It was dark, but Brent knew his way around the reservation. Cannon Ball was just a few miles from camp. We turned left off Highway 1806 and headed into this very small town of under 1000 people. We went to the school, thinking that was where the gym is. It was obvious that no one was there as we plowed through the snow drifts in the driveway and parking lot. Then, we started driving around. At least it was a very small town.

Due to the blizzard, no one was out and about. We came across a guy with a pickup truck pulling a car out of a huge drift in the road. We stopped and helped, then asked the man where the gym was. He pointed just down the side road, we were almost on top of it. We got back in the Explorer and promptly got stuck in the same drift. The man, who lived a few houses away, it turned out, pulled us out and we arrived at what was the Cannon Ball Recreation Center, a gym with an adjoining kitchen and meeting room area.

We walked into the building. The gym floor had some cots set up and was not that crowded. Lots of people sitting on the bleachers hanging out, a few in groups of cots. We asked the first person we saw if this was where the veterans were. They didn’t know. No one knew. Of course that was the answer. We were taken into the large adjacent office/meeting area that had the kitchen. Rows of tables and people sitting at computers. The leader we talked to there said she didn’t know about the veterans, but we were welcome to stay there. Finally, a place to park ourselves. I had essentially had no sleep in 36 plus hours. You have no idea how nice it was to have somewhere to lay my weary head.

 

Cannon Ball Recreation Center with Brent

Outside my new home for the next few days with Brent, this picture taken on Thursday morning

 

We went outside to get my gear. Even though the blizzard was still going full force and it was dark, Brent decided he was going to try and make the ten mile or so run to his parent’s house in Solen. He asked if I wanted to go, but I decided that the gym was fine by me. Maybe there I could find out what was going on. I figured that going to the comforts of a home would be a cop out of sorts. I was here to help and participate in protecting the water. I have done my share of sleeping in close quarters on cots in Afghanistan and Iraq. I actually sleep pretty darn well on a cot. I wished him well and I was on my own. He made it and the next time I would see Brent was Wednesday.

I dragged my stuff into the gym, putting it in a pile near the bleachers where there were boxes piled up and open containers with donated items from gloves to toothpaste to sweaters that had been sent for the water protectors to take what they needed. It reminded me of the care packages we used to get in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then I met my first friend. It was Sunny, who was sitting amongst the boxes. She was a long term water protector and told me where I could put my cot, so I staked out a small patch of floor in front of the donations area. It was a good place, it turns out, as it was where her and another long termer slept and I was not in the transient area. I learned the lay of the land quickly.

 

Sunny and me at the Cannon Ball Recreation Center

Sunny befriended me when I arrived at the gym and taught me the ropes. What a lovely and kind soul.

 

As we got to know each other a bit as people do when having first met, I mentioned that I was dismayed that I couldn’t seem to connect with the veterans I had come to be a part of. She told me that I was where I needed to be. I had ended up at the gym for a reason. I heard those exact words from at least twenty other people there, all separate encounters. Veterans Stand was part of the narrative, but I had ended up at what we in the military would call the forward logistics base for Oceti Sakowin Camp. This was the real deal and I was now in the middle of it.

The shit really hit the fan on Tuesday at the Rec Center here, but Monday evening, it was still fairly quiet and not crowded. I met a number of people this night and it was enlightening. There were quite a few white folks and a couple of blacks, but the majority were native Americans from everywhere. When people told me where they were from, I often had not even heard of the tribe and I am fairly conversant with North American prehistory.

There was a pastor and nonviolent resistance trainer who had come with a large interfaith group. They weren’t part of Veterans Stand, but they had come because of it and had participated in the veteran’s rally earlier in the day. His son was military and he was almost apologetic that he wasn’t a veteran only because, to him, this seemed to be a veteran thing. He didn’t perhaps realize that the veterans were latecomers to the fight and that others had been here for months. This person was a pacifist and hadn’t been happy his son had joined the military. When he realized I was very anti-war, he asked me how I had ended up in Iraq, especially as I was old enough to have been in Vietnam. Just like his son, I said, I had joined after 911 because I was pissed and wanted to do something. And, like his son, war has that romantic quality that sends people to war where they find out all those notions are lies.

Every single native American thanked me for coming and supporting them. I knew there were mixed feelings about the veterans taking over the spotlight and some veterans claiming they were why the Corps of Engineers had, on Sunday, denied the Energy Transfer Partners easement to go under Lake Oahe and the Missouri River.

 

Horses and Women Leaders at Standing Rock

Yes, there are Horses at Oceti Sakowin Camp. And some of the major leaders are women and elders. Indian cultures recognize the importance of these people, unlike US culture that marginalizes women and casts out the old. At my age, 61, I have been seeing how the US treats its elders firsthand for quite a few years now.

 

I learned a valuable lesson about cultural differences that night. And I am an anthropologist and should have known that there were incredible examples of selfless non-Western cultural attitudes right here in the USA. We so often forget our own backyards. These people all were sincerely thankful for those of us who had come to support what was much more than a fight over clean water. It was also a human rights fight of the first order.

These are lessons on how to live we should all heed. I knew, before I decided to go, that we were entering a resistance movement that had been going on for months. We were going for only a few days. One thing that still rubs me the wrong way was Veterans Stand being touted by its leadership as the cavalry coming in to save the day. Partly that was because the US Cavalry were the ones who had massacred women and children and were the point of the colonial spear that destroyed the Indian nations, including the Sioux. Not a good choice of wording.

Others said that we were going to reclaim the word. In any case, Wesley Clark Jr had been in the cavalry during his short stint in the US Army and he was going to use it. He even wore the cavalry hat and the coat of a dress blue uniform that I thought looked ridiculous in pictures. I was sensitive that we were possibly stepping on the toes of the long timers in coming in.

 

Wesley Clark in US Cavalry Uniform

I thought the use of the word cavalry and wearing the distinctive US Army cavalry hat was tacky. The publicity whoring was pretty tacky, as well.

 

I am a product of western culture and I know how our society likes to take credit for things and not share the glory. For whatever reason, I have always been one to shy away from taking credit for things and always have pointed out those that have contributed to success of anything I have ever been involved with. This propensity to not “blow my own horn” has hurt me professionally over the years in a society where life is cutthroat and it is “every man for himself.”

So, I was gratified and surprised when all the native Americans displayed nothing but sincere appreciation and happiness that I and others had come to support them. People were as helpful as any I have ever seen. They simply had no egos in the negative western sense of what an ego is. What a refreshing and wonderful thing. The only egos I have seen with water protectors have come from their white allies and I saw very little of that. This lack of ego attitude is infectious. This is the biggest lesson I got out of this entire adventure and one we should all learn from.

We are all one.

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We were now at the head of the line of vehicles heading to the camp as we started inching forward again on the icy road. I motioned for the four wheel drive HUMMER behind us to pass and take the lead. We had met the driver during the traffic jam. He was a native American veteran who had been a Ranger in Vietnam. He was from Nevada. As we were on a hill, we weren’t sure we were going to make it. In retrospect, maybe we should have left him behind us, he could have pulled us up the hill.

As we approached the Cannon Ball River bridge just up the road from where we had spent the past couple of hours, we saw tipis on the reservation side. It was a bit confusing as I thought the camp was on the north side of the river on Corps of Engineers claimed land. It turns out what we were seeing was Rosebud Camp and Sacred Stone Camp. These are on private reservation land (see Part Two – Protest Camps, Police Overreach, and Veterans). Sacred Stone is the original water protector camp and Rosebud is run by members of the Sicangu Sioux from Rosebud, SD, and includes many tribes and allies.

Visibility was poor, but you could see Oceti Sakowin Camp as we approached the bridge. It was huge, bigger than I expected. A fence line ran along the roadside that was lined with flags. All kinds of flags. Mostly tribal, I didn’t realize how many Indian tribes there were in North America. And it looked like they were all represented. It turns out that this is the largest cooperative action amongst First Nation tribes perhaps ever. The last time that all the Sioux nations cooperated was in 1876. Just seeing all those flags made me aware of the magnitude of this snow covered camp in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota.

 

First View of Oceti Sakowin Camp

First view of Oceti Sakowin camp from the Cannon Ball River bridge. We finally made it.

 

We pulled into the main entrance. There was a plywood “guard shack” and we asked if they knew where the Veterans Stand headquarters was. They didn’t. Uh oh. We asked others the same question as we slowly drove on uneven roads that weren’t really roads. No one knew. We found a place to park. While we were stuck in traffic with the bus on Highway 1806, I had gotten out my winter clothes and started putting on layers. No long johns, I figured if we found a place to spend the night at camp, I could put those on once there. I put on another pair of socks and extra tops, made sure my gloves and inserts were ready, and got my headgear together.

 

Oceti Sakowin Camp Upper Entrance

Oceti Sakowin Camp upper entrance, guard shack on right.

 

I am glad no one was video taping me when I got out of the Explorer. I couldn’t have done a comedy sketch better than these real world totally unprepared for gale force winds and extreme cold antics. I immediately knew my boots were not going to work well on the ice. In the fresh snow, OK, not on ice. My desert camo Gore-Tex over pants that I had never actually worn before were too big and wouldn’t stay up (I donated them later, maybe they would fit someone). Way too big, and the drawstring wasn’t cutting it. I had on a balaclava and my Afghan keffiyeh around my neck. I was counting on my jacket hood, that I had never used before, to be the outer layer and wind protection. Except I needed a hat to contain it. Damn thing went down to my nose no matter what I did. I couldn’t see anything. Then, a lens from my glasses popped out. Shit, my only pair of glasses. I found it on the snow, thank god. The glasses went into my pocket. Lesson learned was to always do a dry run on things like this before actually getting into the situation where it was needed.

But, I knew that and hadn’t done it. What an idiot. It was embarassing. Brent was trying to help me get situated, then went off to find the veterans while I tried to get my shit together. Finally, I got it together, but the walking on ice thing was going to remain an issue. I had no other footwear. A pair of bedroom slippers would have been better.

Brent came back and said he had signed us into the camp itself, but hadn’t found anyone who specifically knew where the elusive veterans were. We also found out that there were multiple groups of veterans, but they had all been there longer and were not part of Veterans Stand. Someone said look for an Army tent. We looked around. Even in the low visibility and dimming daylight, half the tents in the camp were Army tents. Tan Army tents. Green Army tents. GP mediums all over the place. Old canvas Army tents. We started looking in tent flaps and asking. No one knew. We saw a sign for Vets Rally registration and followed the arrow. We never found anything. We later learned we were very, very close and were extremely lucky we never found it. Turns out what few Veterans Stand folks were still in the camp had been in green Army tents. None of the leaders had stayed in camp, we found out later.

 

Vets Rally Sign

We ended up being really fortunate that this sign didn’t help us find the Vet’s tent. This sign was for the rally earlier in the day.

 

It was starting to get dark and the blizzard was still going strong. We had no place to stay and the only thing happening at the camp was people dealing with the weather. The events of the day were long over and we had missed them. We needed to find a place to spend the night and it looked like camp had its hands full. Worst case was sleep in the Explorer. That would have been OK if it came to that, but not particularly pleasant.

We asked around about places to stay. Where had the veterans gone? There were thousands here earlier in the day. No one knew. The loudspeaker kept telling people to get out while they could or find a warm place for the night. Up at the sacred fire, the central meeting place, we were told that the gym in Cannon Ball was open. We decided to head there and then find out what was going on. I am not sure why I kept thinking that we had to find the Veterans Stand people. That was why we had come and that is what we were supposed to do. We had a mission.

We decided to head for Cannon Ball. One thing about being as far north as we were is that in winter it gets light later and dark earlier. Darkness was falling quickly. It took a couple more hours to get back on Highway 1806 from the camp. There was a lot of traffic for one. Driving was treacherous, for another. We tried to go out the same entrance we came in. There was quite a little hill leading up to it. We tried and tried for a long time, but the front wheel drive Explorer with Florida tags (a rental, remember) that we picked up in Savannah was not having anything to do with it. A friendly native American told us to try the other entrance that was closer to the bridge. We finally found the road leading that way and got into the traffic.

 

Oceti Sakowin Camp Upper Exit

The front wheel drive Explorer was not getting up this hill. Maybe it was the Florida tags.

 

The camp was on plains land that had no roads. It was all grass and dirt, now snow and ice. No road signs, no police directing traffic (they were too busy helping Energy Transfer Partners hurt the water protectors). There were a few camp residents helping to direct people. It was a madhouse. We finally made it to the exit and, as there was a sharp, short rise going to the road, Brent waited for the car ahead of us to clear the hill. We made a run for it, tires spinning and an Indian on Highway 1806 motioning us frantically to cut the wheel as we hit the road. Slipping and sliding, we made it. It was completely dark by now.

 

Lower Oceti SakowinCamp Exit

Somewhere over there is the road that goes to the lower camp exit.

 

We crept back to Cannon Ball slowly to find the gym.

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Across the bridge and we were on the reservation. We turned onto the now infamous Highway 1806 that goes north to Fort Yates, Cannon Ball, and on into Bismarck. Just over the Cannon Ball River in the north, the highway has been closed because of the water protector camps. Emergency vehicles going to and from the reservation and Bismarck have to take much longer routes. All for some idea of safety as dreamed up by the Morton County sheriff. Yeah, closing the road also keeps people away from the drilling areas and allows the police unlimited maneuver room.

Highway 1806 Backwater bridge near Standing Rock

The infamous Backwater bridge just north of the water protector camps that is the front line of the resistance against DAPL. Gotta love the MRAPS the police feel they need against non-violent protests.

It was snowing. In a manner of minutes, it was snowing a lot. The wind was blowing and the flakes were often sideways. Buildup on the road was starting and it was getting slick. We slowed down and stayed slow for the duration.

We were 70 miles or so south of Cannon Ball, the last reservation town before you got to Oceti Sakowin camp. The snow became a blizzard that never let up. The closer we got, the more cars and trucks were in ditches along the road. It was brutal. Locals were sliding off the roads. Our front wheel drive Explorer was not doing a good job.

North of Mobridge, blizzard starting on December 5th

It was getting bad quickly. This shot is closer to Mobridge, South Dakota, than to Fort Yates and Cannon Ball, North Dakota. It only got worse.

Thank goodness for us, Brent knew how to drive in this stuff. He grew up here. I would have been in a ditch within minutes. It was rough going, every hill was a challenge and at times we had to go around someone spinning their tires in the middle of the road. A couple of times we had to back up and make a run for it. It was harrowing. We were in the middle of nowhere and I was wondering who had picked up all the people whose empty cars were now stuck on the side of the road.

We hadn’t heard from anyone. The only thing we had seen was a Facebook video of veterans marching at the camp earlier in the day, before the snow. It could have been December 4th for all we knew, the veterans had started arriving as early as Saturday and there was no snow in the video. We had heard that a possible staging area was the high school in Fort Yates, it was the only thing we had. We finally made it to the high school. Snow was drifting three plus feet by now and we plowed through the parking lot to the main entrance. What we found were a bunch of students and staffers who knew nothing about any veterans staging area. I heard later that the students had ended up having to spend the night there due to the blizzard.

Getting close to Oceti Sakowin camp and cars stuck on the side of the road

Getting close to Oceti Sakowin camp and cars stuck on the side of the road. This was just before we came on the bus.

We had no place to go. We decided that the only place was the camp. We would at least be able to hook up with the veterans there. We thought. It was 1:30 PM and we had something like 19 miles to go, Low visibility, snowing like hell, and driving was treacherous. Two hours later and we had gone 15 miles. We can barely see, but we are getting close. Hours later, as darkness was falling, we made it.

But before that, we were held up for a couple of hours by a charter bus that had gone into a ditch. We were within walking distance of the camp by now. The bus was full of veterans who had been at the camp and were now trying to get back to Eagle Butte. Whatever veteran events had occurred were long over and people were getting out of camp. Things were pretty much shut down there due to the blizzard, we learned. We missed getting past the bus by one vehicle as they closed the road on both sides. The road had backed up vehicles both coming and going from camp. Bummer.

Bus in ditch just south of NODAPL camp

The bus was trying to get out of the camp and back to Eagle Butte during the blizzard. They made it out of the ditch, but I don’t think they made it to Eagle Butte.

We had been in the Ford Explorer for over 27 hours. It was warm and comfortable in there, at least. Brent had to be exhausted, but he didn’t show it. There was a huge motor grader that was being used as a snow plow. They were going to try and use it to get the bus out of the ditch. The rear end was in the ditch, so a chain was hooked up to the back. Everyone was still in the bus. Pulling from the back resulted in the front end sliding over toward the ditch and I thought the bus was going to tip over. Scary.

An hour later, they hooked up to the front and tried again. Before that, they wisely emptied out the bus and the veterans were standing out in the cold and wind. There was a young woman in her uniform who was clearly having a nervous breakdown and a middle aged woman, also wearing a uniform, who was trying to help the young one. We let them get into the back seat of the Explorer, even though we were heading to the camp they were escaping from. They were very grateful. The last thing they wanted to do was return to the camp, though. It seems that the young one hadn’t been able to handle the cold and blizzard. A lot of people weren’t prepared for what Mother Nature was offering up this day.

Backed up traffic heading to camp

Backed up traffic heading to camp. There were just as many heading south, away from camp.

This time it worked and the bus was back on the road. The women and other veterans who had vacated the bus got back on it and headed south. We headed north to the camp. With all the traffic going away from camp, I wondered what we were going to find there. There was still a long string going there, however. Guess we would find out.

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As my wife drove me to the I20 exit where I was meeting Brent that Sunday for the drive to Standing Rock, she asked me if I knew anything about the person I was about to spend the next 25 hours in a car with. Was it possible he was an axe murderer? “Well, I talked to him on the phone and he sounded nice. And, and, and…, he is a Marine veteran, so he has to be OK.”

That was part of what this trip was about for me, the veteran thing. We need each other at times, especially when we have been away from the military for a while. It never leaves us, the good or the bad. No one else really understands that. Not just combat vets, but anyone who served. We come from as widely varied backgrounds as you can get, but we all have that common bond. For combat vets, other vets are the only people we can speak to about certain things. They don’t judge and they understand on some relevant level regardless of their own personal experiences. This common bond is very strong.

I knew in my gut that Brent would be a good guy and that we would get along. He said his wife had asked him a similar question about me and he had given her a similar response. Military people are used to being thrown into situations that are uncertain and unknown with other people we at first do not know. And we make shit work in the face of often overwhelming odds.

Brent is indeed a great guy. He is 20-25 years younger than me, but age doesn’t matter much with veterans, our common bond spans what service you were in, what wars, and over time. All wars are pretty much the same when you get right down to it. No matter where or when, soldiers are always amazed that the military is able to get the simplest things done, but somehow it does.

Brent in Mobridge

My Marine travelling buddy Brent. You can see the Missouri River/Lake Oahe out the window as we approach the bridge in Mobridge, South Dakota. Standing Rock Reservation is on the other side of the bridge.

It also turns out that he is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock tribe and grew up 11 miles from the resistance camps. He went to high school in Cannon Ball.

It was only on Monday as we entered the blizzard that I realized how lucky I was having hooked up with someone who knew the lay of the land on the reservation. Plus, the pipeline and all that it meant was personal for him, very personal. As we drove, we hit it off and got to know each other.

He had the rental car and had started out a couple of hours before he picked me up, so he got first shift driving. I was worried about the straight through driving, especially as it would be evening before it was my turn to take over. I do not have the stamina for driving I did in my younger days. I didn’t want to let him down and I sure as hell didn’t want to have to stop to rest on the way. The rental was extremely comfortable and easy to drive fast in, a front wheel drive Ford Explorer. That would help. We weren’t going to make the original meetup in Eagle Butte, so we headed straight for the camp. Pretty much the same route in either case as we were coming in from the south rather than going north to Minnesota and then west to Bismarck.

The last time I had been west was driving to El Paso, Texas, I20 almost all the way, then I10. I hadn’t been west of the eastern continental divide and north of I20 since the early 1970s. Since that time, I have travelled in Europe and Southwest Asia many times, but never in my own country. This was going to be an adventure.

We stopped in Atlanta at what has to be the most expensive outfitter store in the most expensive neighborhood in Atlanta. High Country Outfitters was a nice store and I knew it was going to be expensive, but I really needed a good pair of gloves. $65.00, but they are good ones. Got some hand warmers and waterproofing spray for our boots.

Then, it was just a whirlwind of driving and going through places that seemed exotic. Chattanooga, Nashville, St Louis and the arches at night. Saw the sign for Ferguson, MO, then one of those brown signs announcing the Downtown Ferguson Historic Site. I was tired by then and could only think, “What the hell, there is already an historic site designation for where Michael Brown was shot and killed by police?”

Ferguson Missouri sign

Yeah, my mind was wandering when we passed through Ferguson

We tried to find out what was happening in Standing Rock during the drive. There wasn’t much. The last post that was ever put on the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock Facebook event page was at 10:23 AM on Sunday, Dec 4:

The troops are arriving! Over 200 buses descending on Standing Rock!

Then it went completely dark. Both of us were constantly trying to connect with the contacts we had. Phone calls, texts, and emails all went unanswered. Not a good sign. Nothing about the events in the coming days was posted on the official event site. We were arriving late, but we figured we would get there and just fit into whatever was happening at the time. We knew there was bad weather coming. We didn’t realize just how bad. I didn’t expect communications to be nonexistant.

I was hitting NPR radio stations across the country in the hopes of news as I knew they had been covering the Veterans Stand event and profiling veterans who were making the trip. We heard about the Army Corps of Engineers decision on Sunday that the pipeline easement had been denied until an environmental impact statement could be completed. WTF? Was it over? Were we even needed anymore? And, why the hell hadn’t an environmental impact statement been done before? I assumed at least some sham impact statement had to have been done to “justify” Energy Transfer Partners moving on with this project. But there wasn’t. It made protesting this damn pipeline even more important.

This was the last thing we expected. It was good, very good. Was it because of all the publicity about the veterans going to Standing Rock? Were we responsible? I didn’t think so, but it was damn coincidental. I knew we were helping, but people had been fighting this fight for months. A few days before this, authorities had announced that the camps not on the reservation were being shut down. This did seem to be related to the veterans coming in big numbers and those announcements caused people to question going and might have made some people stay home to avoid confrontation over removal of the camps.

But, we were going there to get in a fight if, indeed, the authorities wanted a fight. Part of our mission was to put ourselves in a position to be attacked if that is what the police wanted to do. We wouldn’t provoke it, but we would be targets and in their faces. So, the threat of having a forcible removal of the camps really didn’t matter. Everything we were seeing was that the camps weren’t going anywhere. But, this “victory” of the pipeline easement denial was something else. Did we need to be there if victory had been achieved?

We really didn’t know and no one on the ground already was communicating with us. We figured that Energy Transfer Partners wasn’t going to give in that easily. We did see some posts about celebrations in the camps, but everything pointed to this not being over, although it was certainly at least a short term victory. We decided to keep going. Why not? No reason.

I am not sure where I took over driving, it was around 7 PM. I made it until 1 AM and was starting to hallucinate when I decided it was time to wake Brent up. Columbia, MO, then Kansas City, where we started heading north in a big way. Omaha, Sioux City, then into South Dakota. Souix Falls, Watertown, Aberdeen. It could have been a Grateful Dead song, but the cities weren’t the same.

Monday mid morning we hit Mobridge, SD, the last town before we entered the reservation. We stopped at a grocery store for some bottled water. It was cold and snow flakes were starting to come down. Very slowly, you had to really look to see them.

Bridge at Mobridge South Dakota going to Standing Rock Reservation

It was snowing as we crossed the bridge from Mobridge, South Dakota, to the Standing Rock Reservation

Having trouble seeing the snow come down didn’t last long.

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Virgil on December 26, 2016

Time was not on my side. I filled out the Veterans Stand roster and marked I was going to attend on the Facebook event page. That was pretty optimistic. I looked up prices for a flight. I could almost do a round trip to Europe or the British Isles for what it cost to fly in and out of Bismarck, North Dakota. Not to mention it takes many connections and hours to get there. If I fly, I would have to leave Saturday to get there on time. How could I get out of work on Saturday? And, if I got off work on Saturday, I could leave Friday night or Saturday morning and drive. Much cheaper that way.

Veterans Stand for Standing Rock Event

I said I was going. I guess I knew, deep down, it was going to happen

My conscience just wouldn’t let me do that at work, I had given my word I would be there Saturday. I continued to be excited and participate in discussions. I volunteered to help with organizing the operation. No one really seemed to be in charge and this went nowhere. It was a pattern. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, they closed the roster to new participants, they were at capacity, 2000 veterans, and there was no end in sight. Closing the roster was a good idea, but didn’t stop extra thousands from showing up. The gofundme kept climbing.

Now I had one of the coveted slots and there was no realistic way I was going to be able to go. Talk about a greedy bastard. Major guilt trip. Hope springs eternal, though, and I wasn’t giving up yet. I tend to do impractical things on a regular basis. Prices for flights were going up daily from expensive to being out of the question expensive. Then, there were no flights available at all, everything was booked. Not a lot of traffic into and out of Bismarck, North Dakota. The staging area then changed from Fort Yates, North Dakota, to Eagle Butte, South Dakota, another small town on this huge reservation, 125 miles to the south. This change was the result of the authorities hassling people heading to the camps from Bismarck and it was felt entrance onto the reservation from South Dakota would be safer. Rapid City, SD, was a closer airport, but there were only the original plans to shuttle people from Bismarck.

Eagle Butte South Dakota

This is a reservation bigger than many countries and states. For safety reasons, the staging area for Veterans Stand was moved away from the Bismarck, North Dakota, side.

Part of the organizing process was us being contacted by our state Regional Travel Leader (RTL) to make sure people could get there cost effectively and on time. Rental vans, and, from some places, charter buses, were being funded. This was not a fight being fought by rich folks who could just rent cars and buy plane tickets on a whim. No one had contacted me, in fact, no one commenting on the Facebook page or who I was otherwise in contact with knew who any of the RTLs were. One would think they could publish an organizational chart and contact information.

One of the people I was talking to seemed plugged into whatever the secret organizational structure was. I told her I would be happy to be the RTL for South Carolina. She sent me the roster with names and contact info and the email address of the head RTL. The head RTL never responded to my emails and it seems I never got plugged into whatever RTL chain of command there was. I did make contact with the guy acting as the Operations Officer for Veterans Stand, but he was slammed.

People were working their butts off, but it was chaos and I had no idea who the travel contacts were who could make things actually happen. No one was expecting this many veterans to drop what was going on in their lives to stand with the water protectors. I got that, it was a beast. There was the rostered group and there were all the others who came anyway, roster or not, because they, too, had to do it. Military people are used to making things happen with no resources. We adapt and overcome obstacles.

I was now in touch with some of the people in South Carolina and was supposed to figure out how to get them to Standing Rock. It was a fiasco on my end as no one that could do anything knew who I was and my wheels were spinning. I couldn’t even find out who the RTLs were for North Carolina and Georgia, as I had people right on the borders of each and was trying to hook them up with folks in adjacent states for rides.

It was frustrating. On Tuesday, I found out from one of the SC people that someone else had been made the SC RTL and I wasn’t on their list. Hmmm. This RTL was a very nice person from Nebraska who had been asked to do it. OK, if she could do it, more power to her. She was plugged into the chain and got rental vehicles arranged for some in the small SC contingent. I was pretty much resigned to not going as everyone was leaving long before I could. Then came an email from that wonderful Nebraska RTL. This was on Friday. I still hadn’t mentioned to my boss that I needed to be off after the next day.

I just remembered there is a gentlemen that is leaving early Sunday morning and is driving up if you want to travel with him. Let me know and I can give you his information.

She hooked me up with an ex-Marine from Beaufort, SC, the home of Parris Island. He had to work Saturday night as a DJ at a Christmas party. I emailed him, then called him. He would pick me up Sunday morning in a rental vehicle that had been authorized for him.

Shit, I wasn’t even packed yet and had to work Saturday. I needed to find lots of gear, most of it in bins in my barn. It was going to be cold. I would be sleeping on my own cot in a sleeping bag. Camping trips always require more gear than a hotel trip. I needed my own cup and plate, for example, and a utensil for food. Soap and toothpaste and towels. Multiple layers of clothes. I mean multiple layers. Lots of socks. I do not do cold well.

Packing to go to Standing Rock

Saturday night was packing time. I was glad I wasn’t flying and had to check all this stuff. Maudie knew something was up and she wasn’t going to be able to go.

Some of the items on the suggested packing list were unusual unless you have been deployed with the US military to a warzone. For example:

  • Water protection against water hoses (Rain Gear, Trash Bags, Ponchos)
  • Body Armor – Note: If you have ever been convicted of a felony, federal law prohibits the possession or wearing of ballistic armor. If arrested this can increase time in jail.
  • Gas Mask with Spare Filters
  • Cold Weather Sleeping Bag & Cot
  • Ear Plugs
  • Shooting Hearing Mufflers
  • Alternative Armor – Hard Motocross armor, Catchers shinguards
  • ABSOLUTELY NO WEAPONS WILL BE PERMITTED. NO EXCEPTIONS. Including – Firearms, Fixed Blade Knives, Batons, Etc.
  • ABSOLUTELY NO AMMO POUCHES ON GEAR. Although we all know that ammo pouches make good containers for other items, we are promoting peace. Please leave ammo pouches at home.
  • NO DRUGS OR ALCOHOL

Still, it was an unusual list for a peaceful protest right here in the USA. I didn’t have body armor any longer. I had to turn in my kevlar plates, gas mask (although I think I still have a spare filter somewhere), and helmet when I returned from deployment the last time. I wasn’t buying anything like that. This was a nonviolent action, I wasn’t looking to start any fights and really didn’t want one. Plus, I couldn’t afford it. If they sprayed us with water cannons, I had my waterproof outer jacket and my old Vietnam era cold weather overpants issued to me in the 1970s. The only thing I needed and didn’t have was a decent pair of gloves and inserts. I would have to get those before we got there. I also didn’t realize I needed goggles, but it turns out my new Marine buddy had me covered on that one.

I thought I had boots. Yeah, my desert boots I had worn in Iraq. These babies had canvas uppers designed to breathe in the heat. I didn’t realize until too late that also meant they would do a great job of absorbing cold air and moisture. Not to mention the frigging soles. Vibram soles that were slick as snot on ice. Not recommended. I brought my old metal canteen cup. Along with Army issued long underwear and cold weather gaiter and balaclava, I was going to be in some uniform items. No one would really be able to tell that, but when I was dressed in all that cold weather stuff, no one would be able to recognize me at all.

Desert combat boots I wore in Iraq

Nothing like desert combat boots in minus 0 degree F temperatures

I also brought my old combat lifesaver bag to donate to the medics at the camp (real medics called us combat lifetakers in Iraq as we only had a few days of training, trust me, you did not want me giving you an IV). I threw away all the outdated IV bags, but everything else was good. It wasn’t doing me any good in my barn. I took some extra polypros (Army long underwear) and wool socks to donate that I was never going to use.

Sunday, my new Marine buddy Brent picked me up and I was on the road.

Canteen cup and boot soles

Canteen cup with years of Army memories and the worst soles for walking on ice ever.

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Read Part One – Mni Wiconi – Part One – Prelude to Standing Rock

Read Part Two – Mni Wiconi – Part Two – Protest Camps, Police Overreach, and Veterans

US military veterans were going to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Wow. I looked up Veterans Stand for Standing Rock to check it out and found their Facebook event page. Boots on the ground was to be December 4th, just over a week away. Such short notice, such a long way off in a part of the country I hadn’t been to since the 1960s.

Then I hit their gofundme page. It is still getting donations as I write this. If you want to donate to the ongoing efforts at Standing Rock (and you should), do not do it here, there are better options. Like here, Oceti Sakowin Camp. This is the official and only real web site for the Oceti Sakowin Camp and I can personally vouch that they are real and will use your money properly. There are many people cashing in on this cause, unfortunately, as well as a lot of opposition sites, Facebook pages, and gofundme appeals that are funded by the corporations and industry groups who want this pipeline to go through. It is information warfare at its finest and most insidious. This is what we are supposed to do against evil regimes, not against our own people.

Donate to Oceti Sakowin Camp

On that Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, they hadn’t hit $100K yet, but there was clearly a buzz happening. It turns out that the initial goal was 50 veterans and $50K funding for travel and supplies. The Facebook page was blowing up. It was moving very quickly. I started posting to the conversations. It was infectious, one of those things that hit a nerve at the right time and went viral, people were excited and the excitement was contagious. Lots of people out there who were frustrated at this situation with DAPL. There were a lot of veterans who wanted to do something good for the world, something not involving pushing people in other countries around at gunpoint.

The gofundme has raised over $1.1 MILLION dollars, making it one of the most funded efforts on this crowd sourcing platform ever. I was watching it just go up and up. I was obsessed with hitting the refresh button. Exponential real-time increases that just kept going.

It didn’t help that I was off work for five straight days over Thanksgiving. I had all the time in the world and was making high heat fired pizza with cold fermented dough for the holiday meal. Yes, that is what we wanted. It was unreal. Better than any pizza you can get in my town and better than turkey any day. The dough was already made and waiting. Yeah, I know I cannot shape dough. Working on it.

High heat fired pizza with cold fermented dough

Yeah, I know I can’t shape dough worth a shit. But, it tastes so good.

In the next couple of days, I checked Veterans Stand in depth and started talking to a few of the most active people I saw on the page. New friends made. There was no published leadership or organizational structure outside of the two people who started this around November 11th. Michael Wood Jr is a veteran and ex-Baltimore police office who is now a social activist speaking out about police violence. Wes Clark Jr is a veteran and son of General Wesley Clark, who has run for president. He is an environmental activist. I never met either of them. I think they had a great idea that quickly got away from them. That is all part of this story. It was one of the most positive experiences I have ever had, but it was not because of Veterans Stand in the end. It was simply fate that put me where I needed to be at this particular time.

The Operations Order (OPORD) was well written and encouraging. For a military guy, it was pretty impressive and hit all those gung ho things we soldiers love and hate at the same time. Military people live and die by OPORDS. It is how missions get accomplished and they have specific formats and sections. This one sucked me right in. Here is an excerpt:

VETERANS STAND FOR STANDING ROCK OPERATIONS ORDER | DECEMBER 4-7 2016

I. Situation – In response to the assertion of treaty rights, citizen’s rights, tribal rights, and protection of the most valuable of resources, water, the Sioux tribes and allied comrades, are under sustained assault by agents of and working for private interests under the color of law. First Americans have served in the United States Military, defending the soil of our homelands, at a greater percentage than any other group of Americans. There is no other people more deserving of veteran support and this situation encapsulates whether we are called heroes for violence and cashing paychecks or for justice and morality.

a) Opposing Forces – Morton County Sheriff’s ofIice combined with multiple state police agencies and private security contractors.

1) Composition, Disposition, Strength we will face between 500-1000 police and contractors with approximately 300 in riot gear.
2) Capabilities & Limitations – Enemy has rubber/plastic bullets, CS gas, pepper spray, and an LRAD sound cannon. They will be limited in their violence against us by US and international human rights laws, a national press presence and observers from the US Congress.
3) Most Likely Course of Action – we will likely be gassed, pepper sprayed, shot with rubber bullets, hit with batons and brieIly arrested.
4) Most dangerous Course of Action – live fire with lethal rounds.

b) Friendly Forces – Veteran and Tribal protests

1) Higher’s mission & Intent – our intent is to honor the giants on whose shoulders we stand, such as Gandhi’s salt protest or MLK’s Selma protest. In the ultimate expression of alliance, we are there to put our bodies on the line, no matter the physical cost, in complete non-violence to provide a clear representation to all Americans of where evil resides. The Water Protectors are leading the way against this same evil which we must all face globally, saving ourselves and our children from the apocalyptic outcome of climate change.
2) Adjacent Units – there will be no adjacent units. We are there to give the Sioux a breather from the abuse they’ve been taking and allow them a couple days of warrior’s respite.
3) Supporting Units – there will be civilian and tribe members watching us from behind but nobody supporting us – we are the cavalry.
4) Attachment/Detachment – Medical Detachment will be led by Aaron Mischler. If you are a trained combat medic, contact Aaron at [email address redacted]
5) Civil/Terrain Considerations – the national press will be on location filming our entire action which is why it is critical that we demonstrate discipline, resolve and bravery. This is not an action of violence, if you feel any potential for violence or antisocial behavior, do not participate in actions, contact us for resources to address that first. Anytime one of us who speaks to a camera or tweets something out, you are a representative of all of us, feel no shame in leaving that to members more experienced in that lane.

II. Mission – Our mission is to prevent progress on the Dakota Access Pipeline and draw national attention to the human rights warriors of the Sioux tribes regarding the United States lack of treaty enforcement.

And on it goes. Read the entire OPORD here.

Back to trying to figure out how to make this trip. 1700 miles by road, that is 25 hours driving straight through with multiple drivers. We were supposed to arrive at our Assembly Point in Fort Yates, North Dakota, by noon on the 4th. That means leaving no later than mid-morning on Saturday, the 3rd. And I had to work on Saturday, couldn’t ethically get out of it as I had promised to cover the shift that day. Most people I was talking to were leaving earlier than that and giving themselves a couple of days to get there.

Map to Cannon Ball from my home in South Carolina

1700 plus miles by road. I could almost go to Europe for what an airline ticket to Bismarck cost.

All I knew was that I needed to go to Standing Rock and get shot at with water cannons in subzero weather or maybe rubber bullets in the face. I needed to really fight for freedom, something I had never done when in the US Army. I needed to make a difference in the world, a positive difference. Such is the plight of an idealist.

Next, the journey begins.

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Read Part OneMni Wiconi – Part One – Prelude to Standing Rock

The Black Snake is coming. There is a Lakota prophecy that a zuzeca sape (black snake) will come and cross the land. It will bring with it destruction and devastation. It will poison the water. It will destroy the world. It will be the end of times.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is the Black Snake with the potential to pollute the waters from the upper reaches of the Missouri River all the way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. This pipeline crosses over 200 waterways, including the Mississippi River. Somehow, it must be stopped.

Energy Transfer Partners (ETA), the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) parent company, has claimed that Standing Rock Reservation’s tribal governance never expressed opposition to the pipeline nor participated in the routing process. Yet, Tribal Chairman David Archambault II, had expressed the tribe’s opposition as early as September, 2014, as soon as they learned about it. There is a lot of disinformation out there seeded by ETA and their allies in industry and government.

On April 1, 2016, tribe member Ladonna Allard Brave Bull established the Sacred Stone Camp on her property just south of the Cannon Ball River. It was the first of the water protector camps. Soon, this resistance camp grew and more camps were established north of the Cannon Ball. Oceti Sakowin Camp is just across the river from Sacred Stone. That is where I went.

Ladonna Allard Brave Bull started the first water protector camp, Sacred Stone on her land just south of the Cannon Ball River on April 1, 2016

Ladonna Allard Brave Bull started the first water protector camp, Sacred Stone, on her land just south of the Cannon Ball River on April 1, 2016. That camp is still there.

I am not sure exactly when I found out about the DAPL protests. In my circles, there are many people that are environmentally and human rights oriented. We tend to share news of issues that need to be addressed. What I do remember are all the discussions about why the DAPL resistance was getting virtually zero media coverage. DAPL had been protested as early as 2014 in other states, including by Native American tribes in Iowa affected far downstream of Standing Rock. Keystone pipeline protests had generated large amounts of press and those actions had actually helped stop that pipeline. Maybe there were more rich white landowners affected by Keystone, not just Native American tribes. As an aside, many think that DAPL will be carrying some of that oil originally destined for Keystone. In any case, it seemed that no one in the media cared a bit for what was happening at the confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri Rivers in North Dakota.

Until violence and police overreach started entering the picture in a big way. Then, it barely made the cut, but some mainstream outlets started carrying the news when someone got hurt. One of the first big confrontations was caught on video on September 3rd. It shows pepper spray being used against water protectors. Dogs were unleashed, as well, and numerous people were bitten, including a child. Dogs should never be used this way. The outrage started growing exponentially. Finally.

The tipping point for me came a few days before Thanksgiving when water cannons were used against water protectors at night in 26 degree temperatures. This is so beyond the realm of reasonable I have trouble comprehending it. The increasingly militarized police forces have also been using rubber bullets aimed at faces, concussion grenades, and Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) against protesters. People have been seriously hurt, including one woman who almost lost her arm and had to be medevaced to Minneapolis. Hypothermia cases have gone through the roof as temperatures drop. Hitting people with water cannons in sub-freezing weather is simply inhuman. I thought the first picture I saw of police with Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles and armor was taken in Afghanistan.Wow.

It is very frustrating to see things like this and be unable to help. One feels helpless. The water protectors have generated a lot of outside support. This is a fight that affects all people. Water is necessary for all people. Folks from all over the world have gone to Standing Rock and/or helped from afar. I wanted to do my part. Sitting at home posting about it was doing nothing. I am an action person. What little money I could afford to donate would not go very far. I needed to actually be there, hands on, real, and personal.

Two days after the now infamous water cannon and concussion grenade incident, my friend Liz Rabban tagged me in a post on CNN, Veterans to Deploy to Standing Rock. I read it. I read it again. I shared it. I became obsessed. There were a bunch of veterans who felt like me. Standing Rock needed me. I needed Standing Rock.

Boots on the ground was less than two weeks away. Cannon Ball, North Dakota, was 1700 miles away. I have a job. I have very little money. There was no way I was going to be able to make this trip. But, I needed to. I was compelled by unseen forces.

Thank you, Liz, for thinking of me when you first saw this story.

Stay tuned for the continuing story.

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Virgil on December 20, 2016

I went to Standing Rock Reservation in early December for a few short days to support the Water Protectors at the Oceti Sakowin Dakota Pipeline Resistance Camp. It was a powerful and rewarding trip on a number of levels. I am still processing it all. I went for both personal and altruistic reasons. I was compelled to go, as a veteran of America’s foreign wars and as a human being. Hard to explain. I will try.

Oceti Sakowin Camp December 2016

Part of Oceti Sakowin Camp during my time there in December, 2016

I have always been an environmentalist and a supporter of indigenous rights and the keeping of local knowledge across the world. You can see many posts that reflect this attitude on the blog. I am also a really crappy materialist. I have long followed the struggles of Native Americans against us, their colonial oppressors. I remember when Leonard Peltier was unjustly convicted of killing two FBI agents and he is still in jail 40 years later. America’s foremost political prisoner whose case has been flagged by Amnesty International. Why he has not been pardoned is a mystery. Just one of many insults against the First Nations.

I have been against fracking and most pipelines as long as both have existed. We don’t need more oil, we need more sustainable energy sources. Alternative energy is here now, no excuses. Fracking is environmentally disastrous and pipelines always leak, regardless of what the corporations or their government protectors tell us. While I was at Standing Rock in North Dakota, a petroleum pipeline leaked a few miles from my house in South Carolina. Kind of ironic. All kinds of messed up. Transport by truck or rail means fewer gallons spilled if there is an accident. Pipeline leaks often go days before being detected and the pipeline companies always say they have no idea how their “failsafe” leak detection systems never seem to work.

Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline – Mni Wiconi

Literally, there is at least one cause worth supporting in resisting and stopping this pipeline for everyone, unless you are simply an elitist corporate shill who cares about nothing but money. I have been following this since the camp started in Spring of 2016.

The tribe’s message is that this is about water. Water is life – Mni Wiconi. Water for all creatures and plants. But, it goes far beyond that. Pick your cause. It is here.

  • Water quality
  • Environmental degradation
  • Colonial oppression and human rights
  • Failure of US to honor treaty obligations
  • Racism
  • Corporate greed and control
  • Government overreach
  • Militarized police forces and human rights
  • National Guard used to oppress US citizens in the US

I am sure I have left stuff out. Truly insane and makes me ashamed to be an American and a US Army veteran. I mean, my time in Iraq and Afghanistan had already made me ashamed of what we do in the world, but this brings it right to our homeland. Our own people. And the greed, it just keeps on growing and growing and growing. They call the pipeline The Black Snake. Yes, it is.

Let’s just assume for a second that the pipeline is actually needed, which it is not. Alternative energy, remember? Anyway, the original route took the pipeline north of Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota. Being north, of course, it put Bismarck downstream of leaks until it passed south on its way to its end 1,172 miles away in Illinois. This northern route was dismissed because of concerns over water quality that would affect the largely WHITE population (92.4%) of Bismarck in the event of virtually certain leaks (all pipelines leak). Looks like there are not enough minority neighborhoods in Bismarck to justify ruining the water quality there.

So, moving the route to within a half mile of the Standing Rock Reservation and running it under Lake Oahe/Missouri River near Cannon Ball was the obvious solution. Screw the Native Americans again, we’ve been doing it since initial European contact, why stop now? Yet, as the pipeline crosses at the upper reaches of the 231 mile long lake, hundreds of thousands of other people’s drinking water would also be affected. Clever, but Bismarck is safe and far upstream. All good for them.

Then, there is the question of who really owns the land north of the Cannon Ball River, the river currently being part of the “recognized” northern boundary of the Standing Rock Reservation. Yeah, yeah, I know this treaty stuff is old news and no one cares. According to the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, that northern boundary extends much farther north, so the pipeline is actually crossing a large part of Sioux territory, all the way to the Heart River. This territory also includes sacred gound.

1851 Treaty of Ft Laramie boundaries. This land is in five states.

That never mattered to the government or white settlers, of course. Especially after gold was discovered. It is always about greed with us white folks. In 1868, another Fort Laramie treaty significantly shrank the boundaries, but retained the Heart River as a northern border in what is now North Dakota. By federal Congressional legislation in 1877 and 1889, more land was taken, essentially resulting in current boundaries (Cannon Ball River in the north). The tribe never agreed to any of these land grabs. No surprise there, of course.

1868 Treaty of Ft Laramie boundaries. The unceded terrorities were a very grey area, but still went to the Heart River.

The final ironic insult prior to the Dakota Access Pipeline was the building of the Oahe damn and creation of Lake Oahe by the Corps of Engineers in the early 1960s. This dam, built on the Missouri River in South Dakota, just north of Pierre, extends 231 miles north to Bismarck, North Dakota, and destroyed Standing Rock Reservation’s best land, fertile agricultural bottomlands, and the tribes only timber resources. The Corps of Engineers took 56,000 acres of land by condemning it without consulting with the tribe or paying for it. Of course they did. People were forcibly relocated. A mini Trail of Tears. Just another shameful episode in the abuse of First Nations in America.

Lake Oahe from Mobridge South Dakota entering Standing Rock Reservation

We entered Standing Rock Reservation from Mobridge, South Dakota, about 72 miles south of the Cannon Ball River upstream. Getting ready to cross Lake Oahe/Missouri River.

Now Energy Transfer Partners and its pals in the Corps of Engineers and state and federal governments still plan to drill under the upper reaches of this huge and relatively pristine lake. What does a sane person do in the face of shit like this? For me, they go to Standing Rock.

ETA, their minions, and their bought and paid for government lackeys expected everyone to roll over and allow it to happen. This is what normally occurs in these cases. Money always wins. Almost. Yet, in April, 2016, something started that they have not yet been able to completely stop.

Stay tuned for the continuing story from my vantage point.

Check out the official Oceti Sakowin Camp Facebook page

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Virgil on October 18, 2014

See part 1 – Charcuterie – Bacon and Pancetta

See part 2 – Bacon and pancetta finished curing – part 2

The pancetta looks lovely after a day of hanging, it has a nice fat sheen on it and smells heavenly. Thirteen or so days to go.

On to the bacon. I let it sit in the fridge for maybe 19 hours. The book, Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, says 12 – 24 hours. Then, it is to be hot smoked at 200 degrees F until the internal temperature is 150 degrees F. Unless you have a proper smoker, this is not as easy as it may seem. I have an old gas grill, so I figured I would fire up half of it on low and see it I could get the temperature stable at 200 degrees F.

Very difficult to control the temperature in a very old gas grill. Adding to that is the thermometer probe setting, which moves regardless of if it is stuck through the hole or just laid so the lid will not crush it. It is not going to be where you really want it. I also realized pretty quickly that every spot is going to have a different temperature. Not exact science, here, folks.

I finally got to a little over 200 degrees F and figured I had to put the damn bacon in. I put a square metal pan on the grill and laid the bacon slab on top of it. This kept the slab off the grill and father from the heat source. I had previously soaked some hickory chips in water and put a few on the lava stones above the flame source. I had it on a very low setting. I was quite cautious with the wood chips, as I have ruined steaks before with too much smoke from mesquite chips.

The smoking arrangement - heat on the left with soaked wood chips, bacon slab on an inside-down metal pan

The smoking arrangement – heat on the right with soaked wood chips, bacon slab on an inside-down metal pan. The temperature probe may be seen in the forefront.

It was essentially impossible to truly regulate the temperature. I just went with it, varied the flame and moved the temperature probe around. I was pretty close. Finally, I inserted the probe into the meat to monitor internal temperature, the bacon must come to an internal temperature of 150 degrees F. I got it up to 140 degrees F after about 2 1/2 hours. I had added more wood chips a couple of times and there was smoke coming out of the enclosed grill. The bacon slab had colored up nicely and was looking very good. I decided to finish it up in the oven.

I set the oven to 200 degrees F and inserted the temperature probe into the thickest part of the slab and waited until it hit 150 degrees F. I checked a few other places to make sure the temperature was good. I waited until the slab had cooled. I was worried about skinning it, as skinning the raw pancetta slab was difficult. In this case, the smoked and still warm slab was much easier to gracefully skin. A good sharp knife helps. I pulled the skin up with one hand and sliced as close to the skin as possible, to keep the fat.

The bacon after smoking has a beautiful sheen, color and smell

The bacon after smoking has a beautiful sheen, color and smell

Hold the skin with one hand while cutting with a very sharp knife to get the skin off

Hold the skin with one hand while cutting with a very sharp knife to get the skin off

I cut it into three smaller slabs, two for freezing and one for the fridge. I couldn’t resist two thick slices to cook and try out. It smelled so good, I had to try it. The bacon will last three weeks in a fridge and a few months in the freezer. I cooked the two thick slices in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes to try it out.

Three slabs for the freezer and fridge and two thick slices to cook now. It rocks!

Three slabs for the freezer and fridge and two thick slices to cook now. It rocks!

This bacon is without a doubt the best I have ever had. It is hard to describe. It is nothing like American grocery store bacon, but just as wonderfully fatty (much better, actually). I should note that I love American grocery store bacon, although it will never be the same. I can’t compare it to Canadian or English bacon as it had more fat and was, therefore more tasty and moist. The maple flavor was definitely there, very nice sweet hint. And the salt came through, but not too salty like country ham. The smoke was not as pronounced, I will use more wood chips in the future. But, this was a glorious bacon.

Lynn said we will have the best breakfast possible this weekend, homemade slow cooked stone ground grits, homemade Southern biscuits, eggs from our chickens, and this bacon.

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Virgil on October 17, 2014

The bacon and pancetta have completed their seven day curing process. If you want to see part 1 of this series, please check out Charcuterie – Bacon and Pancetta. The first article explains how to prepare a pork belly for bacon and pancetta and getting them into their cures.

The key with the curing is that the pork belly is somewhat firm, indicating that it has released some moisture in the curing process. The bacon cure was much more liquid (like a brine) than the pancetta cure was, as expected based on the ingredients used in each. Both pieces were firm, yet soft. The bacon was easiest as it has a day to dry in the refrigerator before I smoke it. I took it out of the cure, washed it off in cold water and patted it dry with paper towels. Then, it goes on a rack over a pan in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours.

Bacon after being washed and dried. It goes in the fridge uncovered for 12 - 24 hours

Bacon after being washed and dried. It goes in the fridge uncovered for 12 – 24 hours, then will be smoked

Tonight’s task was the pancetta. Same deal, remove from the cure, wash with cold water and pat dry. Next, sprinkle cracked black pepper over the meat side. I grind peppercorns in a spice grinder. Vary the grinding time to get your desired fineness (or lack thereof). I like my pepper a bit finer than standard cracked pepper.

Now, for the fun part. Rolling the damn thing up tightly and tying butcher’s twine around it using butcher’s knots. The butcher’s knot is fairly easy, but rolling the meat up and getting the knots tight is a learned skill, especially with everything slipping through the fat on your hands that can’t be avoided (gloves might help). I laid the twine sections under the pork belly slab, rolled it with both hands, pulled up the twine and tied the knots, then tightened them as I was trying to keep the meat in a tight roll. I doubt I looked very elegant. I am sure an experienced chef can do this in a heartbeat.

Pancetta with pepper on meat side, ready for rolling and tying with twine

Pancetta with pepper on meat side, ready for rolling and tying with twine

Finally got the thing rolled and tied decently. This one was not perfectly rectangular or square, but it will do. I hung it in the kitchen. It will hang for around two weeks unless it dries out too quickly. My humidity in the kitchen is pretty good, the temperature is more than I would like. Pancetta is not eaten without being cooked, so this is not as critical as other cured meats like salami. I am dying to try some cured meats like salami, but need to build a container where I can control temperature and humidity.

Pancetta hanging, it will hang for around two weeks

Pancetta hanging, it will hang for around two weeks

I can’t wait to try it. I am sure it will make a hell of a spaghetti carbonara. The pancetta smells great, mainly from the juniper berries. The bacon is more neutral in smell at this point. I am sure smoking will change that. Stay tuned.

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