Monday, June 28, 2010

The Day the Music died in Indian Topeka

Maybe you’re getting old when…you look around and do a head-count and suddently realize that a lot of your friends have died. Some have died young, and others were too old to die young. A case in point is the Potawatomi song-maker Gary Cooper. He died today. I knew Gary every since we were kids. His Dad Walter Cooper taught school in Delia, Kansas and they had a house right down the street from the school. We went to school there only briefly, but that was the first memory I had of him playing in that front yard.

Over the years, my brothers and I would run across him at different events. He was a friendly guy and became a life-long friend. He was a cousin to one of our old friends Vernon Yazzie. Vernon went to the same school as us and we stayed at each others homes and this was how we would often run into Gary Cooper in our excursions into t-town.  In revisionist history, they are called excursions.Vernon was one of those guys who died young.

Gary started a band and played in every honky-tonk in the area, sometimes twice. He must have made a decent living at it because he played right up until the bitter end, but truthfully our chosen hobby doesn’t’ pay the bills, so Gary did some roofing work with his dad in a day job. They had a house in North Topeka. We grew up on the reservation and he in the big city. Our paths crossed many times over the years, but as it happens in life, we rarely saw each other in the last few years because my focus changed to family and family type events. Gary never did marry and stayed close with the guitar.

The last time I saw Gary was the Potawatomi Gathering held here last year. He played up on the stage and I dropped by to see him and when I was leaving he said “I’m going to dedicate the next song to Gary Mitchell.” He did that to a lot of people beside me and it made us feel good for a second or two. He was in a wheel-chair and his health had steadily declined over the last few years, but he did what he liked until he couldn’t anymore. Around these parts there were few Indian bands, but there was a song-maker once, his name was Gary Cooper.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not even sure how I got here to this page, but this is a bittersweet story, and I felt compelled to leave a comment because June 28th is my birthday and I am part Potawatomi. I am glad to have ran across this, to have learned he existed. What I just read made me feel happy because though he has left, he didn't give up doing what he liked to do, and that is inspiring. My deepest condolences to everyone that knew him. -Teresa