In her self-published book from 2017, Pagosa Springs author Judith Stone chronicles the life and spiritual journey of Southern Ute elder and artist Russell Box Sr., whose work is featured in the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Stone worked on the book, titled “Russell Box Senior: The Physical And Spiritual Journey Of A Southern Ute Elder,” for four years starting in 2013.
In the process of writing, she started her own publishing company, Harmontrix Inc., through which she published the book after she says she was “ripped off” by her previous publishing company, AuthorHouse.
Stone says her mission is to “raise the consciousness of humanity through media.” She previously published a series of children’s books inspired by Billie, a female bison from a bison ranch in Colorado. Box’s biography is the first she has written, and she says the learning process was arduous but worth it.
Stone said that she is currently working on recording an audio version of the book, and she will be releasing podcasts that feature Box in the near future as well.
Box and Stone met in 2014 after she heard about an art showing in Colorado that featured some of his work. After she missed the event, she decided she would reach out to Box directly to try to learn more about him.
Stone says it was a “higher power” that led her to him, and she knew 10 minutes into their first meeting that she wanted to write a biography about him.
Box is now 83 years old; he is from the Mauche and Capote bands of the Southern Ute tribe. Box’s ancestors lived on plains and mountains in territory that included the Four Corners region.
Although the Southern Ute tribe enjoys great wealth today, Box’s young life was spent in poverty.
He was taken to boarding school at age 6, became an alcoholic by 16 and enlisted in the Air Force to fight in the Korean War. After leaving the military, Box got sober, raised a family and went to art school in his 40s, after which time he began growing in recognition for his artwork.
Stone says that Box was “saved” by Christianity and that the faith brought him back to some of the traditions of his tribe that he had practiced when he was younger, something she says is ironic given that Christianity was historically the faith of the colonists who ailed the Native Americans.
Duke University law professor Steve Sachs wrote about this in his foreword for Box’s biography. He approached Stone after hearing about her project because he wanted to provide context in the book regarding Anglo-American attitudes toward Native American peoples.
While the content of the book itself touches on the themes of oppression familiar to any scholar of Native American history, Sachs’ foreword provides a well-documented and -cited history of the abuse endured by tribes such as the Southern Utes.
Stone says that the biggest reasons people should read the biography are that Box’s story is one to which many people can relate, and he provides “hope” and “spiritual knowledge” through his story, as well.
“It’s an experience we’ve all gone through at some level,” Stone told The Journal in an interview.
In 2016, Stone performed at a Raven Narratives event, describing how she began her foray into writing in 2002 after surviving an automobile accident.
She was scheduled to attend an event at the Mancos Public Library with Box to talk about her book and sign copies Thursday at 7 p.m.
“Russell Box Senior: The Physical and Spiritual Journey of a Southern Ute Elder” is available in Montezuma bookstores and libraries, including Kilgore American Indian Art in Mancos and Notah Dineh in Cortez.