Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Life, death, and windows to the soul


I have been trained to notice things.  And remember, ... to tell others.
• • •
The Grackles (green-hooded blackbirds) seem to swarm in the fall, diving in groups, and taking advantage of the remaining warm days to play among the still-leafy trees. They dine on acorns in the Gambel oak and hundreds ascend up into the clouds and then swiftly swoop low near buildings and trees, twisting and turning as a group, high in the air and then right back above the ground’s surface, turning on a dime. Dodging in and out under the eves of buildings, and then through under the power poles.
The clean glass in the window presents a problem.
It looks like a secret passage, in under the roof, as the light shines through. But at 35 miles per hour, it is deadly.
Swoop, turn, weave, climb, angle, bank, swoop, turn … THUD!
I was watching them from the back window when I heard one of them hit the large windows. My daughter was right there at the window when it hit.
“Did a bird just hit the window?” I asked.
She had an unpleasant look on her face. Like she was almost to cry, or be sick.
“It hit, and it is still alive in the grass out there,” she observed.
I better go take a look, I thought, and went through the garage to get gloves and a shovel.
Sure enough, it was still alive, but not doing so well. Blood near its beak, and it had  an addled look to it. Misty eyes, pain, maybe? And confusion.
“What are you doing?” she opened the door and asked, as I picked up in the shovel and started to carry it around to the side yard. Out of her view, near the deadly window.
“I think I am going to have to kill it,” I stammered. “The dogs or the cats will get it, if I don’t, and I don’t think it will ever be right again.”
I looked at its eyes again -- and the fact that I was able to slide the shovel under it, and carry it some distance with no movement – well, it would never be right again.
But, still. My daughter thought I was wrong.
I knew I was not, and asked her to go back inside.
Out of her vision, in the green grass of the side yard, I took another look at the foggy eyes of the addled bird, and knew what I had to do.
As hard, and as high as I could, I swung the heavy irrigation shovel directly at the bird lying in green grass.
That ended it, at least for the foggy-eyed bird.
• • • 
Of the Shoshone, no one can remember exactly how it came to be.
Black bears say that Wakini was just feeding at an ant hill, when Wakinu, strong, grey grizzly, came to him and rudely stuck his paw in the ant hill as well.
A great fight ensued, with grey and black hairs flying on every side. Black bear Wakini was, to some's surprise, victorious.Wakini was, by natural law of course, in the right, for no animal may ever touch another's prey.
Wakinu, like a defeated warrior, was forced to leave forever.
Wakinu wailed and lamented, but the tribe's laws are inexorable. And so, he had to go, one last time wading through familiar streams, taking a last look at the familiar pines, and saying farewell to the valley he had lived in all of his life.
He could not see for tears, and so he failed to notice that he was making straight for the Snow Country. Suddenly he fell into a deep snowdrift. Clambering out with difficulty, he wiped his eyes and took a look round.
There was nothing but white, unblemished snow everywhere.
"I'm sure to find a trail soon," the bear said to himself, and set out on his way once more. His grey coat had turned completely white with the snow, ice, and bitter wind.
But Wakinu took no notice of anything and walked on and on, until he reached a strange land in which a deep, frosty night reigned supreme. Somewhere in the far distance the gale could still be heard, yet here there was no but that made by his own footfalls on the frozen snow.
Above him glowed the night sky, while not far away, on the very fringe of the Snow Country and the heavens, a broad white trail could be seen ascending the sky.
Wakinu ran, hardly touching the ground, mesmerized by that gleaming trail. Another leap, and he found himself in the air, shaking the snow from his coat; light as a feather, he soared up and up.
The animals who were awake that night saw, for the first time, a wide white trail in the sky, and on it -- a grey bear.
"Wakinu has found the Bridge of the Dead Souls and is on his way to the Eternal Hunting-grounds," said the wise black bear Wakini.
Grizzly Wakinu really did go to the Eternal Hunting-grounds. The only thing left behind -- snow he had shaken from his coat.
And  there in the sky to this day -- white snow.
Today, it  sometimes called, "the Milky Way." But the path to the Eternal Hunting-grounds is the same way taken by the grey grizzly Wakinu.
 • • • 
According to the Cheyenne, when the world was created, Death did not occur.
But as the Earth became so overcrowded and eventually there wasn't room for any more beings.The Chiefs held Council to resolve.
One felt that it would advantageous if some people died, went away for a while, and then returned. Coyote felt this plan would not work. The problem would continue because, eventually, when all the people returned from the dead, still, there would not be enough food. Others could not see the merit in Coyote's thinking, however. And they did not want their relatives to be gone forever. It would only cause unhappiness in the World.
Coyote stood alone with his plan.
The medicine man built a grass house that faced the east. When there was death, the body was placed in the house. The spirit of the dead was called by singers to the house. When the spirit came, to the happiness of all the people, the dead person would become alive.
When the first person died and was laid to rest in the house, and the spirit summoned through song,  Coyote rushed to close the door because of a strong whirlwind.
The whirlwind, unable to enter the house, swept by the dead person and eternal life ended, and death began.







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Friday, August 17, 2012

Barely could write, fought with Bat, set town afire

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Newspapering back in the Victorian era displayed a different face, I fear… perhaps one with more character, but much rougher edges. At least the characters were in residence at the time. Take for example, Otto Floto, fight promoter, sports writer, circus owner, and who also has ties to the Cripple Creek District and is thought to be a likely candidate for helping start the 1896 Cripple Creek fire.
“In the early 1900s Floto was The Denver Post’s sports editor, and a drunk, barely literate, loud-mouthed columnist who didn’t believe in punctuation marks, wrote about fights he secretly promoted on the side, got into shooting matches with the legendary Wild West gunman (turned Denver sportswriter) Bat Masterson and penned such headlines as ‘Local Team Like a Sweater, Worsted,’” wrote the modern Post’s columnist Woody Paige in 2007.
“He actually had operated a dog-and-pony show and provided rides home in his carriage for The Post’s co-owner Harry Tammen, who loved the name ‘Otto Floto’ and gave him a job – and later called the circus the newspaper bought ‘Sells-Floto.’ Floto died at 65, in 1929,” Paige wrote.
In 1896 in Cripple Creek, the first of two terrible fires began in the Red Light section.
“The tale of Jennie LaRue has gained as much notoriety in Colorado as that of Mrs. Leary’s cow in the great Chicago fire,” writes Jan MacKell in her book “Brothels, Bordellos, and Bad Girls.” “It all began on a windy spring day  -- April 25, 1896 – in Cripple Creek. A lone figure made his way down Third Street and on to Myers Avenue, turning in at the Central Dance Hall and heading up to the second floor. Upstairs was Jennie LaRue, ironing near a gasoline stove.  Some sources say the two argued when the angry visitor accused Jennie of stealing his money;  others say Jennie was upset because the man had missed a date with her. However it happened, the couple began to argue, then to physically fight. In the mayhem the stove overturned, quickly igniting the floor with spreading gasoline flames.”
MacKell noted that 3,600 were left homeless and the fire burned over a million dollars in buildings and belongings.
“Newspapers as far away as Denver did not hesitate to spew forth Jennie’s name, but most accounts left out the name of her fightin’ man. Over the years, various periodicals have narrowed the suspects down to three. One is an unnamed bartender from the Topic Theater. Another is a Mr. Jones, who ran a lunch counter at the Central. But the third suspect is most likely our man. He’s that fellow with the funny name, Otto Floto,” writes MacKell in several publications.
“Perhaps the most significant clue to Jennie’s mystery man lies in a marriage certificate filed at the El Paso County courthouse. Dated October 20, 1896, the document reveals the marriage of Otto C. Floto to one Jennie Ried. If the lovely Ms. LaRue was true to her profession and sported an alias, Ried could have been her legal surname.”
MacKell calls attention to the fact that, no one appears to have been held legally responsible for the devastating effects of the fire.
The 1896 Cripple Creek directory lists Floto as the manager of the Cripple Creek Bill Posting Company. Other sources have him as a bartender, and historian Marshal Sprague pegged him as the manager of the Butte Opera House. Maybe Mr. Jones, the bartender at the Topic, and Otto Floto were all rolled into one.
According to Robert K. DeArment, writer of “Bat Masterson: The Man and The Legend,” Floto was hired when he came to Tammen’s attention after a bout in Carson City, Nevada, and hired him as sports editor for his Denver paper, simply because he like his name.
“Tammen always claimed his name was so beautiful.”
Floto, according to DeArment, claimed to be the grandson of Friedrich von Flotow, composer of the opera “Martha.”
“Like Masterson, he had been kicking around frontier towns most of his adult life without finding a profession. At one time or another, he had been everything from a bill poster to a saloon keeper. He shared Bat’s love for the ring and had seen most of the major fights since the Sullivan –Kilrain battle of 1889, when he had been John L.’s timekeeper. He managed Bob Fitzsimmons’ theatrical tour and accompanied Peter Maher on a trip to England,” wrote DeArment.
Gene Fowler, who began his famed newspaper career as an assistant to Floto at the Post, described him thusly.
“Otto Floto was a big man in every way. He was a merry man much of the time, but when offended, had the mein of an archbishop who had just heard the confession of Gyp the Blood.”
Masterson and Floto were originally friends but got crosswise over a business deal and a feud then raged for years in competitive papers in Denver.
As Fowler wrote of the rivalry, “Floto And Bat Masterson … were life-long enemies. Both were past masters at appraising pugilists, being America’s foremost critics of pancratia. Let gladiator make one lack luster feint, the slightest error in leading, the least violation of rhythm in footwork, time of punches or coordination of brain and fist – and these Dr. Johnsons of sport would reprove the offender with galleys of bitter type.”
He recalled their now-famous scrap.
“Did they indulge in fancy steps, neat left hooks, graceful fiddling? Nay. They advanced like charcoal burners of the Black Forest, and began kinking each other in the groin! The event was richly symbolic of the critical poohbahs of any art, men who know every move, whether of pen, brush, violin bow or naked fist, and yet themselves can find no bridge from the academic to the practical.”
Fowler said the ineffective roundhouse rights from Floto and Masterson “stirred up more wind than the town had felt since the blizzard of 1883.”
An account in the Denver Times about the fight: “There was a mix, Bat using his cane he carried to good advantage.” Floto took flight according to the story, with Masterson in chase.
“I used to think I was a pretty good runner,” Masterson was quoted in the Times. “But that fellow started to pull away from me on the jump, and before we had gone ten feet I saw that it was all up with me and that I could never catch him, so I just stopped and stamped my foot like you do when you scare a dog, and you might not think it possible, but that fellow let out another link and was knocking big chunks out the time for a city block. He is the best runner I ever saw.”
When asked about his use of cane in the fracas:
“You see there are some fellows you can reason with and talk them into being decent, and there are others you have to beat to death to teach them that they have to be decent. These fellows have got to be decent or someone is going to beat them to death. I understand that my friend Floto is carrying a derringer. The next time I see him I am going to ask him to give it to me and I will pawn it. The darn thing cost $8 and you can pawn it easily for $5,” said Masterson according to the Denver Times.
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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Legend of the Hollywood


Been in a lot of bars my friend, pursuit has taken up much of my life.
Many a swinging door should’ve passed. Some trouble saying ‘no.’  Just ask my wife.
There is the Buckhorn and Bee, Wolf Hotel, St. George, Antlers and Zekes.
Millwood, Diamond Bell, Wynkoops, Town Pump, The Snort, and  Sally’s Peak.
Been in the “Face Bar,” Bull and Bear, Green Frog, The Mayor, and Humpy’s.
Last Dollar Inn, Rick’s, Stumbling Monks, Toronado, Bomb Shelter,  and Gilly’s.
Bangers,  Ebeneezer‘s, Hofbrau,  Holy Grale, Rustic, Purple Pig and McSorley’s.
But down near the river and back off of 145, was the start of them all, my friends.
The first cut is the deepest, that's where this old boy began his wayward life.

If you looked down street then, Taylors,  Akin Merc and old Tade’s.
Dropped off stacks at the long counter, rounded edges, big mirror, where history was made.
The Rose brothers were in there that day, and Johnson, and old Blue.
Watermelon, and Don Wallace, Manuel, Roelicker, One of the Grubs, and Shag, too.
Spec Dillard, Tommy Rowell,  John McEwen and a Randall (off to the side shootin’ pool.)
Juke box in corner still blarin’ as Ellis and the band not quite ready, sipped coffee from a cup.
Celebration in town tonight, if all goes as planned, Dolores was likely to liquor it up.
It was Escalante Day I assume, and all-class reunion, I am afraid.

The place was full of loggers, a cowboy and miner or two, folks from the forest, and those never worked.
Dam builders, hippies, tourists too, several housewives (who, because of a husband) had been irked.
Out in the street an arm wrestling contest was just about to get underway.
Chain saws buzzin’, fire trucks yelped, and those that could still see, watched the parade.
Football players recalled moments of fame, I was on the same team, but remember just a jerk.

And then in the bar, all hell broke loose. Music playing, sounded great --  part of neighborhood.
Took my first drink, laser Jim Beam, Wild Turkey or some concoction -- paralyzed, right where I stood.
“Please allow me to introduce myself,” said the fellow nearby. “I’m  man of wealth and fame.”
And I, the last devil in Dolores, had sympathy for him. In fact, I recognized him by his first name.
Don’t know which side I came down on that night.  For the forces of evil, or good.
But that is how it all got started, I guess.  Yes, the legend of the Hollywood.
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