Long Time Gone
If you liked the October 19th article about the Disappearance of the Great American Buffalo, You Might Be Interested in What Happened at Standing Rock Last Week
A herd of Buffalo appear out of nowhere during Lakota Sioux peaceful protest of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline project. The project crosses sacred land and could potentially threaten their clean water source.
The Civil War has just ended. The North is experiencing a boom of industrialization and growth, and an expansive market has opened up for beef. Meanwhile, down in Texas, there are between 3 and 5 million wild cattle roaming the hills—not the docile cattle found in other parts of the country. These were Longhorns, mainly known for the four to seven foot spread of their horns and their less than calm temperament.
Most people who grew up watching Westerns were swept away by the romance on the big screen. It’s a natural enough reaction. Spend enough hours in a dark theater munching (preferably buttered) popcorn with the likes of Eastwood or McQueen (not to mention the Duke, Coop, Fonda or Stewart) staring down from the big screen, and you’ll gladly join the ranks of those who swear that, in the old days on the frontier, good guys were always clean with nice boots and really smart, loyal horses while the bad guys all wore dirty clothes and had bad teeth.
In my opinion, one of the more unpleasant aspects of an election season is the never ending quest of the media to find “dirt” in a candidate’s past. While it may be—and, at times, probably is—important to learn of the smudge on an individual’s record of personal history, it occasionally feels like a point learned long ago is being rubbed in. No one is perfect. Everyone, even those we view as heroes, has those proverbial skeletons in their closet.
When first learning the history of this area, it’s natural to focus on the big events as being those that tell the story of the past. The bloody conquest and banishment of indigenous people who had roamed these plains for centuries. The first ranches, some so vast that their founders, who might have been common men in other places, became, in this place, a new kind of king. The settlers rolling in, with circumstances more humble but dreams that were just as big, building towns only to move them again and again in pursuit of the location they hoped would guarantee the prosperity they sought. The arrival of the railroads with their endless miles of track that would change a land that had been unchanged since time immemorial. Lines appearing on maps that proclaimed counties.
Just before noon on March 14, 1930, three men walked into the Manter Bank in Manter, Kansas. Several minutes later, after brandishing “rifles, shotguns and six-shooters”, John Walker, Andrew Halliday, and Clyde “Shorty” Ray, came back out of the bank carrying roughly $4000 in cash. They then got into a Model A Ford and started up the engine. The three men had done this before. Walker, 41 and from Joplin, Halliday, 24, and Ray, 22, both of Webb City, Missouri, reportedly had known each other for much of their lives. If they had headed east, they might have lived lives that turned out differently. But they didn’t head east. They headed west, toward Colorado. And, in so doing, they sealed their fate.