Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

The Black Hills and 50-year-old memories

Wick's World


If you let a memory slide too deep into the abyss, it may be gone forever. For some reason unknown to mankind, yesterday my thoughts were wandering somewhere west of the Badlands reaching into the Black Hills of South Dakota. I grew up a couple hundred miles to the east of the Hills on the Missouri River. This is where the fertile farmland meets the wide open range where the buffalo once roamed and the deer and the antelope play.

The memory I was seeking yesterday asked the question: When did I first go to the Black Hills? Did I really go there as a youngster with my mom, dad and sister? Finally, I remembered Lady, a miniature collie who was rescued by Uncle Jesse and his wife, Gladys. The tiny dog was scared and malnourished when it wandered into their yard in Rapid City, South Dakota. We stopped by to visit just at the right time to bring home Lady, our new family pet. I then knew for certain I had been to the Black Hills as a kid for I was about 10 years old when Lady died in my arms, the result of a vet’s botched spay job.

I began to remember Mt. Rushmore, the Cosmos and the streets of Deadwood. What mostly imprinted on my brain as a little kid was this: Why would someone put huge plastic dinosaurs all over the Black Hills? More importantly, why did we stop to look at them when you could still see them perfectly from a long way away in the car?

When I was 15, I went back to the Black Hills with three of my friends. Here’s what I remember. No matter how old the eldest of our group tried to look, we never were able to buy beer. That also goes for getting girls. I guess we had fun trying, although I really don’t remember.

In the fall of 1964, I enrolled at Black Hills State College and spent the school year in Spearfish, South Dakota. Here’s my fondest memory. I had my 1956 Chevy loaded with a bunch of under-age college freshmen. This time we had managed to procure our favorite beverage. With a car load of beer, I failed to see the cop as I sped back to campus to possibly pick up some girls. Again, we had no luck in that category because I encountered the sound of a siren and the glare of flashing lights. I quickly asked if anyone in the car was 19, the legal age to drink beer at the time. To a loud chorus of, “No,” I rolled down my window and greeted the officer.

The first question he asked was, “Is anyone in here 19?”

If you lived back then, you would understand that the beer or speeding was not a problem as long as one person in the car was "of age." I took out my wallet and showed the officer 21-year-old Ron Ballou’s expired driver’s license. (Ron, I think Damon gave it to me.) Ron was a dark-skinned Frenchman and I was white as a ghost. He stood five-foot, 10-inches and I was six inches shorter. His hair was black; mine was blond. He weighed 175 pounds. I may have tipped the scales at 120 if I was wearing my winter boots and a parka.

The fact we both had blue eyes must have led the officer to say, “Thanks, Ron, you boys should be getting back to campus.”

My sister is going to die laughing when she reads I passed for her classmate, Ron Ballou, whom everyone called Frenchy.

My fondest memory from the Black Hills happened at the “Days of 76” in Deadwood. The year was 1966 and a couple of us decided to go to a dance featuring a band from Belfast, Ireland, that was playing at the nearby Lead, South Dakota, gymnasium. The band had just finished a month-long gig at the Whiskey a Go-Go in Los Angeles where their opening act was an unknown band called The Doors. The band I saw that evening in Lead, South Dakota, was called “Them.”

How they ever ended up in the Black Hills remains a mystery to all of us. Although they had a couple of hit songs, back then they were as unknown as The Doors. The band’s leader and singer-songwriter became known throughout the world as Van Morrison.

On their last night at the Whiskey a Go-Go, rock history was made when Jim Morrison and Van Morrison jammed for a 20-minute version of “Gloria” and a 25-minute version of “In the Midnight Hour.” Although no rock history was made in Lead that evening, I’ll never forget the long version of their encore song, “Turn on Your Love Light.”

Wow, that memory is 50 years old!


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