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A brief history of the Southern Ute Drum

The Southern Ute Drum rolls off the Farmington Daily Times printing press in New Mexico, Feb. 12, 2009.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum

Thursday, May 9th of this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Southern Ute Drum. Since its first publication in 1969, the Southern Ute Drum has continued to provide a newspaper for the tribal membership and the surrounding Ignacio area. The Drum, for many individuals, has become a “legacy” of the Southern Ute Tribe by meticulously documenting current tribal history and milestones throughout the years.

For many individuals looking back at the Drum is a nostalgic reminder of events of the past like countless Bear Dances, powwows, tribal fairs, meetings, Tribal Council inaugurations and many other events. These events are also nostalgic because they allow us to remember those tribal members who have passed on. The Southern Ute Drum is history for the Tribe and its members, but it also has a history itself. Very few know the entire story but it can be pieced together by looking carefully at its pages and talking with those who were there throughout the decades.

By the early 1900’s, newspapers were the most popular form of media to get your news. Within La Plata county three newspapers existed after the year 1910: The Durango Herald, The Bayfield Blade and The Ignacio Chieftain. The Ignacio Chieftain was first published in 1910 and is often a very sentimental memory for many elders. Its “iconic” flag shows a picture of the chief wearing a war bonnet along with the massive script for the newspaper’s name. Not much is known about the origin of the newspaper other than it was a family owned business.

For a time, The Chieftain was published in Ignacio weekly and was an important lifeline for the community because the newspaper featured coverage of events within Ignacio and Bayfield. It had a section dedicated to the school lunch menu, and a column that was close to a “personals” section. Within these “personals” sections, families and individuals would highlight what is going on in their life. As an example: “Mr. and Mrs. ‘Smith’ visited their daughter Jane and her husband Clarke on Monday in Durango.” For many younger individuals, this type of column seems out of place, but for those living in the area during 1950’s, it made sense. This column, in some cases, was one of the best ways to keep in contact with others in a predigital age.

The Ignacio Chieftain continued to publish and provide for the Ignacio and Bayfield communities into the mid-1970’s when it ceased production. By this time, The Southern Ute Drum had become fully established as a formal paper dedicated to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe beginning in 1969.

The idea of getting a newspaper for the tribe started as early as 1954 when the idea was proposed by Bob Bennett to Dr. James Jefferson while he was stationed in Virginia during his military career.

“I was told by Bennett that the Tribe should start a newspaper,” said Jefferson. “And so, I wrote a letter to the Tribal Council and the Council started the ‘Drum.’”

The newspaper at that time was a small newsletter operated by Eddie Box Sr., and little is known about the newsletter other than it operated in a small capacity. In 1969, the formal Southern Ute Drum newspaper was developed, and Dr. Jefferson became the first editor of the paper. The paper operated in the Tribal Affairs building with a hand press that was operated by Dr. Jefferson himself. Jefferson would print notices and ads for the tribe.

By 1972, Charles Trimble, a member of the Lakota Sioux tribe, received a grant to develop the Native American Press Association. The Drum was one of the early members of the association with Dr. Jefferson as the president of the association.

Jefferson would operate the Drum with a small staff and produce a newspaper that was biweekly and be printed out of the office.

“[At first] we worked with the Durango Herald, then we went to Farmington, and finally the Pagosa Springs Sun,” explained Jefferson. “I was in charge of the photography and news…It was a lot of work.”

For many of the past Drum staff one of the most memorable parts of the job was layout according to Sharon Cloud, a former reporter and editor who worked for The Drum from 1977 to 1990. “[At the time] newspaper layout would consist of cutting and formatting articles and pictures onto a three-column page with adhesive all done by hand,” explained Cloud. From there, the materials would be taken to the printers first beginning at The Durango Herald, then The Farmington Daily Times, and finally at The Pagosa Sun where it would be printed until the 90’s. The process of layout, printing and distribution would take the better part of two days for the Drum.

“It was hard work,” explained Marge Barry, former reporter of the Drum who worked in 1973. “You had to go out and keep track of newsworthy items to give the tribal members stimulation. Then every two weeks it started over again.”

“The actual news coverage itself in the Drum’s early years consisted mostly of Tribal Council coverage,” explained Barry. The Drum was directly managed by Tribal Council in the mid-70’s and would help with whatever the Council needed for public relations and informational services. With this, The Drum would help pick up visitors for the Tribe, give tours of the campus, and send packets of information out to anyone who wrote in requesting to know more about the Tribe. Until the mid-1980’s, Council would be one of the most prominent parts of the Drum and one of the best forms of media to get information on what was happening with the Tribe.

The 1980’s was a time to experimenting with the Drum. This is can easily be seen with new sections introduced within the expanding format. No longer was news strictly tribal business. Now the tribal members began to have a voice. This is best seen within a short lived “Dear Abby” like section called “It’s Me Again, Margaret” where real readers would send in their letters asking for solutions. While this section was cut within a six-month run, greetings and letters to the editor was stronger than ever. Entire pages of the paper were dedicated for greetings during Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. Each result was overwhelmingly positive. By the 1990’s more tribal members played a vital role within the Drum as more and more articles were dedicated to the life, work and events of the tribal members and the tribal culture.

The introduction of technology has allowed the Drum to be more successful and efficient. The importance of photography would only be heightened as technology grew more advanced. Photography is now an important part of a newspaper and can help impact a story positively and work as a tool to tell a story. No longer is layout done by hand, but now through computer software programs like Adobe InDesign. Stories can be written and edited with less time as opposed to type writers. How news was written and reported in the Drum became more formal with the introduction of the Associated Press style brought in by past editor Ace Stryker in 2009.

The Southern Ute Drum continues to strive to be a paper that covers all facets of the Tribe and community for readers to enjoy. The “blueprint” for the paper was in place during its early years, the Drum continues to evolve with its reader’s needs, thus giving us the newspaper, we have today.

“I’m glad its continuing on. I feel like it’s a legacy for the Tribe,” explains former staff and tribal member Oolcu Buckskin. “It’s a big accomplishment to celebrate 50 years.”

The Drum staff looks ahead to another fifty years of newspaper history.



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