I engaged in a pitched, life-and-death, brutal, bloody battle with four racist young white men on a lonely dark rural road in Creek County, Oklahoma in 1971. I was a 22-year-old college student and a citizen of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma.
Recent reports of racism rearing its hateful head out of the filthy muck in Rapid City, South Dakota; Ferguson, Missrouri; and Norman, Oklahoma compel me to tell my personal story of survival against racists who were out to kill me while screaming, “You damn redskin, your kind of cowardly red trash needs to be beaten and killed!”
That night in September 1971, I was hitchhiking to Stillwater, Oklahoma from Chicago to attend my final year of college at Oklahoma State University. The trip was great with good folks sharing their food and company all the way to Tulsa from Chicago where I visited my Chiricahua Apache uncles who lived there.
I was on the outskirts of Tulsa very late at night with no cars stopping when a red Chevy Camaro quickly sped by, abruptly stopped, then backed up. I ran up to the car and asked, “Are you going to Stillwater?” They told me to get in. It was a tight fit in the small back seat with two guys while two others sat up front. They could have been frat boys. My pack was stashed in the trunk as we all sped down Highway 51 West.
During the usual jabbering I’d said I was a Comanche Indian headed back to my final year of college. As we drove, the driver said they’d been drinking beer and needed to pull over. We pulled off near an old deserted town called Silver City, north of Drumright, Oklahoma. After driving far down the road, I asked, “Why not stop here and pee?” They said, “No, we’re going further down.”
My Indian gut told me something was not right. The car stopped and the young men all got out while I stayed in the middle of the back seat. After they took care of their business, one of them said, “Hey, why don’t you get out?” I said, “No, I don’t have to.” Then one of them said in a loud, angry tone, “You will get out, now!” With no choice, I slowly got out of the car while they all stood on the right side of the road all looking at me with squinting hateful eyes and clinched fists.
I sensed movement to the right and behind me. I quickly turned and ducked as one of them swung a bottle of beer toward the back of my skull. When I ducked, he hit the car door and the bottle shattered. The battle for my survival was on.
I took several punches to my body as they all closed in shouting “You damn redskin, we’re going to kill you!” I fought back with full force and we all fell down in the roadside ditch full of tall weeds. While down, the kicking and punching continued over and over as I moved away from the car and farther down the ditch.
In the melee, I pulled out my wallet figuring if I was going to die that night, maybe I’d be identified by my ID in the weeds. Moving down the ditch, the struggle kept on. My shirt was torn off and my jeans were split down one side seam. My eyeglasses were banged off my head early on and were in the weeds.
About 100 yards down the ditch and away from the car with its lights on, something miraculous happened. I felt a fantastic shot of something zinging sharp bits of powerful energy into the center of the veins of my heart and my nervous and muscle systems—adrenaline! I stood up shouting, calling them dirty, white, racist bastards and anything else I could muster while I shook them all off of me so I could get closer to the barbed wire fence. I moved up out of the ditch as they quickly gathered to come after me again like a pack of hyenas.
That shot of adrenaline kept working for only a matter of seconds. I acted like an Olympic athlete, high-jumping backward over the high barbed-wire fence, rolling into the weeds beyond the fence line. They stopped at the fence while I hid behind old logs.
They stood there shouting vile, racist slurs at me and one said, “Go get the pistol out of the car. We’ll flush him out like a scared red rabbit.” One left to get the car and I could hear it driving up the lonely road. When he got back, I could hear him open the trunk and slam it down. One of them said, “Don’t fire, there’s farm houses nearby!”
Wading through a small creek with my shoes on that luckily remained with me during the battle, I crossed over the road to the east side sloshing through a small pond and north toward the far off lights of a farm house.
I banged on the door of the house. A farmer came out and he called the Creek County Sheriff. The farmer came back to the door with a big glass of water, a towel and a T-shirt. He told me to sit on the porch and the county deputy sheriff eventually arrived around 11 p.m.
We drove to the crime scene and found my wallet and glasses, and saw the trail of bent weeds, spots of blood and places where we mashed down the weeds in jumbled circles. My backpack and sleeping bag were stolen. The deputy drove me to the Creek County Sheriff’s Office in Drumright. He took my report. I told him it was the only time in my life I had not written down the license plate of a car I got into because I was so glad to get the ride. He let me sleep in one of the empty jail cells and bunk down for the night.
In the morning, the deputy gave me coffee and doughnuts and handed me enough money for a bus ticket to Stillwater. I got on the bus and left Drumright never to return.
In Stillwater, I told my friends the story. They all wanted to troop over to Tulsa, find the red Chevy Camaro and beat the racists who waylaid me. We never did, and I finished my last year in college with the memories of that dark night in the back of my mind.
I graduated in May 1972 from Oklahoma State with my mom and dad proudly watching their son get his diploma in a U.S. Army Officer uniform. They were also there when I graduated with my Juris Doctorate degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law in May of1981.
In 1982, I was sworn in as a member of the Oklahoma State Bar Association and I remain a member in good standing after 33 years practicing Federal Indian Law. Over those years of law practice, I have endured many brutal unfounded attacks by other attorneys and their clients aimed at my professional status and reputation.
During those ordeals, the memory of that night in Creek County came forward as an inspiration to stand strong and proud on the Creator’s Earth, and to be brave no matter was thrown at me by my adversaries. I know what it means to be subjected to senseless injustice; the core of my law practice is helping fight for justice for those facing overpowering odds.
Life is a continuous struggle against the racist attitudes and shouted slurs that remain alive as newsworthy events in 2015. No one in the human race deserves to face the ordeal I did in 1971.
Standing tall and proud in the face of the enemy is the legacy of my indigenous warrior heritage. I am 65 years old now. The passage of 44 years from that night has not diminished my recollection of the saga. I did not let the events that occurred on that night haunt or define me in a negative way.
The Great Spirit, Creator of our Universe and my Earth relations gave me a gift of natural medicine called “adrenaline” at the precise right moment in my young life. I pray that none of you who read this will ever need this natural medicine in the way I was blessed with it.
Dennis G. Chappabitty is a member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma and was born and raised in Lawton, Oklahoma. He is a U.S. Army Veteran. He has been a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association since 1982 and maintains a nationally based Federal Indian Law and Federal Administrative Law practice from his office in Elk Grove, California.