Hangman’s Tree



Back in the days when they hung folks they needed a pretty good tree to do it from. And in the desert that was sometimes a problem. First there weren’t many trees and if you did find one it was usually sort of short. That wasn’t always a problem either because people were a lot shorter themselves then. But if you had a tall one it kind of was. This tree was short even for those times but since it was the only one around for about 50 miles people took what they could get.

Folks were problem solvers back then. Take the time when they had to hang Big Leg Kathy, a notoriously bad woman that was so damn mean she just needed to be hung. The crowd brought her out here and hooked her up but she was so tall that her head stuck up through the branches. She just laughed and the crowd was so embarrassed by the whole thing that there was even talk of just letting her go, but then some enterprising soul had an idea. They’d just dig a deep trench right next to the tree there, which they did, hook her up again and shove her off the edge. Worked like a charm. Didn’t matter how tall you were then, and it didn’t matter how short the tree was. Problem solved.

Everybody was just darn pleased with that solution. That was until they got back home and in the celebratory proceedings at the Kingston house, the towns fanciest saloon, the problem solver, a Mr. Gaddeus T. Kellenbrock, shot the bartender’s cat, then shot the bartender when he got mad about it. Course next weekend they made the trip back out to the hangman’s tree with Mr. Kellenbrock to test his solution again, which by now they were calling Kellenbrock’s ditch. It worked fine the second time too. So all’s well that ends well.

It was always a good day for a hanging and given the scenery here outside of the Great Sand Dunes folks would look for any opportunity to string somebody up just for the chance to have a little time off, bring your best girl, have a picnic, see the sights and then hang the no good bastard and call it a day. Sunset was always a good time. The setting was so picturesque often the condemned would ask them to wait until the sun was just right and then they’d send ’em off with a flourish and start the long drive home.

Now a days there aren’t so many hangings and some folks lament that but we got to accept change when it comes. You have to admit though, it might just settle some of our more pressing problems. I got a list just in case they decide to have a change of heart and bring it back. I wouldn’t doubt you do too. Sometime when we get together to chew the fat let’s compare notes. I bet we got some of the same names on our lists.





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There have been a couple of changes here that we want to make you aware of. We have had a name change and a new email address added to BigShotsNow, the blog.

Newsflash!!! The Institute of Regained Knowledge or IRK, your favorite Institute of all Institutes has had yet another name change. Yes, to remain relevant in this modern fast paced world of ours and to address the chronic problem of tiny little spans of attention that so many are sporting now, we have changed our name to “The Institute”. It’s short, it’s simple, it’s trendy, it’s what’s happening now! Tell it to your friends and neighbors, tell it to your significant other, write it on walls everywhere! Remember it’s “The Institute”, and we’re here to help.

New Email Address: Director@BigShotsNow.com Use it Now, Use it Fast, Use it Often!

Our email address can always be found simply by clicking on the heading “Just In Case” on the heading bar above. Or if you are one that forgets constantly we recommend you getting it tattooed on a prominent part of your body, then it’s always with you night or day, rain, or shine, ready to send in those comments you’re always wanting to make but can’t remember our address.

That’s it. Thanks for being you, don’t ever change.


Ma Bone



Here is one of the legendary characters that made Rocky Mountain National Park so interesting in the 40’s and 50’s. Those of you who follow park politics will have no doubt heard of the famous Ma Bone, herd organizer, wily politician and party line enforcer who ran the 5th ward with an iron jaw and sharp front hooves. The 5th ward as you know extends from the rich area of Horseshoe meadow, south through Beaver Meadows and encompasses most of Moraine park and is considered the prime grazing land of the park.

She got her name from her habit of carrying a bone around in her mouth and was seldom seen without it. There are many stories floating about as to what was the origin of the bone habit. Some say it is part of a leg bone from an early opponent, others say she got the habit because she was hooked on calcium. What ever the real reason was Ma Bone never said. And you didn’t ask Ma Bone twice.

During the turbulent heydays of the 40’s Ma Bone controlled the distribution of hay that was fed to the nearly starving elk herds in the winter and access to prime aspen groves in the summer. Payoffs were common and fortunes were made for her and her cronies at the expense of the rank and file. Those who objected to her iron rule often found themselves blacklisted to the poorer grazing areas along the park’s borders and if they fell out of favor far enough were often forced out onto public lands during hunting season. This was tantamount to a death sentence and just the mention of it had most elk towing the line.

She was considered a Kingmaker and many high-ranking herd bulls owed their status to Ma Bone patronage. They came to Ma asking for favors which she may or may not grant. This came at a price however and many bulls were forced into acting as Ma’s enforcers when rivals threatened.  Ma bone controlled the lucrative distribution of cow elk and even the largest bulls would tip their antlers to her for the most favorable picks of the herd. Whether they kept them or not depended on their skills in the arena but first they paid homage to Ma Bone.

She was a force to be reckoned with throughout her tenure which lasted for nearly twenty years. Towards the end of her reign a collection of young cows formed a cabal and decided that Ma Bone had outlived her usefulness. Jealous of her power and greedy for the money that could be made they formed a plan, telling Ma that there was a meeting of the heads of the different districts about redrawing the lines dividing the park and redistricting it into new configurations, and it looked like Ma was going to lose a large part of the Moraine. Incensed that someone might try and reduce her influence and power she headed to the proposed meeting site, forgetting that it was opening day of gun season for anyone with a cow tag. Before she realized that there was no meeting and this was a trick she was gunned down by a first time hunter who had no idea of who she was. An ignoble end to a larger than life character.

As you might imagine there was a huge amount of turbulence and upheaval after her death, and in the resulting chaos the park department stepped in and through judicial fencing and relocating portions of the herd there was never an opportunity for another Ma Bone. Her time had passed nearly as quickly as she did, and now there are few elk in the park that even remember her name. Fortunately The Institute owns this last known image of her and it resides in our archives. It is brought out occasionally as a centerpiece for our Unusual Characters show in the South gallery. Stop by and see it in person if you’re in the area.


Crow Lodge Morning

This post has been moved to OpenChutes.com. All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on BigShotsNow.com check out OpenChutes.com. See you there!



Last August I had the pleasure of attending the largest gathering of tipi’s in North America, a yearly event sponsored by the Crow Nation, with over a thousand lodges set up along the Little Bighorn River just a long rifle shot from the Little Bighorn Battleground. I woke early one morning wanting to see the Crow camp in the early morning light. Slightly after dawn I set out to roam quietly through the camp, the sun was just beginning to rise sending its streaming light into every corner of the encampment.

It was still quiet, the people just beginning to stir. Horses tied to posts near the tipis whickered softly to those in nearby makeshift corrals. The ravens, those earliest of risers called back and forth, asking each other raven questions in their own raspy tongue. Far off in the distance people were splashing in the river, their shouts of delight echoing among the trees. Morning is a special time. A time for quiet observing, a time for listening to all the sounds that get buried in the days activities but are so prominent in the early hours. It’s normally chilly but not cold, a jacket wasn’t needed but still cold enough to send a shiver through you as you entered a shaded spot. The sun was rapidly rising and it soon took the chill off.

There was a smell of wood smoke here and there as the people slowly went about their morning routines. A good smell, one that made your mouth water even though the cooking hadn’t started in earnest yet. I was fortunate and met some people who, although members of the tribe, lived in a suburb of Denver. We talked, exchanging thoughts on things like what it was to be a Native American and yet live in an urban environment and how much it meant to them to be able to reconnect with their heritage. I must have looked hungry as they invited me to breakfast, introducing me to their extended family. At first I didn’t even notice how at home I felt with them, it was just “pass the sausage please” and “damn that tastes good” and the realization came later as I began to process the experience.

After breakfast and yet more talk I left to continue my wanderings along the winding convoluted roads that sprang up as the different lodges were set up. At first it looked like a totally haphazard system until you looked closer and saw that the placement of the lodges was designed around family groups being together and not for the ease of driving a vehicle through them. I saw that you had to get your head in a different place to make sense of the surroundings but once you did it made sense, just not the kind we may be used to.

When I look at the image above it brings back that morning with a vivid clarity that deeply satisfies me and it makes me want to be there again. So next August that’s where I’ll be if they’ll have me. I want to hear and see and listen to that incredible experience again. And maybe even take some more pictures.

Note: If you’re interested in seeing more about this event check out the original series of posts about it beginning with http://www.bigshotsnow.com/2014/08/21/  and ending with  http://www.bigshotsnow.com/2014/08/27/.





Recently The Institute was successful in purchasing Padre Island on the Texas Gulf coast in its entirety for a top-secret project planned for next year. After a long but fruitful negotiation with the Texas state legislature we have assumed ownership of the island and plan to begin demolition of all structures on the island by spring. This as you might imagine has brought a certain amount of unwelcome attention down on us with some of the more raucous objections coming from the various fraternities and sororities that are currently abusing the island.

Although we aren’t going into the full scope of our plans we do intend to remove all access by the public from either the land based side or from the Gulf itself. Beginning tomorrow there will be no further access by vehicles of any type and by the end of next week any vehicles left on the island will be crushed and shredded. We know this will be unpopular but that’s what happens when you have big bucks and can do what you want.

The landward side has been fairly easy to close what with a few Claymores and erecting signs that say “Island closed. Go Away!” The Gulf side has been a little more troublesome what with enterprising college students going way west, jumping into the water, holding their breath, making their way back up to the island and staggering ashore. ManyMost, All of these students have been inebriated and become quite belligerent upon apprehension which is why we keep them in the internment facility we have hastily erected up on the east side of the island. As they sober up and act nice and realize no one hears them, they soon give up and deal with their hangovers, hoping that there will be someone to help them with their extradition papers I mean bail.

Since the island is sizeable we had had to resort to a program similar to the one the US Navy implemented with their Dolphin and whale training, where they trained normally docile friendly dolphins to become trained killers and blow up evil submarines and shrimp boats by carrying high explosives down and attaching them to hulls of those probably commie infiltrators. The Shrimpers weren’t commie infiltrators, in fact you’ve never met a more patriotic bunch, with every single one of them, except for this one guy Cletus that we’re not sure about, ready to give their all to the good old USA. But there was a small problem of teaching the dolphin the difference between an evil submarine and a friendly shrimp boat. Not wanting to make those same mistakes and incur further public wrath we have chosen a different subject for our purposes and it is the familiar fresh and salt water, yellow-headed, totally feathered Pelican. The very one of the fabled, “its beak can hold more than its belly can”, fame.

Since we have to watch the budget on this project, an added benefit has been that these pelicans will work for little to no pay, just all the fish they can eat, plus for every infiltrator they catch they get a free night’s stay at one of the high-rise hotels. Until they’re torn down that is. Above you see TIP-3050, one of our more successful efforts patrolling the shore. TIP standing for, ‘The Institute’s Pelican’. He is flying low watching for the telltale bubbles coming to the surface that these students make as they finally reach the island. When an infiltrator is sighted he, (TIP-3050), immediately sends one of his wingmen, the swift flying gulls surrounding him in perfect formation, to report the sighting at CADS* command and a squad is dispatched to make the pick-up.

We would like to take a moment to dispel one of the more troubling rumors regarding our upcoming project. That is the absurd notion that we are planning to form a new country, New Institutania, and secede from the United States. This is beyond absurdity, and couldn’t be more wrong. So don’t believe it if you hear it more and more, especially if Fox news picks it up and blabs it all over the place. There will be no New Institutania on the island formerly known as Padre. We intend to be a peaceful people.

More on this new project as activities proceed. Stay tuned.

*Catch A Drunk Student

Monument Valley



This is Monument valley at 6 in the morning. It is cold here even though it is late April. You need a heavy coat and gloves and if you have a bald head like some of us you need a hat. Preferably one of those Russian kind made out of polar bear-wolf hybrids with ear flaps you can tie around your belt loops so the wind doesn’t blow it off. We didn’t need the tie downs this day as there was no wind. You also need lots of determination to stand out here waiting for the sun to come up.

It seems twice as cold as it is when you’re waiting. Stamping your feet helps some. Shivering is good. But what really saves the day is a hot thermos of strong black tea. No sugar, no milk, black as my last wife’s heart, as they say around the campfire at divorce school. That’s what gets you through the waiting, that and the thought of how gorgeous it’s going to be in a few minutes.

Everyone has seen pictures of Monument valley’s butte’s and spires, the colossal towers and the long views down the valley from John Ford’s point. They are the reasons many people come here, but there are other smaller views that are just as captivating. This one for instance.

Back behind the Totem pole and Yei Bi Chei is a place that is off-limits to visitors unless you have a guide. My guide whose Navajo name loosely translates to “Looks In My Wallet”, no I’m kidding, it actually means “Reaches Into My Wallet”, no, wait, I’m kidding again, it actually means Ed, brought me to a perfect spot to watch the sun come up behind the Totem pole. Behind where we had set up the camera gear was this dune and overhead our timekeeper the moon moving across the sky, clearing it of any obstacles that may hinder the sun’s passage. Ed said he liked this spot not only for the view of the sunrise, but if the wind was blowing which it does with startling frequency here in the valley, it was a protected place. The way he said it, in that low Indian voice made it sound much wiser than it really was. That’s one of the reasons you need a guide, you’d never figure that out on your own.

Ed was an interesting guy in his own right. He has been a stuntman in the movies, riding horses, falling off of them, “you don’t need much training for that ” he said, an extra in many of them, a guide around the valley and a sought after one at that, as he photographs the valley himself and knows all the good spots. He also tends to have a store of helpful tips for the visiting photographer. “When you fall and roll down the dune try not to get sand up your nose” was one of his favorites. “Don’t touch that it’s poisonous” was another. He said this even if what you were touching was actually poisonous or not. All in all he was a good guide and we weren’t lost for very long anyway. “An Adventure” he said, “to  tell your grandchildren.” I don’t think we were lost, I just think he liked to see me carry 40 lbs. of gear through ankle-deep sand.

But the places we went were worth every moment of Ed’s wit. I remember this one the most because it seemed to be more about the desert than all the daytime shots of the monuments and far-reaching vistas put together. As there was no wind the silence was complete, except maybe for Ed’s wheezing, and the far off calling of a raven waking up, and the colors, the colors were something you had to experience. They began to form out of the darkness and became richer and more intense as the sky lightened. The deep nearly mahogany color of the sand against that impossibly blue sky. The yellow highlights on the Rabbit brush just becoming visible and of course the moon, impossibly white against the background of the heavens. This is why one becomes a photographer. For the image of course but also for the memories. And maybe for the chance of a brief visit with Ed. No, it’s the memories.




I may Be A Pig But I Love You



“I may be a pig, but I love you”. That’s what we heard, that and other porcine endearments that were floating in the air at Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge as these two Javelina displayed their affection for each other in open courtship. It was a surprise to find them at the refuge as Bosque del Apache is primarily known for birds. Snow geese, Ross’ goose, Sandhill cranes and the occasional Tundra swan, not to mention every variety of Hawk and eagle, egret and duck, owls, pigeons, goatsuckers and songbird you can imagine.

But not Javelinas. Especially not Javelinas in love. It was unmistakable, they were unabashedly involved with each other, rubbing their flat little pink snouts together, snuffling, standing side by side and stroking each others back with their necks, giggling and muttering little piggy names to each other as they made plans for Javelina trysts.

As we watched they continued as if we were not there, oblivious to everything but each other. When their passion reached a fever pitch they would discretely move off into the brush to be alone then come back out trying to act as if nothing had happened. Yeah, right, we knew. They couldn’t hide it. Like we couldn’t tell that they were Javelinas in love. Occasionally they would stop and watch us for a moment or two, pose for pictures, then become enraptured with each other again and head for the brush. Finally it just became embarrassing and we left.

Spring is slowly coming and with it signs of love are everywhere. If you go south from Colorado in a straight line you will eventually encounter Spring. It will be a solid line that stretches roughly east to west. On one side of it, usually the south side, you will see flowers, and bees messing around, and song birds making suggestive sounds to each other, and lots of love, and on the other side, normally the north side, you will find snow and cold and brown grass, grumpy people and very little love. Right now that line is about twenty miles north of the Mexican border, however each and every day it moves north a little bit. But soon, uh huh, soon it will make its way north toward us and maybe you even, and it will be bringing you-know-what with it. That’s right, Pigs in Love.

Now before you get the wrong idea, it’s not just pigs that get in love, it ‘s everything. Name a creature and when spring hits it, it’s in love. You have to be careful your very own self when you go outside in spring because it doesn’t play favorites, if you’re in the way it’s going to hit you, and before you know it, Whammo Sammo you’re in love and probably out in the bushes somewhere. You’ve been warned, if it can get pigs it can get you. So watch out.