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Gathering: “A get-together called a ‘gathering’ instead of a party just in case people don’t turn up and it turns out to be, well, pretty dull.” — Urban Dictionary

You can’t be too careful applying the peanut butter.

And not just any peanut butter.

No nuts allowed.

Noted pyrotechnist Kirk carefully spread the butter around the metal edge, creating a seal for the firebox containing a large but intentionally unstated amount of Pyrodex.

He then placed the lid on the box, and set the 75-pound anvil on the lid.

“Who’s lighting the fuse?” someone asked.

The honor went to the group’s newest member, and in a matter of seconds: KABOOM!

The anvil hurtled skyward some 40 feet, amid boisterous cheers and clapping from the onlookers.

It was another noisy and successful opening ceremony of the West River Gathering, started some years ago by lawyer extraordinaire Charlie Thompson of Pierre, who wanted to remember and preserve what went before.

“Starting about 150 years ago, the northern plains ranchers started their fall gathering, branding, and shipping of cattle each year about this time,” he said in October. “One of the main gatherings for the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska was on the White River.”

Charlie owns a ranch along the river south of Murdo, and the eclectic bunch of fun-loving, tale-swapping men he invites to his gathering help to recreate the earlier get-togethers.

They don’t round up cattle or brand calves, but they hunt some grouse, fish in a stock dam, swap stories, and spend an inordinate amount of time eating and drinking.

Fame, wealth and politics don’t affect the invitation list.

“You can chew, you can spit and we don’t care what you were or weren’t,” Charlie says, “as long as you are good company.”

Two years ago a WRG member hauled in a homemade cannon that shot bowling balls.

I’m not making this up. He had collected bowling balls from closed bowling alleys and his cannon, cranked to the proper elevation, could launch moonshots over the horizon, perhaps a quarter of a mile or so.

However, the gathering has its more “cultivated” side, as well. One member, Hugh, can recite Robert Service poetry at length, and even those not disposed toward that language art form sit in entertained silence, soaking up images of the Yukon and its people.

“You will find that we are a mixture of bums who might have been reasonably useful to society or not, no-goods, and never were goods,” Charlie intones with a wry grin.

And he tells all newcomers the same thing: “You will know some of them when you arrive, and you will know them all as friends when you leave.”


Dec. 12, 2018