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

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?!

ARW
8/26/08

12 comments:

Vigilante said...

GR8 story, Lil'Bill. Some how it seems more like the 19th century, the way I picture it in my mind!

Vigilante said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Soros' Proxy said...

I find the subject of one's memories extremely puzzling. As one grows older, it's like sustaining a fire in your library. One entire shelf will be lost, and the one above and the one below it will survive intact.

LTE said...

Great comment, Soros.

LittleBill said...

I'll say, that was a great comment, Soros! I have lived in Santa Barbara for over 10 years, and I can hardly remember what I have done, WITH THE EXCEPTION AND THE THRILL OF GETTING A COMPUTER AND BEING FREE TO WRITE!!

Vigilante said...

When you mentioned blogging, Lil'Bill, and memories, I immediately thought of the rented movie which Trophy Wife and I watched last night, Blue State. I heartedly recommend it to you!

an average patriot said...

Great Little Bill
Love your memories! There still are many towns there with no paved roads stores or gas stations> Love it! I worked the missile sites around there and frequented places where there were no real dirt roads just old trails. It is still out there. Did you ever do to Frontier Days in Cheyenne?

LittleBill said...

Actually, AvPat: I hated rodeos. There were too many awful things that I saw, so I gave up going to them. But there were many humorous or interesting things going on in connection with them, and that is what I described in my blog.

Actually,I do not like many things involving animals and people together. The role of the animal is either subservient or in fear.

There is one exception, a film of a man and horse doing dressage, and both of them were in heaven. If I can find the link, I will put it on for all of you to share the thrill of it.

LittleBill said...

Here it is.
http://www.flixxy.com/world-equestrian-games-freestyle-dressage.htm

Beach Bum said...

...when people knew almost everyone they encountered and found humor and good fellowship in simple things?!

That is what I miss about growing up in a small town close to the beach before it all became condos and resorts with locals pushed inland due to rising taxes and insurance.
Ain't nothing like an impromptu fish fry party when people sitting around each realize they have an excess of fish, shrimp, or beer and want to share. Nothing like that happens much now.

Beach Bum said...

Great story by the way!

LittleBill said...

Thanks, Beach, for both of your comments. I hope greater contact with the rest of the world has not robbed all small towns of their warmth. On the other hand, my best childhood friend, who still lives in Wyoming, is very proud of Cheney, so we find it hard
to talk.