his Cake-Eater Faction would not begin
the great assembly he had prophesied where the True Friend would
I interviewed Anglos and Chicanos in the surrounding area,
as storekeepers who had a lot of customers from Santo Toribio. But my
most important help came from the Pristine Foundation. They told me
how to locate a young Indian man in Santo Toribio who from time to
time gave the oil companies information they might be interested in
for about 50 dollars a session. All this provided his name would be
kept in secrecy.
The Pristine Foundation gave me money for 12 sessions at 60
dollars each- 720 dollars in all for the young Indian. This young man
was the main source of my dissertation. Of course he was biased, but
I could make allowances for that and figure out what the truth
In the fall of 1962, I handed in my dissertation on
Factions and Apocalyptic Expectations at Santo Toribio Pueblo.”
And then, in words I have not used since I became part of the
Maria Russell Mission, two pieces of shit hit the fan.
Somehow the word got around the University of California
administration that I had been funded by the Pristine Foundation and
hadn’t reported it.
Then, the day after I got called on the carpet for that, a
came to the Anthropology Department from Santo Toribio Pueblo signed
by every member of the elected Tribal Council and every clan chief –
except one. The letter said that none of these people had given me
any of the information I wrote in my dissertation and that they were
not aware of any of the things that I had alleged about factionalism
in the pueblo.
Uncle Denny didn’t sign the letter. Instead, he wrote a
of his own to the anthro department – as follows:
“I spoke to this young man. I may have told him some of these
things, but I don’t remember for sure. He could be a good young man
someday if he is willing to learn”
I have heard that Pristine and some of the other big business
foundations offered research grants to some of the professors on my
committee to get them to let me off the hook, but I didn’t ask the
foundations to intervene. Buff, I’m telling you all this stuff
because you’ve probably heard a dozen different versions a lot
worse than what I’ve said. It’s standard university gossip.
I still don’t know to this day how the Indians in Santo
got a copy of my dissertation.
As I said, New Mexico had become the great love of my life.
I applied for a job as a
the anthro department at the University in Albuquerque. There was
some suspicion of me at first, but one member of the Board of Regents
was also a trustee of the Pristine Foundation and he put in some good
words for me. So I got the job.
A couple of years later, 1964,
Kennedy was elected the first People’s Party president and then in
1966, New Mexico elected its first People’s Party governor.
After that, instead of all the big
ranchers and oil men on the Board of Regents, leftists just blossomed
all over the place on the Board – not to mention all the left-wing
administrators and department heads. I was an object of hostility
from a lot of these people. I would never have gotten my professor’s
job under the new regime. But by 1966 I had tenure.
Buff, you know I’m not that down
leftist. Just admit it – it’s fashionable with young people to
talk left-wing, but their commitment is really pretty shallow. I was
good at taking arrogant leftist kids apart in my classes. One of my
deepest longings is for a new, higher spiritual civilization. I think
that’s beyond mundane economic things like capitalism and
I know you’re sort of socialistic,
Buff, but a new civilization can use your knowledge and
And it can also use good old capitalist money like the Pristine
Foundation to get it
Year after year I waited for the
assembly Uncle Denny spoke of, where the True Friend
himself and transform the world. It became the core of my faith. I
remember once I
checked into a motel room and there was a Gideon
Bible upon the chest of drawers. I went over and glanced in it. The
first words that caught my eye were, “What I say unto you, I say
unto all. Watch.”
In 1969, seven years after I met
Denny, I heard about Bishop Louie’s new movement in Mormonism down
in Zarahemla Valley. I felt that the time of my watching was coming
to an end and fulfillment was near. And then one of those miraculous
coincidences happened. Mrs. DeVenter, who
had gotten funding for my
dissertation, phoned me and told me the Pristine Foundation would
like a copy of any scholarly paper I wrote on what Louie was
doing. I took that as a divine sign that somebody up there was really
Everything was coming together. I
been reading ancient Gnostic tests about the female
aspect of God,
and then here was Louie, the back-country ranch hand coming up with
thing. God the Heavenly Cowgirl? I’m glad that out of 14
students who came along with me the first
time to Zarahemla, six were
women – including Rivka. I have always appreciated the physical and
spiritual flow of male-female energy – like in the Tantric writings
of ancient India. I tried to show this appreciation to my female
students. People around the University who didn’t understand called
“The Old Goat.”
From when Rivka was first in my
classes, she has meant more to me than that, although there
physical contact between us in those days – and she ended up with
Louie for a while. After
Rivka married Louie, she was kind enough to
write me a few times. She would tell me how difficult
her life was
sometime when Louie was in a quarrelsome mood. But she was
enthusiastic about all the young people pouring into Zarahemla
Valley. She told me about this whole new psychological and
quality of the way they organized themselves to do the necessary work
– no hierarchy of
I would hold her letters in my
scratch my head and ask, “What is this new mental
young people have? How is it produced? What is the secret of Louie’s
I felt this was like the first
sprout of a plant peeping above the ground that would flower
coming together of multitudes – just as Uncle Denny had prophesied.
And you’d better
believe the Pristine Foundation was interested.
They jangled my phone every other day, encouraging
me to do more
papers on Bishop Louie’s movement and offering me money to cover my
expenses – as long as I didn’t list Pristine in my
I am always gratified that wealthy
people like Pristine have such humility to be concerned
beyond material goods – and flattered that they would consult me. I
bet by the time my research was over, they had paid me almost as much
money as they gave to some of the biologists
who sent them reports on
hallucinogenic plants in the South American jungles.
I also sent Pristine a copy of a
little paper I did in La Plata about the relationship of
folk religious customs to labor union activity among Chicano copper
and zinc miners.
Employers could use such information as was in my
paper to help encourage their workers into
besides labor unions. Pristine wrote me in so many words: “Great
have more of this!”
By this time I had spent so much
on anthropology field work, I was getting bored to
university work, I wanted to do active work in shaping the spiritual
development of the
masses. About this time I read a really unusual
leaflet from the Maria Russell Missions. It was about
aspect of God and in some ways was close to Bishop Louie’s
Mrs. De Venter of the ashram and
Thunderbird Oil sent me the leaflet. In one corner f the
scribbled, “Thought you’d be interested in this.”
I drove from Albuquerque up to
Fe to visit the Maria Russell Mission where we are
sitting now. It
was a much smaller operation at that time than it is now. I got more
leaflets and all the volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, the
founding document of the whole Russellite movement that
are part of.
To my delighted surprise I found
the Pristine Foundation makes generous contributions
to the Maria
Russell Missions. They spoke with the Missions board about making me
mission operations in the Southwest Region – Texas, New
Mexico, Arizona and Southern California.
Within a year I became
National Director of the Maria Russell Missions.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After I applied to the Maria Russell board for a job, I made
visit to Bishop Louie at Zarahemla. That’s when I saw Louie come
stomping out of the
bedroom waving Rivka’s bottle of birth control
pills and screaming, “Why didn’t you tell me you use
He knocked her to the concrete
stood there staring with my mouth hanging open and
my knees bowed
out. My glasses slid to the tip of my nose. It was the first time I
had ever seen an
act of violence in my life.
Rivka told me, “Please, get me out
here at once.” She threw all the scattered stuff she had
packing into a bed sheet and flung it over her shoulder. I pushed my
glasses back into place
and picked up her suitcase and we fairly ran
out of Louie’s house while I shouted, “I hope we can
friends!” over my shoulder at Louie.
Taze drove me to the train station in Albuquerque. He kept
chattering at me a lot about the beliefs
of the Maria Russell
Mission. I think he made a couple of passes at me, but I didn’t
notice. I really
hated leaving Louie – that was all I could think
When I got to New York, I called from Grand Central Station –
“Hello Mom? I decided I’d surprise you
and Dad by coming home
I had a very pleasant two weeks with my parents. Now that
had grown older, I knew I would
have to keep more in touch with them
than before, but the distance between us that had begun in
childhood was still there. I had lots of stories to tell them about
the young people camped at
Zarahemla and I painted the most beautiful
word pictures I could of the New Mexico countryside but
I never said
one word to them about being the Bishopess or about the rise and fall
of my marriage
My father said, “Can’t you get an apartment in New York and
go to school around here?”
“And you know you can always stay with us,” my mother put in.
I just said, “I’m sorry. New Mexico is my home now. Don’t
worry. I will write and phone.”
I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I was going to do
I got back to New Mexico. When I
arrived in Albuquerque, I stayed in
the backyard of my former fellow anthropology student, Lucy
slept there wrapped up in a rainbow-like Mexican sarape under a big
cottonwood tree. I
stayed to myself and cried. I didn’t want to
talk to Lucy about what had happened with Louie. I was
there for two
days when Lucy ran into the back yard and shouted in a loud, cheery
voice, “Hey Rivka!
The Goat’s here to see you!”
Taze followed Lucy into the backyard. He was grinning from
ear at me.
I quit grieving about Louie on my sarape and stood up.
“How did you find out I was here?” I asked.
“Ahh,” Taze purred, focusing his eyes on me.” There are so
many psychic messages in the air.”
“Bullshit!” Lucy blurted. “Wanta know the truth, Rivka?
This guy was calling me every day from
Santa Fe to see when you would
bet back. He told me not to tell you.”
“Could you leave us alone, please?” Taze asked, waving his
hand at Lucy.
“OK! OK!” Lucy said, heading back into the house. “Rivka,
have fun with Big Chief Hand on the
“Now, Rivka,” Taze said, taking a deep breath. He stood
there, his feet wide apart, his hands clasped together and hanging
down. No doubt his posture had some kind of significance in the
of psychic energy. But I was too tired and headachy to
be very psychically receptive.
“Rivka, listen!” he went on, going back into a more natural
posture when he saw I wasn’t impressed.
“I want you to see the
Maria Russell Mission,” he said. “You don’t have to sleep with
me. You can
have your own room. I want you to see what we’ve got
there. I want you to look over our doctrine. We
also teach that God
has a female aspect.”
“I’ve already been a Bishopess,” I answered. “I don’t
care if a woman is God if she can’t be treated
ike a human being
on earth.” Taze was silent a minute.
“Rivka,” he finally said. “I just want to have someone to
talk to at the end of the day. And I will listen
to what you have to
say in reply.”
Why is it that Taze – or anybody else – makes the best
impression when they’re trying the least?
Besides, I couldn’t
stay much longer at Lucy’s. Even if I decided to go back to college
at La Plata – so
close to Louie – it was still over a month
before school started up. In two hours, I was packed up and driving
with Taze from Albuquerque to the Marie Russell Mission in Sante Fe.
The Maria Russell Missions, like all the so-called Russellite
Bible Student denominations, originate
with the teachings of Pastor
Charles Taze Russell back in 1880’s. So I consider that my original
name, Thomas Tazewell, is a miraculous sign from Heaven because it
was so easy to shorten to Taze, which
is Pastor Russell’s middle
Pastor Russell left us a tremendous revelation – his
multi-volume Studies in the Scriptures, which
meaning of all human history. Pastor Russell was an expert on how the
the inner passages of the Great Pyramid reveal the
dates of the fulfillment of Bible Prophecy. It is for
that I often wear a pyramid-shaped headdress when I am teaching Bible
However Pastor Russell made one fatal mistake. His wife Maria
also had the gift of prophesy, but
Pastor Russell would not
acknowledge it. Many of the women in his church rallied around Maria
Russell as a true prophetess, but the male elders assured Pastor
Russell that he alone was the p
rophet in the family. At one point one
of Pastor Russell’s female supporters held Maria Russell as a
prisoner, but she escaped and divorced Pastor Russell, which was a
very messy business in those
Comment by Rivka
Pastor Russell once told Maria, “I have 15 women, who if I
I want pumpkin pie, they will give me pumpkin pie.”
I started having sex with Taze after I had been at the
Santa Fe for two weeks. Then in a
couple more weeks I found out Taze
was almost as much into pumpkin pie department as Louie. This
I’d moved all my stuff into Taze’s room and then I couldn’t use
it because another woman was i
n there with him. Aaagh!
One thing I’ve found out after knowing a number of prophets –
they sure are a horny bunch.
Pastor Russell died in 1915 during the Great World War of
After his death, his movement
split into a number of different
denominations. One of the most important, led by Judge Rutherford,
was called the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They predicted that there would
be a Second World War, which
would turn into the final battle between
Christ and Satan. But in spite of intensive missionary efforts,
Jehovah’s Witnesses have lost many of their converts because there
has never yet been a Second
Other Christian denominations call most of the churches that
from Pastor Russell, “Soul
Sleepers” because they believe that
the souls of the dead are all unconscious until the Day of
Resurrection. They call the Maria Russell Missions “the
Half-Asleepers” because we believe that the
second coming of Christ
occurred invisibly and secretly in 1881. At that time all the souls
righteous dead were caught up to him and since then all
souls of true believers have gone at death immediately to their
reward. This means that the souls of Pastor Russell and his estranged
Maria have been reunited and she is instructing him now in a
fuller comprehension of the truth.
Comment by Rivka
When I first heard this doctrine, I had a flash of Maria
with a rolling pin in her hand waiting
at Heaven’s door for Pastor
Russell to show up.
Since Maria Russell’s spirit is alive, she sends messages of
all kinds to the true followers of Pastor
Russell on earth. She told
earlier leaders of the Maria Russell Missions that God is both male
female. I had chosen to emphasize the female side of God more
than any of my predecessors in the leadership. I have received
messages from Maria Russell which I have incorporated into my
Commentary on Studies in the Scriptures.
Rivka had only been a few weeks with me in Santa Fe when we
that people from the rival
Mormon group had fired into Louie’s
community and burned his church down. Then, all of a sudden,
young men, Clark and Nephi, showed up at our Mission with a message
from Louie. He had a
revelation that the burning of his church was a
sign that he should go beyond Mormonism. He would perform no more
baptisms or sealings or ordinations to the priesthood.
Louie’s message said he was going to call together a great
circle of all people and wished it to be
there somewhere in the
Colorado mountains. And Louie had gone with Clark and Nephi and some
other people to meet up with Uncle Denny in Santo Toribio Pueblo and
invite him to take part in the
When I heard that I had to brace myself against the table. I
down slowly in a chair, stunned.
The Circle would form in the summer of 1972, ten years after
had met Uncle Denny.
Clark and Nephi, the two young men, handed me a scroll in
beautiful calligraphy inviting me to camp
in the mountains with Louie
and the others and join them in a giant silent circle on the Fourth
After they gave me the scroll, they explained in so many
words that Louie would need a lot of money
for food and medical
supplies for all the campers in the mountains and would I please…?
I phoned up the Pristine Foundation at once. They said they’d
be glad to help out and they added,
“Please be sure and keep us
informed of any developments out of this whole Circle thing.”
Twyla and me got married. Here’s how it happened. Manny
and the People’s Party Youth
Theater Group come up to Zarahemla
from La Plata one Saturday. They had to come in a truck
bus was still scared to stop in Zarahemla after the people up the
valley shot at our
people and burned our church down.
Manny hung a string of bright-colored Japanese paper lanterns
between two big cottonwood trees.
He powered the light bulbs in the
lanterns from the generator in the back of the truck. Everybody in
Zarahemla who had a house used kerosene lamps – after their Rural
Electric Co-op came to an end
when Bishop Louie and the other people
split their church in two.
That night Manny stood under a string of Japanese lanterns
“We heard about you people having trouble. We brought our
up here to let you know we’re on
your side. We’ll be with you no
matter how many are against you.”
Then they put on the funniest show I ever seen. They had
hanging around their necks telling
what character they was and they
wore masks and wigs and the craziest costumes.
Me and Twyla held hands and laughed so hard. When it was over
spread Twyla’s sleeping bag
over my blanket and we got under and
spent the night. What we done then, I never done before.
it was all bumping each other with knees and elbows until we got to
the fascinating part.
We woke up next morning when it was all still
and cool and gray. Twyla said, “We got to get married,
now as soon
as we can if we go on like this.”
That morning was Sunday. Everybody come together in front of
ruins of the church to hear
Bishop Louie preach. He held his hands up
to heaven and said, “I have had a new revelation from
God. I will
not baptize anymore. I will not ordain people to the priesthood
anymore. I will not perform weddings or funerals. I will not seal for
eternity anymore. This church was burned down as a sign
from God. It
is time to go beyond Mormonism – time to bring people of all
religions together. There
may be a war in this country soon. We don’t
want war, we want peace.”
Twyla nudge me in the ribs and whispered, “How do we get
married if Bishop Louie won’t do it for
I just went, “Shhh!”
“Next summer,” Bishop Louie went on, “we will camp with
people of all religions in the mountains.
On the Fourth of July we
will all join hands in a great circle of silent prayer for peace –
in our country
and in all the world. The fire that burnt our church
could be one of the first fires of a new civil war.
But I have told
you – Zarahemla will be rebuilt as part of a new Circle for Peace.”
Everybody was silent for a few minutes when Bishop Louie
finished. Then a buzz started – everybody talking low, “What does
he mean, there might be a war?” and “Where do we make this
Manny and his theater group stayed at Zarahemla overnight. He
come walking through the crowd
with his short black beard and his
hair like a black haystack. He reached out his long arm and shook
Bishop Louie’s hand. Bishop Louie flung his arms around Manny’s
shoulders. Then Aries John
howed up with his three wives – Emma,
Cassie and Zerena. Clark was there too. All seven of them
Louie’s house and the rest of us headed back to our camps.
Me and Twyla stood with the others in a circle around our
campfire and Ivy, the tall blonde woman
said a blessing. Then we ate
our lunch. It was still just rice and beans, but it seems like with
all of us working together for days and days, we had learned how to
make it taste better.
We had all about finished when Aries John come walking up and
asked, “Have you all got anything
left to eat?” and we said,
He held out his bowl and Ivy put rice and beans in it. I
him, “What was going on in Bishop
“Oh,” John says, “I was just showing them on my National
Forest map of Colorado where we might
make the Circle – over near
the little village where I used to take care of the old man. He
that part of the mountains would be a great spiritual
“What about weddings?” Twyla says. “Who’s gonna do a
wedding for me and Nephi if Bishop Louie
won’t marry people no
“I think I can do it,” Aries John said, “You see, the
Father and the Mother speak to Bishop Louie, but
they don’t speak
to him all the time. I give him spiritual advice. I think the Father
and Mother will understand if I perform the ceremony.”
So after Aries John finished eating, he led me and Twyla out
the Pobre Clara River. Ivy and all the
others from our campfire
gathered around us. Aries John raised his right hand over our heads.
“God brought you two together,” Aries John said. “I want
all the people here to help you in your life together. And stay
together as long as you love each other.”
Then he hugged both of us and everybody cheered and whooped.
kissed Twyla. I had to reach up a
little, I was 14, and she was 15
and she was still a little bit taller than me. We have traveled far
from each other at times since then and I have run around on her
a few times, but we always get
back together, like Aries John put us.
A few days after me and Twyla got married, Clark come over to
shelter, which was a couple of
blankets over a framework of willow
“Bishop Louie’s looking for people to go visit the Indians,”
he says. “He wants people to tell them
about the Circle. I said I
wanted you to come with us.”
“I sure want to go!” I says, and I could just feel my whole
face get warm and light up. “But Twyla has
got to go too cause
she’s my wife.
“I might be awful crowded on the trip,” Clark says. “But
you and Twyla should come meet with Louie
to see what he has to say.”
When we got over to Bishop Louie’s house, we found Louie and
Aries John and his three wives and
Manny Zamora and you was there,
Buff. I remember that was the first time I ever seen you. You told
about how you was a professor in the college down a La Plata. You
said you had been in touch with
the Indians at Santo Toribio and you
wanted us to go meet them and tell them about our circle in the
The way it ended up, it wasn’t so crowded, but damn, it was
cold. You and Manny in the front of
Manny’s truck and Aries John
and his wives in back, at least there was a roof over them. But Louie
drove Aries John’s pickup with Brother Maceo, the black man,
sitting beside him.
In back it was me and Twyla and Ivy from our campfire and
and the cold air just blasting us!
When we got to Santo Toribio, we drove to the house of an old
named Uncle Denny. Bishop
Louie and Manny and you, Buff, went inside
with a paper rolled up and tied with a ribbon. Manny
had wrote this
invitation on it in letters that flowed like looking at them through
ripples in a pool of
The rest of us sat outside in the yard in a half-circle
Uncle Denny’s door. Then you guys come
out with this little old man
– that was Uncle Denny. Uncle Denny looked at us and said,
get up and come with me.”
He led us on foot through the village. It was a chilly day,
people run out in their yards to stare at
us. He led us to a circular
adobe building that stood about as high as your waist above ground. A
ladder stuck out of a hole in the roof. Uncle Denny walked up some
steps to the ladder. Then he
pointed to the hole and said, “Everybody
come up here and go down the ladder.”
We walked up the steps and climbed down the ladder through
hole into a circular underground
room with walls and floor of tan
plastered mud. Then Uncle Denny climbed down after us.
“This is our kiva,” he says. “No one from outside our tribe
– and no woman – has ever stood on this
floor before. I brought
you here to show the people of this village that I am on your side. I
chief of the Gourd Clan and the people who support me are
called Cake Eaters. We know that there
is a great trouble among the
white people and it could lead to a war in this country. I brought
this sacred place to show everybody that I want to be part of
the circle you are making for peace -
and all the people who support
me are on your side.”
Then I noticed that in a shadowy part of the kiva there was
old man and a couple of teenage boys.
They just looked hard at us and
never said a word. Uncle Denny walked up to each of us and shook
hands. He had a big smile on his face.
“All right, folks,” Uncle Denny said. “Now let’s go.”
We followed him back up the ladder and walked with him back
his house. He motioned to us to
follow him inside. His little old
wife was there. She told us, “Sit wherever you can find a place.”
Some of us sat on a couch. Others sat in chairs around the
table. Me and Twyla sat on the
floor. Then Uncle Denny’s wife
brought us cookies and strawberry soda pop.
Me and Twyla sure was hungry. We gobbled down the cookies and
gulped the strawberry soda pop
while Uncle Denny and his wife stood
there smiling at us.
They are always in my dreams now like the grandparents of my
It was even colder on our way back to Zarahemla that evening.
of us that had been up to Santo
Toribio laughed and called ourselves
the Twelve Disciples.
Louie gave me and Clark another copy of the invitation to the
Circle that Manny wrote. He told us,
“Take this one to Taze and the
Maria Russell Mission in Santa Fe. Let him know that we need money,
but don’t just tell him “Gimme, gimme!”
Clark laughed and said, “Don’t worry! When I was with the
Nationalist Youth Corps I used to go to
rich people for Jim, our
leader, and I’d ask them for money. I know how to do it”.
Aries John loaned us his pickup. Clark was real proud of
see, Clark was only 17, and he knew
how much Aries John cared for
that pickup and how much he was Trusting Clark not to waste gas.
When we got to the Maria Russell Mission, Taze looked at me
said, “You gotta take a bath.”
I says, “Hey, wait a minute. Let me get my breath.”
He says, “No, you gotta.” Then he looked over and flicked his
finger in the direction of this guy s
tanding in the corner. He called
out, “Hey Brother Power!” (Taze gives a lot of his people names
that.) “Show this brother the way to the showers.!”
So Brother Power, this big guy, muscles all over him, come
walking over to me. You just know he’s
the bouncer. He led
me into the bathroom, pointed to the shower stall and said “There!”
I pulled off
my clothes and got in and turned on the water while
Brother Power stood outside with his arms
I got myself clean as a whistle, the way everybody else is at
Taze’s place, but I felt sick the rest of the
time I was there.
It’s too much away from the land. Everything at the Maria Russell
Mission smells a
little bit like bleach.
Brother Power led me into the dining hall. It was before all
poor people who spent the night at
the Mission would come in to have
their meal. But all the believers in Maria Russell who work at the
mission was sitting at a table eating their meal – just a bowl of
oatmeal, no sugar, no nothing.
I heard a voice say something like “Hee-hi!” from a corner of
the room. I turned and looked. It was
Clark with his mouth full
trying to yell “Nephi!”
He was waving a piece of cheese at me. I run over to his
and I found he had a great big silver
platter full of every kind of
cheese I ever heard of and most of them there I ain’t never heard
He gulped down his cheese and then he hollered, “Sit down and
dig in!” I reached onto the platter
and grabbed both hands full of
cheese and started stuffing myself. Then Taze come in the dining hall
and whispered to a woman at the table where they was eating oatmeal.
She got up and went to the kitchen.
She brought back two big silver goblets full of wine and put
in front of Clark and me.
Clark picked up his goblet and just barely sipped it. He
his head back and closed his eyes.
Then he said in a low voice, “It’s
fine wine, man! Sure enough expensive booze! I can tell!”
I tried to imitate Clark. I took a little sip and tossed my
back and closed my eyes and smiled.
But I hadn’t never drank wine
before. It tasted to me like fruit juice that went sour. But I kept
sipping and smiling like Clark until I got down to the last third
of the goblet. By they I was kind of
tired of drinking wine, but I
was getting where I liked the feeling it gave me. So I turned the
up and swallowed what was left.
Like I said, that shower I took made me feel a little sick.
I drank the wine I felt way, way sick. I
said, “Excuse me, Clark!”
Iran to the bathroom and threw up the wine and all that cheese.
When I got back to the dining hall, I seen Rivka for the
time. She is so tall and beautiful. She told
me and Clark, “The
people will be here soon to eat lunch. Why don’t you two come with
me to the
sitting room?” So we did.
Buff, I remember when you recorded Taze, he said he was so
stunned by the news of the Circle, that
he had to grab the table for
support. I think he was even more stunned by Nephi’s body odor. He
made Nephi take a shower and then Clark and Nephi got the deluxe
treatment, the kind of stuff we
handed out to our elders at Maria
Russell. The ordinary followers who were just starting out only
oatmeal. I didn’t like that. Back when I was a Zarahemla, there was
no doubt that Louie was the
leader, but everybody got as close to
equal treatment in food as we could.
I practically dragged Clark and Nephi to the sitting room.
had come to Zarahemla after I had
left, but I was hungry and thirsty
to hear everything they had to say about things back there.
I asked about so many people, I don’t think Clark and Nephi
knew half of them. I was overjoyed when
they said that my dear friend
Ivy and the other four women were able to go to Santo Toribio and
enter the kiva. I’m grateful to Louie for taking them there. He’s
very strongly for the rights of all
women except those who are too
close to him.
As Clark and Nephi talked, I had my mouth wide smiling, but I
tears in my eyes. I knew I could
never be together with Louie again.
But maybe I could be in Zarahemla?
The authority system at the Maria Russell Mission was much
rigid for me and as far as my life
with Taze was concerned, he had
far too much pumpkin pie going on. Finally I said to Clark and
“If I pack up tonight, can you take me to Zarahemla?”
They said simply, “Oh sure.”
I wrote a note to Taze, “Have gone to Zarahemla. I’m not
getting back with Louie, but I want to help
put the Circle together.”
Next morning Taze had gone to a restaurant to talk to some
politicians. I dropped the note on his
bed and headed off with Clark
Early that morning when everybody was asleep, I had just
my eyes when I heard Clark
whisper, “Nephi! Come outside with me!”
I was kind of groggy. It took me a while to get to my feet
get all my clothes on. Clark grabbed my shoulder and whispered,
Finally I followed Clark out into the front yard. I was still
Clark turned to me and said, “You know, I seen that guy Taze
“So what!” I says.
“Don’t you understand?” Clark says. “I seen him when I
was doing intelligence missions for Jim –
back when I was in the
Nationalist Youth Corps!”
Clark squinted his face up a second and scratched his head.
“Dammit!” he went on. “I wish I could
think of where I seen
him. Oh, it was some place I was supposed to go get money for Jim. I
him for a few minutes then. Anyway – that’s why I’m
glad I’m getting Rivka out of here. Taze is one of
Jim’s kind of
people and Rivka don’t belong around them people.”
We went back in the mission. Taze come in the sleeping room
we was and told us to come with
him to the dining hall. We sat down
at a table with him. Taze motioned with his hand and a couple of
people come over and put plates full of cantaloupe slices and big
glasses of orange juice in front of
Taze started talking – more to Clark than to me. He told
that he had phoned up some rich
friends of his about getting money
for Bishop Louie and the Circle. He said he would meet with some
politicians he knew that morning about getting more money for us. We
left the dining hall and went
back to the sleeping room and rolled up
our bedding. A little later Rivka come in looking so happy –
she could fly.
“I’ve got all my stuff packed out in the hall,” she said.
“Could you please help me with it?”
She took one big bundle, Clark took another one, I picked up
suitcase. We put all in the back of
the pickup and headed off to
When we got back, we took Rivka to the tipi that belonged to
Aries John and his wives. Emma, Cassie
and Zerena was all there. They
flung their arms around Rivka’s neck and hollered, “Wow,
It’s good to see you!”
They started talking over old times when all of a sudden
Louie stepped into the tipi. He froze.
Then he shot me and Clark a
hard look and said, “You guys! Come on outside! I want to talk to
We went outside with Louie. He was holding his arms stiff
his sides with his fists clenched. I
could see the veins trembling in
Louie’s forearms. He started off in his low-pitched growl, real
“How…dare…you!! I thought I could rely on you! Do you
realize what you’ve done?”
Clark was nine years younger than Louie, but he was taller
bigger in the shoulders. He just stayed completely calm and said,
“Louie, I know she used to be your wife, but…”
“That’s not it!” Louie snapped. “Though that’s bad
enough. Don’t you understand? She’s with Taze
now. If you help
her leave him, he may not give us no money!”
“Easy,” a soft calm voice behind Louie said. It was Aries
John. He stepped up to Louie and put his
hand on Louie’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” he says to Louie. “Taze and the people
with him want to give us the money as much as
we want to get it.”
Then Bishop Louie walked back to his house.
Pretty soon I knew I could give up any romantic fantasy of
staying at one end of the Zarahemla
community and Louie staying at
the other. As soon as Aries John had to go to La Plata to get
supplies, I had him take me to Zephyr’s rooming house, where I used
to stay. I knocked on the door
of Zephyr’s room. She came running
out. I felt a great warmth – her arms covered with her shawl
flung around my shoulders.
“Is there still an empty couch in the hallway for me?” I
“Always!” she said.
I called my parents and told them I would go back to Mountain
State University. They were glad to
send me money.
And all this time my parents had never heard that I had been
wife or a Bishopess or Taze’s
But there in La Plata I could work with my good friend Manny
Zamora and you, Buff. We would be
Dorothy and the Scarecrow and the
Tin Woodman all together helping make the Circle. Then Zephyr
on it too. We knew the Circle would need many more workers than just
I remember that winter how Manny’s drama office at the
became the de facto office for the
Circle. When Manny’s office
filled up with Circle work, the overflow went into Buff’s
office. Manny ran off thousands of copies of his
invitation to the Circle. He and Buff and Zephyr and I
ourselves addressing and stamping countless envelopes for the
invitations. We sent
invitations to President Sidney Lens, Vice
President Ella Little, every member of Congress, every
State legislator (and all the others we could find), the tribal
councils on every Indian reservation, every denomination listed in
the Yearbook of American Churches, every member of the
American anthropological Association, all our friends…and on and on
and on. My tongue tasted like
stamp envelope glue for days at a time.
We would stay up with Zephyr in her kitchen until three in
morning coming up with new ideas –
which Manny and Buff would take
to Zarahemla – I didn’t want to risk a confrontation with Louie.
Around March, 1972, me and Bishop Louie and Aries John went
Denver in John’s pickup. We
phoned up the office of Governor Hass
of Colorado – said we wanted to meet with him about working
co-operation with state officials for the Circle. It was a real cold
day – pale blue sky, gray clouds –
when we parked our red pickup
in front of the state office building.
We went up to the room number they give us. We opened the
and seen a big long table of dark
wood, polished where you could see
your face in it. A bunch of men sat at one end. They stood up
walked over and shook our hands. Their hands was like the hands of a
stone statue. They was
all suit and ties, shiny black leather shoes,
It turns out Governor Hass didn’t come. These people was just
from his staff. They sat back down at
their end of the table and we
sat at the other end. One of these guys says, “Just how can you
keep sanitation in the camps of the people who come for your circle?
We hear you plan to dig trenches in
the ground. How would you sue
such a trench?”
Bishop Louie says, “You want to see how?” He got up and
walked over beside the table. He had his
leather loincloth on over
his jeans. He squatted beside the table with his knees wide apart.
The Governor’s guys told us, “You can’t make your circle in
our mountains under any circumstances.”
Comment by Rivka
The People’s Party controlled the state government in New
Mexico. But the government and most of
the legislature in Colorado
were Republicans. Louie kept telling the Colorado state government,
“We aren’t pushing any religious or political philosophy. We’re
just trying to promote peace between all
It didn’t matter. Simply by organizing all these unemployed
youth drifting along the highways to do
some common action – even
if they all just sang, “Yankee Doodle” together – we were
taking a side,
and that side wasn’t the Republicans.
When I found Rivka’s good-bye note on my bed, I gasped. Her
note shook me up, but it would never
make me give up helping prepare
for the circle. I had dreamed of it for ten years, ever since I
with Uncle Denny.
I made sure that checks from the Pristine Foundation got to
Louie. Of course the checks weren’t in
the name of the Foundation.
They were supposedly from the accounts of various individuals – all
them connected in one way or another with the Foundation. Pristine
likes to be very discreet about
Louie phoned me that Governor Hass was trying to stop the
I couldn’t believe the governor
would be so stupid. I called up one
of the big shots in the Pristine Foundation about it. A few days
later he called me back and said:
“I had several friends in the Republican Party of Colorado
to pull every string they could. It was
no use. The Republican
leaders are worried about the State Legislature elections this fall.
afraid that the hick voters will think that the state
government is permitting some kind of heathen ceremony – maybe even
Satanic. And folks are scared of being robbed by mobs of young road
people pouring through the countryside going to the Circle.”
After I hung up, I sat with my elbows on the table, my head
hands, muttering, “What to do?
What to do?” I said to myself.
“There are things that even the Pristine Foundation can’t do.”
On the trip up to Denver, me and Bishop Louie and Aries John
spent most of our food and gas money.
We didn’t have enough to
check out the Colorado mountains and drive back to Zarahemla. Bishop
Louie got on the phone to Taze, hollering for him to wire us more
But it was Friday and Taze said he couldn’t get the money
together for us in time that day. He said
he’d send it to us
We was lucky. Aries John knew a man in Denver that we could
with. His name was Fred Zeller.
Aries John knew Fred in a village on
the west side of the Rockies where an old man John took care of
to set up a spiritual community. Aries John knew of a valley near the
village where he thought
we could make the Circle. The valley was on
National Forest land and Fred owned some land a few
miles away where
the people coming could park their cars.
Fred was a tall, strong-looking blond-headed man in a blue
shirt. He told us, “A few months ago
I had this dream. I walked up
to a movie theater. There was ads in front for a movie called The
– ads in all kinds of bright, shiny colors. It made my
head swim to look at them. I just knew it would
be the greatest movie
“I walked up to the woman at the ticket counter. I asked her,
“What’s the movie like?”
“She said, ‘It’s a great movie, all right.’
“So I asked, ‘How much does it cost?’
‘Everything you have.’”
We stayed at Fred’s house even after we got Taze’s money. We
waited there for the snows to melt so
we could go look over the
valley where we wanted to make the Circle. Every day we walked around
Denver handing out invitations to people, especially to all the poor,
ragged people we saw – asking
them to come make the Circle.
Around the beginning of April, we drove into the mountains as
as we could go in a dirt road and
we hiked into the site. It was a
long valley with bright green meadows, surrounded by snow-capped
mountains, beautiful as a dream. On one side of the valley was a
broad, low flat-topped mountain
with no snow.
“Flat mountain there was a holy place to the Indians who used
to live here,” Fred told us.
“That’s where we make the Circle,” Louie said.
We walked up Flat Mountain to see that it was easy to get to
top. Then we drove back to Denver.
There was always cops hanging around across the street from
Fred’s One day I was on my way to
the grocery store. Two cops
stopped me. One of them says, “Boy, are you out of the first grade
I said, “I’m Nephi and I’m seventeen.”
They both laughed and put me in a car and took me to the
I spent the night in a cell and I
hated it. I was scared of going to
reform school and spending a long time in them gray cells. Next
when they took me to the desk I said, “My name’s Bill Altdorf.”
They looked through a big book of missing kids and found my
Then they called the Los
Angeles Police Child Services who said
they’d send someone on the train after me. They put me back
cell two more nights. I was sick of the place, wondering if I’d
ever get out. Then the Los
Angeles children’s cop got there and
took me back to LA. My mother held me close and cried and
In all this time I had sent her just one post card telling her I was
in New Mexico and doing
all right. I never told her I was a married
But there was no more space or food for us in my aunt’s house
than before. After a month, my mom
wrote a statement for me that I
had her permission to travel on my own. She signed it and put down
aunt’s address on it. She cried a lot and I kissed her and run out
of the house and hitched to
One of the reasons, I think, for our Circle is that there’s
always more kids than there are homes for
When I got back to Denver, Fred’s house was locked up and
deserted and all the front windows was smashed out. I went to the
biggest mission in Denver where we had gave out lots of invitations
the Circle. I seen this kid named Duane who hung out there. He
used to come over to Fred’s a lot
and help us give out invitations.
“Where did Fred and all the others go?” I asked.
“Oh,” he says, “a bunch of people come up from New Mexico
to help Fred and the others. One of the
people from New Mexico was a
“His name is Maceo and he’s my brother!” I says.
“OK!” Duane says. “This colored man! Anyways, some folks
didn’t like a colored man being there and
they throwed rocks in the
windows, so Fred and all your friends left. Then went to Fred’s
land on the
other side of the mountains.”
I hitched west across the Rockies to Fred’s farm. It was just
log cabin and a pasture with a barn
and five horses and some woodland
that stretched up the slopes of the mountains. There was five
front of the cabin, people who had come to help make the Circle.
Brother Maceo was there
with Cark and some others from Zarahemla, but
Bishop Louie and Aries John had gone off to work
on the Circle
“Why didn’t Twyla come up?” I asked.
“She says he’s not feeling so good,” Clark told me.
I seen Fred Zeller looking awful sad, “I was in the Rocky
Mountain League of the Spirit,” he told me.
“It was set up by
this old man, Dad McPherson. Aries John took care of Dad when we had
to go to
Denver to work. But all the people in the league are real
down on Jews and the colored. When I took Brother Maceo into my home,
my own friends kicked me out of the league! They broke my windows,
they made threatening phone calls all night, so I had my phone
disconnected. I had to leave my
house and my job. I think I’m
right, but I hope it all turns out to be worth it.”
Me and Brother Maceo and most of the others hiked into Flat
Mountain Valley to set up the camp to
get ready for the Circle. Fred
and Clark stayed behind to meet all the people that showed up at the
cabin. One night Clark walked up to our cabin, shivering from the
I had to sneak in here,” he whispered. “Oh, hell, it’s hard
to remember I can talk in a natural voice
now! The Governor sent the
National Guard and the Highway Patrol to block all the roads that
near this valley. No more food or medical supplies allow in.”
After classes ended in early June, I came up to Colorado in
Zamora’s truck with him and
Zephyr. We had six students from the
college in the back of the truck and a couple of Chicano
kids who were in the People’s Party Youth Alliance. All eight
people were jammed in there so
with their gear that they
couldn’t wiggle their toes.
Louie had given Manny directions and we followed this two
blacktop road to a log cabin. There
must have been 50 vehicles –
cars, trucks and pickups, parked in the front yard and there were
and campfires all over the pasture – somewhere between 200
and 300 people. A teenage boy and girl
ran over and directed us where
to park the truck.
When we got out, I walked into the pasture among the tents. I
looked around to see if I could find
anyone I knew. I dreaded to see
the one person who had done the most to bring this all about, but
when I didn’t see him, I felt strange and uncomfortable.
Finally I saw Ivy from Zarahemla with her kids. We ran up to
other and hugged. “Where’s
Louie?” I asked her.
“He’s off seeing a lawyer. The governor has gone completely
wild,” Ivy said. “The governor sent the National Guard and the
Highway patrol to set up road blocks all around here. The National
has camps in the hills above here. They’re stopping cars all
around here and checking license plates.
No telling how many kids
hitching around here have been arrested for vagrancy. We pass the hat
every night and take up collections to get as many out of jail as we
“We got through with no trouble,” I said.
“That’s just it,” Ivy said, reaching down to grab the hand
of a three-year-old son who was starting to wander off.
“”You seen: she went on, “they’ve tried to block so many
roads they don’t have enough people to
stop everybody. The Governor
told the newspapers he wanted to stop Rural Bus services into this
area. Louie’s trying to get a Federal court order to call off the
National Guard and the Highway
Patrol and let us into the valley.
“But you know what?” Ivy went on, shaking her head with some
regret. “Like I said, people get in
here in spite of the blockade.
So many people, I feel sorry for the guy who owns this land – more
people piling up around his cabin every day. It must be driving him
crazy. We’ve got to get a court
order soon so these people can go
to the valley and let him have some peace.”
All of a sudden I heard Manny call, “Rivka!” from the back
door of the log cabin. I ran there as fast as
I could. Manny motioned
to me to come inside. On a table next to the wood stove in the
large Forest Service map on the area was spread out. A big
broad=shouldered man about 40 – he
was Fred, the owner of the cabin
– was pointing out to Manny a way to get around the roadblock
hike into Flat Mountain Valley.
“Now you go up the right fork of Antler Canyon,” he said,
sliding his forefinger across the map, “then
climb this ridge and
go down the Crazy Creak drainage. I’ve been that way elk hunting
So Manny practically shouted, “Let’s try it!” He looked
around at me and a few others standing at
the table. “Wow about
it?” he said, his eyes wide and eager. “Would tomorrow be good?”
Next morning a group of us walked to the back of Fred’s
pasture, then up the slopes through the
woods. We had packs on our
backs. Manny had a copy he had made of Fred’s map with a pen on a
piece of brown butcher paper.
The slopes turned downward into a little dent of a valley. We
came to a barb-wire fence, the
boundary of the National Forest, and
climbed through. We walked on, about 100 feet. All of a sudden,
Highway Patrolmen were right ahead of us, holding shotguns within
inches of Manny, Zephyr,
me and another woman with a blonde,
blue-eyed girl about seven. I gasped in fear. The seven-year-
never showed a flicker.
“Excuse me,” Manny said and we backed up, climbed through the
barb wire-fence and went back to
“Listen folks,” Manny told us at the cabin, “there’s more
than one way to get from hither to yon. Why
not let’s start about
So that night we walked three miles along the two-lane
road, staying in the shadows of the
trees as much as possible Manny
had a flashlight which he focused onto his butcher paper map.
“If all else fails,” he said to me, “I’ve got a compass
in my pack. But I used to go to camp every summer when I lived in New
York. I got a prize one year for canoeing. My sense of direction in
the woods is infallible.”
I was sure we went in circles several times. Bushes were
scratching at my legs. My sandals came off.
I couldn’t find them in
the dark. We went into a clearing where Manny looked at his compass
in the moonlight. I’m convinced that he led us back into that same
clearing a couple of times. Nevertheless
I could tell we were going
higher and higher up the slopes. It was very cold. The altitude
down As the sun came up, we were heading downward into
Antler Canyon. Suddenly a helicopter
flew over the canyon ahead of
“The National Guard!” Manny whispered loud. We scattered into
the trees and bushes. It seems like
we waited there for hours before
the helicopter left.
We went on like that for three days. Every day Zephyr made
bread and butter sandwiches for
each one of us – that’s all the
food we had. Although she was in her fifties, I never once heard
Zephyr complain of the difficult hike. She showed no sign of falling
Allison, the seven-year-old girl, was the same way, never
complaining, sometimes dancing ahead of
Manny up the trail.
Finally we came to the top of a steep ridge and stared down
Flat Mountain Valley. Pine trees
like soldiers marching down the
slopes and than a long, long green and gold meadow stretching to
Top Mountain. From the border between the forest and the meadow, a
wisp of smoke drifted
upward over the treetops.
We were all so tired, we sat down and looked down into the
for maybe half an hour. The valley seemed to be turning slowly,
offering us new views of itself. At last we got up and walked
downward through the forest to the smoke where we found the camp with
Brother Maceo, Clark, Nephi and the others. They cooked up the mush
and coffee we had brought and wolfed it down – there supplies
Manny ate some and took a nap. Then he hugged as many of us
could and said, “So long, folks,
gotta go back and get more people
and more supplies.”
And he took off through the woods.
After a while it wasn’t just Manny bringing more people and
supplies in. Soon other people were
leading in the newcomers and
bringing us more things. I remember after a while in that valley,
a luxurious taste grape jelly had!
I lost track of what day it was, but we couldn’t have been
there more than two weeks when we
looked up one evening and saw what
looked like an endless stream of people, thousands and
flowing downhill on the main trail that came from the dirt road that
had been blocked.
As they came winding along the edge of the meadows towards
saw Louie in front. Not far
behind him I saw you, Buff, and next to
you Fred Zeller was leading a fuzzy brown pony that
belonged to him.
On the pony was an old Indian man, his face splitting in a big
toothless grin. That
must have been Uncle Denny. As they came close,
I felt a little jab of pain and reluctance, but I said,
heck!” and ran up and put my arms around Louie.
“Did you get the court order?” I asked.
“Not at all,” he said in a voice as impersonal as if we had
never been married. “We had so many
people finally that Fred’s
land couldn’t hold any more. Today we walked up to the road block,
thousands of men, women and children. The National Guard are people
like us. They stood to one
side and let us pass.”
His eyes were looking ahead, facing some goal beyond us all.
let my arms drop from him. After he
walked past me, there were
countless friends to greet and hug in the procession passing by me.
Soon they were settled in camp circles up and down the valley. There
was a low white cloud of
campfire smoke everywhere. We have learned
since then that we built too many fires there and lots
of us didn’t
know how to build them well. That night was very cold. I wandered
from fire to fire to
greet my friends and huddle by their fires. All
of us were too excited to sleep.
In the next few days more and more people kept coming.
there must have been 20,000 people
in the valley.
On July Fourth before daybreak, we started hiking up the
of Flat Top Mountain. It was so
quiet in the dark I thought I could
hear the clop of the hooves of Uncle Denny’s little pony on the
trail. I thought I could hear my own breath and the breath of the
people around me. It was dark and
cold. I clutched my sarape tightly
wrapped around my shoulders.
When we got to the summit, we spread out over the broad flat
and held hands in a circle about
a mile across. I was facing east. I
could see the black sky turn pale blue over the main ridge of the
Rockies. At the first flash of the sun, I could feel a gasp from
myself and the other people rather than
For the next few hours as the sun climbed higher and higher
the sky, the energy of all those
20,000 people holding hands two
miles above sea level grew. I never knew that silence could have
power. As the sun reached the high point at noon, I felt tears go
down my cheeks. I knew I was pleading for something – something too
deep to say in words, for me and for everybody.
A the sun began to droop from the zenith, a low humming
among us. I felt it well up in me. I
could feel the humming of the
people next to me surge up through my wrists as I held their hands.
The humming went on forever, getting louder and louder. Then it broke
up in whoops of joy, yells
that seemed to hit the top of the sky,
sounds that seemed like the natural noises of the human being before
language was invented.
The circle broke up. People were running and leaping, dancing
everywhere. I could recognize folk
dances of several different
peoples that I had seen in immigrant neighborhoods in New York, but
much of it was pure free-form invention.
Aries John walked up and hugged me. Tears were coming out of
corners of his eyes.
“I seen Christ ascend,” he said.
“You mean descend from heaven?” I asked.
“No – Ascend from the earth.”