Monday, July 20, 2009

The Blaggs

On the way from Missoula to Troy where we hoped to meet with an eco-friendly Yurt company, we were blessed to spend the afternoon with Cameron and Pamela Blagg.

Cameron is a well-known Western Artist that we were fortunate to have met over 25 years ago in Bend. He was touring the western art show circuit at the time, and although we barely had a pot to piss in, we were taken by his paintings and purchased two striking portraits of American Indians. One has a pure black background and depicted “Inashah”, a Yakima Indian whose piercing eyes and stern expression jumped out at you from the canvas as if he were alive. In stark contrast, the other painting of the Sioux warrior “American Horse” with brightly colored feathers braided into his long dark hair was painted on a pure white background, and the two paintings hung beautifully together.

They have been with us all these years, and now that we are on the road, they rest peacefully on the walls at our dear friends, Gary and Cheryl Plagmann. They have promised to take good care of them and visa versa.

The next year, Cameron was back and we were in the mood for another painting. Cameron is an avid Indian artifact collector, and at the time we had acquired a small Indian rug collection. He was very interested in our rugs, and agreed to come by the house with some paintings. He was soon the proud owner of a nice swastika emblazoned Navajo rug, and “The Taos Elder” had joined our group of distinguished gentleman on the wall.

We didn’t see Cameron again for about 15 years. By then we were living just outside of Denver, and happened to see that there was a Western Art show in town. Not even thinking about Cameron, we decided to take in the show. As soon as we arrived, we saw that Cameron was on display and immediately headed to his booth. We hadn’t seen him in so long, we weren’t sure we would even recognize him, however when we walked into the booth, he turned and said “Hi John & Kate, long time no see!” We were astounded, but apparently as a portrait painter, he has an uncanny knack for faces. It was a delight to see him again, and although we did not add to our collection that day, it was inspiring to see how his talents had matured over the years. From the struggling artist we had met in Bend, he was now quite well known, and his works were bringing in considerably more than we had paid. We were very proud to have some of his “early works” as they are considered quite collectable.

After the show in Denver, we once again lost track of Cameron, although we would hear tell of him from time to time. When we were getting ready for the road, it was necessary to have the paintings reevaluated for insurance purposes, so we once again contacted him. We told him a little about our trip, and he invited us to stop by if we were in Montana, or perhaps in New Mexico where he and his wife have purchased a small ghost town that they are in the process of turning into a roadside art gallery. We promised we would, and today we were able to fulfill that promise with a visit to their remote mountain top cabin near Bull Lake in the Cabinet Mountain range of the Kootenai National Forest.

After hearing that their cabin was “two miles up a narrow mountain road”, we parked the Airstream by the side of the road on the main highway and headed up to the cabin. After a short but spirited drive we saw the small hand painted sign that said “Blagg” and arrived at the green metal roofed and stone faced cabin that serves as both the Blagg’s home and Cameron’s studio. There was a spectacular view of the Cabinet Range out the front window, and besides the attraction of Cameron’ studio, the Blagg’s home was tastefully decorated with a plethora of Indian art, artifacts, rugs and of course Cameron’s painting and sculpture.

We were graciously welcomed by the Blagg’s, their dog, and Cameron’s warning that he “can’t hear a damn thing”. We had never met his wife Pamela, an American Indian of Salish decent, and a member of the Flathead Indian Nation, but she welcomed us with open arms and the pot of coffee she had promised in the emails we had exchanged.

The next four hours went by very quickly as we shared but mostly listened to some of the best stories we have had the pleasure to hear in some time, including the ceremonial purging of the plethora of mischievous spirits that apparently inhabit their property in New Mexico. They had heard from not only the previous owner, but a host of others in the area as well, that their new home in an old ghost town was full of these previous but no longer mortal inhabitants. They arranged to have Victor Mandan, a close relative of Pamela’s, a full-fledged Medicine Man and apparently quite a character, release the spirits from the town. The ceremony involved blacking out one of the rooms so that no light could penetrate, and the application of various traditional Indian talismans such as feathers, shells and tobacco offerings tied in colorful cloths. As the ceremony progressed, Cameron standing in the darkened room and now both deaf AND blind distinctly remembers suddenly seeing little tracers of light flit in front of his face and wondering what he was seeing. After the ceremony, as the group of largely Indians, some of whom had traveled quite some distance to attend sat down to enjoy a traditional meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Biscuits, Cameron related what he had seen. There was a bit of laughter as some of them told of the actual spirits they had seen departing the building through the “great hole that had opened up in the floor and the ceiling”, including two spirits that had “come right up and looked in the eyes” of one of the participants. My feeling is that they had a fuller frame of reference for what they were seeing, and the flashes of light were just Cameron’s way of trying to assimilate it. Either way everyone agreed the ceremony was a success.

The story continued when not long after, the Blagg’s were contacted by one of the other inhabitants of this remote part of New Mexico who demanded to know what on earth they had done! Apparently, like many of the other New Age residents of that State, she had moved there for the spirits, and now they had gone and chased them all away. Friends she complained were getting hard to come by.

After a delightful lunch of homemade chicken soup and a few more great stories, it was time to get moving, pick up the Airstream, and find a place to camp for the night. We soon settled down in a lush grove of trees on the shores of Bull Lake and relished the diversity of our friends and how lucky we are to share this planet with people like the Blagg’s.

Nearby Cameron’s place we stopped at the Bad Medicine Campground. Pamela had told us the story of how the area got its name. Seems that many years ago there had been a small Indian encampment along the lake there. An earthquake had struck and buried the entire camp save for one Indian maiden. This was very bad medicine, and the name stuck. Somehow I’m picturing years later when the white men asked the local Indians for a good place to camp, they said “right here”.

The next morning we took a walk through the Ross Creek Cedars, a rare large grove of old growth cedars that was nearby. These are truly spectacular trees, with many of them 500 years or more old. Just another reminder of why we are on this trip.


  1. more photos please! where are the photos of majesty and wonder? Don;t you live with a camera in front of your face? Thank you

  2. We are working on a photo gallery for the website as we speak. We do have a lot of spectacular photos we would love to share. Thanks for prodding us to get it up!!