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Max January
April 1, 1943 – March 7, 2008
By Jeannie Inman
March 7, 2008

Nowata County OKGenWeb

You can always spot Max in this instants holding the chamber pot setting on the front porch of his cabin in Mancos, Colorado, visiting with his friends about a black bear in the area.

An unforgettable character 'Max January'

The unforgettable character, My Max. Joe Inman called him Mad Max. So be it, Max was friend of so many across the country. He loved the mountains though. He had planned to stay forever in the Mancos Valley just 30 miles west of Durango, Colorado. This was better known as the Four Corners.

He sold his place south of Nowata and moved back to “God’s Country” he called it. Back to where rumor had it, the mayor happened to be gay and the rest of the misfits lived out there. Then he would laugh with you after telling such a story, which was true he stated.

His nature was gentle and loving to all and he considered himself a teacher and a hard worker. That was his lot in life to work hard like the folks used to do 100 years ago. Whether it was cutting wood for the wood stove, or cooking a meal for friends and neighbors that had stopped by were the most valuable times that Max cherished most.

Max requested a coffin be made of pine and preferred it to be simple in design. He asked his Amish friends at Jamesport, MO to indulge his last wishes and of course he insisted he would pay for it. They had charged “English” a reasonable amount to make it. By the way, his dearest friends were the Amish and they called all who are not Amish “English.” Therefore, Max acquired a nickname “English.”

Max explained the difference between a coffin and a casket. In the olden days, the pine box was shaped like a church. Of course they were lined inside sometimes with a blanket or a sheet for the body. A casket is a French word meaning “a box to hold valuables in,” such as jewels or money or a person. A casket is rectangle shaped.

The clothes tell a lot about a man. Max chose mostly the Amish style of clothing. His black hat he wore to church, weddings, or funerals would let everybody know that he was a married man. His black suit was his Sunday-go-to-meeting best. He was not given to flash and glamour fads like many of his friends like. But his work clothes were overalls and a railroad engineer cap and regular work boots.

Once Max helped me and Elsie Berg with a project involving the Taylor-Glendale Cemetery that is south of Nowata on county road 26. Most people call it “inspiration point.” Many teenagers use this lover’s lane for drunken beer parties. They had trashed the place directly in front of the cemetery and broken glass found in the cemetery too. Among other things, vandals had overturned markers there. Max brought his team of draft horses, Peanut and the other one whose name I have forgotten, to set the markers back on their bases. He had a homemade hoist of logs. It was remarkable.

Max then made a sign for me that read, “Uncontrolled kids will be captured and sold as slaves.” He posted the sign on cemetery property. His plans at that time were to be buried at the Taylor. A week later someone “borrowed” the sign.

TATTOOS was another quirk that Max cherished. His left arm had a tattoo of the morning sun and below that is a plow and a field with freshly plowed ground. A narrow road leads from the south end of the field down his arm to the elbow. The road continues to the inside his left arm and makes a turn up toward his armpit. At the end of the road is a log cabin.

Max explained to me that he would rise at sunup, leave his house. He traveled down the road until he reached the field. He would then begin plowing his sins under each day that he had committed the day before. The purpose of the field was to bury his sins.

To understand Max was to know him. He tried to give a free education to everyone he met, me included. He laughed every chance he got at himself or at life in general. When I mentioned the tattoo on his back by his left shoulder he told me this short story.

“ This is Injun Charlie,” I call him. There are Cherokee words written above him. Injun Charlie is a warrior with his war shield and lance. He is a protector symbol of the Cherokees. The words above him are one of 6 words that mean in Cherokee “my brother’s keeper.” I have vowed to protect my fellow man.

Max had explanations for the earrings he wore, the beard, his ponytail, the ring he wore in his left nipple, and the other tattoos on his right arm. Some of these meanings I have forgotten.

He had kept the clippings of his hair in a sack. After years of collecting, he had an Amish lady weave his hair into a “possibles bag.” All right Max, what is a possibles bag? Well, it just means you carry all your valuables in it. The bag was black with white trimmings on it. At one time his hair was black and later it was salt and pepper colored. The lady took extra care to sort out the white and gray to trim the design into the bag. She also lined the bag with a satin cloth. It was beautiful and she attached a wooden type button for it and made a loop that would keep the bag closed. The bag was about 5”x7” in size. It was an heirloom.

He would always explain why he could not come over to the house when we invited him. “Well, I will have to stop by on the way back. I have to be at Jamesport to deliver these stoves to the Amish. There is going to be a wedding and I intend to fleece the Dutch on this trip. There is nothing like trading with the Amish. They do put up a good fight you know.” This was good-natured joking. I must go because baby needs new shoes you know? In other words Max was broke.

He really liked Mancos, Colorado. He had lived there and farmed it for about 10 years at one time. He raised his family there too and brought them up like the Amish folks. Mancos has an elevation of about 7200 feet. There is about 4 foot of snow there at present, March 7th. The photos of the cabin show it is in the mountains. The elevation there was over 8000 feet. Max did not go to the cabin in winter because the snow was too deep.

Max worked for a dude ranch as a cook, handy man and general helper with horses or whatnot. The Rimrock Outfitters would take horse back rides into the mountains for an hour, then stop for a noon day meal that Max prepared. He usually served steaks, fried potatoes, pinto beans, fried apples, and hot strong coffee. Sometimes he made his famous “bear sign.” This was what he called the old cowboy recipe for donuts. While the folks were resting and eating Lynne & Perry Lewis would pick and sing and oh how that gal could yodel. Max was required to tell his story of coming from Nowata, Oklahoma to every tender foot that sat at their campfire. Yes, he was kidded about no water in Nowata. He told the story to the “pilgrims” that collected around him as follows. “When the great flood came and covered the earth, Nowata only got 1/16th of an inch. That is why I moved to Mancos.”

Yes Max, I suspect you are still sitting on the front porch in Down Webber Canyon watching the sunset and chuckling about the knuckleheads here in Nowata. As you reach down and pet old dog Tippy for chasing the black bear away from the privy and chicken house last night. And you sure wished that Joe Inman would take that dang old rooster off your hands since the bear ate all the hens this past summer. Yes Tippy, I believe Mancos is the perfect place. There are no screens on the windows because there are no flies or mosquitoes. Well Tippy, it is nearly bedtime now. I gotta plow that north 40 tomorrow.

No doubt about it, he has started the journey and we shall miss him. His voice is silent but never shall he be forgotten.

Max January and Jeannie Inman
standing in the Armstrong--Journeycake Cemetery
May 2000
Photo by Elsie Berg

Copyright © 2008 by Sharlee Farrell Nowata County GenWeb Coordinator, April 1, 2008
This copy contributed for use in the USGenWeb Archives.
Copyright. All rights reserved.

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