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Know the West

Heard around the West



The Week magazine celebrated Elsie Eiler, 71, of Monowi, Neb., as the most powerful person in her town. She’s also the only person in her town. When her husband died last year, the population halved. But Eiler said she’s not leaving: "I like it here." Too bad many others don’t appreciate freedom from traffic jams and small-town living, as Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and the Dakotas continue to search for ways to stop a steady population exodus. Free land seems to help. USA Today reports that Ellsworth, Kan., and at least five other towns in the state have been successful in luring families by giving them lots for homes and sometimes eliminating taxes. The New York Times adds that Crosby, N.D., throws in a free membership to the Crosby Country Club along with a building lot. Newcomers say life can be good where people are few, a commute takes four minutes and there’s no crime. Isolation also isn’t total, now that interaction with the world comes easily through the Internet and e-mail. Still, it’s a hard sell to lure locals back and attract city folk fed up with small apartments. Catchy slogans are thought to help. Lincoln, Kan., says it’s "The size of a dime with the heart of a dollar," northwestern North Dakota admits, "We have four distinct seasons — three are absolutely beautiful, one is very distinct," and Atwood, Kan., asks, "Where else can you enjoy a cup of coffee at the local café, and everyone there is your friend?!!!!!"


A full-page ad for a Toyota SUV in Backpacker magazine features the big truck precariously parked on the down slope of what looks like a giant-bouldered sandstone cliff. How the vehicle got there — and how it was muscled back out again — are two unsolved mysteries; let’s hope the brakes held for the photo shoot. The ad’s headline is no help, though it is an unintentional hoot: "NO INTELLIGENT LIFE OUT HERE. JUST YOU." Well, we’re not so sure about "you," either.


Does West Hollywood have a double standard for beauty? Movie actors can smooth out their wrinkles with Botox and liposuction away their flab, but they may no longer be allowed to "improve" the looks of their pets through ear cropping or tail docking. It’s all for the good of the animals, says Mayor Paul Duran. West Hollywood has already declared that pets are the wards of their "guardians," and last year, the town began regulating the pet-grooming industry. The town’s latest target is any surgical procedure that doesn’t have a medical rationale. That would include declawing cats or silencing the barks of dogs, says the Los Angeles Times.


Denver police botched the capture of an alleged serial rapist, but when the suspect, Brent J. Brents, was said to be heading west on Interstate 70, Glenwood Springs cops took up the chase. You might assume that small-city police weren’t up to snuff, says the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, especially since their most recent coup was nabbing two men accused of stealing knickknacks and sewing materials from downtown stores. But the local police did everything right: They staked out the highway, forced Brents onto unfamiliar roads through town, and then arrested him without incident once he was trapped on a dead-end street.


The little town of Hotchkiss, population 1,000, asked residents a big question recently: What would they like to see in this western Colorado town 10 years from now? Even though it’s still a ranching area, we find one answer — as printed in The North Fork Merchant Herald — a little odd: "Need reasonable or low-cow, high-speed Internet access."


A conversation in Bozeman about President Bush ended with one man in the hospital and another accused of pistol whipping. The dispute began when Matthew Logan Doddy, 23, called President Bush "incompetent and stupid," reports the Bozeman Chronicle. The man he was talking to "apparently disagreed." But it was a third man who ended up with 11 stitches to his head. He made the mistake of trying to stop the discussion.


An unseasonable spring "set off the alarm clock a little early for hibernating bears in Montana," says the Missoulian. Melting snow leaking into high-altitude dens woke up some of the bears, and some must have emerged ill-tempered as well as hungry. One bear killed four goats in Kalispell; another, which had denned in a city park in Missoula, had to be killed in March after it started rooting around in garbage and approaching people. State wildlife biologists say food sources for bears exist now, but they’re concerned about a dry summer.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are often shared in the column, Heard around the West.