Sunday, October 18, 2009
Both Mullan and Wallace have a population under 1,000 and are only 10 miles apart. One can find a good cup of coffee in either town and both communities field eight-man football teams that play each other twice every season.
This past week I travelled to Mullan to sit in on their game against another rival; the Clark Fork Wampus Cats. My travelling companion, Slim, and I went round and round on what a Wampus Cat might look like and how it came into existence. Slim’s theory had to do with the mingling of spieces—a Wombat (a burrowing plant-eating Australian marsupial that resembles a small bear with short legs) and a Bobcat (a small North American cat species with a barred and spotted coat and a short tail). According to Slim, this cross-breed of marsupial and feline is man-eating to boot. My theory on the Wampus Cat was more streamlined than Slim's. Basically I placed it in the same category as the Wyoming Jackelope—a mythical animal cross between an antelope and jackrabbit). After a quick search on the web, it appears my theory is probably closer to the truth although I never would have guessed six legs.
I don’t know what the total mileage was, but it was about a nine-hour drive between home (Powell, Wyoming) and the two Northern Idaho communities—which was more than enough time to discuss the evolutionary origins of the Wampus Cat.
We started our Mullan trip on Thursday afternoon and despite the dismal weather forecast, we made it to the Capri Motel in Uptown Butte without incident sometime after 8:00 p.m. that evening.
Friday morning—the day of the game in Mullan—we rose around 5:30 to about five inches of fresh snow and extreme cold conditions in Butte. It was difficult to imagine attending a football game at that point. To dampen our spirits even more, we were greeted with disappointment when we drove to the M&M bar and grill for breakfast to find it had been closed and up for sale. The M&M is a Butte landmark—famous for its late-night fights and delicous but greasy breakfasts the next day that includes a red beer or two—tomato juice and beer, the perfect cure for a Butte hangover. Last year while campaigning for his Presidency, Barack Obama visited the M&M, but I’m not in the know as to if he had a red beer.
When we slipped over Lookout Pass that defines the Montana-Idaho border, we gained an hour of time leaving us with almost three hours to explore Mullan before game time.
Waiting for us in Mullan was Slim’s friend Charleton from nearby Sand Point. “Chuck” is a coffee/espresso hound who drives a Volkswagon van equipped with a stove and bed and occasionally carries around a Leica camera that doesn't get used nearly enough.
With the extra time on hand, I walked the streets of Mullan looking for images of a great small town which included a visit to the high school to chat with principal Tom Durbin and a couple of Mullan teachers. Meanwhile Slim and Chuck located and secured the local coffee shop—The Bitterroot Coffee House. What a great find that turned out to be. I’ll just say here that if you’re passing through Mullan someday, make the Bitterroot Coffee House your first stop.
Lucky Friday Mine on the east side of Mullan. It is one of several operations owned and operated by Hecla Mining and is a deep underground silver, lead and zinc mine. There are over 250 employees working at the Lucky Friday and it’s no surprise that the mine employs many residents of Mullan. Check out their website and the video on the Lucky Friday. I hope to return next year and photograph former Mullan players who are now working for the Lucky Friday—assuming some are there.
Then, there was the game. The Mullan Tigers hosting the Clark Fork Wampus Cats. For this eight-man football showdown, Mullan dressed out ten players while Clark Fork fielded thirteen. Unlike Montana eight-man football, Idaho eight-man games are played on a 100-yard field giving it a six-man feel thanks to the extra width and length of field.
Mullan sophomore quarterback Casey McKinnon and Clark Fork senior running back Chance Nesbitt provided plenty of the offensive fireworks for both teams, but it was Mullan who notched the victory when the game ended that day.
Even though snow was falling as we crossed over Lookout Pass, none found its way to the gridiron that day. Nevertheless, as the sun sank lower into the southwestern sky, the cold worked its way to my bones and by the end of the game, all I could think about was finding the warm comfort of a motel room in nearby Wallace.