Feathered Sculpture - Virgil A. Walker

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Old Solitaire

The annual Fourth of July All-Indian Pow-Wow and Rodeo was a big event in the Flagstaff of my youth. The parade in 1953 is a memory highlight. That year the city borrowed my fathers’ new fire-engine red Pontiac Catalina Chieftain to lead the parade, carrying the mayor and other dignitaries. My sister rode a float, the Apache, Aztec and Hopi dancers were highlights as usual, but it was also the first year for the Bill Williams Mountain Men.

I asked my friend, Arthur, who Bill Williams was. Arthur was the straight-A guy in our group but didn’t have an answer until that evening. We were sitting behind his house on Mars Hill, where his dad was the director of Lowell Observatory. We watched the campfires of the many thousands of Indians to the left, the smoke drifting to blend with the dust of the carnival in the mid-ground and the dances in the City Park Arena to the right. He told me what he had found out about Old Bill, or Old Solitaire, as they sometimes called him, the explorer, trapper and trader after whom the nearby town of Williams was named. 

William S. Williams was a descendent of Celtic mountain men of Wales that immigrated to the mountains of western North Carolina where he was born 1787.  At 16, he left home to live with the Osage for two-and-a-half decades before moving farther west. He helped open the Santa Fe Trail, lived with the Zuni in New Mexico, the Ute’s in Utah, and wandered extensively in Northern Arizona. Old Solitaire was known as a kind, honest and brave man.

I chose Old Bill as a metaphor for the exploration of the ‘high country’ of one’s own consciousness, that high ground where ultimately no guide, teacher or trail applies. It is done alone.



   Photo:  Richard K. Webb

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