Foote Fire Sparks Community Jig
By MALCOLM TERENCE, TRT Contributing Writer
Salmon River folk came together last week to support one of their own whose cabin burned down, apparently as part of a burglary, while he was away.
River residents have been battered over the years. The area has been scorched by huge wildfires; bullied by the US Post Office, which threatened closures; sprayed with toxic herbicides, and even bulldozed and burned by the US Forest Service when that agency decided to evict residents of mining claims.
Those old wounds were set aside as locals rallied at the community hall for a dinner and dance. The goal was to fundraise for David Foote, the longtime Sawyers Bar resident whose home had burned.
The community hall was once the Forks of Salmon school house and its tradition of local dances, complete with local bands, goes back beyond the memories of most locals alive today.
Kate George, once the matriarch of Forks and herself an accomplished musician, used to tell tales of dances from long ago. She said the dances drew people across all the demographic lines—age, ethnicity and cultural outlook. That is still true.
She described a local dance step that is a hybrid with some borrowed jig, a little mosh pit and the bounce of a choker setter dragging a cable through dense brush. She called it the Salmon River Stomp and it still describes many of the dancers on the floor.
She said that folks would light a warming fire outside the building where people could pass refreshments and chat it up when they tired of dancing. There is still a warming fire at dances.
Kate even said that, when one man or another would get drunk and intolerably abusive, rather than just pummeling him unconscious, several other men would grab him all at once and tie him to a tree. Someone would come by the next morning to untie him and offer him coffee. There are still plenty of trees around the community hall but no one has been tied to one for a long time.
Jim Bennett, chief of the Salmon River Fire and Rescue, said his crew responded to the fire after a neighbor heard propane bottles exploding. Two units from CalFire and two from the Forest Service also responded but the structure was completely burned along with Foote’s truck and his winter firewood supply.
Photos after the fire showed Foote raking the ashes, his truck in ruins and even the cast-iron pans on the stove fused and melted by the intense heat. He has retrofitted an outbuilding, installed a stove and been living there since the burn.
Foote’s daughter Maggie Ferguson, now a resident of Bend, organized a Facebook page where people began offering house wares to replace his losses. Other neighbors organized the dinner-dance as a fundraiser.
The crowd, around 100 people, had barely finished their supper at the event when organizers cleared the floor and all attention shifted to the small stage at one end of the room, while musicians tuned up and adjusted their electronic equipment. There would be two popular local bands—the Home Wreckers and the Superfines, although musicians seemed to move from on group to the other with ease.
Foote was coaxed to make a speech so he stood and said, “Thank you, everybody, for coming,” smiled and motioned to the band to start the music.
The instrumentalists began and the first dancers ventured out onto the floor. Chris “Birdman” McCulloch, the guitarist, soon introduced the lead singer, a mountain of a man that everyone knows as “Chief.” McColluch described him as a human amplifier and that understated the power of his voice.
Chief almost certainly has another name but no local could remember it, and, anyway, the volume was soon so loud that questions and answers or any conversations, even shouted, were impossible.
Lured irresistibly by the band, 60 people crowded onto the dance floor while Chief sang “Susie Q,” the 1950s rock classic by Screaming Dale Hawkins. It has been covered by many bands since then, iucluding Creedence Clearwater Revival, but there was general agreement that Chief and his band outdid them all.
Soon jackets were thrown off and windows were opened to let in the chilly night air. The building has no neighbors who might hear the clamor except one woman who was among the first dancers.
A few days after the dance, Foote’s daughter Maggie posted on the Facebook page: “So many people pulled together for my dad. He is now staying in the holler and so many people came together to make it happen so he could stay there. I think there will always be things needed to be done on it, but he has a place to lay his head after two weeks. So …we are all in a new chapter of our lives in the same book and I know the book will just get better.”
Organizers of the event handed Foote a little over $3,000 at the end of the evening and other neighbors were seen clandestinely passing him gifts.