Black: The outback |

Black: The outback

Parts of Montana are as close to the outback as we ‘Yanks’ will ever get.

They had given me directions in the Hell’s Creek Bar. Next mornin’ I was tryin’ to decipher my scribbling from the back of a napkin. I turned off the paved road at Cohagen. My new friend had specifically told me to go six miles (one said seven), then turn south. “Can’t miss it,” they assured me, “Straight shot to Forsyth.”

At six miles on the odometer there it was just like they said. The only problem was, 100 yards south of the turn the road forked … Big Time. Both forks were well-traveled, pointed south and disappeared over the horizon.

I backed up to the six-mile corner to regroup and spied a contrail of dust comin’ my way. I flagged the driver down. It was the Garfield County Agent. He directed me to bear right at the fork. We drove off in opposite directions. I didn’t pass another car for 53 miles.

“In the middle of a workin’ day I drove 50 miles and never passed another car.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. In the middle of a workin’ day I drove 50 miles and never passed another car.

The layered horizons were festooned with buttes and rock formations that looked like giant teepees. The vast expanse was virtually treeless. You could spot the occasional creek by the cottonwood that followed its meandering course.

The clover was in bloom. I surfed through big lakes of yellow blossoms. Baby antelope twins bounced through the sagebrush like jack rabbits trailing their sleek moms.

Now and then I’d pass a bunch of cows. I slowed for a pair of skittery gray geldings. Disinterested sheep ignored my intrusion. Hawks, Canadian geese and killdeer circled and scattered in my path.

Jordan, Mont., was celebrating the grand opening of the Garfield County (pop. 1,500) Health Center. The festivities had been a typical community effort. Hundreds of people showed up. After all, it was their health center.

Even though the county has no medical doctor, the center maintains a medical staff including nurses and a physician assistant. They are in contact by phone with doctors.

It is a ranching community of people who know their ancestors and each other’s kids. They can spot a pilgrim, a tourist or a government man with ease, mostly because they know everybody else who lives there. And even in a state that prides itself on its hardiness and independence, they consider themselves the keeper of the flame. Saddle bronc riders come from Jordan. Bareback riding is for pansies.

Sometimes it is easy to be overwhelmed by the continuing barrage of news stories about the homeless and helpless, the irresponsible and ignorant, the lazy and the parasitizing. I get frustrated by the well-meaning, condescending social engineers prescribing Band-Aids for compound fractures of the human condition. If people are told often enough that they can’t take care of themselves, they give up.

But in Jordan at the grand opening of their health center my faith in humans was renewed. It occurred to me as I watched these self-reliant citizens take care of their own, it’s too bad Hillary (Clinton) couldn’t be here. ❖

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Baxter Black

Feedlot Heroes


Now and then I get to thinkin’ I should quit this feedlot job.

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