Mr. Peabody’s Coal Stripmines Big Mountain’s Paradise with the World’s Largest Shovel

by Mar 3, 2022Smoke Signals1 comment

Mr. Peabody’s Coal Stripmines Big Mountain’s Paradise with the World’s Largest Shovel

by Mar 3, 2022Smoke Signals1 comment

“Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”

“Paradise,” the John Prine song, might as well have a sequel, starring the Hopi and Navaho Indians. 

First, Mr. Peabody hauled away Paradise, “that backwards old town in Western Kentucky, down by the Green River,” in a John Prine lyric that “wrote it all down as the progress of man.”

Now the same Peabody Coal wants to haul away Big Mountain in Arizona.

It’s the largest forced removal of rural Americans since the Japanese concentration camps in World War II, the largest removal of Indians in the United States since the 1880s.

Located in the Four-Corners plateau of the U.S. Southwest in the northern portion of the so-called “Hopi Partitioned Lands,” Big Mountain was the target of a 1974 Presidential Executive Order that called for forced eviction of traditional, non-English-speaking Navajo, or Dineh, under the Navajo-Hopi Relocation Act.

Roughly 14,000 Dineh and 600 Hopi removed from Big Mountain communities like Coal Mine Mesa, Jeddito, Sands Springs, and Star Mountain. All told, 22,000 Dineh displaced from ancestral lands — thanks, Uncle Sam.

Read it and weep: 1974 — three years before Star Wars came out. Led Zeppelin, the birth of Connect Four, the resignation of Nixon — and the forced removal of over 20,000 Native Americans from their ancestral home.

God bless America — this is  a chapter from a dark past that most would rather not talk about.

Like a John Wayne Spaghetti Flick

Big Mountain, also called Black Mesa, is a high desert plateau where the Hopi and Navajo have lived peacefully for centuries. Located in northern Arizona, its rocks are soaked in history, literally. The plateau follows the outline of a prehistoric lake. Over hundreds of thousands of years, the life supported by the water decayed and formed the largest coal deposit in the U.S.

Big Mountain’s long term value is estimated at $100 billionplenty of penis trips around the sun for any greed hungry cowboy with Captain James T. Kirk as his copilot. 

In 1966, the Hopi and Navajo tribal councils — city Indian stooges paid by the coal companies to put on a good show like Japanese actors in a John Wayne spaghetti flick — signed strip-mining leases with an energy consortium of 20 utility companies. 

WEST (Western Energy Supply and Transmission) promised air conditioning for Hollywood studios in Los Angeles, neon lights for strippers in Las Vegas, and plenty of water to soak the flower beds of suburban moms in Tucson. And the tribal councils, like Japanese cowboys rollerblading to Ween, were promised enormous piles of money to sleep on.

In actuality, their grandmothers got poisoned rivers, their ancestral land stripmined, thousands of archeological sites destroyed. Introducing coal slurries, like Kwik-E-Mart Slush Puppies only they poison the water and stripmine the land.

Hanging With the Navajo in a VW Fire Pit of Peyote Dreams

One December in the late ‘90s, our founder Bear stayed on the Navajo reservation on Big Mountain, helping the Navajo herd sheep.

A fence divided the property. On one side sat the family’s traditional hogans where they lived for generations before the U.S. government kicked them off; on the other side was the doublewide government housing they were now forced to reside. The only decent land for grazing sheep was on the hogan side of the fence, about a half mile walk from the forced relocation. If they stepped over the fence, the Navajo could be charged with trespassing.

Every day, Bear herded the sheep to graze on the illegal side of the fence. As a white kid from Ohio, he faced less danger of government persecution than the very people whose ancestors led herds on the same land for thousands of years.

For the Navajo, Christmas was family time. The younger generations who lived in the cities would return to their native land because they had time off work from their city jobs. It was a party and a family reunion of sorts. Bear dug a fire pit outside his camped VW van and lit the peace pipe. Generations of grandparents, mothers, fathers and cousins gathered, eating peyote, telling stories.

One Navajo named Thomas told Bear stories of his memories living in the hogans as a child, before the forced removal. He recalled when he was a kid white men in suits, likely from the Peabody Mining Company, coming around with papers for the grandparents to sign. Back then, nobody on the Navajo land knew much English. His grandparents didn’t really understand the paperwork, but the white men essentially claimed the Navajo had too many sheep. 

Thomas recalled how one day as a child, helicopters swooped down and shot 75% of the family’s sheep, leaving the bodies to decay in the pasture and then disappearing into the horizon. In a single afternoon, ¾ of the family’s living bled to death in the soil.

Like the Army’s slaughter of Navajo livestock in the 1860s, only a hundred years later and some change. History rhymes like a blister on your big left toe.

Thomas said the land dispute between the Navajo and the Hopi was made up by the coal companies as an excuse to take the land. The Hopi were farmers, the Navajo sheepherders, but both tribes lived a harmonious existence for thousands of years. The government invented the land dispute as a white man’s lie to steal.

Selling the land to Mr. Peabody was pitched as the best way to settle the land dispute.

Sadly, it worked. Grandfathers and grandmothers were forced off the land to live in doublewides. With no jobs and little future on the reservation, the younger generations turned to the city for education, jobs, and a future. The grandparents were struggling to hang onto the land.

Like John Prine says, one trick to songwriting is you either have to have a happy ending or a good moral to the story. Here’s the moral to the story….

Halfway to Heaven, Just 5 Miles Away From Wherever I Am

“If you are experienced from other battlefields, like Standing Rock, North Dakota, and seeking to continue your learning and contribute to peace, this is one of the places – Big Mountain,” relocation resisters said in a written missive. “This 40-year Dineh experience may be equal and similar to the fight at Standing Rock.”

When Paradise is lost, when the last tree is cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, when will we realize you cannot eat money?

Hopefully, before it’s too late. As John Prine sings:

When I die let my ashes float down the Green River

Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam

I’ll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin’

Just five miles away from wherever I am.


The land is alive — she does not forget. Gaia is sick, but she’ll survive. The question awaiting human civilization across the chasm of climate change: Will we? 

Matt Gallagher

Matt Gallagher

Wordsmith Specialist

A freelance writer for hire, Matt Gallagher is the face and voice behind Web Copy Magician. He enjoys Bear Blend as a tea to spiritually reconnect with nature and the therapeutic wonders of chlorophyll.

1 Comment

  1. Carol Smith

    It’s horrible how the Indians have been treated. It’s evil and yet it’s not really even taught in schools. Of course America wants to always look like the good guys wearing their white hats. It’s sickening. I have Cherokee in me and I was taught growing up what’s going on
    I teach my kids the truth.


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