“Modoc Warrior for the Klamath Tribes Walks On…”
Funeral services for Klamath tribal elder and tribal Councilman, Albert A. “Bert” Lawvor Sr., 69, were held June 7, 2012, in Klamath Falls, OR. He went to the “happy hunting Grounds” on Friday, June 1, 2012, in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Concluding services took place at the Chief Schonchin Cemetery with Vice-Chairman Gentry officiating.
His strong heart and easy laugh will be missed by many here in the halls and auditorium of the Tribal Administration and Health Offices. We are honored to have known this gentle giant who gave so freely as a Native Veteran to his country and to his people. His sports and rodeo announcer days are a natural part of our tribal history, and his lineage to Chief Yellowhammer made him a natural selection to become the leader he was for the Klamath Tribal Council. Bert cannot be replaced, nor will he ever be forgotten… we will honor his memory by retaining the valuable things he shared and taught us.
Albert Lawvor Sr. was born on Dec. 27, 1942, at the Klamath agency and raised in Sprague River, Ore. at the time of his passing, he was serving a three-year term as a councilman for the Klamath tribes. He was also chairman of the Klamath tribes elders Committee.
Throughout his life, Bert enjoyed fishing, hunting, rodeos, horse races and powwows. In his youth, he played football and basketball and wrestled. He also served a brief term in the military.
In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, he was the rodeo announcer for the Beatty rodeos at Jackass flats, where his signature request for a “Coooolld beeeer” will always be heard. He also found a lot of joy in coaching his own teen girls basketball team, the “Crazy 8′s.” He took a chance on a group of girls no one wanted to pick up and made them a team to look out for. Just days before his passing he said “we weren’t worth a damn, but we were good!” You could find Bert at many youth and high school events, cheering on the youth, or at the Tribal administrative offices telling people how to better serve the Tribe.
He was preceded in death by his parents, brothers Ben and Eddie Lawvor and daughters Rhonda Lawvor and Twila Joe.
He is survived by his wife Gloria Lawvor; brother Alvin Lawvor; his son Albert Lawvor Jr.; daughters Brandie Lawver, Percy Phelps, Eileen Joe and Teresa Lynn Lawvor-Miller; grandchildren Mikaela and Aunie Lawver, Amber, Derrick, and Bryceann Lawvor, Wesley Lawver, Jason and Sumer Cawood, Shyann and Lacy Phelps, Yvette Fricke, Dupree, Alec, Brennen Joe Christopher Brandon Miller, Jordan Joe Miller and Jarvis Joe Miller. He also had five great-grandchildren and numerous nieces, and nephews, including Todd, Denise and Tracey Lawver, and numerous cousins and friends.
In Loving Memory of the Big Man with a Big Heart… Bert.
The following story was provided to me by Bert from the “Stories Along the Sprague” interviews conducted in 2005 by Chiloquin and Bonanza High School Students
Compiled and edited by Doug Frank
*Once, not long ago, Bert and I talked about this story he shared. He said, “Welp, it might be a little hard, but it’s the truth. You can never go wrong with the Truth.”
In Honor of this man… here’s the truth he shared about his life.
Albert “Bert” Lawvor
Albert Lawvor’s hat has an eagle on it, made out of small, different colored beads, and he walks with a wooden cane that his hand rests on while sitting. He shows us his hands and how they have no knuckles from an accident he got in when he was seventeen, driving a new convertible. His eyebrows flare when he talks of something exciting, and he opens his arms to emphasize. Sometimes his head tilts back and he is remembering, and the ceiling lights reflect off his glasses, and then a big smile comes across his face. He tells us of “good times,” whether as he used to define them, by heavy drinking and fast living, or as he defines them now, by sitting together with good people, talking and laughing.
***My name is Albert Lawvor. I’m 63, of the Modoc tribe. My grandfather, Ben Lawver, was known as Chief Yellowhammer. He was chief of the Modocs after they came back from Oklahoma. He brought them back. I was born in Klamath Falls, December 27, 1942. I was raised in Sprague River by my grandmother and aunts because my mother was deceased when I was young.
My brother, Ben, went to Bonanza High School. There was Irwin Crume, Julian Hood, Bobby Barney, Beaver Barney, Stogie Wilson, my brother, there was seven of them in all that went to Bonanza High School. They won Klamath County basketball championship that year, and it was all Indian starters, probably the only time it ever happened in Bonanza. I don’t know why, but that crew, they all did good. Stogie, Irwin, my brother, all those guys. But then here comes my group, we didn’t do so good. I don’t know what the difference was, except for the [Termination] split. When the money came down through the line, it split everything. Nobody listened. And that’s what it’s all about. The other ones went and bought their places, they did good. We went drinkin’ and runnin’ around, gettin’ married. Hell, I was married seven times.
At the end of my brother’s freshman year, they wanted him to go to Klamath Union to play football. My Dad was working at the mill in Bly, we was livin’ in Sprague River, and my mother was sick, she was in the hospital in Tacoma, she had a brain tumor. So they came and offered my Dad a job at Modoc Lumber Company and a rent-free home to move the family to Klamath Falls so my brother could play football. So we moved to Klamath Falls. Then my mother died. I was still in sixth grade. And my Dad brought us together, we had a family meeting. He said “You boys are taken care of.” Told me I could go back to Grandma, and my other two brothers were gonna board up in Klamath. My brothers graduated Klamath Union, that’s when I was back with my grandmother. I went to Bonanza. Then I went up to Portland. In my sophomore year, my brother was going to Lewis and Clark College in Portland, so I lived with him, went to Tigard Senior High School. After my sophomore year I came back to Sprague River, went to Bonanza High School again, got in a car accident.
I’d just got off football practice and I was going to Malin, because my first wife lived there—Yvette Chilcoat, a California Indian. This was 1959. I had a brand new ’59 Ford convertible, and I was going down the highway and I seen this State pickup coming off on my right, and I had the right of way, and I didn’t think nothing of it. And I’m going down the road, music blaring, and all of a sudden, he’s right in front of me, and I broadsided him, and I was probably doin’ sixty, sixty-five…. I got out of there, I don’t know how, and I collapsed, and I could hear everything that was said, and I heard the ambulance comin’, I’m screamin’, they pronounced me dead at the scene, they gave me last rites. The guy that I hit hadn’t died yet, but he did die en route to the hospital. He was on the stretcher in the ambulance and they had me on the floor wrapped in this sheet. When we got to the Klamath County hospital, Dr. Payne was my doctor, and they came and found a pulse in my right ankle. I was in a coma for two and a half weeks. And I could hear everything that was said but I couldn’t move a muscle. I tried to scream and I couldn’t do it.
After I got out I just couldn’t do anything. And I got to drinkin’ heavy. Sorrow is a bad thing. The worst thing you can do is feel sorry for yourself. Because you can always fix it. But you gotta do it, no one can do it for you. You sit on the floor and pity yourself, you’re gonna be in a world of hurt. There’s a lot of people ruin themselves like that. I was one of them. I learned the hard way. If I can speak to someone and have them understand that, then I’ve done something.
At the time, sports was everything to me. But I couldn’t play any ball anymore, so I dropped out of school and got married. At that age, seventeen, I couldn’t get a job, so I joined the Army. I was in the Army for fifteen months. They gave me a General Discharge under Honorable Conditions on account of my knees from the car accident.
I came back here about 1961. Everything at that time was in a turmoil. Everybody had the money, or was getting the money. I was a Remaining Member, and my dad gave me a lot of his money, bought me a new car, and I had money from my brothers and my aunts. And I went to partying. I was married, my wife had three children, Rhonda and Albert, Jr. and Percy Ann. And I played basketball. Indian ball.
School is the most important thing. If you don’t have school you don’t have anything. You have to have school to advance yourself, and your family and your tribe, or whoever you’re looking out for. You have to have an education. I played Indian basketball for twenty years, and I saw a lot of good athletes with potential that could have gone on to any college they wanted, but no, they had to come home to play that Indian ball. Wow! Where do you go? Seven or eight tournaments every year. What do you do? You drink at every one of them. None of us had jobs, hell, we were drunk all time. Would you rather go three or four hours a day to school and make something of yourself and do what you want to do, or sit out there sweating every day for minimum wage? I wish I’d have seen that when I was young, but I didn’t see that either.
When the money runs out, what are you gonna do? And a lot of people found out the hard way. They were giving money away to people on the street, they were buying cars they didn’t need, I seen it. They didn’t think that money would ever run out. Especially when there was two or three people in the family gettin’ it. Man and wife and $82,000, at that time it was a lot of money. But pretty soon they started drinkin’ and fightin’, they’re gonna outdo each other, buy a faster car, and pretty soon you don’t have anything. I seen it. My brother, Ben, went and bought a house in Portland with his money. He was a coach, played pro football, he lived a good life, but the diabetes got him. The other brother, Edwin, was a master baker but he came back. He drank quite a bit, but he quit twenty-some years before he died of cancer. So you can see what happened to people, it’s sad. But it all comes back to greed.
In my younger years here, where I grew up in Sprague River, there was Freddie Woods, he’s deceased; Rowland Crume, he’s deceased; Larry Barney, he’s deceased; Joe Barkley, he’s deceased; Nicky Barkley, he’s alive; and myself. These were the boys here in Sprague River, in our age group. And I’d say six to seven years we were in that group by ourselves. Then there was four girls in Sprague River when we were growing up. One is Doris Tunning, the preacher’s daughter, Luella Cook, Luella Newland, and Jackie Barkley.
When we was young we had everybody come and live with us in Sprague River. We had the Wiesers—Ralph Wieser was a boxer—Feet Dickens, Junior Wieser, Monty Montgomery, they all stayed at the house down in Sprague River. It’s still standing now. My Dad took them in. Ralph was one of the best boxers ever to come out of this country. He was a welterweight champion Northwest, got killed in the ring down at Klamath.
One of the biggest highlights—it must have been the early ‘50s, we must have been about ten—and the Sprague River Highway went through. Because all we had was a dirt road and gravel. And when that pavement went through there, we were big-time men on bicycles. We thought we could ride anywhere, we thought we could ride to Klamath Falls if we wanted to, ten, eleven years old on that paved road, didn’t have to fight the gravel and mud all the time.
In order to see girls, we had to ride horseback from Sprague River to Beatty. When you’re thirteen to sixteen years old, what’s on your mind? Not to look at each other all the time! So we’d ride up to Beatty on horseback along the Drews Road and stay at Jackie and Dowie Crume’s Ranch, five miles out of Beatty. There were seventeen gates you had to open and close on that dirt road. So we’d race horseback to see who’d open and close the gates. And if you came around the other way to Beatty, around by Yainix, there was only about five gates. And we might spend the night in that old Yainix barn down there.
When we were eleven or twelve we thought we were cowboys, we didn’t have to go to school, we’d grow up and go to work. We’d all hire out on our horses. We’d take off, and sack up some groceries and go camp somewhere for two or three days. We had some old folks who lived down at Castle Rock on the other side of Sprague River. They let us stay there. They had a bunkhouse. We’d tell him we were looking for work. So he said he’d hire us to feed cattle. So that night we’d go to the bunkhouse, and the first thing he’d do, he and his wife would go to Sprague River and let our folks know where we were. That we were all right. Then he’d keep us for a couple of days, the job would be over, and we’d have to go home.
When we were thirteen, fourteen, we hayed for Don Schonchin at his big ranch on Whiskey Creek. He used to give us $100 a week apiece, and we’d ride bulls. He’d enter us in the rodeos. He had a new Ford station wagon, and he’d pay us $100 apiece, and pay our entrance fee, and give us the car to go to rodeos. The only stipulation was, when you get there you boys park that car and don’t you move it ‘til you’re ready to come home. And don’t come home drinkin’. You can stay Sunday night and come home Monday. But don’t drive that car when you’re drinkin’!. So that was fine. So we’d go to Montague, Yreka, Warm Springs, all over the country, to rodeos. Thirteen, fourteen years old, driving the car, hell, big shots.
The land was good. We used to go hunting and you never shot anything less than a four-point. That’s the way the deer was then. Fishing was the same way. You never kept anything under fourteen, fifteen inches. If you did and anybody saw it, you were some kind of a sissy guy.
Everybody got along. You could go to anybody’s ranch, they’d put you up, you’d always spend the night. In fact, they’d always ask you to spend the night, and the first thing they’d ask you at someone’s house, “Have you ate? Are you hungry?” That was old Indian tradition. That was how I was raised. Anytime someone comes to your house, the first thing you do is offer them something to eat. Then if it gets late in the night, you ask them if they want to spend the night. That was the old way my grandmother taught me.
Everybody helped everybody, everybody looked out for everybody. The ranchers would go together and hay together. The elders always had their wood cut for them. There was always someone to take them fish, or deer or whatever they needed, or take them to Klamath Falls. They didn’t have to ask, they’d just go and offer. And you don’t see that today. Everybody’s looking out for themselves. What’s in it for me?
But the younger generation, we got the bottle. Hittin’ the bottle. I’m all beat up, busted up, disabled, on account of alcohol. I don’t know why we thought it was such a macho thing to do. We’d ride up on horseback to the gym at the school in Beatty—at night they’d have dances. We’d sit up on the hill and watch them go in and out. Indians couldn’t drink, legally, until ’54. So we’d go sit up on horseback and watch them hide their bottles, they’d go out and have a drink at the dance, and we’d ride down and steal ‘em. That’s how we got started drinking. Good thing them old horses knew the way home, ‘cause, boy, there’d be some drunk kids up here riding around! If you’d fall off, the horse would go home and leave you there. That’s probably what got us started drinking, we got the taste of it. I went to penitentiary for two years, on account of alcohol. One of thirty-six people that got to go up there, can’t get it off of my record. I had a good job, I owned my own home, I had money in the bank—this was back in ’74—and I got caught in that time period and I got to go do two years for a DUI as an example.
It’s addiction is what it is. Once you get addicted to it, it’s like anything else, you start craving it. And it’s hard to fight. I been off it for three years. I quit smoking and drinking the same day. I said that’s enough. I just quit. Hardest thing I ever did. I was an alcoholic. So I guess right now I’m still an alcoholic. But I’m just not drinking any more.
I used to log when I was young with Joe Bettles and Charlie Knight and Larry Barney and Rowan Crume and Jackie Crume. There were many times when we had two-log loads, cutting timber. And you’d never see a clear-cut when it was tribal land. They harvested what they needed and that was it. The Indian Service would go out and mark them, and that’s what they’d cut. So it goes back again to the greed.
When you were young you were taught to share. I was. If you have something you share it with somebody, you don’t go around and brag about what you have. You didn’t have anything more than anybody else. You had a bottle of pop, you didn’t go around to two or three other kids who didn’t have pop and say, “Hey, look at me, I got a pop,” and drink it. You just didn’t do that. If you had to do that, then you stayed home. The same way with hunting and fishing back in those days. Chiloquin, Sprague River and Beatty all had their own hunting and fishing territories. Saddle Mountain, Swan Lake, and Calamas was Sprague River. The Black Hills, anything east, was Beatty. And the other side, Applegate and all that, was Chiloquin. You never saw anybody from Chiloquin in the Sprague area. Everybody had their own boundaries and they knew it. And they respected it.
You used to be able to go anywhere in this country you wanted to go, and now you can’t go anywhere on account of the locks and no trespassing signs. They closed all the roads off, the Forest Service. I used to hunt with Jackie Crume, he built most of these roads. He’d take me hunting out there. ”Let’s go across this way. I built that road.” It was overgrown a little bit, but he knew where the roads were. We’ve been all over this country. Now you can’t do that anymore, they got them all blocked off. He took me up to an old cabin. I couldn’t find that today if I wanted to. It was dug into the side of a mountain. It was real neat built, no nails or nothing, it was old, and preserved in there. Just big enough for a person to lay in. It was about four foot high and seven foot long. He said it was a trapper’s cabin.
They had lumber mills at Sprague River. We used to go down there and wait for that old noon whistle to blow, and then at five o’clock quittin’. Us kids would go down to the back door of the cook shack and they’d always give us pies or cakes or things left over after they’d feed everybody. So that was a big deal, every day, twice a day, you’d go to mill camp. We’d take off on our bikes down there and swim in the river, and go home dark time. That was a good time.
My grandmother, Alice Clinton, was there when they moved the town from Yainix—what’s now the Bartell place—to Sprague River. They hauled those buildings down with old steam tractors. There’s still three houses in Sprague River that they moved from Yainix. My grandmother and them, they built the church here. Friends’ Church, it was. It was a Quaker church, because that’s what they were in Oklahoma, when they had the Modocs on the reservation. The Quakers made Christians out of them. That’s how my grandmother met my grandfather, and she came back with him. She was in Missouri. My other grandmother is Annamae Copperfield from Bonanza on my mother’s side. She was full-blooded Indian and my dad was half Modoc. And I know my grandfather was a full-blooded Modoc. That should put me at three-quarter. There’s no mix, we’re not Klamath or Paiute, we’re just Modoc.
I wish I would have had a tape recorder with my grandmother and my aunts, back fifty years ago. We used to sit around the fire at night in Sprague River, by the woodstove. And we’d ask them something and they’d start telling stories. But they were true stories. They were Christians all their life. They never smoked or had a drink in their life. My grandma died when she was ninety-seven, and the rest died when they were in their eighties. But all they knew was the truth.
They couldn’t help me in school, because they couldn’t read or write. But they knew about life. I knew when to go hunting, ever since I was little, I knew when to go fishing, I knew when to pick huckleberries, plums, chokecherries. I knew when to dig apaws—end of May, around Memorial Day. I knew when to get celery, I knew when to go get princess pine, where to get them, how to catch fish at certain times of year, where you hunt for deer at certain times. This is what they taught me that I could never learn anywhere else. I couldn’t learn that in a book. What pitch is good for. You get a bad infection, you go get pitch off the tree and you mix it with a little bit of, well, Vaseline now, and put it on and it will dry out any infection you have on any wound or sliver. Or juniper tea, and stuff like that for colds, how to put it on the wood stove. It’s good for the air, your sinuses stay clear. Sagebrush, celery root, you chew on that. You name it, princess pine will cure it. I don’t know if it’s all in the head, I don’t know any medical reason why it works, but it works. So maybe it goes back to what do you believe? Do you believe this is doin’ it, or does it do it?
My grandmother had a lot of friends: Luella Anderson, Lottie Schonchin, Minnie Robbins, Esther Cook. They were always together. They’d come to my grandmother’s house—it used to take Luella Anderson all day to get there. My grandmother had a screened-in porch. They’d sit around and knit and talk about old times, and sit there and laugh. But you never heard them run anybody down. I never did hear them sit there and say old so-and-so, this and that. Sure, they’d mention somebody, but they would talk openly about somebody. It’s a good feeling, to be able to do that, or to have someone do that to you. Because you know when you leave, you leave with an open mind. You don’t have in the back of your mind, I wonder what they’re really thinking? I wonder what they’re gonna say about me when I leave? It’s a hell of a difference to be able to think that way.
My grandma would say, you ain’t no better than nobody. All you got to do is use that Bible. I went to church every Sunday and Wednesday. I got certificates for how many Sundays and Wednesdays I went. When I was a little guy, I didn’t want to stay at home, ‘cause they used to have funerals in my grandma’s house, and I was scared to stay there by myself! We got sentenced to church later on. Me and Stanley stole a jug of wine and sat under the bridge and drank it with Luella Cook and Doris Tunning. We must have been all of seven or eight years old. They caught us, and that was our sentence, we had to go to church. I think two months we had to sit in the front row of church, every church, Sunday and Wednesday.
They used to have the biggest gatherings here in Beatty, the gamblin’, gii-gii-y, stick games. They used to be camped all along over here and down by the bridge. They’d come from all over the place and camp for weeks at a time. At Memorial Day, at the washed out bridge by the cemetery, they’d camp there for a week or two. They’d go to Bonanza and get groundhogs and come back and pit barbeque them and sit there and gamble and have groundhogs. I tried to bring that back but they won’t let me do stick games here because it’s a form of gambling according to the tribe. It’s a lost art. Bring back the groundhog feeds! Nobody knows how to barbecue a groundhog! That’s the other things that were taught by elders, how to do those things. You don’t have to skin him, you gut him with wet grass, you dig your pit, you pit barbeque him for about three hours, you dig him up, he’d fall off the thing just like pork. If it was sitting on the platter and you didn’t see it, you’d swear up and down it was pork you were eating.
I own my own pickup, I own my own place, I’m disabled, I don’t have any money. But what I have I own. I don’t have a credit card. Not that I couldn’t get one. I don’t want one. Cause after a while you learn to make do with what you have. Or if you want more, you go out and you earn more. I know it sounds kind of far-fetched but that’s how I see it now. That’s the way I want people to be. If you want something, go out there and work for it. Don’t have it handed to you. Don’t get that credit card and get yourself in debt.
I’ll bet you there’s not a big ranch around here that is totally in the black. None of them are. They’ve got that big circle going, of owing and owing and owing. They have new pickups every year, new machinery every year, you can’t tell me they make that kind of money. All that is, is that credit card. I wish I thought this way back when I had money, but it took all that time and all that hurt to realize what I did, and what it should be. You have to get hold of yourself and your life, ‘cause no one can do it for you. I was told that when I was young, and I didn’t know what they meant. Unless you stop and take a good hard look at yourself, you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing, and what are your reasons for it.
My brother Edwin, he was total Modoc Indian. That’s all he lived and breathed was the Modoc. And he could speak it. And I used to ask him something, and you know what his answer was? “Why didn’t you listen?” That’s the only comeback he had for me. “Why didn’t you listen? You were there. You didn’t listen.” And that goes back to the elders. I used to go with my mother to visit them. If you were out of line, you got whacked with a cane. Or you sat there and listened.
I own my own place. It isn’t much, but I own a place, my home ground. My grandmother has her place down here at Whiskey Creek. She owned a lot of land here at one time. They sold it, and the closest I could get to home was this. I have thirty acres here. I own it, so I did get something out of it, not a heck of a lot but I’m not going to say it’s good times. If you look back on your good times, there’s different versions. What is a good time? Is a good time going out and getting drunk and making an ass of yourself? Waking up, feeling bad the next day? Is a good time going out and getting in a car wreck and drag racing, blow up a car? Getting in a fight, hurting somebody, or yourself getting hurt? So what is a good time? That’s my question.
To me a good time now is to go and see people and be able to laugh and get along. That’s a good time to me. Being able to get along and laugh with people, swap stories with people, and laugh about things, when someone does good. Because I don’t like to dwell on my bad times. Because they did hurt me a lot.
My grandma would say, you ain’t no better than nobody. All you got to do is use that Bible.
To me a good time now is to go and see people and be able to laugh and get along.
In Loving Memory of the Big Man with a Big Heart… Bert.