Left: Hiroshi "Hershey" Miyamura is revered in his hometown for Korean War heroics.
Right: He displays the Medal of Honor that President Eisenhower gave to him in 1953.

THERE'S A REASON the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial—a five-day celebration of parades, rodeos, performances, and powwows honoring the heritage and soul of northwestern New Mexico—is held in Gallup. The city is a commercial and cultural center of Native America. Its distinctive blend of art, culture, history, and tradition, plus the ceremonial, have drawn people from around the globe for a century.

The city borders the eastern third of the 27,000-
square-mile territory that is the Navajo Nation, and sits a short distance from Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna Pueblos, as well as the Hopi tribe in northeastern Arizona. Silver belt buckles and bolo ties dominate. The blue city flag is emblazoned with a thunderbird, and the local radio station KGAK advertises, “All Navajo, all the time.” Trading post signs boast “museum quality” and “authentic.” Shelves overflow with Native pottery, rugs, paintings, and leatherwork.

Almost half of Gallup’s more than 21,000 residents are Native American. Many others are descendants of immigrants who came from across Europe, especially the Slavic countries, to work in coal-mining camps in the 19th century. It’s a place of war heroes and patriots. It’s a transportation crossroads: a railroad town since the 1880s, surrounded by an interstate, with a segment of old Route 66 anchoring its main street.

With a mix like that, the Inter-Tribal Ceremonial couldn’t possibly happen anywhere else.

The best way to get to know Gallup is by getting to know some of the people who make this city what it is. Look for these folks and others when you’re at Inter-Tribal—or whenever you visit.

BOOSTER: KEN RIEGE

Over lunch at the downtown Eagle Diner, against a soundtrack of country music on the radio and the rumble of BNSF trains passing on the nearby tracks, Ken Riege tells me of the first time he saw Gallup. It was 1994, and he and his wife, Retha, whom he had met while stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, had decided to move here and raise their family—one boy and another on the way.

Ken’s wife had grown up in Gallup. But he had never even seen the town. No bother—they clicked. Upon first driving into town, Ken said, “I’m home.” Later, he would give his new home a special distinction. In 2013, he heard that Rand McNally, the prominent mapmaking company, was hosting a competition to award small towns in America certain designations, like “Most Fun” or “Most Beautiful.” He set his sights on “Most Patriotic.”

It was not an arbitrary choice. His Air Force duty lasted from 1985 to 1993, and he feels a responsibility to the country and a call to honor the men and women who have served. As manager of the Comfort Suites in Gallup, he has turned the hotel lobby into a mini-museum of military history. In the breakfast nook, one table and chair have been left empty as a “remembrance table,” symbolically set to honor service members missing in action. A memorial by the front door features dog tags upon which hotel guests have written the names of veterans they want to honor.

For three months, Ken and supporters in the city and at the capitol in Santa Fe worked on the nomination, drumming up votes, drafting the application essay, even filming a supporting video. They stressed the city’s deep, meaningful, and demonstrable claim to the title. The Veterans Memorial Park at the courthouse showcases, on elegant pillars, the names of Gallup citizens killed in action. The Navajo Code Talkers, whose messages ensured successful wartime communications during World War II, left a legacy of military heroism. But, as Ken tells me, the true patriotism of this city is most evident in the very way of life that brings together people and cultures to strengthen both.

“We look out for one another here,” Ken says. “We are patriots by enjoying the freedoms we have.”

If you look at the WELCOME TO GALLUP sign as you drive into town from the east, you’ll learn how the contest turned out. Or check the banner across the front of Sammy C’s Rock n’ Sports Pub & Grille downtown. Or even the letterhead for the City of Gallup itself.

Rand McNally’s decision, Ken tells me, was unanimous. Best of all, the contest has since been discontinued, meaning that Gallup will retain the title of “Most Patriotic Small Town in America” in perpetuity.

KEEPER OF THE FLAME: ZONNIE GORMAN

As a girl growing up on the Navajo reservation, Zonnie Gorman often traveled to meetings, parades, and celebrations with her father. An outgoing man with a dry sense of humor, whose warmth, intelligence, and charisma made him effective in both the Navajo and Anglo worlds, he was sought after as a speaker, artist, educator, and historian. She knew her father was important, but her understanding of why came gradually.

“It was this slow-dawning realization of who my dad was,” she recalls.

In May 1942, the U.S. Marines were recruiting residents of the Navajo Nation for a test using the Diné language to transfer coded wartime messages. 
Carl (C. N.) Gorman, Zonnie’s father, then working as a translator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was playing cards with friends when he heard about it. He promptly volunteered, becoming one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers. Many of the men in that first group were recruited from the Native American boarding school at Fort Wingate, just a few miles away from Gallup. All were sworn in there.

Their code-talking efforts proved so successful that several hundred others were soon recruited and trained. In her home, Zonnie shows me the research she’s conducted on the Code Talkers, which she shares around the country in lectures and which will also form the basis of her doctoral dissertation from the University of New Mexico.  One room is dedicated to storing photos, papers, military records, and oral histories. Along the way, Zonnie has become one of the more prominent experts on the Code Talkers.  She works hard to reveal their histories, uncover their lives, and keep their stories alive—and to ensure that they are not forgotten.

“I feel an obligation to these men,” she says. After returning from the war, C. N. Gorman took advantage of the GI Bill to study art.  Later, he became a prominent educator and one of the founding faculty members of the Native American studies program at the University of California, Davis, where the C. N. Gorman Museum, created in 1973, specializes in Native American art. R. C. Gorman, his son and Zonnie’s brother, rose to the heights of the art world before his death in 2005.

In her home, Zonnie treats me to a curated exhibit of her father’s creations, like the small, blue-speckled plate with curved figures inspired by cliff dwellings at Three Turkey Ruin in Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly. Another is adorned with the figures of three men riding horses (horses, she says, were her father’s favorite subject). And then, my favorite: A larger painting of six horses sprinting across a dark blue background, their blue and brown figures blending in a way that seems almost dreamlike.

That afternoon, I attend a lecture, “Growing Up with Heroes,” that Zonnie gives to members of the military visiting Gallup.  Throughout, she shows photos of the Code Talkers. In many of them, she points to one figure in the group. “That,” she says, “is my father.”  

WAR HERO: HIROSHI “HERSHEY” MIYAMURA

Everyone’s told me that Hershey Miyamura is a humble man. I don’t realize just how humble until Ken Riege and I visit him in the house he bought with his wife shortly after returning from the Korean War. Hershey—his fourth-grade teacher in Gallup gave him the nickname when she couldn’t pronounce “Hiroshi”—looks on as Ken pulls up a video on his phone of a younger Hershey receiving the Medal of Honor from President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the White House on October 27, 1953.

Hershey has never seen the video before—was unaware, in fact, that it even existed. Sitting next to me with the phone in his hands, he sees for the first time a historic moment from his past, a moment of national significance, one for which a degree of self-pride would certainly be warranted. Incredibly, Hershey hands the phone to me because he’s worried I’m not able to see the video clearly.

On April 24, 1951, on a hill near Taejon-ni, Korea, Hershey used his bayonet to forestall an assault by Communist Chinese soldiers, giving the men in the machine-gun squad he commanded cover to withdraw. Corporal Miyamura made his own escape, but was captured the next day. With several other American soldiers, he began a harrowing forced march that lasted five weeks and covered 300 miles to an enemy POW camp. There, for almost two years, they suffered disease, fatigue, propaganda campaigns, and bitter cold in the winter months. Many prisoners perished. The bug-infested rations were barely enough to keep the remaining men from starving. To stay sane, they traded stories about the recipes they would cook when they returned home.

As the war came to a close and the POWs were returned to the American camp, Hershey was told that his valiant efforts on the mountain that April night had earned him the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor. “I couldn’t believe it,” he recalls of being told the news. “I was just doing my job.”

He brings the medal out for me to see: a light blue ribbon, a gold star, the word VALOR, and an eagle. It is as refined and subdued, I think, as the man showing it to me.

The city of Gallup has since made Hershey a hometown hero, naming a street, a school, and a park in his honor. Hershey has used the opportunity to talk with groups about his personal philosophy, developed in part through his ordeal.“You don’t give up,” he says. “It’s so easy to give up, but you can’t. Events are going to happen in your life, and you don’t know why they happen, but usually somewhere in your life you find that it was for the best.”

DIRECTOR OF THE DANCES: TERI FRAIZER

Teri Fraizer stands on the plaza in front of the McKinley County Courthouse, which might be the only courthouse in the country with a plaza specifically designed for dancing. Every evening between Memorial Day and Labor Day, this downtown block pulses with the pounding of drums and the rhythmic display of Native American dancers moving in time. Teri, who’s from Laguna Pueblo, is in charge of organizing Gallup’s Nightly Indian Dances, all of them free and open to the public.

As the sun hides behind a giant blue cloud overhead, she points out the pattern on the plaza before me: earth-colored stone blocks arranged in a circular shape around an interior “bowl” filled with small pebbles and river dirt. The pebbles in the bowl—which is also the dancing area—allow rainwater to drain, Teri tells me, keeping the surface dry so a rainy night won’t spoil the fun. Then, correctly sensing that I’m missing what’s right in front of me, Teri smiles and lets me in on the bigger picture: Seen from above, the blocks on the plaza form the shape of a Navajo basket.

Teri’s role as director of the dances comes on top of her full-time work as chief communications officer for Gallup–McKinley County Schools. For her, education matters both in the classroom and on the plaza. Most nights, the dancers or emcees explain the significance of a dance or of the items used in a dancer’s clothing. Teri also recruits locals to serve as “ambassadors,” manning tables near the steps of the courthouse and answering questions about the dances, Native Americans, Gallup, and New Mexico. In this way, the dances strike a balance between tradition and performance.

“The dances are an educational, cultural, interactive place to be,” Teri says. “Not just a show.”

Some 240 people come every night, both tourists and locals, though locals tend to park their cars along the side of the parking lot and watch from within, honking their approval instead of clapping. They get to see groups like the Cellicion Traditional Dancers of Zuni Pueblo, or dancers from San Juan, Laguna, and Acoma Pueblos, and even Navajo and Apache dance groups, many of them known worldwide. This summer, four “Gourd Dances,” traditionally reserved for warriors, will be incorporated to honor Gallup’s being named the “Most Patriotic Small Town in America.”

The payoff for all these efforts is a wonderful night of cultural connection and, for some audience members, an experience to be remembered forever. Sometimes, visitors are invited into the dance area, hands are joined, and everyone moves in a circle together. It’s called a Friendship Dance.

ADVENTURER: BOB ROSEBROUGH

You’re most likely to meet Bob Rosebrough on a hiking trail or bike path. The real Bob Rosebrough, that is. Not the fictional one in the novel The Fallen Man, by Tony Hillerman, who daringly descends a rope ladder suspended from a helicopter to the peak of Ship Rock, in northwestern New Mexico, and finds a clue that helps solve the mystery. The latter is based on the former. Hillerman was so impressed with Rosebrough’s mountaineering knowledge—and his willingness to share it so that technical details in the novel would be correct—that he made him a character, by name, in his book.

Rosebrough (the real one, whom I meet in his downtown law office) is one of the individuals behind the rise of Gallup as a destination for mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts. He speaks with the calm confidence of someone who hangs off the sides of mountains as a hobby.

“Everything you’d go elsewhere for, we’ve got here in Gallup,” he says. “We’ve got remarkable outdoor settings. We’ve got the forest up in the Zuni Mountains. We’ve got the Red Rocks and the fantastic high desert of the Colorado Plateau around us.”

With his friend Peter Tempest, Bob wrote the book The Gallup Guide to highlight these opportunities. Soon after, they started developing recreational areas and trails in the hills and mountains around town. Like the Zuni Mountain Trail System, developed in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, to guide hikers and cyclists through ponderosa pines in the mountains south of town.

When work on these projects began to stall, around 2002, Bob did what any true enthusiast would do: He ran for mayor.

Among the accomplishments of his 2003–2007 tenure were the construction of a 100-acre shooting range, the purchase of a 40-acre rock-climbing area west of town (known today as the Mentmore Climbing Area), and the completion of the High Desert Trail System, a hiking and mountain-biking trail that crosses the high desert on land once owned by coal-mining companies. Since then, Bob has helped form the Adventure Gallup and Beyond organization to advocate for Gallup as a destination for travelers. Their work appears to be paying off. In 2013 and 2014, Gallup hosted the 24-Hour Mountain Bike National Championships, an endurance race that attracts some of the best riders in the nation.“No matter what it is, whether it’s mountain biking, hiking, or rock climbing,” he says, “it’s hard to beat what we’ve got here.”

Peoplepower OP1 Ricsarracino

Muralist Ric Sarracino stands atop one of his works in Gallup.

MURALIST: RIC SARRACINO

I have to choose which of Ric Sarracino’s three murals to meet him at. Painted on the walls of businesses and city office buildings downtown, they are part of a larger public art project (undertaken during Bob Rosebrough’s term as mayor) using local artists to graphically depict Gallup’s history and culture. It’s a difficult choice. Hispanic Mural includes a traditional Christmas procession and women plastering adobe on the walls of their homes. Japanese Heritage speaks to those people who came to work in the coal-mining camps in the early 20th century. They and their descendants embraced the town, and the town embraced them back, refusing to send its Japanese citizens to internment camps during World War II. (The uppermost panel on the left of the mural shows Hershey Miyamura receiving his Medal of Honor.)

I choose to meet him at Gallup Community Life, on the wall of the City Hall building. There, Ric points out scenes like the old fire-brick factory, the smokestack of the old Gamerco Power Plant, and the Kitchen Opera House downtown, which once alternated between hosting operas and boxing matches on the upper floor. The mural took him a year to paint, starting in May 2004, in part because of the roughness of the wall and the level of detail. “I ran with it,” he says. “I thought: Let’s make it interesting.”

It is interesting, both visually and contextually. You can hear the grunts of the laborers laying railroad track, feel the grit and sweat on their hands and faces. You shiver peering into the darkness at the end of the mine shaft—a “descent into eternity,” as Ric describes it. The more you look, the more you are rewarded: One panel shows a funeral procession near the church; in the adjoining panel, a midwife weighs a newborn baby.

But it’s the faces that are most compelling.

“I’m a big fan of the human face,” Ric explains. “I know I can draw a tree. But to draw a face and to get it to look real is what I strive at.”

Those faces are true faces, depictions drawn from historical photographs or people Ric knows. His wife and daughter read a book. His friends play cards around a poker table. The soldiers in uniform were taken from a photograph. The women dancing in traditional Spanish dresses are real. The man driving the horse cart is real. In those faces—because of those faces—the mural transcends itself. It is not a mural of life in Gallup. It is life in Gallup.

On the wall, a sign describes the work. I start to read it but stop after the first line, which—after several days visiting the people who make this city what it is—tells me all I need to know. It reads, succinctly: THE HEART OF OUR COMMUNITY IS PEOPLE.

—Contributor David Pike is the author of Roadside New Mexico: A Guide to Historic Markers (UNM Press).

GALLUP AT ITS BEST
The 95th Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial runs August 10–14, with most events held at Red Rock Park. Each day features dances, rodeos, music, parades, and exhibits of traditional arts and crafts. (505) 863-3896; theceremonial.com

Nightly Indian Dances begin at 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, through Labor Day, except during the Friday and Saturday evenings of the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial. The dances are held on the plaza of the McKinley County Courthouse, 207 W. Hill St. (505) 722-2228; nightlyindiandances.com

Land of Enchantment Opera brings apprentice singers to Gallup for four weeks of instruction and public performances. In partnership with the historic El Morro Theater (207 W. Coal Ave.), one opera is performed each summer—this year, Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte. Theater manager and opera singer Jennifer Lazarz calls it “honest art in a small town.” (505) 862-9498; landofenchantmentopera.com

The Gallup Cultural Center includes the Storyteller Museum, photos of historic Gallup, and a revolving exhibit featuring local artists. 201 E. US 66. (505) 863-4131; gallupnm.gov

The City Electric Shoe Shop has been on the corner of Coal and Third since 1936, though the business is even older. It’s one of the last moccasin makers in the country. That great name? Chosen because it sounded modern to early-20th-century customers. 230 W. Coal Ave. (505) 863-5252; on Facebook

Ellis Tanner Trading Company carries jewelry, blankets, and paintings. Admire the Circle of Light mural, painted by Navajo artist Chester Kahn inside the store. 1980 NM 602. (505) 863-4434; etanner.com

Richardson’s Trading Company, a prominent downtown trading post, features everything from blankets to jewelry. 222 
W. 66th Ave. (505) 722-4762; richardsontrading.com

X-Treme-Lee Fun Balloon Adventures carries passengers above the area’s red rocks in a hot-air balloon. (505) 979-2012; scenicballoonrides.com

DINING
For a guide to great eats in Gallup, see our Readers’ Poll winners in the March 2016 issue. 

Want more like this? Subscribe now!