A Strange but True Story
This is a strange but true story from twenty-five years ago,
when I was sixteen. I had just hitched a ride back out to Interstate
90 as the sun set. The night before I had been caught alone in
the back country on the northern edge of Yellowstone National
Park, in a freak May blizzard. A grizzly bear pawed the ground
outside my tent in the middle of the night. That is another story
This strange-but-true-story starts with my thumb out, as I
stood on the side of the freeway ramp. There was snow on the
lilac flowers, even here in the valley near Livingston. My tennis
shoes were still wet from stumbling through the mountains earlier
in the day. After an hour or more, a car finally pulled over.
This is how I met Violet.
It was difficult to determine her age, but from the stories
she told, I guessed she was in her fifties. She told me she was
on her way home from her brother's trial in Bozeman. I asked
her what he was on trial for, and she told me "He killed
his girlfriend." In case I doubted her, she flipped over
the newspaper on the seat and there she was on the front page,
with the headline, "Sister Says He Should Be Hanged."
"He cut her up for no good reason," she added. Not
knowing what to say, I said nothing. Although she seemed perfectly
comfortable talking about it, she graciously changed the subject.
"Have a hard time getting a ride here?" she asked
me. I told her I had. "That's because a few years back a
man was killed by a hitchhiker on the highway down to Yellowstone,"
she explained. "They found the hitchhiker in the woods near
the highway, roasting the man's heart over a fire."
"I guess that explains why it's hard to get rides here,"
She had only had trouble with a hitchhiker once, she told
me. "He was even younger than you, and he pulled a knife
on me and tried to rob me." I asked her what she did, and
she replied casually, "I just pulled out my gun on him and
told him he better behave if he wanted a ride." That seemed
fair, I agreed.
She went on to tell me about the last time she was camping
in Yellowstone, back in the fifties, when her husband was still
alive. They saw a missile come out of the sky and hit a mountain,
triggering an earthquake. Then army officials came and told everyone
in the area that it was a matter of national security, and they
couldn't say a word about it. I nodded and asked for a few more
Then came the story about the UFO. An alien spacecraft had
hovered over them on another camping trip, picking up their trailer
in a "tractor beam" and lifting it off the hitch, into
the sky. It was dropped in a field nearby, and the sheriff, who
was driving behind them at the moment saw the whole thing.
She generously let me spend the night at her house, in her
brothers room. In the morning, before driving me back out to
the freeway, she even offered to let me take any of her brothers
clothes or cowboy boots, since, "He won't be needing them
anymore." I declined.
Later that year, safely home in Michigan, I got a letter from
Violet, wishing me a merry Christmas. She had drawn a picture
at the top of a dog in a spacesuit, which she labeled "Space
Dog." In the meantime, I had discovered that there had
been an earthquake in the Yellowstone area when she claimed they
saw the missile, and it had been strong enough to form a new
I still assumed the killer hitchhiker was at least an exaggeration.
It wasn't. Years later all the grizzly details were in the news
because they were letting the killer go free now that he was
sane. The authorities were having a hard time finding a town
to place him in.
I still haven't read or heard anything about an alien spacecraft
that picks up camping trailers, but I'm waiting. Who knows? Montana
is full of strange but true stories.