August 1969 will always remain indelible in my mind: the Tate-La Bianca murders, the bloodcurdling fruition of the Manson nightmare, demons unleashed from the bowels of a diseased man in a diseased society. In August 1969, at a rock festival at
Don Ward was short, balding, middle-aged, and built like a fireplug. His reputation as a lawman had spread far beyond his legal jurisdiction in the valleys around Shoshone. I’d never met him before that day, but I’d been told once in Tecopa that “old Don Ward is a little bit o’ hell.” He was that morning. When Bob asked him what was going on, he waved the barrel of his shotgun up under Bob’s nose.
“What’s goin’ on is that this gal” – he pointed at Juanita – “about two months back, she gave my niece a marijuana cigarette!”
“I didn’t even –.”
“Yes, ya did!” Don bellowed, his face turning a violent crimson. “My wife runs the drugstore in town and she seen ya. Now, you just listen: there’s six kids in Shoshone on pot. And I know where it comes from – from that goddamned ranch up by
“Don’t threaten us,” Crockett said. “It isn’t necessary, and you won’t like it.” Ward glanced at Crockett as the other co handed him I.D.’s taken from our wallets.
“It might have been necessary a couple of months ago,” I added, “but it isn’t now… you can search the truck.”
“I know what I can do!” Ward barked. “And I know this gal was passing out marijuana.”
“Not anymore,” Juanita said. “Things are different. I’m married now… this is my husband.”
Bob’s head spun around as though he’d been punched.
“I.D. says you’re Wildebush and he’s
“Well, we’re getting married.”
“Ain’t that swell.”
Ward returned the I.D.’s and told us to scram. “If I hear of any more funny stuff going on at that ranch, there’s gonna be some heads rollin’.”
By noon the next day Bob and Juanita were packed and ready to go. We helped them transport their stuff to Bob’s truck at the foot of the canyon, wished them luck, and watched as they drove out across the valley. It was the last I ever saw of Juanita Wildebush.
During the next three weeks Brooks and I worked daily with Crockett – climbing mountains, digging, studying the terrain. The exercises he put us through were strenuous. With full packs, he had us running up and down the steepest trails time after time without resting, while he ran with us, suffering as much as we did. “Keepin’ up with two twenty-year-old kids ain’t that easy.”
One afternoon, while Brooks cleaned up the ranch house, Crockett and I went out to work the Gold Dollar. On the way back from digging (our packs filled), Crockett suggested we play follow the leader. “Ya just do what I do.” With that he took off down the trail at a trot. I followed him, stepping where he stepped. When we got back to the bottom, he turned around. “Now let’s run back up. You go first.” I was beat but determined to keep up with Crockett. I took off up the trail with him right behind me. By the time I reached the top, I was panting. But I’d no more than paused to catch my breath than Crockett whirled around and started back down again; wearily I trudged after him, trying to keep pace, trying to keep from falling on my face. By the time we reached the bottom, I was gasping for air. “Okay,” he said, “one more time.” I couldn’t believe it! Instinctively I turned and started back up, but my breathing was coming too hard, I just couldn’t go on. I was angry and exasperated. Mid-way up, I’d had it and was ready to cuss Crockett out. When I whirled around, he was right behind me, grinning. I don’t know what I intended to say, but all that came to my mouth was a long wheezing “Youuuuuuuu!”
As I gasped out this word, Crockett stopped in his tracks, still grinning. I looked at him dumbly, half-dazed.
“What happened to all that heavy breathin’?” he asked.
As he spoke I realized that my panting had stopped. I was calm, collected, and breathing evenly. To me, the experience was almost revelatory – off and on for years, I’d practiced yoga, trying to learn to control my breathing and energy flow. This new discovery elated me.
“No need to keep on breathin’ like that once ya stop workin’,” Crockett remarked. “Most times people get to breathin’ hard and let the momentum of it carry ‘em when they don’t need to… Let’s head back and get something to eat.”
I followed Crockett up the wash, feeling suddenly more centered and in tune with my body than I ever had squatting on a yoga mat.
“Ya know,” he said moments later, “one reason you work so hard is that you never learned how to walk.
He pointed out how I dragged my feet instead of walking with my knees raised and my steps following each other in an even rhythm. “Walking shouldn’t be work, it should be like floatin’. Tell ya what, pretend you’re walking four inches off the ground. Ya just do what I do, make every step a different step, never take two steps alike. Ready?” I nodded, and Crockett strode forward, stepping to the left, then to the right, up on a rock, down on another, walking on his toes, then his heels, on the side of his foot – taking long strides, then short ones, then in a series of tiny steps. We must have looked like a couple of spastics winding our way up the wash. But in time, during the days that followed, this exercise helped me gain an awareness of walking, and I learned to move with an easy stride that took much of the tension out of the exercises.
Crockett used to say that the body is the temple of the spirit and that the way the body moves is a reflection of the spirit. “The spirit moves the body and the muscles in a beautiful way. It doesn’t mean the spirit has to stay in the body, but mostly it does, and the way I see, it deserves a nice ride. Spirit,” he said, “occupies no time and no space. It can postulate, and perceive what it postulates.” But getting in touch with it, he insisted, was impossible unless one was turned in to the body. “It’s like all that yoga… getting’ the body lined up so’s the spirit can move around some and be in touch with other spirits, other forces.”
Charlie’s views on the body’s importance in sex closely paralleled Crockett’s. Charlie had said that what made sex “a spiritual trip” was a spontaneity – “Change the motion, change the rhythm,” or as Crockett had put it, “Never make the same step twice.” It was a way of getting free, aligning the body with the spirit, and in so doing being in touch with the greater energies around you.
“Sometimes,” Crockett said, “you hear people say that mind and spirit are one. But it really ain’t like that. A better way to look at it is to picture a man riding in a carriage. The carriage is the body. The spirit rides in the carriage. The mind is the driver sitting on top. The emotions are the horses pulling the carriage. The brain is the reins between the mind and the emotions. The mind, the emotions, and the body are all vulnerable to distraction, laziness, habit, misdirection. I mean, you just can’t let that carriage go along on its own momentum and think your spirit is okay. You got to be aware all the time. That’s why we keep on carryin’ heavier loads and climbin’ steeper trails – to keep our awareness keen. It’s like ya told me Charlie said, ‘Come to Now.’ Well that’s right, where the spirit is concerned, Now is a twenty-four-hour-a-day proposition.”
Perhaps the heaviest experience of that summer happened around eight-thirty one night when it started to rain. The three of us were sitting in the bunkhouse playing bridge. A couple of my friends – a man and his wife – had come up to the ranch that day and were sleeping in the bus with their little daughter. We were in the midst of the game, joking about how we had made it rain (it seldom rains in
“That floor gets pretty hard,” Crockett said. “Why don’t you run the mattress up to ‘em?”
“Rainin’ too hard now.”
“ Naw, the rain will stop when you go outside… long enough for you to take it up there and come back.”
Brooks and I both looked at Crockett.
“Well are ya gonna do it?” he asked me.
“Sure… sure.” I grabbed the mattress and ran through the open door. The moment I stepped outside, the rain stopped dead. Flabbergasted, I hurried up the hill to where the bus was parked, left the mattress, and trotted back to the bunkhouse; it couldn’t have taken more than forty seconds. Not one drop of water fell on me. Yet, the moment I stepped back inside the bunkhouse, it started to pour.
Crockett was grinning from ear to ear.
“How the hell did you do that?”
“We did it,” he said.
“Well, you saw everything I saw – you tell me how…”
“But how did you know?
“Sometimes ya just know things.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” I said.
“Postulate and percieve,” Brooks declared.
By that time Brooks and I were firm believers in Crockett’s powers. The stronger his influence, the more anxious we were that he meet Charlie. We hadn’t seen a newspaper in weeks and knew nothing about developments in the Tate-La Bianca investigation, nor that Spahn’s had been raided (on August 16), the Family arrested for possession of stolen vehicles, and later released. We asked Crockett to agree to see Charlie, but he wouldn’t until he was ready, until his own curiosity about “this guy Charlie” got the better of him.
A few days later, Brooks and I were in the garden picking vegetables while Crockett sat on the porch whittling on a piece of wood. The air was still; yet, I heard something – a low rumbing sound which seemed to be coming from some great distance.
“What’s that noise?”
Brooks looked up.
“Yeah, I hear something. Sounds like a motor… someone coming up the valley.”
For three days we heard the sound – a low, ominous vibration, a kind of psychic rumbling that seemed to echo through the canyon. But no one came. Finally, one evening after hiking back from the mine, I asked Crockett what it was.
“Your friend Charlie,” he said solemnly without looking at me. “I lifted the gate. Wish I wouldn’t have. Listen to it… sure ain’t the sounds of harmony, is it?”
Sometime around noon the following day, Brooks and I looked up at the same time. We were seated at the dining-room table across from Crockett.
“You smell that?” I asked.
“Yeah… somethin’,” Brooks mumbled through a mouthful of cornbread.
Crockett sniffled. “Sounds like a combination of honey… and pussy.”
For some reason the association struck me. “It’s Brenda… goddamn, it’s Brenda!”
Two hours later, a bright yellow dune buggy pulled into the yard, and
“Here they are,” Crockett declared in a monotone as Brooks and I walked out onto the porch.
Brenda waved. “Howdy,” she called out.
I waved back and walked down the path with Brooks, my eyes on Tex Watson. I could hardly believe it was the same person. He looked like a zombie. His face was unshaven; his hair had grown several inches and hung over his eyes. The clothing he wore – Levi’s and T-shirt – was filthy. His vapid stare unnerved me. Like Bruce, he carried a sheathed hunting knife, and I noted when he stood aside to let Brenda out of the dune buggy that a shotgun and a box of shells were lying on the seat.
Bruce was no less grungy, yet he seemed more alert. There were open sores, like boils, on the side of his neck and on both arms. Brenda, meanwhile, though she appeared slightly emaciated, was enthusiastic and greeted Brooks and me with a hug as Bruce hopped out of the jeep to deliver Charlie’s message:
“Charlie’s down at Sourdough Springs… says if he has your agreement, he’ll come up.” By that time Crockett had ambled down from the house.
“Sure,” he said, “send him up.”
While Bruce drove the dune buggy back down the wash to relay the message, Brenda and
Less than an hour later Charlie drove into the yard behind Bruce with a full contingent of girls: Squeaky, Sandy, Ouisch, Snake, Sherry, Cathy, and Gypsy. When I went out to greet them, Charlie gave me a big hug, but his eyes were scanning the ranch house. “Where’s this guy Crockett?” he asked almost at once.
“Come on in and meet him.”
It must have been about four when we all gathered in the ranch house around the table. Crockett sat at one end playing solitaire,
“You know, Brooks, I could cut your throat.”
“Right, Charlie,” Brooks said jokingly, as though it were all in jest.
It’s certain Charlie was struck by the change in Brooks, who, only months before, was completely paranoid and hardly able to function. It’s equally certain that had Brooks known about the murders, he would not have been so cool.
But it wasn’t Brooks or me that Charlie was baiting, it was Crockett, who after a cordial “howdy” and a handshake, had lapsed into silence before his cards. Charlie wasted little time in sending several of the girls with Bruce Davis to check on the Meyers ranch; then he say beside Crockett and began rapping about Helter-Skelter. Crockett just listened while Charlie laid out his trip, pausing just long enough to ask Crockett for a cigarette. Crockett handed him one. A could of times Crockett muttered “yeah… uh-huh” but little else. It wasn’t until Charlie got into his “we-are-all-one” routine that Crockett seemed to perk up and listen more intently. Brooks was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. I was seated at the opposite end of the table beside Brenda.
As Charlie spoke, Crockett nodded, his hair falling in tight ringlets around his eyes. Charlie leaned forward, his elbows on the table, his hands gesturing freely.
“Dig it,” he said. “I am you and you are me.”
“No,” Crockett interrupted. “No… that ain’t true.”
Charlie’s hands came to rest on the table; he just stared as the old man went on to explain, while I exchanged glances with Brooks.
“We are both spirits… that’s true, both capable of postulating and perceiving that which we postulate. In that sense we are the same… but we have lived different lives and had different experiences, therefore I am not you and you are not me.”
Moments later, Bruce Davis come in to announce that everything seemed copacetic at the Meyers ranch… ready to move in.
Charlie glanced at Crockett, who had returned to his gama; then he addressed me. “Come on, Paul, let’s take a dune-buggy ride.”
We hiked down the trail and I climbed into the dune buggy.
“Look,” Charlie said, climbing in beside me, “get this straight – I don’t release you of your agreements. I don’t release you from nothin’!” He fired up the engine and backed the buggy into the road.
“You know, you broke my heart, man… just when I needed you.”
I didn’t say anything. I felt strangely composed as we passed the Meyers place and headed up behind the ranch.
“I gotta scene goin here now, Charlie.”
“What kind of scene? What are you doing?”
“Just doin’ things with Brooks and Crockett.”
“You told me never to put my business in the streets.”
“I’m not the streets!” Charlie bellowed, slamming on the brakes, his eyes flashing. “What about our trip… what about the things we were doing?”
“I’m still doing them, I’m still -.”
“I ought to kill that old man is what I should do.”
When we reached the summit, Charlie stopped and faced me.
“I’m gonna get you back with me… you ain’t released from nothin’…”
“It’s too late.”
“Even if I have to torture your little ass.” He glanced at me. “Even if I have to tie you to a tree and slit your belly open; I may just tie you up and have the girls take turns givin’ you head till you’re about ready to come, then I’ll cut your prick.”
I remembered Charlie’s fear games and was determined not to let him get to me. “You’re a riot,” I said.
“You know, man, we had to kill Shorty.” He fired up the engine, his eyes still on mine.
“That right? How come?”
“Got to talking too damn much… a real pain in the ass… we cut him up real good.”
I didn’t believe him. I didn’t want to believe him. Had I gone for it, I would have been overwhelmed with fear, and that fear might have done me in. Yet, when he said it, I felt it might be true, that Charlie was capable of such an act. Only minutes before, I’d seem him put his knife to Brooks’s throat. Yet it was all for show, all done to get Crockett. Crockett was the one Charlie wanted – not to kill, but to discredit and invalidate in front of the Family. Winning me back would be one way to do it.
Charlie recognized and respected Crockett’s power (the fact that he asked permission to come up to the ranch was proof of that); there was also a part of him that sought to learn what Crockett had to teach. By that time Charlie had created a void around himself; he had fallen “into the hole” of his own madness. He could only grow if he were challenged, and by then there was no one to do so – just a band of followers programmed to heed his every whim. Just how far they were programmed to go (and had gone), I had no idea.
As we approached the Meyers ranch, Charlie described his plans to move in immediately. He spoke to me as though I had agreed to rejoin the Family, which I hadn’t. He said he was bringing in enough supplies and weapons to outfit an army. He said Helter-Skelter would go down in history as the grand finale.
We had just pulled in and parked in front of the Barker ranch when Charlie asked if I’d heard about Bobby Beausoleil and Mary Brunner.
“What about them?”
“They’re in jail, man… for murdering Gary Hinman.”
“Did they do it?”
Charlie hopped out of the dune buggy, ‘Sure they did it… you did it, I did it… we all did it.”
By the time it was dark, Charlie and the Family had moved, lock, stock, and barrel, into the Meyers ranch, leaving Brooks, Crockett, and me alone at the Barker ranch, just a quarter of a mile away.
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD