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Gary Spang, another untimely death



A friend of mine, Gary Spang died today. I’m not sure, exactly, how old he was, but close in age to me, (late fifties, early sixties), too young, in my opinion, to perish.  In our younger years, we shared good times – he then very handsome and charming, extremely intelligent, good dancer, singer and guitar player, a fun companion in a barroom sense.  Every time I saw him, he would say “I will always remember the time you walked into Jimtown Bar, wearing a min-skirt and red high-heeled shoes, the

He said that again recently, only last week, while lolling in front of the Cheyenne Depot, a comment always certain to gain a cigarette, a buck or spare change, his objective. Clad in a heavy coat, he still looked cold, old, broke and alone. I wish now I’d have done something more about that. He thanked me, saying “You have always been a good friend to me, helping me out.” But in retrospect, I don’t think I was that good of a friend, if so, I would have done something more.

I wish I’d known that was the last time I’d talk to Gary.  If so, I could have brought him to my house, offering a meal, some comfort and safe place to stay. He was smart, capable and a very nice guy, but bedeviled by the demon wine, that being all he could afford at the end from pan handling.  He was raised right, son of a preacher woman, given the best opportunities.  And he was ever kind, not a mean bone in him. But, he wound up on the streets, asking from crumbs, somehow settling for that. I dreaded seeing him, knowing it would result in a beggar’s conversation. Thank God, I never turned him down for small requests, but now also ask myself why I did not do more.

I dread funerals, attending only if absolutely necessary, but read obituaries, even those of people I have never met, such as in Native Sun News.  In the white newspapers, most obits are of people of advanced age – 70’s, 80’ and even 90’s. Some of those folks make it to a hundred, as does the occasional Indian elder. But in Indian newspapers – the average age of the obits seems to be about 50, many times even less.  Though the cause of death is often not stated, a reader can assume those early untimely deaths are related to alcohol, drugs, some sort of related violence or neglect, even suicide, or, as in Gary’s case, prolonged self-abuse.

There are too many Gary’s in our lives. Is there anything we can do to save or help them?

Now, too late, I ask myself why I didn’t do more for Gary. And, why didn’t anybody else? Are the Gary’s of this world beyond our help or compassion? Do we give up on them? Or just ignore them as general nuisances?

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

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