Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Blast From the Past: A Historic Encounter With Dick Lamm

Dick Lamm recalling his 1973 run for governor.
Dick Lamm recalling his 1973 run for governor. Colorado Public Television
Although he passed away in August, Coloradans got another chance to hear from Governor Richard Lamm over Thanksgiving weekend, when PBS12 served up the circa 2013 Colorado Inside Out Time Machine episode that traveled back to 1973, in which I played (badly) East High grad Judy Collins. As a special add-on, the station had taped Lamm and other luminaries recalling some of the big moments of 1973.

Hearing Lamm recall his fight against the Olympics that fueled his unlikely rise to governor reminded me of a time when I encountered him in a very unlikely place: Trixi's Antler Saloon in Ovando, Montana — one of the world's great bars, whose other claim to fame is a sign proclaiming "Lewis Without Clark," since this was where Meriwether Lewis left William Clark to explore the Blackfoot River.

Trixi McCormick, a rodeo trick rider whose “scanty and suggestive outfits” were credited with saving the Calgary Stampede, opened her place in Ovando in the ’50s, and it quickly became a community hangout. Under the big sky, a community can stretch hundreds of miles, and people regularly made a point of stopping in for a quick beer or maybe a prime rib dinner, Trixi's weekly special. Even after she moved on to that roundup in the sky (she sold her place before she passed in 2001), that tradition continued.

My family, which bought an old homestead cabin twenty miles from Ovando back in 1970, has been going to Trixi's for fifty years. About two decades ago, a group of us were eating in the side dining room there when I looked over at the salad bar and said, "Wow, that looks like Dottie Lamm." Who would, naturally, be eating at a rare Montana salad bar (nothing more exotic than iceberg lettuce, cottage cheese, olives and cherry tomatoes).

A few minutes later, I looked over again and said, "Wait, that's Dick Lamm!"

And I headed out to the main room by the bar to investigate further.

Yes, there were Dottie and Dick Lamm, already a dozen years out of the governor's mansion, but both still waves as making Senate and presidential candidates, not to mention people always welcome to speak their minds. And they were not alone in this honky-tonk: They were sitting with former Senator George McGovern and historian Stephen Ambrose.

Turns out that Ambrose was writing a book on McGovern's time in World War II, The Wild Blue, and had invited Lamm, his old University of Wisconsin roommate, to join him at his ranch twenty miles on the other side of Trixi's. This wasn't the first time that the Lamms had joined Ambrose in the area, either; they'd visited when the historian was working on his Lewis and Clark book.

"In 1993 we invited the smartest people we know to join us for a Missouri River trip, a July Fourth camp-out at Lemhi and a horseback crossing on the Lolo Trail," Ambrose told Newsweek in 1996. "I was getting ready to write Undaunted Courage and wanted to know what questions popped into bright people's minds after a day on the trail and a reading of the journals around the campfire. Among a dozen others were my college roommate, former Colorado governor Dick Lamm, and his wife, Dottie. Dick has more curiosity than any man I've known since Dwight Eisenhower. He and the others gave me exactly what I sought: good fellowship, shared hardships and never-ending questions."

There was plenty of fellowship that night, and the Westword receptionist had a few questions of her own a couple of days later, when I was back in the office and she received a phone call from my "probation officer," who wanted to discuss why I'd broken the rules and left the state.

It was Dick Lamm — who, it turned out, was an expert on the phony phone call. Our encounter at Trixi's had been surprising enough; learning that the legendary policy wonk was also a prankster was a real bonus.

McGovern, Ambrose and Dick Lamm are all gone now, but they live on in history books — both written about them and written by them. And you can still catch Lamm in a more sober look over his life, in this PBS12 11th Hour episode, offering his "lasting message for the world" on February 12, 1992.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun