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A Monster Lived Here

Updated: Sep 2, 2019

This is one place it lived before it died in prison. It lived here abusing its children. Beating and raping its daughter. A trained boxer, it knew how to inflict severe pain without killing.

A couple of years after purchasing my land here, the New Mexico State Police were closing in on its homestead a few miles up canyon. It caught wind of their impending raid and fled New Mexico just as construction of infrastructure and house began here. I encountered the entire family on the road out as they were leaving after first snow of the season. A scene John Steinbeck might have penned, a rattletrap 1950s pickup truck with a homemade camper built on topped by a pitched roof covered in shake shingles with pots, pans and tools swinging by pegs and hooks on the outside walls. Its sons were leading the way on foot, wielding shovels to clear deep snow so the old truck could roll on as the monster drove it. As I pulled over to give them room, they just stared at me and did not smile or wave. They looked desperate. Haunted.

Not long after they left the state, I heard they were in Alaska stirring up trouble and receiving large dividend checks from the state government's permanent fund. I ventured up canyon to have a look at their digs. The monster had touted itself as a preacher for decades, claiming to have a direct connection to its god. Inside its hovel of a home in the mountains are traces of its insanity.

It erected a large wooden cross near the hovel to symbolize its sick connection to its god.

The giant cross may have been a place of punishment for the children of the monster. Signs of what may be exercises in penance adorn its lower reaches–hundreds of tiny nails hammered into it in precisely aligned columns. The monster must have felt so powerful here.

I considered cutting the damn thing down–a monster's perverted symbol–but left it alone.

This is the chair where the monster sat beside the only wood burning stove in the hovel while its thirteen children dwelled in a common room without heat or walls for basic privacy. It kept its axe handle handy above its chair for quick access to mete out god's divine punishment?

It had a library of Funk & Wagnalls and Britannica encyclopedia, but forbade its children reading from it, only allowing them to read its holy bible and its own written holy words.

A local veterinarian and rancher came looking for a mule he heard the monster had appropriated from him because it wandered too near the hovel, and having pity on the impoverished children the veterinarian rancher saw there, he showed them how to build tubs with fireboxes beneath them for heating water to bath in. This sort of basic comfort never occurred to the monster. It kept its children living in as much discomfort as possible.

The sons of the monster built two of the wood-heated baths, one from a watering trough.

They drew water from a hand-dug well using rope and bucket. No signs of an outhouse or other means of disposal of human waste anywhere around the place. The monster must have deemed such luxurious accommodations sinful.

The monster built a cooling box made of massive blocks of styrofoam to keep slaughtered meat from its herd of sheep and from poached game in.

Inside the hovel was dark and foreboding. Garbage strewn everywhere, odors unpleasant.

Obviously, wildlife had invaded since the monster fled to Alaska with its family, but it's equally obvious living conditions were not much removed from the huge mess remaining.

A lean-to on the rim of cliffs overlooking the monster's hovel indicated a place of extended banishment for children guilty of sins committed and in need of extreme punishment beyond beating. The image of a child crouched in the lean-to with meager campfire for warmth looking down at its home below wrenches the heart.

Looking toward the place the monster's hovel was from a nearby cabin showing signs it and its family had squatted there, no trace of the horrible mess they created and left behind is visible. But they did leave a mess. A huge one for someone else to have to clean up someday. A member of the family returned a few months after this photograph was taken. I came upon her parked on the side of the road. She carelessly tossed a burning cigarette into brush which subsequently caught dry leaves on fire and spread. Quick response by the local fire fighting crew put it out. My thanks to those fellows for that fast action. If I had not seen the flames as I was driving away from the scene in my rearview mirror, the entire canyon might have burned.

After the monster and its family arrived in Alaska, they became known for their bluegrass/gospel music making around Fairbanks and Homer before they purchased land within the Wrangell St. Elias National Park and moved there after eventually wearing out their welcome in McCarthy. A battle with national park rangers ensued after the monster bulldozed an unauthorized road through national parklands, a battle which brought nation-wide attention upon the monster and its family. Many fools lauded them as heroes fighting for freedom against big government. But soon after that battle began, truth of the monster's cruel ways with its family and raping of its daughter were revealed thanks to an alert acquaintance who did not let the signs of abuse pass without investigation. The monster ran, was hunted down, tried, convicted and imprisoned for crimes committed over decades. And in prison he died as this 2008 Outside Online article relates as well as any other of the many writings about it all.

It's sad that so many children of the monster suffered so much for so long, but I'm glad they all fled from this place before I decided to settle in here. I'm pretty sure during early phases of construction work while I was taking a break for a walk in adjoining national forest lands that the monster took a potshot at me with its rifle–it or one of its sons, perhaps. I was walking the forest alone but my parents were down at the construction site and heard the shot ring out and echo off the canyon slopes. It made me flinch but didn't dissuade me from finishing my walk. The bastard. I'm sure my parents breathed a sigh of relief when I emerged from the forest unharmed. We had heard some local people tell of the monster and its sons being poachers, crooked and dangerous, but nothing about its cruelty to its own family members. I suspect if the monster had chosen to stay in this area after my arrival, there would have been more trouble between us.

Bad trouble.

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