Cooke City Shootout Claims Laundromat
Incident dramatizes anti- and pro-law enforcement elements
in tiny towns of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana.

By Don Jordan

It would have been just another Saturday night in downtown Cooke City had it not been for the big dance contest at The Miner's Bar.

Larry Bigtime, proprietor, had posted a grand prize for the contest winner--a weekend trip for two to Las Vegas.

While such a prize didn't tempt many locals onto the dance floor that night in 1994, it drew laborers from a federal trail building crew like buff pies draw flies.

One of the trail builders, Jesus DeGrassiass, had apparently declared himself the winner long before the actual contest took place. He was so certain of his dancing prowess that he bragged to his trail building buddies from Guatemala that he'd be sleeping in Las Vegas the weekend after the dance.

However, when the night of the big contest actually arrived, Jesus took to the dance floor bagged on tequila. Larry named someone else as the contest winner and Jesus took umbrage.

"I don't know what happened. I couldn't undestand anything he said, except that he was going to go home and get his gun and come back after me," explained Larry after the event.

Residents of this mountain town are seldom outgunned by civilians, and Bigtime went home and got his gun. His buddy, Wuffman, drove home, got his gun and returned to wait for Jesus.

Unfortunately for most of the town's transients who use the laundromat, Jesus was too drunk to find his firearm. He decided to crash his pickup truck into the Miner's instead to get even for the perceived insult to his dancing ability. But Jesus was also too drunk to find the bar where Bigtime and Wuffman lay in wait.. He missed the 90-foot wide Miner's building and reaped his revenge on the 20-foot wide laundromat next door, destroying roof supports and the entire front wall of the establishment. Jesus melted away into the night and was never seen again. Wuffman and Bigtime were denied their big chance to engage in a gunfight.

Larry's blood was up though, and at about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, Cooke City resounded with the sounds of a high powered, semi-automatic rifle. He says it was only his .22 calibre rifle and that he was shooting it out his window at the mountain. Some town residents say it was an M-16 and he was standing in the middle of U.S. 212 out front of the bar.

Larry was next seen face down in the middle of U.S. 212 on Sunday morning, surrounded by U.S. National Park Service rangers, county sheriffs, highway patrolmen and U.S. Forest Service rangers. He was cuffed, loaded into a squad car and hauled to the county jail in Livingston.

"They didn't have anything to arrest me for. They said they were taking me into protective custody for my own protection," explained the redundant Bigtime.

He was back in Cooke that night, and nothing more ever came of the big shootout, except somebody's insurance company had to shell out about $2,000 to fix the laundromat. More important and interesting is the ongoing debate about law enforcement the incident rekindled.

Larry walked because Cooke City is not an incorporated town, and it isn't illegal to discharge a firearm in an unincorporated town. In other words, you can fire your M-16 at 2 a.m. in Cooke City or Silver Gate, no matter who or how many people complain, so long as you don't actually shoot something.

Cooke has long hosted a small percentage of residents, a few year-rounders and summertime merchants, who would like to have a full-time deputy on duty. They have lobbied for the county to hire and post a deputy at Cooke and Silver Gate, just three miles down the road. A U.S. Forest Service employee is lobbying for the job. He is married to a U.S. National Park Service Ranger.To a local population bridling under the rules and regulations imposed on them by the forest service and the park service, the idea of empowering someone who represents both of these hated entities with a county sheriff's badge, cuffs, cruiser and authority is at least unpopular, so far.

Those attempts have proven unsuccessful; however, the pro-law elements have managed to sit a junked black-and-white patrol car with a "fishbowl" on top at the west edge of town. It slows down the tourists coming into town from Yellowstone Park to the west.

Freedom has fewer and fewer expressions every day. This is one of them. Just a reminder that, at least in Cooke City, Montana, the people's right to keep and bear arms has not been infringed and there are at least two places left where there are no cops in town.

Copyright, 1997 through 2008. Jordan Communications.

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