Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Riding two `horses’


Multifaceted author Chesley Goseyun Wilson is equally at ease in contemporary society and in the traditional Apache world.

Chesley Goseyun Wilson, descendant of Cochise, Eskiminzin, Santo and other noted Apache leaders, has co-authored a book that offers a tantalizing glimpse into Apache culture.

The book, “When the Earth Was Like New: Apache Songs and Stories,’ is offered with a compact disc recording of 21 vocal and instrumental Apache songs recorded by Wilson, a Tucsonan who is expert in the Ga’an (Mountain Spirit) ceremonial tradition.

The 63-year-old Wilson, who looks substantially younger, was born on the San Carlos Apache Reservation and grew up there. He manages to ride two “horses’ at once – equally at ease in contemporary society and in the traditional Apache world.

A multifaceted individual, Wilson is a skilled silversmith, a medicine man, an instrument-maker whose works are displayed in such prestigious settings as the Smithsonian Institution, an author, actor, artist, model and avid teacher of tradition to Apache tribal youngsters.

Wilson’s work in perpetuating the Apache culture is so highly regarded that in 1989, he received a Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in 1992 was designated an Arizona Indian Living Treasure.

In 1991, Wilson was asked to perform the Blessing Song and give the invocation for Earth Day in Washington, D.C.

Quite a list of accomplishments for an Apache boy born in Bylas, a small community along the Gila River. His father, Nichol Wilson, was a medicine man and rancher. His mother, Sarah Goseyun Wilson, died when he was 2.

Because his father’s work took him to remote areas of the reservation, young Chesley spent most of his preteen years with the family of an uncle, Albert Goseyun. It was from this uncle that the boy learned to make Apache violins – delicate, one-stringed instruments fashioned from hollowed sections of agave wood – and Apache flutes made from bamboo that flourishes along the Gila.

Wilson grew up in the traditional way – protected, as Apache children are, by the “power’ that Yusen, the Giver of Life, provides.

As a teen-ager, he returned to the home of his father, who had remarried, and learned the skills of a horseman – working first as a horse wrangler and later as a full-fledged cowboy in roundups.

“We had a lot of burros on the reservation, and that’s how we all learned to ride – no saddles, just one rope on them,’ he recalled.

But the cowboy life – which paid the princely sum of $3 a day in his youth – was not destined to be his fate. Uncle Sam saw to that.

“In 1953, one of my cousins came out to the ranch with a letter. `The government wants you,’ he said. I was drafted.’

What followed was a two-year tour of duty in Korea, and a startling panorama of new sights and sounds to a young man whose perceptions had been limited to the reservation.

While in the larger world, Wilson heard stories of people earning outrageous wages – $10 to $15 an hour – substantially more than cowboy pay. He decided to look into that life.

After discharge in 1955, Wilson took advantage of the relocation program the federal government was urging Native Americans to participate in. He was trained as a silversmith, making presentation rodeo belt buckles, and spent the next two decades-plus working in the San Francisco area and in Carson City, Nev.

Wilson returned to Arizona in 1982. “I missed my hometown, so I came back over here.’

The book was co-written with Wilson’s wife, Ruth Longcor Harnisch Wilson, of part-Native American heritage herself, and with Bryan Burton, associate professor of music education at West Chester State College in Pennsylvania, who also is of mixed Native American and Euro-American heritage.

It includes chapters on the Apache creation story (from whence the title derives), background on Wilson, chapters on construction of Apache violins, flutes and drums, Apache traditions and ceremonies, and others – all interspersed with lyrics, translations and musical notations for many traditional songs.

Though most of us probably aren’t ambitious enough to learn to play an Apache violin and sing in Apache, the insight into the tribal tradition that the book provides is fascinating.

And Wilson’s singing and performing on the CD gives listeners a real-world link with the past and with a culture only vaguely known by most outsiders.

BOOK COVER: “When the Earth Was Like New,’ by Chesley Goseyun Wilson, Ruth Longcor Harnisch Wilson and Bryan Burton, softcover, 122 pages, World Music Press, P.O. Box 2565, Danbury, Conn. 06813-2565, $20 (book), $15 (compact disc). The book is available through some local bookstores, or through the Wilsons at 333 S. Alvernon Way, No. 60, Tucson, Ariz. 85711; (520) 881-4842.

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

There are more than 230,000 articles in this archive.

In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

Search site | Terms of service