DEATH OF AN ECO WARRIOR
Sunlight dances on fresh snow; Adella Begaye edges her big pickup truck off ice-packed Route 12 high in the Chuskas Mountains on the Navajo Reservation and onto the trackless white snow covering a dirt road into the trees.
Begaye gets out of the truck to turn the front wheel hubs to the four-wheel-drive position. Then she wrestles the steering wheel as the truck bounces and skids into the forest.
Or what's left of the forest. Snow covers the slash--piles of deadwood branches--but the sun has already melted the snow from the stumps that pock the landscape. This is the timber cut that pushed Begaye's late husband Leroy Jackson into a quixotic crusade against Navajo logging practices. The cut scalped the land where he intended to build a house, a solar-powered structure in the shape of a traditional Navajo hogan, but with a basement. Just up the road is his family's wood-heated hogan, where they had their summer sheep camp. The remains of Adella's great-grandmother's hogan is farther still.
Begaye and Jackson's 7-year-old daughter, Robyn, presses her nose against the window in the back of the truck. Her face is peppered with chicken pox, her big eyes weepy with fever, but she got up out of bed to be closer to her father, who is buried up under the big, yellow ponderosa pines that he called "grandfather trees." Robyn peers through the glass as if expecting to see him jog around the next turn, full of wise advice and funny stories.
"We keep denying he's really gone," says Begaye. Her voice never cracks, but her dark eyes burn dolefully. "We keep thinking he'll be back."
Jackson, 47, disappeared mysteriously on October 1, on his way back from an Indian arts festival in Taos, New Mexico. He was found dead eight days later, his body wrapped in a heavy blanket on the back seat of his Dodge van, which was parked in a turnout on a high mountain pass near Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico. He had been dead at least a week.
The medical examiner ruled the death an accidental methadone overdose. There was no evidence of foul play.
Nevertheless, Jackson's friends think he was murdered. He had been receiving vague death threats for more than a year because his environmental work threatened to slow down operations at the Navajo sawmill and cost much-needed jobs. So his death sowed fear and confusion among the environmental communities on and off the reservation. They imagined complex conspiracy theories worthy of a Tony Hillerman novel, complete with whispers of witchcraft.
"I'm living in fear," Adella Begaye confesses, "a lot of fear. But I don't know of what, to tell the truth."
Jackson's friend Earl Tulley, a Navajo building inspector who is president of Jackson's environmental organization, Din C.A.R.E., says, "In our culture, we say that when you really defend something, it's going to cost a life."
Leroy Jackson lived a remarkable life. He was "a reconstructed Indian," as his mother describes him, who rebuilt himself from a homeless Phoenix street wino into a handsome and charismatic activist, a gifted orator, and a spokesperson for the nature-based religion of elderly Navajos.
He had close friends across the Southwest. But he had enemies among his own people, not just because of jobs, but because he questioned the dearly held image of the noble Indian living in harmony with nature. The Navajo tribal government, after all, was sullying its own sacred sites through logging and mining. "It's like a bunch of gangsters," Jackson told New Times last spring. "They do what they want."
Furthermore, Jackson was tweaking the highly charged issue of Indian sovereignty over the reservation by trying to force the tribal government to adhere to federal environmental regulations.
And perhaps, just as seriously, he made waves by speaking out against the status quo in a culture that is traditionally nonconfrontational.
Whether or not these were offenses so serious that someone would want him dead, he has become a martyr to the environmental cause. Which is little consolation to his family.
Jackson was not known to use drugs of any sort, beyond the prescription medicines he took for crippling migraine headaches. The New Mexico State Police theorize that Jackson took the methadone himself, perhaps to stave off a headache. After all, he had called his wife from Taos to tell her he was out of his regular medication. But that explanation does not sit well with the people who knew Jackson best.
As Begaye powers the big truck up the road past the slash and stumps, her daughter Robyn pipes up, "Mommy, remember when we went almost up to Grandma's house to put flowers on Daddy's grave?" Begaye doesn't answer.
"The character of Leroy was like what he stood for," says Earl Tulley. "Just like a pine tree, he never changed in the winds of controversy. He was always balanced and anchored into the philosophy of the culture."
His mother, Jane Popovich, who now lives in Phoenix, saw the same metaphor. "Even though he was a short man," she says through her tears, "I see my son as tall as a tree, one that's strong and stands high."
Leroy Jackson lived a Huck Finn storybook childhood in Flagstaff and on the Navajo Reservation. He virtually raised himself, and badly, losing nearly a decade to drunkenness and despair. Then, as his older brother Dave says, "It's like you put a blanket over him, then pulled it off, and he came out talking like a wizard!"
The dates and details of Jackson's life fade in the retelling by his friends and family, though the anecdotes float vividly, as if unstuck in time. Jackson was born in Shiprock, New Mexico. The medical examiner's report stated his age as 47, which means he would have been born in 1946. Jackson's older brother Dave, who lives in Phoenix, however, swears that Jackson was born in 1943, which would make him 50 years old at the time of his death.
His parents separated before Leroy was a year old. His mother drank and couldn't support her three children, and so Leroy and his brothers bounced from grandparents to boarding schools when their mother was down and out.
In Dave Jackson's earliest memory, he and Leroy are 7 and 6 years old, running away from a Navajo boarding school near Shiprock. They had somehow commandeered a horse and rode it out across the high plains toward Kingman, where their grandmother worked in a motel and their grandfather worked on the Santa Fe railroad. They slept under bushes at night, and in two and a half days, made it almost 100 miles to Kayenta. Hungry and thirsty, they stopped at a house to beg for food, and were promptly carted back to Shiprock.
After four escapes, the brothers were thrown out of the school. David went to live with his grandparents in Kingman, while Leroy and their younger half-brother, Ron Frank, followed their mother to Flagstaff and California and various spots on the Navajo Reservation as she fought to make a living. Summers they spent at their grandmother's sheep camp south of Shiprock. Leroy liked to herd sheep. Once it almost killed him. When he was 14, Leroy and a cousin were riding double on a horse, chasing rabbits down at the sheep camp. The horse stepped in a prairie-dog hole and rolled over the two. Leroy was knocked unconscious; the cousin raced home to get help, and they hauled him back to the hogan.
Leroy became more and more ill as the afternoon wore on, and the elders argued over whether or not to take him to the white man's hospital. Finally, says his mother, Jane Popovich, "I put him in this old pickup and I took him to Farmington." He was nearly unconscious again by the time she got there. During emergency surgery, doctors discovered that the brass saddlehorn on his horse's saddle had ruptured Leroy's appendix when the horse rolled over him. Over the next few months, he underwent two more surgeries to correct the damage.
Jane Popovich had sobered up for good in 1964 when she became a newborn Christian and settled in Flagstaff. Leroy finished high school there. He studied hard, ran track, and disappeared into the forest with his friends on weekends. After he graduated, he went to Dallas to study electronics. Then he was drafted.
Jackson signed up for the Green Berets and shipped off to Vietnam. The Army shipped him back with a dishonorable discharge for persistent drunk and disorderly conduct. He came home a drunk, and as his brother Dave says, "He hit the streets." He spent most of the next ten years in and out of jail for public intoxication, and his family despaired of his ever straightening out.
Later in life, Jackson spoke infrequently of his homeless days. All his wife Adella could recall was a funny anecdote her husband told her, in his raconteur's style, of being stranded in Albuquerque in winter and climbing into a Salvation Army drop box to huddle among the clothing and stay warm. Getting out of the box in the morning was another story altogether, because the door sloped inward like a laundry chute. Jackson fought and struggled his way out, only to discover he had an audience on the sidewalk. As he gathered his clothing and his composure about him, he smiled graciously at the onlookers, fixed his hair nonchalantly, and sauntered off.
Troubled times look so much more humorous when they are in the past. Dave Jackson's memories of Leroy's drunk days are much more somber.
The two brothers followed widely divergent paths; Dave was as responsible as Leroy was irresponsible. Dave had gone to business college in Albuquerque, and by the time Leroy came back from Vietnam, Dave held the prestigious job of managing the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock. One day, when Leroy would have been about 22, Dave says, "He was just standing at my door with his friend Maynard White Eagle. They were hung over and dirty. I told them to get cleaned up. I got them some clothes and a trailer to live in. Leroy worked for me for about a year and a half."
The streets kept calling him, however, and he'd disappear suddenly. Dave would then drive to Phoenix and search the streets. "I'd hunt him up and haul him home," Dave says. "It didn't seem to help at all. He never had an explanation for what he was doing. I'd talk to him and ask what seems to be the problem. He'd say, 'I don't have any problems; I've just got to be with my friends.'"
Once, in a lucid moment, Leroy told Dave he'd like to be an engineer when he got sober. Dave told him he'd better start working on it. Instead, Leroy disappeared completely.
No one heard from him for years, until he was nearly 30, when he wrote his mother a letter from the drunk tank in Salt Lake City, where he had bottomed out. "Leroy said he was in jail there and he was sitting on a cement floor and he started to cry. He said to himself that when he got out of there, he was never coming back again," Jane Popovich remembers. "He was a straight man after that."
Dave recalls that Leroy met a Pawnee Indian named Big Elk who got him into treatment, and he did sober up, though his troubles had not yet lifted completely.
Leroy Jackson's emotional odyssey took him far from his Navajo roots. Though his family knew he had moved to Oakland, California, and married a white woman, they claim to know very little about those years of his life. That holds with Jackson's character; he seldom revealed much about himself, and even as he gathered political clout later in life, his family and some of his closest friends never realized it.
His Oakland marriage fell apart quickly, but not until Jackson had fathered two daughters, whom the wife took with her when she left. One still lives in California and has a child of her own; the other died some years back of a drug overdose while a student at a Phoenix-area Indian school. No one seems to remember her name, and it's hard to tell if that is because she lived estranged from her Navajo family or because Navajos are hesitant to utter the names of the dead.
After his divorce, Leroy, who was now in his early 30s, returned to Salt Lake City, where he worked in construction and volunteered his time as a counselor at a recovery center for Indian alcoholics. Adella met him there in 1976 while she was attending nursing school at the University of Utah.
She was smitten by Leroy. "He was real intelligent. I was attracted to the depth of his character. He never talked about trivial stuff, it was always about something important and about Indian people."
Adella is one of those women whose very presence exudes a sense of purpose. She was trained in Western medicine, but Leroy took strength from her traditional Navajo beliefs and upbringing. Within a year they had a daughter, Michelle.
"We married with a traditional medicine man," Begaye continues. "That was how Leroy was. We didn't go before a priest or a judge. I'd ask, 'When are we going to get the papers?' He'd say, 'Hey, this is your tradition. We've been here a long time before these papers came along.'" She obtained a marriage license only two years ago. Then they debated whether she should change her name. "Why would you change your name to Jackson?" Leroy asked her. "That's some Southern name." He asked her to keep her Navajo surname of Begaye.
After they married, Leroy returned to school to study mechanical engineering. After two years, he was hired away by Arizona Public Service, the power company, and he worked at power plants near Holbrook and Farmington. Adella had moved back to the reservation, so they lived apart during the week. Finally, Leroy tired of that. He quit his job, telling his brother Dave that he was tired of taking orders from other people, and he moved with Adella to her ancestral home in Tsaile, on the western flank of the Chuskas Mountains.
He became a trader, exchanging sheep for pottery and weavings, sweaters and artifacts, which he would then sell for money. He traveled from Santa Fe to Oregon, frequenting the Indian art festivals and finding friends and contacts at galleries that featured Indian artifacts. He developed a warm, handshaking style in his business dealings that left many of his former trading associates describing him as a close personal friend.
Adella had become a commissioned officer in the Public Health Service, stationed at the Indian clinic in Tsaile. Together they raised two more children and lived in a comfortable, middle-class duplex near the clinic. But they kept a traditional Navajo hogan in the forest five miles away, a simple, multisided, one-room log cabin, where they would spend most of the summers.
Leroy fell in love with the mountains, spent hours there meditating or jogging up to 18 miles at a time. He had found his identity in his family, in his work selling Indian artifacts. He found his center in the nature-based religion of traditional Navajos. He was free from drinking, free from the cultural alienation that had plagued his early life. He was a Navajo, at home in the Navajo Nation, and at home with himself.
In October 1990, Leroy and Adella saw blue paint splashed on the big, yellow ponderosa pines along the dirt road to their hogan. The forest they lived in was going to be logged, and the paint indicated which trees were to be cut.
"We were upset," says Adella, "but we thought, 'Well, people are working.'" They had no idea of what the forest would look like afterward.
When they left the hogan for the winter, the trees had not yet been cut. When they returned the next spring, however, the area around their hogan looked like a war zone.
"It was denuded. It was horrible." Once the trees had been so thick that there was no view of the outside mountains. Now, the high, black palisades of Roof Butte stood starkly beyond a long, open vista of stumps and slash piles.
"This is not the way it should be done," Jackson told his wife, and so he went to Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation, to ask some questions.
Jackson had attended meetings to protest strip mining at Black Mesa on the reservation, which, like the Chuskas, is a sacred site to many Navajos.
"The Chuskas are the male deity," Adella explains. "Black Mesa is the female deity and together, that's the Navajo culture. The female, they're strip mining, and you know what they're doing to the male."
Jackson thought the logging was excessive, and so he became involved in the coalition of grassroots organizations that called itself Din C.A.R.E., "Din" being the name the Navajo call themselves, and "C.A.R.E." as an acronym for "Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment." He turned to outside environmental groups, most notably the Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians, to educate himself on timber issues.
Sam Hitt of Forest Guardians has referred to Jackson as "an incrementalist," one who wanted to change things slowly and by degree. "What he wanted was so very moderate," Hitt says.
And Jackson's concern was as much religious and cultural as environmental. "He wanted to be the tongue of the elderly people because they couldn't read, and they didn't understand the language of commercial development," recalls Earl Tulley, who is now president of Din C.A.R.E. "He could explain the concepts to them in a way they'd understand."
Jackson had told his brother Dave, "The old folks, they know what I'm saying."
His first major battle came in 1992, when Din C.A.R.E. contested a timber sale called Whiskey Creek-Ugly Valley, northeast of Canyon de Chelly. Din C.A.R.E. demanded that the Navajo timber company and the Navajo Nation--which owns both the company and the forests--prepare an environmental impact statement for the sale and that they comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and other federal regulations. The timber community countered with the usual tactics, claiming that environmental regulations would result in lost jobs. In July of 1992 at an antienvironmentalist rally on the reservation, Leroy Jackson was hanged in effigy. He started getting late-night phone calls threatening his life. And though he told some of his friends about them, he was always vague, and changed the subject when asked specifics.
Each side accused the other of bringing in white outsiders to Navajo affairs. Din C.A.R.E. lambasted the timber barons from the Pacific Northwest who sit on the board of directors of Navajo Forest Products Industries and the BIA bureaucrats who hold Navajo resources in trust for the Indians.
The Navajo forest industry accused Din C.A.R.E. of bringing in white environmental groups. Dexter Gill, a white man, recently resigned under pressure as head forester for the Navajo Nation. He refers to Forest Guardians as a "left-wing, pseudoenvironmental radical group." Leroy Jackson, he says, was "totally irrational. You could explain things to him, but he was typical of most of the environmental community today. They just use the name 'environmentalist' to get people's money. It's big business."
NFPI was a big business also, and losing money in big ways. Timber sales are carried out in a curious way on the reservation: Navajo government foresters mark the trees for sale, NFPI cuts them and then pays a fee back to the tribe, using the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a clearinghouse. NFPI is somewhere from $2.8 million to $7 million behind in stump fees--depending on whose figures you believe--and millions more behind in payments on other notes and loans. Jackson wanted to know what became of the money.
Clearly, some of the loss stems from the Navajo Nation's attempt to run NFPI as both a make-money and a make-work enterprise. Ed Richards, general manager of NFPI, claims that on several occasions he has asked the tribe to let him float stump fees so that he would not have to shut down the mill and lay off workers. "And they agree to it," he says.
Richards feels that the forest can sustain all the logging he needs to keep his saws buzzing. But other outside evaluators agreed with Jackson that the Navajos were overcutting. Dr. Jack State, a biologist from Northern Arizona University, found that the Navajo management plan "seemed to disregard any kind of concern for wildlife in that so much of the cover was being removed over broad areas." More so, he said, than in nearby national forests.
In the end, the logging interests succeeded in reducing the debate to "jobs versus owls," as they have all over the West. Despite the efforts of Din C.A.R.E., the appeal of the sale was ultimately squashed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the tribe.
Still, Jackson's crusade won over the hearts and minds of some of the Navajo bureaucrats and legislators. The next scheduled timber cut, an upcoming plot referred to as the Tonitsa sale, was scaled back from 29 million board feet to 18 million.
But even at its reduced level, as Sam Hitt of Forest Guardians points out, the Tonitsa sale still constitutes nearly one-third of the entire timber harvest in all of New Mexico and Arizona, including 11 national forests!
Those figures seem to validate Jackson's campaign. His tactic of unleashing federal environmental laws on the Navajo Nation, however, was embarrassing to the Navajo government, not only because it implied that the Navajo government was violating its own sacred sites, but by also questioning the sovereignty of the government itself. Legally, Indian reservations are subject to all federal laws; some are harder than others to enforce. Last August, the Bureau of Indian Affairs requested that the Navajo Nation and four other Southwestern tribes be exempted from the Endangered Species Act, specifically from spotted owl guidelines that might curtail timber operations. Jackson and Din C.A.R.E. fired off a point-by-point rebuttal accusing BIA of twisting the intent of sovereignty for business purposes. He arranged a personal meeting with officials at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., and had airline reservations for October 6. He never made it.
The environmental battles took a physical and emotional toll on Leroy Jackson, and in the last year, even as he was tasting victory, he began the karmic downslide that ended in his death. He spent less and less time trading and more time at home on the phone, pacing the floor and talking about timber until late into the night. In the last year of his life, his hair turned from black to silver, and his paralyzing migraine headaches increased in frequency. He never complained about them, but his friends and family could tell when he had one by the way he squinted his eyes and rubbed his forehead.
Although he had started winning his fight against timber sales, he was torn over the fate of the sawmill workers who would be laid off as a consequence, wanted to make sure they were taken care of, wondered if the mill could be converted to manufacture furniture and provide alternative jobs.
"We told him whether the mill shuts down and these people lose their jobs is not for you to worry about," says Earl Tulley. "You're not Jesus Christ. You don't have to take the sins of the world and the shortcomings of NFPI upon yourself."
Some friends even suggest that the jobs question was getting the better of Jackson. His friend John Sherry says, "He kind of lost his resolve about wanting to go through with the appeal" of the Tonitsa sale.
Jackson wondered about the threats made against him. In August, as the Tonitsa debate raged, a former NFPI board member told a reporter that "somebody is going to get hurt," then raged that the Din C.A.R.E. people should be thrown in jail, but for what, he never made clear.
In a summertime spiritual gathering at Jackson's hogan, Earl Tulley asked Jackson about his fears. "We were talking and it started to rain," Tulley remembers. "And I said, 'Leroy, do you fear for your life? Do you feel like somebody's going to hunt you down?' And he snickered and said, 'Earl, you know what? She's going to have to be pretty damned pretty to take me down. That's the only way they're going to get me. They're only going to get me if they put something in my drink.'" @rule:
The day before he left home forever, Leroy Jackson drove an hour south to Window Rock to attend a meeting with tribal and BIA officials.
His mother, Jane Popovich, had been spending the summer with Leroy and his family. She remembers hearing Jackson in the shower, then when he came out into the living room in a new white shirt, she was struck by how handsome he looked, as if she were looking at him for the first time instead of the last.
At the dinner table that evening, he mentioned that "some BIA shyster" had questioned his right to talk about owls, and she was not sure what it meant.
In the morning before he left for Taos, she watched him take his two small children, Eli and Robyn, on his knee to say his goodbyes. "I hardly ever saw him hug those kids, but he hugged them real hard," she remembers. "Then he watched them until they got on the bus, and said, 'You guys take care of yourselves. You study hard.'"
He called his brother Ron in Phoenix and told him to take care of their mother; she was heading back to Phoenix that very day.
He called Earl Tulley of Din C.A.R.E. to talk about the next week's meeting in Washington, D.C. "Earl, this is your wakeup call," he said. Tulley found it a peculiar thing to say.
Jackson arranged for his sheep to be fed and watered and a thousand other details. "He was like a man that was running out of time," his mother says.
Then he got into his white Dodge van and drove off to meet his fate in Taos.
He attended the San Geronimo feast day at Taos Pueblo, and apparently conducted a number of good trades from what other traders recall. On September 30, he had intended to drive to another fair in Shiprock, in tandem with a Ute Indian trader named Buffalo. But since he had one last piece of business to take care of, he told Buffalo to go on without him.
On the morning of October 1, Jackson punctually showed up at Dick Spas' studio, Southwestern Art, with an 1890s Navajo rug that he had found for Spas. Jackson and Spas were longtime friends who rarely did business, but in this case, Spas wrote Jackson a check for $1,200 as payment for the rug. Then Spas escorted Jackson to the bank to cash the check.
"He seemed fine to me," Spas remembers. "We talked for an hour and a half."
Jackson then went to Old Taos, a gallery owned by Steve Eich, to pay off an $800 debt. Eich's wife, Cindy, thought he seemed out of sorts. "I noticed he was much less friendly than usual and I thought he had a headache because he was kind of distant," she says. "He was not his usual pat-on-the-back self. He was kind of looking off at the wall some of the time."
From Eich's store, he went to see a wool gathering and sheep demonstration that was also in town, and then the trail grows thin. He called Adella to remind her to bring the children and meet him in Shiprock, and he told her that he had run out of medication for his headaches, and that she should make a doctor's appointment for him so that he could get more. At five o'clock, he made a couple of calls to Utah to arrange where he would be staying that evening. Then he disappeared.
Adella looked for him at the Shiprock fair, and at first assumed she'd lost him in the crowd. The next day, when he hadn't called--as was his custom--and hadn't showed up in person, she called the police. She even drove to Farmington to file a missing person's report with the New Mexico police.
Jackson's friends organized a search party and combed the route between Shiprock and Taos, driving up each forest road two or three miles in the event that Jackson had pulled off to go for a run, which he often did when he felt a migraine coming on.
On October 6, Jackson's neighbor and physician, Dr. David Lange, had personally checked the rest area where Jackson was eventually found, and the van was not there. Nevertheless, on October 9, a New Mexico state trooper found the van in a turnout right next to the road. The doors were locked and the windows covered. Jackson was inside on the back seat; the officer who found him thought that the manner in which the blanket covered his face looked unnatural. Adella says he never slept with his face covered.
The autopsy revealed the presence of three drugs in Jackson's bloodstream: Valium at therapeutic levels, marijuana and methadone. Jackson took Valium for his headaches, along with Tylenol 3 with codeine; he was out of the latter. The marijuana, police report, was at levels low enough that he might have ingested it through secondhand smoke. The methadone was at low toxic levels, its effect likely exacerbated by the Valium. But how and why the methadone got into his system remains a mystery.
Adella claims that when her husband came down with a headache and was out of medication, he would go to a hospital emergency room to get a shot of Demerol. One theory offered by the police is that Jackson took the methadone as a painkiller.
Indeed, methadone was invented as a synthetic narcotic; its slow onset and long half-life in the body make it a mediocre painkiller, but an excellent way to satisfy the cravings of recovering heroin addicts and to relieve the worst symptoms of withdrawal. Why would Jackson take it willingly, unless he mistakenly thought it might ease the pain and still leave him clear-headed enough for his long drive?
No one recalls ever seeing Jackson so much as drink a beer or smoke a joint. On the other hand, both Valium and codeine are potentially addictive drugs, so he was no stranger to pharmaceuticals. His wife, however, says he would balk every time doctors tried to prescribe new drugs for him. "I don't want to be your experiment," he would tell them. And if he had questions about what to do, Adella, who is, after all, a nurse, says he would always call her to ask.
Jackson's friends and family do not believe he would take methadone willingly. But there were no indications that the methadone had been injected in his body, no other signs of foul play. The police postulated that he took the drug, then felt drowsy, pulled over and went to sleep and died. Adella Begaye maintains that the van's gas tank was near empty when it was found; Jackson would have fueled up before heading over the mountains. And, according to early reports, the extra car key that Jackson carried in his wallet was missing. It looked as if he had died elsewhere and been driven to the site where he was found. And how else to explain why the van was not there when David Lange stopped at the rest stop?
As for the poisoning theory, Major Frank Taylor of the New Mexico State Police dismisses that as unlikely. "If you really wanted to kill him, you'd give him much more," he says. "These people would have had to have studied him in detail, and then you're talking about someone with a medical background."
Speculation in the press centered on Jackson's choice of accommodations in Taos. He stayed with a white acquaintance named Mark Marcus, who rents a house south of town in an area called Rinconada. Marcus is a silversmith. Police contend that they know little about him, that they have leaned on him, but have not gathered enough about him to even obtain a search warrant.
But this much is known: His longtime friend Francesca Lorimer had recently been convicted of drug possession in Missouri. Last February, Lorimer was driving eastbound on I-70 when she was stopped for speeding. Police searched her car and found 26 pounds of marijuana and a vial of methadone. At the time, she told police that the methadone belonged to her boyfriend, presumably Marcus. She pleaded guilty to one count of possession of marijuana, and the methadone charge was dropped. In October she began her four-year sentence in Missouri. But she was still in Taos while Leroy Jackson was there.
On October 1, the day Jackson disappeared, Marcus left town to drive Lorimer to Missouri, where she was to face sentencing and incarceration.
Marcus told New Times that Lorimer's possession of methadone is "thoroughly unrelated" to Jackson's death. "I have nothing to do with the whole thing," he says. "I didn't know the magnitude of what Leroy was doing. He was just a friend that I met through another mutual friend years ago." Of events that fateful weekend, he claims, "I was preoccupied with other things."
Jackson had so many "close friends" in so many places; but none of them seemed to know very much about his past or personal life. He was outgoing and laughing, with many, a back slapper and hand shaker, a fellow people liked to see appear in the doorway. To yet others he was always sober and serious. His conversation tended toward interesting or amusing anecdotes that were seldom revealing. He often used other folks as a sounding board for his environmental ideas, though without touting his emergence as an environmental leader. Many of his friends were not even aware of that facet of his identity. Leroy Jackson spoke very little about himself.
He had distinct groups of friends: his environmentalist colleagues, his trading and business associates, and his road friends, some of whom were traders, and others who were left over from his vagrant days. These latter would often travel with him on long trading trips, and what they talked about is anyone's guess, since they are so difficult to track down.
Those road buddies who were with him in Taos might have insights into whom Jackson dealt with and met with before he disappeared.
Sam Hitt of Forest Guardians has retained a private investigator on Adella's behalf; the private eye refuses to share his findings with the press, but Hitt claims he has found precious little. Jackson's road friends have left vague hints in Taos and on the reservation that they know who is responsible for the death and that it will be "taken care of in the Navajo way," whatever that means.
The vagueness of Jackson's death has of course spawned more fanciful talk: that it was the result of some plot involving BIA and NFPI. NFPI general manager Ed Richards counters with an opposing theory: "You know, Leroy was getting tired of being at the forefront of this," Richards says, "but yet his people pushed him. Maybe he didn't want to do it anymore, and he was too deep into it, and they needed a martyr. Maybe they did it themselves."
Richards also contends that two years ago, Jackson threatened to put a Navajo hex on him, and Richards claims he said, "You'd better not be saying that because most of the time those kinds of things turn around and end up coming back at you."
As Earl Tulley had warned earlier, "defending the holy mountain" had cost a life.
Earl Tulley imagines that his friend Leroy Jackson is somewhere in the afterlife, "riding alongside the other great heroes of the past. I'd like to think he's advocating on our behalf."
Despite that it may not match the poetic hyperbole, Jackson's work has indeed borne fruit since his untimely death. Whereas Din C.A.R.E. was an all-volunteer organization whose members paid most of their expenses out of pocket, they have since accumulated $70,000 to $80,000 in grants, according to their spokesperson Lori Goodman. BIA called the sawmill to task for its financial troubles. In a letter dated October 25, T.R. Tippeconnic, acting area director of BIA in Gallup, New Mexico, wrote, "Before the Bureau of Indian Affairs will be able to approve any additional timber contracts with NFPI, I believe that NFPI should provide a more thorough and reasonable workout statement."
Earl Tulley kept Jackson's early October appointment with Interior Department officials in Washington, D.C., and met with lawyers not only from Interior, but from BIA and the Fish and Wildlife department, as well. He asked them if BIA's request to suspend the Endangered Species Act on Indian reservations was likely and viable.
"The Endangered Species Act comes as a whole and everybody has to abide by it," the Fish and Wildlife lawyer told Tulley, and as Tulley sees it, "I think those are the words Leroy wanted to hear.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.