SHERIFF JOHNNY FRANCE inspects Don and Dan Nichols’ campsite in December 1984. The Associated Press photoIn July of 1984, Don Nichols and his son, Dan, kidnapped Kari Swenson, a champion biathlete, in the woods near Big Sky, Montana. During a search for Swenson, Alan Goldstein was killed by Don. The two suspects then fled with their captive and eluded authorities for five months, living off the land until they were captured by Sheriff Johnny France. Their story was national news, and author Ian Frazier wanted to write about it, hoping to interview Nichols and France. He was never able to get access to them, but their story continued to intrigue him. He eventually wrote this poem, inspired by Don’s explanation of the crime to a reporter.

Don & Dan

By Ian Frazier

Donald Boone Nichols, fifty-three, and his son, Dan, nineteen,

(It was an idea, a man had an idea

It was an idea, and it didn’t work)

Living in the Madison Mountains in Montana,

Two rifles, two pistols, hats greased against the rain,

red beans, matches to last 300 years, a padlock, a dog chain

(It was an idea, a man had an idea

It was an idea, and it didn’t work)

Don, who used to work for Union Carbide, foretold,

“Someday, Danny, we’ll be a tribe.

A small one, something that wouldn’t get too big −

the ideal number would be twelve”

(It was an idea, a man had an idea

It was an idea, and it didn’t work)

Waiting, Don and Dan, waiting by a log road,

laying their sleeping bags across a logging road,

waiting for a woman who was mixed up and didn’t think for herself

not too many roots in society to be a wife for Dan

(It was an idea, a man had an idea

It was an idea, and it didn’t work)

Up the logging road came a woman

She happened to be an Olympic athlete

Best woman in America at cross country skiing plus marksmanship

with a long chestnut-colored braid

(It was an idea, a man had an idea

It was an idea, and it didn’t work)

She stopped to talk − “She’s a people person,” her boss explained −

smelled their smoky smell

She was so pretty Don stood in disbelief

grabbed her wrist, knocked her down,

tied her wrist to Dan’s

(It was an idea, a man had an idea

It was an idea, and it didn’t work)

Read the rest of this poem in the current issue of Artenol. Order yours today.

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