Saturday, October 2, 2010

Incident at Big Sky

I just stayed up until four AM to finish reading a book I already knew the ending to. I'd recently received a tip on a book that touches on the nourishment aspect of survivalism from 6Tex at one of the boards I frequent.

I ordered Incident at Big Sky (ISBN 0393023346) from Amazon and waited for the snail mail.

Incident at Big Sky is the true story of Sheriff Johnny France and his struggle to capture "Mountain Men" Dan and Don Nichols in 1984; written by Johnny France and Malcolm McConnell.

Long story short, Dan and his father Don Nichols had kidnapped Kari Swenson intending to make her "Dan's woman" but the plot fell apart when two amateur would be rescuers, Al Goldstein and Jim Schwalbe, found the Nichols' camp -- with Kari chained to a tree. In the ensuing mêlée Dan Nichols accidentally shot Kari badly wounding her and Don Nichols deliberately shot and killed Al Goldstein. The Nicholses abandoned the wounded Kari and went on the run. Sheriff Johnny France took out after them.

When Botch Cassidy and the Some Dunce Kid pulled their little "Me Tarzan, you Jane" stunt they cut themselves off from one of the main survival strategies that real hunter-gatherers have depended upon for ages i.e. mobility; the ability to follow the game/maturing vegetation throughout the year. As wanted men the Nicholses couldn't follow the deer and elk down into the valley when winter forced the herds into the "lowlands" where the sheriff was waiting for them. Hence they were near starving when arrested.

The calories available from deer meat are a lot fewer than those available from beef.

Highly active men typically burn about 4,200 Calories a day. Traveling up and down mountainsides through snow and clambering over boulders and deadfalls while staying off roads and trails the Nicholses would easily burn up 4,200 calories in a day. Hunting would be a difficult way to try to make up for the calorie deficit particularly when we consider that not all hunts are successful, but all hunts burn calories.

Wild meat is generally less "filling" in terms of energy providing fat than meat from domestic animals.

I can't remember for sure, but I think it was on Man Woman Wild that I recall Ruth England saying that hunter-gathers got something like 80% of their food (calories?) from gathering. A check with Wikipedia verified that: in the first paragraph. (HA! I remembered it right! Guess I'm not ready for the old folks home yet.)

In the summertime the Nicholses couldn't go to their hidden gardens in the mountains because the Sheriff's deputies were watching them. Of course you're not going to get 4,200 calories a day out of turnips and carrots either.

Macho men survivalists who head for the bunker in the bush to escape TEOTWAWKI will find themselves in nearly the same situation as the Nicholses when the MRE's run out.

You pretty much need to be in the "lowlands" to grow any meaningful amount of crops and, make no mistake about it, the lowlands is where people are going to be. Starving TEOTWAWKI survivors probably won't be all that considerate of farmer's property rights either.

If you're expecting TEOTWAWKI you'd probably do better joining or organizing farming collectives similar to the Israeli Kibbutz system for you, your friends and family than digging a cave in a mountainside with interlocking fields of fire.

And now, cutting to the chase, here are some things that stood out in my mind as I read the book.

On pg. 15, 16, 17 Kari's first mistake was not paying attention to her instincts. She should have turned around and run away when she first saw the two grubby men waiting for her on the trail.

On pg. 56 First two searchers/would be rescuers, Jim Schwalbe and Al Goldstein, had obviously been watching too much TV! Although confronted by two men armed with rifles they through they could control the situation by denying reality and decreeing "Nobody's gunn'a get hurt we don't want any more gun play!" When reality reared its ugly head Al was dead.

In Ch. 6 & 7 Amazing amount of organization and coordination is necessary to mount a search & rescue operation. The two sheriffs involved had to balance budgets, duty rosters and media relations among other things.

End Ch. 7, when the sheriffs and deputies moved in to rescue Kari and recover Al's body they were all armed with a rifle and a pistol each. They used military tactics not that Hollywood crap you see on TV and in the movies.

On pg. 129, before the kidnapping & killing the Nichols had planted hidden gardens of turnips & carrots in mountain microclimates that would support them. They also supplemented their supplies by stealing food staples from cow camps and the Cachés of professional hunting guides.

On pg. 166, 167 Afraid to go to their hidden gardens & Cachés they raid a cow camp tent stealing food and looking for a radio in hopes of learning what was going on in the lowlands and discovering how/where the search for them was progressing.

Pg. 220, 222, despite having stolen nearly 60 pounds of food from two "lowland" cabins the Nichols were hungry and asking for food when Tom, a hunting guide, found them about a week and a half later early in the winter (October). Living in the open in the snow burns a LOT of calories (pg.223, 230).

One thing that stands out, over and over again, is Don Nichols' arrogance. Having eschewed contact with society he imagines himself omnipotent in his wilderness domain. This hubris causes him to repeatedly decree that certain things can't happen in "his" wilderness. But, of course, when he comes into contact with other humans his presumptions prove untrue.

Several times experienced LEO's (Las Enforcement Officers) pass within "ten paces" (pg. 144) or a few yards (pg. 199) of Don & Dan Nichols. The Nichols escape detection by closely following the same principles of stealth I use.

During my first enlistment in Basic Training at Ft. Ord, CA the effectiveness of stillness was brought home to us young trainees one day when we were all marched into bleachers and sat looking out over about fifty yards of iceplant about four inches deep while a Drill Instructor lectured us about camouflage.

Although he told us there was a camouflaged sniper directly to our front sixty pairs of eyes couldn't spot him and were indeed beginning to believe there was no sniper when the DI told the sniper to shoot a blank "into the air" because the sniper was so close the DI didn't want anyone to get hurt.

We saw the puff of smoke and heard the rifle's report, but still couldn't see the camouflaged sniper until he stood up. Even then we could barely see him until he walked right up to us.

Overall Incident At Big Sky was a good book well worth the time it took to read. I've added it to my permanent survival library.


'Mountain man' woman abductor denied parole
"Don Nichols, who has spent nearly 23 years in the Montana State Prison for kidnapping a Bozeman woman and killing one man who tried to rescue her, was denied parole Monday. The self-described mountain man appeared in front of the state Board of Pardons & Parole at the prison in Deer Lodge, said Craig Thomas, executive director of the board. The board told Nichols he wouldn't have another opportunity for freedom until April 2012, when he will have his next parole hearing."

Here's the video for those of you who don't read books.

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