Close Encounters on the High Lonesome - Hancock's Story
As New York bans the game Red Rover for being too dangerous, two Scotts reminisce about the fun and games of life as a youngster in and around West Yellowstone. Here is Scott Hancock's story
“Hello, this is Scott.”
Aye God, it was Clawson on the phone, Scott Clawson, erstwhile writer, make-shift cartoonist, marginal woodworker, overall pain in the… neck.
“Trish Gannon wants us to do an article about the wild west of Yellowstone when we were kids.” Ms. Gannon, another name that evokes “special meaning” in my mind. She edits, publishes and writes for the fire-starter River Journal. The only thing that could have made the phone call worse was the mention of Boots Reynolds. All three are peas in a pod: they’ll stretch the truth like a bad bungee cord and hope it doesn’t snap.
Clawson, to me, is “Blockhead.” For those of us with that noble “long ship” heritage from the fjords and channels of the Norsk Country, it is fitting. He’s sold me wood, worked for me and provided some of the best laughs (at his expense) over the last 25 years. (Ask me about Jim Ford, Clawson and measuring siding.) What can I say? Blockhead is like a puppy, one that while you’re talking to him, he’s all happy, shaky and nice, at the same time piddling on your boots. Our heritage is so close, even in our geographical western rearing, we could be related. A thought I can’t abide. We share commonalities, including the 1959 Hegben Lake earthquake, West Yellowstone, Island Park and grateful memories.
Yellowstone country includes Island Park in Idaho; a thin strip of Yellowstone is in Idaho including the line on the map. Ever wonder who lives on the lines? Or what residency they claim? Two states are a stone’s throw from West Yellowstone, Montana: Idaho and Wyoming, making it the perfect hideaway party town of the 50s, 60s and 70s. “What goes on in West, stays in West.” Sort of.
For the record, Blockhead is funny. Boots Reynolds is funny. I’m not! I prefer to think of myself as “colorful,” and I think others do too, as I have often heard in the background, as I leave a room, “Boy, his language is sure blue.” Hence, colorful.
Younger years in Yellowstone meant BEARS. Yes, grizzly bears! Grizzlies were the accepted consequence of Yellowstone. The grizzlies of yesteryear in West Yellowstone were educated dump bears. These were bears that knew teenage boys—boys with no brains and lots of testosterone. Boys who went to the dump outside of West to watch the grizzlies dig for left-over steak bones, fish, mashed potatoes, whatever, waste products from the many eateries and nightclubs in West. Boys who threw rocks and hit the bears in the butt and boys who tried to crawl under the seat while a grizzly rocked the ‘54 Mercury that didn’t start when ‘retreat’ was in order. Boys who, hung over from the all nighter, waited outside one early morning eatery, hoping for the doors to open, warmth, coffee, eggs.
“Oh sh*t, Grizzly!” Around the corner at about 5:45 in the morning it comes lumbering out of an alley from garbage patrol. “What now, a human handout or human? What to do? What to do?” I suspect it’s thinking. Bang like hell on the eatery door, the wood sidewalk, the car hood. It worked. The door opened, we catapulted in, closed the door and watched the grizzly stroll by and the Innkeeper exclaim, “That’s Harriet, she’s here every morning same time waiting for anything I throw out the door. Customers love it.” Was she pulling our leg? Never wanted to find out.
I saw my first VW camper bus with the side door rearranged by a grizzly and everything removed, presumably for inspection.
Did I mention Blockhead and I know “Bud Lilly?” I see the yuppies with “Bud Lilly, Fly Shop” apparel and remember him selling us our licenses and saying “try a Garden Hackle.” A worm.
My best friend’s name was Red. Red and another friend would and did do anything, including giving their lives a short time later in Southeast Asia. I tell this story for them.
Red and Gary ‘found’ a couple of sticks of dynamite, caps and fuse somewhere out in the Shotgun Valley of Island Park. Probably from an old stump rancher blowing tree stumps to clear the not-so-fertile soil.
Teenage boys, dynamite, hmmm. Interesting! Turns out, they knew how to set it all up. The first blast was in a gravel pit out in Antelope Valley, by Kilgore. The second, well... we located an old abandoned outhouse with faded lettering saying, U.S.F.-something. So, saying U.S., we figured it was ours. Somehow I knew this was a bad idea.
First of all, the abandoned outhouse still had plenty of groundwater seepage, a fact we soon came to realize. The old adage “what goes up, must come down...” True! Moments after the blast, the boys, the car and the surrounding 100 feet of forest experienced a drizzle of brown rain, mud and wood debris covered with a ’gilded smell’ unlike anything I had ever smelled before or since. Everything looked as if it had been spray painted through a screen door, including the perpetrators.
Hancock Lake, the Centennial Mountains, Railroad Ranch, Yellowstone, Henry’s Lake, Hebgen, Henry’s Fork of the Snake, the Madison, Buffalo, best troutwaters in the world. We fished tham all. This is a big country that can snow 10” on the 4th of July. It’s high, wind blown, colder than a blue norther and hotter than the “hubs of Hell” but God lives there, or did, before the folks from South of Oregon decided to modernize it and make it look like the Old West. I still go back; it never leaves your blood or psyche and is still magic.
West was the West. It hadn’t changed much from what it was in the early years—a hideout for all those men “going fishing” for a few days. We would run into many a God-fearing Bible thumper from my home town waiting to get into the clubs that had strippers... my guess to bring redemption and the word of God. It was a time of roughnecks, loggers, miners, loners, cowboys, Forest and Park Service folks, tourists, outlaws and entrepreneurs. It was tough, and bar fights spilled out onto the streets. Tempers quelled, the combatants would crawl back into the bar and buy each other drinks. No hard feelings.
A favorite bank fishing spot was over Green Canyon pass to the back Island Park Reservoir. To get to this spot folks drove through swampy high water inlet bottoms, got stuck, pulled each other up impossible inclines for the likes of old Kaiser Frazier cars. Then through a mile of sagebrush pretending to be a road. But we did it, happy to be alive and in the middle of the most god-awful and gorgeous country put on earth.
A lot of old Sourdoughs from the Yukon, too old to make the grade on the gold streams in the far north, moved here to “cash in.” One old Sourdough came rolling into our bank fishing hideaway. I remember his ‘54 Chevy Wagon with fake wood paneling, because our neighbor at home had one of the almost “Woodies.” He set up and cast in about 30 yards from me. I could smell his pipe smoke and thought he looked like a character from Remington Arms calendar. High-top boots, gray droopy mustache and checkered Filson wool jacket. Perfect.
There was a bad habit going around then of some boaters (usually young men) buzzing the bank. Buzzing the bank meant running the boat wide open coming into shallow water so the propeller suction would pick up fishing lines and cut them. It happened. Some young guys, bored, decided to liven things up and buzzed the bank. Once. Twice. The third time rocks and swear words started flying, trying to give religion to the boaters in their brand new Scott-Atwater boat and motor, all of 35 to 40 horsepower. The boat looked like a ’59 Plymouth, huge fins, ugliest damn things. The motor stalled, then started, then stalled.
The Sourdough pulled out a blanket-wrapped package I thought to be a longer pole for better casting. Nope, it was an old military Springfield .06 from the big war. “My God, he’s going to kill them!” I thought. He laid across the car hood and the boat motor literally disintegrated. Holy Christ! The boys in the boat used paddles, hands and feet to get the boat around the jetty and out of range. Without a word the old timer wrapped up his rifle, picked up his gear and drove off.
Silence. No one could believe it! But it happened. About an hour and a half later, a Fremont County Sheriff showed up. A man next to me said, “Keep your trap shut!” “Yes sir, Sheriff, we saw him driving an old Dodge or Ford pick-up. Wouldn’t you boys agree?” “Yep. Could a been a Studebaker truck though, but I did see those Utah plates, clearly.”
Roping bobcats and herding mule deer were part of cowboying, along with wrecking into Lionshead Bridge abutment in a ’62 Pontiac convertible. Going through the roof and walking away rounded out a day’s rodeo. It was around the 4th of July. Came across these two right after the wreck looking almost like Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda from the movie “The Rounders.” We took them to town and later on that same day they had a good bar-room brawl over—what else—a damsel in distress. None the worse for wear, they were still “rounding’ when we headed to the old rodeo grounds. Army mummy bags and slumber. Sweet dreams. God it was a Party!