Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cold Missouri Waters ...

Like a good many Montanans, I'm fascinated by the story of the Mann Gulch fire -- the 1949 wildfire that claimed the lives of 13 young Forest Service smokejumpers. It's the inspiration for one of the most remarkable of all Montana books: Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire. And as my friend Angharod recently pointed out to me, it was the inspiration for a fairly well-known folk song, too: "Cold Missouri Waters," by the Canadian artist James Keelaghan. Here's a sample stanza:
August 'Forty-Nine, north Montana
The hottest day on record, the forest tinder dry
Lightning strikes in the mountains
I was crew chief at the jump base, I prepared the boys to fly
Pick the drop zone, C-47 comes in low
Feel the tap upon your leg that tells you go
See the circle of the fire down below
Fifteen of us dropped above the cold Missouri waters


  1. My friend Trudi who I believe you've met's father was on that team, but was sick and didn't get dispatched to the fire. He's been interviewed many times regarding the incident.

  2. Oh, yeah ... I think I remember you saying that. There probably aren't too many from that era left; anyone who was, would be pushing 80 by now.

    You should read Young Men and Fire sometime if you haven't ... it's pretty cool stuff. And it's got a short story in the beginning of it that just breaks my heart.