In the Humble Opinion of LittleBill, Socialist, Atheist, and Humanist

It’s funny how awareness, singular or plural, comes to mind, as is the case with my sitting down to write this story. I have found, on this occasion, that I have lived through several separate phases of history. The older you get, the more there are, some not connected to each other or to other people, but all incorporated into life as you experienced it. I grew up on a ranch near Sheridan, Wyoming, in the northeastern corner of Wyoming. Sheridan, at that time, was probably one of the major “cities” in the state, with a population of about 25,000 to 30,000.

Our ranch was approximately 15 miles from town, on roads both asphalt, and gravel.
The telephone lines did not go in until we moved there, so that our neighbors at last moved into the great 20th century. We all shared the line as you share the lines in your home, and have to wait until the line is not busy in order to use it. Our phone number was 28.

I believe I wrote recently about “rounding up” buffalo in the Big Horn mountains with the Crow Indians, which consisted mainly of chasing the herd back across the border onto their reservation. The man who was in charge of the trip and who had invited my family was Willis “Papa” Spear, who had long in the past been governor of Montana. There are two of his stories which have stayed in my mind. One was the time that his aunt once answered her ranchhouse door when she was home alone. But she had armed herself with a rifle, as all people did in those days, and killed the Indian who was standing there. (In these days, or at least up until a few years ago, the stranger might have been in need of help. But I don’t believe many people in those days would have safely taken time to think of that possibility.)

In another instance, Papa Spear as a young man, was pursued by Indians and saved his own life by diving into a creek and breathing through a reed until they had given up and gone on.

On another occasion, when we were at a rodeo on the Crow Reservation, Max Big Man was pointed out to me, although we did not meet. As a child, he had been an observer and survivor of the Custer Massacre. And thus, all of these ties, however brief or fleeting, connect me, born in 1923, to people and events which did not outlive the 19th century.

But I digress. It was another event entirely that came to mind and impelled me to sit down and write this blog. It is about a trip I took back in the forties with my brother-in-law, Paddy “Pat” Ryan, one of the first three rodeo cowboys to be enshrined in the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.

In his older years, Pat traveled around during Rodeo season, judging the contestants rather than being one himself. Back in the early 40’s, he and another rodeo cowboy were going to a town called Ekalaka, Montana, to judge their rodeo, and I was invited to go along. So we crowded into the front seat of his pick-up and started off on one of the most unusual, unexpected, and exciting adventures I have ever been on. We left Sheridan early in the morning and drove for many miles on the two-lane highways which connected all the states. If we passed another car on this long journey, I would be very surprised. In those days, you just did not meet other cars on a consistent basis. From the “freeway” we had been on, we turned onto a gravel road, which in turn became a dirt road. After some time, we stopped at a wire gate in a fence running parallel to a long mesa, and drove through. No signs anywhere, of course.

There was no road on the other side, just prairie grass, but Pat pressed on, moving uphill at the same time he was driving along the mesa, and at last we could see another wire fence along the top. Eventually we came to another gate at the top of the hill, opened it, and drove to the other side of the mesa, from which we looked down on a tiny town with a lot of people moving around at various speeds and at odd angles. You could tell that it was rodeo time.

Ekalaka was (and I hope, still is) an inland town. That is, it was not connected to the rest of the world with any roads, or other means of communication. There were no electric anythings except for a two-way radio in the sheriff’s office. Its street was a dirt road that adjusted to the weather, and it’s sidewalks were boardwalks. The buildings were one-storied. It looked exactly like the small towns in early western movies, and it very well may have been one of them.

The only jewel that I do not remember having seen in early movies, except the stairs going upstairs from the bar, was the hotel. This hotel was on the first floor, with a long hall leading to the back, and it was loaded with cowboys and whoknowswhatelse in those rooms. The only room left for me was the lobby, only slightly larger than a bathroom, with a small couch and two old chairs. The accoutrements were carefully arranged for me by the hotel owner, with the two chairs backed up to the couch and covered with coats to give me “privacy.” The slight interruption of feet passing to and fro past the head of my “bed” all night long was as nothing as compared with the luxury of my quarters. The reason for all this attention was undoubtedly due to Pat’s reputation as a very famous cowboy leader.

The reason for our trip, of course, was the rodeo, and so we set off the next morning on the rickety boardwalk. We had hardly left the hotel when a very drunk man fell of the walk into the street in front of us. Pat stepped forward to help him up, but the man brushed him off, saying “I’m just going to have another fight in a few minutes anyway, so it won’t make any difference,” which encapsulated the joyous spirit of the occasion.

The rodeo took place in a corral at one end of Main Street (if it even needed a name), and the only creatures who were not having any fun were the cattle, who were kept in a smaller corral at one side. And so, every once in a while, they would break through their wooden prison and dash off into the countryside, with the cowboys racing after. This happened at least three times during the rodeo. If the “audience” had been paying for tickets, you can bet that these added attractions would have cost more.

As for the trip home, I can’t remember a thing about it. How could anything possibly surpass the trip out and the privilege of having been born in the early twentieth century when people knew almost everyone they encountered and found humor and good fellowship in simple things?!


The Real Issues in the 2008 Presidential Election

McCain's Refrain - I'm a Fighter

And from there on, in most, if not all of his speeches, this has been his central theme. He has said he will fight for his party, for his country, and against “those countries that don’t like us very much.” And there’s the rub. His personal history includes a military family and an agonizing five year imprisonment in a Vietnamese prison, so it is not surpising that his philosophy is as it is.

He has chosen Bush’s technique of gathering followers, which is to assure the American population that he will protect us from our enemies. In order to reassure Americans, we have to have enemies, and what better method than being bellicose in America’s relationships with other nations. The reasoning is that Americans will feel safe under his protecting wings, and the rest of the world will be reminded that we are the greatest nation in world history, which will add a demeaning touch toward relationships with foreign countries.

Obama, on the other hand, has stated that his foreign policy will definitely be for the benefit of the United States, but that it will include an open mind and extended hand toward other nations in this world.

Political Smiles

The variation in smiles, particularly those of the people involved in the present run for president and the people around them, are both very interesting and very revealing. When greeting a crowd or giving a speech, Obama’s smile seems to radiate back to the crowd as individuals and almost as personal friends, this in contrast to the view of many that he is arrogant and distant.

Joseph Biden, Obama’s choice for vice president, has been in Congress for many years, and shows it when he speaks, as well as engaging the audience with beautiful teeth and a wide smile.

McCain’s smile, on the other hand is one of breathing in the adulation of the multitude, either as the war hero he is, or the future savior of the country. There is no warmth reflected back to his audience.

His vice presidential nominee, on the other hand, radiates the style of an on-stage comedienne, trolling for laughs, mostly at the expense of Obama and the Democrats, rather then sharing with the audience what her duties and philosophy would be as vice president.

If You Could Be a Train, Which Train Would You Be?

A White Addendum to Black in America

White Can’t remember if I have put this on the computer before, but it’s worth another go.

As a daughter of a rich family in Wyoming, I was sent to a rich girls’ boarding school in Virginia from 1939 to 1942. My next door roommate was Edsel Ford’s daughter, Dodie. You get the picture.

In the evenings, the students would sit in our windows listening to the black employees singing old Negro hymns as they finished their long hours of work. Several times a week the staff would take the students on horseback rides through the countryside.

On one such ride, with 20 or so horses in a long row, we passed a decrepit old house that had never seen paint, and an old black woman came out on her porch to watch us go by. She swung her trunk out using her arms, because her legs had been amputated at her body.

I do not know what she was thinking, but I know what I was thinking. Here were the rich white girls from the boarding school, riding their steeds English-style, parading their privilege past HER HOME and CONDITION, chatting with one another and enjoying the day.

Nor do I know what the other girls were thinking. But I DO know that almost 70 years later I remember that day with shame.

Things I Have Learned the Hard Way

Things I Have Learned the Hard Way

I was honored to be invited to speak to a class of fifth and sixth graders yesterday, and found myself absolutely delighted and encouraged by their questions, so here I am, unable to think of anything else until I write back to one of the questions which I could not answer at the time. The question was “Did you ever do something you were ashamed of?” I guess you don’t remember such things because you are so sorry for what you did, but I dreamed of two of them all night, and here they are.

The first happened while I was a little girl, 4 or 5. I went to a neighbor’s house with my doll buggy to play with one of my friends. We played with toys in her toy chest, one of which was a tiny candleholder – the kind you put on a birthday cake. I just loved it.

But when I left, my doll buggy was missing, and of course with a little girl’s mind, I reasoned that the disappearance was her fault. And so, the next time I went to her house, I stole the candleholder.

I have no idea what happened to my doll buggy, whether we found it again, or someone actually did take it, or whether she ever found that the candleholder was missing. No one else ever heard about this incident. I don’t even know whether I returned it myself. But I knew inside myself that what I did was wrong, and I have remembered it for over 80 years.

My second mistake was one which I should have known better than to have done. As a teenager, I was visiting a ranch where everyone hunted, and I was taken out to hunt birds. At some point, a porcupine was crossing the road ahead of us, and and one of the men got out, put his rifle to its head, and shot it. That was bad enough, but I was given a rifle and and my very first lesson in killing something. A grouse ran across the road and into the brush, and I shot at it. But we looked all over for it and never found it. It did not fly up, so I never knew if it was dead or dying alone. How could I have done such a thing?! Not only are almost all birds and animals nonaggressive, they don’t have any way of knowing that they are about to be killed In many cases, they don’t even know you are there, and they have no way to protect themselves from bullets and the many other ways that humans can kill them.

It was especially hard for me to write this second story, for which I will never forgive myself.

Now Let Me Get This Straight

America is the very name of Freedom, the Beacon of Democracy and the power of the individual to think and worship as he wishes. Are we all together on this?

According to Sarah Palin, however, this is only true if you think and worship as she does.
She has chosen to bear a special needs child, which is fine, especially since her child will be luckier than most because his parents are privileged. Her faith leads her to believe that all life is precious and deserves to live, and thus Barack is to be vilified for he believes that the right of abortion lies with the woman bearing a child, with the exception of a partial-birth abortion involving the health of the mother.

For those of us who believe strongly in the right to abortion for numerous reasons, including rape, poverty, the life ahead facing an abnormal child, the decision should be that of the mother, or her surrogates if she is unable to make a decision. Another possibility is the decision to encourage the adoption of such children, but I don’t see a helluva lot of people with such children so adopted.

And this last thought leads me straight to McCain, the leader who proudly maintains that he would rather lose an election than a war. He must have killed hundreds of people in the good old days of war, and he is a strong supporter of the numerous incipient baby (odd that that name came to mind just now) wars of Bush’s Magnificat. Assuming that he also supports Palin’s religious views of the value and purpose of life, how does he work this all into his own well-thought-out values surrounding the taking of hundreds of thousands of human lives of all ages and perfection and promise?

And by the way, when McCain and Palin ask members of their audiences who have fought (or at least enlisted) in past or present wars to raise their hands, I don’t see a helluva lot of courageous and dedicated hands waving in the air.