Archive for Belle Drewry

My Ring of Fire: Chapter 3 – Big Sky Country

Posted in Alabama, America, Autobiographical, Country Music, New York City, Non-Fiction, NYC, Poetry, Pop Art, Pop Culture, Punk Rock, Rock and Roll with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2010 by Paulette Powell

Before I knew it, I fell into a burning ring of fire, singed by pure passion. The slightly knackered Englishman and the Southern Bell, both rejected our own cultures but curious for each others. As a teen I became a fan of the British-Rock bad boys, Mick, Keef and Bowie, smoking Dunhill’s and drinking Earl Grey; while Charlie, similar to The Stones, discovered many things Americana-sexy are from the “Forbidden South”. Not the Right Wing Conservative distortion shoved down the world’s throat, but True Blood, The Blues, Jazz, juke joints, wild cat whiskey and devil moons over Bourbon Street.

Charles became my mirror with his camera…As I recall this memory, I can hear The Velvet Underground’s lyrics and see the look on Charlie’s face when he announced; “I’m taking you to the Rocky Mountains, where I’m going to make you fall in love with me!” But more than that; through his eyes, he made me fall in love with myself.

I am from the unforgiving South, I wanted to run away from Alabama, come to the Big Apple, reinvent myself, lose my Southern accent, and the images of the “Second Coming” hammered, vividly by the preachers of Hell-fire and Brimstone sermons, in my head. Creating fear to bring to God never works, only through unconditional love can we find peace with our maker.

June and Johnny Cash knew that and now I was on my own informative journey as an artist, poet, chanteuse to discover how worthy I am of my creator’s love. My life would not be complete without Charles and “on the road with Charlie” was my marking post to grow and become the woman I am and love today.

In return I became Charlie’s muse, reading and setting his words on fire with my enthusiasm. We would collaborate often, and loved encouraging him to step into my world of music. This was a real break through for him; as a child he was labeled tone-deaf by his music teacher, who announced it to the whole choir, then threw him out. I find shutting down creativity in a child tragic, and can leave a scar for life. He never again attempted to sing but he would do spoken word.

During a recording session, Charlie spoke my words in his beautiful baritone voice (I often encouraged him to do voice over work) while I borrowed an interview with Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, the Wiccan Widow of the Rock & Roll poet and Sex God, Jim Morrison; throwing his words against a canvas of experimental moody music played by my band, Dark Blue. It was wonderful, introducing him to the natural high of music. (this story will have its own installment, stay tuned).

Back to Big Sky Country with kids in tow…We rented a log cabin outside of Billings Montana. In “Big Sky Country” snow flurries are seen all year round. I was mesmerized by the lack of light pollution and discovered how bright the stars really are, diamonds in the sky. It was church, a holy place; you can’t help when you view The Great Rocky Mountains, to think “GOD LIVES HERE!”

The girls’ lessons with big Sunny proved to be a valuable investment on long rides along mountain trails. Lukie, being a real boy was in his natural element, like all wild critters running free and loving it. I of course am one of those Moms, who encouraged kids to play “Cowboys and Indians” and often caught heck from parents in Manhattan. To my amazement, it was thought not politically correct. Hogwash!

One of my favorite images, Charlie enlarged and hung in our home, was that of little feet with cowboy boots dangling from a loft with the Mountain View from a window as the back drop. A masterpiece!

Charlie was obsessed with Montana’s big open spaces, where you can drive for miles before you come across another living soul. He would say, “England and the North East is congested with over developing, ugly strip malls and exurbia has ruined many a scenic route”. Thank the inspirational foresight of our Founding Fathers for the American Eden, Yellow Stone Park, so America would always have a home where the buffalo roam.

The American Bison was Charlie’s favorite animal, named Tatanka by the Lakota Sioux, and it was obvious to me that this was Charlie’s animal spirit guide.

It would be hard to imagine Yellow Stone without the American Bison, but they were nearly wiped out by the 19th century. Primarily by white market hunters, the railroad and U. S. Army sanctions that endorsed the slaughter of the beasts. But the darkest reason was to weaken the First Nation population by removing their main food source, pressuring them to relocate to reservations (refugee camps)! Without the spirit of the Great Tatanka, the Plains Indians were forced to leave or starve to death.

It is amazing when you realize, if not for another insightful man, James “Scotty” Philip of South Dakota, our children might not have delighted in the buffalo herd mistaking our Jeep as one of its own! From his strain the American Bison or Bovine was reintroduced to the National Forest!

Philip’s herd was purchased, five calves, from Dug Carlin who had roped the babies in the Last Great Buffalo hunt of 1881. A sacred gift to his Native American wife, who missed the beast of her childhood; the heard grew under their care to 1,200 head by 1911! From their love we still have the Great Tatanka today!

We explored the Beartooth Mountains via the Beartooth Pass to make our way to Old Trail Town. The Beartooth Highway is part of U.S. Highway 212 and dare-devils along the Montana-Wyoming border; the Beartooth Pass approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 ft (1,600 m) to 8,000 ft (2,400 m) in 12 mi (19 km). It is literally one of the most breathe taking scenic routes in America’s daring landscapes. Without danger, it host severe thunderstorms and blizzards all year and takes around two hours to drive.

Finally we arrived in Old Trail Town, where several Western Legends came to life and found a final resting place. This is where Charlie entertained with his story telling, how the West was tamed by derelicts, loners, cowboys and outlaws. Far from the heroic candy coated images of idealistic portrayals in Hollywood’s Spaghetti Westerns. HBO’s Deadwood was more like it.

It took the roughest and the toughest Irish, Scotch-Irish, Welch, French and German blood lines to weather the “Injuns” an elements. If you ever think the outlaws were bad, make NO mistake, the Rangers were BADDER!

Old Trail Town lies where Buffalo Bill in 1895 surveyed the original Cody town site, at the Wyoming–gateway to Yellowstone Park’s East entrance. Local historian and Archeologist, Bob Edgar who is part Comanche, created this great preservation of Americana Western history. Bob took it upon himself to rescue a few bad boys and a girl to relocate their graves and several historical cabins from 1879 to 1900 when he heard they were being torn down or forgotten.

Bob’s great insight, like the Fathers’ of Yellowstone Park, has saved National treasures for future generations, hats off. Included in the collection; The Hole in the Wall Cabin used by Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang; Curley’s Cabin, the Crow Indian scout to General Custer in the Battle of the Little Big Horn; and the River Saloon which was frequented by cowboys, outlaws and gold miners.

Bullet holes pieced many of the structures, bleeding sunlight reminded me the cost of legends is often a lot of blood-letting! Just a few yards away my observation was validated by the cemetery, the final resting place for several historical figures.

I was excited to learn my childhood hero; John Jeremiah “Liver Eating” Johnson (1824-1900) rested there with a monument erected in his honor. His story was tragic at times but a resilient lawful personality who helped tamed the West. The “liver eating” name, John created to strike fear into hearts; Native American folk-lore tells if a man consumes his enemy’s vital organs he gains their strength.

The Scotch-Irish New Jersey native took the name “Liver Eating” after a day of trapping he came home to find his beloved Flathead Indian wife and unborn child mutilated on his cabin floor at the hands of Crow Indians. His personal war against the Crows lasted for 12 years! It was rumored slain Crows were found gutted and their liver missing, some claimed they witnessed the mountain man feasting on human liver.

When the War between States broke out, he decided to enlist in the Second Colorado Calvary. I can imagine that war was a good distraction from personal revenge and heartache.

In 1882, after he ended his service with an honorable discharge, Johnston became the first Marshall at Coulson (Billings) Montana and in 1888, the first Sheriff of Red Lodge, Montana. This man sounds far more fascinating than the character created and portrayed by Robert Redford (maybe Brad Pitt should produce and star in a more informative movie? Redford could direct, hint, hint).

Others who keep company in the burial ground include; Jim White Buffalo Hunter 1828-1880; William A. Gallagher and Blind Bill Houlihan — Murdered 1894; Jack Stilwell Frontiersman 1850-1903; Phillip H. Vetter Trapper 1855-1892.

But my favorite is the only woman reburied there, Belle Drewry (1867-1897). The Lady in Blue was perhaps one of the first American free-spirited women, staking her claim among the Saints and Sinners of the Old West. In1890 at the bursting ripe age of 23, Belle arrived, by stage-coach to Arland, Wyoming.

Founded by Vic Arland, Arland was an infamous outpost for misfits, wranglers, surveyors and women of ill repute. Located twenty-five miles south of present day Cody; a notorious town, blood often painted the streets red. This place is where Drewry used her talents working in the local saloon and dance hall, to make a living and become a property owner. And where she met and fell in love with William A. Gallagher and fraternized with other historical bad boys including; Blind Bill Hoolihan, Robert Parker aka Butch Cassidy, Jack Bliss and the “Woodriver Horse Thieves” gang.

What would inspire a young attractive woman not to settle down to become wild as the wind, never to be held but a rambling rose? I suspect a desire to own one ’s self, selling pleasure but never her soul, holding tight the reigns of her destiny! Freedom is a powerful drug. But Belle was not only a free bird, she was loyal to a fault and bailed a many a cowboy out of jail, giving him food and a warm place to rest his weary head in a rugged country.

Belle became well-known for throwing a fearless good time. But there is more than meets the eye; Belle was involved in a love triangle, apparently her relationship with Gallagher went sour and another man had caught her eye, Bill Wheaton. Gallagher became so enraged he beat her nearly to death. Payback was Wheaton shooting him between the eyes. Blind Bill threatened vengeance for his close compatriot’s demise, but before he could, was mysteriously shot in the back. Wheaton was accused and sentenced to 8 years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary, never to kiss Belle’s ruby lips again.

With Wheaton away, Belle took a new lover, John Corbett, an emotional man who found it hard to shake grudges. Corbett had a long going feud with the mail carrier, Jesse Conway; for one reason or another he became paranoid Jesse was planning his death and decided he should get rid of Conway, before Conway got rid of him. John enlisted Belle and her girls to throw a party in the New Year of 1897.

The Spider’s web worked, it enticed Conway and his rowdy bunch to crash and revel at Belle’s. It was reported; “Everyone was drinking and the wild gang proceeded to shoot up the place. To end the uproar Belle pulled a six-shooter from a hiding place and shot the leader of the cowboy gang, Jesse Conway dead. A few days later, an unknown assassin came into the house and killed Belle Drewry and her girls apparently in revenge, for their comrade’s death.” Arland would not recover from the mass murder of the four women and it soon faded into a ghost town.

Only thirty years old and Belle Drewry was laid to rest, wearing a cobalt blue silk dress with a black sash in a red wood coffin; she was given a proper Christian burial with no expense spared. Attesting to her bigger than life persona, it had been said the Auburn beauty had a farewell gun salute; this was discovered to be true, apparently during the relocation of her grave to Old Trail Town, 45-70 and 45-60 cartridge cases where found thrown into her grave before the earth covered her coffin. Her original head stone read, on a windy and lonely mountain top; “The Lady in Blue, with a Heart so True”

“One might imagine the boom of the rifles, the rolling echo across the hills and the black powder smoke drifting away with the wind like departing ghosts. Perhaps, a fitting farewell from a wild land.” For a wild woman who could not be tamed and Western History could not forget.

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