Our Native Community sustained a great loss with the passing of Gordon
Boswell --     elder, storyteller, spiritual leader, and friend. Gordon Boswell
was a Native American storyteller and elder of the Cherokee and Osage, and
was on a mission throughout his life to create and sustain a community of
“true humans” – those who have learned what it is to be part of the
commonality of a society, and who understand the mandate that being part
of such a group requires that one appreciate the need to make sacrifices on
behalf of the people.

Gordon was a teacher in the true sense of the word, and he had a depth of
understanding of human psychology that rivaled the most learned
professionals. What really separated him from other psychologists, however,
was his willingness to directly challenge – to call people up on their “shit” –
so that they were, once and for all, “outed” – exposed to themselves and
others, forcing them to look deeply at the events in their lives that caused
them to be what, and who, they are. In this way, Gordon believed that they
would finally begin to accept the fact that the choices they make in their lives
are simply their own, and that facing the reality of those choices and the
outcomes of those choices would eventually lead not only to a healthy
introspection, but also to a human being who could accept responsibility for
his or her actions and who would achieve clarity, wisdom, understanding, and
illumination – those attributes that are an absolute precondition for living in a
social world.

His methods were a challenge to all who really knew him, and many not only
rejected those methods but also rejected him. Even those who, at first, were
able to apply his system to their own lives, and who should have stayed with
him physically and spiritually, would often lose complete sight of the fact that
without Gordon they would still be on a path of self-destruction, mired
hopelessly in bad choices that were ruining not only their lives but also the
lives of others with whom they continued to interact. Many who owe Gordon
their lives eventually pushed him aside, in much the same Freudian way that
children often do with their parents – rejecting them and their teaching
because they represent the old ways. Gordon understood this, and even
though their rejection of him caused him a great deal of hurt and pain, he
continued to push them and prod them toward the path that he laid out for
them to follow.

In all my life, I never met another man quite like Gordon. He changed my life
in the most profound ways, and the process of that change took years. Early
on, I was baffled by his methods, and there were many times that I was
certain that Gordon really disliked me – after all, why would he treat me the
way that he did? Gradually, however, I began to understand that the
problems I had in accepting Gordon’s methods were really nothing more than
my own unwillingness to accept the truth about myself. Once he could see
that I began to understand, he backed off and let me follow the path that he
gave me to take.

Those who continued to balk at his methods, however, and who could not
bring themselves to accept their own truth, were either subjected to his often
abrasive challenges, or were unable to cope with it and walked away. I know
some of them who did just that, and many of them told me that they would
come back to the community, or to the Council, only if Gordon were no
longer there. There is a point in the mouseman story that parallels, exactly,
that rejection. When small mouse returns from his first foray out into the
world around him, and he returns to his people soaking wet, they recoil in
fear and eventually anger because they are instinctively afraid of anything
that they do not understand – a characteristic that is endogenous to many
mammals, and especially to primates – of which we are a part. Gordon
understood this implicitly, and continued to pursue those who rejected his
teachings, sometimes with success, but often without. He was particularly
dogmatic about the sacredness of the pipe, and those who abused his
teachings regarding the pipe were subjected to his scorn and ire. In most
other matters, however, he gave people the leeway to make their own
choices, hoping all the time that those choices mirrored the ways he had
taught them.

In all of the 12 years of college courses I took in my life, and in more than 42
years of teaching, I have never known a better teacher than Gordon. I knew
from what he told me early on that he did not like anthropologists, nor did he,
in his younger days, like white people. This, I believed, put me squarely
behind the 8 ball, and so early on in my relationship with him I was reluctant
to own up to what I did for a living – other than to say that I was a school
teacher. Eventually, however, I outed myself, and Gordon chided me about it
from time to time thereafter. When I joined the men’s Talk Drum in late 2000,
Gordon told me that I would have to develop a thick skin because I was going
to hear him, and others, say things that were negative about whites. This
wasn’t difficult for me, because I harbored some of the same feelings.
Although there were many, many times over the early years when I felt like
an outsider around him in the presence of others with whom he always
seemed to be more accepting, we gradually grew together and became
friends – “partners in crime”, he used to say.

We accomplished a number of things together, among them an office for the
Council, a place to hold our monthly meetings, and an agreement in
perpetuity for the Council’s Summer Gathering at Sly Park Lake between the
Council and the El Dorado Irrigation District. We were still plotting a course
toward an agreement with the Forest Service, with the considerable help of
Katie Parr, for the Council’s use and control of a piece of land near Forest
Genetics in Camino. Mostly, we were friends – “best friends”, he used to say,
and as his health continued to erode we spoke more and more by telephone
rather than face to face. Those of you who were on his call list know what
that meant.

I know that you believe that his passing has left a gaping hole in our
community, and that a singular life such as his will never be with us again. I
believe that too, but to me, a huge hole in our community occurred when he
was no longer physically able to pour water in lodge – because it was there
that he was at his best as a teacher. When he spoke to my anthropology
classes at American River College he always rose to the occasion, but it was
in lodge that he did his greatest work, and his departure from lodge left a
gaping hole in my life – as well as the lives of many others who came to
Wilton each week. Had he crossed over then, instead of now, it would have
been all the more devastating.
But his family, and we, were able to have him among us for a longer time in
spite of his diminished physical ability. And now he has crossed over, and
waits for us on the other side. He has taken the final step toward clarity,
wisdom, understanding, and illumination.

He is once again with his parents, his brother Danny, and with friends such
as Ron Rader, David Morello, Daryl Fairbanks, Richard Smith, Rae June Red
and many others. His passing is devastating for those of us who are left
behind. At a time like this, I believe that we need to remember that we were
blessed to have him among us, however short the time period, and try to
keep in mind that it is his immediate family – his wife Josephine, his children –
Mona, Stephen, Bobbi, Gordon, and Christie, and their spouses and
children, after all, that sustained the greatest loss. My heart goes out to all of
them, because Georgann I have been privileged to see first-hand the love
they had for him, and that he had for them.

To his grandchildren, some of whom have not had him for as much time as
we, I can only say this:

“Your grandfather’s legacy lives on in you, as it does in all of us whom he
touched, and as you get older you will come to know and understand the
many ways he benefited his community. You should know, and remember,
that he diligently and tirelessly spent nearly 18 years of his life, every week,
volunteering to be with the incarcerated youth at the El Dorado County
Juvenile Hall, trying his considerable best to help them find their way, and
that he volunteered his time at prisons, bringing his message of community,
commonality, spirituality, and choice to the inmates whom he believed
needed to hear it. Even as his health failed, he continued to rise to the
occasion, telling stories and invoking lessons about the world around us with
the school children who came to the camp at Coloma. In so doing, he gave of
himself, and also gave them much-needed instruction – hoping to shape
their future and ignite a spark of concern and understanding about the
environment and their responsibility to it. Such was his commitment to the
creation of a better world. Those of us here today would have been blessed
to have had a grandfather such as yours”.

As for my own sense of loss, I can only say that his mind, his spirit, and his
sheer force of will continue to provide me with guidance and instruction,
friendship and love. To his family, he was a grandfather, a father, a husband,
a father-in-law, and a brother. To me, he was a teacher, a friend, a
confidant, a mentor, a partner in crime, and a man whom I loved as much as
a man can love another man. I have never known a man who was as
connected to the world around him as Gordon was, and who was so intensely
aware of both the natural world and the people with whom he shared it. He is
here in my heart, and will remain in my heart for the rest of my days on this
earth. I feel his presence now, just as I always have, and the things that he
taught me will guide me through the remainder of my life.

Jim Snoke
October, 2015
Gordon Boswell  1942 - 2015
In Remembrance of Gordon Boswell:  Spiritual Leader, Storyteller, Mentor, and Friend.
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