Culture, Community, and Civility: Code of the (New) West
Living here is a great blessing for Ramona and me. We greatly appreciate the wonderful natural, cultural, and prosperous environment of the Gallatin Valley. Even these stellar qualities are sometimes trumped by seeing people care for one another. Our community has culture of civility and caring--even for unknown others.
Consider the decades long growth and success of Eagle Mount and that of the newer Warriors and Quiet Waters. Each year they attract thousands of volunteer hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars. And this in a county so small it lacks a single city of 50,000 or more. Quite amazing.
For all of the above qualities and more, specifically the increasing congestion, crime, and dis-amenities of large urban areas, more people find the Gallatin Valley area attractive. It has become a magnet for active people having the flexibility to land a place here. A small minority anticipate dangerous storms and are buying a seat on a lifeboat when purchasing property here. Others follow adult children.
Of course not all good things go together: Some new arrivals don't understand the responsibilities inherent to living in a rural area. And they occasionally hit reality checks. Here is an example.
One of our neighbors lives a few miles away and across the Gallatin River. Each spring she operates Wild Rose, a commercial green house producing flowers and vegetable starts for local gardeners. She also has a small flock of sheep. Several have names. Missy and Blue come when called and the flock follows.
This year the ewes lambed out well. With greater numbers, she ran short of pasture. More sheep and lambs require more grass. We had plenty of grass in the creek paddocks south of our house, steers weren't yet here, and we offered the pasture.
Having raised thousands of sheep in years past, we were happy to have some back. Further, their great, great grandparents came from our herd. We enjoyed having a few of their descendants back--until a week ago Friday.
I was driving to Belgrade to check on one of our old farm trucks to be driven in the town's Fall Festival.
Ramona called with six terrifying words, "Three dogs are in the sheep". I immediately flipped a U turn back to Gateway.
Mini-14s and guard dogs were our tools of choice when protecting our sheep from coyotes and stray dogs. While our dogs were long gone, rifles last forever. I just had to grab one and jam in a clip. Alas, by the time I arrived the damage was done.
Sheep were terrified, bloodied, and scattered. Torn out wool was all over. The dogs had hit all but three of the lambs and ewes, including Missy. Four were in tough shape.
I called dispatch at 911 and requested the ACO and a Sheriff deputy. They arrived in separate vehicles a few minutes apart. Gallatin is a wonderful county. Ramona had two of the dogs on leash. They were attractive huskies. The third had run off and returned later to again attack the lamb down 85 yards away in the SW corner of the pasture. How did I know it was 85 yards? Range finder.
One of the dogs had a rabies tag on its collar with the vet's phone number. Ramona called the vet, the vet's office called the dog's owner, and she soon arrived.
"This couldn't have been our dogs. They play so well with our kids." Really? Torn and bloody sheep were scattered around, wool in piles, blood on the dogs mouths. Really?
I was told the dog owners moved here from a distant city. They apparently didn't understand the responsibilities of living in a rural area. Dogs form pack. Packs chase and kill. Fun for the dogs no doubt. Not for the victims, the animals and those who care for them.
The laws are clear. People can't let dogs run loose with impunity. All lose; the animals attacked, their people, and dog owners if identified. And yes, some dogs become victims of owners' negligence.
Here is a suggestion for people moving into a rural area. Read Gallatin County's "Code of the West". http://www.gallatin.mt.gov/Public_Documents/gallatincomt_webdocs/codewest
Here are a few selections from the Code.
Introduction to "Code of the West"
The famous western writer, Zane Grey, first chronicled the Code of the West. The men and women who came to this part of the country during the westward expansion of the United States were bound by an unwritten code of conduct.
Old West values like integrity, self-reliance and accountability guided their decisions, actions and interactions. Their survival depended upon their ability to cooperate with their neighbors -- attitude of collective responsibility to society ....
CODE OF THE NEW WEST
(L)ife in the country is different from life in the city. .... Rural counties survive on volunteerism...(Skipping to section 5.0 of the document)
5.0 AGRICULTURE: ....Agriculture is an important business in Gallatin County. ... In fact, Montana has "Right to Farm" legislation protecting farmers and ranchers from nuisance and liability laws.
5.10 Moving to the country is not a license to let pets roam. Even gentle, beloved family pets can become nuisances, predators, or prey to coyotes, neighbors, etc. State law protects livestock from pets. Pets found attacking or harassing livestock can (and will be) be shot.
IN CONCLUSION: Images of the Old West draw people to an area once filled with miners, farmers, ranchers, loggers and other agricultural workers. Often newcomers are much more romantic about the West than the old-timers and have false hopes about bringing their urban lifestyles into the great outdoors. They come with false expectations. ....
Gallatin County is a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family. ... Respect your neighbors' livelihood and property, and be aware that your actions may have an adverse impact on your neighbors, human and otherwise.
But then isn't that why you came here?
People live here and move to Gallatin County for the open space, the quiet, the availability of outdoor activities. They also value the sense of community, interest in the arts, dirt roads, lack of crowds, and cozy neighborhood restaurants, shops, stores, saloons and grocery stores, which are owned and operated by people who know and care about their customers as friends. That's why we live here and hope that if you choose to be our neighbors, you will embrace the whole experience of living in Montana.
CODE OF THE NEW WEST
As good citizens of Montana, we promise to:
1. Appreciate the splendor of Montana's natural beauty; the opportunity to live here; the quality of life we enjoy.
2. Be a good steward of the land; to take personal responsibility for keeping our land weed and trash free; to promote recycling.
3. Show respect for our state laws, for wildlife, for the land and for the people ... especially those engaged in farming and ranching.
4. Be goodwill ambassadors, showing friendliness to visitors and neighbors alike.
5. Take pride in how we maintain our property, our businesses, our communities, and ourselves.
6. Become informed about how things are done in our communities and in the state, so that we fully understand the realities of living in rural Montana.
7. Take political action: read, vote, become informed, participate when necessary, to preserve and improve the good things we have.
8. Get involved with our communities, to give back some measure of what we receive from being a part of the larger family.
9. Work together for the good of the whole, neighborhood, community, county, state, nation and world.