In the early 1980s, Vincent Craig was hired by the Salt River Police Department as a police officer. ”Vinnie” served the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community well, and he was well liked by everyone he met. I had the pleasure to be able to know and work with him, as did a few of the other “old-timers” at SRPD, like Curtis Thomas, Denise Card and Jeryle Reina.
As time went on, I got to know Vinnie better and discovered he had a great sense of humor and musical talent. He wrote songs and was recording them at Canyon Records in Phoenix, making his own cassettes to sell. According to a profile on Vinnie Craig published in the Los Angeles Times in 1994 (http://articles.latimes.com/1994-11-29/news/ls-2920_1_navajo-nation), when he was chief probation officer for the Navajo Nation, Vinnie wrote and recorded Navajo cowboy ballads, political protest songs and other songs with a social commentary and performed at many gatherings throughout the Southwest.
He also wrote articles for our Community newspaper, including a monthly column featuring his cartoon figure “Muttonman,” a superhero he had created in 1979 that appeared frequently in the Navajo Times. Prior to that, he had a cartoon strip in the Ft. Apache Scout featuring two characters called Joe Frybread and Billy Beans. For our paper he wrote about some of the funny and interesting things that were going on in the Community. His was a column you looked forward to reading every month to see what or whom he would spotlight.
One night while on patrol in the 1980s, I was in the Lehi area near Gilbert Road and the riverbed when I saw several vehicles out in the desert. I figured it was going to be a large party, so I called for more units (which back then consisted of one more officer). The officer dispatched was Vinnie Craig. I had him wait until I could walk out past the vehicles in the desert, in case some of the people ran. Once I was in position, I called him in. To our surprise, it turned out that the people had band equipment and a small stage set up with a generator. We asked, “What are you doing out here?” and they said they could not practice in the city due to the noise. We let them know they were trespassing, they understood, and we directed them to a location off the Community to go practice.
While we were talking with them, I told them that Officer Craig was a singer and wrote songs. Since they were all set up, they asked him to play a song. Vinnie sang a couple of songs, and they were impressed. They told us they had “heard stories about tribal police” that were negative, but now they saw a different side to police officers, a human side. They thanked us for treating them so well and thanked Vinnie for taking the time to share his songs. I asked him for an autograph when we were leaving, and he just smiled.
Over the years, Vinnie Craig became more famous with his music and his cartoons. At his funeral service, it was mentioned that some of his drawings were on view in the Smithsonian Institution.
Vinnie served as a police officer with the Navajo Nation, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the White Mountain Apache Tribe. He is survived by his wife, Mariddie, and three sons, Dustinn, Nephi and Shiloh.
We salute Officer Vincent Craig…he will be missed.