|These stories about Fortunate Eagle get told almost everywhere he isn't listening in Indian America, with great variations on each version, except when he is telling them himself.|
eagle feathers in America, Indian or not, is a big deal.
You can't really even pluck one off something smashed on
the highway without technically violating the law of
"taking" a protected bird. The only way you can
actually own such a feather is by specific permission of
the United States government and by registering the
specific unit in question.
The charges against Fortunate Eagle were not that he was killing eagles, but that he was taking them without permission and registration with the United States government.
For that, they told him, the federal prosecutor would demand that he spend six years in prison.
He went to trial in Federal Court in Reno. All of the most respected and well-known Indian rights organizations, such as the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) had declined Adam's request for help and pushed somewhere aside his arguments based on freedom of religion. Fortunate Eagle, apparently, could be amusing, but it wasn't enough to get religious about.
Yet on the final day of trail, when the heavy oak doors of the courtroom mysteriously blew open from an unexplainable wind storm, the jury found themselves deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquittal.
Once again, the government dragged out old Phil Sheridan. If they couldn't convict him of a felony crime, they could make their case before a magistrate for civil damages to the United States. Adam Fortunate Eagle damaged the United States of America in the amount of $15,000 plus costs. And the United States would keep what it found at the Round House Gallery, including the old ceremonial headdresses.
Pushing 60 as a former termite inspector and discoverer of Italy is a tough place to start from in finding a new career in life. Unless, of course, you're Fortunate Eagle.
He's not yet made it back to biennial Cadillacs, but in the time since the feather case, Fortunate Eagle has achieved international status as a Native American sculptor, last year winning his category in the prestigious Santa Fe Native American Market and art show. Big bucks, in the thousands, are paid for single pieces of his work, though the big payoffs come much less frequently than the old reliable termite checks.
All that, despite how long it takes to tell, is pretty generally known about Fortunate Eagle, and, maybe, will someday be told by collectors of art with the same enthusiasm as goose-pimpled white drum beaters today sometimes talk of Geronimo or Crazy Horse.
But even if those guys had a sense of humor, they might still not understand the 5,000 used tires.
It all goes back to those circles. Every time Fortunate Eagle would see one of those little tornadoes whipping around the yard, he'd get this thought about someday building a whole big earth lodge, something on the design, but with even grader scale, of the Mandan lodges that impressed William Bodmer in his artist's tour of the west in the 1830's.
Fortunate Eagle saw it in grandiose terms that would rope it all back in, including ceremonial gatherings and even classrooms with a sort of traditional bunkhouse to accommodate visiting students. There would be living quarters and even a verandah on top with a small swimming pool out back.
He actually used to go out in the yard and pace it off in a big, broad imaginary circle. Bobbie, by now even more convinced that he was a little out of his moccasins, said little, but worried about the waste of time.
Then came Dennis Weaver and the Tanager Foundation. The same slow-talking Dennis Weaver of "There You Go" TV western fame, who now was eagerly promoting the greatest recycling idea in the history of environmental construction. His house, as he showed on the promotional video, and another house being built in Taos, was perfectly insulated, grandly appointed, sturdier than the storms of hell, and put together entirely from old tin cans and tires.
"Ohh, no," Bobbie groaned. But it was too late. Fortunate Eagle was already flattered by the wannabe eagerness of the Tanager people and by their devoted promises to help with the whole thing. The old alkali flat would become the site of the first earth lodge ever made out of old tires, a showplace of the Native American West, even the Taj Mahal of Churchill County, Nevada.
Adam showed the Weaver video to everyone he could corral in front of a VCR. He had the whole thing built in his mind already, anyway, and all he needed was the sort of enthusiastic support he found for claiming Alcatraz and Italy. Well, that, and a few thousand old tires.
You can't say that White business folks in the town of Fallon or around Churchill County, Nevada are exactly bigoted towards Indians. It's not true. Most of the older residents of the county, Indian and White, have known each other all their lives. They went to school together, met each other at church, shopped at the same stores. You might say, though, that the older established residents of Churchill County, Indian or White, don't readily accept some crazy Chippewa from San Francisco telling them about his tubeless Taj Mahal. Fortunate Eagle's reputation around town made him, well, "unlikely."
The biggest used tire guy in town turned him down flat. "Those old ones some old folks use to build corrals and the like," he advised. "I don't have any to spare."
Fortunate Eagle did get a little hope from another guy further down the road who looked at him with a cocked eye and then invited him to "take those if
|you can haul 'em."
Gradually, to Bobbie's dismay, the yard began to fill a little at a time with used tires her husband talked out of everybody he could find. It was, frankly, a bit of a mess, but at least Adam, in his enthusiasm, stacked them all in neat rows.
And then, the Environmental Protection Agency, following its own federal mandates, announced that the Churchill County Dump was, in fact, a dump. New regulations would be imposed, including a charge of $1.50 to get rid of an old tire carcass.
Suddenly, Fortunate Eagle had found the four-ply motherlode. Tractor truck loads of tires started showing up in his driveway, with forklifts to help them unload. Adam was delighted, exuberant, until still more truckloads began arriving, some of them even sneaking in at night after he and Bobbie had gone to sleep. The pile of tires grew and grew and threatened even to overwhelm the house.
Fortunate Eagle had guessed he might need three thousand, maybe four thousand tires to accomplish his grandiose earth lodge dream. But now, he had more than 5,000 tires in the yard, and, after midnight, the pile was growing. Bobbie was threatening to move.
Stemming the glut of tires, though, was only part of Fortunate Eagle's problem. In the Weaver video, it had all looked relatively simple and quick, with eager hordes of young men and women all happily working together pounding sand into the tire carcasses and laying them up like bricks, then filling in the gaps with old cans.
Pounding in the sand? Laying them up like bricks? This was work of the kind not happily done since the days of the WPA, and Adam's first efforts to enlist the paid help of his oldest grandson and friends soon created a family rift.
The Tanager Foundation, so eager at first to offer assistance and labor, turned out to be one guy and two girls who after three days of pounding tires decided it was more urgent to save ducks or something. Dennis Weaver, despite the letters, never got back to Fortunate Eagle.
So there it is today -- the Taj Mahal of Churchill County, still under construction by the discoverer of Italy himself.
He is going to be 67 this year. No big deal to him, unless you consider that he has also talked the U.S. Navy into letting him pick up the usable wood structure remains from their nearby bombing range and a Reno dealer to hand over one-ton laminated beams from an old warehouse, and a bunch of local farmers and miners to dump some loads of dirt and sand. No big deal, unless you realize that it's just Fortunate Eagle himself who is cutting it, lifting it, digging it and hammering it. At least the tires have stopped coming.
Oh, he made another trip to Europe since the whole thing started, this time "discovering" Sweden in the process, and he is still building on his reputation as a sculptor.
But few know about those circles in his mind when he sits on his front porch now and stares at the half-completed earth lodge of tires.
Last year his son and namesake, Adam Nordwall, was at another pow wow in Coos Bay, Oregon. A friend of the family came up to Adam and asked if he had noticed Kieth Taylor there earlier. "No," said Adam.
The next day, the friend gave young Adam a photograph of Taylor, the former prison guard and Fish and Wildlife undercover agent. In the picture, Taylor is wearing the eagle feather headdress that was once a center piece in Fortunate Eagle's Round House Gallery.
The Indian who fingered Taylor wearing the purloined headdress turned out to be a former California prison inmate. As they say, what goes around....
Today, if you happen to find yourself on Stillwater Road east of Fallon, you're likely to notice the sculpted totem poles and maybe a bit of the Round House Gallery obscured behind what the locals have taken to calling "the tire house" in front of it. They know it's still unfinished, but the still haven't quite gotten the idea of what it's all about.
Adam himself has scaled down the notion some. The Swimming pool, for example, is now more the size of a horse trough, but there a lawyer close to the family who says he has a hot tub he doesn't use. Adam is nurturing the relationship.
There are still a lot more tires than actually necessary, but Adam mutters something about their use as "back-fill." Behind his house, out of view from the road, there are waiting several thousand aluminum cans, if they all don't fit when it comes time to fill the cracks.
With a little help, Adam figures, the earth lodge can be finished by, maybe, the end of next summer. There's a group of high school kids from a private school on the East Coast coming out this Spring for a Native American experience. They don't know it yet, but there's still all those nails to pull from the Navy's old lumber.
Don't get it wrong, Fortunate Eagle doesn't use people for his own purposes. He just has a way of convincing people like the Pope that being an Indian doesn't mean you can't crack a joke.
The locals slow down a little more in passing Adam's place these days, maybe thinking a little bit about what he has in mind after all. What will he do with that "tire place" if he ever gets it done?
Only Fortunate Eagle himself really knows that, but you'd have to be in his head to understand it, and that's a place where even Bobbie has been reluctant to venture.
Round and round, he's thinking. Round and round and back again, stomping Phil Sheridan in the process.
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