"It's Free Because It's Yours" by Dominick Cavallo
Part Four (of five parts).


The Leatherstocking From Brooklyn

Whether the hunting experiences recounted by Grogan actually happened is another matter. He was an inveterate liar. As Peter Coyote wrote in the introduction to a posthumous edition of Grogan's autobiography in 1989, "Don't believe everything you read." But, he immediately added, "don't be too quick to doubt either."(102) What matters about Grogan's odyssey into the wilderness is not its status as history but its role as mythology. Grogan retreated into the wilderness, and embraced the prospects for savagery, death, adventure and freedom it offered, as a means of transforming himself. And of distancing himself from the sterility of contemporary American society. In effect, Grogan inadvertently fashioned his own twentieth-century version of a James Fenimore Cooper "Leatherstocking" tale.

Before leaving San Francisco, Grogan (who referred to himself in the third person in the autobiography) and Little Bird purchased clothing. All "the clothing was bought with the silence of the hunt in mind, and Little Bird painted the sneakers green and brown and spotted the same colors in the pants and shirt to make them blend even more with the background of the Springtime forest, as their wool texture would soundlessly harmonize with the quiet of the forest."(103)

[p. 130] 

During their first days in New Mexico, the garrulous Grogan and the reticent Pueblo "seldom spoke." They spent most of the time wandering in the hills, with Grogan watching Little Bird's "every quick but careful movement, learning as much as his Indian brother wanted to teach him." In the evening, they returned to Little Bird's cabin, where their female companions (Little Bird's wife and Grogan's "Digger woman," known by her hippie name, Natural Suzanne) cooked for the men. After dinner, each couple shifted to their respective areas of the cabin where they made love "for an hour or so until it was beautiful to stop and fall asleep to dream about what the next day might bring."

Emmett followed Little Bird's eyes during their first week . . . and saw the many different creatures who lived there, who sensed their presence but were not alarmed because of their quiet way and the scent Little Bird spread on their camouflaged clothing—a scent that came from tiny sacs of liquid above the hind hooves of deer. Little Bird had acquired and saved this liquid from the many deer he had slain over the years. It was Little Bird's knowledge of the ways of the wilderness and Emmett's careful attention to his teacher's planned style of movement that allowed them to approach and get within yards of the splendid animals of the land.

Grogan was especially attracted by the deer. "Each one of those magnificent stags was strikingly individual and solely responsible for his small herd—and the sight of them charged Emmett with a deep feeling that one of them was to be the answer to the question that brought him to New Mexico."

One deer in particular caught his eye. Almost every night after dinner Grogan thought about this "buck":

He picked the buck from dozens he saw on his walks with Little Bird through the woods, because there was something about the stag that told Emmett it was him. Emmett would sometimes stand outside under the stars and listen to the howling of the coyotes and the whistling of the mating calls and understand that whatever it was he was about to discover, it would be soon. This made him feel warm and open to the smells carried by the brisk, dark air, but nervous, that there was so much to manhood and being a man.

Ten days after their arrival in the hills their food was nearly gone. It was time to hunt. They would hunt like Indians rather than white men, and observe Native American's traditional reverence for their prey.

[p. 131] 

Of course, they had always carried their weapons with them on their walks, but even though they sometimes had been only a few feet away from an animal, Little Bird had never used his bow or Emmett his rifle, because no meat had been needed for the table. However, now there was a need, and the rabbits they had only been watching they now were hunting.

At first, Grogan and Little Bird hunted for snowshoe rabbits. They shot the rabbits, and Grogan noticed that his gun, with its terrifying thunder and the odor it emitted when fired, was unnatural in that place. It was very different from the "clean sound of the snapped string" of Little Bird's bow. After the kill, Little Bird cleaned their quarry.

Emmett watched with a certain amount of amazement as Little Bird deftly moved his fingers around the insides of the rabbits, examining their innards and skillfully handling their entrails, searching for some trace of disorder. His amazement was caused by the obvious excitement that Little Bird was experiencing as he dealt with the warm bodies of the freshly killed animals. His eyes were wide and alive with a sort of spiritual enthusiasm, and in fact his whole body seemed involved in a climaxing orgasm that wasn't sexual, but rather religious. Sweat poured out of him and his muscles trembled and his mouth watered and his face jumped and twitched, while his whole body shook with the death experience.

They did not speak, but Little Bird's "reaction to the kill," his demeanor while cleaning the rabbits, spoke of its "enormity." Grogan began to understand something about the hunt. Its real object was the hunter, not the hunted.

The words of an Indian song which Little Bird had translated to him one evening started to beat their message into his brain: "I aim my golden bow; I pull on my golden string; I let fly my golden arrow; and it strikes the heart of the target, and I fall dead. For I am the target. And the target is me."

"The target is me." Grogan felt himself becoming "more and more one with the creatures he hunted." He treated the animals with the "same respect" he would have for himself had he "been the target." Sensing this change in Grogan, Little Bird realized his "pupil" was ready "to learn what he brought him there to teach."

Finally, nearly a month after they left San Francisco, Grogan was ready to hunt in the hills. He hunted alone. He and Little Bird knew that was the only way. Walking for hours, wandering far from the cabin, Grogan did not rest until [p. 132] he reached a spot where he "sensed the presence of his buck." He stayed in the spot for some time, waiting.

He would do absolutely nothing to startle the buck to his feet. . . . He didn't want it to be that way. He wanted to hit the animal as he calmly rose from his sleep, so that the kill would be the cleanest of kills, and the deer would not have to suffer a moment's shock of apprehension. Emmett loved this stag he had come to hunt. . . . Emmett wondered whether animals like his young buck felt loneliness in some way at all. He didn't feel silly in supposing that they did sense something similar to man in their instinct toward life, and he looked up at the clouds and watched them roll and lumber around the blue sky for what seemed like hours until a formation appeared in the mass of white billow and separated itself from the rest of the cumulus puffs to stand alone and apart—a cloud shaped like his antlered stag deer.

It was the buck. Grogan observed the "handsome face and taut-muscles beautifully framed in a hard body." As he prepared to "squeeze off the round," the Pueblo song resonated in his mind. "For I am the target. And the target is me." He fired and the explosion "momentarily blurred the vision of himself falling, gracefully, but hard, dead to the ground, the target of the bullet he had just fired." Grogan looked at the deer "and saw himself," how it would be "when the time came for him." He waited at a distance, respectfully, allowing the "splendid buck to die in peace and in private." Assured that "the magic of death had ended," Grogan knelt beside the fallen creature and felt "an overwhelming oneness with the deer."

Grogan, the good pupil, remembered how Little Bird taught him to clean his kill. He "slit the animal's belly neatly open and gutted him like a good surgeon." Then he tied the deer's legs and hoisted the two-hundred-pound animal onto his shoulders. Grogan was not a particularly big man, but the past month of "stalking in the woods" had "strengthened his body to a point where he could feel the difference in himself." So he lifted and carried the deer. He walked haltingly and painfully for three long hours back to the cabin. Like a modern Jesus he carried his cross of redemption, the instrument of his own death. Grogan pushed on, refusing to stop despite the agony that suffused his body. He was fortified by

the enormous energy which Emmett Grogan has discovered within himself that seemingly timeless afternoon. A vital, spiritual energy which surged through his body, filling him with an invisible physical strength from the moment he aimed his rifle at the wilderness within himself and fired on the target of his own animality.

[p. 133] 

When he finally reached the cabin, Little Bird saw "the magnificence" of the buck and how effectively Grogan had eviscerated the animal. He was proud of his pupil. "'Good,' was all he said." The women also admired Grogan's prize and "were proud of Emmett for now he was a hunter—which was what his being there was all about."

After skinning the deer and treating it, the women cooked steaks and the four of them ate what Grogan believed was "the finest meat he had ever tasted." The taste lingered:

Afterwards, each couple went to their section of the cabin's divided main room where they lay down together. Emmett was too completely exhausted to talk with his woman, but she understood and kissed him with her juice-filled mouth, softly raising his cock hard with her lips and tongue, easing forth an ejaculation that burst full-loaded wet against the inside of her cheeks, splashing like a hot wave down her slender throat and sedating Emmett into the slumber of a long, deep sleep.

The following morning Grogan knew it was time to leave. He had to return "to the valley where the earth is covered with cement and where the people lived their lives hoping for a moment's relief, and show his brothers and sisters what he saw." Grogan packed, but he left behind the gun used for hunting and killing his former self. Instead he took the bow and arrows Little Bird had given him. Grogan was now a native to America, and "satisfied that he had made no mistakes in picking and choosing what to leave behind and what to take with him." For all we know, he left Natural Suzanne behind as well. Nor did he say goodbye to Little Bird. "He didn't have to."

It took him four days and all the eighty-five cents he had in his pocket to get back to Frisco with only the heavy deer scent on the Black-Bear, Rain-tite jacket Little Bird had given him to protect his senses from the immediate, hard, cold, unnatural assault of the city and its streets. Emmett kept one of the lapels tucked under his nose, using the perfume of the wilderness to defend himself against the industrial smell of progress and modern civilization. . . . Emmett walked because he wasn't tired and because he wanted to let the feel of the city work him over and massage him back into the shape he would need if he was going to pick up where he left off.(104)

Grogan's strange adventure distilled the ways in which the counterculture reprised an imagined preindustrial America. His odyssey was a symbolic union between the desire of cultural radicals for unfettered autonomy and the freedom [p. 134] of the solitary, "self-made" mythic American male. Grogan had to temporarily retreat from the constraints of organized society in order to taste the freedom offered by the savagery, adventure and struggle for survival in the ancient American wilderness.

Grogan told his story in the self-consciously dramatic fashion appropriate to the heroic process through which his identity and "manhood" were reinvented by means of the hunt. Whether Grogan was aware of the American literary traditions associated with these themes is an open question. There is no way of knowing whether he was familiar with nineteenth-century literary works, such as the Cooper tales, that portrayed a tension within American "character" between the settled, civilized ways of the East and the lures of freedom and primitivism represented by the forest or the West. Nor is there evidence that he knew about the history of the mountain men of the first half of the nineteenth century (except, perhaps, as portrayed in television westerns), whose actual wilderness experiences might not have differed significantly from the one he described.(105) And it is altogether unlikely that Grogan had knowledge of the historiography of the American frontier, even though he reenacted Frederick Jackson Turner's late-nineteenth-century belief that the European is transformed into an American when he "strips off the garments of civilization" and dons the "hunting shirt and the moccasin."(106) The idealization of Native American culture was, however, a primary feature of the counterculture and the Haight-Ashbury hippie community. Obviously, Grogan was keenly aware of this.

One thing is certain. Grogan was a thoroughly urbanized son of the city streets who consciously orchestrated his ascension to manhood by plunging into the wilderness. And when his travail was over, he saw himself as a sort of Moses of the counterculture. He returned to San Francisco with the "scent" of the hunt, the unmediated odor of pristine American freedom on his clothes, ready to be sniffed by his "people." The rebirth detailed in his story, then, is not only Grogan's. Symbolically it is that of a generation that needed to connect with primitive sources of individualism and freedom that were alien to contemporary American society.

The implications of Grogan's tale and its significance for understanding the counterculture are tied to issues that go beyond them. Grogan's self-invention through his "performance" as a symbolic American hunter in a pristine forest is linked to a number of historical issues. These include traditional American attitudes toward the wilderness, Native Americans and the significance of the hunt.

As we saw in chapter 4, from the beginning of European settlement, confrontations with the wilderness and frontier were invested with profound [p. 135] cultural significance and ambivalence. American attitudes toward the western migration, and the progressive recession of one frontier after another in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were deeply ambivalent. On one hand, movement west suggested the inevitable march of progress. It symbolized the triumph of "settlement." American farmers and their plows replaced the Indians, hunters and trappers who wandered in the wilderness. Each town settled or farm staked negated the "savagery" and "anarchy" of the frontier and eradicated the moral dangers it represented. In the eighteenth century, Crevecoeur described hunters and frontiersmen as "unsocial" and "ferocious" individualists immersed in a "sort of lawless profligacy." He believed these Euro-Americans had sunk so low on the scale of civilization that they made the customs and manners of the Native Americans appear "respectable" by comparison.(107)

On the other hand, by the late nineteenth century the taming and settlement of the West inspired a feeling of loss in some Americans, especially easterners. The "conquest" of the West extracted from American life a symbolic arena of adventure and freedom. This sense of loss was intensified by the emergence of an urban, industrial, hierarchical and commercial civilization. The industrial city created the potential for widespread security and affluence. But its regulated, "settled," sedentary and congested way of life seemed to limit the horizons of American individualism and manhood. To some degree those qualities had been linked to the encounter with the wilderness and westward expansion. Masculinity and individualism had been cultivated by the struggles and dangers inherent in pitting oneself against the formidable dangers of frontier and forest.(108)

By the turn of the century some Americans tried to recapture this sense of danger by hunting and vacationing in wilderness settings "preserved" by acts of Congress. A Congressman of the time said that after a "kill" the hunter felt like "a barbarian, and you're glad of it to. It's good to be a barbarian and you know that if you are a barbarian, . . . you are at any rate a man."(109)

As historian R. W. B. Lewis pointed out, perceptions of the West and the frontier as symbols of a descent into moral anarchy were challenged somewhat by writers in the nineteenth century who viewed the wilderness as a boundless and timeless "arena of total possibility."(110) The historian Francis Parkman, James Fenimore Cooper and Thoreau, among others, viewed the existence of an untamed, unsettled West as a necessary antidote to the intellectual, physical and moral limitations created by industrial progress and urban congestion.(111) One hundred years before Grogan proudly carried the scent of wild animals back to San Francisco, Thoreau said he "would have every man smell so much like a wild antelope, so much a part and parcel of nature, that his very person should thus sweetly advertise our senses of his presence. . . . I feel no disposition to be satirical when the trapper's coat emits the odor of musquash even; it is [p. 136] a sweeter scent to me than that which exhales from the merchant's or the scholar's garments."(112)

To a remarkable degree, Grogan's approach to his wilderness experience mirrored these perceptions of the West and the wilderness as an escape from the constraints of a settled, secure life. Grogan's adventure and his attitudes toward the wilderness recapitulated some of the sentiments of Cooper's Natty Bumppo in the five "Leatherstocking" tales, as well as the nineteenth-century narratives of Daniel Boone's career as a hunter and pioneer. Slotkin suggested that the mythological elements of the Bumppo and Boone tales revolved around the hero's ability to extract "moral value from the wilderness ordeal." But this would happen only if the individual possessed an innocent receptivity to the experience. He had to be willing to immerse himself in the wilderness environment and put aside, at least momentarily, his ties to the past.(113)

From the beginning of Grogan's narrative, he indicated the need for an experience modern society could not provide, something "every" Native American "already knows" but that eluded middle-class whites. Upon meeting Little Bird, Grogan put aside his past (and present) and rather innocently and naively placed himself in Little Bird's hands. The Native American taught Grogan how to become a "man." In effect, Little Bird was a cultural bridge between the settlement and security offered by contemporary society and the primitive, unfettered freedom supposedly harbored within the American wilderness. Natural Suzanne is Grogan's only tie to his urban world. But her dramatic function in Grogan's narrative is merely to give domestic feminine witness to his manhood, a characteristic attitude of radical males toward women in the sixties.(114)

The most important link between sixties radicalism and the mythic elements in Grogan's tale was Little Bird. There was a logic of sorts in the fact that Grogan and Little Bird met in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The hippie-commune-drug culture lifestyle that took root there before penetrating the rest of the country was heavily influenced by white middle-class stereotypes of the American Indian.

Few symbols of unity between people, or between human beings and nature, captured the imaginations of cultural radicals as powerfully as that of Native American tribalism. A few months before Grogan and Little Bird met, the first "Human Be-In" of the sixties was held on the Polo Grounds of Golden Gate Park. The Be-In was sponsored by a coalition of Berkeley political radicals, such as Jerry Rubin, by counterculture figures associated with Haight-Ashbury and Beat writers, including Gary Snyder and Alien Ginsberg. The Diggers provided thousands of "free" sandwiches for the event. The Be-In's official poster called it "A Gathering of the Tribes." The center of the poster contained a drawing of an Indian on horseback. A press release on the Be-In called it a "pow-wow" convened by "every tribe of the young" who were dedicated to forming a "new" American nation."(115)

[p. 137] 

To a considerable degree, the ideals of this new nation were associated with Native American tribalism. Cultural radicals admired the communalism and communism of Native Americans, the supposed "simplicity" with which they lived and their respect for nature. Most of all, perhaps, they were intrigued by the noncoercive, apparently voluntary nature of Indian communalism.(116) Two centuries earlier, Thomas Jefferson noted much the same thing. Indian society was bereft, said Jefferson, of "any laws, any coercive power, any shadow of government. Their only controuls are their manners, and that moral sense of right and wrong."(117) For these reasons, many of those who lived in Haight-Ashbury saw themselves as "the reincarnation of the American Indian," in the words of the editor of the district's underground newspaper, The San Francisco Oracle.(118)

Grogan's perception of Little Bird reflected these views. But the real "role" played by Little Bird in Grogan's life-act was to be the instrument through which Grogan recreated himself. His identification and kinship with the Indian, whom he called "my brother," allowed Grogan to blend certain elements of American and Native American cultures into his new identity, while remaining independent of both.

In the end, Grogan is neither a Native American nor an American attuned to the values of contemporary society. His relationship with the Pueblo had an affinity with that of Hawkeye and Chingachgook in Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. At the end of this tale Chingachgook, forlorn over the death of his son and the end of his tribal line, cried, "I am alone." Hawkeye, the white man who felt more at home in the forest and with the ways of the Indians than with his own people, replied, "No, no, not alone. The gifts of our colors may be different, but God has so placed us as to journey in the same path. I have no kin, and I may also say, like you, no people."(119)

Grogan had "no people" either. He and other cultural radicals embraced a version of American freedom that inevitably marginalized them in their own society. Little Bird, like Chingachgook, a symbol of pristine America, was the instrument through which Grogan articulated his rejection of modern American culture and reasserted the claims of a primitive American liberty. Grogan's new identity was concocted from selective elements of both cultures and suggested something entirely new. It can be said of the relationship between Grogan and Little Bird what D. H. Lawrence said of Hawkeye and Chingachgook: "This is the new great thing, the clue, the inception of a new humanity."(120) The American.

Grogan earned the right to claim his new identity by becoming a hunter. The actual target of the hunt, as he made clear, was his former self—the buck was Grogan. The danger inherent in the hunt was not just that the hunter could be injured or killed, but that he might fail to summon the courage necessary to prove his "manhood." In this context, the manhood to which Grogan referred [p. 138] symbolized the courage necessary to confront and destroy what he viewed as a morally decadent society. Put another way, the bravery necessary to combat and topple contemporary American society was forged through an adventure in the primitive American wilderness. The weapon used to destroy modern America was its own history.

The hunt was a parable in which an avatar of sixties radicalism ritualistically severed his ties to society by "performing" an act of mythic renewal and rebirth. It was an old American tale. As Slotkin pointed out in his extraordinary study of the mythology of the American frontier, Regeneration through Violence, the "myth of the hunter. . . is one of self-renewal or self-creation through acts of violence."(121)

Notwithstanding his admiration for both Little Bird's culture and its reverence for nature, Grogan's views of the wilderness and the hunt were typically American. They were instrumental and "white," not inclusive and "red." When ready to kill, he repeated the words of the song Little Bird taught him, "the target is me." But Grogan missed the point of the Indian song. For Native Americans, identification with the target reflected their belief that all creatures were spiritually related. The act of killing an animal, even for food, was symbolic suicide. But for Grogan, he, rather than the buck, was the issue. The deer was merely the means through which Grogan enacted his ritual of self-creation.

In the end, Grogan made it clear that his "weapons" of choice for combat with contemporary America were those of the primitive American forest. His rebirth as a hunter was a sign that, if necessary, he could shoot and kill as effectively in the city as in the hills. At the same time, however, Grogan left the gun behind. This symbol of the Euro-American conquest of the continent was replaced by the pre-Columbian bow and arrow given him by Little Bird. Leaving the gun behind expressed the counterculture's ideals of "peace" and "love." But keeping the bow and arrows, the killing of the buck and the savage relish with which Grogan dissected and devoured the venison spoke of something else. Thoreau captured this American ambivalence in a passage in Walden:

Once or twice . . . while I lived at the pond, I found myself ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me. I found in myself. . . an instinct toward a higher or, as it is named, spiritual life . . . and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverenced them both. I love the wild not less than the good.(122)

Grogan's wilderness adventure enacted the repetitive process from civilization to frontier that occurred during the first three centuries of American history. "American development," suggested Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893,

[p. 139] has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area. American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character.(123)

One needn't agree with Turner about primitive forces "dominating" the character of Americans to perceive the San Francisco scene beginning in 1964 as an attempt on the part of young people to reinvent or rediscover an American frontier of their own. Thus the archaic qualities of Digger life-acts, the free-fall plunge into psychological and social frontiers by Kesey and the Pranksters, the centrality of Native American tribalism for cultural radicals and Grogan's odyssey into the wilderness. Radicals needed, as Coyote said, their own "wild turf."

Middle-class child rearing in the forties and fifties placed extraordinary emphasis upon autonomy, independence, exploration, risk taking and competitiveness—in other words, on "testing." In the sixties, millions of young people, with varying degrees of commitment to the hippie movement, took up this challenge. They attached themselves to culturally sanctioned myths or primitive experiences that tested their abilities to respond to challenges and to take the risks necessary to explore their world and themselves.

Digger "life-acts" and Grogan's wilderness experience were improvised performances suggesting that the sources and means of expressing these needs resided within the culture itself. American liberty could be rediscovered simply by heading "west," metaphorically or literally.

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