50 Years Ago

Louis Armstrong performs on the rez

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

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It's not often that a world famous performer comes to the reservation for a performance.

Yes, the reservation saw people like Waylon Jennings perform at local events but this was before he became famous.



More from the "50 Years" Times series

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Times editor resigns due to flaps with Nakai's staff

Navajo history kind to tribal leaders running in primary

Hopi man seeks Navajo Times' help

Killing of local trader unsolved after tribal, city investigations

Social Security benefits lead to IRS study of Diné pay

Louis Armstrong performs on the rez

Dueling statements in the Times

Uranium boom hits Navajo

Motel development squelched by liquor ban

Former Marine selected to manage Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild

Scout falls 156-foot from cliff, Times hires D.C. reporter

Rewind to the first Navajo taxpayers

Times branches out into national coverage

Adee Dodge defends medicine men

Times treads carefully when covering tribal politics

This week, 50 years ago, the Navajo Times announced that Louis Armstrong had agreed to perform at the Civic Center on May 8, 1964, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. He was also going to appear at the Tuba City Community Center on May 9.

Armstrong was at the peak of his popularity in 1964 and the admission charge was going to be a whopping $2 in advance and $2.50 at the door. A number of stores in Gallup were selling tickets and they could also be picked up at the chairman's office.

Officials for Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai said that the Navajo Tribe was helping to subsidize the events but no word was given on how much the tribe was paying or how tribal officials managed to get Armstrong to agree to perform on the reservation.

The Times, probably at the request of the chairman's office, would do a lot of publicity for the performances to boost attendance and it's possible that Nakai was worried that even at that low price, attendance would be low.

In other stories in the Times during this period, U.S. Sen. George F. Senner of the third district in Arizona wrote a column and, for some strange reason, the Navajo Times decided to print it.

The paper had never printed any of Senner's columns before and the one they did had nothing to do with the Navajo Reservation or Natives in general. It was just plain weird and maybe that's why the Times printed it.

Remember that the Times was a pretty conservative newspaper for its time and you have to realize that many of its readers were in middle and high school. In fact, some schools would purchase multiple copies (at a sharply reduced rate) and give it out to students in the reading classes.

Anyway, Senner talked about Art Buchwald, a humorist who very few Navajos probably had heard of. Senner talked about the tendency of book publishers to put half-naked women on their covers to sell books and Senner said this reminded him of a column by Buchwald in which he describes how books about some of the classic children's stories would be described by these publishers.

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - The story of a ravishing blond virgin who was held captive by seven deformed men, all with different lusts.

"Tom Sawyer - a gang of subteenage hoodlums paints the town white and commits mayhem and murder to satisfy their desires."

There were more but you get the idea. And these were the tamest of the bunch.

As you can imagine, the printing of the article got a lot of response, none of it positive and a few readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions or stop reading the paper.


Chet MacRorie, the paper's managing editor, would later apologize for printing the column and I imagine that Senner also got some heat as well.

MacRorie never did say why he published the column. It's possible that he never saw it before it was published and someone else - Marshall Tome maybe - made the decision without asking him.

But this was probably too weird for even Tome so it's possible one or both were on vacation and it just slipped by.

You also have to remember that tribal leaders during this time were pretty puritanical. Trading post operators on the reservation, for example, had to agree in their leases not to sell magazines like Playboy, which would later be noted by the magazine who pointed out that the only two places in the United States where the magazine was not on sale was in Salt lake City and on the Navajo Reservation.

On a more serious note, the Navajo Times would focus on a tragedy that occurred on March 3, 1964, in northwestern New Mexico and would bring it up several times in 1964 and 1965.

Its first mention went like this: "Helen Ignacio, a nine-year-old Navajo Indian girl, froze to death only a distance of two city blocks from her home in northwestern New Mexico."

The paper said that the young girl and her big sister, Rose Ignacio, 14, walked nearly three miles from their regular bus stop in a blizzard. Rose was taken to the Crownpoint hospital and recovered from severe frostbite, although doctors said that two of her toes may have to be amputated later.

"Her little sister froze while the girls huddled beneath a small cedar tree for warmth," said the paper.

The two were found the next day under eight inches of snow by a boy herding sheep. The boy built a fire and wrapped the two girls in blankets before he went to get help.

Nakai immediately called for an investigation and the state complied.

The driver was questioned and he said that the girls left the bus after it got stuck in the snow. He was under the bus clearing the snow when he saw the two girls start to leave to go home. He told them to stay but the two girls insisted that they could make it home.

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