Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Man called Thunder Mountain

Hi all,

I have mentioned a fella called `Thunder Mountain' several times in the past on this blog or my story Blog. I thought I might explain a little about him today. I have a lot of funny little stories to share about `Mountain'. We have been good friends for many, many years and we regard each other as Brothers. I think enough of him that I wrote a Novel with him being the main `star' -- but set in 1840-1850 Montana. These stories take place in Texas.

Mountain, this buds for you ;-)

Thunder Mountain – His Story Thru My Eyes Yep, I remember the first time I met this fella we fondly all `Thunder Mountain’ .. well he wasn’t called that yet.. that’s a story in itself and a little farther along in this letter. We were at a `Mountain Man Camp out’ called a Rendezvous. The area where we were going to have our 3 day camp was near Columbus Texas. These outings were all done in pre-1840 fashion. That is guns, clothes and attitudes to be like the mountain men of the early Rocky Mountains. . Molly and I had gotten to the camp site early. We were setup in our lean-to well before this `skinny’ fella showed up. There was something about that guy that I just liked. Where we were backed-up into the edge of the tree line (Cedars), this guy was out in the middle of the cleared field. I watched as he put up his TiPi. Those things always fascinated me as well as seeing my first one put up by this fella. He work steadily, pole by pole and then up went the canvas skin. He wore a buckskin pants and no shirt. He had no beard and short hair. I found out later that he was in the Air Force in San Antonio. Yep, and he was skinny. But then, anyone who knows me can understand how I can call anyone skinny.

Anyway, He worked and I watched. I got curious and walked over closer to where he was but didn’t talk to him. This was my second `doing’ and I didn’t know many people there. I remember remarking to my wife Molly; I will meet this guy before the weekend was done. Boy was I right. My son, David was going through a test of manhood. That is, in our group back home, everyone was tested as to your ability in woodland skills. You were required to learn the old skills and become proficient in them. When you were ready, you were tested. If you passed, you earned a feather to go on your personal shield. My son was trying for his `fire feather’. For a nine year old, this was a pretty good test of skill. He had to start a fire with a `flint and steel’ and light a candle within 30 seconds… and he did it in 25 seconds.. A good job and another feather for his shield.. I was proud of him and decided to take him out into the woods for a `mans hunt’ as a reward. All we carried were hawks (tomahawks). We scared up an armadillo, killed it and cooked it. Word got around camp that me and my son had caught and killed this critter and everyone wanted to see us catch another; but alive. We went out and brought another one back in. Well we didn’t need two armadillos to eat so Molly came up with an idea. We tied a ribbon to the live animal (the dead one couldn’t run) and called for all the kids to come to the center clearing. About 30 kids showed up and I explained they would get on line .. I would get out front of them and turn it loose .. and who ever brought me the ribbon – received a prize. So there I am and back behind me is that skinny fella’s TiPi. I turned the frightened animal loose and it ran straight for the woods BUT then took a sharp left turn and headed for the ….. THE TiPi.

That crazy thing ran right into the side of that TiPi and bounced off. I just knew I was affixing to have to buy that Indian dwelling or get a butt kicking from that skinny fella.. Well, that critter hit the side another 2 or 3 times before the kids jumped him (the armadillo.. not the skinny guy). I went over later to apologize to the guy. He didn’t even know it had happened. He was inside and was wondering why all the kids were running around his TiPi. He introduced himself and his family. Mark Lockwood and I became friends from that day on.

I remember about a year later, I was putting on a doing for the `Texas Association of Buckskinners’. I had promised an outing for the club that would be remembered for a long time. Molly and I had more kinds of activities than they had ever seen. One of the contests was a Mountain Man Run where each person had to move along a path while achieving different goals before he could pass. For example, at one of the stops, the person had to trade for a trap (spring type), and set it before moving to the next event. From that point they had to, start fires, shoot muzzleloaders, throw hawks, and so forth. It was a real test of ones skills and a hell of a lot of fun. I was hanging around one of the stages where each person has to stop and receive instructions from an Indian Woman before they could pass to the finish line. Remember this is a timed event so they are moving through as fast as they could. When Mark ran up to the lady, he was already winded. She told him he could not pass until he satisfied her. Of course that led to a bunch of hoots and howls from the onlookers. She explained, grinning that Mark had to sing her an Indian Love song before he could leave. Many had just hoop and hollered; some just screamed at the sky. Mark took a deep breath, looked at the sky with his arms held out each side; palms up, he sang, “Thunder on the Mountain, Thunder in the grass.. Snuck up on Custer and shot him in the ….Hi ya hi ya hi .. hi ya hi.. hi ya hi hi hi ya hi.. He was allowed to pass with EVERYONE laughing and applauding.

That night at the council fire, I named him `Thunder Mountain’. I almost named him `Thunder on the Mountain’ but felt that would not be as I saw him. To the Indian `Thunder’ is a noise. To the Indian `Mountain’ is strength and endurance. I put the emphasis on the word MOUNTAIN and thus the name. And he has been a credit to that name ever since as well as my dearest friend.. From this point it gets kinds hazy. You see in our younger days we `partied hardy’ at night time while at these doings. I always called it `letting some steam off’ from the real world. These nights were ours and we enjoyed them. I remember a few nights … that I don’t remember very well ;-) Thank God and time that we grew-up a little since those days and nights... In those days Mountain and me were always together and that cause us to get into a lot of things.. some good, some not so good .. but never bad! I always seemed to pick on Mountain but always with the love of a friend. I remember one time going over to Mountains camp since he had some coffee hot and I was needing some. I took one drink and dumped it out on the ground and told him I would wait for some of Capt’n Jim's coffee to be ready. Grinning I walked away. It was 6 or 7 years (I said YEARS) later that Mountain told me that he thought I was serious and didn’t like his coffee. I always wondered why I hadn’t been invited back to his camp for coffee.. Now I know.

Picture of Mountain fleshing a hide to tan it.

We were camping up near Lampasas one year in a really neat place. The only thing we had to be careful of was a HUGE ditch eroded out in the flat ground behind the camp. The edges were sheer and about 15-20 feet deep. Now picture us playing poker and drinking beer. No, picture us playing poker and drinking lots of beer. The reason I mention the amount of beer is because you can only hold so much in. Well, nature called, Mountain to visit the cliff. He walked out in the darkness with no light and couldn’t see very well. He could see a tree and he was making his way to it. The only problem was the sheer drop-off cut in between where he was and the tree. We are sitting there playing when we heard a faint cry from the darkness; “Bites … Bites” . Yep Mountain had fallen off the cliff and was sprawled out at the bottom of the drop. I sent a crew way around to get down and get him back out of there. His ankle was hurt but it could have been much worst. He was lucky to have fallen where the ground, down there was wet and soft.. and it hadn’t rained. The rest of that weekend everyone would shout when Mountain walked by, “Look Out, Mountain”…. We renamed that buff `Lookout Mountain'!!

Mountain is a good man. I have never heard one person speak badly of him. Me, on the other hand was always in some conflict or another. I knew this guy that seemed to always pick on and bully Mountain. Mountain took it in stride as just fun… I didn’t like it one bit. I finally had enough and told that fella to back off my friend or he and I were going to have a real serious talk. Not only did that harassment stop but me and that other fella drifted apart. We are no longer friends and don’t even speak now. And the trade for Mountain was well worth it. I used to bring a jug of homemade wine to the doings… so did many others. We would sit around the fire and the jugs would make their way around with everyone taking a pull before it was passed on. Well it was getting late and we had been at it for quite a while. Everyone was feeling the `pulls’ on the jugs. Mountain was sitting across the fire from me on one of my boxes. I looked over at him and then put a jug to my lips. I took a long pull and brought it down. I looked back over toward Mountain. He was gone. I looked around the fire. He was not among the 10-12 people sitting there. I asked Molly where he was. She pointed toward the box. There were two legs with moccasins sticking straight up in the air from behind the box. Mountain had leaned back to have a drink a little too far. He said it was kinda comfortable laying there and he decided to just stay there a while and rest.

That skinny fella had a great since of humor. I was curator at a pioneer village at Gonzales Texas. It was a `historical’ town open to the public. After hours, the jugs came out. All the guys (and gals) were pleased that the village had recently had a nice restroom facility put in. Before, we had to use a Port-a-John. I had designed a nice urinal in the men’s side, made out of stainless steel about 4 feet long and closer to the floor than normal (we had lots of small boys from the schools going in there). I kept deodorizer cubes in the urinal. Well, we were all down in the village and Mountain went up the hill to visit the `facility’. He was gone a long time. I was getting worried that maybe an alligator or something got him. I was affixing to go look for him when .. here he came. He strolled up to me and without a grin said, “I’d been back sooner but I got stuck in your stainless bath tub”. He looked down and added, “Those bars of soap don’t lather very much either”. Everyone fell over laughing.

One year he made me a beaded bag with a rattle snake in the pattern. The crow beads had been stitched right onto the brain-tanned leather bag. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. It must have taken him a long time to make it. Yet for years he complained that he had put one wrong color bead on it. I still haven’t found that bead. He also gave me a small metal emblem of 3 snakes intertwined that is worn on my `medicine bag’. . These are two of my most treasured possessions.

Mountain is one of these guys that has to wear glasses.. and he can be sensitive about it. Five of us were sitting around the fire one night doing what we do around the fire when there was a free jug close. I was feeling mine pretty good and when I looked toward Mountain, he looked a little blurry (surely it wasn’t the jug). I smile and said, “Hey you have four eyes…”. Mountain reached down and picked up a stick and threw it at me. It hit me in the chest. I looked down and then back at him. He stated loudly, “I don’t like being called Four-Eyes”. We let it pass because of the drinking. What I was saying was he looked like he had four eyes, two noses, and two mouths. I was talking about my physical state – not his. We have laughed over that one for years. .. but I will never call him `four-eyes’ and neither will anyone else in my presence.

Mountain and me like our old guns. We like the smell of black powder and the recoil of muzzleloaders and buffalo guns. We really like our Buffalo Guns. He had invited me over to San Antonio to go out to one of the gun ranges. We had all our `old’ guns with us. We were shooting about a hundred yards and everyone was interested in what we were shooting. The only thing wrong with this range was the way the targets kept moving.. Surely, it wasn’t our shooting. All of a sudden we heard, what seemed like a machine gun firing. Well, we knew that wasn’t right so we went to check. There were a couple of guys from `Soldier of Fortune’ Magazine there shooting `legal’ full auto rifles and handguns. They were in SA covering a news story. One was the editor and the other a writer. But the funny part was they were set back by OUR guns.. go figure.

Mountain will tell you that he’s not a hunter. Well, that’s simply not true. I have seen him hunt and kill a pig. We were camping at a State Historical site (mission) near Goliad Texas. The curator came and told me that had a wild pig got loose out of a pen and that could pose a problem with the tourists. He asked me if I would shoot it if I got the chance. WELL SURE, says I. The first day the pig came up and Capt’n Jim took a shot, hitting it in the jaw. BUT it got away in the under brush. Okay, I told Mountain he was up for the next shot if the pig came back. The next morning, there he was. Mountain with muzzleloader in hand, followed me straight up toward the pig. I had Jim circle so if Mountain missed Jim would have time for a backup shot. Mountain made a running shot at about 35 yards. As the pig ran out, Mountain told me he missed. But I saw the shot. It was perfect, right behind the shoulder. The pig ran out toward the brush line but collapsed after about 40 yards. Mountain made his kill. The shot from the previous day had broken the pigs jaw. By now it was running fever and the meat couldn’t be eaten. I did cut the tail off for Mountain though. Maybe you might think this would be an easy shot. But put yourself with the opportunity to make a `one time shot’ on the biggest animal you have ever had in your sights, with a muzzleloader and an entire encampment of hunters watching from behind you. He got a lot of pats on the back that day.

I guess I play too many tricks on my friends. It has caused `almost’ disasters for me. Sometimes my friends don’t know if what they are looking at is real or something I have set up as a joke. Mountain falls into that category. He had come to my house for the weekend. Of course we had the Buffalo guns and were out shooting them. I had placed a target on the back of an old wreaked pickup and we were shooting at it. Me and Mountain was walking up to the target when he spied something underneath. First I need to set this story up before going any farther. I collect Copperhead snakes. I catch them; kill and embalm them to where they dry up. Although dehydrated, they look pretty real. I sometimes place them around just to keep people on their toes. Well, Mountain saw what he thought was one of my jokes. Under the bumper of the old truck was a board about 2 inches wide and 8 inches long. Coiled on it was a sickly looking snake. As I walked up behind Mountain, he reached down and picked the board up. As I looked around him, he was bringing it up to his face for a closer look. I saw it was a live rattlesnake. I hit Mountain on the shoulder, knocking him back and away from the dropped snake. He didn’t believe it was real until I flipped it out into a clearing where he really came alive. It was only 13 or 14 inches long but still plenty big enough to get ya; especially in the face. When he saw the snake coiled on the board, Mountain thought it was one of my jokes… I have not done another snake and will not ever again.

This next story is one of friendship and trust. An event took place that I don’t think many of you will understand. Look deep and learn what trust and friendship is all about. I have to back up to the previous night. We were all sitting around the fire and talking. The subject came up about shooting a weapon in defense or in saving another’s life. Mountain had made a remark about no one had ever depend on him for that `life saving shot’. He wasn’t good enough. He had a strange look on his face like one of self-disappointment. I jotted that down to memory for future use. The next day we were having matches while shooting with our muzzleloaders. His statement kept bothering me. I felt he really did not believe he could make a shot under that kind of pressure. I stopped the line from reloading for another match. I walked out in front of the line about 20 yards and picked up a stick. I held it out from my body. The stick was about ¾” by 10”. Holding it I yelled to Mountain to shoot it. Everyone paused and started looking at each other. I yelled again for Mountain to shoot it. His face turned an ash color as he started loading his rifle. He looked down at the ground and just stood there. I stated again for him to shoot it. When we made eye contact, the ash color was gone and was replaced with an expression of resolve. Slowly he lifted his rifle and took aim. One of the men walked off the line muttering something about crazy. The others stood tight and quiet. Mountain took aim and fired blowing the 2 inches off the end. He just smiled. He knew he could take that shot if it came down to it. He gained confidence and I changed my pants.

It took me years .. many years before I could talk about what I did in the Marines. In one weekend, Mountain got me talking about things that I thought I had put so far in the back of my mind. It didn’t matter. Well it did matter. I guess we all lost people somewhere that gave us bad dreams. Mine though was getting worst. My memories were affecting my life. Mountain helped me with that. I’m not going to discuss any of what we talked about because that’s not what this is all about. This little part is so people will know there is a whole lot more to this man than meets the eye. For years he has told me that he can’t understand why I liked him…. Hell, I can’t understand why he has put up with me. But then, I guess that’s true friendship.

I guess that’s enough stories for one letter so I am going to stop for now. This will continue in another letter later. Maybe many letters.

The picture is of Mountain as a Pirate.. Below is a video of him shooting at a `Cowboy Compatition. Yep, he's a man of many hats.

This is a video of Mountain shooting compatition as a cowboy

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