In the fall of 1970 Steve Gaskin led 300 people in 60 busses from San Francisco to the promised land and eventually landed on what became The Farm in Tennessee. When the caravan crossed the Oregon border they were detained after being searched by the police. A single Peyote cactus plant was found and the group was quarantined until the establishment figured out what to do with them. They asked the police if they could hang out in Takilma for a while, but this request was emphatically denied. I was in Takilma at the time, about 40 miles west of where they were staying in quarantine, but we didn't know what was going on because we had no radio or TV or electricity; stories and rumors began to arrive mostly by word of mouth. Evidently the authorities felt they had their hands full dealing with the spiritual vortex happening in Takilma and saw no need to make the situation worse.
We had some heavy hitters and old time crazies in T-town and although we respected Gaskin we were not in awe of him and his movement. The old time crazies gathered often at the Mirage Garage to philosophize. Allen, Aries Jerry and Harold the Barbarian were legitimate crazies and I was an apprentice at that time. Aries Jerry, a renegade with a lot of street cred disappeared for couple of days. When her returned he told us he was curious about Gaskin and decided to hitch to Ashland to check out his camp. According to Jerry, when he arrived he shouted out, "Steve Gaskin. Where are you?" He shouted it out several times. Steve answered, "I'm over here. What do you want?" Jerry said, "I'm Aries Jerry from Takilma and I came over to find out where your head's at."
They got together for a while. When he ended the recounting of his journey he said to us, "He's cool." Not everyone got the Takilma blessing in those days. I guess we were a bit arrogant.
Food stamps had come into existence shortly before I dropped out of society as we know it. They were the primary source of life for most of the people in the bush. There was no way to make any money, there was very little around. I remember collecting bottles, but I never got a receipt. We never got much, but there was a barter tradition of sharing resources.
As far as the food stamp people were concerned, there was something odd down there in Josephine county. All these people getting their twenty eight dollars per month in food stamps and reporting no income. It must be remembered that most food stamp recipients were in the cities, which obviously meant they would have to get money from somewhere. How do you pay your rent? Stuff like that. Here are all these people claiming no income, we'll have to fix that. I won't say I believe it was government policy to get rid of them hippies. The Oregon government was as good to us as possible. Well, maybe not the police.
The government decided that the no-money people were going to be deleted from the eligibility rolls. They were going to interview us all and show us the error or our ways. Several people from the state food stamp office arrived for the hearing. It was fortunate that I was scheduled to be the first person to appear, because I was older and understood the system more or less. Interviewing me first turned out to be a terrible decision on their part. I took Mara along as whatever support I might need. She had a small income and was not on food stamps at the time, even though she was living in a teepee. When I got the notice I was totally outraged. I was living in a six by eight foot shack, squatting on someone else's land. My address situation was somewhat murky at the time, actually most of the time. My legal address with food stamps was my old campsite up Cedar Gulch, but since I moved to O'brien I was in a quandary. My shack was next to the Michels' property but I couldn't say that because the spot was secluded and the property owner didn't know I was there. I loved and respected Ed but he was a hard man to do business with. When I realized that they might be coming after me I changed my address to an Steve Floyd's trailer on the Michels property.
Mara and I devised a scheme, of course. It turns out that the lead government supervisor was a Nurse Ratched bureaucrat. She was going to clean this stuff up and get rid of these riff-raff forthwith. I took a stovepipe that I made from bailing wire and number 10 tin cans to the hearing in case they needed a demonstration. I showed up for the interview with the 'pipe' in my pack. They were very much interested in learning how I could live with no income. I explained that living cost me nothing because I wasn't paying rent. I showed them my (free) stove pipe. During the course of the conversation, because that's what it had become by that time, we discussed other needs I had in life. I finally figured out that the only thing they really cared about was, 'if you can't afford toilet paper how can you take a shit?' Swear to God. They sent these two people down to Southern Oregon to find out how we shit in the woods. I was not actually up to telling them that I mostly used moss and maple leaves. That, although the truth, would have gone too far.
About this time the phone rang. Nurse Ratched snatched it up, listened for a few seconds, responded 'Not well' then slammed the phone down. I speculated that she was asked how the session was going. The chief interrogator was fascinated by the barter system. While she was on the phone he explained that she was just up from California and didn't yet understand kinky Oregon. He asked if there were any rules to the barter system and I said that no, it just worked itself out. I explained that I got toilet paper from Mara for chopping wood, which she corroborated. When asked about my boots I answered that I had built a floor and stovepipe arrangement for her teepee and she paid in boots. Under the circumstances they suspended the proceedings and saved the local economy, at least for a time. We probably should have a statue or something.
I got to talking to the county guy. I asked him, "If the reason for food stamps is to feed hungry folks why are you so fixated on ten or twenty dollars a month?" He spun around in his chair, grabbed a book out of the rack and flipped pages and said, more or less, "that the law stipulated that the purpose of the program was to stimulate the agriculture industry." Ha. Subsidize business and blame the receivers. Do we live in a great country or what?
The story is not quite over. These folks were going to check me out. They knew I was bullshitting them. Which I was of course. A few days later I got a notice to appear at the food stamp office again. Nurse Ratched was there and she was steamed. Again. The county guy said, "well hello Buckwheat Bob". They had been looking for Robert Harrison and of course no one knew anyone of that name. I wonder how they found out? They said that I lied about my camp and they searched and couldn't find it. They had asked Johnny Klein it Robert Harrison was living up the creek and he said he didn't know. There were people living all over the woods. So they decided to tramp up the creek and find my supposed camp.
So they were screaming at me and pointing on the map. The only problem was they had hiked up Long gulch instead of Cedar gulch, where my camp was. What a tableau, Nurse Ratched and I pointing at a map and shouting. I'll bet they were happy to see the last of us. They gave it up as a lost cause and went home for good.
Considering everything it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, to accept the Halloween gig at the Sportsman bar in Cave Junction, Ore. Oh, if I had been a redneck country singer it would not offer too much risk, possibly someone smashing someone over the head with a beer bottle, but the probability was against the recipient being the singer. However, being a long-haired hippie country singer made the situation a little different. Halloween is a fairly weird event anyway, without being a hippie in a redneck bar.
Anyway, there I was, singing my songs and trying to earn my money. Things in Josephine county had gotten a lot looser in the last five years since I had left the area for Canada, and it was fairly safe for some hippies to stop in at a local watering hole these days.
It was a long time since the seminal event relating to race relations in the area when Black Michael and Lightnin’ had stopped into one of the local bars for a drink. Michael was very black and prone to pink paisley clothes. Lightnin’ was very white, pretty large and fairly abrasive.
On this occasion the bartender looked at them and said “Get the hell out of here before I throw you out.” Michael replied, “You can’t throw me out. I am protected by the civil rights laws.” The bartender thought for a few seconds. Well, he was a redneck bartender. It had probably been some time since he had chaired a discussion on Quantum Physics. Finally he made up his mind. He looked at Michael and said, “Ok, you can stay.” Then he turned to Lightnin’ and said “You get the hell out of here.”
During the time I was gone the local straight community began to realize how much pot cultivation was affecting the local economy. They began to furtively ask long hairs how the crop was doing.
So this night I had set up my gear and was in the first set of my program. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, when in the middle of one of the songs this slender young guy will longish hair and mustache walked up to me and started talking. This guy was obviously of the redneck rather than the true hippie persuasion. If you are living in the woods it behooves you to be able to make these types of decisions quickly. He had a slightly plump blonde with him.
I really hate it when someone tries to talk to me while I’m trying to sing. The girl started to sing backup to me while Jessie introduced himself to me and told me how much he liked my music. This made me feel a little better, but not much. I watched him rummage through my guitar case, find a couple of harmonicas and start playing along with me.
The only problem, or maybe the first problem with this scenario is that the girl had no ear or sense of pitch and Jessie had no idea about key signatures or anything else relating to music.
From my younger days hanging out in dangerous bars in Sacramento I had learned to survey the clientele carefully. One of the first things you look for in an obnoxious person is scars and abrasions about the face and head. If there are none then the chances are that the individual in question is probably pretty good with his fists and his feet. I didn’t notice any marks on Jessie.
When I finished my first set I walked to the bar and ordered a beer. The more I thought about what had happened the more I knew that I couldn’t let Jessie mess up the rest of my gig. I would try to be as diplomatic as possible but whatever was going to happen would just have to happen. I am not a fighter and I don’t like to get hurt but there it is.
When I plugged back in I looked around somewhat apprehensively. No Jessie. He had left. Whew. I finished the night and I think everyone had a good time. I knew I did. When I had packed up I went back to the bartender to get paid and have a last beer. He looked me in the eye and said, “I saw what was happening up on the stand. You know, Jessie is real quick.” I looked at him and replied, “I figured.”
That’s the way it goes in show business. You wouldn’t do it if you weren’t crazy going in.
When I first started playing music, my preferences were folk (both contemporary and 'Old Timey', which was hillbilly folk of the early twentieth century. I was also into classic Country and Western. Probably to this day my greatest hero (heroine) in music is Maybelle Carter, who virtually invented the Country and Western guitar sound, on her little F-hole acoustical guitar.
For some reason I felt empathy with those southern rural people who had such a hard life. They were wonderfully versatile musicians, mostly without formal training, who could turn literally anything into a musical instrument. Much of their music is very sad and dark. These people were not sophisticated and lived a very rough life. They just sang what they felt, patterned after the Elizabethan music forms, which they brought from England, Scotland, and Ireland several hundred years ago. The flip side of the sadness was a humor and self mockery that was broad and corny. By any ‘civilized’ standards this was pretty bad stuff.
Most of the people in Takilma were much younger than I, and most had a normal middle-class city upbringing, so they were totally unprepared for the kind of stuff I was playing. Much of my music came from the New Lost City Ramblers, an old timey group headed by Mike Seeger, half brother of Pete, and son of Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, musicology academics at UCLA. They were some of the most prestigious folk collectors of the twentieth century. Mike grew up with recordings of Gil Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, the Stoneman family and numerous other mountain musicians and musical groups. During the 1950's-'60's the old string music was dying, being replaced by electrified city Country and Western of Hank Williams, et al, (which I also love). Country folks were living in the city and weren't into hick music anymore. The mission of the NLCR's was to preserve the old music and the old styles. Some of the comedic songs I learned from the Ramblers were 'Bill Morgan and his girl', whose chorus begins, 'My name is Morgan, but it ain't J. P. There is no Railroad company that belongs to me.’ Another tune was 'The All Go Hungry Hash House where I Dwell'. I also used to sing A tune, remembered from my youth as a popular song, named 'Cigareets, Whisky and Wild, Wild Women'.
Young people were drifting in and out of the community on a regular basis. The summer of 1971 was one of frenetic migration. One of the longhaired guitar pickers who drifted through the community and stayed for a while was named Paul, as I remember. He was very good. I used to enjoy listening to him play his L.A. folk/ rock. Paul seemed to be mesmerized by my music, but we never discussed it. Then one day he was gone, like so many others.
Several months later I was sittin' on the porch of the Funky Egg Company picking and drinking a cup of coffee, when I saw a longhaired dude strolling down the road. As he got closer I saw that it was Paul. He walked up to the porch, sat on the ground and said, 'You know, Buckwheat, I've got a story to tell you.' He said, 'I've been living down in L.A., playing music in the clubs down there, and you know, those folks have something missing in their lives. I was thinking just the other night that Buckwheat used to sing a song that might be able to bring truth and salvation to their otherwise drab lives, so I just hitch-hiked up the road (about 750 miles) to try to find you and ask you to teach me that song. Of course I was flattered, and I asked him which of the inspirational songs in my repertoire he was referring to, and he said, 'Cigareets, Whisky and Wild, Wild women'.
I said 'sure.' He sat down with a pencil and pad; I gave him the words and chords (all three of them) and taught him the tune. After he practiced it for about twenty minutes he thanked me, turned around and headed down the road, back to L.A., never to return to Oregon from that day to this as far as I know. I guess you had to be there
Cigarettes, whiskey and wild, wild women they’ll drive you crazy, they'll drive you insane
Cigarettes, whiskey and wild wild women they’ll drive you crazy, they'll drive you insane
Once I was happy and had a good wife I had enough money to last me for life
I met with a girl and we went on a spree She taught me to smoke and drink whiskey
And now I'm feeble and broken with age the lines on my face make a well written page
I'm leaving this story, how sad but how true on women and whiskey and what they will do
Write on the cross at the head of my grave 'For women and whiskey, here lies a poor slave
Take warning, dear stranger, take warning, dear friend' Then write in big letters these words at the end
was a warm, lazy spring afternoon back in 1972. Four of us had been up in Selma,
I think, and heading south through town someone suggested that we stop off for
ice cream at the Dairy Queen. I had been in there on earlier occasions for a
Chocolate Dip or a Blizzard without any trouble, but this time one of those
signs caught my eye as our old dodge van wheeled into the parking lot. A
clandestine group, reputed to be called the “Illinois Valley Betterment
Committee”, had these things printed up and sold them for 50 cents out of a
storefront across the street. In
large black letters the sign read: “WE DO NOT SOLICIT ‘HIPPIE’
PATRONAGE”. Many, in fact most,
stores had them in the window at that time, but the Dairy Queen had been one of
the few safe zones up to then. I knew there would be trouble as we walked in the
door and saw the scowl on Mrs. Brook’s face; probably she had taped up the
sign only that day.
were shops in Cave Junction that you wouldn’t go in because it was sure to be
an embarrassing hassle, and then there were those you shouldn’t go in because
you could get hurt. Of the former category were establishments where no one
would meet your gaze, let alone speak to you.
Typically the only communication from behind the counter was “No”
even before you asked a question, thus ending the encounter summarily. Most of
the stores, eateries, and, of course, the movie theater hung signs in their
windows discouraging “hippie” patronage. These were the “We do not
solicit…” placards which were sold by the Illinois Valley Betterment
Committee for 50cents. This all would have been laughable if the spirit was not
so ominous. (Three notable
exceptions: Hammers Market, Taylors Sausage, and The Pizza Deli-now Wild River,
refused to put up with such foolishness and made it clear that all were welcome.
The latter two continue today as very successful businesses.) Then there were establishments that no hippie dared enter for fear of
serious bodily injury. Certain taverns such as Carl’s Ritz (now the “Stony
Front”) in Kerby, sometimes Lewis’s saw shop, and always the Siskiyou Market
were on the “danger, do not enter” list.
By Robert Hirning
was never clear why this quiet little man had such a strong dislike for the
newly arrived long-hairs in the Illinois Valley, but he surely hated them from
the depths of his soul. He served the valley as a lineman and supervisor for
Pacific Power and had been a life savior during the ’64 flood by tirelessly
restoring downed lines to stricken homes. But to hippies Larry Musil was
notorious. If Larry suspected a late paying customer to be “counter culture”
(euphemism of the day) he would cut their service wires off at the pole with
bolt cutters. He lived in a big white house on Kerby Street and owned several
pieces of commercial property, including the movie theater.
The Ivy Theater was an old Quonset hut, probably of Korean War vintage,
that played current first run films during the winter months. About May or June
the “walk-in” would shut down for the season and the “drive-in”, down
Redwood Highway about two miles, would open its gates. Depending on Larry’s
mood, hippies could run the gauntlet under the cover of darkness and get in at
the drive-in, but the Ivy Theater was strictly off limits. A “WE DO NOT
SOLICIT ‘HIPPIE’ PATRONAGE” sign was prominently displayed in the box