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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Cold and cloudy. 46 degrees. In fact, it’s even gloomy out there – a chill reminder of what I face when I fly home in three weeks. Not that I don’t like winter. I enjoy the four seasons; it’s just that some years we only seem to get three, none of which could really be called summer.

I have to correct myself on a statement I made recently. As I drove through Cody on my way out to Ainsworth on Monday afternoon I realised that it is not smaller than Merriman. It has 149, not 99 inhabitants as I glibly declared. Apologies to any Cody residents who feel affronted.

This will have to be very brief. I’m staying at the house of Keevin and Dottie Arent of the Sandhills Discovery Foundation (www.sandhillsdiscovery.org/). Keevin is the son of Phillip, the youngest of the eight Arent children who grew up in the red house and the only one to be born there. He bought a ranch up near Johnstown in 1936 and ran it for 37 years. 

I’m having an interesting time. Yesterday Keevin pulled out a copy of an article published some years ago that relates the details of a horrific multiple murder that took place in 1952 not a hop, skip and jump away from the red house. I’d heard mention of Blaine Ellis, and the incident at what was the Mensinger ranch, right beside the highway on the river crossing, but until now didn’t know the details. It seems to have stemmed from a falling-out over something apparently trivial argument in a bar which so angered Ellis that he refused to work any longer with Mensinger. Weeks after the event he showed up at the place and shot dead his former friend George, and his wife. Then, on the run, he killed another rancher before a posse of neighbours gunned him down. The article was written by Frances Walton, who had been a friend of Ellis and had always found him kind and good-humoured. He lodged with her family while she was growing up.

Yesterday we went out to the Ashfall Fossil Beds to look at… fossils. But I think I’m going to have to break off here and pick it up tonight when I get back to the red house. Keevin has unearthed an hour-long tape, made in 1966, in which his aunt, Astrid, describes her time growing up at the red house. It sounds quite fascinating. I’ll report on that tomorrow.