The Crow Book Review: “A Place of Thin Veil”
Bob Rosebrough’s splendid book A Place of Thin Veil: Life and Death in Gallup, New Mexico offers an excellent history lesson about a town of endless fascination. Since I spent much of my childhood in Gallup (and in nearby Fort Defiance, Arizona, on the Navajo Indian Reservation), the town holds a spot near and dear to my heart.
I tell friends that Gallup is the wildest and craziest place that most people have never heard of.
The town history is unique. Men from eastern and southern Europe poured into the area in the early 1900s to mine coal, work on the railroad, and cut timber. The population also had a large Mexican and Spanish population because the area was originally a territory of Spain and then it became part of Mexico until it was ceded to the US in 1848. Plus, the five Indian tribes living nearby came to trade, barter, buy, and sell, making it the “Indian Capital of the World.” In Gallup, everyone was a minority.
Bob takes the reader deep inside Gallup’s struggles, including the life-and-death battles in the coal mines and the shameful exploitation of Navajo Indians by bootleggers, which wrecked the lives of thousands of Indians and led to the unfortunate epithet “Drunk City.” Gallup was—and in many ways still is—a reflection of all that is right and wrong with America, including its extraordinary diversity and capacity to change and adapt.
A Place of Thin Veil begins with history lessons every American should be aware of, but most are not: The brutal treatment of the Navajo Indians by the Spanish and later by the US Cavalry is a legacy of shame that exists to this day. The book goes on to explain another ugly chapter in American history—the coal mine operators’ abuse of the Mexican families who came to Gallup to escape civil war, callous exploitation we should all find abhorrent.
The heart of the book, though, is Bob’s journey. He’s a successful lawyer, a devoted husband and father, a forward-thinking civic leader who built trails and paths for outdoor recreation, and a mayor who took on deeply entrenched liquor interests—working to enact modest reforms to stop overserving Native Americans, which has led to countless deaths, shortened lives, and destroyed families.
Like me, Bob loves Gallup, even with its warts, flawed past, and deep, dark secrets. He loves Gallup, living there among his neighbors and fellow citizens, despite the immense burdens and limited resources, because it’s his home.
A Place of Thin Veil is a fast and fun read, making you want to know more about Bob and this special place that speaks volumes about America’s past and its future. This is nonfiction at its best. A Place of Thin Veil reads like a page-turning novel, but the information is rich and thought-provoking.
And, yes, it has a happy ending, and Bob is still fighting the good fight in a place that is Americana at its core.