Tribal elders | ParkRecord.com

Tribal elders

Core Samples

By Jay Meehan
Park Record columnist

Even prior to meeting Rich Martinez, I held a well-seasoned familiarity with characters of western mining towns and the keepers of their flames. If they happened to be associated with saloons, my interest, of course, only piqued.

The northern Idaho non-ferrous mining and smelting community of Kellogg, where I spent my first 16 years, was rife with just such personalities – both friends of my father and my grandfather. The area had a relatively young history and the tribal elders wanted to make sure you got it right.

An understanding of the inherent traditions associated with the lifestyle also loomed large in the curriculum. It wasn't just about the panhandle of Idaho. A smelter my grandfather helped assemble in the mining camp of Trail, British Columbia, often found itself occupying more than a cameo in the parables of the day.

Not that the stories were never embellished but the aim of the narrator most often rang true. Whether tragic or comic, at least a nugget of a moral would be contained within. They kept us riveted with their yarns, these male progenitors. I often see them in my brother McGee's tales and not just in subject but flair as well.

"That afternoon I learned that there indeed existed a threshold of beer consumption that could visually affect the décor not all that differently than, say, some of the more hallucinogenic substances my peer group snuck into town."

Recommended Stories For You

And then there were the mining bums who roamed the west in search of temporary employment. You would meet them rolling off the upstairs living room couches while, hurriedly, bundling up bedding. They had arrived late, as it were, from some watering hole with my "mi casa es su casa" father. Mom had sort of gotten used to it.

That's when other mining town names such as Park City, Utah, would enter the lexicon. They would stick to the ribs of memory and by the time the '60s ran out of promise and a quantum change of lifestyle beckoned, the anticlines of the Wasatch back, now morphing into ski slopes, sang a siren's call.

They became part of you, these chronicles and myths. Not even a decade in Los Angeles or a hitch in the Army could wash them away. So much in fact, that when you finally do re-alight back in a mountain valley — this time in Utah — the templates for local lore are already in place.

Early on, however, without possessing any primary source material, I decided I had a bone to pick with this Richard Martinez character. Rumor had it that the owner of "The Cozy Saloon – First Chance/Last Chance" was all set to close down shop and sell out.

Even though the Cozy had never really made me feel welcome, a state of affairs not shared with most of my friends, I felt it was an integral part of the community of which I had become smitten. As you can well imagine, change for the sake of commerce has never sat well with fools such as I.

Being somewhat "snoggered," of course, I felt this longtime local owed me, a countercultural interloper of the highest order, an explanation – something akin to: "Who do you think you are selling the family business for profit without first consulting the long-haired druggie-commie-pinko invader sitting in front of you?"

Oh well, we live and learn. That afternoon I learned that there indeed existed a threshold of beer consumption that could visually affect the décor not all that differently than, say, some of the more hallucinogenic substances my peer group snuck into town. By the time Rich laughed me out the door, I believe my ratio had become 10 beers and five shots from my "brown bag" equaled a fistful of peyote buttons.

I wish I would have known author, writer and raconteur Gary Kimball back then. Not that he would have necessarily agreed with me on any of the bones I had to pick with Rich but he could have brought me up to speed on the book of watering-hole histories he was piecing-out in The Lodestar Magazine and would later publish in book form.

Both Rich and Gary had seen my kind come and go before. As it turned out, we California "know-it-alls" didn't have all that much new to drop on their plates. But, as time rolled by, we would more often than not find ourselves dipping our snouts into similar troughs.

Rich and I would find ourselves being part of KPCW interviews along with such local legends as Mel Fletcher and my brother-in-arms Loran Larsen, who, more than any other, became my single favorite conduit to Park City's mining past. As in Kellogg, these Park City tribal elders both kept the faith and re-educated the know-it-alls. As they leave us, I miss them and love them madly! RIP Rich Martinez!

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.