Tuesday, January 31, 2006
What made us tick
What made us tick was living in the middle of the area surround by Bear Butte, Fort Meade, Ellsworth AFB, Sturgis, and the Black Hills. The butte raises 1253 feet above the surrounding plains, is a lacolith, and is a major center for hundreds of Indian tribe’s religious concerns and it is 5 Miles from Fort Meade. I had already climbed the Butte at least a dozen times including one trip up on the back of a burro. Trips up on Easter morning and camping trips on top and at the base. Trips up with my Scout patrol to send smoke signals, to other scouts located, back home, 7 miles away.
One mile away, from the Butte, was Bear Butte Lake and also our swimming pool. During the hot summer days we were at the pool constantly. A small bus left from town every morning, heading to the pool for swimming classes and back at noon. After the required one-hour delay after eating, to prevent cramps, we all headed back for the afternoon. There was no bus in the afternoon so we hitchhiked or walked the 7 miles. If you walked you had to be alert for rattlesnakes, bulls and electric fences. If we had a newcomer in the hike we would get into a discussion about electric fences and then always dare them to pee on the fence. Usually they would accept the dare and what fun that would be. Our pool was a large, sand lined affair with a 9’ depth by the diving boards. It wasn’t very good sand as you couldn’t see more that 3 or 4 feet. Tough on lifeguards trying to see someone in trouble. I remember a few people drowning. I also remember one of our lifeguards breaking his neck when he tried to jackknife dive off the lifeguard stand, on a dare. Not much for filtration as the water ran in from an artesian well on one end and overflowed into the lake on the other but it had a sand beach with plenty of room to show off and get into trouble.
The Fort, today, is a large Veterans Hospital but originally was a Calvary Fort with a duty to keep white settlers out of the religiously important Black Hills after gold was discovered by General George Custer in 1876. They couldn’t stop the miners so then they had to protect the miners from the Indians. It was from Ft. Meade that General Custer and his famed 7th Calvary launched his ill-fated foray into Indian Territory at the battle of the Little Bighorn. Between Sturgis and Ft. Meade was an old Calvary cemetery that held many survivors [General Reno’s troops] of that infamous battle. Ft. Meade still has all of the old buildings such as the old barracks, stables, officer quarters and parade grounds. The area abounds in arrowheads, rifle and pistol casings.
The one mile from my house to Ft. Meade was forest with sandstone cliffs and Bear Butte Creek. First you had to conquer Webers Hill, which was a private dairy farm, always being vigilant for Mr. Weber and his blue Ford Tractor because it was said he would chase you out with it if he caught you on his property. I saw Mr. Weber many times in my treks to the battlefields but he never chased me, he just waved. Sometimes the enemy was just made up, sometimes the enemy was other friends who had gone up earlier but best of all was “Tourist Kids” who were checking the area out with some local friends. We could shadow this enemy for hours without them ever knowing about us until they hit a clearing and we would attack! Coming out of the woods on a dead run, waving our BB guns and shouting war hoops. We would usually scare the enemy into submission and then charge off into the woods again to disappear like the wind from which we came. It was a real high for us and we could tell tales about a successful encounter with “Tourist Kids” for hours on end. During our other battles, our friends would sometimes go up first and we would later follow hoping to kill or capture all of them. First we reached the cover of the Cottonwoods in the gulleys and dry washes on the way up. Next came the comfort of the tall Ponderosa Pines, which were good for reconnoitering the enemy who were always camped on top of the sandstone cliffs. Storming the cliffs was always the toughest part. Our weapons of choice were Red Ryder BB guns. During these battles you usually wore a few more clothes because those BB’s really hurt. It was a battle based on trust because you had to report a hit, which meant being “Hit” by a BB. The hit was usually obvious as it was almost always followed by a loud “ow!” and a red welt that could be inspected if there was a question. If you were hit in the arm or leg, you could continue playing but the appropriate limb could not be used. Today’s paintballers had nothing on us. Why no one ever lost an eye was beyond me but they didn’t. The God of immortality and childhood recklessness was always with us and more than once, in the years since, I have found fit to thank him for both of my eyes, many times.
My group was our Boy Scout Troop 14 patrol called The Panther Patrol. We could be a Calvary squad or a Sioux raiding party at the blink of an eye. The name Panthers worked well with either choice. This was our backyard and we were free to roam in it as we saw fit. If this wasn’t enough, all we had to do was turn right, as we entered our battlefields and we were on the outer edges of Ellsworth Air Force Base watching B17 [The Flying Fortress], F-84 Fighters or B-36’s take off and land in the distance and there were no fences. We even had our own UFO incident at Ellsworth and over our town to further fertilize our little minds. It wasn’t much of a leap for me and my friends to become Indian braves, Fighter Pilots or Calvary soldiers and fight many a mighty battle for imaginary prizes.
Our town was an old colorful military town with famous characters such as Poker Alice and we were only 9 miles from the wild, west, town of Deadwood with Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. This was certainly sensory overload for young boys with imaginations locked into high gear. Our Sheriff sang, played guitar, rode a horse and wore six guns on his hip. Our Chief-of-Police rode a Harley. This is a good segue as 14 years later I would be back in Sturgis, fresh from the US Navy playing real life good guys and bad guys as Chief-of-police. I didn’t ride a Harley but we were chasing them down with “Big Engine” Chevy’s and Dodge’s that would hit 140 mph plus as the bad Harley riders tried to outrun us in the mountains or open prairie. We weren’t using Red Ryder BB guns but .357 Colt Pythons and shotguns. I had grown up……sort of. The groups were no longer called the Panther Patrol but were Calif. Hell’s Angeles, Colorado Sons of Silence and Banditos from everywhere. Six of us and six reserves were keeping the peace with a hundred thousand motorcycle enthusiasts, from all over the country at the 1970 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. We were backed up by the State Police and the Meade County Sheriff. We did it and lived to write about it and the bikers all had a good time. Sounds like the making of another posting to me.