The early events in my life that I want to share with you were told to me by my mother. The year was 1934 and the place where this occurred was at a small Apache settlement known as Camp Verde. It was a hot Sunday afternoon, and even the breeze that rustles the leaves of the brush shelter overhead offered little relief from the heat. I was just a six month-old baby sleeping in a cradleboard inside the wickiup.
Outside the men gathered under the shade where words were spoken softly. Our language is very descriptive and words can have strong meaning. We enjoy telling stories, often using humor, to make a point indirectly. The quiet atmosphere changed when our neighbor, Nalte, became offended and angry by something said. Everyone could hear his voice as he yelled at my father. "You always make fun of me. I am tired of it! Be quiet, or I will stop your mouth!" "You never can take a joke, Nalte," my father replied. "It is a sign of a little man when he cannot laugh at himself. You drink too much wine." "I told you to stop," shouted Nalte, as he pulled a gun from his belt. "Now I will stop you!"
The sound of a shot rang through the air. My father had been shot in the leg. In spite of the pain he ran to his wickiup to arm himself. My grandfather wrestled Nalte for his gun and another shot was fired, hitting my grandfather. My mother picked me up and ran to hide in the brush nearby. My father came running, yelling for him to stop, but Nalte pointed the gun at him again and shot him, this time fatally wounding him. With what little strength he had left, my father aimed his rifle at Nalte and shot him. Within the space of five minutes, three men who had been visiting together weredead: my father, my grandfather, and the neighbor, Nalte. Of course, I was too young to know what all had happened.
My mother was alone with a baby to care for. There was no one to help her. Both her husband and her father were gone. My mother decided to make the long trip on foot with me from Camp Verde to the San Carlos Reservation where other relatives in our clan had settled. She hoped that they would help her. She found her Aunt May and was welcomed into her home. My mother worked with her to make baskets and beadwork to sell at the trading post.
My generation experienced many changes. Our family attended the ceremonials, but we cautiously began to go to the medical clinic when the medicine man could not help sickness in our family. The government required us to receive an education. I was sent to a mission school in the nearby community of Peridot where I learned English. I had not been around many white people before. The nurse had given us children shots at the clinic. I didn't have a good opinion of white people. My teacher was strict and I did not want to sit in one place for more than five minutes. She expected us to stay in the seat for at least twenty minutes at a time. We had to learn verses. If we did not learn the memory verse, we did not get any lunch. I learned the verses because I loved to eat. Some things I heard about God and the Bible were confusing. I was mixing the teaching with my old way of thinking. They taught us new ideas about lying and stealing. We thought it was ok if we didn't get caught. The Bible said it was wrong to lie or steal because God saw everything we did. That made me feel uncomfortable when I thought about it, but my people said that the God of the Bible was the "white man's God." It was years later that I realized that He is the God of all people, including the Apache, and that He loved me enough to send His Son, Jesus, to pay for my sin. There was a new church in San Carlos started by Apache men whose lives had been truly changed by Jesus Christ. They called it the Apache Independent Church. The preaching and singing was in the Apache language so we could understand. I enjoyed singing the Apache hymns over and over all during the week.
One Sunday morning my mother told me that she understood God's message and had accepted the Lord Jesus as her own personal Savior. My mother eventually remarried, but she was to lose her husband to a tragedy again.
It was Saturday night, and my step-father went with some men who were drinking. No one would ever admit knowing what happened, but the following morning his body was found lying on the railroad tracks where a train had run over him. By age ten, I had lost not one father, but two.
Classes on the reservation only went through the sixth grade. In 1946, when I was twelve, I was given opportunity to attend the Phoenix Indian School one hundred miles away in Phoenix, Arizona. There I met students from many different tribes. I met people who had traveled many places. I decided I wanted to join the service when I graduated from high school. The Korean conflict was under way and I enlisted. I went through paratrooper training and was shipped overseas. I know that my mother was praying for me during my time away.
When I returned to San Carlos, my uniform must have looked good to a beautiful girl named Ethel Little. I was offered a job at the new Bureau of Indian Affairs Hospital in San Carlos and we were married. We built our home in Gilson Wash near San Carlos.
It was in the fall of the year, I had just started a fire in the wood stove when there came a knock at the door. I did not know what led this stranger to my door. He introduced himself as Don Rovey. He was a Pima Indian who had come up from his reservation which was many miles southwest of San Carlos. He said had received Christ as his Savior and he expressed a heart full of compassion for his Apache brothers. We began weekly Bible studies with him in our home. We studied the book of John and, as I understood God's message, my sinful living began to bother me. Many nights I would be tired. Sometimes, instead of listening, I would walk out of the room. One night after many faithful visits, Don Rovey announced that it would be the last time that he could come for he was returning to work among his people. As he once again opened his Bible to the book of John, I was convicted of my sin and I was now ready to turn from my sin and trust the Lord Jesus as Savior. Ethel had already accepted Christ. I had worried about what others might say. I came to realize it mattered only what I was going to do with the Lord Jesus. That night I got down on my knees and prayed asking Christ to forgive my sin and become my Savior. Looking back on my life, I believe that many times the Lord had protected me so that night I could receive His salvation.
(God blessed Hanson and Ethel Bullis with four children. They continued to open their home for Bible studies with others. Through their efforts, which included the donation of land beside their house, they helped to establish a local, Bible teaching church on the San Carlos reservation.)