The signature moment in the career of Forest Ranger Hiram “Doc” Smith involved 2,000 nudist hippies who invaded Wyoming back in 1973.
Smith was the most effective district ranger that I ever dealt with and how he handled this event so eloquently displayed his vast skills.
I was the local newspaper editor-publisher in Lander when we started hearing rumors about hordes of hippies headed our way.
Known as the Rainbow Family of Living Light, this international motley crew of hippie-type people would meet annually in some pristine alpine place. They would show up in their old trucks and VW vans and totally dominate an area for one long week each summer.
On this particular year, they chose the St. Lawrence Basin area in the Wind River Mountains on the Wind River Indian Reservation northwest of Lander.
Tribal officials would have nothing to do with the hippies! Some members of the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes were advocating violence to any of these folks if they occupied Indian territory.
Thus enters Doc Smith, who was the Lander District Ranger for the southern end of the 3 million acre Shoshone National Forest, which borders the reservation.
If they were headed to this area, could Smith find another place for them to land other than the reservation?
Longtime local Sheriff Campbell “PeeWee” McDougall also got involved but there was no way his small force could handle a major squabble between tribal members and the invading hippies.
Doc and PeeWee put their heads together and came up with a plan. They approached the leaders of the hippie horde, who were already trying to set up on the reservation and enduring some serious threats. A compromise was reached and the Rainbow Family agreed to move to an area near Limestone Mountain on the east side of South Pass. Now, all Doc and PeeWee had to worry about were bands of Wyoming cowboys heading up there with intent to scalp some longhaired members of the Rainbow tribe.
The irony was that Doc Smith had picked a site that was a two-mile hike to the base at the foot of an imposing mountain — Freak Mountain! Yes, that is the name of the mountain where 2,000 nudist hippies would be spending the next week.
As a 27-year-old journalist, I had only seen one event that was remotely similar to what was happening on Freak Mountain.
Three years earlier, the second largest outdoor event behind Woodstock happened in my little hometown, Wadena, Iowa, a little hamlet with a population of 316. Some 50,000 music enthusiasts attended a raucous event on a farm.
There was nudity and drug use. The atmosphere was claustrophobic and otherworldly. My brothers and I staked out the place with the intent of protecting our little town and our family house. It ended up being fun and memorable.
Here in Wyoming, we only had 2,000 of the most peaceful folks you would ever hope to see. Most were dressed like hippies and as soon as the famous Wyoming sun came up, off came their clothes.
Doc and PeeWee worked with state officials and tribal officials to keep the peace.
An oddity we noticed was the severe sunburn suffered by many of the males especially on their private parts. The high altitude caused the brilliant Wyoming sun to scald their tender parts a bit more rapidly than they anticipated.
One of the rangers’ biggest assignments was making sure the nudists were applying enough sunscreen.
In my interviews, I found the people to be nature lovers who tried to live a carefree life without stress. Drugs that were natural such as marijuana and mushrooms seemed to be their vices of choice. Despite many offers, Roger and I did not take them up on their offerings.
Each morning and each evening the hippies would gather in a big circle and do some kind of chanting and nature prayers. At least one actual rainbow did appear and it caused a sensation.
You might assume rampant sex would be occurring; but if so, it certainly was not obvious. We were not there after the sun went down, though.
Both Doc Smith and PeeWee McDougall rank as two of the most interesting characters I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with. Each deserves his own column at some point in the future but for now, I will let them be the stars of my recounting of this storied event, which occurred 46 years ago this past summer.
Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.