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Harris Blackwood: Western journal
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

TEN SLEEP, WYOMING — The Native Americans had an interesting way of counting distance. It was based on how many overnights it required to get to a place. Ten Sleep, a tiny hamlet of 260, was 10 “sleeps” from Yellowstone, Laramie and from the Indian Agency on the Stillwater River in Montana.

However, its population swells each day by a few hundred as tourists pass through. Some are making their way to or from Yellowstone or across the nearly 10,000-foot high pass over the Big Horn mountain range.

There is a general store called Dirty Sally’s. It is named for a character that appeared on the TV Western “Gunsmoke.” The network tried a 13-episode spinoff based on the character of Sally, but it never quite caught on. But she is honored in this little town.

The store carries a wide selection of T-shirts and other souvenirs and offers a selection of coffees and ice cream.

Herb Fenton is a cowboy who lives in Ten Sleep. I don’t know if he is a horse whisperer, but he makes a living by breaking young quarter horses. They usually come to him after someone has tried to tame the energetic animal and may have found themselves lying in the dust.

Fenton doesn’t own a computer and gives the appearance of an old-time cowboy, although he says he feels much younger than his 52 years.

He is sort of a one-man welcoming committee who is pleased to have visitors come to the tiny Western town, but he doesn’t want to modernize or change it.

A few miles further west, in Cody, Wyoming, I met Jim Heberlein, owner of “Our Place,” a popular eatery in this rodeo town.

I had breakfast at his place on the day after President Trump met with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un in the demilitarized zone. Heberlein is a fan of the president. You don’t have to look around his restaurant long to see that he is a supporter of the military, law enforcement and the president.

In the busy season, there is usually a line waiting for a seat. The food is good and basic and the coffee only costs a quarter.

“There’s no coffee klatch here,” Jim said. “We don’t have folks who come in here and drink our coffee and take up a seat. If they do, we’ll move them along.”

He was just a nice guy, and I enjoyed our conversation.

There were other people along the way, like a nice lady named Chris, who manages a hotel near Moose Jaw, Canada. She was just kind and her hotel offers free laundry and detergent for their guests.

We traveled through three Canadian provinces and eight states and the most common denominator was nice folks in small towns. We brought back a memory bank filled with images of beautiful places that could only be crafted by the hand of God.

But we also came back with the warmth that comes from nice people. Sometimes, we in the South think that we have cornered the market on gracious kindness. I think that our neighbors to the north and west also have their fair share of neighborly folks who are willing to welcome travelers from all over. We just have to be willing to share it with them.

I hope they come our way one day and I can show them a little of state and region I love.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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