50 years ago

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

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Feb. 6, 2014

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A Navajo boy scout was rushed to the hospital 50 years ago this week when he fell from a 156 foot cliff on a scouting trip.

Harold George Boyd, 13, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Boyd of Fort Defiance, was reported to be in satisfactory condition after his ordeal, the Times reported.

The paper covered the story on page one, illustrating it with a photo of the young Boyd and a photo of the cliff, with a line showing Boyd's descent. The cliff was located between Window Rock and Fort Defiance.

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"The boy tumbled down the 156 foot cliff when he stepped on a piece of loose sandstone," the paper reported. "He and two companions were scouting around when the accident occurred."

The fact that he tumbled instead of going straight down limited his injuries but the paper reported that when he was taken to the hospital in Fort Defiance, doctors found that he had a concussion, a dislocated hip and a serious chest injury. He was transported to the Bataan Hospital in Albuquerque where he underwent chest surgery.

The Times that week also announced that it had hired Ned Curran as the paper's Washington correspondent.

Curran had been in Washington, D.C. since 1960 and had set up a small news bureau writing for a number of newspapers throughout the country. He had written to the paper in January 1964 offering his services for a modest price to over legislation in Congress that would affect the Navajos.

It would be more than 10 years before the Navajo Nation would set up its Washington Office and the tribe under Raymond Nakai had to rely a lot on its legal counsel, Norman Littell, to keep them informed about what was going on in Congress that affected the Navajo people.

Littell would provide members of the Council on a periodic basis with a report on the bills in Congress but the Times itself had to rely on stories that came out from the Associated Press to find out what was happening.

This didn't work well since the AP seemed to have little or no interest in what was going on in Indian country at that time so the Times often didn't know something was going through the system until it had passed.

Curran promised the Times that he would provide them with a couple of stories a week that would be of interest to the paper's readers and Chet MacRorie, the paper's general manager, said later that the cost to the paper was so low that he felt that they should go ahead with the idea.

Ironically, considering the story on the front page about Boyd, the paper continued its policy of writing non-controversial editorials by writing something about the boy scouts since Boy Scout Week was coming up.

In an editorial entitled, "Scouting Builds Character," the paper encouraged its readers to recognize the patriotic service the Boy Scout organization was performing on the Navajo Reservation.

Probably the thing that got the most attention in that week's paper was a letter from Sen. Barry Goldwater, who responded to a letter written a week before by the paper's editor, complaining that the Times for some reason had been taken off the senator's mailing list.

Goldwater promised to correct that problem and praised the paper for its coverage and put in a plug asking for the Navajo people's support in his attempt to become the Republican candidate for U.S. president.

"Having operated a trading post on the reservation and having lived with the Indians in their homes when they were kind enough to accept me, I believe that I have a personal knowledge of the problems that your people face and an understanding of how solving these problems can be brought about," he said.

The good news is that articles written after the election indicate that Goldwater got a lot of support from Navajo voters in the primary and general election. The bad news is that it appears that few Navajos voted in off reservation elections in those days.

Speaking of Republicans, New Mexico at the time had a Republican senator by the name of Edwin Mechem who was a vocal critic of the role of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in his state.

This was a time when the BIA still had a lot of power on the state's Indian reservations and Mechem made a number of speeches about how much the BIA was costing the federal government and how much of the money it received was just being wasted.

In early 1964, his big kick was how big the BIA was becoming under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

He pointed out that the Gallup office of the BIA had 334 people on its payroll when Dwight Eisenhower stepped down as president at the end of 1960. Now, just three years later, the Gallup office had 429 people on its payroll.

"The government will never end its bureaucratic mismanagement of the Indian situation that way," he said.'

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