Saturday, September 29, 2012

March 15, 2009

Stark Raving Beauty

A Boy Rides a White Stallion
(photo from the film, "White Mane," 1952)

This is the story of the most beautiful horse that ever lived. Well, the most beautiful ever seen around Thunder Butte at least.

There is no record of where Peanuts came from, beautiful horses just roamed the range when I was a child and this one, Peanuts, just came to me as my right and privilege for having been born around the butte.

One day when I was about 12 or 13 years of age, I went out to the corral to find this prancing, white stallion. He would run up to the corral fence, as if to jump it, then with a mighty snort, turn and trot back to the other side. Temptation was too much, this giant Arabian was the horse I had dreamed of since learning to ride.

Loosing a loop in my catch'n rope, I hopped over the corral fence and settled the loop over Peanuts head.

Yep ! He was Peanuts at first sight.

Snow white with a golden mane and tail, pink nostrils that dilated with a fluttering sound.

When the loop settled over his head, Peanuts trotted up to me, blowing with that fluttering sound, as much as to say----- " We're buddies, stick with me and we will float across this land".

The first day of school that fall was one of the proudest days of my life. Peanuts and I rode up to the school-house, took a turn or two around the school, slid off, ground-hitching Peanuts at the same time, I sauntered in to the school room like the Cowboy that I thought I was, number one, with the number one Arabian horse in all of Thunder Butte country.

From time to time my brothers, who probably owned Peanuts, would tell me: you can't have that horse. But, somehow I always managed to ignore their comments and Peanuts and I just continued to ride the range.

Stallions are notoriously hard to manage. They seem to always have a mind of their own and they have been know to be dangerous. More than one person around Thunder Butte has had a piece of his head, bitten off by a stallion. Peanuts, although big and tough, was always gentle as a lamb, prancing around the corral, blowing, letting the world know that he was boss stud in this country. He would settle down under bridle and saddle and though he always danced with the grace of an acrobat, he had the nature of a good friend.

Sitting here, lost in memories of "the good old days," I just had to talk about Peanuts, the object of my nostalgia.

Actually, there is little point to my story other than Peanuts was----- the most beautiful, spirited Arabian who ever floated o'er the cactus patches of Western South Dakota and we belonged.

We belonged to that fraternity who ruled the plains, from the days of Kit Carson, Wild Bill and Deadwood Dick. Ol'e Peanuts had that magic quality of being able to transport a kid into the wild blue yonder,where dwelt the Cowboys from another time.

Some cowboy came along to the ranch one day, carrying his saddle, pick'n cactus out of his boots and my folks loaned Peanuts to him.

I never saw Peanuts again, but you know, when you think of the wind blowing free across the plains and rain clouds shaping up along the horizon, it don't take much imagination to see Ol'e Peanuts, snorting those pink nostrils, mane and tail flowing in the wind.

--John Crowley

March 02, 2009

Kirk Hall

Boyd Hall was an old Texan who had fallen out of the trail drives between Texas and Montana. He founded a spread of a few thousand acres in the Chance area of Rabbit Creek and raised a family.

The only one of the Hall family that I ever knew was Kirk. Maybe he was the only child, I never knew.

I used to see the father, Boyd on the street in Faith and in Lemmon from time to time, typical old Texas cowboy---ten gallon hat, boots and spurs, and a walk that you knew was never more than a few feet from some cranky bronco.

My brother Joe, as you know by this time was a rough, tough cow puncher, bulldogger, and bronc rider. Joe's life long best buddy was Kirk Hall.

Kirk was a big, lanky, cowboy with the slow way of talking that made you think of campfires and bronc busting on the Texas trail drives. I guess Kirk just inherited the Southwest from his father. He and Joe were thick as thieves for many years.

Well, when I got on the old train, in Faith, on the way to Omaha to be inducted in to the Navy, the other inductee on the train was Kirk Hall. Although I was much younger, we became good friends and Kirk brought his wife, the former Alice Jones, to Alameda, California to be near my folks.

Kirk and I went through the same boot camp company #174. Although Kirk probably thought I was nuts for the stuff I became involved in, he never wavered in his friendship. He was out on the grid-iron exercising to the commands of the old movie star, George Montgomery, just like the rest of us.

Kirk's wife, Alice became a beautician and I believe this took place while Kirk was overseas.

When we got to San Diego, "boot camp," and processed through, Kirk and I were the only two men from that company to get schools. Everyone else was shipped directly out to ships, the Marines, or to some other over-seas station. Kirk was assigned to Electrician's school and I was assigned
to Hospital Corps school.

Several times during the war , Kirk and I would arrive in Alameda at the same time . He and Alice would come to visit at our place or we to their's. We were such good friends that several times during the war when I would land back in Alameda, I would take Alice to a movie, as Kirk had wanted.

After the war Kirk got a job at the Mare Island Navy base, working as an electrician. I became a pharmaceutical salesman, calling on drug stores and detailing doctors and hospitals.

Kirk never changed. He remained the loyal cowpuncher type who never missed a day of work, never complained and spoke slowly and very little.

After a couple of years, Kirk could no longer stomach the stress and nonsense of life in the city. He bought a war surplus Jeep, loaded Alice and their suitcases in the jeep, and drove back to South Dakota.

I never saw them again, but I have gathered (learned) over the years, from newspapers and Faith area mutual friends, that Kirk became a prosperous rancher in the Rabbit Creek area, raised a family and died of cancer quite a few years ago.

Kirk Hall's son now operates the family ranch and is well known and respected in the area as his father and grandfather were before him.

Kirk's is a great American family, a great solid evolution of the best of America from the days of the Pioneers.

--John Crowley

Editor's Note—From what I can gather from the February 1996 edition of the Angus Journal, Boyd Hall, Kirk's dad, started a ranch near Meadow, South Dakota, in 1933. Kirk must have returned from California to take over the ranch from his dad. Kirk's son, Bruce, and daughter-in-law, Lynn, partnered with him in 1976 and then took over the ranch when Kirk died in 1987.

February 28, 2009

Barely Hanging On

A South Dakota Farm Scene from May 13, 1936

Hanging on when times are tough, and relaxing a little when it isn't, is what life is all about for most people. In the Thunder Butte area, life never has been easy – at least never for very long. It wasn't easy going 150 years ago for the Lakota who used to follow the buffalo for their livelihood or for the white settlers who put claims on land in the early 1900's – land that looked good for farming one year but would blow away in dust storms the next. Things are still difficult today for the people who live in the towns, on the ranches, and among the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who inhabit much of the area. The land is tough to live on and the climate can be unforgiving.

During the dust bowl years of the 1930's, a lot of people who came to farm and settle in towns packed up and moved on. The last several years has brought a drought that no doubt has caused many of those who remain to think about moving on, too. The climate can be unpredictable. At times, the wind comes blowing across the prairie, threatening to destroy everything in its path. Last July, for instance, a tornado touched down in Ziebach County, traveling a fifteen to twenty mile course that fortunately missed anyone. Winters can be particularly harsh. Blizzards like the the one in January 1949 that left houses and cars buried for up to three weeks have earned South Dakota the nickname, “The Blizzard State.” Last November's blizzard provided an apt reminder of the winter time hazards in these parts when about forty people were stranded in their cars on Highway 212 between Newell and Faith, some for up to 48 hours before rescuers could get to them.

The hardships aren't just weather-related. The economics of trying to make a go of it are tough. Ranching is hard, and jobs are hard to come by. There aren't enough taxpayers around to pay for essential services. For example, the library in Bison needs a new building, but can't get funding. Timber Lake needs a new school, but can't afford one. Faith's students go to classes in temporary trailers because the old school building has been condemned. There is no money to pay for a new one. As an economy move, the State is forcing some school districts to close. Isabel's school district is closing and merging with Timber Lake's, some twenty miles away.

The threat of mergers doesn't just affect schools. The National Guard Armory in Lemmon is closing — part of an economy move that will consolidate units in more populated areas. The State also is looking to merge some existing counties to save money. Ziebach County, with only about 2,600 residents, could be among those considered to no longer be viable. House Joint Resolution 1002, introduced in the State Legislature on February 3rd, proposes an amendment to the State constitution that will establish a County Consolidation Commission and give the Legislature the power to consolidate and establish new counties. The savings for the State might total about $1 million a year, which does not sound like the all the fuss is worth the trouble quite frankly. The argument is made, too, that counties would benefit by being able to spread services over a larger tax base. But, truth be told, people already drive miles for basic services in this part of the country. Forcing people to drive farther only makes life tougher.

Many of the towns in the area are shrinking according to Census estimates. For example, between 1990 and 2007, Lemmon, Isabel, and Bison lost more than 25 percent of their residents. Faith and Timber Lake each lost close to 20 percent. While these are just estimates – not based on an updated census – they do underscore the fact that life is getting tougher in an area where many people are just barely hanging on.

--Mike Crowley

February 12, 2009

En Route to the South Pacific

USS Rochambeau at Anchor
(US Navy photo from All Hands magazine, August 1947)

After leaving the Napa State Hospital, Imola, we corpsmen were bused to the US Navy Station, Mare Island , California, where we boarded the USS Rochambeau which was tied up at the seawall in Mare Island. The Rochambeau was a very dilapidated looking tub of a ship which had seen better days as a luxury cruise ship. Five thousand, eight hundred of us, Navy and Marines, boarded that ship at Mare Island in early 1943. About noon, she sailed down the San Francisco Bay, out the Golden Gate, and off across the Pacific.

I always lamented the fact that several times I have passed by the Hawaiian islands, but I have never been there. The Islands were visible on the horizon as we passed. They were visible as a black strip covered by a clump of clouds on the horizon. The war went on.

We progressed slowly. We passed across the equator and the international date line, at which time it suddenly became yesterday and we were suitably inducted in to the fraternity of Neptunus Rex.

As we neared the equator it became unbearably hot on board ship. The sun was blistering and with 5800 men competing for shade, there was rarely shade to be found on deck. The heat below deck was suffocating. There was very little potable water to drink and showers were limited to one salt water shower per day. After a few days of salt build up, most of us became raw every place skin rubbed skin. There were no laundry facilities so we tied lines to our jeans and shirts and towed them over the side. They came clean, but encrusted with salt.

The misery continued well between the Tropic of Cancer and into the Tropic of Capricorn. Despite this miserable heat and blazing sun, one of the passengers, a young officer, had rigged a punching bag on the boat deck adjoining officer's quarters on the boat deck, the equivalent of two stories above the milling enlisted crowd, which was limited to the main deck area. This officer punched that bag constantly, a maddening sound like a woodpecker pecking for worms. After while, in order to get to him legally, I went to the Marines who were organizing a boxing tournament and I challenged this officer to a fight in the tournament.

Shortly before the fight, this officer sent for me, bought me a beer, and told me all about his activities as captain of the boxing team at Yale University. In other words, he was giving me the world’s greatest brainwashing. He was trying to convince me that he was great and I was a loser. The “psych” job might have worked if it had not been for an old Chief Petty Officer who had heard about the coming fight. He took me aside and asked me if I had ever fought aboard ship. He then proceeded to explain how to do it. Basically it amounted to:

1—Always keep the sun at your back. Out in the tropics, the sun is blistering hot and fiery bright. Having the sun at your back means your opponent will always have the sun in his eyes.

2—The ship is always lurching and moving from front to back and from side to side. His advice was to always stay on the upper side. If you keep moving with the position of the ship, you are always on the upper side, and your opponent will have to reach upward to hit you and this gives you a tremendous advantage.

The day of the fight, 5,800 men exchanged bets, cheering for a winner. It was quite exciting. I did exactly as the old Chief had advised me. That Lieutenant didn’t have a ghost of a chance. I just hit him at will. The Marine Officer in charge grabbed me and kissed me on both cheeks when the fight was ended, and I got an easy decision.

We approached many groups of small islands apparently deliberately as the Captain of the ship was trying to avoid submarines. By very slowly cruising through these shallow, coral infested waters, submarines could not follow and it would cut down on the chances of our being hit by a torpedo. We came so close to some small islands that natives paddled out to the ship and tried to climb aboard. It was so shallow in places the bottom was clearly visible, but astern the props were kicking up pure mud.

After thirty days we arrived in Espiritu Santos Bay in the New Hebrides islands, now known as Vanuatu. Our stay in the New Hebrides was only about ten days while Marines disembarked and there were other exchanges and landings of personnel. Several men were taken off the ship by hospital personnel from a hospital ship at anchor in the harbor. One of those men was my old friend from Napa, Ole Olson. I never saw him again and I have always wondered if he survived. Dengue was not long lasting like malaria, but it was much more severe at onset and many people died from it.

One of the most impressive incidents of the war occurred one morning. I awoke to the most loud and persistent droning which vibrated the ships and the waters. Going on deck I discovered the droning noise was caused by the entire Torpedo Boat fleet moving out of Espiritu Santos en route to new headquarters on Guadal Canal. The entire harbor was full of torpedo boats and they were strung out across the ocean all the way over the horizon. What an impressive sight! I had no idea we had that many torpedo boats in our fleet.

One morning, we heard a solitary plane coming out of the west. He was low and headed directly toward us. Of course, the Japanese Zeros were always a threat. General quarters was sounded and we all donned our helmets. The plane as it got closer was determined to be one of our own, he was dipping his wings from side to side as though in a salute and was directly over us and in an instant he hit the main mast of a tanker anchored next to us. The plane exploded and there was nothing found of most of the plane nor the pilot. Later it was determined that the young officer piloting that plane was the same young officer I had beaten up in the boxing match a short time earlier. It gives one pause. I have often thought of this. I nearly hated this man when we were aboard ship, now I was seriously deflated, maybe guilt ridden.

Soon after leaving the New Hebrides on a clear moonlit night with a sea as smooth as glass, our engines stopped. For three days and nights we sat marooned on this glassy sea, waiting for the periscope that would pop up out of the water, signaling a torpedo attack on us. Nothing happened to us, but we witnessed several air battles and one night an ammunition ship blew up and the air and sea were filled with fireworks. We didn't know it at the time, but we were sitting marooned in the middle of the Coral Sea Battle. We were way off our course, but the Captain had followed a zig zag course in order to avoid submarines which were reported to be plentiful in the area. The war went on.

We had an exciting event one morning. About 3:00 a.m. we were all broken out (awakened) and mustered in the hold of the ship where marines outfitted us with combat gear, side arms, flack jackets—the works. Of course, we all thought a landing in enemy territory was imminent. Several days later, we arrived in Noumea , New Caledonia, well behind any combat area. In fact, it was the Admiral Halsey's headquarters of the war in the South Pacific.

I made landing at the Receiving Station, New Caledonia, where there were reported to be plus or minus 300,000 service men waiting further transfer. This was a city of tents and confusion. After about three days, I was transferred to Navy Mobile Hospital #7. It was similar to a MASH outfit, except it was Navy and it hadn't been built yet. First we erected an officers quarters. Then we erected a surgery and tent wards to house the sick and injured.

After some time I was transferred to Mob #5, where I was assigned to ward duty. The patients were mostly marines who were being returned from fighting in the out lying islands. Duty at Mob 5 was not unlike ward duty at a stateside hospital. It was boring. The most exciting thing that happened to me there was that a nurse who, being a commissioned officer, was rationed a quart of whiskey every week. We enlisted personnel were not allowed to have liquor. She gave me her bottle every week. I thought she was a very generous lady until one day she cornered me in the linen closet. After that, I refused to take any more of her whiskey.

After a lot of this boring duty, we had a distinguished visitor to the hospital, a Colonel Carlson of the notorious Carlson's Raiders. Two of my buddies and I talked to him and since corpsmen were supplied to the Marines, we asked him if we could join up with him. He was only too glad to oblige, gave us some slips of paper to sign and congratulated us, "You are now Marines".

Shortly after the incident with Colonel Carlson, the ward medical officer (the doctor) took me aside, took my temperature, and immediately assigned me to a bed on the ward as a patient. Diagnosis: fever, cause undetermined. I underwent intensive testing for the next month, but no cause was ever determined. Just a few days after I was interred as a patient, word came back that my two buddies had both been shot and killed while making an island landing. Since no diagnosis was ever made other than “fever, cause undetermined,” it was necessary for the staff to send me back to the States for further testing.

(to be continued)

--John Crowley

Editor's Note -- The public domain, "Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships," says this of the Rochambeau:

"(AP - 63: displacement 14,242; length 470’10”; beam 63’11”; draft 26’; speed 15 knots; complement 381; troop 303; armament 1 5”, 4 3”, 8 1.1”, 8 20mm.; class Rochambeau)

"Rochambeau (AP-63) was built as Marechal Joffre in 1933 by the Societe Proven├žals [sic; Proven├žale] de Constructions Navales, La Ciotat, France for the Societe des Services Contractuels des Messageries Maritimes. Manned by the Free French after the fall of France in 1940, Marechal Joffre was in the Philippines when the United States entered World War II. After the receipt of the news from Pearl Harbor, merchant vessels in the area were requested to depart for U.S. ports. Marechal Joffre sailed on the 18th for Balikpapan, whence she proceeded to Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. She arrived at San Francisco with a cargo of wool and zircon sand on 19 April 1942. The following day, she was taken over by the U.S. Maritime Commission and transferred to the Navy. Commissioned 27 April 1942, Lt. Thomas G. Warfield in command, she was renamed Rochambeau and designated AP-63 on the 29th.

"Rochambeau, converted for use as a casualty evauaction [sic; evacuation] ship, departed Oakland, Calif., on 20 October for her first operation, under the U.S. flag. With replacements and reinforcements for the Guadalcanal campaign embarked on her westward passage, she made Noumea; disembarked her passengers; replaced them with casualties from hospitals there, at Suva, and at Bora Bora; and returned to San Francisco on 3 December. At the end of December, she sailed west again. Extending her range to New Zealand and Australia on that voyage, she limited her next run, 9 to 27 April, to New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. On that trip she carried Lt. (jg.) John F. Kennedy to Espiritu Santo where he was transferred to LST-449 and taken to the Solomons.

"During May, Rochambeau remained in waters off California, then, on 5 June, resumed her passenger/casualty runs to the south and southwest Pacific. Continuing those runs well into 1944, she added ports in New Guinea to her stops in September 1943 and the central Solomons in the spring of 1944. On her last run, 16 November 1944-17 January 1945, she brought back casualties from hospitals on Eniwetok, Guam, and Kwajalein.

"On 9 February, Rochambeau headed for New York. Arriving on the 25th, she was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Commission's War Shipping Administration (WSA) on 17 March. Her name was struck from the Navy list at the end of the month. Then returned to French custody, she resumed the name Marechal Joffre and, operating for WSA, was used to transport American troops from Europe to the United States."

According to an entry on, the Rochambeau served as a "troopship for the French Army till October 1951 and, after refurbishing, as [a] liner on the Indian Ocean and Far East line; then as [a] troopship once again between France and North Africa. [The Rochambeau was s]old for demolition in 1960."

January 30, 2009

February 25, 1942 – In the Navy

On February 25, 1942, I was enlisted, sworn into the U.S. Navy at the Naval Receiving Station, Omaha, Nebraska. The weather was absolutely miserable, a cold bluster wind was blowing, and most of us were poorly dressed for the weather, but I made it. I was sworn in and was now an Apprentice Seaman , A.S., in V-6, the United States Naval Reserve – except we weren't in reserve. We were headed for God only knew, to begin our part in World War II.

The morning following induction, hundreds, maybe thousands of us were loaded aboard old, decrepit, passenger cars attached to old coal burning, steam locomotives. The train, loaded with Army, Navy, and Marines chugged out of Omaha, Nebraska. We did not have the faintest idea where we were going. It could have been to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station or San Diego Naval Training Station. No one seemed to know and there was no one to ask.

All we knew is that we were headed South. We stopped in small towns where we were allowed to disembark for a few minutes, to stretch our legs. At all of these stops, the train was met by crowds of locals who came out to welcome the train load of new servicemen. I don't know how they knew, we didn't know where we were.

This train wandered all over the southwestern part of the United States. The only reason behind it, as far as we could reason it out, was that the government was sending us on some circuitous route as a safe guard against possible sabotage of the train.

The one thing we hated about the trip was lack of air conditioning. You could not keep a window down because as soon as you put one down, a couple of people would open it again. The hot Southwestern winds blew through the cars, turning them into veritable ovens. And, the worst part of all, as we wound through mountainous desert country, we passed through one tunnel after another. When the steam, coal burning locomotive passed through a tunnel, the tunnel filled thick with black coal smoke from the engine. The inside of the cars rapidly filled with the same smoke and every time we passed through a tunnel we were covered with soot.

It seemed like we spent about a week on that train, wandering around the Southwest before we finally arrived in San Diego. It seems like we stopped in many other God forsaken places where servicemen from the other services were taken off the train.

On arrival at San Diego, US Naval Training Station, I was assigned to Company 174. I guess that was the 174th company to be trained there, so far in 1942. This, in effect, began my introduction into the discipline of regimented civilization. Looking back at my life in "boot camp," it is clear to me now that James Baker, Navy Chief in charge of my company, immediately spotted me as a proud, unbending potential problem who would require some extra guidance. I was immediately assigned to the task of cleaning the heads (toilets). I gingerly took the long handled scrub brush and delicately applied it to each of the toilets until I thought they were clean. Chief Baker then descended on me and wanted to know when I intended to clean these toilets. I said, "But Chief, they are clean!" At that, he took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to clean a toilet with a bar of sand soap and his bare hands. Then he washed his hands, put on his jacket and informed me, "That is the way you clean a head." O.K., I did as I was told, so pretty soon I was relieved of that duty.

But, I still didn't get it. Every morning, we would be called out to muster before day light. Then, we would stand in ranks waiting for someone to come and muster us, that is, call out our names. After several mornings of this waiting, I decided this was a crock. I sat down on the curb and lit a cigarette. You guessed it, that was just what Chief Baker had been waiting for all those mornings. I was directed to his quarters, where he gave me a list of duties I would perform as punishment. At 1 a.m. every morning for seven days, I would report to the armed guard at the flag pole in back of the barracks with my rifle over my shoulder, bayonet attached, and my loaded, GI sea bag hanging from the end of the bayonet. Thus equipped, I was to march around the flag pole for four hours without stopping. If I stopped or slowed down at any time, the armed guard would poke me with his bayonet. I did this without a whimper, but I suffered. It was not long before the rifle had cut a crease in my shoulder about an inch and a half deep and I had several small lacerations from the armed guard's bayonet. In addition to the above punishment, I had to perform two hours of scrubbing floors in the barracks each night as my regular chores – and the war went on.

Chief Baker it seems was trying to make a man of me. As evidence that I was not hated by him, he appointed me color guard for the company. That means that I carried the colors, the flag, on the parade ground all day.

There were some breaks to our routine in boot camp. One thing we had to do was take some kind of tests to determine our suitability for schools and for placement in to the different parts of the Navy. One test lasted for approximately five hours. It reminded me a lot of the IQ. tests I had taken in college. At this testing, I was asked for my duty preference and for schools that I would like to attend. My first choice was Aviation Machinist's school. My second choice was Cook's and Baker's school.

At the end of boot camp, I was assigned to the Hospital Corps school. As near as I could figure out, they trained you to go where they needed the most men. That was interesting, but just before I was to graduate, the night guard who came through the barracks at night saw me glowing in the dark, took my temperature, and found that I had a 104.2 temperature and was red as a beet. They immediately suspected scarlet fever and rushed me to the U. S. Naval Hospital, San Diego, where I was kept in isolation for several days until they found out I had bronchitis and a bad sun burn.

Then, it was back to Hospital Corps School, where I had to start all over with the next company. Since this was my second time through the school, I got the best grades in the class and got to pick which base I would go to for further training . I had a choice of Corpus Christi, Texas, some place in Florida, or anywhere I wanted. I traded Florida for Mare Island, California, so I would be close to home. Mare Island was the least desirable place, so whoever I traded with gave me a hundred dollars to trade with him.

At Mare Island, they lined us up and picked the largest men in the group for psychiatric duty. They lined us up and said “You, you and you to Ward 4.” Since we three were the biggest of the bunch we went to the violent ward. This was the top floor of the neuropsychiatric hospital. The patients on Ward 4 were, for the most part, considered incurable, violent, mental patients, who were housed here for study and for further transfer to other hospitals in the States. The ward consisted of thirty locked rooms with only a mattress, 15 rooms on each side of a long hallway. Across the back was one large room called a solarium. The solarium had fifteen beds, for the less violent patients. Forty five patients in all. This was Ward 4. On each fourteen hour shift, one corpsman was locked into this ward and was in charge of all of the patients. In case of an emergency, like an impending death, I could push a button at the gate across the rear of the hall and hopefully someone would respond from a lower floor.

I won't attempt to go into detail about the patients. It is enough to say you had to have eyes in the back of your head. Some of them just liked to trick you, but many of them wanted to kill me. At or near the end of a fourteen hour shift, I was pretty exhausted and sometimes just lay down on one of the patients beds in the solarium and went to sleep. Someone of the more trustworthy patients would usually wake me if one of the doctors came to the gate. One of my more interesting experiences was waking up from one of these naps with a big patient trying to choke me to death. He was very serious. Some patients had one track minds. If they wanted to kill you, they thought of nothing else and weren't easily dissuaded.

One day when walking down this hallway, something bounced off the wall by my head. It was a solid metal ball about two and one half inches in diameter. In those days we did not have aluminum foil, we had lead foil. Gum and other things came wrapped in lead foil. A catatonic He then threw that ball at my head, and if he had been two inches more to the right in his aim, I would have been dead. He was a most interesting patient. He appeared not able to move or speak. I would take him out of his bed in the morning and stand him in the doorway so he could see movement. Every half hour or so, I would have to move him around some to help his circulation. He is the one who threw the lead ball. Apparently, in the dead of night he would get in a corner of his room and work on his lead ball.

A small, slight-built, balding young man befriended me about this time. He worked one of the other wards. His name was "Doc" Pemberton. Of course, we were all called "Doc." Nobody knew anyone's first name, so we were just "Doc"to each other and to the patients. Pemberton had worked for several years in the California State Psychiatric hospitals and knew his way around the business of caring for patients, which was a lot more than anybody else knew. The Doctors needed someone who could handle emergencies, so they chose him and he chose me as his partner. He taught me all the tricks of handling violent patients. We never received any special treatment for our work, but in the middle of the night they used to call us out to handle the extreme cases. For example, one night we arrived on the scene to find doctors, nurses and many corpsmen gathered at the front of the mental wards, in a state of near hysteria. A patient on Ward 3 had broken up a bed and was using a piece of steel bed frame to destroy his room. He had even beaten out some of the bars on the windows, he had beaten the door until it barely hung by its hinges, and it was sure death to anyone who tried to enter. I took a small mattress, held it in front of me and entered the room. The blows rained on that mattress were unbelievable, but I moved right in on him and cornered the patient. Pemberton went under the mattress, grabbed the patient's legs and pulled his feet out from under him, at which point my mattress and I fell on him and we subdued him. There was hardly anything left of the mattress afterward. It was torn to shreds, but they kept it to use in training sessions. Pemberton and I were unhurt and worked our regular shifts that day as usual.

About this time, the Chief Psychiatrist in charge of Warts 1 to 4 called me in and informed me that the U. S. Naval Hospital at Bethesda, Maryland, had a special training session in Neuropsychiatry. He had written a letter requesting that I be sent there for further training. About a week later, I was sent to Napa State Hospital where the Navy had taken over two wards to treat and house patients who were being selected for further transfer to state hospitals in their home states. I never heard anything further about the training at Bethesda.

Imola, as the Napa facility was called, was a most enjoyable duty for about six months, until a Chief Nurse, a Navy Lieut. Cmdr. by the name of Wamble came aboard. She took a very dim view of how I subdued the violent patients. She never took the pains to discuss it with me, but one time when I had to control a huge Paranoid Schizophrenic who had a butcher knife and was chasing members of the galley crew, I had secured him in a so-called "padded" cell. She and another nurse went in with him, were holding his head in their laps, stroking his brow and cooing to him. Hell, I didn't know he was theirs. I would have gladly called them to handle him. Soon after the incident with the paranoid and his knife, I received orders transferring me Headquarters, South Pacific Command, Noumea, New Caledonia. It all sounded romantic and interesting, and I would be going to war at last.

(to be continued)

--John Crowley

January 16, 2009

When Al Smith Lost Thunder Butte

Al Smith Waves to Supporters

Funny, but I was seven years old when Al Smith ran against Herbert Hoover for the office of President of the United States. This election was preceded by months of talk about the candidates. When you stop to think about it, general conversation was all there was then. I don't think we even had a radio at that time. The depression was falling on the country then and everybody we knew thought Herbert Hoover was pretty much responsible for it. On the other hand, Al Smith had captured the hearts of America.

Finally election day came and I could not wait to find out what my parents did. Did they vote for Al Smith? When they finally got back to the Butte after having been gone all day to vote -- they probably went to Coal Springs to vote -- I rushed out to the wagon to hear the news of the day.

"Did you vote for Mr. Smith?” I asked. When my parents said, "No, he could not have won and we didn't want to waste our vote, so we voted for Herbert Hoover," I was heart broken. Since my own parents didn't vote for Al Smith, I was resigned to his having lost the election.

The United States then plunged in to the darkest depression of the Western world. Perhaps Herbert Hoover and Al Smith had very little to do with it -- but I was always convinced that life would have been OK if Al Smith had won.

--John Crowley

Editor's Note: With the inauguration Tuesday of a new President, it seems only fitting to revisit another election from days gone by and how it was perceived around Thunder Butte. Al Smith, then governor of New York, was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1928. John Crowley was so affected by his loss that he has been a Republican ever since.

December 04, 2008

Christmas Cowboy Daze


My Dad as well as my Uncles Joe and Neal used to tell me stories when I was little about riding ponies across the windswept prairies near Thunder Butte when they were growing up. It was exciting, all these stories told by my relatives who, at least in my mind, used to live in the olden days—just like the cowboys on TV. That was my introduction to cowboys, and I wanted to be one. I used to prop a child's straw cowboy hat on my head and strap on my plastic six shooters. Then, I'd climb on my mount – usually a stick or a broom handle – and gallop about my suburban San Francisco Bay Area yard terrifying my sisters and our dogs. And, then, one Christmas when I was about eight, my grandmother, bless her kindness, thought it would be a really good idea to get her California grandkids a pony.

I remember the great excitement I had on that Christmas morning about the idea of having pony rides, and not just at the amusement park, but whenever I wanted. I pulled out my plastic revolver, strapped it to my hip, cocked my cowboy hat over one eye and sashayed out back to take possession of my trusty steed. My cowboy daze didn't last long.

The pony's name was “Peanuts,” the kind of name that suggested a gentle, hooved companion, and maybe the kind you would feed peanuts to or bits of straw from the palm of your hand. But just as quickly as these thoughts passed through my mind, the reality of a bucking monster that would just as soon bite your hand off as nibble on peanuts set it. As my Dad tried to tie a harness to the pony, it just reared up, raising a ruckus and waving its hooves about wildly. My Dad did all he could to calm the animal, but it just seemed to want to attack him. The wild beast seemed to tower over me. My Dad tried to get me on top of it, but it quickly threw me off and then stepped on me to make matters worse. Crying, that was the end of the cowboy romance for me. From then on, I tried to steer clear of the pony, but it would charge every time I went out into the backyard. I became adept at hopping over the fence at the last minute in a sheer panic, always thinking that these were indeed my final moments in this world.

I was so terrified of Peanuts. Every time the creature saw me, it reared on its hind legs and threatened me with a nasty bump on my head or worse. It was a wild animal. I think my Dad had the idea that the pony and I would eventually get right with each other. He was so convinced of it that he gave me the job of seeing that the pony was secured in his pen every night with fresh food and water. Instead, when I got home from school every day, I would get down on my knees and pray. I'd beg God to just please get the beast back in his pen without my help. Then, all I would have to do would be to slip out the back door, sprint to the gate, and fasten it just in the nick of time before the pony would notice me and come charging. It only worked about twenty-five percent of the time, so I guess God was listening to somebody else's prayers most of the time.

Although we tried to keep the pony in the backyard, it kept breaking out. More than once my Dad had to go chasing the pony down the street to keep it from taking off after and terrifying the neighbors. Once, one of the neighbors, Mr. Taylor, came looking over the fence to see if my Dad was about. The pony immediately charged, broke through the fence, and chased him all the way down the street. Mr. Taylor never came back. Never. Even after we got rid of the beast, which we were eventually forced to do after about three months because even my Dad could not control the thing. This was all a surprise, of course, because he had grown up in the Cowboy Days, hadn't he?

--Mike Crowley

Editor's Note--Merry Christmas!

December 01, 2008

And Now the Fun Begins

In the summer of 1941, I had decided to travel to California to seek my fortune. Having made the decision and since people told me that I would need identification, I visited Father Now, the pastor of the Catholic Church in Glad Valley. After some visiting with Father Now, between us we made up a baptismal certificate showing my date of birth and parentage.

The good father had to take my word for all of the entries on the certificate because, as he explained, the original church , which had been located in Brayton, had been blown away in some type of cyclone and all of the church records had been lost. After obtaining the baptismal certificate, I hitchhiked to Mitchell where I said goodbye to an old girl friend. The thing that sticks in my memory most was the temperature in the shade outside my hotel room. It was 110 degrees at midday.

I then got out on the highway and started hitchhiking to California. I had about $18.00 left. The first car that came by stopped. It was a 1935 Ford sedan containing three middle aged men (in their thirties). All three were en route to Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, California, to work on airplanes for the war effort. I agreed to give the driver, the owner of the car, $15 to cover my share of the gasoline.

I think it took about two days with the men driving alternately. They would stop for food when necessary, usually a sandwich when they got gas. After the first day, my last three dollars had shrunk to fifteen cents. So from then on, when they stopped to eat I just pretended to be sleeping.

On our arrival in Burbank they let me out on a street corner in a semi business area. I remember the incident clearly. I had fifteen cents in my pocket, the sun was setting, it was getting dark, and I was scared. I didn’t have an address or a phone number—nothing. That may be the reason that for the rest of my life I have felt desperation when I have reached in my pocket and found no money.

On a corner in the distance, I could see what appeared to be a medium size hotel. I walked into the hotel lobby, sat in one of the easy chairs, and tried to figure out my next move. After several hours, I asked the desk clerk if he had any objection to my sitting there. He seemed like a decent, middle aged man who was easy to talk to. He asked me where I was from, and when I told him Faith, South Dakota, he turned, picked down a room key, handed it to me and said. "I’m from Faith. You get some sleep, and in the morning I’ll send you to a friend who will give you a job.

The next morning, true to his word, the desk clerk, who owned the hotel incidentally, sent me to a bowling alley a few blocks down the street. There was a nice little restaurant in this bowling alley, and when I talked to the manager, he put me to work immediately as a "fry cook."

I worked in that restaurant for something like three weeks. Every day I would ask the customers where Alameda, California was. Nobody had ever heard of Alameda. Several people told me that the only Alameda was The Alameda (Alameda Street), in downtown Los Angeles. I had the address of an aunt in Alameda and I was pretty sure now that it was nowhere near Los Angeles, as I assumed it to be when I started this adventure.

After about three weeks, someone advised the restaurant manager that I was underage and serving beer. Since that was against the law and he could lose his license, he had to let me go. Armed with three weeks pay from the restaurant, I went to the nearest bus depot and bought a ticket to Alameda.

What an eye opener. California was l o o o ng. It took all day to get there on the bus; California was also not paved with gold. The Greyhound bus came to Oakland and drove through the most awful looking streets, with old tenement type houses and arrived at the Greyhound bus depot on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland. What a let down! The dirtiest, dingiest city I had ever imagined. From there I caught a number 58 Key System bus to Alameda. I was en route to 2303 Buena Vista Avenue and was so worried that I would miss the address, that I got off the bus at Ninth Street and walked the last 14 blocks to my Aunt’s house.

My aunt, Mabel VanSicklin, was pleased to see me. She ran a rooming house where I soon became friends with all the tenants, young couples for the most part. They treated me like the family pet. They showered me with food, took me sight seeing, and when I didn’t have them entertaining me, I went to movies with my cousin Lester Petersen, who was the same age as me.

After about two weeks, and unable to find a job, I got a telegram from Lockheed, in Burbank, where I had left an application. The telegram read, "Report for work on Monday." I had just time enough to catch the bus back to Burbank.

In Bakersfield, California, I received a telegram, on the bus, from my new friends in Alameda. They had a "wonderful job waiting for me, come back at once." So, in all my new found ignorance, without any other information, I turned around and rode the bus back to the Bay Area.

I tried very hard to conceal my disappointment when I found out the job was "floor boy" in the Oakland Garage on Harrison Street. This was a multi-story parking garage. When customers would enter to get their car, a floor boy would rush to the upper levels and rush the customer’s car down to him. Several times per day customers would call in to have their car delivered to their home or other places around the Bay Area.

I soon became a very doubtful asset to that garage. I wrecked several expensive cars and I kept hitting the manager for raises, and he kept giving me raises. This routine kept on for several months. 'Then the foreman found out that I was making more money than he, and the manager found out that I had never, in my entire life, ever had a driver’s license. End of the job. I was fired.

My next job was with a drayage firm, Kellog Express. I greased trucks. After a short time, hating every minute of the job, I told them I was quitting, so they made a truck driver out of me and I started ferrying double semi trailers back and forth from the docks in San Francisco. That job was interesting and it was pretty decent money, but the war was on then. We would have to run trucks at night without headlights, and under the more severe blackouts we would be kept off the streets entirely. In those cases we would have to wait, sometimes for hours, in the truck depot, or wherever we were when the sirens sounded, sometimes for hours for the blackout to be lifted, just so we could drive home.

From the day war was declared (WWII that is), I had wanted to enlist. I wanted to fly a plane, but on enquiring of a recruiter, I found out that if I didn’t work out as a pilot I might wind up in some very miserable job. I decided the Navy was a good place to stay off my feet, so I enquired and someone told me that if I enlisted back east or in the Midwest, they would send me back to California for boot camp. So, on the basis of this "bar room" information, I decided to go back to South Dakota and enlist in the Navy.

During the late summer, my mother, brother Joseph, and my sister Cecilia had come to California, had gotten jobs, and my mother had rented a large house on Encinal Avenue in Alameda. My mother immediately went to work in the Richmond Shipyards, Joe took a job tending bar at the Bank Club, and Cecilia worked in the restaurant at the Alameda Hotel.

At the time I had a 1934 Packard straight eight convertible. After work one night, I stopped at the Cochran-Celli auto dealers. When a salesman came out, I handed him the keys. I just gave him the Packard. Recently I saw an ad selling this same model car for $250,000.

The next day I took the bus to my brother Neal’s ranch near Faith. Then I went to Mitchell where I enlisted in the Navy, but I had to wait a month until they called me to duty. While waiting for the Navy to call, I stayed with Neal and his wife Dorothy. Neal had a little black horse that he wanted to break (tame) for Dorothy, so he gave me the job. Well, that black horse was pretty, smart, fast, and a son of the devil. He bucked and he fought, he struck with his hooves, and he bit anything or anybody he could reach.

After about a month, I got a telegram from the Navy with railroad tickets and instructions to report for physical exam in Omaha, Nebraska. Needless to say, I was tickled to death to escape from the damn black horse. Among other things, from all that bucking, I was bleeding from the rectum all the time. I didn’t want to say anything because I was afraid the Navy would reject me if they found out I was busted. I confided to a friend on the train and he advised me of a sure cure. "Get a small bottle of castor oil," he said.

The train stopped at almost every town to pick up cream cans, so at the next stop, I ran to the drug store and bought a four ounce bottle of Castor oil, ran back to the train, drank the bottle of Castor oil, and ran to the bath room for the next two days. But, the bleeding stopped.

Finally we arrived in Omaha, I passed the physical, and I was sworn in on March 13, l942.

--John (Gene) Crowley

November 06, 2008

Ziebach County Vote

Politicians in the rural parts of the country have to spend a lot of time on the road. Out in western South Dakota, a place that is either the wide open spaces or the middle of nowhere—take your pick—getting elected usually means putting hundreds of miles on your car in a single day to get from one small town to the next. An interesting piece that ran in the Rapid City Journal last February tells the story of the extended travels that local politicians have to undertake to keep in touch with their constituents. You can find that story here.

Interestingly, despite the great lengths local politicians have to go to in order to get elected and stay in office, neither of the major party candidates for President visited South Dakota during this election cycle. There weren't enough votes. It wasn't a battleground state. Everyone knew how the state would vote. All good enough reasons, I guess, if it didn't leave South Dakotans feeling too disgruntled. South Dakota voted decisively, and as expected, for John McCain on November 4th.

Yet, when you look at a county by county map of the state, that sea of “red” is broken here and there by a pocket of “blue,” a place where voters bucked the local tide and voted for Barack Obama. Ziebach County is apparently one of those little pockets of mostly Democratic voters interspersed throughout the western part of the state. And, yet, if you are not familiar with South Dakota, why this would be the case isn't entirely clear.

It's the tribal areas. Every “blue” county in the western part of the state is a reservation county. Ziebach County is mostly on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. North and to the east is the Standing Rock Reservation. Down south are the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations. The contrast between predominantly white districts and those that are mostly Native American can't be more clear. Take, for example, the town of Faith, adjacent to Ziebach County and the Cheyenne River Reservation, but located in Meade County. According to the 2000 Census, Faith was 90 percent white. It probably hasn't changed very much since then. (No criticism; that's just the way it is.) Voters in Faith turned out for McCain. In Ziebach County, 72 percent of residents are Native American. They voted for Obama.

If you've visited the tribal areas, you know that many people live in abject poverty. There aren't many jobs. Social problems are rampant. Not many people have a great deal of hope. So, it should come as no surprise that when one major party candidate preaches change and the other reminds those people of more of the same, the status quo, then the choice is pretty clear. Tribal areas didn't vote for the candidate they perceived as more of the same.

--Mike Crowley

Editor's Note--Ordinarily, I would be extraordinarily scrupulous about keeping politics out of this blog. This blog isn't intended to be a place for political commentary. There are plenty of other places for that. I'm merely commenting and speculating here. Whether you draw the same conclusions or not, that's up to you. If your analysis differs, please share your comments!

November 01, 2008

Notre Dame Junior College Days

The Mitchell Corn Palace

During the summer of 1940 I had been talking to old classmates from Lemmon High School. None of us knew what we were going to do with our lives. We could see no opportunities. I had applied at several universities and colleges. When I saw the tuition cost from these colleges I was dismayed. There was no such thing as financial assistance anywhere as far as I could find out. In other words, if you didn't have money you didn't go to school.

I talked to Ben Lesselyoung from Lemmon and he had written to a Monsignor Brady at Notre Dame Junior College, in Mitchell, South Dakota. This was a teacher's college, you attended for one year and you were certificated to teach in country, one room school houses. If you attended for two years you became certificated to teach all grades in the city schools throughout the state. Since this was the nearest thing to a job that we could find, we both wrote to Monsignor Brady again. The Monsignor wrote back and stated that he would suspend payment of the tuition until we were gainfully employed, after graduation. He further agreed to find jobs for us in the city of Mitchell to cover the cost of our board.

My Brother Neal agreed to drive Ben and I to Mitchell a few days before the start of school. I will never forget the trip in Neal's old car, on roads covered with ice for a hundred and fifty miles of constant skidding. On our arrival in Mitchell, Ben and I had to come up with $8 each to cover the cost of a room. Monsignor Brady sent us down to a rooming house on North Lawler. The back of the house faced on an alley which separated the back of the rooming house from the back of the Corn Palace. Monsignor Brady had given me the address of a restaurant on South Main Street where the proprietress had agreed to give me work. On applying for the job I couldn't help noticing there were several young men about my age who were working about the place. After a couple of days of hemming and hawing it turned out the lady had given the available jobs to kids from Dakota Wesleyan University. She kept saying , "I may be able to find something for you to do", but she never did.

I told Msgr. Brady about my dilemma. After much sputtering and uttering what I suspect were curse words in Irish, he sent me to the Oriental Cafe, a sort of supper club operated by two Greek families. These were some of the finest people I have met in my entire life. They always spoke to me in Greek in an effort to teach me the language. They made candy apples and taught me to do it . I bussed dishes, assisted with cooking and helped with the cooking of doughnuts, then I would deliver the doughnuts to other restaurants around town about five in the morning. Since I was working for my board, I would come in about 4 a.m., help open up the place and usually eat a couple candy doughnuts. They urged me to eat better food , but time was of the essence. The highlight of this job was the week long celebration of Corn Palace. Throngs of people were on the streets. The two partners and I stood shoulder to shoulder at the soda fountain where people were waiting ten deep for ice cream treats. At the end of the five days, without ceremony, Varcellios (which means William) stuck a ten dollar bill in my hand. That was perhaps the most cash I saw at any one time during the nine months I spent in Mitchell.

I guess you wondered if I ever went to school. Notre Dame Junior College was , and still is, a magnificent building totally built of South Dakota red granite. It covers about half a square city block. The rest of the block contained the parish house and a convent. The school was taught by Catholic Nuns. The student body consisted of approximately 190 girls and eight boys. Sounds like a play school. Right? Don't you believe it. There was no play at that school, never. I remember dropping in at a party in progress, with my friend Jimmy O'Donnell, one night. We sat down for a few minutes and were raided by the Mother superior and two Nuns. I never went to another party there.

The school work was very elementary, because they were training elementary school teachers. There was time spent cutting out stuff and pasting on posters, like you would have little kids doing, there was lots of singing so we would learn music and be able to teach little kids. They made sure we learned arithmetic and how to spell. Wish I could remember some of that stuff. There was also something like three months practice teaching.

In practice teaching, I was assigned to a young , very neurotic, but saintly Nun who gave me something like half her class of first grade students and she supervised me while I supervised those little kids. At the end of the three months I had decided I was never going to teach grade school. Those little kids were driving me nuts.

Mentioned in a prior post [], I had related the incident of Msgr. Brady giving me the job of Boxing Instructor. That job was a big help and it paid for my room. My roommate, Benny, did not fair well at all. Ben was from a small town, Lemmon, and Mitchell was a big town. There were several universities and several professional (trade) schools. The town was literally swarming with young people, so if you had the time and inclination, there was all kinds of hell to be raised. I will spare you most of Benny's exploits. He has been dead for many years now.

I fell in love once, that I recall. I never had enough money to go to a movie or anything so we would sometimes go to church, walk down Main Street and look in windows of the stores and, "shhh," sometimes we held hands.

As Winter wore on , snow became waist deep sometimes, on the side walks. Delivering the breakfast rolls, and doughnuts in the mornings became a monstrous job, more than once I fell, spilling the pastries in the snow. Of course I would brush the snow off them and arrange them neatly on the tray again. I can still see some to the customers and hear there remarks; "these don't look fresh, are you sure they are fresh?" “These rolls are damp, why are you bringing me damp rolls?”

Winter became more depressing, the snow was deep, the wind howled and many days were blotted out by blinding snow storms, blizzards. There were no longer any people on the streets, no one came in to the restaurant to eat. These wonderful restaurant owners, with tears in their eyes, tried to explain to me they had barely enough food left for their families. This was the depths of the depression.

There was a session at Ruby's Doughnut Shop, where I spent hours cleaning the crusted material from baking trays. For my board, breakfast, lunch and dinner I got doughnuts. I got so I almost never felt good. Then I went to work at the Railroad Cafe where I washed dishes and made sandwiches then, when a train stopped for a 15 minute break, we would have to feed and collect from literally hundreds of people. What a rush! Then it would be several hours, usually, for the next train. What did I get to eat there? Usually cheese sandwiches . We ate what the people didn't buy and that was usually cheese sandwiches.

Once in a great while, I would have a little spare time and I would explore the Corn Palace, a fascinating place, it was actually a Municipal Auditorium. One day I found two men painting mural on the interior walls of this place. I got talking to them and discovered one of them was Billy Lackey, not much older than me and from Faith, my home town. They were doing this job on a grant from the W.P.A. The murals have long since been replaced by other work. However, those Lackey paintings have been preserved in the county administration buildings in Mitchell. It got to be almost a habit to stop and talk to Billy and they would give me little jobs to do and try to teach me the rudiments of painting.

I ran into Billy's coworker, whose name escapes me this minute, I have it somewhere, he was a full professor at the College of Arts and Crafts, on upper Broadway in Oakland, California. This professor wrote a glowing eulogy for Billy, calling him as good or better than Remington. Billy died in Clayton, California about two years ago. He had become famous as an artist, having worked for many of America's largest corporations.

Jimmy O'Donnell and I would sometimes get a couple of hours off from our jobs and school at the same time and we would go around washing and installing storm windows for people. I remember that job well because of the cold, washing those storm windows, in freezing wind, before installing them, was not much fun. Jimmy , of course, didn't become a teacher either, he spent his life on the railroads as a locomotive engineer. I never saw him again and I saw a notice of his death about five years ago.

I can't leave this without mentioning Corcoran's Cafe on North Main Street. Some of us from Notre Dame and others from Dakota Wesleyan University would meet for lunch at Corcoran's. Two or three of us would order a bottle of milk. There was always a heaping bowl of oyster crackers on the tables. We would eat all the crackers and Ma Corcoran would immediately fill the bowls again. We never left there hungry and all it ever cost us was a partial bottle of milk.

At the end of the school year I was beginning to be concerned about getting home. I had collected some few things, but I had no suitcase or anything and no money, so I bought a car. I walked by a car lot one day and fell in love with a 1935 Ford, three window coupe. They were asking $25 for it and since the owner of the car lot was the brother of the Mother Superior (Farrell) at Notre Dame, he agreed to let me have the car with nothing down and I would pay him when I could. So, that was how I got home.

--John Crowley

October 18, 2008

Voices Out of the Mountain

I found a large rock and sat.

Here on the very top of Thunder Butte, one looks out forever, into that vast expanse of range land, the Great Plains as early settlers must have seen it.

So far removed from the earth that as we know it, everything is tiny, seeming to disappear into nothingness.

Sleepiness hovers in the air, black clouds hang on the horizon, nothing stirs, birds are quiet and a deathly silence pervades the atmosphere.

Sleep descends, the mist settles over my mind and I curl up on this big rock in deep s l e e p -----------

Suddenly the earth is trembling, Thunder Butte feels to be alive beneath me, clouds are settling around the butte, it is growing dark.

Awake at last, my horse is gone, a sudden trembling beneath my feet again---- did I just hear someone moan? Was it the wind?

I am growing desperate. The wind has a biting chill---can I ever find my way down the mountain?

Picking my way over the precipice in the darkness, it is necessary to pass by a number of caves which lead in to the bowels of the mountain.

Feeling my way along the rock face, I am in the mouth of the first cave, the blackness in the cave is even darker than the night which cloaks the mountain.

Deep within the cave a voice, faint, almost indistinct, plaintive, pleading----h e l p m e~
and I ran, panting, sweat soaking my clothes, stumbling on the narrow path, falling------

Rolling downward, finding myself in the entrance of the second cave.

From the blackness, groaning and another voice, faint, unintelligible.

My body bruised and scratched, I am white with fear, clothing soaked in sweat, the mountain shakes and trembles and voices come from the bowels of the earth in an increasing crescendo. h h e l --------he l p ----
more moaning as from an unearthly, demonic presence deep within the trembling earth.

Falling, falling, tumbling end over end, hopeless thundering landslide coupled with cracks of thunder and lightning striking everywhere.

Wake up, John! Wake up!
You will be late for school. You know what the teacher said last time you were late. "You day dream too much."

I should not have had that piece of cake before I went to bed, but I peek out the bedroom window just to be sure old Thunder Butte Mountain is still there.

--Gene Crowley

Editors note: Happy Halloween!

October 13, 2008

Haunted Happenings Abound

Remains of A Ranch Building Near Isabel

South Dakota has its share of reputedly haunted locales. Among them, the historic Bullock Hotel and Saint Ambrose Cemetery in Deadwood may be among the most notable. Thunder Butte country has seen its share of ghostly happenings, as well. Perhaps it’s the isolation that plays tricks on your mind. When you live in a place like this, chances are that the nearest people are miles away. You’ll often find yourself alone with only the murmur of the wind for company.

The mind has a natural tendency to imprint human features on its surroundings. In a lonely place, in isolation, this tendency helps fill in the gaps in the mind’s processing of its environs with things that are familiar. This goes a long way to explain some of the strange things people might experience from time to time – like one moment seeing someone and the next not, or occasionally hearing voices on the whispering wind.

Some of the things that people experience in this country are beyond simple explanation, though. For example, I’ve talked about the “spook lights” that people have reported since the country was opened up to white homesteaders here. Odd prairie lights also were reported by my family when they lived here, and I’ve talked about them here, and here. There were other strange occurrences that happened when the Crowleys lived on Thunder Butte Creek, which I’ve talked about here. My Dad recalls that kids used to tell stories about ghostly apparitions seen in the vicinity of Boggy Draw in nearby Perkins County – and he reports on his own nightmarish experience there as a kid here. Finally, my Dad tells one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever heard in my life here, based on an experience that happened while watching over a neighbor’s ranch late one night.

Other people tell stories, too. With just a couple of hundred residents, the nearby town of Isabel has a more ghostly reputation than most other towns in the region. Sites such as The Shadowlands, Ghost Traveler
, and Release Me tell some of these tales. Among the most notable are the following:

• Some people tell of a spook light that sometimes can be seen in the vicinity of the old rodeo grounds, and which is known to chase the unwary once in awhile.

• The Burress Feeds store may be haunted by the ghost of a little girl who died in the early 1900’s from smallpox, and who cries for her mother from time to time.

• People see strange figures reflected at night in the windows of the Post Office from time to time. One person reported frantically trying to get out, finding the doors locked one night after picking up their mail.

• A boy who suffocated in a janitor’s close at the Isabel School is reported to be seen by people on occasion.

Now, I’ve only visited Isabel only once, and I can’t vouch for these stories. Suffice it to say, though, that the area around Thunder Butte has had its share of stories of the strange and the unusual – something that often piques our interest as Halloween season approaches.

September 21, 2008


In the late 1940’s and perhaps well beyond, Henry F. Harding was probably one of the wealthier of the local citizenry of Faith, if not the wealthiest. He owned the West River Telephone & Electric Company, was a member of the City Council of Faith, and was involved in local banking. I don’t know the full story, but my uncle, Neal Crowley, who was then the Chief of Police of Faith, somehow ran afoul of Harding in 1949 over an unpaid phone bill of $14. Just to give the unpaid bill some perspective, this amount would have been about $125 in today’s dollars. We don’t know the reasons for the unpaid phone bill. Neal may have felt that Harding owed him for something, and not paying the phone bill was Neal’s way of getting even. Or, maybe Neal simply was falling behind on his obligations for other reasons. Whatever the problem, Harding had Neal’s phone disconnected.

Now disconnecting the phone of the Chief of Police even in a small town is a big deal. Neal could not provide – in today’s parlance – 24/7 police coverage without access to a telephone at his house. Certainly, he had one in the office. But in those days, a small rural town would not have had police radios. Having the phone in Neal’s home was a vital link between the community and its lawman.

Curiously, despite the fact that Henry Harding was on the Faith City Council, he didn’t see the value of having that phone in Neal’s home remain connected. One suspects that there must have been a mighty test of wills at play, or perhaps one gigantic grudge match, for Harding rejected the City Council’s own demands that he reconnect the phone. The Council passed a resolution in January 1950, which Harding ignored. The town took Harding to court. Despite obtaining a favorable ruling, Harding also ignored that.

There may have been a very personal dispute going on or some kind of personality issue. Faith was a small town. Neal and Harding would have had to have known each other quite well. Perhaps they had had run ins with each other before and this dispute proved more than each man and the friends and supporters each had could countenance. Neal was, after all, a fairly popular man in Faith. While there were those, no doubt, who did not like Neal, Harding also probably rubbed some people the wrong way with his money.

In any case, Harding was a businessman and he must have justified himself as simply trying to protect his own business interests. Neal did owe him the money, and apparently did pay the delinquent bill after the mayor intervened. But, Harding was not satisfied. He was not going to be bullied by the City of Faith over how to run his telephone company. If the town was going to demand that Harding reinstall Neal’s telephone service, then Harding wanted the town to promise to make good on any future liabilities. He asked for a $30 deposit to reconnect the phone, which would have been about $250 in today’s dollars.

If you’ve ever had a falling out with a modern phone company, then you know that Henry Harding was either very prescient about the direction of the consumer telecommunications business, or he was simply just being a smart businessman. If you let the phone company disconnect your service today for nonpayment, then you know you are going to face a hefty deposit for getting your service back. Well, both Neal Crowley and the town refused to pay a deposit and were intent on getting that phone reconnected.

One suspects that the cost of lawyers and going to court – even in those days – was substantial. It is likely that this case quickly escalated into tremendously bruised feelings and hardened positions on both sides. Each side – Harding and the City of Faith – put their hired lawyers to the test. For the time and the place, this may have been akin to the showdown at the O.K. Corral—just not as violent.

The town argued in the Meade County Circuit Court that, “Without such telephone connection law and order is jeopardized and the safety of the people of Faith imperiled. The telephone has been out for more than three months.” After consultation with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, the court found that the City Council resolution requiring reconnection of service was a lawful order, and Harding was ordered again to reconnect Neal’s phone.

We don’t know how quickly Neal had his telephone service restored, but it was restored. Neal continued to be the Chief of Police of Faith for many years afterward. Henry Harding’s business interests continued to expand. In 1958, he purchased the Farmers State Bank in nearby Dupree. Neal and Harding must have run into each other from time to time after that, although we don’t know what might have been said between the two men. Most likely, each man made a grudging peace with the other if for no other reason than the intention to continue living in Faith. I would not have liked to have been standing nearby, though, if either man ever encountered the other in the local bar.

--Mike Crowley

September 18, 2008

Babe Mansbridge

Babe was the local cattle buyer around Thunder Butte when I was growing up. Babe was slightly built, English and scholarly looking, about 5'10”, 165 pounds, brown hair, gray eyes, and tough as rawhide.

I don't know where Babe came from or where he went - he is deceased now - but when he rode bucking horses around Thunder Butte country, he was as well known and respected as Santa Claus.

According to everything I have read, Babe was the first man to ever ride Tipperary . "Ride him" means he was the first man to ever stay on Tipperary until the end of a timed ride while obeying the rules of Saddle Bronc riding and not being thrown off the horse. Tipperary is a legend onto his own. Books have been written and records kept on this famous horse, "that couldn't be rode".

Just to fluff out the incident of Babe being the first, or only man, to ever ride Tipperary: Yakima Canutt, Cowboy star, movie actor, and director of Rebel without a Cause was alleged to have ridden Tipperary in his Thunder Butte days. However, it was also alleged that Tipperary at the time was either old and near death or sick from the constant attempts by young cowboys to ride him.

But, back to Babe Mansbridge; Babe was a cattle buyer and he first came to my attention, as a kid, because my brother Joe worked for him. Babe traveled around Thunder Butte country either on his saddle horse or in his 1937 Plymouth auto. He and my brother Joe would travel from ranch to ranch, mark the cattle they wanted to buy, arrange with local cowboys to cut out the marked cattle, drive them to a central gathering place, then ship the cattle off to the best market - usually Sioux City, Iowa or Chicago, Illinois.

Babe was a popular cattle buyer, he always paid a fair price, knew his cattle and handled the deal expeditiously. When one considers the mechanics of cattle buying, it becomes evident the buyer was a very intelligent man. He had to know the age of a cow, the weight and condition, and all of this he had to determine while riding past or through a herd of milling cattle. It was necessary to know these things because he sold the shipment by age and weight.

Babe had two children, to my knowledge - June who was nearly my age and Freddie who was several years younger. They were both friends of mine in high school. The last time I talked to June she lived in Spearfish, South Dakota, and Freddie lived somewhere on the East Coast.

Since my brother Joe worked for and with Babe for a long time, I guess Babe assumed that I knew cattle, so one night he had a big shipment to go out of Lemmon, on a cattle train for Chicago, and Babe gave me a nice wage to oversee the loading of the cattle train. Well, he also hired a couple of goofy guys to do the actual loading, a specialty in itself.

The long and short of this story is the two goofy guys were not taking orders from a high school kid and they proceeded to load their own way. When the train pulled out about 4:00 a.m., one poor bedraggled yearling steer was left over. There was no way for me to get him on to a moving train, so I had to go back and tell Babe the news. It did not set well with him. After all, that steer was a total loss and it probably ruined his profit on a couple of car loads of steers.

Babe Mansbridge was one of those unforgettable people who moved in and out of my life for years on and around Thunder Butte Mountain. And by the way, Babe Mansbridge eventually went on to win the World's Champion Saddle Bronc Bucking Contest of British Columbia in the mid 1930`s.

--John Crowley