If he’d thought about it, Bob Cogswell might have known he was Indian. But his parents never brought up his heritage back in the 1960s when he was a kid in Illinois.
With his light skin and dark curly hair, Bob resembled his Swedish father more than his Cherokee mother. His Indian half wasn’t apparent to anyone beyond his family.
Now, Bob, who lives in Coeur d’Alene, laughs at the signs he ignored.
“I always thought Grandma looked neat,” he says. “And I naturally gravitated toward beading in junior high, Indian lore in Boy Scouts. But Mom never said anything.”
Even after he made his first drum, attended his first rendezvous re-enactment of the fur-trading era, his parents said nothing.
The Illinois rendezvous encampment sparked Bob’s passion for history. The fur-trade era fascinated him. He taught himself to make buckskin clothes, teepees, gourd urns, fire from two sticks.
He sold his period wares at encampments and powwows throughout the country during his young adult years. Along the way, Indians adopted him and gave him the name “Two Hawks.”
At one encampment, a Lakota flute player taught Bob to make wood flutes.
“He explained it without much detail and said if I was meant to do it, I’d do it,” Bob says, his eyes drifting to a rack stacked with his smooth, handmade flutes. “Flutes led me places I never thought I’d be.”
With a hand-saw, plane, chisels and gouges, Bob crafted three flutes to start. He had the right touch. Friends encouraged him to make more and sell them.
Each flute he made revealed more of the Cherokee in Bob. Finally, his mother told him about his heritage and his life made sense.
“I pumped her. I just wanted to know more,” he says. “It’s important to know where we come from.”
His mother didn’t know much. Her tribe was from the northern Georgia area. Bob headed toward southern encampments and powwows.
His cedar flutes sold well. Only a handful of people in the nation made such recorder-like flutes. Their haunting, reedy sound is the sign of top craftsmanship. So is the invisible seam between the halves.
His reputation and circle of friends grew. Indians from all over invited him into their homes, helped him explore his roots and discover himself.
“I wouldn’t trade that time for anything in the world,” he says softly.
In 1989, a collector from California tracked Bob to Illinois to buy his flutes. He stayed in touch for the next few years while Bob researched his ancestors, performed on his flutes at school assemblies, learned African drumming from a Nigerian friend.
In 1991, the collector opened Journeys, a Native American arts store, in Coeur d’Alene and urged Bob to check out the area. Bob was ready to move. His mother had taken over the heritage search.
At peace with himself, Bob settled in Coeur d’Alene. He learned marimbas and now teaches African drumming and marimba classes. He wants to open a center where anyone can learn or listen to drums, marimbas or flutes or try a variety of cultural dances.
“Flutes have shaped my life,” he says, his thin fingers dancing on the holes of a flute branded with two small hawks. “They’ve totally changed who I am.”
Farm town blues
Mary Frances’ artwork dazzled Coeur d’Alene before she left for Seattle a few years ago. Now she’s back with “A Place Called Ferdinand,” a collection of 22 bright oil pastels.
Ferdinand is a dying farm town near Grangeville on the Camas Prairie. Eugene Schaeffer has lived and farmed there all his life and wrote 12 bittersweet essays to accompany the art.
The closed gas station is especially moving. There’s one just like it on most Idaho roads. The exhibit’s at North Idaho College’s Union Gallery through Friday. It’s free.
How’s your town showing its age? Point out the changes for Cynthia Taggart, “Close to Home,” 608 Northwest Blvd., Suite 200, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814; fax to 765-7149; or call 765-7128.