The Yaak Valley

We’ve been gone for a month and I’d like to use the fact that there frequently was no Internet coverage as an excuse for not writing anything. Nothing on the blog, nothing in e-mails, little texting and only a few sentences in my journal. I took my guitar along but took it out of its case maybe twice. My art supplies were hardly touched. I did, however, have two {sic} beers every evening. My default mode was reading. 

I also packed my running shoes and exercise clothing that remained in a gym bag for the entire trip. At first I told myself that it was too chilly or rainy. After a week of kidding myself, I just gave up and let myself gain all the weight that I’d lost over the last six months.

Being a sloth can be rewarding if one is in the right frame of mind.


The Yaak Valley is an isolated area in the Northwest corner of Montana, and most of the folks that live in that sparsely populated region are people who are not comfortable with being around others. There are guys hiding from the law, from angry women (or men), from the world (who can blame them?), but most are harmless in their isolation. There is a sort of faux lawlessness and aggressive edge in the Yaak Valley. Consider the following, a story, that is mildly accurately repeated here,  that the owner of the Dirty Rotten Shame Saloon in Yaak recounted:

The Dirty Rotten Shame Saloon is one of maybe four businesses in Yaak and is directly across the street from the only other bar in town, so one can easily compute that 50% of the establishments in town are devoted to drinking. The bartender at the Dirty Rotten Shame contends that the competition across the road, The Yaak Bar and Restaurant, is geared for family dining, and that during tourist season has its share of customers while the Dirty Rotten Shame Saloon has a constant patronage throughout the year. 

The Dirty Rotten Shame Saloon does not look particularly inviting as one drives into the small collection of buildings that is Yaak. The bar on the other side of the street is well lit and might have several vehicles parked in front. In fact, if it weren’t for the loud, raucous, rock ‘n roll music blaring from speakers on its disheveled porch, the Dirty Rotten Shame Saloon looks closed and abandoned. But, the locals know.

Upon entering the Dirty Rotten Shame Saloon (the saloon, since the other bar is now irrelevant to this already lengthy story) the first thing noticed is the giant cardboard cutout of Donald Trump in the back. The second is the Confederate battle flag tacked to the ceiling above the bar. Third is the scant number of patrons present. The customers that in the saloon seem to be wary and furtively glaring at each other as they sit far from each other.

FOX news brays constantly from a television above the back of the bar.


A year, or so ago, two locals, brothers, were in the saloon looking for the ex-girlfriend of the younger one. In fact the woman for whom they were searching was hiding in the saloon’s women’s restroom, afraid to come out and deal with the two siblings who were steadily ordering more shots and beers, becoming louder and more aggressive. The owner finally reached the most unusual point, for the saloon, of warning the boys to calm down. 

The boisterous lads could not control themselves and were thrown out of the saloon. However they did not feel they were fairly treated and stood out on the street shouting and cursing about the injustice of their situation. Finally they decided that it was their right to force their way back into the saloon.

As the brothers approached the saloon’s rickety steps, the owner stepped out onto the porch and lifted a can up so they could plainly see what they faced.

“Gonna bear spray you boys if you try to come up here,” he warned.

“Gonna kick your ass, mother fucker,” the older brother eloquently replied in a slurred snarl.

The owner answered with stream of bright orange spray that immediately got past the intoxicated state of both lads who reacted with coughing, snorting and weeping gasps of pain. They chose to retreat.

There was a quiet respite on the street of Yaak that lasted for about fifteen minutes before the brothers started racing their muffler-less, vintage Ford pickup back and forth through town. With the bravado of high school sophomores they hurled curses at the saloon each time they passed by. At some point one of them must have realized that their taunting was as useless as trying to outfart a tornado. A new tactic was in order.

The saloon’s owner saw the brothers park their truck down the road. He saw them grab stuff out of the back of the cab before splitting up. The older one started walking back down the road while his brother stumbled off to the side. In a few minutes there was again shouting and cussing outside the front of the saloon. The owner opened the door to find the older brother waving a pistol around, daring the owner to spray him again. The owner quietly closed the door and called the sheriff. 

A ninety year old patron turned to his son and said, “Damn, this place ain’t changed in fifty years.”

The owner asked everyone to stay in their seats and requested the two men at the pool table to resume their game later and to take a seat. “All the meals and drinks will be on the house but please don’t go outside until the sheriff has arrived and after he says it is safe to leave.”

After ten minutes and the sheriff had not yet arrived, the owner looked outside the side window of the saloon and was startled to see the younger brother sitting on a stump not twenty yards away. He had a rifle with a spotting scope aimed directly at the window. The owner stepped away from the window and again called the sheriff’s depart. He reiterated the problem and explained that the idiots outside the saloon had gotten even more out of hand. He ended the call by saying,”Stop fucking around and get over here before someone gets killed and by 

God it’s not going to be me.”

Before the owner started to unlock his gun cabinet, sirens could be heard and soon the blue and white flashing lights of the sheriff’s vehicles were in front of the saloon. The older brother threw down his gun and started to run, but two deputies quickly caught up with him, handcuffed him and gently sat him down in the back of a patrol car. The poor lad was exhausted after such a busy evening, so he passed out.

The younger brother remained sitting on the stump with his rifle trained on the interior of the saloon. A number of deputies surrounded him, pointing their own rifles at the drunk man, shouting at him to drop the rifle and to lie down. The man did not move. The deputies waited for the order to shoot, but the sheriff slowly approached the rifleman. The words the lawman used were too quiet for anyone to hear except the man with the rifle.

After a couple of minutes the sheriff, with one hand stretched out toward the man, was standing next to him. The riotous, loudmouth jerk handed over his gun without a word. 

After the brothers were on their way to jail, the sheriff walked into the saloon, and assured everyone it was safe to leave. Of course, nobody wanted to leave. They were having too much fun. The sheriff wanted to know where the ex-girlfriend was. He wanted to interview her about the night. Someone said that she was still in the women’s room.

Knocking on the door of the restroom, the sheriff called on the woman to come out. 

“Oh, God,” came a voice through the door. “Do I have to?”

“Yeah, you do, Becky, and I have to take that drivers work permit away from you.”

Becky had received a DUII a few weeks prior to the above incident, but she’s pleaded a hardship in that she had to drive to work. She got a permit to drive to her place of employment, but was restricted to a work trip only. She also was forbidden to go into any place that served alcohol.

After visiting Yaak and the Dirty Rotten Sham Saloon, one has the impression that this story is not unusual for the Yaak Valley.


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