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North Fork Mourns Loss Of Tribal Elder Shot To Death. 'For Us, It Wasn't His Time To Go'

Dirk Charley
Gaylen Dennis Lee

A Madera County community is in mourning following the death of a Tribal Elder of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians. Gaylen Dennis Lee was shot to death Saturday night near his home. 


“You still can’t believe it, you don’t want to believe it,” said Lee’s nephew, Mike Lee. “You’d wish you'd wake up and it was a bad dream, but it’s not. We just got to keep ourselves together and move on and try to just go along as [if] he was still here guiding us.”


Credit Dirk Charley
Gaylen Dennis Lee, second from the right, among friends.

In a statement, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office said deputies were called to the 33000 Block of Mission Drive around 9:23 p.m. Multiple shots were fired, officials said, and when deputies arrived on scene, family members were loading Gaylen Lee into their car to take him to a hospital. 


Lee succumbed to his injuries before he got to the hospital, the statement said. Two witnesses identified the alleged shooter and deputies “quickly” found Robert Eugene Moye Jr., 46, in a wooded area near Lee’s home. 


Credit Madera County Sheriff's Office
Robert Eugene Moye Jr., 46

Moye was booked into the Madera County Department of Corrections for first-degree murder. After searching Moye’s home, officials said, deputies found a marijuana grow and a butane oil lab. Officials said Moye could be charged with additional felonies related to those findings. 


Gaylen Lee, 70, was a historian, archeologist, and author. In 1998, he wrote “Walking Where We
Live: Memoirs of a Mono Indian Family." It chronicled the history and culture of the Mono Indian people through the recollections of his relatives. 


Mike Lee said since his birth his uncle taught him about the Mono Indians' way of life, their language and culture and how to respect the land and animals. 


“I was fortunate enough to be taught all that by my uncle,” he said. “It’s just been a valued part to me, his teachings and the way of our family. It’s just been part of my every day for a long time.”


Lee was not only a cultural leader among the Mono Indian Tribe, but he was also a leader to people all over California.  


“I got calls and texts messaged from all over the state of people who were upset over it and honored that they knew him and honored that they had the opportunity to work with him and get to know him and learn from him,” said Ron Goode, Gaylen Lee’s longtime friend.  


Goode, also a Tribal Elder, said they grew up together and moved up in the tribal ranks together. 


“He was somebody who had a lot of respect for others and he had a lot of respect for the culture he came from and the world that he walked in,” he said.


Credit Dirk Charley
Gaylen Dennis Lee

Lee was humble, Goode said, and it hasn’t been easy to lose somebody who was so prominent in the community. 


“Everybody is still in shock and still upset,” he said. “For us, it wasn't his time to go. If you knew him then those memories that you’ll have, you’ll cherish forever."


Gaylen Lee’s loss is a tragedy for the community and tribe, the Tribal Council of the Northfork Rancheria said in a statement.


The sheriff's office is still investigating the murder.

Monica Velez was a reporter at Valley Public Radio. She started out as a print reporter covering health issues in Merced County at the Merced Sun-Star.