Rocks, invective, and generosity

  • Rancher Gene Hussey

    Candace Burns
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Did Idaho libel the feds?

SALMON, Idaho - Until a wolf was shot on Gene Hussey's ranch south of Salmon in January, he was just "Hussey," a prankster with a sharp tongue who lived without a phone.

Since the wolf's killing and Hussey's confrontation with three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents, the bachelor has been besieged by journalists and scrutinized by the public.

Hussey, who met the armed agents with rocks and a steady stream of the "F" word, has become a symbol of the old West. To those who believe ranchers have ruled the range without enough regulation, Hussey represents what's wrong. For those who believe government is getting too big and too demanding, Hussey is David fighting Goliath.

Hussey has bucked authority for years. At the one-room Iron Creek school where he and his siblings got the better part of their education, he and two other students once disassembled the school bell, then threw the parts into the Salmon River.

When he went to Washington, D.C., for a House subcommittee hearing about his confrontation last spring, he took a rock from his ranch and presented it to Fish and Wildlife Director Mollie Beattie. Next to the power, might and fanfare of the federal government, Hussey said, the rock looked puny even to Beattie.

"I may be a turkey, but I'm not a turkey all the time," Hussey said. "I like to scare the hell out of them right off. But now I've got some of the best friends I have in the government around here."

Hussey was born on Iron Creek in 1920, four years after his father bought the place. In 1937, three years after the Taylor Grazing Act was passed to control unbridled grazing on public lands, Hussey moved with his family to Oregon where he would stay for 20 years, not counting a stint in World War II.

In 1956, he returned to the ranch at Iron Creek, where he's lived ever since. While ranching, he nursed his parents through old age. Both died in their nineties.

While he has no phone, Hussey is hardly reclusive. Mornings, he may pop in at the Salmon River Coffee Shop where he flirts with the waitresses and ribs other ranchers. Evenings, he's a regular at high school athletic events.

"Hussey is the kind of guy who, when the wrestling team needs uniforms, the money mysteriously appears for them," said Lemhi County extension agent Bob Loucks. To fellow rancher Bruce Mulkey, "He's what this country used to be all about."

The writer works in Salmon, Idaho.

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