Black Tailed Rattler

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I have returned from Colorado eager to once again hit the trails on the backside of Mt. Wrightson.  I must say, my excursion into the San Luis Valley where my friend, Judy Anne lives, was a satisfying and good trip.  It was nice escaping the heat of the rest of the country, hanging at roughly 8,000 ft. for the better part of August, doing my snake walks and nature hikes.  But…there is something nice about southern Arizona, despite the relentless heat: high desert, blue skies with intermittent afternoon thunder showers, island mountain ranges, a wide range of flora and fauna, and sparse human population generating a pleasant loneliness that I have come to appreciate while I wait out all the international travel restrictions.   And of course, there is Tucson, exciting Pac 12, high desert community looming a mere 20 miles to my north at the base of 9,159 foot Mt. Lemon.  If I need an urban respite, Tucson is a wonderful cultural hub with something for everybody.

The other day, I put myself to the hiking test, venturing up the still and quiet Florida Trail, (that’s Flor-e-dah) plodding, foot by foot, up the backside of Wrightson, much more than my soft muscles like.  It’s always a test to just see how much I can endure.  I calculate less in miles and more in time since the hike is so painfully slow: up a steep and narrow, stone strewn trail in 90 degree weather, hours at a time.  On this day I provoked six or seven deer between long moments of dead silence.  I am always on the lookout for lizards and snakes, being that that is my thing, my delight.  I never know what I might perturb, glimpse, or even step on if I become too lackadaisical or too exhausted to be cautious.  On this day, I paused to take a sip of liquid and I heard a buzz somewhere too near me to feel comfortable.  I didn’t move for fear of moving in the wrong direction and who knows, maybe getting bit.  Ahh…there it was! A few feet in front of me, a beautiful snake—surely between it’s broad girth and brilliantly colored bands (that surprisingly added to it’s camouflage), it’s alarming beauty made it one of the most superlative snakes I had ever encountered on a hike.  And despite it’s gentle buzz, it was rather docile! I had a side of me that wanted to press it’s head down and capture it, but between my semi exhaustion and slower reflexes of older age, thought to myself to leave it in peace—it deserved that much—I could get within 12 inches of its face without provoking a strike.  And so I took what pictures I could without giving the poor thing a heart attack.

From there, I pushed on up the semi-shaded ravine, climbed another wooded hill, and pressed on for another grinding mile or so before finally reaching my limit, at which time the rain cut loose and the thunder clapped and rolled down the canyons.  I don’t know why I even bother carrying a cheap umbrella—-the wind of a rainstorm always tears them inside out.  I suppose it gave me a little protection and I only got half as soaked as I would have with no protection, but I told myself, the grind and discomfort of a steep climb back down the mountainside in the intermittent sheets of rain was well worth the effort for the satisfaction of seeing a species of snake that was new to me.

Black Tailed Rattler

You Can Never Go Back

For years, I have felt, it will happen—-I will get back into the swing of things; I will make it happen. The magic will re-create. But that has not been the case. Life is always changing. If it didn’t, perhaps we would be in real trouble. Perhaps, aging in all its mysterious ways, is a normal process.

As a young man, I could never, ever, imagine that “youth” would go away. Life was always an unquestionable adventure. I scoffed at people who acted “old”. It was as mysterious to me as ever arriving at a place where the opposite sex would cease being anything less than an ineluctable draw that forever held the answer to meaning—to life itself. But mysteriously, all things change, no doubt a good thing though we fight it all the way.

And then suddenly, something happened. I think in most instances it is a very gradual process, but for me, it was almost instantaneous. The wild and wooly side of youth, disappeared, like a seven foot coachwhip down a rodent’s burrow. Now I can smile. Life is full of meaningful lessons, and nothing is as humbling as having the unimaginable become the normal. So it becomes a lesson in adaptation.

And to boot, we are entering a time as extraordinary as the extreme times of the past we have only read about. The funny thing about all of this is that no matter how fast it descends on us, it is still too slow for us to grasp. We still rationalize that things are okay. After all, we are “modern man”, beyond the catastrophes of the ignorant past. We will prevail. We have 21st century science to guide us through these challenges. We know better than to fear.

I must offer an ironic smile (as we slip more deeply into a quagmire of unforgivable paradoxical complications). It’s not that I really think this is funny, but I think some pretty heavy pooh is moving toward the fan. I kind of accept it, being that I don’t think I am going to be around for the worst of it, (but unfortunately, I fear I am going to be re-born into this mess, being that I am not spiritually advanced enough to skip this upcoming round of the next life).

I have no idea what is going to happen. But I don’t believe “death” is where it ends. That would be nice, but I am willing to bet, life is a continuum and there is really “no exit” before we are capable of spiritually transcending this plane. Most of us are in this for the long haul. I love the Christian belief that this is just a “one time life” here on earth then it is off to heaven or hell, but my heart tells me otherwise. I am ready for the long haul.

So, as fatalistic as I am, about the unknown future, I embrace my brethren, my Christian friends as well as my friends grounded in modern science. Most of them would scoff at my beliefs, and I pretty much accept that. I think we are all fine. Believe what you will. The bottom line to life, the secret, is to follow your heart. The heart is a true compass; it won’t fail you. Let that be your “God”, and all will be fine.

You Can Never Go Back

The Brown Hills

Special find, the short horned lizard

For 13 years we lived at the base of the Brown Hills in a little town called San Acacio, Colorado. The fastest way to the Brown Hills was to drive down a rutted, two tire track road, if you are willing to call it that, through a barbed wire gate that a rancher put up, doing what he could to keep his range cattle from meandering into San Acacio. A local judge insisted the rancher was responsible for keeping the cattle out of San Acacio.

For almost two miles it was a flat and dusty drive through sagebrush and chamiso, sometimes called rabbitbrush, a sort of blue chaparral evergreen shrub that goes into a beautiful yellow bloom by August. Since living in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, I have noticed chamiso all across the American West; it is the premier plant of chaparral country.

I would drive my little escort as far into the Brown Hills as I dared—usually about two miles. Then the tracks became too sparse, rutted, or simply washed out and I would turn the car around so if it ever had to be jump started, I would already be facing down hill. The land was very parched. Rarely would I encounter any animal life unless it was horned larks or the occasional prong horn antelope. From here, I would leave my little, faithful, faded red Escort to bake in the sun as I trudged into the hills, where the pinion trees would begin providing a little shade.

One day a few weeks back, while visiting Ann, I decided to pay a visit to the Brown Hills. I never knew what I might discover while hiking around patches of prickly pear cacti, across the basalt and through the scattered pinion woods of that very forlorn country. Over the years I always met up with some kind of strange or seemingly rare form of life, even if it was only an odd insect or a lizard I couldn’t quite identify. These were the hills where I got hit in the head by lightening once. That was a holy experience. But at the least, it was good thinking time: silent, with 50 mile crystalline clear views of surrounding 14,000 foot mountains in all directions from the hilltops.

On this particular evening, I drove my Jetta as far as I dared, where I then proceeded by slow, plodding foot into the hills, up a saddle. To my delight, my first find was a short horned lizard otherwise known as a “horny toad”. That in itself made almost anything else worth the effort of softly beating my way back into No Man’s Land. I always marvel at every horned lizard I ever catch. They are such remarkable creatures, so docile, always slow to escape, and of course, they have a most unique look along with a few peculiar habits.

I plodded up a saddle, noting another type of lizard in a shallow ravine, little doubt a variety of sceloporus, but like sparrows, only an expert might know. I have seen wild horses up here, and elk. Where they find their water, I’ll never know, unless they take it from the Rio at least 8 miles away. I remember one time finding about 4 inches of milk snake tail a top a talus ridge of basalt. I had had a friend, long time resident of the area, tell me he had caught a milk snake in the hills when he was a kid! I never believed him until this find. What the hell would a milk snake be doing in the Brown Hills?!

In the distance, San Acacio. And this is where I would come for years, to think, to contemplate

But in general, this is a place to contemplate, to wonder, to sit in awe and think about who and what we are. And from where we have come. This is where I used to come for silence and stillness, to smoke my pot, sip my water, and wonder the nature of what “God” might be. Back then, I don’t know if there was any greater pleasure than wondering what it was all about. So walking the Brown Hills served as a pleasant though ephemeral connection to a time in my life of long ago. And, in this hike, I could see, that yes, there is something compelling about a remote place, far away from people, that has a way of making a person think and wonder. And always curious about what the next find might bring.

The Brown Hills

Another Day on the Vega

Gentle, wandering garter.

There isn’t a day I spend in San Luis where I am not compelled to walk many miles. The Vega is only divided by the one road, a solitary, lone highway that runs northward from an obscure part of N.M. and continues through San Luis, another 30 miles into the no-name town of Ft. Garland. In San Luis, a portion of the the Vega is briefly cut in half by the quiet, two lane highway running through town. No body gives it much thought, so brief, insignificant, and quiet is the road going through there.

It’s nice having Ann’s house at the end of town. I walk for maybe a quarter of a mile, cross the Culebra, and from there, saunter up a deserted, closed off dirt road with the Vega on one side and the tail end of Wild Horse Mesa on the other. I very rarely ever encounter anyone else meandering out that way. This, I call my “snake walk”. And I go and go, always vigilant for what pleasant serpentine surprise will come my way. I never know whether it will be an often times, dull-green wandering garter snake sleeping lazily in the path, or perhaps a prairie rattler or a bull snake, doing the same thing, soaking in the last of the day’s sunshine, trusting that it is safe to spend the day’s end, paying no heed to potential predators, such as myself.

I hate to rouse them. And they are never sure what to do. Most of them will just lie in the warm dirt, stretched out, waiting to see what my intentions are—to see if they are really even noticed. I approach unobtrusively and I always take a few pictures, sometimes picking them up gently before they have the time or the sense to react. Sometimes I simply get my photos, then I guide them into the chamiso with my hiking pole where they are hidden and safe. Rattle snakes don’t know the folly of lying out in the middle of the road, lulling in the sun. More often than not, they will be doomed if anybody crosses them.

Lazy prairie rattler, not sure what to do besides go into a defensive coil

So every evening, as the sun sets behind Wild Horse Mesa, I take my 5 or 6 mile walk, and hope my endorphins will be stirred by the pleasure of seeing a snake or two. If only they had the ability to sense how they titillate my old human heart. What an odd relationship we have.

Catch a bull snake by the tail…he knows he is trouble, wants to bite, but it ain’t gonna do him much good, and he knows it

Another Day on the Vega

Erasing the Past, the Magic of “God” (Nov. 20)

It is natural to believe our past, things that we know are “true” or real, have been committed. There is nothing we can do to erase some horrible thing, like WWII, from our history. Every act that has ever been committed, is there in our history. We commemorate these things for as long as our memory can retain them. We tell ourselves to remember these things, these atrocities, so we may never do them again.

But I wonder. Some peculiar part of my being wonders if maybe, strangely, there is not another way to remove these acts from our human psyche. I know it sounds crazy, so impossible, but maybe, paradoxically, we can control our destiny as a species, by taking an entirely different approach.

It seems almost sacrilegious to think we can commit some horrendous act, then by denying it ever happened, erase it from our psyche. But, I don’t want to use the word “deny” because that to me, sounds like a lie. I can’t get my finger on it. It has to be “re-written” in our hearts…but how, that is the key.

Somehow, we shape the thing that we are, as a species, as one organism. But how do we get billions of “egos” for lack of a better word, to become one Ego? We hear of near death experiences and they seem almost universal in that the little, individualist ego seems to vanish! That everything negative within our little, individualistic ways, seems to lose its power, and some kind of magic takes over. But while we are alive, here on planet earth, we seem to fight with all our strength to claim what we think, or want on some level, to be true. What makes us so afraid of each other, the unknown, so to speak? We are afraid of people whose physical traits are different from our own, who speak another language, who believe in a “God” that is different than our own, who will make do what we don’t want to do, perhaps “behave”, but in any case, whose values are not the same as our own.

I understand that we are biological creatures and we each have different values, widely varying degrees of energy, something in us that makes us fight for what we each want. How do we get beyond that?

I know on one level, that this sounds extremely idealistic, but I can’t help but think we can…and we will overcome the apparent futility of a conflicting billion egos, that it is in the power of our belief, and that it incredibly is achieved by each of us on an individual basis! It does not matter, what a group does, a church, a community, a nation, if you, as an individual believe that the magic of transcendence is achieved by your own power, then that is all one needs.

Can you “sin”? Of course, that is our biological plight. To live is to sin. But the key is to always strive to be more, to overcome your humanity, your biology. Will you, probably not, but it is the direction that is important.

So I come back to “re-writing” history. I suspect there is a way to do it. Not through denial. Perhaps it is acceptance, complete and unadulterated acceptance, to the extent you give the act NO emotional value, and you move on, knowing to the depth of your being, that this act, this thing, is not what you are, nor a part of what you would ever be, (and what you have ever been)…and in this way, we slowly, move toward transcendence. It is all in the power of belief!

Erasing the Past, the Magic of “God” (Nov. 20)

Hopes Dashed

The good thing about Colorado is there is scarcely a place you can go that doesn’t stir the imagination.  If something goes awry in the plan, there is always lots more to appreciate.  It is a state of boundless, appealing  beauty.

Mike and I left Amache, headed to Lamar, each of us in our own thoughts about what we had just experienced.  We needed to pick up the other car now in Lamar.  And  it was time to grab a little breakfast and contemplate our next move, that is, what the route was north from Lamar to Eads, and finally locate Sand Creek, to connect the dots and see how the U.S. army,  leaving New Bents Fort in search of “dog soldiers” and a fight would somehow let themselves get disastrously side tracked for sport and bloodlust. 

Our trip had thus far been very good.  Now it was just a case of tying the whole trip together with a visit to one of the most touching sites in Colorado—the site of the Sand Creek Massacre.

The women, children, and older tribes people of Sand Creek, the Cheyenne and Arapahoe, had given up and agreed to the terms put down by the American Army.  They lived where they were told, on a plot of river bed along Sand Creek.  When the U. S. Army’s calvary approached the settlement, to avoid confrontation, the chief of this group, Black Kettle, raised the American Flag attached to a white flag as he had been told to do by American officials.  He stood helplessly amidst the women, children, and older Indians, letting it be known that they were peaceful—they desired no conflict.  Despite this, on the command of Colonel John Chivington, the people of these two tribes were horrendously massacred, for what purpose? Some kind of blood lust that is harbored deep within the human psyche that exists and will still express itself if given the opportunity.  It is really a frightening side of human nature of which we must forever vigilantly be on guard because all it takes is the right circumstances for it to manifest, in this case, maybe frustration and the hate of racism.  I suspect almost anybody is capable of turning into a cruel killer despite what we may think.  Look at Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, Uganda on a much grander scale.  There is no point elaborating on the sacrilegious mutilations of Sand Creek subsequently committed by many of the killers, though not all soldiers would participate.  In that, I glimpse hope for mankind, a ray of light in a very dark night.  

Now it was just about time to pay tribute to the site; I had thought about it many times over the years, especially as I drove across the Colorado plains, numerous times, headed to southwest Kansas—that parched, windswept region where cousin Mike was raised (Uncle Bill’s right hand man, so to speak), and my parents, god forbid, and so many other, close family relatives; and when I used to drive to Lamar to see Faye, or down into the Oklahoma panhandle to explore and share with my children a part of the country nobody ever indulges in, remote and isolated that it is.

We drove back to Lamar where we were going to have breakfast.  We decided on the same little cafe where we had indulged ourselves in chicken fried steaks the night before.  Our logic said the night before provided us with a good bet.  And so it was.

We then went out to our cars and Mike punched in Google Maps to find the best route, and somehow, he decided to look at the Sands Creek Massacre National Historic Site.  I am patiently waiting in my car.  He drives around and says, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but…” and he proceeds to explain that the Site is closed.   “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I respond.

I think it was a Covid 19 thing.  How appropriate I am thinking.

And so we get philosophical.  We must do it another time.  And we will! It was time for Mike to drive northwest, back to Denver, like it or not, and me West and then South in the San Luis Valley.  These are strange times, nothing is normal any more.  Accept it as best as is possible, and move on.    

 

Back to the comfort of Judy Ann’s quaint little place at the foot of the Sangre de Cristos
Hopes Dashed

Lamar to Amache

Lamar is a great jumping off point for a lot of places and more than once I have found myself headed south onto the Oklahoma panhandle, land of high plateaus and the sluggish brown Cimarron River meandering between infrequent spells of winter rain.  And not to mention Lamar is the last town before forlorn western Kansas where Mike was raised and my parents spent their formative years in the grip of the mighty Dust Bowl days, back in the 1930’s.  The truth is, mom and dad were dead center of maybe the worst geographic disaster in US history—years of miserable destitution and hardship.  What they went through was beyond my conception and they were in the bull’s eye of it all.    I used to take drives out that way when the kids were little and we lived in the San Luis Valley in Colorado.  Strange indeed—-who would find themselves in Lamar, a land of rolling prairies, crickets, and barbed wire fences that ran to the moon—a generation or two beyond inconceivable disaster and hardship.

We traipsed the surrounding area, and the town in fact, for a campground that appealed to our countrified spirits, but everywhere we looked was barren, exposed, and simply too hot (with the exception of one fine campground, with a swimming pool no less, miles east of town, that had nothing for spiking down tiny backpacking tents on stony, open spaces under the relentless, direct sun).  For the price the one campground wanted for a stony patch of sandy gravel, Mike quickly agreed to the suggestion of a hotel room back in town.  The only problem was coming to an agreement on price.

We searched the town for a room under $100.   Mike needed at least a 4 star motel (maybe I am exaggerating, but it seemed like it to me (-;)   He was a married man and accustomed to locating motels with fancy restaurants on the premises, swimming pools amidst plush gardens, rooms with double king beds, a refrigerator, closets, and bathrooms with jacuzzi tubs.  (I can hear him politely protesting this interpretation—but this is how it seemed to me).  I am a little simpler.  And more frugal (if not considerably lazier therefore justifying my frugality!).  Most who know me would scoff at calling me frugal—-they would say I was downright tight.  My argument was we were in Lamar, not San Francisco, and he wouldn’t need to impress me if I didn’t have to impress him.  If we could not do better than $100, a couple of guys in Lamar, Colorado, of all places, we deserved a mean spanking.  I thought I would be very reasonable and told him I would give him five tries to beat 100 bucks.  If he still couldn’t beat $100, then it would be my turn, heaven forbid—I mean, I might settle for just a clean room with a couple of queen beds, and a normal shower.   By his fifth try he was down to $140.  Then I took over.  My first attempt was $50.  And it was a nice room run by a pleasant family of East Indians.   He conceded and that was that.  I told him my secret—I was a single man and didn’t need silk sheets or a jacuzzi (that would never be used anyway), and a room smaller than a tennis court was fine with me.  And we got away from the highway.   When he was with Donna, he could go back to the Taj Mahal (-;

Then we went out to dinner.  It was the same thing.  We ended up at a little diner that served chicken fried steak the size of a steak platter.  Mashed potatoes and all the gravy you could use—$12.  Just as I had suspected:  get away from all the gaudy chain restaurants and lavish four story hotels where the highway came into town and the prices seemed to come down considerably—they were commensurate with what one would expect in the last town on the Colorado side of the prairie—Lamar.

Our conversation at dinner turned to the site of a WWII Japanese Internment Camp, Amache, located not too far outside of Lamar (of all places). I guess if you are building a “prison”, you want your prisoners to feel the hopelessness of eternal empty space surrounding your prison: the one place you could find a roof and water. 

My thoughts had been on Sand Creek, and a Japanese internment camp was the last thing I was thinking of.  Why was I not surprised that not only was the area void of all but the Santa Fe Trail, a couple of remote army forts, and an Indian massacre, but now, some 80 years later, it was determined to be a good place for a “relocation center”.

First thing in the morning, we drove out to a desolate locale, a place cleared except for foundations, of almost every building that once existed in the internment camp, and a few windswept lines of what I remember to be elm trees.  At one time, Amache was inhabited by 10,000 Japanese internees! It was the fifth largest town in Colorado and it was out here, in the middle of nowhere, kind of like both Bents Forts.  

It was the remnants of what appeared to be something that was once remarkably organized due to the people who were forced to make this home.  The internees took minimal conditions and turned the camp into a most respectable place of habitation after forfeiting their homes, farms, and all possessions they had once proudly worked, and forced to labor on a desiccated and rootless patch of land 1200 miles away.  They had everything taken from them except what fit into one suitcase.  On the land surrounding the barren 640 acres of internment camp, the internees managed to miraculously grow more than 4 million lbs of vegetables in one year, shipping everything beyond their immediate needs to the U.S.military.  They had their own schools, and formed extensive boy scout units.  The men were eventually allowed to form their own infantry battalion and were later to be known as the “Purple Heart Battalion” for all the fatalities they suffered fighting for the U.S. during WWII.  They proved to be the most decorated battalion in all of the war.  There was a very silent, and small cemetery cordoned off by a few trees and a chain link fence in the corner of the 640 acres of the original camp location where all the Japanese who died fighting for the U.S. were honored.  It was as outwardly insignificant as a prairie breeze, but inwardly as touching as all the goodness in history that remind us that God is great, if that is what we associate with rectitude.  It was another holy diversion.

Lamar to Amache

Bent’s New Fort (Part II)

The short of the story was there were many splinter groups of Arapahoe and Cheyenne that did not want war and were willing to settle for these peace agreements despite the attitude and position of the more militaristic warriors. Skirmishes were a nagging thorn in the side of the settlers.

For self protection, many Indian camps were told by the US army to make their positions known with white and US flags, further clarifying their positions. The US army knew which camps these were. However there were pugnacious calvary leaders looking to feather their battle reputations and so the Sand Creek encampment of older men, women, and children, happened to provide the perfect opportunity for this.

Mike and I strolled the knolls above the river and each of us contemplated the best we could what life must have been like there, above the river in 1860. Really, it might as well have been a dream, so vague and long ago it all unfolded.

In 1867, five years after the Sand Creek Massacre, the Arkansas River rose and completely obliterated the fort. In my mind, the total ruin of the New Fort felt like “bad karma”, but what is bad karma if not the result of a combination of poor judgement, greed, and self righteousness. Maybe the whole story was just a reflection of the bad side of human nature.

We strolled through the tumble of weeds and goat heads, back to our cars and committed ourselves to finding a campsite somewhere in hot and parched Lamar. Tomorrow, we could push on to Eads, and then Sand Creek.

The only mark left to what was once Bent’s New Fort. Some might call it bad Karma, I would say it was the result of poor judgement, greed, and self righteousness

Bent’s New Fort (Part II)

Bent’s New Fort (Part I)

[It seems like many weeks or more have gone by. Mike and I did our Colorado side excursion out in the boondocks—so typical of my little adventures these days. Between the deaths of my mom and brother, and the elections, and the big move to AZ, I have fallen way behind on my blogs, though I have always been writing on them. So now I go back to them and continue…hoping that someone besides myself is interested in remote American history.]

…Then Cholera struck and the Old Bent’s Fort history took a drastic turn. Old Bent’s Fort was burned down and William Bent eventually constructed a New Bent’s Fort east of Lamar, but still on the Arkansas River.

Mike knew where the New Bents Fort site east of Lamar was located. It was a lonely bluff above the Arkansas River, I am guessing maybe 40 or 50 miles east of the Old Bent’s Fort. There were no buildings and the area was marked with only a stone monument, however one could sense what was once the presence of a “fort”.

We went from the re-constructed Old Bents Fort, down the Arkansas River to a really remote area hanging above the river, down a zig and a zag of scrub board dirt road, in wide open country surrounded by a few settlements and vast ranches where the New Bents Fort had been settled. You would think these areas would have been so much more settled 160 years after the area was first inhabited by people of European descent, but I am thinking, there must be some mean winters in those parts if not scouring winds across the plains. But today, only the sun and a gentle breeze pressed against the dry land.

Looking down on the Arkansas from a low bluff that was once Bent’s New Fort

Eventually a New Bents Fort was built here, east of Lamar. When Old Bents Fort was built, there seemed to be hope and a certain promise of a steady, ongoing prosperity. It had to be a welcome sight, a “city” so to speak, in the wilderness surrounded by the seemingly endless bounty of the buffalo. It is difficult to imagine there was ever a time when there really wasn’t a limit to what nature could provide. For 16 fat years, Old Bents Fort and the surrounding Arapahoe and Cheyenne tribes thrived.

But by the time Old Bents Fort perished and all its prosperity vanished with it on that stretch of the Santa Fe Trail, New Bent’s Fort was established, conditions had changed considerably and the new norm turned out to be a constant slough of conflicts between traders and the US government, and of course, the Indians inadvertently became victims of the ongoing struggles. And every time there was a new treaty written up, to accommodate the advancement of the steady flow of settlers, the Indians naturally ended up on the short end of every deal. The new fort never amounted to the old fort. The buffalo population was limited and the Indians who had long lived in the region for many years could not survive without outside help and suffered from starvation once the buffalo population vanished. William Bent eventually leased the fort to the US government but never had a harmonious relationship with them. The army changed the name to Fort Lyons.

There was much conflict between the Indians and the settlers were always encroaching on Indian territory. Treaties were continuously being re-worked to the great disadvantage of the native people. But the army could not keep settlers from infringing on Indian land. The younger, more aggressive and resentful male Indians refused to peaceably allow white squatters to take what land they wanted. While the older Indians, the women, and the children lived in settlements under the auspices of US army oversight to keep from being punished—or worse, maybe exterminated—the army constantly chased after the “Dog Soldiers”—the young militaristic Indians— and did what they could to eliminate them altogether.

Bent’s New Fort (Part I)

Death of a Big Brother, Phil (Part III)

Toward the end of Phil’s tenure in Tucson, he really struggled. He had gone through another divorce, something had happened in his law practice, and he was oscillating dangerously between the extremes of highs and lows in his state of mind. By this time, no one really knew what was going on in Phil’s life and most of us just figured Phil was Phil, and he would do what he did. But the truth was, infallible Phil was struggling in a bad way. The magic with which he had been born, seemed to have vanished.

It was at this time, Catie came into his life, and could see through the tarnish of his struggle. Did she know him before his previous marriage ended? It’s only a speculative guess. But she basically rescued him. She too, was of an intellectual bent, just as the mother of his kids was, and the college professor in his next marriage, but she related to him a little deeper, in a way that perhaps spoke to his soul and she somehow managed to grab him by his boot straps and offered him new hope.

I don’t know any of the details. Maybe other family members know the story, but it was all lost to me except the fragments I picked up here and there. I do know, immediately after Tucson, just after meeting Catie, Phil landed some relatively interesting and significant jobs in the northwest starting with a job in Washington and then a year or two later, another job of similar status in Montana. He was remarkably bright and had a gift for selling himself.

When those jobs ran their courses, they “retired” and moved to Nova Scotia, of all places, onto a farm in remote country, not all that far from the Bay of Fundy. They were infatuated with the area and loved the people as much as the region. It wasn’t until just a couple two or three years ago that my friend, Bill Anderson, and I explored that region on our trip into the Maritime Provinces, that I saw the powerful allure of that part of the world. Too bad for the winters. Why they eventually left, I can only speculate. Maybe the damp and long winters had something to do with it. Maybe they did not have the money, or it was too remote, or maybe Catie wanted to be closer to family. But no one had a relationship with Phil close enough to ever know. It was a part of his mystique. By this time, Phil didn’t seem to have any close contacts with anyone, least of all, his own kids. Always leaning toward isolation. In this way, he was much like his own father.

When Bill and I did our Maritime excursion, I made a point to look Phil up. “Wild Baltimore Bill” was from Maryland. Phil and Catie were living in Virginia, where Catie’s daughter was working at a private school, so I found myself compelled to visit him as I journeyed south on my slow and circuitous trip back across the U.S. to California. I was very happy I did. They were living in a remote part of the state, in a remote county, in a remote neighborhood, at the end of long and remote road. How they ever found this place, I’ll never know. It was a rural, black neighborhood that had humbly existed for at least 200 years. At the end of the road was the community neighborhood cemetery—in my mind, perhaps one of the oldest black communities in Virginia, hence perhaps the U.S. They lived within 75 yards of the cemetery and everyday, two or three times in a day, Phil would take his “girls”, his two family mongrel hound dogs he seemed to love as much, or more than most people could love humans, for a romp in the cemetery. It was a marriage made in heaven.

In this cemetery, were men who fought in the Revolutionary War

And I visited him again, in late Feb. and early March of this year, more or less to check up on him. Both he and Catie were doing okay. Catie would take her long drives to go help her daughter at the private school, and Phil lived his reclusive life at the end of the road, with his “girls”. He loved to cook. And baking was a specialty. He loved baking bread and cookies. Every day he would cook a nice meal for Catie to enjoy upon her return from the school. When the weather got better, Phil did what he could to garden, in what he termed to be the worst soil in the U.S. But if anyone could enliven the soil with nutrients, it was Phil. After all, he did have a doctoral in agricultural economics. I don’t know that Phil could ever be completely happy or settled, but this was probably as close to it as I ever saw. He was still restless, and he had dozens of pen pals scattered about the world, some of whom were rather intellectual, so he passed a lot of time palavering with them. I don’t know that he ever paid his child support or his college tuition debts—he was clever and as slippery as a fish. Nobody worked as hard as he did at working to beat the system, though I thought, how much easier it would have been to just pay the fiddler so he could resume a normal life. I guess it was the principle of the whole thing (-: And maybe a “normal” life is not what he wanted.

Good bye, Phil

Death of a Big Brother, Phil (Part III)