Early Days on the Ridge & The Naked Cop
Born in 1941, Bill Wheeler came from a long line of New
England Yankees. One of his great grandfathers co-founded the
Wheeler and Wilson Sewing Machine Company, a significant force in
the Industrial Revolution. The company sold out to Singer around
the turn of the century, leaving future generations of Wheelers
well-off. Bill attended Kent School, which he described as
"a very chi-chi prep school designed to perpetuate the upper
class." His father ran a real estate business in Bridgeport,
Connecticut, until he died. Bill was a sophomore at Yale at the
time, his major interests art and architecture. Suddenly at the
age of twenty he found himself vice-president of Wheeler &
BILL: "I got a taste of business very young in life, and
rose as high in the business world as I thought I ever would. So
I retired. I was vice-president at twenty. What more was there to
After graduation he married his childhood sweetheart Sarah and
they moved to San Francisco, then Stinson Beach and finally
Sonoma County in the summer of 1962. They settled into the
rickity abandoned farmhouse on Coleman Valley Road named 'Irish
Hill' as previously mentioned. The peaceful, pastoral landscapes
fascinated him, the smooth rolling hills punctuated with groves
of cypress and eucalyptus which flowed towards the ocean less
than a mile away. He wanted to buy some land with an inheritance
from his father. When a neighbor - old Mr. Hendron - told him of
a ranch being sold by an elderly minister and his wife, he drove
inland a few miles to look at it.
BILL: "My marriage didn't last very long, but I lived at
Irish Hill for five years until I moved to the Ridge. I fell in
love with the land at first sight. I knew it was perfect for me.
The three hundred and fifteen acres, one ridge back from the
ocean, were strangely reminiscent of my boyhood New England,
heavily wooded, good water and lots of gardening areas. I made
the couple promise not to sell it to anyone else, and in 1965
consummated the sale."
The ranch was protected from the county road by a long and
rutted right-of-way through another ranch. As a refugee from the
city, Bill felt he had at last found his territory, his chunk of
countryside where he could join the bluejays and raccoons.
BILL: "The Ridge held a special magic for me. It was
where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I saw it as the
perfect woman, spacious and lyrical, closed and secure, yet
having great vistas. How I loved her, and how her beauty
In August of 1965, just after Bill bought the property, a dry,
gusty wind roared in from the north at the height of the fire
danger. A power line went down at the bottom of Coleman Valley.
The countryside was tinder-dry, and the sparks ignited the grass.
Fed by the wind, the fire raced up Sugarloaf Hill and down into
the canyon. It widened to almost a half-mile before anyone saw
it. An army of flames advanced across the Ridge, exploding the
oaks and firs in the intense heat.
Bill helplessly watched the inferno from the top of the land.
Flames leaped from one treetop to the next with a roar, soaring
high into the sky. He escaped just in time to make it up to the
county road, and returned several days later from the city to
find the lush and green landscape a wasted skeleton. Most of the
trees had been killed and the house leveled. The minister feared
that Bill would now renege on the mortgage, but Bill assured him
that "the land was still there and I still loved her. Trees
would grow back. She was more mine than ever."
Later that fall, Bill and a crew of Mexican-Americans
replanted the East Canyon with thirty thousand trees. On the last
day of work, they toasted the land together with beer and
tequila, hailing its rebirth. By January, 1967, when he began
constructing his studio, he had met Gwen and she moved up to live
with him shortly thereafter. In January, 1968, they moved into
their new home, a barnlike structure boasting fourteen-foot
ceilings. Despite their efforts to insulate it, the studio never
warmed up in cold weather and they spent most of the time huddled
up close to the cast-iron fireplace in its center.
GWEN: "There was no running water, no plumbing, no
electricity, no gas, no telephone and sometimes no passable road
to insulate us from the presence of our natural environment. When
the winter storms raged, saturating the earth and beating against
our house with their violent winds, I felt the mightiness of
nature and our own insignificance and helplessness. The power of
mankind, which I had always thought so significant, was reduced
to nothingness by the pure and mighty forces of Mother Earth.
"Although it was the middle of winter, I found our
vegetable garden at Irish Hill still growing. With that exciting
discovery, I became increasingly interested in gardening. As the
rains poured down, I sat by the fire and read books on growing
things. I dreamed of living the simple, self-sufficient life in
the country. My first weeks of living close to nature made me
feel so loving and gentle that I couldn't imagine raising animals
to kill as food. I had met many vegetarians who were convinced
that eating meat was unnecessary, so that January it seemed right
to become a vegetarian myself. Bill joined me in my
When the weather began to lighten, they spent more time out of
doors, planting thousands more trees to complete the
reforestation of the Ridge. The garden was fenced and the first
seeds planted. Electricity was available at the front gate as
well as a good year-round spring. They hooked up a pump, set up a
1500-gallon redwood water tank, and laid many thousands of feet
of black plastic pipe that would gravity-feed water to the studio
and the garden.
GWEN: "I took many solitary walks to enjoy the beauty of
the untouched wilderness of the Ridge. At many beautiful spots I
stopped to meditate on the glowing scenery around me. Often the
area would strike me as a fantastic site for a house. I wondered
if population growth and the expansion of the cities would
eventually cover the land with houses. But I dismissed the
possibility as something that would not occur for at least twenty
years. I did not know that houses would indeed cover the land
within two years, and in a way which I could never have imagined.
They would not represent an expansion of the urban areas, but a
return to the tribal village life.
Shortly after Bill's offer to the Morning Star family, Larry
Reed hitchhiked up to the Ridge to look for a campsite for his
family. Clad only in an embroidered blanket, he presented a
striking image on the roads between the two ranches. He had just
been released from jail, and remaining at Morning Star with Pam
would just have invited further arrests. For several days he
searched the woods, finally settling at the bottom of the East
Canyon beside Coleman Creek, as far from civilization as the land
offered. He wished to avoid a repeat performance of his Morning
Star experience, where his 'meadowboat' had perched only a few
hundred feet from the 'bull's-eye.'
BILL: "Everything Larry did was noisy - singing, eating
or fucking. A fanatic faith in the Morning Star ideal personified
him. A true revolutionary and frontiersman, he was the perfect
midwife for the opening of the Ridge."
Pam and Adam Siddartha joined him a few days later. Their
arrival was the first trickle through a dike ready to burst. One
day the land was peaceful and serene, the next it was swamped
with hordes of people, kids, cars, noise, trash and insecurity.
Almost the same day Ronald Reagan proclaimed "there will be
no more Morning Stars," Wheeler's Ranch opened its gates.
GWEN: "I accompanied Pam on the day for her trial for
assault. She had chosen a jury trial, believing that twelve human
beings would be unable to convict her and send her to jail for
following a deeply emotional, natural instinct. With her
nine-month belly and her tiny physical frame, she defended
herself before the court by explaining the reasons why she had
chosen the Morning Star life style. She and her family had
sacrificed material wealth and comfort for the spiritual
satisfaction of living in sympathy with the poor peoples of the
earth. Pam testified that she had awakened the morning of the
arrest thinking that the Gestapo had come to take her husband
away. In her desperation, she had felt an overwhelming need to
defend him. She was prosecuted by a deputy district attorney
whose only interest was in winning the case in order to earn
status and favor. He pointed out to the jury that Pam had
assaulted peace officers, that it was a crime and that her
motives were absolutely irrelevant to the case as was the fact
that she was a tiny pregnant woman. The jury came back with their
"Hearing the verdict, Pam began to laugh. Then she
choked, vomited and began to scream, cry and throw herself about
the courtroom floor. The members of the court were horrified.
Fearing that the baby would be born on the spot, the judge
quickly dismissed her, instructing her to return for sentencing
after the birth. Pam, shaken in her faith in the compassion of
the human heart, wept all the way home and fainted as we arrived.
Later she revived, surrounded by all her friends that knew and
loved her so well. By morning she was calm and cheerily on her
way back down into the canyon to await the birth of her child. A
few weeks later, Psyche Joy Ananda was born in the canyon in the
first morning hours. Shortly after her birth, Pam, Larry, Adam
Sid and the new baby left for New Mexico."
As 1968 unfolded, a new chapter of the New Age began with a
hardening of the lines between the 'freaks' and the 'straights.'
The colorful, gentle vibrations gradually disappeared and were
replaced by a more militant, angry attitude. Brothers and sisters
were being jailed by an establishment power structure that
defined hippies as outlaws. Pot-smokers were being sentenced to
long terms. The hard-edged old ways were rubbing against the soft
Aquarian life style and creating a callous. The V-sign was
changing to the upraised fist. Also, the Vietnam War raged on,
bombs were falling on helpless villages and the nation was badly
polarized on many basic issues. At Morning Star, everyone felt
the struggle personally. They knew that the fight could not end
until the entire country - and the planet - had been liberated
from greed and war.
Instead of families and children, Morning Star was now
attracting mostly single men with a heavy emphasis on the
wine-drinking 'warrior caste,' as Lou referred to them. Heavy
wine sessions around the campfire disrupted the peace and quiet
until once again the wine-drinkers were prevailed upon to move
down to the parking lot. A great deal of anger came to Morning
Star and was released in the orchards and meadows. But better
there than in the city streets.
Zen Jack lived in the middle of the orchard, having
transformed an old redwood stump into a home. David and Penny
continued in their treehouse, David concentrating on his
paintings. With the destruction of both kitchens by order of the
Health Department, communal meals had decentralized down to
family campfires and Coleman stoves. John Butler still lived in
the remnants of the Lower House in spite of frequent arrests for
disobeying the injunction, looking after the teenage runaways who
showed up. He was busted so repeatedly that he was made a trustee
at the jail. Morning Star folks would see him outside the
courthouse sweeping the pavement when they attended court. It was
easy to slip him a couple of joints for him to enjoy later. Don
King was also arrested many times - nine altogether - and spent
over six months in jail, a strong brother with a deep faith in
the Morning Star ideal.
DON KING: "In the spirit of brotherhood, Morning Star has
thrown open its doors to all men and all forces. Faith in man has
been transformed into faith in our Creator. When this occurs,
chaos is seemingly the result. Men hear of Utopia, their souls
hunger for it, and they are guided to Morning Star. They bring
the forces of the world with them, the forces the world thrives
on. In the spirit of brotherhood, these forces are allowed to
exist and for a time they run rampant. Evil is not the business
of brotherhood. Evil is God's business. Morning Star does not
resist evil, and a tiny speck of Truth is its glorious reward. It
does work! It is true! The meek do inherit the earth!"
NEAR: "Steve and Leslie lived together in a tent in the
apple orchard. Early that spring they decided to get married so
that Leslie could write home to her upper middle class banker
father that she was married. They asked Lou to perform the
ceremony, and it was decided that some of the straight neighbors
also should be invited, hopefully to bridge the communications
gap. Handwritten invitations were placed in their mailboxes.
"Saturday was the wedding day. Leslie went to get dressed
with her bridesmaids. She wore a white table cloth with flowers.
It was poncho style; a hole was cut through the middle for her
head. She tied it at the waist with a sash. Steve wore white
pants and a white lace shirt someone gave him. Everyone gathered
on the hill beside the cross. Ed Hochuli was present, and gave
red plastic beaded necklaces to the couple. Lou wore a poncho
converted from a patchwork quilt that a group of Morning Star
women had sewn for him.
"As the ceremony was about to begin, a group of
bridesmaids stood beside Leslie, some naked, some clothed.
Steve's best man wore dirty blue jeans. A flute player tootled a
pastoral melody and everyone took their places. A text by Kahil
Gibran of the couple's choosing was read and Lou then asked,
'Leslie, do you take Steve for your husband as long as you're
both happy?' 'I do.' 'Steve, do you take Leslie for your wife as
long as you're both happy?' 'I do.' Then Lou asked the audience,
'Is there any reason why this couple should not be wed?'
"'Yes there is!' slurred a drunk from Graton. But it was
quickly established he was just being obnoxious and his protest
ignored. 'I now pronounce you man and wife for as long as you're
both happy,' Lou then declared. The single girls all gathered in
one spot and Leslie tossed her bouquet. It was caught by naked
Diane from New York City. She leaped ahead of the other girls to
catch it because she was in love with the fluteplayer Tom who
lived in a hollowed-out redwood stump."
Apple juice brought by good neighbor Don Orr was passed out.
Homemade music and dancing started. 'Bony' Saludes, the Press
Democrat's on-the-spot reporter who had covered many Morning Star
stories, wrote up the wedding. He mentioned that Paul Negri, an
Occidental restaurant owner who was running for election as
Supervisor, had attended the ceremony. Paul subsequently lost the
election. A few days later, FBI and CIA men accompanied by the
police came to Morning Star looking for Steve who was AWOL. They
couldn't find him, so they asked where Lou was. Lou was out so
they asked for Near. Near emerged from the bath house naked and
soaking wet. The cops became too flustered at seeing a naked
woman to ask any questions and left at once.
Tex's appearance duplicated the 1940's caricature of The Dope
Fiend, complete with two long incisors drooping out of a hairy
mouth. Propped against a telephone pole on Occidental's main
street, a jug of Red Mountain beside him, he presented an
archetypal picture of what Occidental's citizenry feared the
most. The truth was that he was a gentle soul who took on the
responsibility that summer of running the wino camp at Morning
Star, making sure there was food to eat and settling drunken
arguments with diplomatic skill.
LOU: "Tex was the first man who ever kissed me on the
mouth. The fact that he had a number of teeth missing exposed me
to a larger reality than I expected. I severely regret that my
prejudice against alcohol limited my contacts with Tex, but there
is no doubt that any unpleasantness I felt at Morning Star
related to the consumption of wine, and Tex consumed his
TEX: "I started smokin' grass just about early '47, and
I've been drinkin' wine since about '42. I've spent half my life
in penitentiaries, man, living with a lot of hate, man, a lot of
hate. There are very few ways you can come out of the
penitentiary. Either you're a tiger - grrr - kill - kill - kill -
but now me, I got love. An' it was a necessary experience. I was
in an adult penitentiary for seven years, but I had thirty-six
months before that. From when I was sixteen until I was
twenty-five I was locked up in jail. Then from when I was eleven
until I was fourteen I had time in Juvenile Hall, reform school,
shit like that too, which was a bummer, you know. But when I was
twenty-five years old, when I got out, I decided to be free. I
said, 'Man, they've taught me all I need to know an' I'm goin' to
be free!' And I want you to know that the penitentiary'll never
hold me. That's where my head's at."
NEAR: "'God bless you! You're under arrest!' was the
salutation we received from our friendly local cops. They didn't
usually bust us unless they had been given specific orders to
make arrests. Several of them even commented that Morning Star
was the only placed where they felt welcome. Rob was one. His
instincts told him we had a better life style than the Rollaids
pattern to which he was conforming. He enjoyed talking with us
for a few minutes when he made the rounds of the ranch. He even
demonstrated his trust of us by sharing food at an evening meal.
Before he set his teeth into the freshly picked, lightly steamed
string beans and chapattis, he asked if there was any LSD in it.
We assured him there wasn't, and he enjoyed his organic snack.
"The following Saturday, Rob appeared at Morning Star out
of uniform. It was his day off. Would we mind if he spent the day
with us? He just needed a place to cool out. Welcome, brother! He
took off his shirt to feel the sun, and planted himself on the
bull's-eye of the ranch, the front yard of Lou's studio. Some of
us began doing Hatha Yoga postures, and Rob asked us to teach
him. Okay, but first he would have to take off his shoes. He did,
and managed to get into some of the easier positions. But he
found his bulldog pants too constricting. A lovely nude girl
explained he could do much better without any clothes on.
"Rob thought about it for a moment. 'Do you promise not
to tell anyone?' he asked. 'I'd hate like hell to have the police
find me here naked!'
"Assured of total discretion, Rob took off all but his
jockey shorts. Then, in a burst of militant freedom, he took
those off too! His Morning Star friends gave him encouragement as
he continued trying the postures, but his hard, ready-to-fight
muscles found it difficult to relax into the gentle flow of yoga.
Finally he was able to stand on his head and was maintaining his
headstand when he heard the sound of an approaching car. He took
off like lightning for the woods. Everybody couldn't help
laughing. But the car belonged to a groovy brother and not the
Sheriff's department. I went to fetch him back.
"'Hey, Rob, it's okay! The coast is clear! It's not the
cops!' He returned and rejoined us, sharing in our laughter.
"'You're more scared of the cops than we are,' one sister
"Rob sheepishly agreed. He continued doing yoga for about
an hour, interrupted only twice more by arriving cars. Both times
I called him back from the woods. He decided to take a walk
around the ranch. I didn't accompany him, but we received reports
from the persimmon wireless that he was chasing women around the
"The next Saturday Rob brought his wife Hilda with him.
He felt like a regular, shedding his clothes immediately. Hilda
tried not to look at him, and instead absorbed herself in a baby
who had just been born at Morning Star.
"'Come on, honey,' begged bare Rob. 'Just take off your
"'No, I can't,' she replied, biting her lip.
"Rob persisted, but without success. Morning Star
brothers had to remind him not to lay his trip on her. Meanwhile,
Hilda listened teary-eyed to the description of the natural birth
of the baby. She had been forced to give birth by Caesarian. They
returned the next day at Hilda's request because she wanted to
bring some baby clothes she didn't need. As she sat holding our
newborn arrival, Rob stood on his head, naked, ears perked for
the sound of approaching autos."
FRIAR TUCK: "Don King's dog Tripper liked to ride in
cars. You'd open a car door a crack and - whammo! - he'd be
inside just like that! And he did not like to get out. He was a
mean dog when he wanted to be. The only person who could get
Tripper out of a car was Don. One night the cops drove in, and
they checked out the people around the campfire. Tripper was
there, chasing some dog or something. When it came time for the
cops to leave, one of them opened the car door and - whoosh! -
Tripper was inside!
"'C'mon, dog, get outta there!' the cop said and stuck in
his hand towards Tripper. SNAP! went Tripper's teeth. He started
his whole number, barking and growling every time the cop got
close to him.
"'Wait a minute! We'll get him out!' one of the guys
said. He ran down to Don's house. By the time Don got there, one
of the cops had his gun out and the other a can of Mace.
"'Don't do it! Don't do it!' Don screamed.
"But by that time the cop had pushed the button on the
Mace. Ssssst! And poor Tripper freaked right out, barking and
jumping around. Don finally got him cooled out a little bit. The
cops just jumped in their car and split."