Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS


Idaho has produced a number of officeholders and office-seekers who met untimely deaths, either in plane or auto crashes, or job accidents.

All had potential to grow and might have been quite successful. In two cases, that of Jim McClure’s and Cecil Andrus’, the deaths of their chief rivals cleared the way for them to become two of Idaho’s greatest office-holders, leaving one to wonder how the state’s political history might have changed.

In an odd quirk of fate, three of the *seven were from Kellogg: John Mattmiller, Vern Lannen and Jerry Blackbird. Mattmiller died in a plane crash while trying to land in the fog at the Kellogg airport in 1966. At the time he was the clear favorite to win the First District Republican Congressional nomination and would have probably won in November.

His death cleared the way for a Payette attorney named Jim McClure to win the primary and go on to a solid career that included 18 years in the Senate and chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources committee.

State Senator Vern Lannen, a big, gregarious logger who enjoyed working in north Idaho’s forests, died in a logging accident in 1986. He was appointed to fill the vacancy created in 1979 by the untimely death at the age of 34 of State Senator Jerry Blackbird.

Of the three from Shoshone County, Jerry Blackbird showed the most promise of achieving higher office. He was good, smart and charismatic. He was marked as a real comer when in his freshman session he authored and then shepherded through the Legislature a bill reforming log scaling to give the logger and the trucker a more fair share.

Needless to say, he defeated all the state’s major timber companies and their lobbbyists.

Several Boise observers saw the young Cecil Andrus in Jerry and thought he might easily win the Idaho governorship some day. Andrus has a saying about learning “through the school of hard knocks.” Jerry was certainly familiar with that.

Jerry is the subject of a loving yet unsparing and brutally honest memoir, One Flaming Hour, published this week by Ridenbaugh Press and written by his brother, Mike Blackbird, also a former Senator from Shoshone County (he succeeded Lannen and served three terms).

Jerry Blackbird was a true American hero. Over the course of 12 months in Vietnam he flew an incredible 1400 medivac emergency helicopter extraction missions. He won two Distinguish Flying Crosses and numerous other medals for valor and courage. Almost all his missions were “under fire’ especially in the landing zones.

He returned to an America that even in Kellogg was turning against the war and did not value his sacrifice. He started drinking heavily, his marriage failed, he couldn’t hold and keep jobs for long and candidly was well on the road to hell and self-destruction.

His letters home (which easily fill half the book) document his growing disgust with the war and the needless sacrifice of too many Marines and soldiers who gave their last full measure for a political war run by political generals and one of the most political presidents in American history, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was obsessed with body counts.

One early sub-zero morning he was hitch-hiking on I-90 in Montana trying to get back to his job in a mine near Kellogg. He experienced what brother Mike calls his “road to Damascus” moment (Alluding to St. Paul being blinded by Jesus Christ who is asking the then named Saul why is he persecuting the Lord’s followers.)

His vision of the road to salvation led to public service, first as a member of the Kellogg School board and then as a freshman State Senator. “He who would save his life will lose it. And he who loses his life (In service to others) will save it,” it says in the Bible. Jerry Blackbird found redemption.

Finally, the ultimate irony arrives: after all those hazardous missions in Vietnam, while taking his employer, Dale Sverdsten and two others from another firm to evaluate a proposed timber sale, his helicopter crashes and all are killed.

Prior to his death he had ferried the helicopter from Pennsylvania back to Idaho. In some of the book’s finest writing Mike Blackbird envisions the flight path home and lyrically describes this country that Jerry and he and we all love.

The book at times sears the heart. It haunts one when done and will remain with you a long time.

– – –

*The other four were: Lemhi county State Senator Charles Herndon, who died in a September 1966 plane crash in the Sawtooths after defeating Andrus in the August primary; Canyon county State Senator Terry Reilly, while running for Lt. Governor in 1986, along with his wife in a plane piloted by Congressional candidate Pete Busch; and, former Bannock county State Senator Bill Bergeson, who was running for the Senate in 1972. He died in a head-on car crash.

(Editor’s note: Senator Blackbird’s book makes its debut at the Old Depot Station in Kellogg at 5 p.m.(PDT), on September 12th. He will read from the book, answer questions and sign copies. The book is also available at selected area bookstores or can be ordered directly from Ridenbaugh Press by going to its website.)

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Wallace St

Saturday, Sept. 13, would have been Robert Dwayne Hopper’s 75th birthday.

For those new here, or with short-term memories, Robert Hopper was owner and managing partner of the legendary Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg, Idaho, from 1990 until his death in January 2011. He was an Elk, a Mason, a self-educated genius, and my dearest friend.

We met by happenstance in 1999 when a former colleague from the Coeur d’Alene Press who was working on the Milo Creek flood control project told me of this guy who had bought Bunker Hill, was making colloidal silver, and had just put the lie to the whole EPA Superfund fiasco in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin.

As to colloidal silver, try it sometime on a burn, or inhale a few drops to end your sinusitis: Silver is nature’s oldest known bacteriacide.

No, despite the propaganda from Big Pharma, it won’t turn you purple unless you chug a gallon of it every day. In jigger-sized daily doses it fights all kinds of disease, and over time even seems to give viruses a run for their lives. Big Pharma hates colloidal silver because you can’t patent an element and charge a royalty for it.

Bob Hopper knew this, and many, many other things. His giant intellect inhaled knowledge and could not resist curiosity.

When the EPA-instigated “mining-caused lead pollution” debate in the Silver Valley was raging and every mining company was being sued to bankruptcy, it led him to postulate: If this is a lead-mining district, it’s because there is lead here and has been for quite awhile. Where might one find a place where the normal, pre-mining “background levels” of lead might be found?

Simple answer: The Sacred Heart Mission at Cataldo, Idaho, chinked with mud from the Coeur d’Alene River and built between 1850 and 1853 – 35 years before lead-mining began here. He obtained permission to sample mud-chinking still in place from the Mission’s original construction, split the samples from these tiny injections and sent them to two independent laboratories.

The results astounded even Bob Hopper, who was not easily astounded. The lead levels in the Mission’s original mud were as high or higher than the levels the EPA was attacking and suing mining companies for.

Here’s where the story gets funny.

The mining companies were afraid Hopper’s results were wrong, and the EPA feared they were right, so nobody ever went back to check the samples and this amazing story was buried, unpublished except in the Spokane Inlander. The Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe, which had neglected the Sacred Heart Mission for nearly a century, put up a mild fuss about Hopper’s “desecration” of this sacred Mission. Ironically it was a mining executive, Henry L. Day, who put up the money for its later restoration.

There are too many other stories to tell about Hopper. They would fill volumes of books. The man could quote Dostoyevsky, Pirsig, Rand, Lucretius, Nietzsche, Christ and Plato with equal ease but didn’t show it off. Not bad for a kid who grew up in Flint, Michigan, on the wrong side of the tracks and was sent to military school to finish high school because of his impatience with lame schoolteachers.

Philosophically Robert was a pacifist, but EPA declared war on him and even had devised a plan to seize the Bunker Hill Mine from him by armed force. He had no response but to sue the bastards in the 9th Circuit and the U.S. Court of Claims, and expose them for the liars they were, and he won.

Our brief lunch meeting that first day in mid-summer 1999 lasted throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Here was the reform-school miner, educating the college boy.

Miners aren’t supposed to be like that. When the World Trade Towers went down on Sept. 11 and I felt like nuking the whole Mideast, he cautioned, “It’s all about usury. Look it up.”

You should see his library. One of his sons would admit you, if you asked.

Bob Hopper was generous to a fault but never broadcast it. Despite his growly bluster, he was shy and gentle. He hated socializing and he didn’t drink. He lived a compartmentalized and very private life: family, friends, business and the Bunker Hill.

And most of his adult life he lived in debilitating pain from an accident in his early years, but never spoke of it, even to his friends. His wife told me of this, his searing pain, only after his death.

We all knew just a little slice of him.

His desk was a heap of chaos. He could not help reading and learning. The letters he wrote to his sons are up there with St. Paul’s Epistles. He took a motor into the mine every day to check on things, to make sure the Bunker Hill would survive him. He gave things to Kellogg that even Kellogg doesn’t know about. And he may have saved, by sheer force of will, our mining industry, by backing a rogue agency off

The one thing he never buried in that chaos was a quote from Richard Mayberry’s Two Laws: “Do all you have agreed to do. Do not encroach on other persons or their property.”

A few of us, including Bill Calhoun, Lovon Fausett, and Laurel, his devoted secretary, used to drag Bob out one evening a year to Albi’s in Wallace to celebrate his Sept. 13 birthday. Honestly, I think he preferred his Thursday lunches of Spam at the Broken Wheel but he put up with us.

It would not be right to numerate Robert Hopper’s gifts to me. He gave in secrecy, as Christ preached, and would reach down and shove a giant hook up my ass if I recited them.

But here they are:

That speaking truth to power is OK, in fact mandatory.
That your mind is a growing thing, if you feed it properly.
That you can be a miner, a thinker, a writer, a fighter and a pacifist, all at once.
That if you’re depressed, work harder.

Lastly, excerpted from a paper he wrote to his sons:

“If we attract the things we most fear, does it not stand to reason that we would also attract the things we most loved? So what is it that you most love with all your heart, all your Soul?

“Whatever this most loved of all things to you, it is the source of your strenth, your dignity, your integrity. And if there is nothing that you love with all of your heart, your Soul, then that is exactly what you are – Nothing.”

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Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Eberle will leave Boise city council (Boise Statesman)
Yellowstone models possible ‘supereruption’ (IF Post Register)
Blast near old Teton Dam went well (IF Post Register)
Odyssey charter school revoked; no appeal (IF Post Register)
WA Supreme Court holds legislature in contempt (Lewiston Tribune)
WSU regents considering medical school (Moscow News)
Bolz running for CWI trustee (Nampa Press Tribune)
TF downtown stores seek more lenient parking (TF Times News)
Megic Valley emergency dispatch understaffed (TF Times News)

UO’s different kind of presidential search (Eugene Register Guard)
Adding new names to Klamath 911 memorial (KF Herald & News)
Police shooting found justified (Medford Tribune)
Hermiston will map crime hot spots (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Emmanuel Community Services leader takes leave (Portland Oregonian)
Cover Oregon tax mistake hits Marion hard (Salem Statesman Journal)

WA Supreme Court hold legislature in contempt (Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Vancouver Columbian, Yakima Herald Republic, Bremerton Sun, Olympian, Longview News, Port Angeles News)
WSU may build medical school (Spokane Spokesman, Kennewick Herald)
Engineering cranks up again at vit plan (Kennewick Herald)
PETA plans anti-hunting signs at Longview (Longview News)
Children hit with severe respiratory disease (Seattle Times, Olympian)
Well contamination issues at Liberty Lake (Spokane Spokesman)
State fires set 1-year acreage record (Tacoma News Tribune)
Wind cuts power at Vancouver (Vancouver Columbian)
Uneasy transition to e-medical records (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take