Out West

One at a time, the armed men come down dusty, winding gullies to the steeper arroyos, their chaps and boots glinting in the afternoon sunlight. They descend gulches to the floor of the canyon, a thin band of trees and rock that winds along the creekside. Sixteen men who have never seen one another before, but who are expecting one another, since no one else would care to make the journey to this canyon, or is even aware of its existence.

On a narrow strip of sand, alongside a little high country creek rushing vigorously to nowhere, the sixteen men assemble in a fairly tight grouping, take off their hats and shirts, and unhook their belts and holsters, letting their sidearms drop to the ground. All are natives of the rural Western states, successful ranchers and farmers in their fifties and sixties, some of them silver-haired now but still self-possessed and self-reliant. Their hearts are set to pounding by the ritualistic atmosphere which comes to prevail below the rim of this remote plateau in southeastern Utah, among this group of strangers. The late afternoon sun burns into their leathery faces as, one by one, the men kneel softly in the sand and silently begin to pummel one another with their fists, lunging as far as their reach allows while remaining upright.