The Rest Of Us Bastards Was Dead By Midnight

From Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean:

0226500616.01.LZZZZZZZ.gifOn a good many days in my search for the story of the Mann Gulch fire I never got any farther than “the Loft.” At one end of it was a glass cage containing the Loft foreman, Hal Samsel. Hal is the son of a Forest Service ranger and was born in a ranger station and all his own professional life has been in the Forest Service, most of it in the Smokejumpers — in fact, in early August of 1949 he had just returned to the Smokejumper base from an earlier fire or his number would have been called to go to Mann Gulch. There isn’t much he doesn’t know about the woods, whether viewed from the ground or the sky, and he can tell stories about the woods from either perspective. He is a master storyteller, the only one I ever heard who could tell a whole story with only two grammatical subjects.

“Them sons-of-bitches,” he said, opening with his first subject, “was Mennonites and wouldn’t fight in the last war — they said they wasn’t afraid to work or die for their country but wouldn’t kill anybody, so somebody, maybe for this somebody’s idea of a joke, had them sent to the Smokejumpers. It turned out them sons-of-bitches was farm boys and, what’s more, didn’t believe in using machines no way — working was just for their hands and their horses, and them sons-of-bitches took them shovels and saws and Pulaskis and put a hump in their backs and never straightened up until morning when they had a fire-line around the whole damn fire. Them sons-of-bitches was the world’s champion firefighters.”

His second grammatical subject he saved for the end. “The rest of us bastards,” he said, “was dead by midnight.”


Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

4 thoughts on “The Rest Of Us Bastards Was Dead By Midnight”

  1. I read that book when I was living in Utah–in the summer of 1994 (I think) the year of the deaths on Storm King Mountain in Colorado. It was weird to be 1/2 way through the book and to hear the news reports of the deaths of fire fighters a state away. Good book!

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