Blind Jack, and Other Local History

Went out with an old rancher yesterday to check out some abandoned mines on his place. I knew his ranch was the longest owned by the same family in Montana, I didn’t know his great, great, great, great grandfather was a fur trapper here in 1790 (talk about local.) I also heard the story about Blind Jack and his two old maid, school teacher, sisters who homesteaded and grew wheat near Rock Creek. A story about the guy who pulled 1000 ounces of gold supposedly out of a hole no bigger than a truck. A guy by the name of Bell who lived on what is now part of the ranch and would bring all kinds of placer gold to town every so often but died suddenly with the secret of where he was getting it, and all kinds of other great stories.

Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 11:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Things That Go Boom

In the long gone days before the country was roamed by packs of bureaucrats and lawyers a boy could smoke whenever he wanted provided he planned ahead and rationed himself. There were certain designated smoking areas. These all had only one requirement; a lack of adults. Mind you most of the smoking came from around the singed remains of his eyebrows, but occasionally a person could witness a “full body” smoke. Full body smokes were, even then, agreed to be unhealthy.

Back in those days we had a holiday, the best holiday of the year, and it was called The Fourth. Now days during this same time of the year a different holiday call The Fourth of July has displaced the original and vastly superior holiday. The Fourth of July has as much in common with The Fourth as a kitten does with a wet rabid mountain lion. I’ve heard some conspiracy theories about how the government has enslaved the citizenry by making them fill out their names on forms using only capital letters. What has happened to The Fourth could be the key to unlocking the answer to that theory.

The necessary smoking supplies were secured from handy dispensaries that popped up all over the country in spring like colorful flower displays. The proprietors of these shops of bliss weren’t without ethics and didn’t just sell to anyone though. A customer had to meet stringent standards. To wit; they had to be tall enough to see over the counter, they had to be able to articulate the words “I want” and they had to bring their allowance money.

Every member of the Cult of Things That Go Boom I know got their start with what is commonly called The Blackcat. For those who might have grown up in Zaire or are too young to remember what freedom is, a Blackcat looks like half of a grey cigarette. Like cigarettes they can not only lead to smoking but are just as addictive. The average eight year old boy would start by purchasing a “brick” which is a quantity that could last for up to 15 minutes, or much less if they didn’t spend the hour separating them into single servings. The first boom he released into this universe used the technique of dashing three of four times up to the Blackcat with a lit punk from twenty feet away until the fuse finally caught. A punk was a stick with cow poop glued to it and was good for smoking only when combined with things that go boom, but that’s a completely different story.

After a boy had lit, or to use the technical phrase, set off half a dozen on the driveway the quest to see what they could really do began. An ant hill would be located and a miniature model of NASA would be constructed. No one realizes how hard it is to find an anthill when you actually need it. Then a soda can would be found with the intention of setting off the Blackcat inside it. The boy would then realize that his technique of repeatedly dashing up to the fuse with a lit punk couldn’t be used for this application. The smarter boys would attempt to dangle the Blackcat in the can by pinning the fuse between the top of the can and a pebble. This would invariably lead to the Blackcat falling into the last few drops of soda in the bottom of the can and extinguishing the fuse. The less intelligent boys would then use this as an example of the stupidity of being smart. However, this was actually part of a larger conspiracy I’ll explain later. The end result would be the least intelligent boy would be nominated by using the word chicken repeatedly to hold the Blackcat over the opening, lighting the fuse and then releasing it only when there wasn’t too much fuse to be extinguished.

That boy was now acclimated to holding a Blackcat in his hand while lighting the fuse. This would turn out to be a false since of security since the Communist country that produced these Blackcats and the soda cans had adapted them for warfare. Every hundredth fuse was designed to burn at a speed usually only associated with comets. This would invariably lead to fingers that looked like elongated pomegranates and the success of the communist country in forever crippling the trigger fingers of a whole generation. This also led the boy to want to dissect the Blackcat like an alien invader to figure out what makes it tick. It wouldn’t take long for the boy to figure out that the grey powder in the center was where the real power was at, much less time in fact, than it took his mother to ask where his eyebrows went.

This grey powder is something like a “gateway drug”. Since I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has expired for denting a baseball diamond I will give an example of what it can lead to:

Not that long before I discovered the power of the grey powder, through a gross lack of intelligence I now realize, my mother bought me an Estes Rocket Kit. Kids now days may not know what these are, since the last I heard; the government classified them as terrorist devices or something like that. Basically what the Kit was for was to build a miniature surface to air missile. Why the government would feel it needed to be worried about something like this I will never know.

The only failure of the kit was that Mr. Estes always forgot to pack the actual warhead. I thought about writing a letter to point out this gross oversight to him but then I got too busy unlocking the magic of The Grey Powder. Besides, the powder itself had presented a solution to me that would save all that tedious writing. I realized that by taking a shotgun shell and emptying it out, filling it up with Grey powder and taping a BB over the primer in the end of the shell anyone could make a warhead. The first and only flight of Grey Powder1 was an absolute success however it also resulted in the absolute loss of all hardware and pointed out the unnecessaryness of putting the “One” after Grey Powder.

These lesser examples of the power of things that go boom aren’t nearly as dangerous as more advanced applications. The most dangerous is when you add “has a father who owns a laboratory” to the list of positive attributes of potential wives. This can actually not pay off so I’d recommend leaving it off, by the way. As it turns out, the vast majority of owners of laboratories learned about the power of the Grey Powder long before you did. Not to worry though it will turn out all right because by this point in his life he will have discovered that the grey powder can be bought at most Sporting Goods stores in pound cans, and can be content with a brass cannon even if he didn’t get the twenty kilograms of the good stuff…. or so I’d speculate.

Published in: on February 14, 2010 at 10:46 pm  Comments (3)  
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I’ve known my kid brother all my life so I can confidently say growing up he was a typical pain in the butt little brother, only more so. The following story took place when he was around ten years old, and I was around twelve. Certain elements of this story could possibly be fatally dangerous. This is always one of the first stories I remember when I get in the how-the-hell-have–I-lived-this-long frame of mind. I’m serious, this is the don’t try this at home disclosure. Nut-Tongs is last I’m going to say of it for now.

Growing up I was always the independent rebellious son, and well, my little brother was the kind that didn’t even put up a fight when our mother gave him the nickname of Buttercup. He most definitely had most favored baby status. Whenever he was due for a good kicking he was hiding behind mom’s skirts.

We grew up during the peak of The Cold War and this story is really a true life analogy to the arms race between The Soviet Union and the USA of that time.

During the winter we lived in a large city so our mother could teach sometimes. The house was a fairly typical suburban home meaning it had a television, unlike the cabin where we spent our summers. This TV even had a remote control so you didn’t always have to actually get up to change to any of the other three stations. When you are nearly a teenage boy a remote is like a Scepter of Dominion only more powerful. Anytime we were home alone and watching TV a battle for this powerful object occupied more time than the actual program that was showing. For quite awhile a quick snap of the wrist utilizing the handy built in edge of the remote would settle the possession argument. Like all weapons the days of the remote’s state of supremacy didn’t last long.

At that time a lot of homes had an actual fireplace in the family room. The best sofa for watching television was right next to the fireplace. This fireplace had a complete set of tools, including, you guessed it, a set of log tongs and a poker. If the poker displaced the remote, like the English long bow displaced everything before it, the Log/Nut-tongs was in the same category as a Panzer Tank.

The Nut-tongs didn’t have as long of a run as supreme weapon as I thought it would because my little brother possessed the ethics of a drunken crack whore. If there had been something like The Geneva Convention written for this arms race he violated every principle of it the day he ran to the kitchen and grabbed a butcher’s knife. I will give him some credit; a guy gets some funny ideas when his brother is marching him around the house by his testicles via something that looks like an oversized BBQ tool, but that still doesn’t negate the immorality of his action.

His Czarist knife tactic allowed several months of television bliss for his treacherous little soul. I couldn’t escalate to this level because he threatened to tattle me out anytime I reached for the drawer where the knives were kept. His most favored baby brother status guaranteed he would be believed if he told and also guaranteed I wouldn’t be if I told on him.

One of the funny things about being repeatedly chased from a room at knife point is not only do you have time on your hands to think of solutions, you are properly motivated.

Not that long ago, before all the lawyers headed to the North Pole, Santa use to give good boys guns and was usually considerate enough to fill their stocking full of ammunition. Through some sort of elven middle management error or typo I had received a 20 gauge shotgun, and a rather heavy and boxy stocking the Christmas before.

Now I didn’t want the little snot nosed twerp dead….very much….or at least permanently. I had to come up with a non-lethal solution to my brother’s Cantina-ization of our family room. After a little bit of experimentation I realized that shot shells could be reduced to four parts; the outer case with a primer, the powder, the wadding, and the shot.

After seriously considering just dumping the shot and leaving the powder, I decided to error on the safe side and dump the powder and the shot out of some shells. The safety aspect really stemmed from the idea of what would happen to me if I burned down the house and not from any kind of fraternal love. I kept these handy for the next time the little turd chased me from the room at knife point. I didn’t have to wait long.

It all started with a remote control whack right above the knee, progressed through the fireplace tools and I was ushered from the room by a knife within three minutes. Making the mandatory evil laugh I loaded the primer only shot shells in the magazine. Anyone who has ever been around pump-action shotguns knows why I only loaded the magazine and not the chamber. Nothing and I mean nothing in this world grabs someone’s attention like the sound of a cartridge being shucked into a pump action shotgun, and I wasn’t disappointed doing it as I walked into the family room. I had his undivided attention at this point and decided to not fall for the whole monologing stereotype, but to keep it short and sweet. It went something like this:


“You have chased me with a knife for the last time you little #$!^”


I’m glad to say that that was the end of the whole remote control arms race, and nothing except for a pair of boy’s briefs was harmed. It was the end not because of a signing of any treaty but because the little brother had received some sort of electronic device that last Christmas. I was a benevolent super power and would occasionally even let him pick a program; hardly a month went by that he didn’t get to choose the channel once.

It’s a good thing the arms race ended without any casualties; the kid has turned out alright. Shockingly enough, after having the nickname of Buttercup he even ended up a heterosexual. We all figured it was touch and go when he moved to San Francisco but tried to never think about that statement too literally. He now has an actual wife….or at least a “life partner” that looks very female to me. Someday I will receive one last dividend from this part of my life by being the uncle who helps good little nieces and nephews seek creative solutions to everyday problems.

Published in: on February 13, 2010 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Big Campout

Growing up poor in The Rockies can provide kids some interesting stories and matching scars. The following story took place during the summer I was fourteen. At that time my mother was a substitute teacher in a large city, but luckily the family still owned an old cabin way up in the mountains on a lake. I credit that cabin and the adventures I had there with saving me from the horrible fate of becoming a complete failure such as becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Every summer my mother would drive my little brother Justin and myself to the lake and we would spend the entire summer vacation in the little cabin with no phone or television. Now days any mother who would do this would probably have her kids taken away by the government for electronics abuse. But these were different times, and my brother’s and my claims to this fact (we could have been pioneers in child welfare circles) would result in us being kicked out the front door and told to not come back before dark.

My mother was not only mistreating us but was certifiably crazy to boot. Three years before for Christmas this same woman gave me a twenty gauge shotgun and shells for it. Children getting guns in their eleventh year wasn’t that uncommon for the time and place, but everybody knows a .22 is the only First Gun. A shotgun is a huge, long, and above all else LOUD gun for any child who barely outweighs it.

This summer my brother was twelve and was at the peak of his embarrassment to me. Luckily he changed somewhere after the point girls became more interesting but before all his hair fell out. Today I don’t even mind admitting we are related, as long as we aren’t in public.

The Bernard’s cabin next to ours was home to two girls and one boy around our age, they also were much abused in the electronics department, and had to spend large chunks of time in the supposedly healthy outdoors. I say supposedly because I don’t recall a single summer one of us kids wasn’t rushed up to Ol’ Doc Larson’s place to have pieces reattached, things removed from our hides or to keep all our juices from leaking out.

All this time outdoors provided a lot of practice for the career of Mountain Man I had chosen for myself. Unfortunately these mountains were prowled by Bears, not to be confused by the small, almost friendly bears we seem to have about now days. These Bears earned their capital “B” by impaling fully grown cattle on their two foot long fangs. Most of the cattle in the area seemed to have evolved an “oil slick” defense to fight these bloodthirsty monsters, which was the only reason any beef was left still roaming around the lake.

The presence of these super-predators meant that all my mountain man skills were honed during the daylight hours generally within a quick dash of either the cabins or the lake. At the time I believed I could out swim these beasts and probably would have been able to as long as I could get up on plane. My trusty twenty gauge that was always with me would only have upset them. I have since developed a small caliber (for those Bears it would be anything less than 50BMG) strategy for dealing with predators. I don’t want to give too much of the secret away but the most important part is to make sure your outdoor companions aren’t family or even good friends, the best are people who are always using phrases like “for the common good”.

The summer of this story I decided it was time to actually get some practice in sleeping in the woods alone. There really aren’t many mountain man opportunities within a day’s walk from a hotel. There were around a dozen islands in this lake the largest being about 100YDs across, I decided that the Big Island was the location that provided precisely what I needed. Firstly I had never seen any of the bears on the islands, secondly on an island any direction of retreat from the bears would eventually lead to the safety of water, I also figured my own adaptation of an oil slick defense would be most effective over a short distance since I had but one stomach.

On the evening of my departure I was informed I would be taking along my little brother, in words that offered no debate. Little kid brothers being what they are he took advantage of this opportunity to brag up to the Bernard kids that he too was going to be camping with me “alone” on the Big Island.

When my grandfather purchased our cabin it came with an old 12 foot fishing boat that was supposedly made of aluminum. That could have been, but only if they melted down an entire B-52 and cast it from that. The little nine horse Mercury outboard that was on it could get it up on plane if the boat held only my brother and me and had about a mile run up to it. The Bernard kids had a boat almost exactly like ours too. Like I said these were different times, and all of us kids could use these boats anytime we wanted, and even used to outboards when we could beg enough money for gas.
When my brother and I started hauling all our mountain man “possibles” down to the dock our mother had the touching words “bring home some damn fish this time” to send us on our way. The Bernard kids had a friend staying with them and the four of them were on their dock next to ours looking suspicious. As we pulled away I yelled to my brother over the din of the outboard “you got the dynamite, right”. I figured if they were up to no good I should raise the stakes above one twenty gauge.

We got camp set up easily, caught a few fish for breakfast and had our fire going nicely when we heard a boat heading up the lake and then fall silent right as it reached the far side of the island. It wasn’t too long till we heard some sniggering a ways off in the bushes and I explained my plan to my little brother. A couple of minutes later there were a lot of suspicious growling noises coming from behind some rocks not too far off. At least the Bernards were smart enough to hide behind something that would stop shotshell pellets. Luckily we had brought all that “dynamite”.

The exchange between my brother and I went like this:

(Me) “Dang Justin, them bears are hiding behind some rocks, lucky for us we brought this dynamite.” [As I pushed the safety off on the shotgun]

(Justin) [Picking up a rock] “Here, I got this one lit, what about right behind that big rock” [As he chucks the rock right where we figured the Bernard kids and their friend were.]

[Sounds of four kids doing that thing Scooby Do always did when he found out Shaggy was really a ghost.]

[I shoot the shotgun in the air]

[All kinds of screaming including “Get the damn boat started” from about 50yds away]

After a nice breakfast of fried trout the next morning I found out that someone else had adapted the cow’s “oil slick” defense technique.

Published in: on February 12, 2010 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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