Ellis McElry Goodson Gentleman Rancher

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One of the driving forces, if not the main one in the early West, was the rancher. The cowman. The man who put his money where his mouth was. He fought Indians, rustlers, the weather, bad luck, fate itself in establishing his mark on the West. It took more than determination, more than desire, it took iron resolution and the strength and courage to persevere in the face of every kind of adversity imaginable. And he did. It was men like him that created the West.

Back in the mid 1860’s you managed your ranch with an iron hand and common sense, yet with a common core of ethics, a strong sense of morality and a vision. If he was your friend he was your friend for life. And he expected no less from you. This was big land and it took a big man and others like him to settle it.

This is Ellis McElry Goodson. He was an early settler and rancher near Bannack, Montana, a mining town in Southwestern Montana and he sought his fortune in the cattle business rather than mining like everyone else. There was more than one way to strike it rich.  After all miners had to eat too. A man could make a good living for himself and his family by proving the meat for a hungry mining camp. Miners paid dearly for a good steak and the currency was gold. He was essential to the existence of many a town and that made him very wealthy and an important figure in the community. He never called himself a gentleman rancher. That would be unseemly. But everyone else did. When he was mentioned in the ever present conversation that went on in every saloon, street corner, and general store he was called Mr. Goodson, gentleman rancher. He was thought of with respect and he earned it every day. That’s the way it was in the West.

Mothersell Montana

Town of Bannack, Montana, current time 2017, sister city to Mothersell, Montana. Looking down Main Street towards the East past the Spokane Mining House during an Autumn Snowstorm

 

This is primarily a story about Mothersell Montana, a mining town in name only most of the time. It is located on the Little Locust river eleven miles upstream from the confluence of the Little Locust river and Grasshopper creek, and is nestled into a low valley surrounded by hills containing some of the richest gold ore ever assayed.

Mothersell is similar in nature to Bannack, Montana, its sister city, which is also a mining town located six miles below the confluence of the two gold-laden water sources, but different in one major aspect. The difference will become apparent as we learn more of the town’s history. Bannack was a major player in the gold rush days being the first capitol of Montana, and a center of much of Montana’s history, but it is best known for making early miners rich as they mined and pulled gold out of Grasshopper creek at a huge rate. Those days were the town’s high point but after the gold panned out the town’s days were numbered. Folks began to move out, marching forward in the eternal quest for wealth and the better life.

Bannack still stands in a faded slightly rundown state, a mere shell of its former glory, near Dillon, Montana in the Southwest part of the state. Now a State park and tourist attraction where well meaning folk come to see what it was like to live in an early Montana mining town. The buildings, most of them now saved from certain destruction by the elements, neglect and time itself stand proudly along the towns main street and can be entered and explored at will. It offers a glimpse of what towns looked like in the mid 1860’s. The good people of Montana have seen fit to invest time and money into bringing the town back from the brink of disaster, not to mention oblivion, and should get a hardy thank you and any other kind of support one is willing to provide.

The difference between the two towns is dramatic and unbelievable if you are able to suspend belief in the story itself. Bannack is rooted in history and the present in a very tangible way. You can go there. You can walk its streets. You can enter the buildings and feel the presence of the souls of those who lived, loved and died there. Whereas Mothersell couldn’t be more different.

Mothersell exists in a place where time acts differently. It is a place where its very existence depends on your good fortune, not its own. If you are one of those people that luck has smiled upon you can stumble across the actual townsite where Mothersell is located and if you have been particularly fortunate the town will come into focus and solidify and exist as it was, or always is, if you will, and you may become a part of its life for what ever time is allotted to you.

As mentioned before time has a particular strange way of occurring here. When you enter Mothersell you leave the current world around you behind and become an active participant in its daily life. But remember, time is strange here, what may be a day or so in your other world may be a year or more in Mothersell. During that time you forget about your other existence and live instead in a golden haze of happiness and contentment. Everything you ever wanted is now available to you but only so long as you reside in Mothersell. The town itself will soon recede from its current existence and return to its place outside of your time. If you are fortunate enough to be accepted by the town you can and will remain with it and leave your old life behind you. If through some terrible act of providence you aren’t accepted, you return to your normal life except you get to keep your memories of that glorious time spent within its confines. Which you will find are both a treasure and a curse. Fate has a way of playing cruel and unusual jokes on the unwary. It’s been said “Make a plan, God needs to laugh.”

Unlike Bannack which will undoubtedly be there for you to visit for the near and foreseeable future, Mothersell is a fleeting unattainable place to revisit. Once is all mere mortals get to have and if it doesn’t work for you it is not available again. It is still there just slightly set aside on a different plane from our existence. Sometimes if the light is just right and you are paying particularly close attention you can see it floating just out of your reach, a treasure, like gold, but even more difficult to obtain.

Unfortunately cameras don’t work in Mothersell. All you get for an image is a golden glow instead. So instead images from her sister city Bannack have been used. The two towns were very close in the style of architecture and placement of their buildings so these images almost convey what it was like to be there. Of course there is no way to convey the actual beauty and undeniably wondrous presence of the town itself but for that you have to have had the most precious gift of all. Being able to have been there for awhile. Who knows, perhaps if the gods decide to take part in our lives again the town may reappear but that of course is up to them. If so I’ll be waiting.

 

 

 

 

2017 Summer Games Yellowstone National Park

Billy Lightpaw Middle weight contender for the Broad-jump – Summer Games Yellowstone National Park.

 

As long time readers of the BigShotsNow blog you know that every 4 years Yellowstone National Park holds the Summer Games in preparation for the Wildlife Olympics with entrants from around the globe. This year the games are being held in Yellowstone once again with venues at Gibbons Meadows, the Madison river, Hayden Valley, the LeHardy Rapids, the Lamar valley and the Blacktail Flats area.

This is always an incredible experience with visitors attending from all over the world. As usual most of the events are standing room only as tickets have been sold out for many of the big events for the last two years. However most events have roadside observation areas set up to accommodate the overflow crowds. Be prepared for Bear Jams, Wolf Jams, Buffalo Jams, Otter Jams and every other jam you can think of as the various animal contestants make their way to the different events, while those humans attending Yellowstone for the first time slam on their brakes, throw open all four of the cars doors where  applicable, and race out to greet and get their first up-close view of the different contestants, leaving their vehicles unattended and blocking the roadway. This impacts traffic bringing it to a standstill for hours. As this also usually results in the arrival of the First Responders stationed throughout the park to take care of the maimed and wounded that occur from way too close encounters with animals that are wild and have never heard of Disney, it takes awhile before the visitors cars can be impounded and hauled off to be shredded. Prepare for long waits depending on the popularity of the contestant being viewed.

This years games are truly spectacular with many new participants such as one of the real contenders in the light heavy-weight broad jump, Mr. Billy Lightpaw, a fantastic looking black bear here shown settling into his patented “Squat and Jump” starting position. Mr. Lightpaw also known as Billy the Bumper to his friends, currently holds the amateur broad jumping record of 32′ 8″ set last fall at the pre-hibernation games outside of Ottawa and is considered to be a gold medal frontrunner. Notice the coiled spring like action of tucking his head in and rolling back on his powerful haunches prior to his launch. Simply incredible. This is why he’s a crowd favorite. This event has plenty of accessibility due to the wide open Hayden valley floor. Binoculars are highly recommended.

The Madison river will have a new event this year, in fact it’s the first time this event has been offered in the summer games and it is likely to be a huge crowd pleaser. It is the “Calf Drop” and it’s a doozy. There are no front-runners in this event due to the fact that only first time Buffalo mothers can enter. Those due to drop their calves during  the week of August 11th through August 22nd are automatically entered. As mentioned before there are no front-runners yet but the likelihood of twins and even in the rarest of circumstances triggering an automatic Gold medal, triplets, might be expected. There is a lot of interest in this event by the press and Mothers for Public Breastfeeding or the MBP as it’s known, around the world.

Another fun event for the whole family is being held at LeHardy Rapids this year. It’s the “Otter Fish Off'” and this event is one that ESPN has scheduled for prime time coverage. As you know from previous games this one is fast paced and exciting. Upstream at the top of the rapids, barrels of trout averaging 26″ to 41″ inches long and weighing up to 96 lbs. each are released to streak down the rapids where the contestants wait at the bottom. The Otter that gets the biggest fish with the least amount of personal  injury is scored on tenacity, conviviality, ferocity and good manners. This is a high interest event for the entire family and you may want to arrive a few days early to get a good seat.

The “Wolf Run” or “Elk Calf Take Down” is an event that is best watched on TV or the various Jumbo-trons set up along the highway as much of the action is out of sight due to the rugged terrain through the ponds and small streams in the heavily brushed area that is Blacktail Flats. This year we’ll have extra coverage as the various networks are employing their new “Wolf Drone” cameras which are able to follow the wolves as they run down the elk calves and drag them out of the buck brush where they like to hide. Odds on favorite this year is of course the Blacktail Flats Pack for their intimate knowledge of the area.

Gibbon meadows will again be the site of the contestants housing area, media outlets, Torch lighting, and the entrance and closing parades. A Special “I Paid A Lot Because I’m Special” Pass is needed to access this area. If you don’t already have one you might as well forget about it. There’s none left. Sorry. Seems like everybody is Special.

The Lamar valley is again host to one of the all time favorite events, “Buffalo Herding”. This event has been a staple of the Summer Games for as long as I have been making them up. It is not someone herding the Buffalo but instead the Buffalo proudly showing off their skill at being a herd member, their ability to ‘herd’ as it  were. There are synchronized marching exhibitions, where the different herds show off their ability to walk together with all four legs synchronized, which if you’ve never seen it before is mesmerizing. There is a herd bull “Bellowing” event where the different herd bulls get on opposite sides of the valley and bellow at each other until one runs away in shame. There is a new event this year where the herds travel along the valley floor with the newborns running alongside ( the little orange ones ) to see how long they can run with their tongues out. And last but not least the contest that pits the different herds against each other to show who can make the trip up the Gibbons Narrows to the meadows above the slowest. The resulting length of the traffic tie up from the buffalo jam decides the winner. Last years numbers to beat are eleven and a half miles of stalled traffic and five hours to make the six-mile trek up from the bottom of the falls to the summer grazing. Everyone travels at Buffalo speed for this one.

These are just the highlights of the summer games, there’s plenty more so start packing and head on up to Yellowstone for another amazing year of the Summer Games at Yellowstone National Park. We’ll look for you there.

And So It Continues

Back in the far distant past the First People began leaving marks on the walls around them. Simple designs, sometimes no more than a scratch, perhaps signifying that they were there. We call these marks petroglyphs.

As time went on the marks grew more sophisticated, representing more elaborate concepts. Animals, human shapes odd to our eyes, strange swirls or repetitive parallel lines in a group perhaps indicating a river or stream. These were just a few of the shapes amongst thousands left on canyon walls, along stream beds, in caves, anywhere the people went.

The most important of the images they placed on the surface of their surroundings was the shape of the human hand, their hands, the hand of the individual making the drawing. This mark said here I am. I am a person. I am important. Know all of you that I have been here. These are known as pictographs if they are painted onto the surface of the rock.

Usually the images created were chiseled into the surface of the stone by hammering the design into the surface of the rock by striking it with another sharper more pointed stone, chipping away the dark patina of the rock leaving an indelible lighter contrasting representation of the design, a petroglyph. But occasionally a simpler more direct method was used. By simply placing their hands into a medium such as paint or even mud and pressing their palms against the stones surface they achieved the same result although a much more impermanent one, but the meaning was the same, a pictograph. Here I am, I leave my mark for you to see.

That type of image creating usually did not stand the ravages of time, especially if it was left exposed to the elements, but they are found in caves and other protected places looking much as they did when they were created.

We think of these kinds of images as something out of history. An art that served its purpose but has been replaced by newer forms of image creating. Yet it appears that is not totally the case. These handprints on the metal in the image above were left by the direct descendants of those First People just a few days ago at a place that is itself historically significant.

Every year along the banks of the Little Bighorn river there is a reenactment of a famous battle called the Battle of the Little Bighorn where General George Armstrong Custer and all the men of the 7th cavalry under his command were engaged by a superior group of Indians including chiefs Sitting bull, Crazy horse, Gall and others. The result is well-known as it was a critical victory for the tribes fighting to remain independent and self-sufficient. Custer and his men were decimated to the last man.

This year the reenactment of that fateful battle took place on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th of June, on the Real Bird ranch adjacent to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Crow Agency, Montana and included members of the Crow tribe and various groups representing the cavalry. Each side took great pains to be as true to the period as is possible today, with the cavalry in full uniform and equipment and the Indians in full regalia and paint with even their horses painted for battle.

So it was not surprising to see these modern pictographs placed at the site where the warriors of today watered their ponies and waited for the fighting to commence along the Little Bighorn river, near the ford in the river that led to that fateful battle site.  Somehow it’s comforting to see the continuation of these same handprints used today as they were millennia ago. Young men partaking in a mock battle yet still requiring their total participation both mentally, physically and spiritually. By creating these new pictographs they are saying, I too, am here. I am a Man. I am important. History and tradition is moving on through this time period as it has since the beginning. And so it continues.

 

Blue Side of Nowhere Pt. 2

On a recent trip to Pawnee National Grasslands looking for early migrating raptors and antelope herds moving north through the short-cropped grass, we were on the lookout for anything moving. The land was empty to the horizon with nothing stirring but tufts of last years golden grass waving in the fitful wind.

Pawnee National grasslands is located 40 miles west of nowhere and 61 miles east of too far. This makes it hard to find unless you really want to get there. We did so we persevered. Not really lost but unsure of where we were we would drive into little towns like Grover, population less than you’d expect and ask “Where are we?”. One reticent local we spoke to answered with gestures more than words, saying we were here pointing downwards, and we should go that way indicated with outstretched arm, and then with a flick of his thumb indicated we should then go that way, which may have been to the right. It was clear as mud but helped us on our way.

There are two large monolithic limestone buttes that rise several hundred feet into the air, sort of like a miniature Ayers Rock, or Uluru as the natives musically call it but doubled, that tell you have reached the virtual center of the Pawnee National grasslands. The full view of these is best obtained by climbing up a steep rutted dirt road that you thought when you turned onto it from another steep rutted dirt road, might take you to the Buttes as they’re called. And the joy and relief you feel that you were right adds to the enjoyment of seeing them, standing there in all their glory, just where the rumors had it they’d be.

Since we were high up on a neighboring ridge with the buttes and half the world at our feet we felt like it was a good place to stop and consider. Much time was spent watching the buttes, waiting to see it they’d move, they didn’t, but the wind through the grass did. The occasional bird flying overhead did, the sun did, but not us. We stayed as still as the buttes and had lunch. Beauty doesn’t negate hungry. All your senses must be fed.

It wasn’t long before the sun had made its relentless journey to the West and threatened to dive behind the blue wall of mountains ending another day. The sky turned an even deeper shade of blue and the realization that we were on a ridge in the middle of nowhere and had many miles to go before we saw civilization again made the decision to leave for us. We began the bumpy jolting journey down towards blacktop and waiting modern life.

The lights jumped crazily over the two ruts that were the road and darkness raced towards us at the speed of light. The hundreds and thousands of miles it felt like we had traveled, although the speedometer said much less, seemed even longer in the encroaching darkness and it was a small relief to suddenly top out and find smooth blacktop under our wheels again. We were on a low ridge forming one side of a wide flat valley that the magic began to happen.

Fog, or mist, no it was fog, much much thicker than mist, substantial and definite as it began to form what looked like, from a distance, impenetrable clouds of pale blue light rising out of the valley floor. At first it was just wispy and directionless. Then as if deciding it was its time to become alive it rapidly formed into opaque fingers that quickly stretched across the valley seemingly barring all access to the outside world. Strangely beautiful it wasn’t long before the entire valley was engulfed in it’s eerie luminescence. It seemed slightly intimidating in its ghostly beauty but if we wanted to get home and at that moment home seemed like a welcome place to be, we entered the valley and trusted to the fates that our journey would be a safe one. Entering the blue side of nowhere had its risks but what doesn’t these days.

The odyssey to Pawnee Buttes National grasslands was a unique experience. Meeting strangers who became helpful, finding lost roads and quirky little side trips, locating the buttes and watching them turn from pure white sandstone to the golden colors of end of day on its smooth-sided walls made every moment one that will be permanently etched into our memory. But what made this a truly meaningful and unforgettable experience was the pale blue fog of the high plains grasslands. What we now call the Blue Side of Nowhere.

The Yellowstone Zephyr

2016-11-21yellowstonezephyr7555

It’s 3:17 in the afternoon at the pull out close to the northeastern end of the Lamar valley and everyone is in place waiting for the daily arrival of the Yellowstone Zephyr. Just like the trainspotters of days gone by who would wait at their favorite vantage point to see the Wabash Cannonball zoom by, smoke belching from its magnificent smokestack, cinders flying, huge steel wheels spinning, their spokes a solid whirling gray mass in the center of the rims, its side rods a furious blur of impossible action, every part of it screaming noise and fury and action we wait for the arrival of the golden eagle named the Yellowstone Zephyr.

Off in the distance way down where the Lamar river makes the wide slow bend around that rocky point, over the beaver pond with its chewed trees and flat water there is a dark speck and some ones cries “There it is. It’s coming!” and everyone shades their eyes frantic to pick up its image. Cameras are readied and held up to eager eyes, fingers flying over last-minute settings. You only get a few scant seconds to take your shots as the Zephyr screams by. You hear the sound of wind rushing through its primaries and speeding across the top surface of its wings as it gets closer and louder until all you can hear is the whistling boiling sound of the turbulence behind it as it comes racing over the sage and rabbit brush. You struggle to keep it in your viewfinder and hope for the best as you fire off a burst of images hoping that one of them will be in focus and clear enough to use. Then it’s gone.

If you did your best and were prepared you might get one good shot for your time and effort. If you didn’t and missed the opportunity there’s always tomorrow. Be there, find a good spot to stand, have your camera set and your nerves in check and watch the countdown on your watch. When it  hits 3:17 be ready. Maybe today you’ll get  lucky and get that shot you’ve been dreaming of. But pay attention, the Yellowstone Zephyr waits for no one.

Broken Ground

2016-10-25broken-ground9967Canyonlands: Right Click on Image, Choose Open Image in New Tab for larger view

 

Broken ground is just what the words imply. Be careful, that ground is broken. Don’t go falling in there. If you go up to that edge because you want to look down and see what’s down there, don’t lean way out and start flailing around with your arms and yelling “Hey I’m falling here.” and expect a lot of sympathy from anybody when you do. If you got two eyes and a brain in your head you should have noticed that that is broken ground and not got up so close and act stupid because your goofy friends think it’s funny. Remember, after you fall in they’re just going to laugh and say how dumb that was and drink the rest of your beer. Plus your cousin, the one you didn’t want to come along on this trip anyway, will probably be putting the moves on your girl before you even hit bottom.

If you did kind of winkle up to the edge and kind of lay down on your stomach several yards from the drop-off so you could crawl up there and hang your head over the edge and look, you’ll notice that the only bodies down there are ones with a camera strapped around their necks or maybe an iPad laying next to them all busted up. That’s because   the locals and others that are familiar with the West and places you can fall into, don’t do that. They right away recognize broken ground and back up real quick. Lots of them will just sit in their pickups and drink coffee out of a thermos and watch the entertainment.

It needs to be said that there is one local and his horse down there. But it was a freak accident, he didn’t mean it. He doesn’t even own a camera. He had ridden up to tell someone not to get that close to the edge and a rattlesnake laying there looking like a cow pie, bit his horse in the leg right above the hoof and that caused no end of trouble. Horses after getting bit by things often don’t know if they’ve been snake-bit or struck by lightning so they’re apt to do unusual things. Having said that, what with the horse jumping around and trying to stomp on the snake and then rearing up and falling over backward into the abyss, it was just a colossal blunder.

Unfortunately that was really a bonehead play because as they were going over they snagged the poor, sort of innocent tourist who was trying to back up and took him along for the ride. So we can’t really hold that one responsible for his sudden demise. I guess the moral of that story is watch out for locals on horseback trying to tell you stuff, or check out the area for snakes before engaging in any meaningful dialogue with anyone, a quick motion with your hand and the simple phrase “Hey, Stay back there a minute. Looking for snakes.” will work, they’ll understand, or just stay back a ways. You can see enough from twenty feet back. You don’t need to get up there and act like some kind of nutball, all you’re going to see is dead bodies anyway.

We only bring this up to help. It’s not like we’re trying to tell you what to do or anything. It’s just the neighborly thing to do. Around here we don’t want you falling in places. It’s bad for business. OK then, remember, watch out for broken ground.

P.S. and for locals on horseback.