IGNACIO – Ignacio’s longtime residents are recounting life before so many fences divided the land and gas wells marred the landscape. It’s part of an effort to ensure future generations will understand their town’s history.
The Ignacio Community Library’s oral history project, Voices of Ignacio, is recording personal stories and plans to share them online, said Renee Morgan, the project organizer.
“It will definitely allow the community to have access to history and culture,” said Morgan, who serves as the library’s art director and circulation manager.
A $3,000 grant from Latino Americans: 500 Years of History and $2,875 from the Ballantine Foundation allowed the library to purchase recording equipment and pay for some expert advice to guide the project.
Artist and author Ron Yellowbird, 63, is working on a memoir but wanted to record his story.
During his interview, he told stories about his people, the Southern and Uncompahgre Utes.
“Oral history for me goes back many, many generations. I wanted to do it for those people in the future. ... They need to hear how people’s lives have changed,” he said.
He recalled hearing as a kid how Chief Ouray became a leader, in part, because he could speak English, Spanish and Ute, but some of his decisions were wildly unpopular.
“The Southern Utes were so upset they set five assassins after him,” he said. But the assassins were not successful.
Yellowbird described storytelling as a performance art that requires practice.
“Does it all have to be true? .... You can stretch the truth a little bit,” he confessed to Morgan while recording his story.
In sharing his story, Roderick Lee Grove, 65, recalled a landscape with far fewer fences. He lived with his grandmother, speaking Ute at home, eating on fish, elk, rabbit and deer and going into town to purchase items such as salt, sugar and flour.
While steeped in traditions at home, he attended public school in Bayfield and later Catholic school in Santa Fe.
He was taught: “In this life you need to take the best of both worlds, the Indian way and the white man ways.”
After he graduated, he was sent to Vietnam and served in the U.S. Army as part of the 25th Infantry Division.
He counts leaving the Southern Ute reservation to fight in the war for 22 months and 13 days as his greatest challenge.
“It haunted me for a long time,” he said.
After returning to the states, he worked outside Ignacio for a long time before moving home, like some of the others Morgan has interviewed.
But because of the way he was raised, he feels more connected to his history than some younger people, and that’s one of the reasons he thinks the oral history is important.
“The younger people don’t even know their own language. ... There needs to be something for them to fall back on,” he said.
The library has recorded 12 interviews and it is including Caucasian and Latino people as well so the project will represent the tri-ethnic community, Morgan said.
It is one of the community themes people have talked about in their interviews, she said.
“A lot of people really like the diversity. It is a small community, but it is very diverse,” Morgan said.
Those interested in participating in the oral history project should call Morgan at 563-9287.