ELKO – From buckaroo to heavy equipment operator, Alfred “Al” Jackson has had a long and rewarding career.
“I just retired yesterday [March 31],” Al said. “I had that feeling before when I came out of the service. Very happy.”
Al worked for the Bureau of Land Management for 35 years, five in Ely and 30 in Elko.
From grading roads to roping mustangs, he has done it all.
“I was never bored,” he said. “You see different country every day. I was busy right down to the last day.”
Al recalled some of the harrier times working on fire lines. One time, he had to pull into a boggy area and wait until the fire burned around him.
“It gets pretty cowboy sometimes,” he said, laughing.
When Al was about 14, he got the buckaroo bug and dropped out of school. He started working for the Spanish Ranch and other outfits.
“That’s when my schooling ended,” he said. “I quit school and started chasing horses.”
Although he dropped out at a very early age, Al later went back to earn his GED certification when he was 42.
Like many young cowboys, he also rodeoed. Al rode bareback bronc and saddle bronc, but stayed away from bull riding.
“Guess I still had a few brains left,” he said.
Al also did a stint in the U.S. Army starting in 1959. He was stationed in California, Washington, Korea, and Vietnam.
He was honorably discharged in 1961, but during the latter part of his service, a “little mix-up” occurred.
“For some reason, they lost my orders and confused me with another Alfred Jackson,” he said.
Al was supposed to be sent home while the other Alfred was intended for Vietnam. The orders were misinterpreted and Alfred himself went to Vietnam for about a half year.
Finally, those in charge found Al orders behind a cabinet on a troop carrier. He was soon on his way home while the other Alfred Jackson headed for Vietnam.
Besides being a dedicated public servant for the Army and the BLM, Al has also always had a deep connection with the land and his culture as a Native American.
Al was raised in a traditional home where the family only spoke Shoshone. His English skills were strictly learned and practiced in school.
“We didn’t talk English,” he said. “All we did was talk Shoshone. Here, lately, when I see kids, they just talk English.”
Shoshone is primarily spoken in the Great Basin, in Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Idaho.
In the 21st century, it is estimated that speakers number only several hundred to a couple of thousand people. Language instruction is limited, and the efforts are isolated.
The Shoshone Language Project, offered at the University of Utah, partners with Native communities to help preserve the language. The program also includes the Shoshone/Goshute Youth Language Apprenticeship Program designed to help Shoshone high school students learn the language for college credit.
Great Basin College offers Shoshone language classes taught by Samuel Broncho. The college also presented “The Shoshone Communities Language Teacher Workshop” in 2016.
While efforts like these are to be commended, Al and his daughter, Victoria Jackson, said they think that young children learn best by just being talked to normally while going about their daily lives.
“This is what I call the archaic way of doing things,” Victoria said. “You just talk to them, and they pick it up just like you do in English.”
Al started teaching Shoshone to a Girl Scout troop at the colony in Elko as a way to promote Native language skills.
“You will learn better if it actually has something to do with you every day,” Victoria said about Shoshone conversational learning. “We don’t necessarily have to learn the past participle of every verb,” she said.
Victoria created a video of her dad teaching Shoshone and talking about his method. The video premiered at this year’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
Her father lamented the current trend in Native American language appreciation.
“Kids can’t talk, and they are even ashamed of their own language,” he said.
“I was actually told in preschool not to speak my language because it would push back my other learning,” Victoria said.
“How We Teach, How We Learn; Shoshone Language with Alfred Jackson” is available in DVD format at the Western Folklife Center gift shop.
“We are scheduled to go to the Battle Mountain colony at some time to teach,” Victoria said.
“After they start learning they want to continue,” Al said.
Al still teaches the Shoshone language to Native youth in his spare time. His approach to language instruction is through is one of natural progression as when babies first mimic their elders. He has 2 and 3-year-olds who have good comprehension of Shoshoni by using this process.
Besides the language project, Al also plans to spend plenty of time with his horses after retirement. He has been around horses his whole life. He even rode horseback to school when his family lived in Lee.
“It was cold, and we didn’t have good winter clothes like we do now. Every morning, we’d go out in that cold frost with hands stinging.”
With plenty of memories to rely on and plans for a very active retirement, Al will continue living the “good life.” Only now, instead of spending time with family, horses, teaching Shoshone, and doing leatherwork part-time he will be fully immersed in his life’s passions.
“I’m 77 years old,” he said. “I’m really active, and after we get done here, I have to go out and feed my horses.”