Monday, March 9, 2015

Rumble At Anaconda Lockout

Rumble At Anaconda Lockout

The 1965 Saturday night dances in Yerington,  Nevada became my responsibility quite by accident.  

My best friend, Sue, was a dynamic personality and had a powerful voice. She and four other high school classmates formed a band called the Sabras , but they had no place to practice. Our living room just happened to be very large, and so it became the band practice spot and hangout. My mother worked late, so at first I neglected to even tell her of my afternoon activities, but when she did find out, to my surprise she was supportive.  

As the band improved they started talking about performing. They decided they needed a band manager to help get them some gigs.  Sue at this point volunteered me. I was fifteen years old. I did not have a clue about finding the band engagements, but I was working on the school newspaper that year and so promoted them with little news articles.

It finally occurred to me, to rent the VFW hall and have a town dance.
Because Yerington was a small town where everyone knew everyone and because my mother was the hospital administrator and because I had a reputation of being “a very responsible young lady”, I was able to rent halls, enlist chaperons and get the police to give us their help and blessing.

For two years, the Sabras and another band, the Quids, whom I had started managing,
performed twice a month at town dances, proms, and parties. The Sabras performed at the battle of the bands in Reno, coming in third place and performed on KOLO TV.  Sue “Hot Lips” Hatton had such a powerful voice that when one night at a dance while she was singing “The House Of the Rising Sun” the microphone went out. She kept belting out her song and was still heard over the drums, electric guitars and the shuffling feet of about 75 dancing couples. At a KOLO recording session, when she started singing the sound technicians grabbed their headsets and threw them on the desk. They came running on the set to adjust the mikes and instruct Sue on how to hold the mike far away from her mouth to keep from destroying their eardrums.

As I approached my senior year, I had gotten quite good at arranging town dances and promoting them with fliers and newspaper articles both in the school paper and the local paper, who’s logo was “the only paper that gives a damn about Yerington”. As summer was wearing down, I rented the Eagle’s Roost for a back-to-school dance.  I did my usual promotion and was expecting a good turnout. The turnout was even better than I hoped for.  

About half way through the dance four surprise visitors come in. They were black soldiers from the naval base in Hawthorne located about 60 miles away.  We were at the height of the Vietnam War and there was a large ammunition depot in Hawthorne.  They had read about the dance in the paper and driven all that distance for a little recreation. Now Yerington at that time had only one black person in the town, a lab technician, who my mother had hired. No one in town would rent to her, so the county rented her the apartment above us. She may have been the only black person who had ever lived in Yerington up to that point.  

Needless to say, the farm and miner boys did not take kindly to these black boys asking their dates to dance. Many of the girls did dance with them. They were very good dancers. After about an hour of “tolerance”, the white boys could take it no longer and challenged then to a fight.

The dance came to a halt as everyone grabbed their coats and purses and headed for a well known local spot, the Anaconda Copper Pit Lookout, an open pit copper mine viewpoint, for the fight.  As cars and trucks sped out of the parking lot, I left the chaperons to close up the dance  as I caught a ride to the pit.  I was scared what might happen and felt responsible if someone got hurt since it was my dance.

By the time I arrived at the lookout, there were about forty vehicles parked helter-skelter.  The four black soldiers had their back to the pit with a 200-foot drop. Their trunk was open and they pulled out some chains and a crowbar. One had a small pocketknife and another had a church key with the pointed end out. Slowly approaching them were about twenty-five white boys with their fists up in Cassius Clay style. Some of the football team took their tackling positions.  This was going to be a war of two types of fighting styles: clean vs. street, rednecks vs. rumblers.

My heart was sinking as I realized someone was surely going to get hurt. I was trying to reason with them to stop but to no avail.  As name-calling prevailed the spectators rooted, yelled for action, some girls cried.  

Suddenly a pickup truck roared up the gravel road and came to a screeching dust encasing stop. A sixteen-year-old farmer’s son jumped out and retrieved his 22 rifle from the rear window gun rack and headed to the line of skirmish. “Oh my God, he is going to shoot those black guys!” I panicked.

Before I could take another breath, he discharged his gun in the air and was shouting for everyone to leave before the police came. He really didn’t have to tell them, because at the sound of the gun’s boom, there was a mass exodus to the cars. The jackrabbits could not have out run them as they scurried down the lookout road in a cloud of dust that made the atomic bomb look tame. Thus ended the one and only rumble in Mason Valley to my knowledge.

The black soldiers were never again seen in Yerington. Sue moved to California shortly after the rumble, as did one of the other band members, one joined the Navy and headed for Vietnam, and thus ended my band management career. I was now 17 years old and preparing for college.

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