Steve from Colorado
2012-10-26 04:35:16 UTC
When STPers terrorized the town
By Carol Turner
They took nicknames like Deputy Dawg, Goldfinger, Rancid Randy and Patty
Rotten Crotch. They lived in the woods west of Boulder, in tents made of
animal skins, in caves on Mount Sanitas, in dilapidated houses in
Nederland. They subsisted on drugs and booze. They wore rags and
decorated themselves with animal bones and STP oil stickers. They
eschewed bathing. They panhandled, stole things and peddled drugs. They
contributed daily to the job security of law-enforcement officers. They
called themselves the STP family.
Back in the late 1960s, Boulder rivaled San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury
as a destination for hippies. Most were college kids, runaway teenagers
and anti-war activists. On the fringe of that crowd, the STPers were
rougher, more aggressive and sometimes violent. One man who knew most of
the STP family well was Boulder police officer Roy Chastain. Now
retired, Chastain says he probably arrested every one of them at least
once—many multiple times.
Although some say that “STP” meant “Serenity, Tranquility and Peace” or
“Strongest Thing Possible,” or referred to the drug STP, none of it is
true, according to Chastain. He says the group was founded “during a
kegger one night” by three young men, John Kirkland (STP John), Gary
White (STP Bishop) and Bryan Spencer (Little Brother). Chastain
explains: “They put together their astrological signs, which were
Sagittarius, Taurus and Pisces. “
An intimate core membership grew quickly, and the “family” in Boulder
eventually counted up to 200 members. The leader was Kirkland, who came
to Boulder from New Jersey in 1967 at the age of 17. According to the
late author Joe Bageant, who lived and wrote in Boulder at the time,
Kirkland brought with him a group of boozers from New York City, having
convinced them life would be better in the mountains.
Unlike most other STPers, Kirkland was often described in favorable
terms—charismatic, nonviolent, handsome, mystic. He was involved in two
landmark court cases of the period: one related to vagrancy laws
(Goldman v. Knecht) and another involving flag-desecration laws (Fremed
v. Johnson). In both cases, local attorneys backed by the ACLU argued
successfully to overturn laws that were deemed unconstitutional.
From the late 1960s into the '70s, a grimy band of vagrants called the
STP family cut a swath of disorder between Boulder and Nederland.
Law-abiding citizens—whom they disdained as a “great jellyfish
blob”—were scared of them, and for good reason.
Boulder attorney Bob Miller, who represented Kirkland in the vagrancy
case, took on numerous cases on behalf of STP family members. Others who
perhaps appreciated the rebellious nature of STPers, or at least tried
to help them, were Dr. Bob McFarland of the People’s Free Clinic and
Father James McKeown of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
In an article in the Colorado Daily (March 31, 1976), Bageant quoted a
meandering “STP statement” in which STP Doberman John (borrowing a line
from Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) expressed the STP family’s
view that the “great jellyfish blob of straight souls looked like
hopeless cases…”. In Boulder, those straight souls wanted the street
people gone. Hill merchants lost business; police were being spat on and
pelted with rocks. Folks were afraid. Extremists formed vigilante squads
and attacked at least one hippie camp near Nederland.
Mayhem at the P.I.
The most infamous event involving the STP family was the murder of
19-year-old Guy Goughner, aka Deputy Dawg. On a July night in 1971,
Goughner was raising the usual hell at the Pioneer Inn in Nederland.
Nederland marshal Renner Forbes arrived, stuffed Goughner into his
patrol car, and drove off into the night. Goughner was not seen alive
again. A month later, hunters found his body in a gulch. He’d been shot.
Investigators suspected Forbes but could not prove anything. In 1997,
after an officer discovered Forbes ailing in a Northglenn nursing home,
Forbes finally confessed that he shot Goughner.
Boulder police officer Roy Chastain, now retired, had numerous run-ins
with STPers over the years. Though police characterized the group as
"pukes," Chastain developed good relationships with a few of them.
Although Chastain and some fellow officers routinely referred to the
STPers as “pukes,” he developed a powerful bond with several members. He
recounts the story of John "Jack Walling, known as Smackwater Jack.
Walling, born in 1946, had apparently drifted away from a
family—possibly in Canada—and his two daughters tracked him down in
Boulder in the early 1980s. “He was so proud of them,” Chastain says. “A
few days later I found him dead and frozen to the ground in Central
Park. Jack was a personal favorite of mine, and he had even hand carved
a walking stick for me with my officer number on it which I still have
and will cherish forever.”
Kirkland died a violent death in 1970, aged 20, shot during an argument
by a local man named Robert Coleman. The other two founders died in
1972, both of overdoses. Some family members reportedly headed to New
Orleans a few years later, then on to Santa Fe, Berkeley and Texas.
Today, some survivors have reconnected with one another on the Internet.
Many attended reunions in Oklahoma in 1999 and 2000, and several
websites have appeared where members reminisce about the good and often
bad old days. In a final and perhaps fitting irony, more than one such
site has been harassed repeatedly by an Internet troll.