Thursday, June 29, 2006


“Making Hay” (Vintage Books, 1986. ISBN 0-394-75599-5) was Verlyn Klinkenborg’s breakthrough career-making book. It’s just a slender paperback but packed with first-hand descriptions, history, botany, jokes and colorful language. This is “New Journalism,” so that much of it includes the author, who grew up in a farm family, but not on the farm. The only thing missing is the smell of drying alfalfa.

My garage smells of dry alfalfa right now. It blows into my yard and takes hold in flower borders or just at the corners. To the exasperation of my neighbors, I let it grow all the way up into a two-foot-tall bush, then cut it, dry it and knock off the leaves to keep for tea. So far as I know, no one has made a study of the virtues of alfalfa tea, but I’m sure they are there.

When I was little, I was partly raised on “pablum,” which is a baby formula developed by several Canadian pediatricians. I craved the stuff and was very resentful when I was told I was too old to eat it anymore. One of the secret ingredients was alfalfa. Alfalfa has the property of promoting growth and well-being in some creatures while disagreeing with others. No one knows why. Cows love it.

Alfalfa was the miracle crop that saved many farms and ranches because it is drought resistant, likes the alkaline soil of the midwest and high prairie, and can withstand hard winters. Roots can go into the ground as deep as thirty feet, which is why it’s much more practical to “harvest” my alfalfa than to try to dig it out. In a good year it’s possible to get three cuttings.

Alfalfa originated in Iran when it was Persia -- actually before it was any country at all. It’s related to soybeans, peanuts, clover and kudzu -- all that vigorous stuff. Legumes: the very first plants documented as “vegeculture” -- that was in Thailand about 9,000 B.C.

The first reference to alfalfa in writing is a Hittite clay tablet from 1300 B.C. or so. From Persia (the Iranian plateau) the crop traveled to the Greeks, the Romans, up into Europe throughout the Roman Empire -- and then collapsed, disappeared for a millenium. Finally in the Late Renaissance it returned, now called “lucerne.” (The word “alfalfa” comes from the Moorish (Islamic) Spanish “alfacfacah” which means “the best kind of fodder.”) We use that name because both Washington and Jefferson tried raising the stuff, couldn’t do it because they had the wrong kind of soil and just didn’t know enough about the plant anyway, and so assumed that “lucerne” was a bust. Then “alfalfa” caught on in South America and came back up the continent through Mexico to California and Texas. So “alfalfa” has come to the rescue of American farmers just like other immigrants from the south and it originated in Iran with the rest of civilization. Something to think about, given the daily newspapers.

The main trick about legumes of all kinds is that they live in symbiosis with bacteria -- without the bacteria they cannot thrive because this is their source of nitrogen. Verlyn’s description of what happens on a molecular level is, as he says, “semi-erotic,” a ceremony of penetration down in the dark seed bed. Many farmers plant alfalfa for the first time with a “nurse crop” which is often oats, so that they are shaded. The oats get their tops cut off before they can replant themselves or interfere with the alfalfa. When the alfalfa is getting “old,” it is ripped out and often replanted to something like corn, which thrives because of the nitrogen left in the ground. However, corn erodes the soil -- alfalfa does not.

What makes the book so rich and so worthy of rereading is the descriptions of the various “cultures” of people who raise and feed alfalfa, some of them in the midwest where the name of the game is machinery, which they often invent or adapt themselves. Is there a more romantic name for a machine than “windrower?” They eat and square dance with huge gusto.

But alfalfa is not the whole story. Bob Scriver learned from Mr. Jim Stone, a major horse rancher on this reservation, that wild hay is the best hay for horses. In the Montana Big Hole the hay is grass, the technology is a “beaver-slide stacker,” which builds haystacks, and there is plenty of grazing rather than baling. When I was circuit-riding I often saw “beaver-slides” -- a tall contraption of poles for hoisting hay up and dropping it off the top -- between Helena and Missoula in the long elk meadows of the valleys. (The elk appreciate those stacks.)

This week I made my monthly eighty-mile provision run through Shelby and Cut Bank, smelling hay all the way because the roadside sickle bar operators were cutting the rogue alfalfa and volunteer grasses full of sweet clover, another legume. Out in the fields the huge round bales were sitting at random to dry out. Later they’ll be stacked in rows. If they don’t get thoroughly dry, they’ll burst into flames!

There is a wonderful website to visit, whether you live where you can smell hay or not. The site is quite serious and philosophical with wonderful reproductions of art from European classics to modern. it’s worth repeat visits, especially on cold, drizzly winter days.

If you don’t have a computer on hand, read Verlyn Klinkenborg. He often writes short editorials for the NY Times, rather like those of the beloved E. B. White. NOW Verlyn has his farm, within commuting distance of Manhattan. I suspect he has a windrower.

Monday, June 26, 2006

"CHASING THE RODEO" by W.K. ("Kip") Stratton

“CHASING THE RODEO: on Wild Rides and Big Dreams, Broken Hearts, and Broken Bones, and One Man’s Search for the West” by W.K. (“Kip”) Stratton. Copyright 2005. Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 0-15-101072-2

The rodeo community is not a closed one -- in fact, when Bob Scriver began to do rodeo sculptures, he found them more than willing to share ideas and resources. But it is rather a privileged society because it is competence-based. Bob got along with rodeo hands because of his competence as a sculptor. He ended up doing many portraits of the biggest names for the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, therefore getting to know them and their families.

Ironically, because it is a loose, moving, constantly reconstituting community that includes animals as well as people, rodeo also can be a magnet for floaters, drifters and grifters -- especially the carnies that exist alongside like camp-followers. Something about this is very American, maybe because it is a sort of melting pot.

Kip Stratton’s book has two structuring elements: the amazing 1967 ride that Freckles Brown, an aging but still competent cowboy, made on Tornado, an aging but still unridden rodeo bucking bull. As a child, Kip was there, and he describes it vividly. I was there, too, (ten years older than Kip), but could not describe it to you so well, so I relished the replay. What I remember is measuring Freckles and Tornado the next day so that Bob could commemorate the event with a double portrait.

The other narrative thread is the life of Kip Stratton’s hit-and-run father, who wandered in and out of both carnie and rodeo. It was the sort of life that leaves behind genes tested by many kinds of hardship, but almost no advice about how to cope and certainly no resources. “Cowboy Don” was a drinkin’ man, but not the kind who can ride and work in spite of it. Wandering from woman to woman, he played off mystery and charm. You know -- the kind of loner that Harry Dean Stanton plays in the movies and that Sam Shepherd sometimes writes about. Kind of a Western type.

Stratton goes from rodeo town to rodeo town, buttressed by his rodeo-fan-mother’s choice of a second husband, a man rock solid and prosperous, absolutely competent. Stratton pays out the clues to his genetic father while he sketches the latest transmogrification in the long transit of rodeo from a jackpot cowboy competition in some dusty venue where people gather idly, to the latest re-framing of bull riding as an “extreme sport” with the riders wearing tennis shoes, flak jackets, and football helmets, quite unable to actually fork a cayuse -- even unwilling to do that. Their goal is not competence so much as money, BIG money, and a rock star lifestyle. The working cowboy is replaced by the greedy daredevil fool. Take note, America.

Stratton, like many of the rest of us, would rather go back to the Oklahoma City National Finals of twenty years ago instead of today's Vegas lasers and explosive music -- would rather go back even farther to the days when Pendleton was the top rodeo and Indians camped in lodges pitched by the amphitheatre. He includes the stories of the men of color, the hatred and discrimination they have faced, and their success in spite of it, from Bill Pickett to Jackson Sundown to Will Sampson.

This is a quickly-read book, probably not the definitive work on rodeo, but it is from the heart, a work of love and longing without turning away from the pain that always brings. He notes the names and characteristics of the bulls and gives us a little taste of the perils of the women -- though as a happily married man he kept his defenses up. In general the latter were the more dangerous, of course.

If I say Kip Stratton is a “competent writer,” it’s not damning with faint praise -- it’s saying that he’s worthy of his subject. Like me, his all-time favorite rodeo movies are “Junior Bonner” (1972) and “The Lusty Men.” (1952) I saw the latter when I was about the age Stratton was when he saw Freckles Brown ride Tornado. It is an impressionable age.

A thorough and interesting review of “The Lusty Men” is here:

A rather amazing philosophical review of “Junior Bonner” is here:

As for rodeo itself, it’s the season. Calgary Stampede coming up. Backyard events everywhere. Getchur hat.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Out to Lunch

“I will be in Montana in August, videoing /researching on Thomas Francis Meagher -- including Meagher's policies and interactions with the Blackfeet. I expect to be at Heart Butte/ Browning around 10th August. Please advise if you could advise/ suggest contacts.”

This is the entire content of an email I received last week. I have no idea who the person is who sent it -- I will leave his name off so it won’t affect his job prospects or tenure. Doubtless he took my name from a Google search and assumes that anyone who writes a blog must be at his service. My Google of HIS name revealed nothing of interest or relevance. This sort of message comes in to all of us here who have a public face -- people everywhere on the planet assuming that we’d be delighted to do their research, make their contacts, usher them around their opportunities, drop all our own work, and so on. All for the honor of it.

It’s nothing new -- in the Sixties there were plenty of cruisers who plagued us at Scriver Studio. Once in a while there would be someone useful, like the zoo veterinarian who gave us a quick education about our bobcats that we really needed. (Wild cats need a different kind of distemper shot than domestic cats.) In many ways, Bob’s art education came to him through visiting artists whom he helped to find habitat and gave pointers on anatomy. But there were also spongers and loafers, some of them near-criminal.

Even my own friends could be ugly tourists. One threw a fit in a local restaurant because the waitress couldn’t supply the wine he wanted. She was a student of mine and didn’t deserve abuse, nor did I deserve to feel ashamed for my friend. The worst practice of the “ugly tourist” is talking about us in front of us, as though we were a prairie dog village with interesting characteristics. In the Sixties more innocent drifters came through, both male and female youngsters with little money, ancient vehicles, and no game plan. They expected help and got it: then we never saw them again. Until we saw them on book jackets.

So again this year, just about the time we locals are beginning to relax and enjoy the post-rain weather, along come a horde of writers/researchers/academics/videojocks/anthropologists/education experts in a chilling spray of questions no one could answer even if they wanted to. Like “what does the Tribe really think?” (God knows, though the Devil often seems to get his/her hand in.) As for the relationship between Blackfeet and Francis Meagher, the hot-headed Irishman who was lost overboard from a boat anchored at Fort Benton before he could function as the first governor of Montana, my guess is that the Blackfeet warned him about “water monsters” and he ignored the warning.

Maybe I should warn some of these info-cruisers about little old ladies who seem obedient and unknowing. (Like me.) This email was from someone who was not identified except for a name I didn’t recognize; gave no reference to an intermediary; offered no credentials, compensation, or community relationship. It’s one way among many that back-East folks prey on the West, treating information as just another form of industrial extraction. As they used to say about taking land away from Indians, “Well, they weren’t using for anything anyway -- just let those bison roam around on it.” These jokers say, “Well, you guys never get anything published about the West anyway.” Maybe because the heavyweight publishers are in the East and one must buy them martinis to get their attention.

But one of the rules I always try to observe is that of reversal. What about the point of view of the poor wage slave in the East who is trying to get in touch with the West: maybe family roots or an admiration for Western values. (We’ll put aside as unworthy the yearning to have an adventure in a nice resort area.) How are they ever supposed to make a connection if we all see them coming, put a “gone fishin’” sign on the door, and then lock it so we can get some work done -- since our work goes on all year long?

One suggestion might be to use a professional guide, like Sun Tours in East Glacier. Put out a little money instead of trying to get it free. Go to a Jack Gladstone concert. Use the public library. Do a little research while still back east.

These days the grandmothers are the high school kids I taught in the Sixties -- now they are senators, bank presidents, school superintendents. Yet outsiders come in here assuming they are still living in lodges, cooking over smoky fires, wearing -- um, can’t say sq**w dresses -- Mother Hubbards with big belts, and wielding sharp knives. Grateful for a little attention from big shots. The outsiders decide to buy something “Indian” here in Blackfeet country, so they go to the Museum of the Plains Indian or the Blackfeet Heritage Center and buy a silver and turquoise squash blossom necklace. (If I have to tell you that’s not Blackfeet, get off this blog!)

We get a little testy.

Curley Bear Wagner is supposed to be the official Blackfeet historian. Call him up. He’s in the phone book.

And as for this guy who wants to know about Meagher, what makes him think any Blackfeet keeps records on white guys?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Today on my email I received this message:

"Please Contact "Moses" at:


"Congratulations and Best Wishes. I am delighted to see you are doing well. I just googled your name on a whim today and was rewarded with your progress.

"Love and Respects


It is problematic in the following ways:

1. The person has too many names!

2. I don't remember anyone with ANY of the names! (Though that's not very significant considering the state of my memory and my checkered career across the country.)

3. "Love and Respects" sounds like a non-English speaker.

4. "Moses" is a religious names which has become a signal to watch out.

5. "was rewarded with your progress" also sounds like a non-English speaker.

6. There is no indication of what "Moses" thinks IS progress! Certainly most people would not consider living in a decrepit house in a tiny village on the edge of a Montana reservation with no income except social security and a tiny pension to be much of an achievement, except maybe in terms of endurance. Sounds like shameless flattery to me.

7. Nice that this person is pleased, but what was our connection anyway? Ministry? Dog-catching? Teaching school? Most people making this kind of contact will hark back to some happy time at a conference or some shared experience at a job.

So I deduce that this is a snare and a trap, doesn't pass the reality test, and is part of the increasingly mysterious web of communication opened up by the Internet.

May others profit from my ruminations by keeping their guard up.

Prairie Mary

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


This boulder erratic had been underground until the road out towards Heart Butte was improved. The road builders dug it up and set it over to the side. It is hardly weathered but almost immediately it began to attract small gifts and prayer tokens.

The glaciers scraping across the high prairie left a lot of puzzles behind, like the potholes formed when big chunks of ice carried along in the earth finally melted or the boulders transported down from the cliffs where they originated and stranded far from the mountains. Indians, just like modern scientists, pondered these things and developed theories about them which were often expressed as stories.

Blackfeet who saw the Indiana Jones movie in which a big stone tries to roll over Harrison Ford, must have been reminded of the story of Napi and the Rolling Stone. (Not a member of the rock band but possibly related to Rock Gobert.) It’s a story oddly reminiscent of the Aesop fable in which the sun and the wind bet over who can make a man take off his cloak. The wind tries to tear it off (our winds around here are always trying that) with no success (hooray for our side!) but the sun simply gets warmer and warmer until the man takes off his cloak and lays it aside.

In the story of Napi and the big erratic boulder, Napi is already too warm on a nice sunny day, and looks around for a place to hang up his cloak. He sees a big boulder and in his usual grandiose manner, pretends he is doing it a great favor. “You’ve been out here with no shelter for too long, Grandfather. I give you my cloak as a long deserved cover for your bare stone shoulders. You may keep it forever.”

Then Napi goes on, it starts to rain (if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute!) , and he wishes he had his cloak back. So he sends a poor innocent passing-by coyote back to get his cloak, promising that if the coyote brings it, he’ll share the cover. (Among other things, Napi is the first “Indian giver.”)

Pretty soon the coyote is back with no cloak and reports that the stubborn rock says that Napi gave him the cloak and he intends to keep it. Napi is enraged and goes back to grab his cloak off that rock. “You’ve been out here in the rain and sun for centuries,” he scolds. “You don’t need any covers.”

But when Napi goes off in his cloak, the rock comes after him, rolling, rolling, rolling... Napi yells for help and some animals try but have no luck. Finally he sees some bull bats (nighthawks) and they are able to dive-bomb the boulder until they’d chipped it to pieces. As a reward, Napi grabs the corners of the birds’ mouths and pulls them out wide, then pinches them off short. That way they look cute. Or at least Napi thought so. Of course, he himself had a big mouth.

One of the interesting aspects of this story is that it addresses the problem of what is alive. Early indigenous thinkers were inclined to think that anything that moved around, had emotions, and did things was alive -- so this boulder was certainly alive.


It appears that I left out one of the passages about Blackfeet in Adrienne Mayor’s exciting book, “Fossil Legends of the First Americans” when I transcribed the index references. The neglected paragraphs are thus:

“In some places in Alberta, there were so many bones of dinosaurs you couldn’t help stepping on them, exclaimed one early fossil hunter, Jean L’Heureux, a Frenchman who lived with the Piegan (Blackfeet) bands in Alberta in 1860-90, wrote a survey of the geography and Indian customs. The Piegans collected iron oxide pigments near drifts of fossil shells in the Red Deer River and Bow River valleys, the same area where the Blackfeet tradition said the first Iniskim baculite or buffalo-calling stone was discovered. The Piegans also frequented Flint Knife Hill for its hot springs, lignite and other minerals, and numerous fossil remains.

“L’Heureux accompanied his Piegan friends to an ancient lakebed and a three-hundred-foot high coulee near the Red Deer River, where the Indians came to honor earth spirits. Among the tumbled rocks, they showed him many great bones of a “powerful animal” whose enormous vertebrae measured twenty inches in diameter. This fossil site was marked with numerous offerings of cloth and tobacco and the Natives told the Frenchman that the “grandfather of the buffalo” lay buried there.

“Like the Shawnees and Delawares who called mastodon remains “the grandfather of the buffalo,” the Piegans associated the curious bones with the largest animal they knew. Their interest was spiritual, notes Canadian paloeontologist David Spalding, but their interpretation was ‘scientific’ in that they recognized the fossil animal’s ‘antiquity and possible relationship to a living descendant,’ an insight that might have gained George Gaylord Simpson’s approval. [Simpson didn’t think Indians could be scientific.] In this case, the massive bones visited over centuries by the Piegans belonged to huge dinosaurs, the ceratopsians, duck-billed hadrosaurs, ankylosaurs and theropods first scientifically collected by William Dawson in 1874. Dawson was followed by Tyrrell, Charles Sternberg, and many others in what is one of the most productive dinosaur locales ever studied; the Red Deer River Canyon is now Dinosaur Provincial Park. In the park, archeologists have found a Piegan vision quest and an effigy figure overlooking the fossil-laden valley.

“In the Hell Creek and Judith River formations of Montana, dinosaur species include the thirty-foot-long tyrannosaurid Albertosaurus, the seventeen-foot-long ceratopsian Chasmosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, hadrosaurs, and other gigantic reptiles. In 1995, on the Blackfeet Reservation in the Two Medicine area, a Blackfeet fossil hunter discovered a baby T. Rex, one of the youngest and best-preserved dinosaur fossils ever found. As I drove from Bozeman to the Fort Belknap Reservation, just north of the Missouri and Judith River Badlands where Hayden, Charles Sternberg, and Cope had discovered troves of dinosaur fossils, I stopped for a view of the Little Rocky Mountains, where the Blackfeet, Assiniboines, Crees and Gros Ventres came to seek visions. Bill Snell, an Assiniboine of Fort Belknap who knows that area, told me that his tribe used to collect fossils near a warm springs on a bare hill covered with shells. A terrible water monster called Bax’aa was fabled to lurk at a spring there.”

What follows is a picture of a sculpture by Bob Scriver that shows Scarface fighting off the "terrible birds" who had been killing the sons of the Sun, Natoosi, leaving only Scarface's friend "Morning Star." Various versions of the story say the birds are cranes, or some have guessed condors, but I notice that -- consciously or not -- Bob's version of the birds looks a bit like pterodactyls. It's interesting that the story includes a detail about Scarface taking to the Sun the heads of the birds, so that he would believe in the destruction. No doubt the fossil skulls of bird-like pterodactyls were first to attract the attention of Indian observers, who might then look for the bones of the bodies.


Judith Landing on the Missouri River, site of 1855 Blackfeet peace treaty.
(“Make a treaty -- make peace.”)

A history conference examining Blackfeet concepts of peace and peace agreements.
Friday, August 18, 2006, 10:00am to 4:00pm
Free & open to the public
Nizipuhwahsin School, Browning, Montana

Guest speakers will include both academic and community scholars.

Piegan Institute
Researching, Promoting & Preserving Native Languages

For information call Rosalyn LaPier at 406.338.7740
or email

Co-sponsored by the Center for the Rocky Moutain West at the University of Montana.

This invitation arrived in a recent email. These summer history conferences are always wonderful, a chance to meet some fascinating people and to enjoy the graceful building where the Blackfeet Immersion School teaches little kids to speak their own language. Roselyn LaPier, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Montana, is the heart of the event and has been known to go so far as to pick bushels of sarvisberries for the participants. You can’t get much more traditional and land-connected than that.

I was thinking about how I would define Blackfeet peace and peace agreements, especially before white contact. Of course, we don’t KNOW because there’s no written record or video. But there are some things we can work out, some things we can guess.

First, it would have to be an oral agreement. In those days most disruptions of the peace were probably over the allocation of resources, especially who could hunt buffalo when and where. This would mean that groups would have to discuss where to set boundaries and where, and to what lengths to go to defend them. When times are fat with good grass and lots of animals, far more trespass and voluntary sharing would be tolerated than in lean years. When things were tough, people would be more on edge, more ready to fight, more in need of domination to keep order. Then it would take a lot of gathering to talk in order to decide what should be done.

On the personal level, the most disruptive behavior might be over sex or competition -- arrogance, possessiveness, the human comedy. (The nastiest thing one Blackfeet can say to another is still, “You think you’re better!” The next thing is likely to be an act of leveling.) A woman in a violent marriage might have been defended by her brothers, who came to exact retribution. A faithless woman might be punished with mutilation: a sliced-off nose. A lazy woman might be sent back to her family. True troublemakers might be settled by the Dog Soldiers, who kept order in the camp and might even destroy a bad person’s camp and drive them away. In fact, my impression is that dispersal -- making physical space among persons or bands -- has always been a peace strategy and that one of the violence-making forces on a reservation is the confinement to the same space.

In those days daily peace and standards of conduct would be imposed by known persons, real and at hand -- not abstract roles or persons in official robes, often acting as “societies.” It might not be more fair or objective than today’s trials, but it would be understandable.

Peace itself might not have been defined the way we do today, when the concept is prone to be either “at rest -- stasis” or “controlled:” held in a certain pattern by power. Rather, peace might have been a matter of fittingness, harmony, keeping the pattern moving smoothly according to the seasons. These are the conditions of prosperity. Rain comes when it ought to, sun comes when it is needed, and the plants and animals respond dependably. Since humans are part of the whole, what they do affects nature and they ought to be careful, respectful.

Someone has said that Native American religion is "ecosystematic": a religion that sees how things fit together as they need to for the good of each other and also for the good of the whole. Sometimes ceremonies were ritual re-enactments of birth or coitus, so the bison would know how to do it and be encouraged. Often there were gifts to show good will. And always there were stories to remind everyone how life fits together -- and even death.

It has also been said that Native American religion is “omni-theistic,” that is, it sees the sacred in everything, not removed or confined to some other realm in the sky or place on the planet. In other words, the sacred is immanent, at the core of existence and burgeoning out through life everywhere. If this is so, it might be a source of peace and grace, accessible to everyone everywhere and in every time, not to be hoarded.

These are just first thoughts. I look forward to hearing what the learned and the local say at this conference in August. Maybe much of it will be about written treaties, but maybe not.

Monday, June 19, 2006


I'm a little late in posting this, but many people will be interested. Mike is a tall man, living in Chico, CA, where he has worked for the Forest Service, and Tim is more his dad's size. He's a pilot for hospital flights out of Billings. Jamie works for the post office down in Texas. I have a feeling that any one of the three of them is quite capable of writing a book if they wanted to. Handsome, intelligent, graceful people.

Prairie Mary

Eulogy for James P. Welch

My name is Mike Welch. I am the oldest son of James Welch, and I will deliver these words on behalf of myself, my brother Tim, my sister Jamie, and my brother James P. Welch Jr., who has left us, but who I know is here today in spirit.

It was on a warm September day 54 years ago, that some of us who are here today, gathered, along with many others at this place for the funeral of our Grandmother Ellen Welch. Now we return again to lay to rest her youngest child, James P. Welch. He was the last survivor of her six children.

Today, we are honoring our father’s request that this ground be his final repose. This is where he wanted to be, here between his mother Ellen, and his grandmother Mary Jane Phemister. And I believe too, that he wanted to rest forever in this peaceful spot, under the Big Sky, with the Rockies rising to the west, and the Great Plains stretching away to the eastern horizon.

Our father, Pop as we always knew him, lived a long and sometimes complicated life, but he lived it fully, through the good times, and the not so good. He was a man of high ideals, which he tried to pass on to his children. He taught us things about honor, honesty and keeping your word. He valued these things, and he tried to exemplify them by his own conduct. He taught us to treat others with respect, and to be fair with people. He had a strong work ethic and this he tried to instill in us also. Through the years Pop demonstrated the worth of hard work, and he was a good provider for his family. Whatever he did, wherever the job or enterprise, he could always be counted on to be there every day, and to put in a good days work.

He was an ambitious man. He always had big plans. Things didn’t always work out just the way he planned, but he never gave up reaching for the golden ring, and trying to improve his life and his family’s

But still, he was a restless man too, and it seemed that sometimes when success did come his way, he found a reason to move on to something else. He was a wanderer at heart and this sometimes took him and his family down a wandering path. Pop first left Montana as a young man with a new family at the beginning of WW II to work in the shipyards at Portland, Oregon. Later, he enlisted in the army and became a paratrooper, and was stationed at Ft Benning, Georgia. He came back after the war to meet us at Chemawa Indian School at Salem Oregon where he and mom worked for the BIA. But he had an interest in Alaska, so we were off to Sitka, where he worked at an Indian Hospital there. Three years later we were headed back to Montana where Pop became the Treasurer of the Blackfeet tribe. Just a year or so later, he had an opportunity to try ranching with mom’s father, Smith O’Bryan, on the Ft Belknap Reservation. So he took it, and we moved on. When things didn’t work out too well there, Pop decided to get back into welding, and we left for Spokane, Washington. Times were tough in Spokane, with little work available, but then, after 6 or 7 months, Pop heard of big things happening in the Dakotas on the Missouri River where the Corps of Engineers was building several major dams. So we left Spokane bound for Pickstown, South Dakota where Pop found a good paying job welding on the Ft. Randall dam. When welding work on the dam was finished we moved on to Minneapolis. There, Pop worked on many construction projects in Minneapolis, and around that state for about 5 years.

In 1960, Pop decided to return to Montana, to try the ranching and farming business again at Ft. Belknap reservation. In this endeavor he worked in partnership with Tim for several years. He then returned to the hospital administration field, where he worked at the agency hospital at Ft. Belknap until he retired.

But Pop wasn’t through wandering just yet. It’s sad to recall, but after 45 years of marriage he and Mom were divorced. After this, he met and married Rosalie Scott who lived in Idaho. Pop then lived in Idaho for several years before finally returning to Montana for good in the late 1990’s where he lived in Great Falls, with his companion Gladys Cantrell. His last trip was back home to Browning, and the Blackfeet Care Center three years ago. There his wandering days finally ended.

Pop was proud man, proud to be a Blackfoot, and though he lived for a long time in the white world he never forgot his heritage, even in those times and places when this wasn’t easy. He was proud to have been an excellent welder, and he was, because I saw his work and he was among the best. He was proud to have known the ranching and farming business. He was proud to have served his country in the military, and was proud to have been a paratrooper, and also to be a member of the Blackfeet Warrior Society. He took a lot of pride in his appearance, and in his younger days was always a very classy dresser, wearing only the best clothes. In those days, and even as he grew older, he cut quite a figure with the ladies, and he was a real charmer. I think he took pride in his three sons, and Jamie too, and he thought that, by gosh they didn’t turn out half bad.

Pop had a range of interests in his lifetime. He was an outgoing person, and he liked to socialize, probably the result of being raised in a large and happy family. He liked to have a drink, sometimes a little too often, but in the end I think he was able to chase that demon away. As a welder, he was quite active in the union, serving on union boards and attending union functions frequently, especially in Minneapolis. He had a lifelong interest in fishing, and I would say that he caught as many fish in his 91 years as any man. In Alaska he had a nice boat with outrigger poles, and a commercial fishing license, and he spent a good part of his spare time fishing for salmon, mostly for sport, but he would sell a lot of the huge salmon he caught to the cannery at Sitka. He was also a mighty hunter, and when we lived in Montana it seemed like we ate mostly venison, elk, mountain sheep, pheasants, sage hens, and almost every other kind of game. He liked Indian and western art, and had collected as much as he could afford over the years.

To sum up his long life is not easy, but I would say he always tried to be fair and honest, and he loved his family. He led a productive life, and many of the things he helped build still stand today, and will last for years into the future. They are part of his legacy. I don’t know if he pondered much about the universe and his place in it, or about an afterlife, but I don’t think he ever abandoned a belief that some day he would be summoned by a higher power to account for his behavior in his earthly life, and with any luck he just might pass muster. So Pop, though we must say goodbye for now, we’re know that some day we’ll meet again in a better place.

Gerald M. (Mike) Welch
June 3, 2006
At Dupuyer Cemetery, Dupuyer, Montana

Sunday, June 18, 2006

FATHERS (And Mothers)

Today is Father’s Day, a holiday in this country that goes back to a Sunday morning in May of 1909, when a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd was sitting in church in Spokane, Washington, listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. She thought of her father who had raised her and her siblings after her mother died in childbirth, and she thought that fathers should get recognition too.

So she asked the minister of the church if he would deliver a sermon honoring fathers on her father’s birthday, which was coming up in June, and the minister did. And the tradition of Father’s Day caught on, though rather slowly. Mother’s Day became an official holiday in 1914; Father’s Day, not until 1972.

Mother’s Day is still the busiest day of the year for florists, restaurants and long distance phone companies. Father’s Day is the day on which the most collect phone calls are made.

— The Writer’s Almanac

Sonora Smart Dodd was the mother-in-law of Helen Tellefero, who was the daughter of the couple who lived next to my in-laws in Browning. Helen married Jack Dodd, who became a superintendent of Glacier National Park, a job that put him under such pressure that at family holiday dinners, he always ended up ingesting for his angina about as much nitroglycerine as turkey. We used to make jokes about not bumping into him.

Fathers are an explosive topic anyway in Browning. Too many fathers derailed by a culture that dropped out from under the Blackfeet and is only now being reconstituted. But there were still some pretty good fathers around.

An excellent example is Benton Juneau, who is no spring chicken anymore. Raised in Heart Butte and then moved to Browning, he’s a big patient man who first married the unstable daughter of the Browning High School shop teacher, R.W. Harris, and his English teacher wife, Edith. They were white, super-intelligent (R.W. also had the most extensive mental collection of dirty jokes of any human being I ever knew), and able to stabilize themselves but not their daughter. Benton gave it as good a try as anyone could, but didn’t quite manage the job either.

In a second marriage, this time to an absolutely rock-solid school nurse, quite a bit younger, he hit a home-run, and continued to be an excellent father to all concerned.

Even me. In the year that I was the stand-in for the Methodist minister at the Browning and Babb Churches and lived in the parsonage just west of town, it was Benton who came out to set up a massive wood stove in the former garage so I’d have a source of heat in case the electricity went out. (The electricity always goes out and during this particular winter there was a lot of deep snow and cold.) In many other small ways he softened my life, but stood strong against destruction, unkindness or injustice. I think I’ve said before that this is what I understand to be what the typical Blackfeet man is really like: like Benton -- big, tough, and gentle.

My own father was a child of homesteading Scots. His grandfather, Archibald Strachan, was a carpenter in Scotland, doing well because he was highly skilled, who fell in love with the romance of agriculture, Thomas Jefferson and all that. He chucked everything and came to South Dakota with his wife, two daughters, and son. A second son was born in the US of A. These were educated people who worked hard, but life was pretty tough. Archibald ended up having to go back to work as a carpenter. One of his jobs has become locally famous, as it was the fine interior paneling of a wealthy man’s house.

When he was old and widowed, he tried to live with my grandfather’s family, but was so cantankerous that Sam asked him to leave. He died in a single-room-occupancy hotel in Minneapolis. By that time Sam’s family had moved to Manitoba, but Sam went on the train to collect the body and bury it in South Dakota by his wife.

Sam himself ended with his own wife in a small house in Portland which his children struggled to support while they started their own families. He lived according to the organic principles of Rodale and always kept a compost pile and a rock pile. He and Beulah had a big garden and he was constantly inventing some new kind of hoe that would make weeding easier. One day after lunch he lay down for a nap and never got back up.

My own father was a traveling man, working for a wholesale farmer’s co-op. A tribe of idealists I come from. In the Fifties his car was slammed head-on by a drunk at night on a winding, wet coastal road. He seemed all right, but he took a terrible blow to the forehead and some part of him was gone. He lined the house with books, hoping to find in one of them whatever it was he lost. They weren’t important books and he didn’t read most of them. By the end he was dependent on my mother, who taught school.

My mother’s father was Irish Presbyterian. I asked my mother what sort of Presybterian? Almost always a pillar of the church, except when the pledge season came around -- then he was a “contentious Presbyterian” and picked some kind of theological quarrel that justified his absence for a while. He had political ambitions but could never make them come true.

His own father, along with his twin brothers, had a construction company up in Washington where it was wet enough to make the grass grow thick and rich, supporting many dairies. The Pinkerton brothers built many of the huge old dairy barns. But the same climate that grew the grass brought the fever. One of the twins died, so they all moved to Roseburg where the climate supported timber mostly. My mother’s Pop never quite got back on his feet. He bought a prune orchard in a narrow valley without enough sun or water and often had to leave his wife to take construction jobs. She suffered from loneliness and died of cancer when not yet old. He married her cousin -- though the cousin had been divorced and he ought to have known better. He got into the safety deposit at the bank one day and saw that she’d cut him out of her will. So he cut her out of his. It was a major surprise to her when the will was read after his death.

He died from a heart attack brought on by the explosion of a load of fertilizer in Roseburg, Oregon, which blew a big crater in the downtown and sent John Pinkerton’s picture window showering over him where he lay napping under an afghan. He was not what you’d call an easy father, but he was so volatile, so colorful, so intense, that -- struggle as she might -- my mother never really quite separated from him.

“Lou,” which is what he called my mother (her name was Lucy), went to college for two years before the Depression made it impossible. The second year her father came home with a big mule tied on behind his Model T and a couple of sacks of seed corn in the back seat. “Lou, if you want to go to college this year, you’ll have to make your own tuition. I’ve leased this mule and you can have the forty acres over there and if you raise a decent corn crop, you ought to have enough money.” And she did.

There’s a photo of her sitting on that mule. She doesn’t look oppressed. She was born a week or so after Sonora Smart Dodd thought up Father’s Day in May, 1909. She was her father’s first child. He was very proud indeed, even though she was female. All his four children were female. He said they were just as tough and smart as any boys. I think that's true.


These two entries are from The Glacier Reporter, June 15, 2006.

...The Honorary Council voted in two new members, Carl Cree Medicine and James Boy. This is a total of nine Honorary Councilmen. Present members include Al Potts (Chairman), Albert Vaile, Floyd Rider, Charles Weasel Head, Lawrence Mad Plume, Bob Many Guns, and Dewey Heavy Runner. Recording secretary is Mari King.

The Honorary Council welcomes CARL CREE MEDICINE to their Senior Advisory Council. Carl has lived all of his life at Old Agency on lower Badger Creek. His father is Charles Cree Medicine, Sr., and his mother is Jeanette Gambler Cree Medicine. His grandparents are Joseph Cree Medicine and Cecile Cree Medicine, Jim Gambler and Annie Whiteman Gambler. He has spent 25-plus years working at Scriver’s foundry and has given much of his time and support to the Medicine Lodge Shelter. Carl says that his grandchildren keep him and his wife pretty busy. Carl is a well-known artist that practices many of the Blackfeet arts and crafts. We think that he can create just about anything! Here are a few of his items: sculptures, bone carving, drums, chokers, medicine wheels, dream catchers, parfleche items and many others. He owns a business called Pikunni Arts and Crafts. Carl can be reached at 406-338-2097 or 406-338-7842.

Comments by myself: Carl is about my age and often in the Sixties he and I were the entire work force at the Scriver Studio. He and Carma have had more than their share of grief in their lives, but they have not let it pull them down. Rather they have grown stronger and more generous to others. Religion has been a big part of this, and they have not used religion to punish or exclude. These are old-time Blackfeet values that helped the tribe to survive. Carl, his son David, and other members of the family (like Jody) were more than just employees at the Scriver Studio -- more like Scriver family.

JAMES BOY is the newest member of the Honorary Council. The HC is very happy that James finally decided to join them. James was born and raised on Cut Bank Creek. His parents are Oscar Boy and Cecile Short Robe Boy; his grandparents are Bird Rattle and Fetching Woman (mother’s side) and Boy and Blackfaced Woman (father’s side). James says that his life has been one very long experience and he will experience much more. Through all, he has learned first-hand about our Blackfeet lifeways and history. James says that he really likes “lots of horses,” especially when they are running free across the prairie, and loves to socialize.

Comments by myself: James Boy did a lot of his “socializing” around the Scriver Studio in the Sixties. He was an expert on Blackfeet matters, often consulted by Bob.

Kimberly Cree Medicine, 17, of Browning died Saturday, June 3, 2006, of natural causes at Blackfeet Community Hospital. She was a student at the time of her death.

She is survived by her parents, Timothy and Angie Cree Medicine of Browning’ her sisters, Rayann, Shanell and Raynell of Browning and her grandparents, Carl, Sr. and Carmelita Cree Medicine of Browning.

Rosary was recited Thursday, June 8, at the Church of the Little Flower, and funeral services were held Friday, June 9, also at Little Flower. Burial took place at the Cree Medicine Cemetery at Old Agency. Burns Funeral Home handled the arrangements.

Comments by myself: This is another in a series of tragedies that have struck the Cree Medicine family, just as they strike so many families in this place where incomes are low and hardships can be lethal. It’s always particularly hard when the lost person is young.

The photo below was taken by Marshall Noice for Bob Scriver’s book, “No More Buffalo,” and shows bust portraits of Blackfeet. Timothy, Kimberly Cree Medicine’s father, posed for the bust of the little boy. All the others are historical figures.

Blackfeet Busts by Bob Scriver

Thursday, June 15, 2006

“Fossil Legends of the First Americans” by Adrienne Mayor

When I was reading Mary Eggermont-Molnar’s wonderful book called “Montana 1911” about Uhlenbeck, the Dutch linguist, and his records of Blackfeet legends, I kept running onto the term “Water Bull” which seemed to be a powerful figure that sometimes intervened in affairs in a supernatural way. I asked Darrell Kipp what this might be and he said that in his mind’s eye he tended to see an Asian water buffalo, but he had asked Jack Holterman what he thought and Holterman suggested a relationship to the word “stumik” which appears to be so old that it might date back to dawn times, even to mastodons.

Since Bob Scriver’s dad’s Indian name (a gift-name -- he was white) was “Medicine Bull,” the formulation “Stumik-sah-toe-see” was familiar. The original Medicine Bull was a small man, as can be seen from William Farr’s photo book, and I suspect that’s why the name came to Thad Scriver rather than any suggestion he was like a mastodon. Bob thought the name was because Thad was good at guessing the weather.

Next I asked Reid Farmer, a paleobiologist who often posts to Stephen Bodio’s blog, Querencia. (<>) He recommended the book this posting is really about: “Fossil Legends of the First Americans” by Adrienne Mayor, Princeton University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-691-11345-9. The cover shows an artist’s version of a raging battle between a “water monster” and a “terrible bird,” both of which show up in Blackfeet mythology and which are here portrayed as a pterodactyl and a dinosaur in water.

This book is pretty fascinating just to glance at, but I haven’t read it yet. So what I’ll do here -- for the sake of others who are as interested as I am -- is just note the Blackfeet entries. Later I’ll post more. For a while the tribal members themselves went bonkers over dinoes and a Canadian company actually had a fossil-buying headquarters in Browning.

p. 51: “ the mid-1800’s, the French explorer Jean L’Heureux reported that the Blackfeet revered dinosaur fossils in Alberta, Canada, as “the grandfather of the buffalo.”

p. 166: “The Blackfeet of the northern plains made regular forays into the land of the ‘Many Bracelets People’ (the Navajo) and the vanished Cliff Dweller people of the SW and Mexico, to make war, to raid Spanish horses, to trade and to obtain Spanish “shirts of mail, and big knives.” It appears that on at least one trip they took along fossil jawbones to trade.

p. 224: “In the summer of 2000, I had come to the ancient battlegrounds of the Thunder Birds and Water learn how the Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet and other people of the northern plains had viewed these extraordinary remains...”

p. 226: “On that first day at Crow Creek, my boots crunched over glinting expanses of fossil shells, pearly spirals now turned to stone, opalescent sea-worm tubes, coiled and straight ammonites, rippled clam and oyster shells, and other marine fossils on the ridge tops. I examined some cylindrical fossils with complex fractal patterns -- baculites. Because the internal structure and patterns of these cephalopod marine fossils sometimes resemble bison shapes, the Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and other Plains tribes invested baculites with an ability to summon buffalo herds. Buffalo-calling stones, known as Iniskim among the Blackfeet bands of northern Montana and Alberta, have also turned up in archeological sites across the Dakotas, Montana, and Canada, indicating that the Iniskim tradition goes back at least a thousand years.

“According to Blackfeet legend, the sacred power of the fossil with the form of a buffalo was first discovered long ago by Weasel Woman, who was picking berries at a constantly eroding cut bank called ‘Falling off without Excuse,’ probably the big fossil deposit on the Bow River now known to rock hounds as ‘Baculite Beach.’ After she taught the ritual of the curiously shaped stone to her husband, Chief Speaking, Blackfeet and other northern tribes began to collect the fossils, which they rubbed with red ocher and placed in medicine bundles. Iniskim were used to draw buffalo herds over the cliffs before the arrival of horses. As Chandler Good Strike -- a Gros Ventre artist at Fort Belknap Reservation, Montana -- told me later that summer, “We used to collect the fossils to call the buffalo each spring.” People also kept personal Iniskim fossils for luck, healing and other powers. Charlie Crow Eagle, a Piegan (Blackfeet band of Canada) [sic], owned an interesting buffalo-skin medicine pouch in about 1880. It originally held nine Iniskim: two Baculites compressus, four Placenticeras ammonites, an Acanthoscaphites ammonite, a Paleozoic coral, and a Corbicula clamshell, all coated in red pigment.

“The Indians who collected fossil shells on the plains recognized them as water organisms and correctly concluded that, in the words of Bull’s Dry Bones, an Assiniboine (Sioux) holy man, ‘The whole surface of the earth was at one time covered with water.’

p. 242: “One of the petalodontiform chondrichthyians from the Upper Mississippian Bear Gulch limestone, in Montana, was named Siksika ottae by R. Lund in 1989. Siksika, literally “black foot,” is the name for the Blackfeet nation, including the Piegan and Blood tribes.”

There are photos of baculites and an Iniskim bundle.

p. 260: Culbertson and his Blood wife, Medicine Snake Woman, collected fossils in 1840.

p. 272: “Two Crow elders, Big Medicine Rock and Spine, claimed that their bacoritse could summon bison, like the baculite buffalo-calling stones treasured by the Blackfeet...”


“The medicine bundle of the Blackfeet warrior Many Tail Feathers (b. 1835), for example, contained buffalo-calling stones along with many other heavy items, perhaps fossil bones. ‘It made a bundle that was a load for a horse!’ recalled his friend Bear Head.”

P. 290: “The Blackfeet bands in Montana and Alberta, Canada, were also very aware of the bones of enormous creatures. Traditional painted designs on tipis, handed down over generations, included images of giant lizards that resemble dinosaurs, according to Blackfeet councilman Jim Kennedy in Browning, Montana. Kennedy believes that the images may have been influenced by his people’s observations of fossil skeletons of pterodactyls, mosasaurs, and dinosaurs.

“The Canadian Blackfeet storyteller Percy Bullchild recounted his tribe’s traditional explanation in 1985. The first creatures were many kinds of snakes, some with legs. These reptiles abounded and ‘became overgrown,’ says Bullchild, ‘big, big in their form. Tall and long.’ These creatures were dinosaurs, he added, updating the old tradition. Great floods caused the massive dinosaurs to sink ‘down into the soft mud-mire’ while others took refuge on hard-surfaced places, but even those places tipped the animals into the mud. The great reptiles were covered with mud ‘so fast...that they were found, in these days, intact.’ Bullchild’s traditional explanation closely parallels the fossilization process along Cretaceous lakeshores described by scientists.”

p. 318: “A true fossil homecoming was celebrated recently on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, where significant dinosaur specimens had been collected by the AMNH, the Smithsonian, and the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Canada, beginning in about 1910. In 1995, a Blackfeet rancher named Dale Fenner had discovered a nearly complete dinosaur skeleton. Jack Horner, curator of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, identified it as the smallest, youngest tyrannosaur fossil ever found, ‘an absolutely exquisite specimen that every museum in the world would love to have.’

“The creature was about two years old when it died and was covered with mud in a stream flowing from the fledgling Rocky Mountains about 74 million years ago, a scenario that matches the Blackfeet storyteller Percy Bullchild’s traditional story about giant reptiles sinking into mud so fast that their whole skeletons were found.

“In 1998, the tribe sent the baby dinosaur to the Museum of the Rockies to be prepared, with the understanding that it would be returned to the Blackfeet Reservation. As Horner told me in early 2003, the Blackfeet tribe ‘could request possession of the skeleton at any time and they may decide to sell it to the highest bidder.’ That would be regrettable for science, observed Horner, but as ‘part of their cultural heritage, it is their right to dispose of it as they wish.’ As many others have pointed out however, Indians who choose to sell important fossil assets disregard their own cultural heritage, but in this case, the Blackfeet are eager to build a museum for the prize specimen.

“Horner’s staff worked for three years to partially release the skeleton from extremely hard rock, and in September 2003 the baby dinosaur curled in its plaster cradle was returned to the reservation. The returned fossil was viewed as ‘a victory by the Blackfeet, who saw past treasure-seekers plunder their rich fossil cache.’ Blackfeet school children named the little T. Rex Cameron, and the tribe takes great pride in their fossil. In a reversal of the Diplophosaurus story, the actual specimen is now on display in the Blackfeet Heritage Center in Browning, whle the Museum of the Rockies retains a cast. ‘If you want to see that baby dinosaur, you’re going to have to go to Browning,’ said Horner, who hopes the Blackfeet will be able to fulfill their dream of a museum. ‘I think it’s very important to keep the fossil on the reservation.’”

p. 349: Note #15. “...when I asked the Blackfeet historian Curly Bear Wagner about the cultural significance of dinosaur bones in Blackfeet traditions, he replied that he himself had not researched that aspect of his people’s history, but commented that elders’ stories about dinosaur fossils exist in recordings in Blackfeet Reservation archives in Browning, Montana. Wagner, per. com. August 16, 2003.”

p. 377: “The Plains tribes routinely traveled very long distances. For example, the Blackfeet knew ‘practically all of the great West from Mexico north to Saskatchewan’ and regularly traded in the Southwest. Schultz, 1962, 351.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


For a couple of days Ray Djuff stayed on the campground in Valier so that he could use my library for his next book, which will be about Two Guns Whitecalf and the other “400” (in Mrs. Astor’s pattern of naming the truly wealthy and prominent social families) of the Blackfeet Nation whose lodges used to appear on the long sloping lawn of the Big Hotel so that the dignified inhabitants could welcome trainloads of tourists and entertain them at night in the lodge around a fireplace that was carefully designed to look like a campfire, a kind of firepit with a hood. Guests sat in elegant Windsor rocking chairs, the elder ladies in their formal wear.

My hostess gift was a book, of course, a Djuff book: “View with a Room, Glacier Historic Hotels and Chalets” published by Far Country Press in 2001 and written with Chris Morrison. ISBN 1-56-37-170-6. It gathers up much memorabilia and information -- to say nothing of many rare photos of by-gone times.

Glacier National Park is the reason I ended up here. My father, raised in South Dakota and then Manitoba flat country, was quite convinced of the cathedral nature of mountain country. And as a Prairie Humanist, with its valuing of civic and national patriotism, he believed in National Parks and always longed to visit a few more than he already had, so after my graduation from college in Chicago, we came back through Glacier. But I’ve spent little time in Glacier.

The Park’s origin is shadowed, entwined as it is with the story of the starvation of the Blackfeet which forced them to sell the mountains. It is also divided, rather in the way the Blackfeet still are, both by political and geographical forces. First, there is parkland on both sides of the US/Canada border and though they are specifically designated as “peace parks” that are continuous, there have always been sticky events taking advantage of the “Medicine Line,” whether whisky runners, drug runners, or arms runners in this terrorist age. So it’s possible that you might have to empty your car and trailer at the border while armed guards stand by. President Bush wants you to have to buy a biometric identity card (a scan of your eye) and pay a fee to cross the border by 2008. Ray Djuff wants you to understand and love the Waterton Peace Park and the Prince of Wales Lodge where one can take high tea while looking out over exquisite scenery. This is where he spent four summers as a young employee and was forever smitten.

The Continental Divide might seem to be only a high pass (Going-to-the-Sun) and a low pass (Marias) but it marks the difference between the east side of the Rockies (low rainfall, economic struggle, reservation) and the west side of the Rockies (valley ecology, much timber, high density population). The national park headquarters are on the west side, by the lake where Charlie Russell and other notables once had pleasant cabins. The historical society, small but graceful galleries and museums, good shopping, and so on mostly are on the west side. The east side is cowboy country as much as Indian reservation -- long vistas of wind-swept grass and (in summer) billowing cumuli. This is where you might pass a herd of bison or mustangs.

There is another divide in time. In the Twenties and Thirties well-to-do people came by train to “rough it” in European style with nicely presented meals in chalets joined by hiking trails. The vigorous outfitted themselves with lace-up boots and jodphurs, maybe dusters, and were “good sports.” Winold Reiss’ art school thrived on the east side where he guided a covey of aspiring youngsters while they made paintings and sculptures of Blackfeet. Reiss and his brother were tolerant, generous, bigger-than-life people who embraced Blackfeet, both old and new and produced advertising images that have proven more durable than the chalets (mostly gone now) or even the railroad itself. (The Great Northern became the Burlington Northern and then the Burlington Northern and the Santa Fe -- with every year the threat of losing Amtrak passenger service.)

Another split is a laminated one between the formal US government stewardship of the terrain and wildlife and access for citizens through the services of concessionaires. Although the tourist travel here never rivals the Industrial Scenery traffic of Yellowstone or Yosemite, it still puts pressure on what is a unique megamammal corridor that extends from the Bob Marshall Wilderness up the cordillera into Alberta, the refuge of grizzly and wolf. In the old days that Djuff and Morrison describe, bears ate from dumps and didn’t bother people, even when they came to sit on bleachers to watch the gobbling and food fights among the bears, and wolves were simply shot. Now the management of the interactions between people and bears is much more complex. (Recently there was a surprising and unaccountable incident in which a bear charged three young female hikers, who dropped and rolled up, and kept them pinned down by rushing at them, even putting paws on them but not hurting them.)

All these contrasts and cross-purposes keep the level of emotion simmering in Glacier Park, but they are not what Djuff and Morrison emphasize. Rather they are interested in nostalgia: the elegant near-Victorian times when one roughed it with good plumbing and a white tablecloth. The book Djuff was researching in my library may break that benign mold because of a deep shift in the way we understand the Indians on the long sloping lawn of the Big Hotel in East Glacier, their lodges next to an English border with stunning delphinium. Splendid in white buckskin and Sioux eagle-feather headdresses, and as carefully mannered as any diplomats, these folks were actually near-penniless and much in need of the tips and food -- aside from their modest salaries.

Looked at from a post-colonial point of view, they were victims. Yet they are the people who have been made famous by writers, artists, and many a photo. Generously, they gave out authentic-seeming names to Euro-royalty, movie stars, and little children. Their reputations were of value in Washington, D.C., when they went to lobby, and in Browning where they were doing better than most of the others. They had a lot to do with creating the mystique of the Indian Princess and the wise old Chief. Yet youngsters here on the rez will recount with anguish that they were forced to eat table scraps scraped from guest plates, like dogs. (I suspect the truth -- which Ray is pursuing -- is that they ate from the below-stairs steam tables after the guests had been served. It’s clear that they complained that the meat -- which is what they preferred to eat and digested best -- was always about gone, so that they mostly ate side-dishes and baked goods. Still superior to commodity cheese.)

The truth is a many-sided phenomenon, though most people tend not to understand that. Glacier National Park is an excellent place to contemplate this complexity. Maybe while sitting in a windsor rocking chair on one of the deep high porches of the Big Hotel in East Glacier where one can regard “Squaw Mountain,” now called “Dancing Woman” mountain to get rid of the odious squ**w word.

Monday, June 12, 2006


This is the month that settles in to drop steady rain on the grass. And this month it is really happening, which it hasn’t for a while. Sometimes it does it too much: in June 1994 we were overwhelmed and on June 8th three dams broke, killing three dozen people. Part of the reason so many died was that everyone had just finished the school year and all the grannies and little children had moved out onto the old ranch places along the rivers, just as Indians have been doing this time of year for several millenia.

So now, just as all the professors, anthros, writers and wanna-bees show up, all the institutional buildings are empty. The towns are quiet. Everyone is out in the country -- with any luck, on horseback. Even in the white ag towns things are slow and the men are out on machinery. No one wants a lot of outsiders to feed and entertain, esp. since it’s cold, damp, and gray so no one is anxious to go outside. This is when tourists cluster around the big fireplaces in the lodge hotels. With luck the management will supply a guitarist. If all these people come back at Indians Days -- and now they don’t because it has become so big and intense that whites are scared of it -- they won’t learn much because it’s like trying to learn about small rural towns by attending county fairs.

Another June dynamic is that the rain makes the gumbo swell up, which changes the ground our houses are built on so that doors that normally swing open have to be wrenched from their frames and doors that usually stick fly open easily. Who knows what it’s doing to the plumbing. My gutters are somehow malfunctioning so that rain is getting inside the walls. Since the insulation is loose vermiculite (full of asbestos, so it can’t removed without special equipment and huge expense) it has packed down wet, and no longer insulates -- aside from the inside walls getting wet enough to buckle. The other night my attention was attracted to the top of the frame of the front door where a tiny pile of particles was growing. Inspection revealed an ant-nest behind the frame. Vacuum, poison, and things seem under control -- but what else is in there?

It could be worse: my friends were flooded in this last downpour. Their house is much bigger and grander than mine, which means that being flooded is much more serious. I have my trapdoor to the crawl space open, so the whole house smells like damp clay, but at least I can tell I’m not flooding. Crackers, the scairdy cat, is sure there’s something bad down there, but neither cat seems to mind going out in light rain and coming back empearled with moisture. This crawl space was flooded the spring before I bought the house, but not because of rain. The water pipe froze and broke during a cold snap in March.

This gumbo, they say, came from volcanic airborne dust from the Pacific Northwest volcanoes. The rain and the dust followed the same path from west to east. It is extremely sticky and plastic when wet, as hard as cement when dry. Brother Van, the famous Methodist missionary, got off the steamboat in Fort Benton about this time of year and struggled across the street to a saloon. By the time he got there, each foot weighed fifty pounds. He didn’t order a drink, but did tell the barkeep who he was and why he was there. With a fine sense of destiny, the barkeep rapped on his bar with the butt of a revolver and demanded quiet so the Reverend could speak. Brother Van played his hole card -- instead of lecturing the assembled drunks and gamblers, he burst into song, his rich voice soaring out the old familiar hymns of home. They were converted on the spot -- for at least an hour.

My other favorite story about Brother Van has him traveling to a town that had just been notified by telegraph that a famous murderer had escaped and was headed their way. Brother Van never kept a horse of his own but walked, accepting rides from wagons. When he saw that the town seemed to be absolutely deserted, he remembered one of the wagon drivers telling him about that dangerous man. He realized that what he looked like to the town -- a walking man -- was a target! So he began to sing and was relieved to see people stand up on the roofs and step out from behind buildings. Let ‘em put THAT on Deadwood!

In wet June everything is emerald green and growing as fast as it can before the rain shuts down and everything dries to cougar fur -- tinder and fuel. This is the real significance of the mown green lawns that homesteaders love so much: they are a firebreak and they discourage snakes.

Smells are intense. Windows are open. We’ve all shut off the heat to save money, so we’re in sweaters and sweats. They say the wildflowers this year are better than they’ve been for decades and a good brisk walk is well-rewarded. You might need a slicker. Stay dry enough to defeat hypothermia. It’s really excellent weather for fence-mending -- pounding posts, stringing wire.

But watch out for flash-flooding, because as local radio KSEN kept fatuously reminding us the other night: “Flash flooding is dangerous because it causes flash floods.” Small streams can bulge over the road, erode it away, and quickly subside -- leaving a ditch trap for the unwary.

To live on the high prairie is never to forget that the earth is a live thing, moving and breathing in ways not at all convenient for people. Stay alert for both hazards and sheets of flowers. Watch for fawns and tourists, those dangerous innocents.


Now the remaindering book stores are beginning to offer VHS tapes, often of rather highbrow movies, so that in this jumble that is so deranging the world of print, up pops a movie about authors: “Children of the Century” which is about George Sand (played by Juliette Binoche who looks about as much like George Sand as my left foot) and Benoit Magimel (who spends all his time snurfling around in Madame Sand’s decolletage, though he’s supposed to be a poet). All through the movie Sand snatches every moment she can to write while de Musset provides jaded content, swerving from ecstacy to near-suicide with no evident motivation at all. Sand’s motivation is paying the bills. It seems clear that all that rooting around in Sand’s bodice is actually a search for a nipple and that de Musset is looking for an all-sustaining and ever-forgiving mother. In fact, he has found one.

This pattern for relationships is quite common, it seems to me. (This morning on NPR there was a complaint by a black man that there’s no way to have a relationship of equals with today’s strong black women. I wouldn’t take on some of the strong Swede ranch girls around here either.)

There are two wonderful things about this movie: the first is the quality of Sand’s bodices, which were designed by Christian Lacroix. I assume he also designed the men’s wear which is equally wonderful: that period when men wore wrapped stocks, big bows under their chins, and tall hats.

The other is the titles, which show old-fashioned printing in the background. I may sit down and watch just the titles alone a few times for the pure sensuous pleasure of it. At first there is a man compositing, picking letters out of the grid-drawer and sequencing them in the little print hod he carries. He puts them in place among the other lead paragraphs, adds some leading for spaces, pounds it all in with a rubber mallet and lays it into the press, the page weighing what? Fifty pounds? The ebony ink. A hand brayer smashes it all out flat by rolling back and forth. When everything is set, the wheel is turned to apply pressure, and then the printed page is lifted up, a miracle of legibility. How can anyone write trash for such a process? Surely each word must be considered carefully, judiciously weighed.

Maybe it is in counterpoint that the writers are portrayed as crazed with emotion, crashing into each other, swooping around the more beautiful parts of Europe like birds trapped in a gilded and mirrored mansion. The male sees himself as a peacock and all females as hens. Lacroix’s notion of what pornographic peahens wear mostly consists of young bottoms and a few plumes. The female Sand is left to have only one affair with the doctor (a FAR more worthy partner) while the poet comes near death. Aside from writing the books that pay the bills, she must keep track of the children, the tutors, the maid, the resentful husband we never see and who never helps -- but Binoche is up to it. Probably because the director is a woman, Diane Kurys.

Bertolucci’s recent “The Dreamers” follows along this romantic pattern of flinging oneself at life, the hell with the consequences; obsessively attaching to inappropriate people, the hell with the consequences; ingesting everything deranging, the hell with the consquences -- and so on. Neither “The Dreamers” nor “The Children of the Century” will ever come to a movie house near Valier. I’d be surprised if there are two people in the state who own both films, even on DVD. But many many people here (especially on the reservation) -- and more coming here now -- believe in this pattern, this attitude.

Now and then I find someone absolutely anchored in reality, reconciled to their lives and competent in them. They eat properly, sleep soundly, and die in old age at home in bed with grieving children watching over them. No one considers them worth imitating. Or sometimes, especially young ones, they are cold as robots: take what they need, give as little as possible, and disappear somewhere that I never go.

How did the idea of Romanticism seize us so deeply and thoroughly even way out here on the prairie? Is it the existential result of war? (Mothers sprawled desolate on the graves of their sons.) How did we get sex and violence so enmeshed with love and tenderness? Is it our love affair with crime and ghettoes? Is it the breakdown of marriage? Is it because we talk about testosterone and estrogen all the time instead of oxytocin, the nurturing hormone?

Or is it sitting in darkened theatres watching movies like this? Maybe lying in a pillowed bed late at night with just one light to read the books of George Sand. I’ve never read Sand. I don’t know anyone who has. Maybe she’s smarter than this movie makes her seem if we read her books. The feedbacks were interesting. Half hated the movie -- half loved it.

But I think maybe I’ve become immune to this particular version of the romantic except in retrospect. (I’m not sorry I lived that way for a while.) What appeals to me now is the luxury and sensuousity of old-fashioned printing. THERE’s a romance. Doomed, doomed. The famously ink-stained wretch. Somehow inkjet toner stains don’t quite cut it.

For intelligent women, amusing dialogue, truth in endings, one must resort to Jane Austen. And note that these two passionate characters, who could not live without each other, went on another thirty years after their breakup, writing all the time. At least, Sand was. And having MANY more affairs.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Patia Stephens, who is a known figure in the Missoula artist and writer world and whom I sat behind at the last Montana Festival of the Book, has “tagged” me for a meme game that people play on blogs. It’s like 7th grade, though a little kinder, I’m sure. The idea is to list as specified and then post it on one’s blog. And then “tag” five more people who are supposed to do the same.

I’m normally opposed to all pass-it-on stuff, whether petitions for the most crucial world-saving issues, or dumb things about how great women are and you’ll die if you don’t send it immediately to your fifty closest friends. But I feel as though I probably should relate socially to the Montana bloggers more than I do. They like to chit-chat and I’m trying to pile up small essays worth reading, so we don’t travel the same trails much. So I’ll make an exception, but I won’t tag anyone. Part of the point of this exercise is to get people to read their blogs, so I’ll say that Patia’s blog is . Technically it’s not a blog, which is formatted by formula, but a genuine website because that’s what Patia does, among other things.

This meme is about the “five items” in my whatever.

5 Items in my fridge/freezer
1. A pheasant skin (I ate the bird.)
2. Bison meat
3. Thai Basil marinade from Pamida (unopened)
4. Half a mini-watermelon
5. Bagged baby spinach

5 items in my closet
1. A walking stick I gave my mother with a handle carved into a Scottie’s head. I retrieved it from her estate.
2. A pair of red high-heeled shoes, like new, that I can’t wear but can’t give up either.
3. Many men’s work shirts which I used to wear to a clerical job over bright skirts and with big jangly earrings but now wear over jeans, no earrings.
4. Three sizes of jeans
5. A cat (Come outa there!)

5 items in my car (which is an old small pickup)
1. Admission stickers for the CM Russell Museum and the Montana Historical Society stuck to my dashboard alongside “I Voted” stickers.
2. A bag of breakfast bars in case my blood sugar sinks out of sight.
3. The jack (I hope).
4. A thermal bag for when I buy frozen groceries
5. Spiders

5 items in my purse (or pockets)
1. Chewable famotidine
2. Half-used paper towels for my drippy nose
3. Receipts
4. A paperclip made of copper twisted into a spiral and pounded flat
5. My keys, attached to a flourescent-green bubble unit from a level (many bad jokes at check-out counters about who’s “on the level.”)

Very revealing, huh?

Patia Stephens is not related to Paul Stephens in Great Falls, but if they ever met I sure would want a recording of the conversation.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Of the two cats, Squibs is the smaller tortoiseshell, a ten-pound ever-vigilant patroller of the perimeters, edges and ramparts of this weedy yard. Crackers is the big twenty-pound yellow cowardy-custard creampuff who dreams her life away, usually safely on the bed but -- in case of imminent danger -- also under it. This week Squibbie came to grief.

On the back of my block is a disreputable all-male household in a used-to-be-turquoise-blue house trailer surrounded by busted machinery. By default they acquire animals (a goat would fit right in) -- and cats find it a congenial place because there are so many hidey-holes, for instance through the holes in the trailer skirting. But these guys feel no obligation to feed the beasts. At one time there was a tribe of black cats, clearly formerly Siamese and prepared to fight. I was kind to one of them, Hammerhead, and soon regretted it. Every kindness became an entitlement. Finally Hammerhead ran afoul of a tougher householder and “took a ride.”

This time it was a yellow cat, as scrawny as any of the others, who had been hanging around and finally invaded the yard at 5AM, just as I drifted back to sleep after opening access to the outside. I’ve rarely heard such an agonized, despairing shriek as came from Squibbie. Though I got there as fast as I could, without my glasses and barefoot in my nightie, I had the impression that a fox had attacked Squibs -- even imagining a white tip to the tail. Too late. Soon the poor little cat was swollen and hurting. Cat bites are like snake bites. One cannot give cats painkillers -- at least not aspirin -- so I rigged a lamp as an incubator and Squibbie went to sleep with her swollen leg held up to the heat.

As it happens, I’m struggling with some kind of pain myself. For some frustrating and confusing reason, either dieting or not quite keeping my blood sugar as low as it ought to be (not consistently but with a couple of peaks), I’ve begun to ache. When I was a little kid, I had leg aches all the time and woke myself up crying. My mother would rub and rub with liniment and, finally, worn out of patience, would get angry. That’s when I learned what a comfort a cat can be. I lugged my cat back to bed with me.

Now my life would be barren without cats, even when, like Squibbie, they come to sit in front of me and tell me in an outraged voice that I failed to be the protector she thought I was. Still, after a bit of explaining and stroking and praise, she purrs and is content. So long as food is forthcoming.

Praise is one of the pain-killers that works for me, too. It has to do with endorphins, I’m sure. I’ve been Googling around and also e-schmoozing with my relatives, and it seems pretty clear that our inherited serotonin mechanisms are not efficient. One cousin was helped by a bit of thyroid medication. Another takes tiny doses of amiltriptyline at bedtime. We all love our heat pads. My brothers and mother were chain smokers and one brother puts away a LOT of beer in the evening. The other prefers marijuana. I think I may have outsmarted myself when I replaced the bathtub in this house with a shower.

So I’m making a little list of serotonin triggers, some of which I can get to and some of which I can’t:

laughter (I’m reading Gerald Durrell -- VERY effective)
cats (already mentioned them)
hot tubs, saunas, sweats (Did you know there are inflatable hot tubs now?) It would really freak out the neighbors if I put up a sweatlodge! Well, some are Indians -- they would join me. On the other hand, I suppose saunas would attract Scandihoovians.
sex (I think I remember that)
exercise (Oh, damn -- it keeps coming back and back)
massage (Could just BUY that! If I had money. Maybe not in Valier.)
pain (They say this is part of the hook in tattooing, erotic spanking, self-flagellation, self-cutting. Guess I’ll pass.)
capsicum - red hot peppers. Rub it on or eat it. The man down the street, a health food guy, takes a tablespoon of cayenne pepper stirred into tomato juice when his stomach acts up and he swears by it. They say grizzly bears have been spotted licking it off tents sprayed by accident, though the spray is supposed to repel them. Bob Scriver said that most of the grizzlies he made into rugs had really lousy teeth -- which is the reason taxidermists use plastic jaws. The bears must have bad toothaches. Maybe the spray is like bear novocaine and they are secretly hoping to be sprayed in the mouth.
Ben-gay, Absorbine Jr., or even Absorbine Sr. which was developed for use on horses. Ben-gay has the advantage of clearing my sinuses at the same time.

When my mother was a young working woman, still living at home, some female relatives came to visit, one of them a Christian Scientist. The hillside yard was full of free-range chickens and therefore slick with chicken poop, very organic, rarely discussed in the more idealistic treatises. The Xian Sci lady slipped and broke her hip. She was in agony but refused a doctor.

My mother was on good terms with the druggist in town and known as a reliable young woman. She explained the problem and he gave her some “powders” folded up in paper by doses, telling her how to stir it into orange juice. But when she presented the orange juice to the patient, the woman knocked it out of her hand and went into an emotional swivet. My mother was greatly taken aback. Humiliated, in fact.

In a while my Prot Irish grandfather -- in his bowler hat and puffing his usual cigar -- arrived and evicted both patient and her companion from the farmhouse on grounds that if she wasn’t intelligent enough to accept help, he wouldn’t have her moaning and squalling in the presence of his family. But my mother never quite recovered from her inability to render aid without being an offender, which is part of the reason she got so angry over my leg aches. (The rest of the reason was that she was exhausted and there wasn’t enough money.)

I long to pick Squibbie up and cuddle her, but I know touching her leg would make her scream. I think of taking her to the vet, but that means wrestling her into the cage and driving thirty miles -- not done lightly with a cat that travels with pin-wheeling eyes and drooling jaws while wailing like a siren. So the doctor’s name is Time. Days have passed and Squibbie’s graduated to cat nests out in the sun-warmed grass. Now that I’ve run that yellow foxy cat off several times, it seems inclined to respect our territory. From where I sit at the computer I can whether it has snuck into the yard.

At another point in her life, my mother was attending college, working for her room and board in the college town by living with her grandparents. They had also taken in a small orphaned great-granddaughter who slept with my mother and wet the bed. My mother turned her back on the child and gritted her teeth, resisting all that sorrow, need and nastiness because she really had no idea how to help. But she always felt a little guilty about resenting a child. In my mother’s later years, well over eighty, that little girl came to visit -- now, of course, middle-aged. She said she wanted to see my mother again because she had been such a comfort, “offering your strong warm back as a bulwark against a cruel world.” My mother was flabbergasted. I don’t know whether she really assimilated what had happened, though she talked about it.

Even so -- do you know Gene Stratton-Porter’s book about “Laddie” in which sermons tend to end with “even as you would be done to, even so you must do to others”? Even so do we pain and comfort each other as we try to nurture. But sometimes the hardest is nurturing one’s self.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


The ecotone between mountain and prairie that is called “the east slope of the Rockies” is awash with color this time of year, IF there is rain and this year there was, though we’re slipping back into drought now.

The auctioneer Buckley told me a story the other day. The female buffalo said, “I’m about to calve and I want a good place, so I’ll go to the south-facing slopes of the Sweetgrass Hills where my babies can be born into sunshine.” And all the female buffaloes went there. When the calves were born, in each place that the umbilical cord touched the ground, up sprang kippiaapi, a pale lavendar flower that has fur and is one of the first flowers of spring. Today we call them Wild Crocus.

The Christians call them “pasqueflowers” because they come about Easter. Evidently they didn’t notice that sheep that overfeed on the flower can be killed! On the other hand, the Passover or Paschal Lamb historically was killed and eaten ceremonially -- a sacrificial lamb.

Some say “prairie anemone,” “windflower,” “blue tulip” or “American Pulsatilla.” It’s the state flower of South Dakota, but it’s probably through blooming there by the time tourists get on the road, so they are more likely to see it where it blooms later at higher altitudes. Technically, they are a type of ranunculacae (“little frog”) which is the buttercup family.

That’s a poetic indigenous flower. But domestically right at the moment the lilacs and caraghana have just finished blooming in town. Lilacs are one of the most beloved and fragrant plants of homesteaders and able to persist long after the houses have fallen back into the ground. Caraghana, or Siberian pea, is a tough, gorse-like plant that is nearly indestructible even on the prairie. It has a yellow flower which develops into a pod. In the hot part of the summer, the ripened and dried pod will split open -- explode is more like it, hurling tiny peas at innocent cats and pedestrians. Pfft. Pfft. Blip, blip. I used to have a hedge of them just outside the screendoor where their tiny bombardments pattered all afternoon.

Right now along the roads there are feral flowers, agricultural escapees of three bright kinds, which are striking when they are planted in fields, but beautiful even when they escape from the seed trucks when the crops are hauled in to the elevator. One is mustard, which is yellow.

Another is flax, a most elegant towards-lilac blue, the blue of Della Robbia’s madonnas. Della Robbia blue is a derivative of cobalt and is not a paint, but a glaze for terra cotta sculptures which were traditionally white on blue backgrounds. In Europe there were only two sources for cobalt, a commodity much prized and associated with royalty, like purple. Della Robbia was not just one artist, but a family of artists who managed to keep the formula for their blue glaze secret until they were betrayed by a maid.

Flax, of course, is the plant that saved Ireland because it would grow in drained fields and yield linen which was an excellent cash crop and provided many weavers with a living. "Irish linen" is much valued.

The third color comes from sainfoin, a leguminous fodder plant like alfalfa, whose name comes from the French for health "sain" (sanitation, sanitarium, sane) and “foin” which is hay. Some call it “saintfoin” which implies a sacred connection. In any case, it is pink -- bright pink, maybe even Schaperelli pink! Schaperelli was a haute clothing designer in Paris (mais oui!) known for that color, especially in combination with black. They say it is becoming popular again. The year that Grant Gallup planted a field of sainfoin on the road going into East Glacier, people almost drove into the ditch, so distracted were they by trying to figure out what in the world it was! The color of watermelon flesh!

I’m just waiting for some agricultural artist to create a quilt of yellow, blue and pink! Maybe stripes.

Now just beginning to bloom down in the coulees where it’s warm and sheltered is the lupine. Related to the Texas bluebonnet, lupine is ironically named for the wolf but actually puts nitrogen into the soil. Also called pursh, it can be a resident of poor soil, but will help with recovery. It’s a little more purplish than flax and not along the roads, but in great sheets out across the prairie, looking almost like lakes.

In my yard the Harison Gold yellow rose, probably the “yellow rose of Texas,” is blooming. It’s another of those indestructible and much-valued domestic plants that will go feral if they get a chance.

Monday, June 05, 2006


To get to Dupuyer from Valier, travel south along 89 (the modern approximation of the Old North Trail.) To get to the cemetery turn right at the southern boundary street, the road that heads towards the Rockies. You’ll see a sign for the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch. (Bob Scriver made them a sculpture of Teddy on his horse.) The road forks: take the left. Now you should be able to see a small hill on the left with the white squares of grave markers. A two-track road takes off to the left, looping to avoid a small lake. Be glad if it’s dry weather, because otherwise your vehicle will be slewing around in gumbo.

When I got there early, as is my custom, I was preceded only by a member of the Veteran Honor Guard, Buckley the Auctioneer from Conrad. To occupy the time and as is the duty of an elder, he told me the story of his Grandma Kittson and how she escaped the Baker Massacre, but only barely. There were many sub-plots and explanations. And he told me that this cemetery included many Metis who had taken refuge from the Riel Rebellion in Canada and made homes in the southern part of the Blackfeet reservation. But neither one of us was sure why Jimmie Welch Senior was to be buried here.

Burns the mortician showed up and Buckley helped him fold the U.S. flag properly. Buckley said, “I’m proud to be a soldier for the US of A, but those soldiers of Baker’s were nothing but murderers.” I agreed and tried to relate it to today’s Iraq, but he was having none of that. Burns stayed out of it.

Jim’s two surviving sons, Mike and Timothy, arrived and Jamie, the young one, a girl who arrived when Jim was 72 and newly married to a second woman named Rose -- Rosetta instead of Rosella. Then came Gladys Cantrell with whom he lived for the last decade or so. James Phillip Welch, Jr., the much missed darling of Missoula literati, is not missing here -- his spirit stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his brothers. Joyce Clarke Turvey, daughter of John Clarke, was there and Debbie Magee Scherer, daughter of Merle Magee, Jim’s hunting partner and Bob Scriver’s, too. I mistook Debbie for her older sister, Diane, which bugged her, but then she mistook a couple of others and forgave me. More people, mostly local and Blackfeet, came along, fewer than fifty altogether.

The honor guard numbered seven and fired off three rounds. Taps were sounded on that new-fangled electronic gadget, while the wind snapped the Stars and Stripes overhead and Heart Butte stood out clear as a bell in the background. The Rockies were backed by purple clouds, a storm for the next day. The priest was young and blonde and when we turned down our eyes to pray, I saw that we were standing on wild strawberries.

When a few years ago I found out that Jim Welch Sr. was in Great Falls, I made a pilgrimage, equipped with xeroxed pages of the Browning High School yearbook for the Thirties which Lila Evans had managed to nab for me. We sat for several hours in his and Gladys Cantrell’s cozy apartment, remembering the old days, though I don’t think Jim ever did figure out exactly who I was.

Jim said that when he and Bob were playmates, they were in trouble together so often that every time something happened around the school, Doug Gold, the superintendent, would say to the secretary, “Get Jim and Robert in here. They must have had something to do with this.” One of their better tricks was taking off the grille on the air duct from the furnace and putting some foul mess from chemistry class in there before carefully screwing the grille back on. Gold went up and down the hall, unsuccessfully trying to figure out where the terrible smell was coming from.

An early scheme backfired. They’d been reading about pirate treasure and decided to hide some money. Between them they had thirty-seven cents, which they buried on “Kindergarten Hill” behind the school. Though they carefully noted landmarks, when they needed their thirty-seven cents again, they discovered the hole was disguised all too well. So far as anyone knows, the treasure might still be up there except that Kindergarten Hill has been bulldozed.

When the boys were teenagers, each was sent out to work on a ranch for the summer. Bob was chore boy, hay hand and wood cutter for the Stones, but Jim went to a ranch where he was the remuda cowboy. At the crack of dawn when the bull cook got up to start the fires and put the bread to baking, he woke Jim by lifting up the foot of his bed and tipping him out. Jim’s job was to find the grazing horses and bring them in by the time breakfast was over. Then he went into the kitchen for his own breakfast -- he assured me the female cook took special care of him -- and put a lunch in his saddlebacks for his day work, which was riding fencelines to keep them prepared.

Bob and Jim shared their belief that women were the source of all good things -- stand by the cook! They also combined brains with manual work, so Jim was both an administrator and a welder. But he was what some call a “fiddlefoot.” He often made good money, but then moved on to some new opportunity. This is where he differed from Bob, who anchored in Browning.

Just before I arrived with the yearbook copies, Jim had begun to wander again. He’d leave the house with the little dog and not return for so long that searchers would begin to sweep the streets of Great Falls. Several times they found the two wanderers exhausted and dehydrated, the little dog’s tongue hanging out and Jim declaring he knew where he was, though he didn’t. Pretty soon it was clear that Gladys, who has her own health issues and who is a very active advocate for Native American art, was going to have to give him up. He spent the last few years in the Browning nursing home.

He said that when he was a boy the old-timers -- real buffalo warriors -- would sit on the benches in front of the Sherburne Merc (not the more recent one but the one that was where the bowling alley is now) and tell about raids and hunting. The sidewalk in front of the store was wooden and several feet off the ground, so Jim -- to eavesdrop -- would sit hidden just over the edge while he listened. The old men would pretend they didn’t know he was there, but then they would forget anyway and go on talking in Blackfeet. “Remember the time we went to Crow Country? You were there, and you... and you!”

He said that when it was winter, these old men -- who were massive in the old Blackfeet way -- would put on their capotes made from Hudson’s Bay blankets, and when they walked down the board sidewalks, everyone got out of the way and stared at them in awe when they went by.

Born in 1914, Jim was part of a family woven through history in Heart Butte, Browning, Fort Belknap, and back into the Carolinas along a Cherokee thread. He wanted to be buried in Dupuyer so he could rest between his mother and his grandmother. I expect he was hoping to see his wives again, both named Rose and both “gone ahead.” But Gladys Cantrell says she will stay here until she’s a hundred years old and he can just wait for her.