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Donald Bruce, November 17, 2011

Dublin Core

Title

Donald Bruce, November 17, 2011

Subject

Native American
Family farms
Richfield Springs (N.Y.)
Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)

Description

Donald Bruce is a lifelong resident of Richfield Springs. Born in 1945, he has spent the majority of the past 66 years living and working on his family’s farm. While living on the farm as a young boy he attended the local schools, but in his later teen years, his father’s work with American Indian programs required the family to move to New York City. While living in Greenwich Village Bruce was enrolled in a private school. After finishing high school, he left to attend Baldwin Wallace College in Ohio; however, prior to finishing he moved back home to Richfield Springs to help his mother with managing and running the family farm.

Bruce describes how the family farm served a dual purpose as both a means of support and also a teaching tool. Through his father’s work with American Indian youth programs, the family farm served as an alternative for Indian foster children. They lived and worked on the farm while also attending the same local school as Bruce. He reminisces on the diverse groups of people that have passed through his home over the years: Indian foster children, college students, lacrosse teams, and friends of his father, Louis R. Bruce Jr. Louis R. Bruce Jr. was an advocate for American Indian’s rights and served as Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1969 to 1973. Don Bruce shares his observations regarding alcoholism and American Indian communities and hints at the Indian politics regarding tribal status. There is a serious tone in his manner when discussing the family farm at present and the current issue of family farms slowly disappearing.

The narrative nature of Bruce’s speaking style translated relatively well to written format. For clarity, repetitive words or phrases spoken by both Bruce and the interviewer were edited out. Any run-on sentences were broken up into smaller sentences.

Creator

Naomi Szpot

Source

[no text]

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2011-11-17

Contributor

[no text]

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Relation

[no text]

Format

audio/mpeg
27.5MB
audio/mpeg
27.5MB
audio/mpeg
16.9MB
image/jpeg
900 x 1200 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

11-059

Coverage

Richfield Springs, NY
1945-2011

Contribution Form

Online Submission

No

Contributor is Creator

[no text]

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Naomi Szpot

Interviewee

Donald Bruce

Location

8391 South Hwy 28
Richfield Springs, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2011

DB = Donald Bruce
NS = Naomi Szpot

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

NS:
This is the November 17, 2011 interview of Donald Bruce by Naomi Szpot recorded at 8391 South Hwy 28, Richfield Springs, NY. So I’m first just going to ask you what’s your full name?
DB:
I’m Donald Bruce, Donald Kenneth Bruce. I was named after some college friends of my father’s with whom he later enveloped into a business. That’s my name I’ve been here for 65 years, 66 years. This family has been here since 1881. I’m the fifth generation.
NS:
When were you born?
DB:
1945.
NS:
1945. And where were you born then?
DB:
Syracuse, New York.
NS:
Can you tell me about the farm? Just in general?
DB:
The farm was put together by my grandfather beginning in 1881. It was put together from surrounding parcels and parcels within 5 miles. There were 600 acres in all, and they raised all kinds of things from hops, dairy products, grains and vegetables - anything that could be sold to the hotels in Richfield Springs. And at the time this farm really flourished. The hotels were also flourishing in the town around the turn of the century. They were big hotels. Presidents were here every year. Richfield was a booming, bustling community. There was everything here - trolley, train, horseraces, you name it. And then all the activities associated with the lake.
NS:
You had mentioned grain, but specifically what kind of farm was it?
DB:
It was a farm of everything, there were 350 sheep, there were 50 cows, which was a large farm for an eastern farm back then. There were no mechanized forms of milking. It was a hand performance. As for most of the jobs performed on the farm at that time. I’m talking about from say 1890 to 1950. This farm didn’t have any tractors. My grandfather used nothing but horses, teams of horses. Milking was done by hand. There were machines that the animals pulled to thresh grain and cut hay and do all the jobs that today mechanized vehicles do in no time back then. But we didn’t have that much help back then.
Actually some of the help we used came from Indian foster schools. There were young kids that were taken from foster schools then they lived here on the farm, grew up with me, and in turn helped my grandfather and father here on the farm.
NS:
What happened to them when they left?
DB:
They grew up here in the community. They stayed here. They married here, had children here. I mean this basically was their life. They were taken from foster homes. Richard LeFrance was one of those [kids], and he’s still here. Until last year he still worked here. I mean that was an on and off process. He has worked other jobs, went to high school here, and graduated, and went and did other things, and eventually came back here and he’s helped me on and off through the years. There was a girl who grew up about the same time here. She came from Thomas Indian School. They both came from Thomas Indian School, which is out near Buffalo. And my dad was on the board of directors of the school so he had access to these kids. And Smokey had been in the school since he was four years old.
NS:
Who [is that]?
DB:
Smokey was Richard LeFrance. Smokey was his nickname. Until he was put in foster school, he lived on the Mohawk Indian reservation up in Saint Lawrence.
And I think his family was involved in alcoholism, so Smokey basically had no place to live. He used to tell me that he’d sleep in someone’s haymow at night. This is a kid of 4 or 5 years old. He’d eat vegetables from people’s gardens, wherever he could scrounge anything up. He was a survivor obviously. He is 85 years old now. In June, Green came here as well. She stayed here. She graduated from high school. She married a local farmer and has lived here all of her life. So these are going back to my original comment. These were people who helped here. And we had hired men who helped my grandfather. My father worked here for a certain period of time and his involvement was more with businesses away from the farm. He was involved in various youth projects for the milk company that we were involved in. He became involved in Indian programs here in New York State and eventually federally. He became involved with FDR’s wife - Ethel Roosevelt? - Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt because she was very interested in Indian programs in this state, and mostly the Iroquois Confederacy. He became involved with her. From there he became involved in more and more projects involving Native Americans and eventually became Commissioner of Indian Affairs under [President Richard M.]Nixon. So his involvement here on the farm was… He became eventually, my mother and him became owners of this place which was on my mother’s side.
NS:
Ok, so this…
DB:
Of the family. The family originally was the Wikoff farm. From 1881 it was owned by the Wikoffs and that was my mother’s side of the family. My mother and dad were married after they both went to Syracuse University and graduated and were married and eventually my grandfather turned this farm over to them.
NS:
So, it was your maternal grandfather who owned the farm?
DB:
Right
NS:
Umm…
DB:
And his father before him.
NS:
And his father before him. Ok. Was it your father who brought the children here [the farm] for workers?
DB:
Yes. The Indian workers.
NS:
Yeah.
DB:
There were other people here as well, but dad was always involved with youth programs somewhere, and he had contact with kids who wanted to work on the farm, or needed to. We were involved in a program through Cornell University where kids came from the city and they needed farm experience in order to go to an agricultural college for veterinary medicine. So they’d have to spend a summer here and just get the farm background. They were kids from New York City mostly and who had never been on a farm, didn’t have a clue about farm life. They came off the blacktop of Flushing in New York City, and they were thrown into a farm situation. Many of them were in for a major shock because don’t forget milk comes from a jar. Dairy products are in the dairy case. Nobody ever stops to think where did the cheese come from? Or where did that jar of milk come from? Or any of those things. And then you come to the farm and find out that there is an animal standing there you know, and it’s not the neat package that is in the store.
NS:
What was it like for you working with these kids?
DB:
It was an experience for instance… Well it was an experience for them too because Richard LeFrance took care of me when was I was five years old, four or five years old. My dad was a lay leader in the church, which means he occasionally gave the sermon, and my mother was the organist and directed the choir. And so somebody had to take care of me while they were doing these things, and that was Smokey’s responsibility. But he really wasn’t very good at it because the tail is that the minute my parents left I started running up and down the aisles of the church and screaming (NS: Laughing) and acting like a little retard. But when I was a teenager, I can remember experiences with these kids - with these guys. I mean they were people headed for college degrees; they were smart kids. But they were all smart kids, some of them were really brilliant kids, but it was interesting seeing their reaction which was kind of uniform. I mean, “I have to go out there and clean behind that cow” or “I have to…” Well, one kid that came to us he was from Westchester County down near New York City and that is a very wealthy area.
And he came up here, this kid came up here – he was a Greek kid. And his family was moderately wealthy. But the first day he was here I think one of the first things we said to him, I said, “Go get the cows.” To me, the cows are out in the field, and if somebody says “Go get the cows” you go out in the field and you round them up, and you bring them in. Well this guy took about 10 paces and turns around and looks at me and says, “Now how do I do that?” That was a simple, something very, very simple because there were other experiences. It would be like me having to do a lot of things in the city that I’m not totally aware of, except that we did live in New York City for a period of time, and we’ve lived in Washington D.C. So actually we’re familiar with both sides of the picture. But as I said the kids, these guys were really pretty smart. They knew where they were going in life at that point. And most of them were on a mission. Most of them succeeded in getting their degrees. Some of them didn’t stay with veterinary medicine. A couple of them became lawyers. Some of them didn’t even go to school for veterinary medicine; they went to schools that didn’t even have a veterinary program. They were usually quite successful. We did that for many years. Maybe we did that for 25 years and we had a kid every year for that period of time. And they helped here, they worked here and became part of our family. It amazes my wife because she’s been here for 15 years and every now and then some total stranger will come knocking at the door: “Oh, is Donny around?” and she’ll ask why. And they were someone who worked here 25 or 30 years ago. They’re coming back to check on us.
NS:
They feel that connection then to this farm?
DB:
Oh yeah. Quite often. Most of the people that we were involved with have retained some kind of connection at some point or other. We also used to have exchange students through the Rotary Club. And some from South America. Two or three years ago one of those boys came back to visit. This place it’s a big house. There have been a lot of people here. And it has been like a big huge family passing though different stages in the last 130 years. Many people have passed though – groups of people, groups of Indians, lacrosse teams, just associates that my dad has met. “Oh come onto the farm. Come on and visit.” My mother use to get, I don’t know whether it was a good charge or a bad charge, out of the fact that people would drop in all of a sudden. “Oh yes Louis invited us.”
NS and DB:
Laughter
NS:
Where would they stay especially when you got the big groups of people?
DB:
They might tent and stay outside. If they were practicing out here, they would be out here on the lawn or out back on the lawn. We had one couple that slept in a tipi. They were from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Rich and Gladys Lauben. They would come and actually I can remember them sleeping on the back couch. The house was different then; we had more small rooms. But these people lived the life of Indians. She wore braids, and wore Indian dresses and jewels, and the whole works. And they did dances all over the country. They were two white people. I never knew because they looked better than Native Americans. They lived the part, they dressed the part, and I had always thought they were Native Americans. But they were two white people that became involved in Indian life and lived it.
NS:
When you found out they weren’t Indian how did that affect… What did you think about that?
DB:
I thought that it was kind of neat. Most people are involved in building homes and buying cars and acquiring assets. Their assets were living with nature, and living the way our ancestors did years ago. I always thought it was kind of a neat thing. You have to be a special person I think to live that way. Considering what we’re surrounded with. It’s awfully nice to come in your house and turn on the heat instead of scrambling around in a tipi. I can’t even conceive of that. It gets cold in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Have you ever been in a tipi?
NS:
I have not been in a tipi.
DB:
Have you been on a reservation?
NS:
Yes I have.
DB:
I’m sorry I mistook the state you were from because I looked up Minnesota and looked up all the Ojibwe and Chippewa in Minnesota and also Sioux which is our tribe. There’s 11 reservations in Minnesota. Now I’ve got to look up Wisconsin. I know there are Oneidas there because they are related to some of the Oneidas from the Iroquois Confederacy in this state. They are always arguing over something with the Oneidas in this state because these Oneidas are very successful. (NS: Yes) And I think the ones in Wisconsin are also, but the Oneida tribe here in New York State is probably one of the most successful tribes in the United States through gaming.
NS:
What tribe are you affiliated with?
DB:
I am a card-carrying member of the Mohawk Tribe Akwesasne and I also am a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. We own land in South Dakota, but we are not a card-carrying member. I guess you can’t be a card-carrying member of both tribes, but we basically are because we have land in one and we’re tribal member – were enrolled in Mohawk.
NS:
What’s your connection with the Mohawk? Like how close are you with the Mohawk?
DB:
I have a cousin who lives there. He’s 94 years old. Ernie Benedict. I think he wrote a newspaper up there for a period of time, but I don’t have a close relationship other than Ernie. A lady from Cooperstown just wrote a book on my dad. She and I traveled to St. Regis three or four times to visit the reservation. This woman had never written anything about Native [Americans], knew nothing about Native Americans. The books she had previously written were about East Indians. And so we drove to the reservation so I could give her some kind of background for the book and the history of my dad and his father who the book was also about. And we discovered at that point who Ernie Benedict was, and we met him every time we went up there. And he knew about us, I didn’t know so much about him. My brother did; my brother knew who he was. My brother and I are 9 years apart. So there are a lot of things that he knew about the early history of this place that I didn’t know.
NS:
And what is your brother’s name?
DB:
Charles.
NS:
Charles.
DB:
He’s a nuclear physicist out in El Paso, TX. He’s married. His wife is a Mexican doctor. They go across the border at El Paso everyday where they’re having the drug problems, and she does her work at clinics in that area. But anyway, he, Ernie Benedict, knew my brother, and I guess when my brother was growing up was really when all these people were coming, [when] the Indians were first coming here. They had already been here [before Don was born]. For instance Smokey came here, Richard, came here in 1942. And I wasn’t born yet. So Chuck spent some time with Smokey, growing up with Smokey. When he first came here, he was kind of a crude kid. Coming from a foster home, and as years have gone on he’s said that he wasn’t treated very well. And Jone said the same thing. Foster homes back then were kind of a rough place to be raised.
NS:
Ok. So umm…
DB:
Now have I [related to much about] the history of the farm? I’ve talked a lot about Indians. But I didn’t know where your emphasis was wanting to be, whether it’s with what’s here or Indian history.
NS:
You’re doing fine.
DB:
OK
NS:
Can you tell me about some of the chores that you would do here on the farm as a child?
DB:
Well, there were a lot of things to do around here. We had chickens. Like I said before, this place produced everything imaginable. If it was a saleable item, my grandfather raised it. Because his philosophy… And he went to Cornell and graduated from Cornell just before the turn of the century with a law degree. And he came back here, and at that time the farm wasn’t doing so well. It was mismanaged. Great-grandpa was, I don’t know, just not doing as good a job as my grandfather thought should be done. So he kind of took over things and his philosophy was if somebody comes in here they’re going out with some produce, something that I make, and I’m selling that item to those people. His philosophy was that way with the town. As I said, I don’t know if you have any idea of what the history of this town is, but back at the turn of the century the streets were lined with huge hotels. Big hotels with the promenade down in the bottom and all kinds of shops. Teddy Roosevelt was here. Like I said, the train and the trolley, a lot of activities going no. There was a major need to cultivate the area around here and make sure all the people that are visiting the town are provided with what they need.
There were a lot of farms. This road right now only has one farm on it between here and almost Cooperstown and there were probably 20 or 30 at that time. The whold system of farming has changed. Kids don’t want to be involved in the farm anymore. They don’t have to work 7 days straight, 24 hours a day.

[START OF TRACK 2, 00:30.00]

DB:
You get weekends off and benefits and that sort of thing. So there’s really no big draw. I mean, I have six kids, we have six kids here between my wife and I, and we have one who’s going to be a farmer I think. His father is a farmer and he needs the help, so Jason, you know - that’s how you get involved in the farming situation. The only way you can have an interest in the farm is if either you own it or it’s part of your life. It’s very difficult for an outsider to come in and work on your farm and feel a real interest in what’s going on there without having an emotional tie and eventually a financial tie to that property. The farms that I can think of that are still alive are because of family. You don’t hire help to make a farm succeed because usually they don’t give a damn. When you’re not looking they’re probably reaching in you back pocket somehow or other.
NS:
What’s going on with the farm right now? Is it a working farm or…?
DB:
No. Well it is a working farm because the hay is taken every year by my neighbors. I had both of my hips replaced eight years ago so I stopped farming. Basically my kids aren’t involved, and we’re selling it off bit by bit. It’s just my wife and I in this house. We’ve got twenty rooms and it’s my wife and I and three dogs. Of course when holidays come, everybody comes back because we have the room. And it’s home. But they’re all off doing their own thing with their lives and we’re at that point in our lives when we’re trying to decide is it wise for us to keep everything going for the four or five times a year that they come back to gather. I mean they love it and it keeps the family together, helps keep the family together, but still is that the wise thing for us to do? We’re just kind of sitting around and paying the taxes and keeping this monster going for the two of us.
NS:
Sorry, I’m going to take you back again, but how well did you know your grandparents?
DB:
Grandpa Wikoff died in 1953, so I would have been eight years old. I knew him. There are pictures of him walking with me out in the field when I was just a little kid. Grandma Wikoff died in 1960, and I knew her quite well. I took care of her. She broke her hip twice, and she was in a wheelchair, and I took care of her quite a bit when I was growing up. There’s an apartment on the other side of that wall, and that was where she and grandpa lived, and he died and she continued to live there until almost her death. And she was a very religious [person]; she was a teacher and a school principal down in Hyde Bay where the Roosevelts lived. It’s down on Long Island I think. But she was the superintendent of the school, the high school down there. Very religious person. Used to make me come over and read the bible, a couple verses of the bible. She was hoping that maybe that might have some influence on my life. And she would keep an eye on me. I think she had eyes in the back of her head. She would sit in her wheelchair over there, and I might be out doing some mischief out here in the yard. And she had a coat hanger, and she’d take that coat hanger, and she’d bang on the window, and that was like a siren going off. It was the loudest noise. Of course maybe it was my guilty conscious. Maybe those verses of the bible that I read were actually worth something. So I knew her fairly well. My Grandfather Bruce used to come over. He died in 1963 I think, or [1962], and he was in his 90s. Grandma Bruce I never knew. She died in ’42 or ’43. But Grandpa Bruce used to come over and teach me how to play baseball because he…I think I told you, when he met his wife they were taken from the reservation in what is called assimilation. And they met in Philadelphia, near Philadelphia in the Carlisle School. And too pay his way for his education he played baseball. And he eventually played for a man named Cornelius McGillicuddy, Connie Mack, and the Philadelphia Athletics. But anyway he would come over here. He lived about 15 miles from here with his daughter, my father’s sister. And he would come over and we’d play baseball. He’d teach me how to pitch and play the game. But it was also at a time in my life when I was growing up and I went away to a private school, so I wasn’t around when he died. I was in school when he died, and my Grandma Wikoff as well. But probably my brother and sister knew them better than I did. My grandmother, I was quite close to because as I said, I did take care of her quite a bit.
NS:
How…how do I want to say this? Did he ever talk about going to school at Carlisle at all to you?
DB:
No.
NS:
No?
DB:
No, I was probably too young to appreciate what he’d been through. I’d love to sit down and talk to him today. But back then, I was just twelve years old maybe. I think I told you before, and I think you asked Melanie about this, how I felt about whether or not… How I felt about not being a reservation Indian as opposed to being a white person who was raised away from the reservation. I feel my dad devoted his life to Native Americans and improving their lives. And I find it very rewarding when someone asks me what I am that I’m a Native American. I’m a half-breed, but I prefer to be a Native American; I’m proud to be one. The fact that I’m removed from Native American life, I wish I knew more other than what I read. It’s kind of hard to just plunk yourself down in the middle of the reservation if you don’t live there. And live their life. I really can’t at this point. I’ve already lived this one. I suppose I could understand and learn from the experience but I’m 66 years old, and we’re involved in... We’ve got too much family. It’s not like I’m a single person. I think it would be interesting to be able to do that though. I’ve always wanted to do something like that. If I hadn’t been, hadn’t had to come here, I think I would have done something like that. I might have taught there, because my particular aim was to be a teacher.
NS:
OK
DB:
And I came back here because things weren’t going well here, and we had hired help running the farm because my dad was in Washington or New York depending on which administration was in. And they weren’t doing a good job. And the last person that was here running things became injured. He was an older guy. He was injured. My mother presented the situation that “well I guess we’re finally going to have to get rid of it.”
NS:
OK
DB:
And I was in college at the time. It’s basically the same thing my grandfather faced. He came back here with his degree as a lawyer and never practiced. Well I came back here and never finished my education. You know, you come back and you start working and then you get married and have a family. It’s not easy to walk away, or have too many things going at once I should say.
NS:
Where was you brother at this point in time?
DB:
In 1960, he left. He came back here after school. He was a physicist. He was a professor of physics, and he still teaches. He’s 75, and he’s still teaching at New Mexico State. But he left in 1960 and moved out west and taught and worked at White Sands Missile Base in Las Cruces. It’s a very high tech area for nuclear physics and that sort of thing. And he obviously pursued his life out there. So it came down to my mother and I [making] the decision and I came back here. It started out as “well we’ll see how things go,” and I was here for 38 years farming.
NS:
Did you mother stay here?
DB:
She really left the farm in 1960. My dad was working in New York at the time in Greenwich Village. We had an apartment there. I was in private school. She always managed the farm because it was her side of the family. Dad did his thing; she took care of things here. And they’d come up here every weekend. We had a hired man. There was a house down by the road, and he lived in that. But, as I said before, if you have a business, if you’re not on top of it on a daily basis, you can’t leave it to hired help, unless it’s family. So she basically ran it. She owned it and basically ran it until the year 2000. She was ninety-two years old at that time and she passed it on to me as it was passed onto her and as it was passed on to her father. But I don’t believe it will ever be passed on again. It’s for sale right now. But we’re still deliberating as to how, what we want to do because the kids show an interest, but they don’t really - I mean they all have their own lives. They love to come back, and that’s great, but the maintaining it in the meantime is I don’t know whether it is worth it for the two of us. We need something a little smaller. Maybe people won’t stay as long. [Laughter]
NS:
Is that a good thing that they don’t stay as long or is it a bad thing? [Laughter]
DB:
[Laughter] Well it’s a good thing. They know it. They know when the welcome mat has been worn out. We joke about it. We have 14 grandchildren.
NS:
Oh wow.
DB:
When you’ve got… and we have three dogs. One of our daughters has two more. My mother-in-law has another one. You know we have 6 dogs here, 13 grandchildren, and six children – that’s…
NS:
That’s a lot of children
DB:
That’s a lot; that’s more than a football team. [Laughter] We can play offense and defense. [Laughter] That’s a lot of people in here. And they’ll be here in a couple weeks for Thanksgiving. Most everyone will be here, so. Makes for excitement for a couple days anyway.
NS:
You mentioned you were in Greenwich Village and went to school I think in Ohio…?
DB:
I went to college in Ohio – Baldwin Wallace College. And then I went to Utica College, which was a part of Syracuse University at the time. Went there for a year, year and a half at night school. Which was - it was the worst experience of my life.
NS:
How so?
DB:
I was working here during the day milking cows and doing the farm chores and then going up to Utica every night, which is 25 miles. And sitting through a 3 hour class. It didn’t take me any time at all to go to sleep after working all day and sitting in a hot classroom and listening to some boring conversation, but I did it for a year. And then I just…. We had kids then, and it was just a little bit too much. I regret it, regret not finishing. And I’ve even thought maybe at this point in my life I could do it again. I mean you can do it online. You don’t even have to go to the school anymore. There are enough online courses. But I never really decided what I wanted to do. There are certain things I’d like to learn – languages and that sort of thing. But at this point in my life what am I… Ok, so I learned, I took 6 years of French. I can’t speak French anymore. I suppose I should learn Spanish. There’s a tremendous influx of Spanish people even around here.
NS:
In this area?
DB:
They’re coming. I see them; see more and more all the time. I don’t know whether it’s necessary for me to learn their language or to them to learn mine. This is the United States. By the time they get to New York State, they should know something about our language. If I lived along the Mexican border like my brother does I’d probably want to know it. And I’d love to learn our tribal languages. That would be…I’ve looked at that. I was looking at it yesterday on the computer. Oh my god. I might be able to speak it but you could certainly…. You can’t pronounce Indian words by phonetically…
NS:
Reading?
DB:
… looking at it on the computer. The sound, the normal sound or the way the word is supposed to be pronounced is totally different than the spelling.
NS:
It’s meant to be a spoken language.
DB:
Yeah. And they aren’t even sure where the languages come from either. Are you cold?
NS:
I’m fine. This sweater is really warm. Actually I’m readjusting as I get hot and cold so, it’s ok.
DB:
The house is warm today. You’re very fortunate. Normally my wife comes home and puts on her snowmobile suit.
So, I’ve been going back and forth even at my ripe old age trying to decide with what time I do have free for myself, which isn’t a hell of a lot because we maintain this place. I have a job in the morning, and then I come home, and my wife and I maintain this place. So that keeps us busy, especially during the summer because there are 4 or 5 acres of lawn to mow and all the other things – paint the house.
NS:
Where do you work now?
DB:
I work in Richfield. A friend of mine owns a lot of land in Richfield and he owns apartment houses. And I help, along with my supervisor, maintain his property.
NS:
When you were living in New York City, how did you like living in the city compared to living here?
DB:
It was a nice place…oh no comparison…It’s a nice place to visit. As I said, we had an apartment in Greenwich Village. Are you familiar with Greenwich Village? [NS: Shakes head “No”] It’s a very artsy or it was very artsy, little shops. A different part of the city. Uptown everything is big and fast paced. Down in the village there’s a park down there. I used to go down in the middle of the park and play chess. They had these little platforms all around the park and guys are sitting there playing chess. And this was back in the ‘60s, and there were a lot of people, dissidents they were called that didn’t agree with the war, and drugs were coming in. The Village was a big part of a lot of things, a lot of movements going on. And it was kind of an exciting place. I was 17 years olds, 17-18 years old. Use to wear an old military trench coat. We’d go and drink at the bars where we could get in when we weren’t legal. And the other thing that amazed me was… I mean, when you come from Richfield Springs, I feel that when something that’s going on in the world reaches Richfield Springs it’s really an issue. For instance drugs. Well drugs are everywhere now. Or […] relationships with other people; there are things that you don’t see, well nationalities. Everybody in Richfield when I was growing up was white except for the Indians my dad brought. Down there, you see everything, you know. And, it was like I said, it was a nice place to visit. I never wanted to live there. It’s too crowded. Up here we’ve got 600 acres; they don’t have any concept of what we have here. People still don’t. They come up… they left their apartment house, they left their apartment down there. “How much land did you have?” “Land?” You don’t have land; you have an apartment – 4 or 5 rooms. And you come up here and there’s one stop light in the town. (NS: yeah) They can’t conceive of that in New York City. You’ve got 5 million, or whatever it is. It’s just outrageous. No comparison. I’m a country boy. My wife comes from Richfield. In her parents’ house, you can sit in her kitchen and look out the window and see the people in the house next door having breakfast. I can’t conceive of that. My neighbors, my nearest neighbor is a quarter of a mile away. There’s a row of trees there that my grandfather planted so we couldn’t see the neighbors.
[NS: Laughter]
DB:
I mean we even have land but we still want our privacy that goes with it. Trees were planted all around this place. Until recently there were great big maple trees here in front. Two of them have come down over the years. And I just cut some more out front here. Otherwise unless you come from that direction you can’t see the house. You can’t get a view that the house is here and as big as it is. Coming from that direction you don’t even see it.
NS:
Yeah, I noticed that.
[Laughter]
DB:
That’s why over the years my parents never got rid of the place. We hung onto it through thick and thin. Where would we come back to when they were in Washington? My mother and dad lived in Washington from 1968 until he died in 1989. And they came back at least once a month, to look at things, but he was so involved in his work down there, he’d come in to greet us and the phone would already be ringing for one thing or another – conference all or something he was involved with.
NS:
Did you ever go down to D.C? Did you ever live with you parents down in D.C?
DB:
I didn’t live there. I visited. They had apartments in different places. They were in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, which are all surrounding areas. Their last apartment was in Arlington Virginia right across the Potomac River. Are you familiar with Washington?
NS:
I have never been there. I’m planning on going in February, but I have never been there.
DB:
Well you’ll enjoy it. It’s a good place. February’s not a bad time. Actually, March and April are better because the Cherry Blossom Festival is on and its beautiful place then.

[START OF TRACK 3 0:00]
NS:
I was kind of interested in something you had mentioned a little bit earlier when you were talking about how apart from the Indians that were brought here everyone else in the area was white. Was there any issues growing up that you noticed about…?
DB:
No, they went to the high school. There were guys in town, and they still do. There’s a lot of bashing but it’s not the same thing as being prejudiced. It’s more like making fun, and it goes back and forth. I have friends that are constantly saying something about the fact that I’m a Native American. They’re always saying something, but it’s in jest. And I take it that way; I give it back to them. They have nationalities too and they’re defective [Giggle] We aren’t the only ones that are… I’ve got a German friend – he’s lost almost as many wars as we have [NS: Laughter] So it’s not a problem. It’s funny though; the Native Americans who’ve been here have all had drinking problems.
NS:
That have been here at the farm?
DB:
Been here and in the town, because my dad brought them all here at one time or another. And they all had drinking problems. I can only think of one woman who doesn’t and she’s a nurse in Bassett Hospital. She’s an OR nurse. And dad helped her get her degree, and she went through a period when she drank quite a bit. All the others had major [drinking problems], to the point where they probably died from it. And that’s the prevalent Indian problem. [It] doesn’t make any difference whether it’s here or on any of the reservations. Pine Ridge Reservation is the worst in the country. I was just reading some articles yesterday about it.
NS:
Did you ever see that here when they were here?
DB:
Uh-hun. When Smokey was here, he had a terrible…I mean a high school student. I remember stories about him and coming in drunk late at night. I was young at that time and not necessarily aware of what was going on but my mother use to tell me stories about him. We had at that time a stairway that went up the back of the house, and so he could come in. My parents’ room was over here, which is along ways away. And he would come in the back and fall asleep in the end bedroom. And my mother would get him up in the morning to milk the cows, because my grandfather had died. And Smokey would get out of bed and go to the barn, and go to the haymow and go back to sleep. So she’d have to go out and dig him out of the haymow to milk the cows. And it was because he had stayed out all night and he was drunk. And he did that for a long time and then he left. He got married and he left. And he still continued his drinking and on one day he was coming out of a bar in Richfield and walked out in front of a car and it broke his legs. He survived, and you know his legs healed. And he quit drinking just like that. After [that] he never drank another time. And to this day he won’t go in a restaurant that serves alcohol.
NS:
Wow.
DB:
Quite an amazing change for a guy who was an alcoholic.
NS:
What kinds of things did you do as young adult or a boy for fun?
DB:
Around here?
NS:
Yeah
[laughter]
DB:
Now you’re getting personal. We used to go on trips. Dad used to when he was home. My dad was always gone during the week. He was in New York City, or Albany, or Washington. And he would come home on weekends. During the week I was involved with my friends and the school. Or down at the lake, or… I can’t think of anything else. It was either home or school or the lake. But he took us on trips. I can remember going skiing or going up into the Adirondacks. He took us to Cimmeron New Mexico one time. Took my sister and I to New Mexico to the Boy Scout jamboree out in Cimmeron. And that was fun; that was the biggest trip that we ever went on as a family.
NS:
Were you a Boy Scout then?
DB:
No. But my dad was on the board of directors of the Boy Scouts. So, we went out there. That was kind of interesting because I met some of my cousins from Pine Ridge. They were out there. One of the Chiefs and a couple of my cousins who I didn’t know until I met them out there. And I haven’t seen them since.
NS:
Did you know they were going to be there …
DB:
Oh no.
NS:
… or was that just coincidence?
DB:
Just [coincidence]. Dad introduced me to them – Jim Iron Cloud, Paul Fast Horse, and Richard Yellow Boy. I remember them to this day, and I have no idea what happened to them. Jim Iron Cloud was a chief – great big, ugly looking chief. I was twelve years old, and he was a huge guy. And he wore his headdress quite often. Of course when I got together – Dad would be off in a meeting somewhere, and my sister and mother would be off somewhere- and so I’d go play with these guys wherever they happened to be. They’d be speaking their native language, which disturbed me a little bit because we’re joking around but they aren’t speaking my language. And I knew some of their language had to do with me. But they were good kids, but I never after that trip heard anything more about them. Of course from the mortality rate on Pine Ridge, God only knows what happened.
NS:
Have you ever been out to Pine Ridge?
DB:
No.
NS:
No?
DB:
Like I said I own land and never seen it. I’ve seen it on the computer and I’ve talked to my cousin who rents it from me; who leases it from me. But I’ve never been, and my cousin who lives about 15 minutes away has land next to mine and he’s never seen it either.
NS:
Your cousin that’s renting it, is he native? Is he from Pine Ridge?
DB:
Yeah, he has 14 thousand acres there.
NS:
Wow.
DB:
And he rents our property for grazing.
NS:
For grazing. What kind of animal, livestock does he have?
DB:
It’s beef cows.
NS:
Beef cows…
DB:
He also, I don’t think he does anymore, he has a daughter and he follows the rodeo circuit.
NS:
Well, is there anything that you want to add at all? Anything we haven’t touched on or anything you feel I haven’t asked about that is kind of important?
DB:
No. All the important things I think we’ve discussed. As I’ve said before, this is basically the Wikoff Farm. This isn’t the Bruce Farm. The Wikoffs brought this place to fruition and we’ve lived here. We’ve maintained it. We love it. But it’s been kind of a colossal thing. You know what do you do with it? You know. I mean if we didn’t love it we wouldn’t still be here. As I said before my mother had the opportunity to get rid of it back in 1960 or ’65 or somewhere round in there. And we didn’t at that time. And her father before he died said, “Get rid of it because it will eat you up.” Well it’s a give and take thing. It’s a great place to live, [but] you’ve got to pay a price for it. And what the heck, its better…I sometimes think of the alternative. Where would I like to live if I didn’t live here? I don’t want to live in Tornado Alley; I don’t want to live where there are hurricanes; I don’t want to live where there are snakes. I don’t want to live where it’s winter all the time. In this part of the country, we have winter for 6 months a year? It’s not radical.
I mean you go out to Colorado and they get five feet of snow overnight. We’ve had that happen twice in my lifetime. And hopefully I won’t see it again.
NS:
[laughter] Hopefully not this winter or next winter.
DB:
Well the way it has rained this year, people are concerned about what kind of a winter were going to get if it rains this hard and this long. If it snows as long and as hard as it rained this year, we’d have quite an accumulation.
NS:
Yeah… How do you feel about it being sold off?
DB:
Mixed. We have five acres over here that we’ve retained. We surveyed three parcels. The one were on. There’s another one over there. And there’s five acres over there on that hillside. And our thought is that maybe we’ll sell these two and build a house over there, so that we will retain part of the property without just totally liquidating everything. But it’s…I don’t know we’re just in the thinking process right now. The older you get, you start thinking about, well the people that live in the apartments I take care of are retired people for the most part. They walk into those apartments everyday – they don’t have to worry about weather, repairs. They make one check out once a month; [it] covers everything. Other than that, they have to get up and go to bed everyday. That looks intriguing. I might be totally bored after about a month, though. There’s nothing to fix, nothing’s broken down. The driveway doesn’t need to be plowed. The deer aren’t running on the back lawn. I don’t know, I’d probably miss all those things.
NS:
So the idea is to stay here at least on the property, a portion of the property?
DB:
Uh-hun. Or maybe we won’t get rid of it at all, I don’t know. It’s been for sale for 3 or 4 years (NS: ok) and it’s an expensive piece of property, and of course the financial situation of the country has coincided with the time that we’ve had it on the market. But there are people looking. There are people from New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts; they’re looking to trade that apartment house for something like this. But like I said it’s a change.
NS:
Yeah
DB:
[You] take on a lot of responsibility if you’re not use to it. You know?
NS:
Yeah
DB:
And in the city they have no concept of what goes on out here - the kind of responsibility. Are you from the city?
NS:
I’m from a small town, but I lived in town.
DB:
Ok.
NS:
I’ve had family friends, or friends that grew up on farms, but for the most part I grew up in a town.
DB:
Well, is there anything?
NS:
No if there is nothing else that you want to add. I think this is a good point to end.
DB:
If there’s anything more you want to talk about you can get a hold of Mel.
NS:
Ok
DB:
I’ll come down and talk to you. You don’t have to drive up here because you’ll probably forget something.
NS and DB:
[laughter]
NS:
Hopefully not again. Well thank you very much for participating.
DB:
No problem. It’s a pleasure.
NS:
Lots of great information. Lots of great stories too.
DB:
Well I hope so. I remember when I was doing the book for my dad, the woman who wrote the book put one of those down in front of me one day and I’ve never been interviewed as such and normally I find it very difficult…you just have to forget that it’s there.
NS:
Yeah
DB:
So that you can, you’re afraid that if you hesitate, its being played back, you know.

Original Format

[no text]

Duration

01:18:24

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Time Summary

[no text]

Citation

Naomi Szpot, "Donald Bruce, November 17, 2011," in CGP Community Stories, Item #107, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/107 (accessed October 24, 2014).