Heard Around the West


    Jeff Widen photo
  • cop on a mountain bike

    Cody Enterprise

Old myths die hard, especially when perpetrated by Hollywood. On the Flathead Reservation in western Montana, tourists regularly want to know: "Where are the flat heads?" reports the Great Falls Tribune. And some people visiting the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Mont., expect Native Americans to live in tepees and to wear feathered bonnets - that's the way Western movies and Western art portray them. For 30 years, museum curator Loretta Pepion says she's taken bizarre questions in stride. After all, the first time she met an Eskimo, she reveals, "I couldn't wait to ask him, 'Do you still live in an igloo?' "

The Hollywood myth may breed ignorance but it also creates a market, particularly in Germany. Representatives of Native American tribes traveled to Berlin recently for the world's biggest tourism trade show "in a reverse voyage of discovery," reports AP. Oregon's Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla and the Blackfeet of Montana have learned that Germany has a love affair with all things Indian. There's even a movie genre known as "Indianerfilme"; in these plots the bad guys are the cowboys and the Indians always win.

Four dead white guys had their faces lifted recently, and it cost taxpayers some $56 million. Maybe that's a cut-rate price, since the stone faces of former presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt are 60 feet high. What's truly odd, if you happened to read about the refurbishment in the April 26 San Francisco Examiner, is that South Dakota's Mount Rushmore is reported to be "in Yellowstone National Park."

Sometimes one person's dream can be the start of a nightmare. Debi and Floyd Patterson built their dream house in Durango, Colo., and now critics are throwing beer cans into their yard. An underground newspaper, the Snowdown Sneer, even featured a black-and-white version of the pink house in a front-page coloring contest. The problem isn't so much size - though 5,300 square feet isn't tiny - or its roof and towers - covered in bright copper - or even its location - highly visible on a hill below a local landmark. The real irritant for locals fed up by the boom in big houses is apparently the color; some have dubbed it "Pepto-Bismol pink." "People have said the house is unnatural, but it is a color found in God's palette," Debi Patterson says. Though she has gotten mail urging her to "Go back to New York!" she's never been there. The 20-year resident of Durango says she loves her house and is not about to repent or repaint. "I've known too many people along my path who have wanted to rob me of my joy," she told The Denver Post. "I can't give in to them."

Farming, like smoking, can be dangerous to your health; only now there's a new menace: killer hay bales. One person can roll up the 1,500-pound bales, but between 1992-'95, the giant cylinders of hay killed 46 people, either by falling and crushing them or causing a tractor to tip over, AP reports. The big bales became popular with many farmers 20 years ago, replacing square bales that had to be "bucked" by a crew of hands.

In some towns in the West, cops can sound plaintive: They want assault weapons or the freedom to pursue criminals speeding out of town - just like big-city cops. In Cody, Wyo., two policemen might want more water bottles. Thanks to an anonymous donor, two new mountain bikes showed up at police headquarters, and now two officers have become highly visible as they glide their way up and down streets. While it took "quite a bit" to get in shape, the pedaling patrolmen told the Cody Enterprise, their "stealthiness" has been enhanced by doing without the internal combustion engine.

Smokey Bear never talks, and come to think of it, we've never seen him sit, but he has come perilously close to endorsing a car. The inspector general at the U.S. Department of Agriculture said he became outraged when he learned that the National Forest Association, which raises money for national forests, got $1.6 million and the use of 34 Subaru cars for two years for agreeing to send Smokey to major car shows. There, Smokey and a Subaru Forester sport utility vehicle would pose for photos with kids. After Alaska Republican Don Young heard testimony from Inspector General Rodger Viadero, he said the agency spokesbear had been demeaned into "kicking tires at auto shows." The deal has been canceled, reports Scripps-McClatchy.

A spill of untreated sewage in Portland, Ore., was traced back to the government office that runs the area's stream protection program. Officials were "flushed with embarrassment," reports the Oregonian, when they found that two of their bathrooms dumped directly into the Willamette River.

Columnist Sam Williams, writing in Oregon's McKenzie Valley Weekly Newspaper, believes he's a true Westerner: He can think big. So he's been planning a water grab along the lines of developers who proposed towing icebergs and diverting the Columbia River to Los Angeles. Compared to those projects, Williams says filing for water trapped as ice on the moon seems right on target. Filing has been a complicated process, he allows, though devising a delivery system was a snap. "Since all water falls at sometime from the sky, I assured them (the state watermaster) that the accepted use of gravity would apply here." But Williams isn't greedy. On vacation trips to the moon in the next century, he assures us, "your first drink is on Sam."

Timber bosses meeting in Washington state recently admitted they're feeling glum. What with a road-building moratorium and strict limits on logging to protect spotted owls and soon, salmon, the industry faces "a very tough time," said Bob Dick, a manager for the Northwest Forestry Association. "We don't know which way to turn," he told the Oregonian. Washington Republican Sen. Slade Gorton's triple negatives didn't make the 150 managers feel any better when he pointed out that no protesters had besieged the group. "You may think of that as progress," Gorton said. "I'm not sure that it's not an indication that we lost, and they don't need to picket anymore."

Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

High Country News Classifieds