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Letter

On May 6, Bitterroot resident Dave Hurtt made a backhanded attempt at complimenting the late Stewart M. (Brandy) Brandborg (who passed away April 14) by referring the readers of this opinion page to a poem that—in effect—compares Brandy to a horse turd. I guess he thought he was being folksy and therefore, meant no offense.

In the same letter he condescendingly referred to friends and family who were gathered in remembrance of this great environmentalist as “disciples” who had either been at “the government trough” all their lives or who otherwise didn’t know what real work was.

Well, I was at that gathering and Dave didn’t talk to me. If he had, I might have enlightened him to the possibility that an old treeplanter like myself knows at least as much about being on the working end of an ash-handled implement of torture as a developer like himself… or I might not have. But never mind. Instead I’ll settle for letting opinionated dogs lie and take up Dave’s challenge of “remembering Brandy” in an equally (though more fact-based) folksy vein:

In 1949, Brandy’s father, Guy M. Brandborg (“Big Brandy” to his family), who supervised the Bitterroot National Forest between 1935 and 1955, was hauled before one of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) inquisitions. His crime was in believing in Gifford Pinchot’s Forest Service and in “social forestry.” In simple terms, this meant Pinchot’s instructions to his foresters to give priority to small, local mills who could log the forest sustainably for decades over the big ones who had the proven record of stripping the land and resource-based communities bare and then leaving town. Sometime after World War II, Big Brandy was visited by an “Anaconda man,” who tried to warn him off this “social forestry" and “making democracy work” stuff and Big Brandy told the Anaconda man to go to hell. Not long after, he was hauled before a HUAC hearing in Missoula.

HUAC hearings were notorious for basing allegations of “unAmerican activities” on anonymous statements from erstwhile friends of the accused. This meant that career-wrecking inquisitions could be launched on nothing more than what a friend claimed a friend said over dinner, and this was the case with Big Brandy. Big Brandy’s HUAC informant was a close friend of the Brandborg family when they lived in Grangeville between 1925 and 1935, when he was co-supervising the Nez Perce with Dave Hurtt’s dad, Leon Hurtt.

Dave makes reference to his dad and Big Brandy working together on the Nez Perce Forest during those days, and no doubt they were close. Small towns do that to people, just as they also close minds. It wasn’t Dave’s dad who “informed” on Big Brandy, but given the condescending tone of Dave’s letter referring to Brandy’s friends and family, and given Dave’s documented history of racism here in the Bitterroot during the Obama years, a knowledgeable person can only shake their head and ask the rhetorical question: isn’t it interesting?

There has always been a parallel land ethic here in the West since the earliest days of white settlement, one that’s democratic, and one that’s not. My guess is that the democratic ethic predates Dave’s pointy-toed one, but I’m not sure, and I’m certainly not asking him to explain his (or his dad’s) political views. But I think he might at least have a little explaining to do as to why he thinks his ill-informed, undemocratic views are somehow superior to Brandy’s, his friends’ or his family’s.

Folksy is as folksy does, Dave. You’re a developer now, but Brandy never gave up his faith in the land or its people. Horse turd? Well, that is kind of funny, but if you want to use animal excrement as an analogy for one’s political views, I’d respectfully submit that yours came out of the back end of a bull.

—Bill LaCroix, Victor

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