Archive | January, 2013

98 Into Broadus

16 Jan

Da tells stories.  The best ones are about Montana.

The very best ones involve booze and blood and, usually, hot-rod cars.

One of my all-time favorites is this one…

Late 1950s.  Late Saturday night.  The only cowboy bar in Ashland, Montana.

Buzzing pink neon lit the wet gravel parkinglot outside, piled with snow at the edges.  Tailfins adorned the new shiny new cars, and the old ones were polished black.

The usual drinking and carousing filled the barroom that night, and Da was in the middle of it having a jolly old time when all hell broke loose.  Somebody kissed somebody’s girl who really belonged to somebody else’s brother, and they informed him, which sent him looking to get burly with the first someone, and he pointed the finger at the second someone.  And as the first haymaker flared toward the tin ceiling, the jukebox blared on…

I go out walking… after midnight… out in the moonlight… just like we used to do…

The jukebox blared on as the first wild haymaker missed its mark, followed by one that didn’t.

The scuffle of boots on the wooden floors, that unmistakable sound of fist slapping flesh and bone.

As the little tornado of a fight twisted, it pulled up more cowboys and Indians in its path.  Da qualified, to some degree, as both.  And he was more than happy to join the party.

Somewhere along the way, Billy Crick smashed a Bud bottle on the bar, ran up to Da and jabbed the broken edge straight into his mouth.  It pierced his tongue and the roof of his mouth and left him momentarily disoriented and bleeding.  His tongue swelled up, filling his mouth with purple meat and blood.

As the police pulled up to break up the fight, the cowboys bolted from the place like cockroaches from a kitchen sink when the light’s turned on at midnight.

Da, having recovered somewhat and sobered somewhat, got word that the Crick brothers were headed to Broadus, to finish up the evening with breakfast at a little all-night cafe and honkey tonk.

He and Swenson, the big Swede from the sawmill where he worked, headed to Broadus with another gentleman whose name I can’t remember.  They pulled up and Da saw them inside, behind the plate glass front of the restaurant, in the warm yellow glow of the dining room.  The three brothers were sitting at the bar, with their hats on the bar, eating plates of biscuits and gravy.

On autopilot by now, Da walked in, walked calmly up to Billy Crick and tapped him on the shoulder.  Billy turned around and received a big, fat Northern Cheyenne fist right in his face.  He fell off the stool in a heap, unconscious for a few seconds.  His brothers stood him up, and sat him back at the bar, and turned back around to finish their breakfasts.

They too realize that Da had just closed the circle on a vicious injustice.  All was right again in cowboy land that night.

He walked out of that honky tonk and back into the cold black air of Montana and tore off up the road, back to Ashland.

Thinking of this story, I sat down with my Takamine not too long ago and wrote this song.  It’s a take on the story, but I hope it captures some of the insane energy that must have been swirling through Powder River country that night.

Here’s to you, Da, the best storyteller I have ever known.