Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Boxing buddies reunite at Piikani Nation after 45 years

Old friends Roger Buckskin ands LeRoy Black Eyes
C. Davis photos

Chris Davis, Pincher Creek Voice

Piikani member LeRoy Black Eyes was a boxer in his youth. On May 8 he reunited with Roger Buckskin, a dear friend from his boxing years, and on May 15 a Name Giving Ceremony for Roger was held at the home of Peter Strikes With A Gun and Jeannie Provost. Strikes With A Gun is LeRoy's uncle and a former Piikani Nation Chief.

LeRoy is 63 years old, soon to turn 64. His boxing years are far behind him now, and diabetes has stolen his legs and some of his fingers, but he "still believes in miracles."

LeRoy and his wife were foster parents for many years. LeRoy says he is still close with his foster children. He underwent a kidney transplant approximately four years ago, and one of his foster children was his donor. "Her way of giving back to him for being a part of her life," according to Velma Little Mustache, who I suspect was quietly instrumental in arranging the reunion.

LeRoy and Roger met in California, where they were both tutored in the sport by Roger's father. "We haven't seen each other since 45 years ago," Roger explained. "We kept in touch with my brother mainly, Jack. Everybody can't believe he is my brother, because he's white. I have been with him ever since I was knee high to a grass jumper and we've always been together, so I just classify him as my brother. He's my brother, no matter what."

"There were 4 of us there, down in California," explained Roger. "I am the only one out of the whole group that went professional." Leroy was the youngster in the group back then. "They started before me... I started in 1969 to '71." I asked "Why boxing?" Roger replied "It's just what we did. He came up to our house, my dad's house and from then on we were boxing. We went places..."

"We got together through my brother, and we've been friends ever since."

For LeRoy just getting to California way back then was an adventure. It started in Vancouver. From there he went to Bellingham, right across the border. He ended up in Seattle and got to know someone that wanted a ride to Eureka. "He gave me cash." Having nothing better to do, "and some weed", they took a somewhat indirect route. "We were going through these redwoods, and we met this Sheriff. You know why they stopped us? The license plate was hanging. They just destroyed that vehicle looking for drugs. They checked the salt, the pepper, the sugar, they took everything to find out if it was drugs. And the car, they just confiscated it. I was lucky, because down there, they're pretty strict with drugs." It turned out his traveling companion was out on probation, several states away from where they had started. "I'm lucky I didn't go to the Pen." He did get 6 months, of which he served three in jail. "I met his brother Michael in the jail." Michael invited Leroy to stick around after he was out. Michael and his brother boxed. "That's how I got into boxing."

Roger Buckskin, LeRoy Black Eyes, and Arlene Bunton

Getting to this month's reunion was also an adventure for Roger and Arlene Bunton, his sister. "I'm from northern California," explained Buckskin. "From where I live, I drove all the way down to Clovis (New Mexico) to pick her up, and then we hit the road."

"We are from the Mono Tribe east of Fresno."

"My aunt on my father's side raised me in Clovis," explained Arlene. "I didn't meet him (Roger) until 21 years ago. My aunt from my mothers side and my aunt from my fathers side said 'you've got to meet your brothers and sisters'."

Brother and sister were enjoying their reunion. "It's been so nice, and they treat us so well," said Buckskin.

While at Piikani they were given tours of the significant sites by Piikani youth mentor Marlon Strikes With A Gun.

Of course, the talk inevitably turned to their experiences in the ring. "I fought quite a few people," said Roger. I fought Carlos Palomino, who was the champion of the world. I fought him in LA, we had a split decision. I was in his hometown, and boxing at that time... if it was close, the hometown boy always won. I thought I beat him, and so did everybody else. After the fight, the announcer said he won and people were throwing beer cans, they were hollering and screaming."

"It was the next fight he was the world champion."

"Sugar Ray Shields, he won the Olympic Gold medal in 1973 in Soeul Korea, we both fought him," said Leroy. "He was tall, he was coloured, and he was a southpaw. He had arms that much longer than ours. We couldn't reach him, we couldn't get in to him."

They also reminisced about their trainer and mentor "My dad kept us out of the service, me and my brother," explained Roger. "He was in the Vietnam war. He wrote home a lot of stuff that was going on." Apparently he wouldn't talk about the war once he returned from it. "My dad was a really good friend with Ronald Reagan, Don Clausen, and I think he was a congressman, we had them all over to our house, at the head of the table. My dad was pretty well up in the world, and he brought himself down to skid row, second street, Sacramento. He brought himself all the way up and then became foster parents. We got into it through my uncle and stayed with my dad. He got into his politics, and he was well known all over."

"You have heard about George?" asked LeRoy. "We fought in his backyard in Dan Diego. His dad was a friend of Archie Moore."

Archie Moore (born Archibald Lee Wright; December 13, 1916 – December 9, 1998), was an American professional boxer and the Light Heavyweight World Champion (December,1952 - May,1962), who had one of the longest professional careers in the history of the sport. Nicknamed "The Old Mongoose," Moore holds the record for the most career knockouts (131). He ranks #4 on The Ring's list of "100 greatest punchers of all time," has the longest reign in Light Heavyweight history, and is rated by prominent boxing website BoxRec as the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of all-time. - Wikipedia

"We were down for vacation," added Roger. "Before we left, he was setting up the ring. He had everything in his back yard. We got to move around, spar a bit, and he was world champion at the time. I was probably around 18."

"His swimming pool was a boxing glove," said LeRoy. "When we walked into his house, we all had to take our shoes off, because he had white carpeting, pure white."

"When we went to the National AU finals, there was over 5,000 competitors," said Roger. "They had four rings they had to use for the week." They removed rings as the competition narrowed. "The last ring was when his brother won the world, the national AU championship," said LeRoy.

A young LeRoy Black Eyes
LeRoy represented California at that event. "Me, just being a rookie, I was very honoured."

"We were amateurs, making a name for ourselves," added Roger. "I went pro when I turned 21. I was 23, 24 when I quit." Back in the day he fought under the moniker 'Chief Buckskin'. "I wore a headdress in a few of my fights." He said his toughest fight was a toss up between Sugar Ray Shields, Carlos Palomino, or Pat O'Connor from Minnesota. "He was ranked #3 in the world."

LeRoy came back to Canada in 1971 because of family. He had about 10 amateur fights after his return. He said he was approached in Calgary to become a pro boxer after he returned, but "I turned it down. I didn't want to do it, it wasn't for me."

"I rode buffaloes in the Calgary Stampede. A few of my comrades got crippled riding buffaloes. When I was single, that was what I was doing."

"I am a saddle maker by trade."

These days he's heavily involved in drug prevention efforts at Piikani Nation.

He said he met his future bride in British Columbia 1971, and they married in 1979, "We were married for 33 years. My wife passed away in 2004, and I've been single ever since." He mentioned his children (biological and adopted) Toni and Cody, Lyle, JP, and Misty. "I have 15 grandchildren."

"I did a lot of things in my career."

"Sometimes I want to give up, but that's what keeps me going. My family."

"I've had a good life.

I asked LeRoy if we'd left anything out. "You never asked what they called me in the ring. Black eyes." Laughter filled the room at that comment.

Clipping from memorable bout
Roger still has the gleam in his eyes, but he's left the game behind. "I've backed away from fights. People wanted to try me, but I can't because my hands are permanently licensed."

"These are two of the nicest guys you will meet in the whole wide world," interjected Arlene.

"In the ring it's different, you have to hit them before they hit you," explained Roger.

"The last tournament that I ever had was the Buckskin Gloves in Vancouver," said LeRoy. "That was the last time I seen his father, because he brought some boys from California." Apparently the stable represented a rainbow of talents. "Whites, Reds, Blacks, Greens, or Yellow, it didn't matter. It was who wanted wanted to learn how to box, my dad trained them," explained Roger.

They trained in an old high school building. "After my dad passed away, that boxing system just fell down the tubes."

"We got some bad boys, pretty good fighters. My younger brother Daniel, he was the rough one of the group. It was an exciting life, I really enjoyed it."  Roger was a welterweight. During his 391 round pro career he won 23 matches (two knockouts) and lost 28 (4 knockouts), according to

Roger retired from working for 'the city' five years ago, and said he is just enjoying life these days after quitting drugs, alcohol and smoking. "My esophagus split open. My body couldn't handle it anymore." The Doctor told him that if he continued "The next time I see you, you'll be on a slab." He aid he quit everything immediately, approximately 6 years ago, and that his family was highly supportive of his lifestyle change.

"Family is what it is. It's the biggest thing, family."

Since has been enjoying travelling. "He calls it his bucket list," added Arlene.

Friends and family
Back row: Marlon Strikes With A Gun, Mark Strikes With A Gun. Arlene Bunton, Jeannie Provost
Front row: Roger Buckskin, LeRoy Black Eyes, Peter Strikes With A Gun

Related link:
Pages of History: Buckskin wins boxing championship

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing my dad's adventure!! He came back so happy and told us how well he was treated!!


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