It was one of those classic Rocky Mountain mornings in the early 1700s. It was a time that would be captured on some future picture post card that would be mailed back East or to Europe summoning the hordes, luring the White man West, defining someone’s concept of civilization. It was one of those cool, crisp spring mornings where fish leaped skyward and the forests teemed with game. It was quiet.
Two Ute braves, Crooked Sky and Curious Eagle sat contentedly at the confluence of the mighty Yampa River and its overachiever cousin, Mad Creek. They were dug bait and carried long poles fashioned from the limbs of a less than enthused quakie which had the unfortunate luck to be rooted on a nearby bank. They harvested fish like their brother the Grizzly but with a few human amenities. That evening hundreds of trout engage in a feeding frenzy oblivious to the uninvited dinner guests who stalk them.
“There, the big ones hang back by the bank hoping to elude predators like us,” started Crooked Sky. “Caste out farther and you will distract them with a grasshopper. T”hose fish can’t resist a fresh grasshopper.”
“They are far too well fed to be snapped up,” said Curious Eagle. “It’s as if elk munch on the grass beneath my lodge or drink the water hauled by my wives.”
Both braves sit quite still, staring into the water. If the fish do not bite this morning there is always tomorrow. Many pounds of berries are still stored away and there is enough buffalo jerky to last well into the fall. The two anglers are simply more interested in trying out their new poles than in catching a fish.
“It was that big-nosed Pawnee that showed us how to fashion the pole,” laughed Curious Eagle. “He could finish the job and hook a fish for us at least! I did not like him much and after he had gone I noticed that I was missing my lucky arrowhead that I had carried for many years.”
“Maybe his magic is only in design,” said Crooked Sky. “He was a strange one, especially considering his stories of the square house builders from across the great water,” frowned Curious Eagle. “He says the whites shoot game for sport. He says they crop their hair and wear too many clothes, especially the women, even in the summer. This can not be true. Why would someone do that?”
“If this is true then they appear to be a very unhappy people,” Curious Eagle mused. “I just hope they are content to stay where they are. Our hunting lands have no need of their footprints. These whites, if they really exist, appear to be bad medicine. They have little honor,” he continued, “and are said to cut down the forests, bleed the rivers, trap animals for money and pierce the skin of our mother, the earth.”
“I think that Pawnee was pulling our leggins, either that or he’s smoking too much kinick-kinick,” stressed Crooked Sky. “Why would these whites come here? What is here for them? How could they ever get here? The mountains will protect us from these devils just as they have protected us from the Cheyenne and the Arapaho .”
“The Pawnee insists black-haired whites in armor have already stirred up trouble throughout the land of the Bannock, the Shoshone and the Navajo,” said Curious Eagle. “It is only a matter of time before they come over these mountains. He says they seek the yellow rock and dig for other treasures. I have seen such rock,” he added. “They also carry idols on crosses and diseases.”
Crooked Sky then smiled and told his friend not to worry.
“I thought we came here to fish,” he said.


One hundred years later, lodged in a small clearing in the shadow of Gore Pass are mountain men William Sublette, Jim Bridger, Thomas Fitzpatrick and John Colter. While waiting for the arrival of compatriots Old Bill Williams and Jedediah Smith they have become distracted by a large jug of corn whiskey which serves as a spirituous campfire. The fur trade is at its height and it was rendezvous time in the Rockies.
“Where the hell are the Utes?” asked Bridger as he spat a wad of chew from somewhere behind his long, shanty beard.
“They don’t like to show up too early,” answered Sublette. “They always get into a fight with the other tribes. Those guys are spooky but they aren’t much at haggling. Last year over on the Green River I traded them three broken down horses for a slew of beaver pelts. Then a few of them got mad and wanted their pelts back,” he said. “I had to whip three of them just to get back to my camp!”
The group looks up to observe the arrival of about twenty Sioux warriors loaded down with an assortment of furs and provisions for at least a month. The contingent carefully picked its way down a steep ledge and meandered into the clearing.
“They’re watching us,” whispered Colter, “out of the corner of their eyes. Warriors watch that way. They never look straight at anything, be it game, horses or adversaries. That’s the best way to deal with women too,” he laughed.”These Lakota are masters at life.”
“Here comes Old Bill and that sawed off Kit Carson,” said Sublette. “That bastard Carson is all dressed up in his soldier outfit. He thinks he runs these mountains. What a clown.”
“Where is Jedediah?” asks Bridger. “He hasn’t missed a rendezvous in years.”
“I hear he’s having trouble with his Cheyenne squaw,” explains Sublette. “She wants him to give up his wandering and stay closer to home. I think he’s getting old.”
“That’s why I change squaws every year whether I need to or not,” smiled Bridger. “It keeps life more exciting. The last thing I need in the summer is some squaw on my ass. I had this woman in St. Louis who was crazy about me but…”
“We’ve heard it all before, Jim,” sneered Fitzpatrick. “Tell us something new.”
“I’ll tell you something new,” offered Sublette. “When I was in St. Joseph last spring I saw at least 20 wagon trains packing up and headed our way. It’s gonna get tougher to stay out of the way of progress,” he added. Pretty soon we’ll have to go back to Europe, since they’ll all be over here..”
“From what I can tell the fur business has peaked anyway,” said Fitzpatrick. “Silk hats will soon be in vogue in Paris and London and the dirt farmers are cutting down the forests and chasing the game north to the Tetons anyway.”
Carson and Williams arrive at the campsite and exchange greetings with the other trappers. Williams appears already quite drunk and his mumbling something about city folk. Carson begins a cavalier monologue that describes the situation on the plains.
“On the other side of the Missouri the roads are packed with Conestogas and pilgrims from the east,” he said. “Sooner or later they’ll arrive here and ruin it for the rest of us.”
“So what!” mimics Colter. “We’ll all be six foot under by then. The sod busters can have the place if they want it. Just let them try to grow anything worth eating, the fools!”
“You’re all nuts,” says Fitzpatrick waving his arms in rebuttal. “This country is too severe for those pansies. They haven’t got what it takes to survive these winters or get along with the Indians. They’d starve after a month.”
“Don’t be so sure of that, Tom,” says Carson. “You haven’t been back east for a decade. Those folks have their eye on land, my friend, and will continue to come West until the entire frontier is harnessed and plowed under.”
“Different kind of folks, ain’t they,” quipped Sublette. “Once they find what they think they’re looking for they do everything they can to change it back to what they left behind. Quit hoggin’ that jug, Bill.


Three tired coal miners have just completed their respective shifts and are sitting in a small bar on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs. It is September of 1939 and they are preoccupied with developments in Europe. The Germans have invaded Poland and the Japanese, who have already colonized Manchuria and carved up China, are on the move in the Pacific. The nations of the world are choosing up sides and the much-feared conflict is on. Being of draft age the three are concerned with a lot more than the war’s affect on the price of coal.
“We’ve had it pretty easy here, compared to a lot of those people in Europe,” said one miner, a red-headed man named Jim Noyce, whose uncle was killed at Belleau Wood in 1917. “This valley is only for those who call it home. The rest of the madmen don’t even know we exist, and I like it that way.”
“I hear there are about 200 miners moving here as part of mobilization and the war effort,” offered a second man, named Milo Kopcek who voiced concern over relatives still living in Moravia. “I see this war spreading all across the globe. The coal companies have already announced plans to strip mine that country west of Oak Creek and down into Twenty Mile Park. We could be in for the long haul,” he frowned.
“And some of them are even talking about skiing,” said a third miner, a tall, thin Swede who had lost his small ranch near Phippsburg during the those bad times they call The Great Depression. “Not just skiing to get around, mind you, but skiing for recreation. It’s big in Europe and they say we have much better snow than the Alps.”
“That’s crazy,” said Noyce. “Who in their right mind would travel all the way to this valley to ski down a hill or two? I think these skier types will all be back in Denver by spring. This is a mining town and that’s all it will ever be,” he added. “Take it or leave it but you’ll never change it.”

Brightly clothed figures stack firewood outside an abandoned shack near where Mad Creek meets the Yampa. Although they look ragged they take pride in the fact that they are surviving off the land with an occasional subsidy from a worried parent back east. It looks like snow.
“Steamboat is the ultimate rejection of the urban experience,” said one long-haired man in his early twenties. “The world won’t find us here. Just look at the dilapidated shacks, the grimy dirt streets and the brutally cold weather.”
It was 1968 and another war was raging, this time in Southeast Asia. These were the children of the Fifties that had begun to descend on Steamboat Springs, and the Rockies in general. They had arrived with a few belongings crammed into micro buses and Jeeps, Walden Pound imprinted securely in their psyche. They were mesmerized by the mountains and quickly engaged in systematic squatting despite the grumbles of longtime residents who saw them as an annoyance.
“It takes a certain kind of person to live in the mountains,” added a young girl who appeared to be stuck in her teens. “But we must preserve this beautiful place. I’m worried about people coming here and ruining it for those of us that are already here,” she sighed. “When I was in Denver for the Dylan concert last weekend I heard lots of people talking about establishing a large commune up Quarry Mountain.”
“So what,” snapped a beaded, bearded man who tried to look like John Lennon. “As long as they are hip they should be welcomed. We need people who think like us in this valley if we are to take control of our destiny here,” he explained. “Things must first change in the Rockies before they will change on the rest of the planet.”
“How many more?” asked the first man. “How many more before the place turns into another circus?”
“That’s an absurd question,” answered the bearded man. “There’s plenty of room here for everyone if we live right and work together for the common good.”
“Right on!” shouted the teenage girl. “Together we can build a utopia where everyone has enough to eat, enough dope to smoke and a house to live in. Sooner or later even the old timers will come around.”
“The key is to encourage a society right here where greed is given no quarter,” said the first man. “If we are committed we will reap the harvest of peace and harmony for all. It is attainable here, far away from the insanity. Just look at the river. It hasn’t changed since the Indians first fished it,” he stressed. “Our future is only as bright as we will allow it to be.”
“It is our future,” said the girl. “We can carve a perfect society, like the Indians had, out of the wilderness. Look,” she chirped, “I found an arrowhead!”

Just a stone’s throw away sit the ghosts of Crooked Sky and Curious Eagle. Both just shake their heads.
“These whites are as silly as the first ones who came here centuries ago,” said Crooked Sky. “They still think they are the first to discover this valley and they still think everything is oh so pristine. They will learn like those before them,” he added.
“Hey, I think that young maiden found my lucky arrowhead,” said Spread Eagle. “I lost it fishing right here a long time ago.”
– Kashmir Horseshoe

Filed Under: Fractured Opinion


RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.