Rotary: Mike Katko Discusses ‘Big Medicine Pretty Water’

Author Mike Katko discusses his book, Big Medicine Pretty Water, Jan. 24 at the Rotary Club meeting. Courtesy photo

Vice Presdent
Rotary Club of Los Alamos

Mike Katko, local author, educator and businessman, spoke Jan. 24 at the Rotary Club of Los Alamos introducing yet another engaged audience to his new book, Big Medicine Pretty Water, historical fiction that features a Native American heroine in the Southwest during the years of Prohibition.

Although Katko had originally considered writing a book on another topic, a friend, Dr. Jaiya John, suggested that Katko might wish to consider his personal family history, rich with possibilities.

It was from that conversation Katko soon found inspiration in stories of his great-grandmother, Brigida Tolmich. As a young girl, she was abducted from her Apache family by Sgt. Tomlich, a soldier assigned to Fort Garland, an Army post in Colorado. He claimed her for his wife. The fort had been established in 1858 to protect settlers from Ute attacks in the San Luis Valley, then a part of the New Mexico Territory.

As soon as Katko began to write, “The words just poured out,” he said, “as if I were channeling my great-grandmother.” 

By giving her a voice, Katko said he feels he has, “Paid tribute to her memory and to the other Native American women who have been lost when retelling history.”

With a PowerPoint of vintage black-and-white photos from the Los Alamos Historical Society, Katko shared how each image paints a background for the book’s setting:

  • The Ranch School;
  • Fuller Lodge;
  • The Big House;
  • The Chile Line Railroad;
  • Otowi Station;
  • Buckman Crossing
  • The Valles Caldera; and
  • Many other landmark sites well-known in regional history. 

People of note, including Edith Warner, whose house at Otowi Bridge was a hospitable stop for Manhattan Project scientists; mountain man Ben Lilly, a notorious big game hunter and houndsman; and the homesteaders, sheepherders and bootleggers of the Pajarito Plateau.

Katko, who was born in Spain, is the oldest of seven children. His father was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars; his mother, a field worker on her family’s farm in the San Luis Valley of Colorado.

Along with being a writer, Katko is a veteran, a home builder and operated the popular Tony’s Pizzeria in Mari-Mac Plaza.

Katko also is an educator with more than 20 years of experience as a teacher, coach, principal  and adjunct professor, and he served as the Coordinator of Community Education at UNM-Los Alamos.

Many also will recognize him, or at least his voice, as a radio broadcaster for Los Alamos High School sports and as a public address announcer for Santa Fe, Pojoaque, Española and Los Alamos. 

Katko holds a Master’s degree in Educational Administration with an emphasis on at-risk youth and was awarded a Fellowship to the University of Chicago in public policy focusing on poverty and inequality.

Big Medicine Pretty Water is his second book, preceded by a book of poetry, Skies and Other Poems, published in 2012. Both titles are available at Samizdat Bookstore and Teahouse, 174 Central Park Square, 505.412.0238.

Katko is working on a second book of poetry and contemplating a sequel to Big Medicine Pretty Water.

For more information, to inquire about autographed books or speaking engagements, contact Katko at or visit

The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its 1312 Club Foundation, is a 501(c)3 non-profit and one of more than 34,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966. Rotary areas of focus include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving and enhancing the lives of mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.

The Rotary Club of Los Alamos meets in person noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays in the Community Room at Cottonwood on the Greens at the golf course. A Zoom option is available by contacting Rotary Club Vice President Linda Hull at 505.662.7950. Hull also is happy to provide information about the Club and its humanitarian service. The community is invited to attend meetings and become members.

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