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GORDON, ROXY LEE [FIRST COYOTE BOY]

GORDON, ROXY LEE [FIRST COYOTE BOY] (1945–2000) Roxy Lee Gordon (First Coyote Boy) was a Choctaw musician/songwriter, performance poet, author, multimedia artist, and American Indian activist whose work spanned the decades of the 1970s through the 1990s. Hailed as progressive country witness and legendary outlaw poet, Gordon’s style spanned the genres of contemporary folk and alternative country music. Born on March 7, 1945, in Ballinger, Texas, he was the only child of Robnette L. (Bob) and Louise (Bomar) Gordon. He was raised in rural West Texas in Coleman County on the outskirts of the town of Talpa near Abilene, where his grandfather played the harmonica at country dances and his mother played piano at the Methodist Church in Talpa. He received his first guitar, a Montgomery Ward Archtop F-hole, from a mail-order catalog when he was fourteen years old. The instrument was later stolen outside of Wimberley, Texas. Upon completion of high school, Gordon moved to Austin to study at the University of Texas, where he edited Riata, the student literary magazine. In 1964 he married Judy Nell Hoffman in Talpa.

The couple traveled to northern Montana by the late 1960s, where they lived in a one-room log cabin in Lodge Pole, Montana, and Gordon produced the Fort Belknap Notes, a weekly newsletter of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre reservation. They moved on to San Diego, California, and he attended classes at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, where he met Jim Morrison (of The Doors) and avant-garde writer Richard Brautigan, who introduced him to fellow writers Robert Creely, Ed Dorn, Clayton Eshleman, and Michael McClure. Gordon visited with this writing circle in Long Beach, California, before traveling back to Austin.

By the early 1970s Gordon had settled in the town of Moriarty outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he and his wife published the music magazine, Picking up the Tempo. The Gordons moved to Dallas in 1976, where they founded and operated the small publishing company, Wowapi Press, and Gordon wrote for the Coleman Chronicle and Democrat Voice newspaper. He lived in East Dallas until his father’s death in 1997, when he moved back to Talpa to help care for his ailing mother and ninety-seven-year-old grandmother.

A versatile performer on guitar, drums, and vocals, Gordon played with numerous bands and shared the stage and studio with such notable musicians as Bob Dylan,Ernest Tubb, Leonard Cohen, and Townes Van Zandt. Performance poetry with music peaked during the 1980s, and Austin was hailed as the locus of the Texas “third coast” music scene. Recognized as one of the best original Austin performance poets, Gordon went on to national and international notoriety. Part of the notoriety stemmed from his involvement in the American Indian Movement (AIM). He was instrumental in establishing a local chapter in Dallas, which had a population of more than 12,000 Native Americans in the early 1990s. The Dallas chapter of AIM was officially recognized at the Tribunal held in November 1994 in Rapid City, South Dakota.

For twenty years, the Gordon home in East Dallas was a veritable mecca for artists, writers, and activists. The house itself was an eclectic artscape with animal bone sculptures hanging down on the front porch, including steer pelvises, cow skulls, ribs, and femurs. Musician Jeff Liles recalled the time he walked into their living room to find legendary singer–songwriter Townes Van Zandt sitting off in the corner, singing his songs for a handful of people. At Van Zandt’s memorial concert in 1997, Gordon shared stories of their notorious escapades, including the time he smuggled the singer a bottle of vodka before Van Zandt was about to play a gig billed as the "Alcohol and Drug-Free Concert'' on an Indian reservation.

Gordon published six books and more than 200 poems, articles, and short fiction; he also coauthored two plays with Choctaw writer, LeAnne Howe. His work is used in several college Indian studies courses and in the creative writing program at Schreiner College in Kerrville, Texas. He often supplied supplementary information with his record albums, including a twenty-page chapbook for Townes Asked Did Hank Williams Ever Write Anything As Good As Nothing (2001) and a twenty-four-page chapbook with artwork for Crazy Horse Never Died (1989). His 1993 album, Kerrville Live, was a family affair, with Gordon on guitar and drum; his son Quanah Parker on fiddle and drum; and his wife Judy Gordon as producer. His 1997 album, Smaller Circles, was produced by fellow musician Wes McGhee.

Raised in the Methodist Church tradition, Gordon decided as a young adult to explore his Native spiritual roots. This search came to fruition in 1991 when he was adopted by the John and Minerva Allen family in a traditional ceremony at the Assiniboine Sundance at the Belknap Reservation in northern Montana. At this time, Gordon received his Assiniboine name,“Toe GaJukeJuke Gan Hok Sheena” which means “First Coyote Boy.”

Although Gordon wrote for the Democrat Voice newspaper for many years, his personal writings reflected his stated allegiance to the political goals of the American Indian Movement to promote Native identity and Native rights. In 1971 he received a literary award from the Southeastern Library Association’s Southern Books Competition for his autobiography, Some Things I Did (1971).

Roxy Gordon died in Abilene, Texas, on February 7, 2000, after a lengthy battle with cirrhosis of the liver. Judy Gordon, his lifetime partner and artistic colleague, continued to make her husband’s publications and recordings available online after his death. The couple had two sons, John Calvin Corrine Gordon of Dallas, and Quanah Parker Gordon of Talpa, who performed and recorded with his father. The Roxy Gordon Memorial was held on May 14, 2000, at the Sons of Hermann Hall in Dallas. Performers included Terry Allen, The Gourds, Richard Dobson, Pleasant Grove, Texanna Dames, Tommy Hancock, Jeff Liles, Robert Trammell, The Ackermans, Glen Alyn, and others. Proceeds from the admission charge went to the Leonard Peltier Defense Fund and to the establishment of the Roxy Gordon Fellowship for Songwriters.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Dallas Observer, February 26, 1998; May 11, 2000. Mimi Gisolfi D’Aponte, ed., Seventh Generation: An Anthology of Native American Plays (New York: Theatre Communications Group, Inc., 1999). Roxy Gordon: First Coyote Boy (http://www.roxygordon.com/), accessed May 12, 2011. Brian Wright-McLeod, The Encyclopedia of Native Music: More Than a Century of Recordings from Wax Cylinder to the Internet (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2005).

Paula J. Conlon

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Paula J. Conlon, "GORDON, ROXY LEE [FIRST COYOTE BOY]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgo78), accessed October 23, 2014. Uploaded on August 7, 2014. Modified on October 4, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.