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Cold Steel vs the 1972 Hippies

Boonville’s first-wave hippies called a meeting one Sunday afternoon to discuss what to do about a loose knit, perhaps mythical, Boonville vigilante crew calling itself Cold Steel, whose stated purpose, if you could find it, was to beat up hippies, cut hippie hair, burn hippie shacks, and generally purge the valley of hippies, hip-symps, latent hippies, closet hippies, and all carriers of the hippie virus as determined by Cold Steel. The thinking went that with all the long-haired men and loose women back in Berkeley and San Francisco, the valley’s decent people could return to their pre-hippie lives of serial adultery, wife beating, alcoholism, and bar fighting.

What to do about Cold Steel before The Restoration?

We gathered in a ridgetop, owner-built hippie house to talk mutual aid. There were so many hippies stuffed into the three-story shack for the meeting, and so many women in granny dresses, I half-expected the old woman who lived in a shoe to appear with a tray of lemonade and cookies.

We were directed by our host and his “old lady,” a young woman who looked like she was about 16, to array ourselves in a circle which, the very young old lady explained, “will discourage hierarchical thinking and facilitate communication and community.”

The meeting flier had been illustrated by a male cartoon figure smoking pot. The flier said the gathering would be potluck. Potluck, get it? We were also supposed to bring something to eat that was “healthy, preferably organic.” And right there you understood why so many “straight” Americans wanted to force feed hippies deep fried jelly donuts. And since the occasion was an afternoon affair, why would we have to bring anything to eat since the meeting time was after the lunch hour and would be ended before dinner? Come to find out, as a redneck narrative would put it, there was a minority of hippies who seemed to live for these things; they stuffed themselves on cadged meals in between which they lived on giant blocks of government commodity cheese.

I brought a big bowl of potato salad that the hippies, without asking if the dish had been prepared according to hippie halal, was nearly consumed before I could find a hole in the circle big enough for me to sit down in. Mine was the only real food anybody brought, and I never did get my bowl back. From that day forward, whenever I went to any kind of liberal potluck, and liberal politics inevitably meant circles and dope, I brought stuff straight from Safeway’s sale table. The negative food value items disappeared just as fast as the organic whatever.

That day’s banquet also included some scraggly strands of unappetizing blackish-green vegetable matter that a man told me was seaweed rendered edible. There were a couple of hunks of homemade bread with the appearance and texture of cannonballs; and a big vat of watery slop billed as soup. And, of course, there was marijuana, the sacred herb around whose consumption so many stoned lives then revolved.

At a Green Party meeting several years later, the circle meeting format had been expanded to include a tiny, Peter Pan-ish fellow who said his name was Morning Light. The event began with Morning Light holding up a battered asparagus fern. “Only persons in possession of this fern are empowered to speak,” he said, “and I will start the discussion by passing it to the person to my right.” I wondered who had empowered him. Had the gnomish little fascist simply taken advantage of stoner inattentiveness to seize control?

Morning Light declared he would also function as “vibes watcher,” explaining that if the discussion became too heated, he’d play a tune on his flute until proper rhetorical order was restored. Morning Light added that instead of clapping and cheering when we heard something we approved of, we should “twinkle,” raising our hands over our heads and silently wiggling our fingers. “It’s so much less disruptive than clapping and cheering,” he explained.

These protocols kicked in in the early 1980s. At that initial Cold Steel meeting we were merely arrayed in circles, no vibe watcher.

A big bush hippie was one of the few sensible persons attending the what-to-do-about-the-vigilantes meeting. He was only a year from the fighting in Vietnam, a fierce looking man with long, unattended black hair and a big black beard and wild eyes to go with it. He’d mustered out of the Army with enough money and VA benefits to buy 40 acres somewhere up around Spy Rock, north of Laytonville. He told me that he was visiting a friend “near Boonville” when he saw the flier. The bush hippie was about sixty miles south of his Spy Rock neighborhood, which had already established itself as, ah, self-governing. He didn’t introduce himself and no one seemed inclined to pry.

“Why don’t we just grab some of these Cold Steel assholes and shove some cold steel up their ass?” the bush hip suggested.

A perpetually smiling, curly-headed man who was considered a notorious deadbeat even by hippies with an “old lady” even more notorious for parasitism, began his monologue, rushing his words as if to cancel out the tactical suggestion of the alienated man fresh off his jungle adventure,

“I really love living in Anderson Valley, and love the people, plants. animals, streams and rivers, the whole place and everybody and everything in it. By ‘love’ I mean I sense the ultimate oneness of all, and the love force which is the most powerful force in creation. Also I am a person of strong political opinions — opinions which change with the help of my friends: opinions which sometime differ from those of my friends and neighbors. I love and respect my neighbors, even though their politics may differ from mine. We are all coming from different life experiences, and are viewing these different experiences from different perspectives. I relish political debate, but only if the participants love and respect each other in the process. I especially love the notorious characters of Anderson Valley, whose comic and-or tragic flaws, are as apparent to me as my own flaws, entirely invisible to me of course but are seen clearly by my Anderson Valley neighbors. I am a ‘radical’ in that I love to get to the root of things. Now our country has become so dominated by men of fear, greed, and the desire to exploit and dominate, that it is rapidly destroying itself. This means that every year I, as a landless family man and worker-entrepreneur in Anderson Valley, become more dependent on my friends and neighbors for all I need to survive and live happily. Indeed, we in Anderson Valley need each other more every day, in so many ways. Let’s get together in love, relishing our diversity.”

The bush hippie, a big smile on his hairy face, answered, “Me too. I love the valley. The robins here are much better than the ones around Laytonville. Down here they’re so nice and fat and all fluffed out that they’re easy to pick off with a bb gun.”

A wiry little fellow announced solemnly, “Politics is the art of the possible,” and the meeting plunged irrelevantly on until one of the stoners finally asked, “So, who are these Cold Steel people anyway?”

No one knew, but everyone seemed to have a preferred villain. Names tumbled into consideration, but not one could be confirmed as Cold Steel.

“Maybe there isn’t a Cold Steel,” a woman suggested. “Maybe there’s just kind of these freelance rednecks who beat up hippies whenever they get a chance.”

“Well, my friend from Albion,” began a long hair, “said he went into the Boonville Lodge last Saturday night to buy a six-pack, and while he was inside some rednecks hooked up his VW bus to the tow bar on their pick-up truck. My friend came outside just as they got his bus connected to their tow bar. He told them to leave him alone and un-hook him. They just stood there laughing at him. Finally, one of them pretended to un-hook him and told him he could go. But my friend was still hooked up. The rednecks got into their truck and towed my friend all around Boonville for about half an hour, like it was all a big joke.”

The bush hippie laughed.

I laughed.

“Sounds like an initiation ceremony to me,” I said.

A large woman with a small, downturned, perpetually unhappy mouth had been grazing the potluck table ever since she’d arrived, suddenly shouted out, “We must remain non-violent!”

Volcanically angry herself, as I came to know from seeing her in action at succeeding hip-lib events, the unhappy woman, whom another bush vet called a “power cow,” was always pretending to be shocked, gasping so loud at public meetings whenever something was said or done that violated hippiedom’s stated ideal of collective peace and love, the people in the gasped room would have to take a timeout, like a flock of birds sent suddenly airborne from a telephone wire, until the traumatized flower child stopped hyper-ventilating. A discussion would be stumbling along when suddenly there’d be a kind of coyote-like yelp that segued into great gulping inhalations on the frontier of hyper-ventilation until her alarmed eruptions finally subsided into sighs and, we all hoped, peace. These explosions were a staple of hippie gatherings, as predictable as pot and patchouli.

Deep in the Cold Steel meeting, a terrible scream erupted from the righteous one. A sudden cry so loud, so piercing that for all anybody knew she’d just taken a machete stroke to her back. I wasn’t the only one who was startled.

We stared at her, shocked. What the hell had happened? Nothing, as if turned out. A man had fired up a non-marijuana cigarette a good forty feet from where earth mother, wrapped in layers of shawls and a mammoth earth-toned muumuu, had spread herself out like a heavily graffitti-ed freeway pillar. The cigarette smoke had somehow penetrated the marijuana haze that hung over the room to make its evil way to earth mother’s nostrils, her sacred space, her drift. The woman had been violated! 

The drift interlude took up about half an hour because it had given birth to a prolonged argument about the relative lethality of cigarette smoke versus marijuana smoke.

Just before the meeting broke up with no resolution of the Cold Steel problem other than the bush hippie’s stated intention to meet violence with ultra-violence — “If any of those assholes fuck with me…” earth mom, as she did at every political meeting, announced that she would appreciate donations so she could continue “doing important political work.”

And that was the end of Cold Steel.

Among the county’s hippies, Boonville did indeed have the reputation as a place to avoid, but there was never any evidence of organized hippie-bashers.

One Comment

  1. Kirk Vodopals March 28, 2023

    I didn’t move here until the 2000s, but the Lodge always seemed to me to be the epicenter of hippie-bashing. There were always your hard-core locals who loved to instigate pissing matches with outsiders… Mama didn’t love me enough I’d presume.
    I don’t miss that vibe, but it is sad to see the gentrification of Boonville.

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