'Slaughtered hulks'

  Dear HCN:


A few days ago I witnessed something that challenged my concept of the person I thought surely I was. At 46, I have lived in Montana over half my life, most of that time in the rugged area near Cooke City. I have lived the life of the "manly man." Hunter, logger, log cabin builder: manly things, rugged stuff. I have killed large animals and conveyed them long distances on foot, no horse or fourwheeler for me. I'm tough. I'm not squeamish or sentimental.


But a few days ago, I saw a field of dead bison near Gardiner, teams of men hacking on the huge beasts. The sight of the men working on the dead animals in itself did not disturb me as much as the entire scene. A five-acre pasture strewn with a dozen or so bison in a meticulous randomness, as though dropped without disturbing the grazing of their neighbors. No visible signs of pursuit. Perhaps they were all dropped at once. I didn't stop to ask for details.


For me, the scene triggered a disturbing sense of archetypal atavism. In the seconds it took to drive past, I was overcome with compassion - with a painful recollection of what it means to be a Westerner. The origins of a seemingly interminable conflict were symbolized by these magnificent creatures lying down, as though asleep. Their huge muscular bodies incapable of sensational death postures, they lay down with a dignity befitting their ancient status. They lay down without a struggle, content to leave the struggle to us. To let us agonize over their fate and our own. To confront ourselves and labor for answers to questions we won't ask.


I am not who I thought I was. I will not forget the slaughtered hulks and the men hacking.





Jim Barrett


Cooke City, Montana


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