Thursday, June 20, 2024

Cleveland regales Fort Okanogan guests with music, stories

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FORT OKANOGAN – About two dozen guests sat in front of Chief Long Jim’s dugout canoe in the main gallery at the Fort Okanogan Interpretive Center last Saturday, Sept. 29, and listened to stories and music from Colville Tribal member Arnold Cleveland.

Cleveland was introduced by friend Randy Lewis who has distinguished himself at an organizer, leader and spokesman for Pacific Northwest tribes. Lewis helped found the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation.

Cleveland spoke about his experiences growing up and attending schools while traveling with his parents on the fruit tramp circuit from Indio, Calif., - about as close to the Mexican border as you can get, said Cleveland - to Oroville near the Canadian border.

Cleveland provided vivid descriptions of the influences, contacts, and work opportunities that first took his family to the fruit packing industry in Southern California in 1940 and subsequent travels up and down the West Coast following the fruit.

“They called us fruit tramps because as you all know in 1940 things were pretty rough for the whole country being involved in the war.,” said Cleveland. “Times were hard.”

Cleveland said they became a family of whites, Mexicans, and Indians who frequently traveled together from place to place often only staying a matter of weeks at each.

The old hobos always impressed me,” Cleveland said of his travels on roads that followed the train tracks.

The hobos always had camps wherever they stayed and had one person who served as the main cook and watched over the camp while the others worked. Cleveland said he and the other kids often hung out there.

Cleveland began kindergarten in Riverside, Calif, and as he grew older ended up in Washington schools.

“Every time we moved to a different town, the first we’d do is get in a fight with the local kids in school,” said Cleveland. “My uncle told me that the first guy that throws a punch usually wins the fight.”

Cleveland said that just about the time he was making friends with the local kids, the family had to move again.

Closer to home, Cleveland recounted his time as a student at the St. Mary’s Mission boarding school where he spent the school years with the priests and nuns and got his first exposure to religious indoctrination.

Holiday breaks when the other students were off with their families, and staff numbers were reduced, Cleveland and his four siblings had the run of the place. They slept in, said no prayers and often rode their horses up Omak Creek for overnight camping.

Cleveland recounted one memorable Easter Sunday when the group was returning to the Mission from a camping trip, when he heard voices in the distance.

“There were seven or eight of us and as we went along I started hearing voices,” recalled Cleveland. “As we got nearer I could hear that they were all girls’ voices.”

Cleveland and three or four of the boys dismounted and crept to the edge of the overlook at a waterfall on Omak Creek that was the site of a popular swimming hole.

“On that Sunday, it was seven nuns down there and they were all naked,” said Cleveland. “That was a scary sight because all we every saw of the nuns was part of their hands and their little faces.”

It wasn’t long before they recognized the Sisters by name and knowing that their world as they knew it would end if they got caught, the boys hurried back to their horses and took the long way around back to the Mission.

“After that we never looked at the nuns the same way,” Cleveland said.

On another occasion Cleveland and another altar boy picked the lock to the wine cellar and helped themselves to the sacrament wine. That event, combined with his failure to convert to the faith, brought his days at the Mission to an end.

Cleveland married a Pomo girl from Lake County, Calif, in 1965 and moved to Chelan to pack apples for one of the first Trout apple warehouses.  Following a stint in the Marine Corps, Cleveland spent 35 years supervising fruit packing houses and making equipment for packing houses.

Cleveland also spent 25 of those years playing music with his band every weekend in addition to working full time. He started singing the national anthem in kindergarten at Riverside took up the guitar in the Marine Corps. Cleveland’s first gig was in 1969 as substitute for another band member at a friend’s bar.

At age 40, Cleveland began running with a friend and graduated to marathons and triathlon competitions. When he won a mountain bike in a raffle draw, Cleveland was drawn to the world of biking.

Cleveland and his first wife, Judy, were together for 41 years and had three daughters before she passed away in 2005 from complications following surgery. His current companion, Dale, asked Cleveland what he would like to do in his retirement.

“How about if we go on a bicycle ride,” Cleveland asked.

In 2009, the year of Cleveland’s 70th birthday, he set off on a bike tour that would take him from Newport, Wash., to Port Orchard, Maine, a route of more than 4,000 miles in 62 days.

Today, at 80 years of age, Cleveland can still be found speaking and playing at special occasions like Apple Pie Jamboree in Pateros and Fort Okanogan.

Cleveland had some parting advice for his audience.

“Just go ahead and do whatever it is you want to do for as long as you want, any way you want to,” said Cleveland. “It just goes by too fast.”

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