Tough Trip Through Paradise, The Movie
by David Stein
If a roughneck arms peddler rode in telling three different stories how his wife died in the wilderness, a good detective might suspect foul play and start asking questions.
The suspect is Andrew Garcia, author of the Montana classic Tough Trip Through Paradise, edited by my late father Ben Stein. Mysteriously, for forty years, Ben kept Garcia’s original manuscripts secret. When Ben died in 2001, we found Garcia’s thousand chaotic not-always-legible pages packed into a refrigerator-sized safe and soon I had the torture of reading them. I was under contract to produce Tough Trip as a movie. (Robert Redford had once asked Ben’s permission, but Ben, a lover of literature suspicious of Hollywood, blew him off.) The surprise and shock of Garcia’s originals sent me driving a 1200-mile journey in Ben’s old pickup. I was tracing Garcia’s travels, talking to his descendants and the Indian tribes involved. And since his murdered wife In-who-lise was Nez Perce, I stayed six weeks with a Nez Perce family in Lapwai trying to fathom the culture. I went so far as to reenact Garcia’s alleged burial of In-who-lise in a rockslide.
My father, a confessed romantic, had chosen to shape from Garcia’s originals a love story. And he did a wonderful job. Tough Trip has passion, adventure, beauty. But a less romantic editor could have extracted from those same tortuous Garcia originals a much darker story.
Garcia------contradicting himself------describes three different weapons as the cause of In-who-lise’s death: a coup stick; a “slung shot”; and a bullet from the U.S. Army.
In one place Garcia says a Blackfoot warrior struck In-who-lise with a coup stick so hard that her eye bulged onto her cheek, and she died two days later. But elsewhere he blames a “slung shot”-----a potato-shaped stone grooved to swing from a fabric handle. Elsewhere again he says she was shot in the back during the Big Hole massacre and died two years later “from the effects”.
All three Garcia stories are questionable. Would a warrior ride to battle with a coup stick? It’s not really a weapon. Would he “count coup” on a woman anyway? And about the “slung shot,” aren’t these grooved stones actually the heads of war clubs? And about the bullet wound, does he mean it festered for two years? All such questions aside, what matters is that Garcia tells each of three contradictory stories as fact, not fiction. A red flag goes up in the homicide lab. His memories elsewhere are vivid and clear. Why is he so confused about what killed In-who-lise?
We know Garcia concealed and lied when it suited him. He concealed from In-who-lise that he herded for the Army during part of the Nez Perce war and witnessed Army troops at Canyon Creek firing on the women------In-who-lise’s relatives------as they mounted and fled on horseback.
About lying to women, six of them, he confesses: “The sweet lying tongue of the white-face warrior An-ta-lee, who was many times a traitor and liar to the sweet and beautiful Pend d’Oreille maids, Mal-e-ah and Mal-lit-tay-lay, and to Kat-a-lee and Sow-set and even now a traitor and liar to the Sap-a-tan squaw In-who-lise, now thought it nothing to be a traitor and liar to Squis-squis.”
And he lied about the photos. Garcia in old age often appeared at Montana Pioneer meetings telling his exploits of the 1870’s and showing three photos of his Indian wives: In-who-lise, Squis-squis, and Mal-i-tay-lay. But as proven by Montana Historical Society archives, the Mal-i-tay-lay photo is actually Loti-kee-yah-tede, a Navajo woman who often posed in that same fringed costume and jewelry for photographer Carleton Moon. As for the In-who-lise and Squis-squis photos, they are 1930s rephotographs of tintype originals. The simple style (large figure on a dark background) dates to the mid-1890’s, long after In-who-lise and Squis-squis were in their graves.
That Garcia would try to enhance his stories------and hoped-for income------in the hardscrabble thirties is understandable. But to call the photos his wives? If his memories, especially of In-who-lise, were so precious to him, how could he carry faces of strangers to replace them?
It’s not only In-who-lise’s death in 1880 that raises questions. About Squis-Squis’s death in 1882, Garcia says she was dragged by a horse and buried in a Crow cemetery up Boulder Creek. But is there such a cemetery? None of the Boulder ranchers I talked to knew of one.
About Mal-i-tay-lay’s death, the Garcia family legend is that “he shot one of his wives in the back”. Garcia took Mal-i-tay-lay with him when he left Indian life behind and settled ranching in Rivulet. But she kept trying to escape and Garcia locked her up whenever he went to town. Later she acquired a lover across the river. Garcia saw her paddling a canoe away and shot her in the back. If there’s no truth to this story, how did it arise? What did happen to Mal-i-tay-lay? Was Garcia actually capable of shooting a woman in the back?
I’m not about to say Garcia murdered In-who-lise. But at times he certainly wanted her out of his way. And my romantic father, editing Garcia as a lovable hero, omitted things.
For example he omitted that Garcia stole In-who-Lise’s clothes while she was bathing in a sweat lodge, so that while she was trapped in there he could play with his other women.
And he omitted that Garcia cheated on In-who-lise while borrowing copper kettles for their wedding feast. Garcia tells it humorously------a little angel on his right shoulder debating a little devil on the other. He says the woman loaning kettles was especially gorgeous and she threatened if he didn’t lay with her she’d tell the camp he did it anyway so he had to.
And Ben omitted the young woman Mal-e-ah. She and Mal-i-tay-lay were pregnant by Garcia simultaneously. Garcia writes: “Yes we shurley know why the fool maids Mal-e-ah and Mal-lit-tay-lay are now sick every morning when they arise, and want to throw up their guts, trying to throw up what is in their belly. And if the fool warriors don’t soon take their guns and kill An-ta-lee that white dog of evil for this, they can be glad now but sorry when every fool maiden in camp will go back to our land of Cal-e-spay (Calispel Valley) with an evil souie-app-e cha-tum-ska (white man’s half-breed) papoose strapt on her back.” So when Garcia bade goodbye to the Pend d’Oreilles and rode away with In-who-lise, he was abandoning at least two pregnant women.
Ben also omitted Garcia’s frequent references to himself------and the U.S. Army-----as “squaw-humpers” and “Injun-exterminators” (hard words with a core of historical truth). And Ben omitted all Garcia’s poetry which, with exceptions, is cloyingly sentimental or obscene. (I leave the sisters and their blisters for the scholar next in line.)
In 1967, editor Fred Martin of the Park County News reviewed Tough Trip and quoted Joe Montgomery, a 94-year-old in Lewistown, who claimed his friend Garcia had fathered 32 Indian children. Ben replied with an icy note stating that until shown evidence he’d assume “the 32 half-breed children of Andrew Garcia are pure fiction, sired by the Park County News”. Of course Ben could have just telephoned old Joe in Lewistown and asked his proofs. But I doubt he did. If proven, those 32 children and their hundreds of descendants would have embarrassed Ben’s love story. They’d also embarrass my movie-----maybe get me sued-----so I started calling Lewistown myself. Old Joe was long dead but had published a book repeating the story of Garcia’s 32 Indian children. Thirty-two, I thought. A specific number, as though somebody was actually counting.
Not wanting to offend the Garcia family, I hesitated at first to mention the 32 children. But the amiable and helpful Garcias I interviewed were not offended and thought the story might be true. Like many readers of Tough Trip, they tended less to moralize about Garcia than to marvel at his prodigious virility. One admiring granddaughter who Garcia used to bounce on his knee and regale with thrilling stories said I should look around the three nearest Indian reservations for Garcia descendants and I’d find plenty. A group of Indian Garcias had once written to her uncles but they never replied, fearing that “If we start welcoming every bastard that comes along we’ll wind up related to half the state of Montana.” She also said that Garcia’s loving reputation had so tainted the entire family that she once had to brain a professor with a can of stewed tomatoes.
I visited the three reservations she recommended and stood in phone booths dialing Garcias from the white pages. Twice I met priests who kindly opened their baptism ledgers for me. One priest xeroxed a certain family tree from his files and gave me driving directions. The affable middle-aged workman I met had Andrew Garcia’s face, but rounder. His father (killed in a car wreck) was Mexican and Indian. His mother’s line branched back through six populous generations, but his father’s line went blank where a grandfather named Garcia should have been. The family had always wondered about him. Three of them thought they remembered seeing Andrew Garcia’s photo on their grandmother’s mantle before the house burned down.
This wasn’t proof positive. I mulled whether to keep searching for Indian Garcias and decided not to. It might just upset people. Anyway I couldn’t possibly work any more Garcia amours and offspring into a movie script than his own manuscript had already admitted.
Ten percent of the Montana population is of mixed white and Indian descent, so although Garcia’s case may have been extreme, there were many like him. It was common for men with Indian wives and children to abandon them when white women became available. The children were often rejected also by their mothers and/or tribes. Thousands of these outcasts were set wandering, with many drifting into the Meti culture. (About the Metis, see “Strange Empire”, by Joe Howard.) They faced severe discrimination and periodic expulsions and lived hard lives.
While Ben was shaping Garcia as less a playboy than he was, he also shaped In-who-lise as less violent than she was. For example Ben omitted that In-who-lise had slashed two women before Garcia met her. (He found out afterwards.) And Ben softened the incident where In-who-lise’s rivals Sow-set and Kat-a-lee roughed her up in the willows, ripping her red dress. In-who-lise didn’t just repel them as shown in Tough Trip, she stabbed Kat-a-lee three times in the belly. Kat-a-lee lay long recuperating and now was sworn to kill In-who-lise. Other Pend d’Oreille women hated In-who-lise too and were plotting to poison her. Garcia intervened repeatedly to keep In-who-lise and her rivals from attacking each other. The danger became so clear that------until the last two pages of Tough Trip------Garcia would never leave In-who-lise alone in the Pend d’Oreille camp unprotected.
In-who-lise was one tough-minded little knife-fighter looking out for her own interests. She alone of Garcia’s women was infected with the monogamous idea (by the Christians at Lapwai) and was refusing to share. Garcia threatened more than once to ditch In-who-lise for his other women and she gave him hell in return. Ben omitted many of their quarrels.
Garcia sometimes must have seen In-who-lise as a liability. Where could he settle with this refugee from Joseph’s band? Not on the Lapwai reservation because the Lapwai Nez Perce blamed Joseph for the war now troubling the whole tribe. And not among local whites because they were still so up in arms they didn’t want a Nez Perce woman and her “renegade” husband around. Anyone could report In-who-lise any time to the white authorities, and they’d have shipped her downriver to the malarial swamps of Kansas with the rest of Joseph’s decimated band.
But couldn’t they go to Canada, the same safe haven Joseph’s people were fleeing towards before they were captured? Or couldn’t they go to Garcia’s home territory along the Rio Grande? Or some safe place between? Surely in those vast mountain and prairie territories were places where In-who-lise’s Nez Perce identity might have been concealed or not been problematic.
Actually the Rio Grande may not have been a safe option. Along its shore (early in Garcia’s originals) a young woman of the Garcia clan called Dolores is compromised by a Handsome Stranger. And so her kinsmen, following some deep code of family honor, murder Dolores and the Stranger in a raging gunfight in The Door Of Hell brothel and gambling den. Then they gallop away to escape the law, and what happens next after this honor killing is rather odd. Garcia, then a lad of thirteen, is “kidnapped” by an uncle to drive mules from the Rio Grande to Montana. But is such a kidnapping plausible? How do you force a crack horseman like Garcia to trail mules when any instant he can rein around and race for home? I think a good detective might suppose that Garcia and/or his uncle were involved in the murder of Dolores and that the mule drive north was their way of skipping town to avoid prosecution. At any rate, Garcia was acquainted with honor killing.
Some Garcia family history seems called for here and it will strike many readers as bizarre. The ancient family name was el Kadir (the Camel). In Spain the Kadirs were called Moroscos, that is Moors of Muslim faith. But when Isabella and Ferdinand instituted the Inquisition in 1492, they decreed all Muslims must convert to Catholicism or lose their property. So the Kadir clan outwardly converted, changing their name to Garcia, but continued practicing as Muslims in private. Many Spanish Catholics who settled in the New World were secret Muslims of this kind and Garcia’s grandfather was one of them. And I think he had an influence. Honor killings of wayward girls are not uncommon in Muslim countries even today. And Garcia does refer occasionally to Muslim mythology. Most striking is his frequent use of the word “houris” when speaking of his Indian women. Houris are the beautiful virgins, seventy-two of them, who are the Muslim martyr’s reward in Paradise. And that sort of Paradise----a harem----is pretty much what Garcia had discovered among the polygamous girls of the Pend d’Oreilles. For him they were heaven on Earth.
And so, being free to settle almost anywhere from Canada to Mexico, Garcia takes In-who-lise back to the Pend d’Oreilles. Back to Squis-squis (his second wife). Back to pregnant Mal-i-tay-lay (his third wife) and pregnant Mal-e-ah, both of whom would soon have been giving birth. Did they?
In my father’s files is a news clipping that reports two Indian children of Garcia’s, both boys. One had grown to become a minister, the other an engineer. The reporter names In-who-lise as their mother. Author Merrill Beale also names In-who-lise as their mother. But both reports must be in error because----unless Garcia is writing pure fiction----In-who-lise died childless.
I couldn’t trace the two men, but perhaps their mothers were Mal-i-tay-lay and Mal-e-ah. If so, when Garcia returned with In-who-lise to the Pend d’Oreille women he was also returning to his children, an honorable motive. But remember, these Pend d’Oreille women hated In-who-lise-----and Kat-a-lee, with In-who-lise’s three stab wounds disfiguring her belly, was sworn to kill her.
Could returning In-who-lise to this death trap have been just a terrible mistake, an oversight, on Garcia’s part? Consider the last two pages of Tough Trip. They join the Pend d’Oreilles. Garcia then does a dangerous thing that earlier he swore never to do. He goes stealing horses. He joins fifteen Pend d’Oreille youths bent on stealing horses from the Blackfeet. To prepare this raid, Garcia says they moved their camp a three days ride ahead to protect their women and children. But in so doing, Garcia was leaving In-who-lise unprotected-----for three days-----from Kat-a-lee.
Then comes the Blackfoot attack in which Garcia says nine people were killed and In-who-lise was mortally wounded. Could the shouting, shooting, wounds, wreckage and towering dust plumes of such a battle have gone unnoticed by travelers of the time? Dave Walters of the Montana Historical Society told me the frontier newspapers in his archives showed not a rumor.
If such an attack did occur I think Garcia, with his three contradictory tales of what killed In-who-lise, could not have witnessed the blow. Otherwise he’d offer his usual full detail-----whether she was mounted or afoot, fighting or fleeing, and especially whether he did anything to defend her. Whoever and whatever struck In-who-lise some witness must have told him.
Or struck the blow herself and lied to him about it. Kat-a-lee or another of In-who-lise’s enemies could have seized a stone or weapon unobserved in that chaotic battle and smashed her in the head. At any rate, given the fierce hatred of In-who-lise that Garcia’s womanizing caused among the Pend d’Oreille women, I think her death at their hands was almost inevitable. And I think Garcia must have realized this, if not at the time, then during the passing decades as he aged.
Garcia never returned to In-who-lise’s grave. At least he never mentions it. But he knew that integrity of graves was critically important to her. She’d refused to marry him until he swore to restore her father’s vandalized grave at the Big Hole. She believed that with his corpse dug up by scalpers and gnawed by bears her father’s ghost could never rest. Ghosts were entirely real to her (and to the Nez Perce I visited at Lapwai) and that ghost was haunting her terrible dreams. It’s not that old Garcia couldn’t travel. In 1930 he revisited the Big Hole. At least twice he revisited the Canyon Creek battleground. So why did he never visit In-who-lise?
Garcia is vague on the location of In-who-lise’s grave. He says it’s “along the old Indian buffalo trail between the headwaters of the Marias and Sun rivers.” That’s a fifty-mile swath of mountains. He also says they were in Fort Benton before she was killed. The old trail from Fort Benton towards the mountain front passes the site of modern Choteau, and from there maybe they followed the Deep River branch of the Teton. But wherever they entered the mountains, In-who-lise was already dying in her saddle and the Blackfeet were hot in pursuit.
Everywhere in these mountains are huge rockslides. And the Indians did sometimes use rockslides for burials. But if Blackfeet are hunting you through prime grizzly habitat and you care about vandalism by humans or bears, a rockslide burial is a problem. Knocking rocks around is noisy. The more rocks you toss out, the more rocks topple into the caving hole. If you excavate low on the slide (allowing quick emergency access to your horses), the rocks are large with large air spaces between. The odor of a corpse will soon attract grizzlies, and they easily dig through rocks. If you excavate high on the slide (where pebbles and dirt might seal the smell) you are dangerously far from your horses. You’re facing the slope digging on hands and knees with your back exposed to any sniper who comes sneaking along. And you can’t run fast on a rockslide.
I learned all this by burying a bundle of sticks the size of a small Indian woman. The easy way to bury in a rockslide is to climb up and kick it moving. But with this type of rock I could kick only a thin layer sliding a few feet. So I started picking with a pointed rock and hand-scooping fast as I could. A stone slab immediately upslope kept the grave from filling back in too quickly. It took me twenty minutes to bury her six inches deep. Garcia would have needed twenty minutes too.
But I think that------fearing the Blackfeet------he would have chosen the quicker, safer burial in the large rocks down by his horses. Did the Blackfeet find her body? Did the grizzlies? I don’t know and I think Garcia didn’t want to know. Whatever did happen, the ghost of In-who-lise did not rest easy. She haunted the rest of his life------
Her spirit now comes drifting
I can see her misty form
And hear the winds ahowling
As she floats there in the storm------
And something’s haunting me too. It’s another explanation for all this. Consider again the last two pages of Tough Trip. Garcia is not just burying In-who-lise. He’s burying a man with her. A warrior. A “renegade Spokane” who Garcia claims was wounded in the Blackfoot attack. Would a wide-awake detective accept Garcia’s story here? If In-who-lise saw a chance to escape from Garcia and his murderous harem, and that chance was another man-----a Spokane warrior riding west towards the Nez Perce homeland of Wallowa-----would a man like Andrew Garcia shoot her in the back?
Aside from the facts cited, much of this essay is guesswork, and other guesses are more forgiving of Garcia. Fading memories, errors of family, errors of Garcia himself could explain a lot. About the photos called his wives, maybe in his yearning he chose look-alikes. About the 32 children, there’s no real proof. About the two pregnancies, the Plains Indians did have means of triggering miscarriage. About the two grown sons, maybe the reporter mistook sons of Garcia’s fourth wife Barbara Voll. About Kat-a-lee and Sow-set (who had husbands back home), maybe they’d already left that particular Pend d’Oreille band when Garcia and In-who-lise returned. About the rockslide burial, maybe the Blackfeet were far behind, maybe a brook was chattering to mask the noise, maybe Garcia did trigger the slide and seal the grave. About the renegade Spokane, maybe it all happened as Garcia said. I’ve often discussed these things with fans of Tough Trip (mostly men, mostly on Livingston barstools), and they generally forgive, even envy Garcia everything, especially his promiscuity. He was, they say, a man. He was twenty-three. And the Indian girls all loved him.
Other views are less forgiving. Few Indians I met on the reservations had ever heard of Tough Trip Through Paradise. And none had read it. So I started passing out copies. A Nez Perce historian said his study group discussed the book and could respect Chapters 25 and 26. Those chapters are not Garcia’s. They are In-who-lise’s eyewitness account of the Nez Perce War. I gave a copy to a friendly Nez Perce grandmother. She doesn’t wear skins or roast buffalo in a tipi. She’s an educated professional living a sort of spiritual Nez Perce American dream in a five-bedroom bungalow with broadband internet and she studies history. Something in her traditions makes her enormously resilient. (Given the unfairness of reservation life, she has to be. Her father, a tribal chairman, was assassinated ten years ago and American justice has never bothered to investigate.) She says that the Nez Perce War, so dramatic and violent, has blinded everyone to the original nature of the Nez Perce. They were a peaceful, spiritual people of everyday prayer and she pitied In-who-lise to have fallen among “low-lifes like Garcia.” To her he was just another lying white man.
Here I must include a few words from Garcia’s grand-daughter. When she was a child, Garcia told her that In-who-lise was the only woman he ever loved. “He missed her so much.”
About my father, I think his choice to shape Garcia’s manuscript as a love story was the right choice. Friends around Livingston who knew and loved Ben will agree he could hardly have done otherwise. And I know that Ben’s romantic vision of Garcia will continue to be the popular one. Tough Trip is a wonderful read and in 1967 it was progressive for its time. It opened a window on the Montana frontier for many thousands of people. But it’s not true that Ben preserved Garcia’s style. He improved it. To Garcia’s chaotic vitality he brought something of grace. Compare Garcia’s last few lines with the ending of Tough Trip Through Paradise----
It has been more than half a century since I laid my loved Susie to rest among the blizzard-swept crags of the wild Marias Mountains - - - where the midsummer skies are oftimes darkened by swirling snow storms - - - and yet was her abode rose-lined, as compared with the harsh spirit of oppression which robbed her and her people of their beloved Wallowa, and prompted the brutal shambles of the Big Hole. All of my associates of those stormy days have crossed the Great Divide, and the “Squaw Kid”; and the low-down despised border wanderer branded as a “renegade”, now awaits the final “going in the mulberry trees.” -----Andrew Garcia
It has been more than half a century since I laid my beloved Susie, my In-who-lise, to rest among the blizzard-swept crags of the wild Marias Mountains, where the summer skies often are darkened by swirling snowstorms. All of my associates of those rough and ready years have crossed the Great Divide, and the Squaw Kid wanderer awaits the final journey.”------Ben Stein
As for me, I can no longer really see Garcia as a hero. So the film script I’ve drafted follows In-who-lise instead. It begins on a serene summer day at the Big Hole before her family was killed and follows her through the Nez Perce War. Her story is a tragedy, and Garcia’s way of love is the final disaster. It’s his womanizing----Kat-a-lee with a war club----that finally kills her.
Film people can reach David Stein at firstname.lastname@example.org. He would also like to hear from the Nez Perce, Pend d’Oreille, Blackfoot, and other tribes involved in Tough Trip Through Paradise and from the Garcia family.
David Stein is a free-lance writer/inventor who grew up ranching in the Shields Valley. He lives in New York and Livingston and has two daughters.