Sunday, July 3, 2016

Singleton tells of his time living among Apache Indians in the Arizona desert

(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Winds have effect on man’s actions” was originally published in the June 28, 1990 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

Throughout the history of man, the effects of the winds have been a great deciding factor on his actions and his train of thoughts. The wind has many times caused man to enter into certain actions, such as going into battle, or deciding not to do battle at a given time.

The wind has caused man to leave his home and family; to push aside a life of security and happiness and wander aimlessly across the land, living the life of a wanderer or vagabond. The effect of the wind has caused many of our most serious to suddenly change and take up the life of the carefree and shiftless.

Many of the trials and hardships of the days when our west was in its infancy have long been forgotten, except for the sounds of the howling wind and the effects those sounds had on the settlers. Tall tales have sprung from these lonesome sounds. Many songs have been written about this relationship between man and a howling desert windstorm.

Over the years, I have been in certain places or locations and have witnessed the effects of the sounds of the wind. I have experienced the sudden desire to drop anything that I was doing and head out in any direction, with no idea in mind as to where I was going. I have witnessed feeling as though I had entered into some kind of trance or entered into another world; I have had the sighing winds remove everything from my mind except its sounds, sweeping across the valleys and mesas around me. Especially at night, the winds of the desert can do strange things to a man.

At the close of the Korean War, I visited the family of a friend of mine who had lost his life during the bitter fighting around the Chosin Reservoir. These people belonged to the Apache Indian tribe in the state of Arizona. I notified them by mail that I would be in Apache Junction on a certain date. Apache Junction consisted at that time of a small combination service station and grocery store.

This small settlement was the only connection to the outside world for many of the people in the area. I had traveled by motorcycle to see these people. I had to leave my transportation in a sheep pen behind the local store because the roads were such that I was unable to reach their home due to the deep sand and small boulders.

They met me in a wagon drawn by two horses. We traveled for about 3-1/2 hours over the hot desert floor. When we reached their hogan (a small mud hut), I noticed that it was located on a high mesa or plateau. To the west was a vast valley that stretched as far as the eye could see. It seemed that I was standing in front of a very large mural, and the vastness was overwhelming.

I knew that my friend’s remains had been sent home for reburial just a short time before I had arrived. I told his father that I wanted to see my friend’s final resting place. The tired old man took me by the hand and carried me to a high point that overlooked the great valley. He pointed toward the setting sun and said, “He sleeps out there. Out there, he can talk to the winds.”

I was told later that only a few leaders of the tribe knew the exact location of my friend’s grave, and that after the burial, a herd of horses had been run back and forth over the burial spot, so no one could tell that it was there. And, too, that spirit of the dead would not be disturbed from its eternal sleep.

I was accepted in the family as their son; I stayed with this family for almost two months. Due to the climate, I slept outside the hogan at night. Almost every night I would take my blankets and go to the high point that overlooked the valley. There I would listen to the sounds of the wind as it searched its way through the valleys and crevices among the high rocky cliffs that overlooked the desert below.

During this time, I came to know a peace of mind that I had never known before. The greatness of creation was all around me. During those nights, I talked to the wind and the wind talked to me.

Then I began to realize that I had to leave this place, but something kept drawing me ever so close. I knew that I had to return to my people. I couldn’t stay there, even though I knew with all my heart that I really wanted to.

One late afternoon the day before I was to leave, the wrinkled and aged old man carried me once again to the high plateau. He pointed to the vast desert below and said, “Should you return, I will be there, sleeping beside my other son. We then can talk to the winds together. I must go soon; he calls to me to come.”

During the early morning darkness I slipped away, leaving behind a note of farewell that I had written the night before by the light of a small flashlight that I carried in my pack. I told them that I would be fine; that I could find my way; for them not to come after me. In the pre-dawn darkness, I followed the faint wagon trail back to the sheep pens and my motorcycle. I felt that I had left something back there on the high plateau, and that some day I would return, but so far, fate has not allowed this to happen.

Two months after my return home, I received word that the old Apache had been laid to rest somewhere in the great valley beside his son. Now, he, too, could talk to the winds, and the winds would talk to him. The old man who had accepted me as his son had bid farewell to this life; he had made his final journey, and his spirit was now at peace.

And I’m sure that if one would visit the high plateau on a late evening, during the time of the setting sun, the spirit of the old Apache rides the winds of the desert and rests among the majestic clouds that cling to the mountain peaks that are seen far into the distance, almost beyond the sunset.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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