50 years ago

Killing of local trader unsolved after tribal, city investigations

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 10, 2014

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The suspicious death of a trading post operator was the big news this week 50 years ago as both the Gallup and Navajo police departments conducted investigations into the death of James Talley, 28, of the Twin Lakes Trading Post.

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Talley was beaten or kicked to death on either the evening of April 18 or morning of April 19 near the old Coca Cola Bottling Plant in Gallup. Three days after the incident, police had no suspects in his death.

Peter Talley, 35, and Robert Leonard Talley, 25, brothers of the victim, were picked up and brought to Gallup where they were questioned about their activities that weekend. Both were later released.

The two told police they were with their brother that Saturday afternoon in Gallup. Both denied knowing anything about his death, which police said apparently occurred as a result of a scuffle near the town's railroad tracks.

According to police, the victim had a one-inch laceration to the bottom of his scalp and was so bloody that they were not able to identify him.

Police did find an Army draft card belonging to Peter Talley near his body but Peter Talley told police that the card was in his jacket, which was taken from him in a scuffle with four men that occurred on Saturday afternoon.

The Gallup police investigation revealed that the scuffle had taken place about 60 feet from where James Talley's body was found. Police also said that they found eyeglasses and an Army fatigue cap belonging to the victim near his body.

Robert Talley told police that the three were planning to leave Gallup that Saturday evening and that he had actually purchased bus tickets on Trailways to get back home. Robert said he arrived at the bus depot in Gallup on time to catch the bus but neither of his brothers showed up.

Peter Talley got home sometime on Sunday and informed other family members of James Talley's death.

The Gallup police continued the investigation into whether Talley's death was due to the argument the three brothers got into with the four men on Saturday while Navajo police looked into the possibility that his involvement in the trading post on the reservation had anything to do with it.

Over the previous two decades, tribal police and the FBI had investigated the death of more than 10 trading post operators on the reservation or the burning down of trading posts.

Most of these incidences were believed to have been caused by arguments between the trading post operators and area residents. But after more than two months of interviews, both the Navajo and Gallup police departments were no closer to finding the person or persons who took James Talley's life.

In other news, the Navajo government agreed to support the efforts of then Mayor Eddie Munoz to stop the sale of liquor at area school events.

The case that generated the most concern by government officials occurred this week when officials at Cathedral High School asked for a one-night transfer of a license owned by the Three-star Liquor Company to the school for an event in the school gymnasium on May 23.

This was not to be a school event but one sponsored by the Gallup Police Department which was holding a dance to raise funds.

The Catholic school system, as well as Gallup schools, often rented out their facilities to organizations that wanted to hold a dance or other event.

In many of these events, a local liquor establishment was asked to allow the transfer of its license to the school so that liquor could be served. The liquor establishment would have to close its doors on that one night since it could not sell liquor without a liquor license.

While public schools on the Navajo or Zuni reservations couldn't by law sell liquor at their school functions, other schools in the area were allowing organizations on and off the reservation to rent their places for events and if the proper transfers were done, they would be allowed to serve liquor.

This practice would soon end as government officials from both the tribe and Gallup would continue to argue against the practice. While no students were allowed to attend these events, government officials said that it was giving the students the idea that the schools had no problem with the sale of alcohol.

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