Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This & That

I remember some really rotten press a while back for a small Indian tribe in Washington state. Seems a few eager beavers jumped in their boat one day and went hunting gray whales with a .50-caliber machine gun. As per the treaty stips, the tribe can hunt these endangered whales as a "cultural" thing, just like the good old days. But as always, a few zealots can crash a fun time. Harpoons, okay. Machine guns, torpedoes and depth charges are no-nos. If we ever did return to a "Buffalo Commons" on the High Plains, as some--myself, included--would love to see, I'd be dead set against any sort of similar deal with the former plains tribes. Hunting buffalo with helicopter gun ships, using land mines to bag elk, night vision goggles to stalk antelope, just don't seem cricket to me.

Speaking of the Buffalo Commons: Not only are all of my heroes cinematic cowboys, but all my heroes are cinematic cowboys who roam the prairie. Randolph Scott in Western Union, Gary Cooper in The Plainsman, Errol Flynn in They Died With Their Boots On, Joel McCrea in Buffalo Bill and Union Pacific. Every one of these men is either scouting the High Plains or riding roughshod the Platte or Smoky Breaks. There is no doubt in my mind that watching these movies as a wide-eyed kid shaped my attitudes toward that wonderfully overlooked void on the map known as the Great Plains.

Most folks from the East view that area which stretches between Kansas City and Denver, or between Omaha and Cheyenne, or between Oklahoma City and Santa Fe, or between Fargo and Great Falls, or between Moose Jaw and Calgary, or between Mud Rut and Jack Squat, as a necessary cross to bear in order to reach the mountains; as something to endure. Me? I see history. I see Cody atop his horse, shading his eyes from the sun with his hand as he sweeps the prairie from horizon to horizon; I see Randolph Scott thundering from the law through the Platte Breaks; I see Custer and Califerny Joe scouting the Powder; I see "Coop" and Calamity trying to escape the Sioux to warn the cavalry. I see sage and yucca where corn and wheat now stand; buffalo, where cows graze.

Stretching from the badlands of the Dakotas and the Sand Hills of Nebraska, to the high and dry plains of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, I would like to see men and women of vision working to set this region aside for posterity as a history zone; a land that can be allowed to return as it once was that future generations may visit, may ponder, may learn, may love.