The Ridge Raid & John Butler Is Murdered
The Ridge's first Thanksgiving was the first real communal
celebration and feast on the land. Although food was scarce in
those days, the big table outside the studio was piled high with
bean and rice dishes, cooked vegetables, salads, pies, desserts
and breads. There was no turkey, inasmuch as most everyone was
vegetarian either by choice or economic necessity. The day was
one of the last clear, warm days of the season, and everyone
spent the afternoon stuffing themselves, sharing stories,
laughing and playing music. When evening came, a huge bonfire was
built and people gathered around it, its warmth bringing them
together as one common family. They felt the burgeoning strength
of a young seedling firmly rooted in the ground.
GWEN: "Shortly after Thanksgiving, I noticed my blouse
felt uncomfortable when it rubbed against my breasts. The color
of my nipples was deepening, the tips sticking out further. A
warm rush surged through me. 'I'm pregnant,' I said to myself.
'There's a tiny being living inside me right now!' I felt honored
and in awe of my body. My days began to revolve around the
developing child within me. I planned to give birth at home.
Since there were no doctors around who encouraged home
deliveries, I felt I needed to be in the best shape possible when
the time came.
"Although the chill of winter had not yet set in, the
rains already had saturated the ground, and the annual winter
lake had begun to form outside the studio door. One quiet,
drizzly afternoon, a carload of people came spinning and churning
up the road beore braking to a mushy stop halfway through the
lake. Three or four Ridge residents hopped out, glad to be home.
The two girls who had given them a ride got out also, looking a
little less amused. They stood around with the others before
accepting Bill's invitation to dry out in the studio and plan the
rescue of their car. After much pulling and pushing and smoking
of joints, the car and its driver started back to Berkeley. The
other girl, Alicia, stayed at the studio, dipping soup and
playing the guitar."
BILL: "Round, brown eyes, round, young body and round,
curly brown hair, Alicia spoke softly but with assurance. After
thinking quietly for a while, she asked me if I knew of any
coffee houses where she could play and sing for money. Shortly
before dark, she dressed warmly and set out to find a place to
stay. My concern over her welfare that rainy night was unfounded
as I discovered a few days later when she returned to the studio,
bursting with merriment, and related her adventures. She had been
welcomed at several people's houses and was planning to go back
to the city, get her things and come back to stay.
"Gray weeks passed before I saw her again. This time,
Alicia wore the air of an established resident and nothing else.
When most folks were still in warm sweaters, Alicia could be seen
wandering around in the fog without a stitch of clothes, a book
or some sewing under her arm. When the sun began to warm the air
the following spring, she was in the garden almost every day,
doing yoga and tending the vegetables. She was the only community
member who gardened regularly that second summer. Without her
care, the community garden would have never started. In those
days she was also the only person on the Ridge who was neither
'without income' nor on welfare. She generated income from
various creative projects which she sold, an activity then unique
among Open Landers.
"Alicia began working on an intercommunal newsletter,
describing in unpretentious script and with simple line drawings
the basic skills needed by newcomers to live primitively in an
isolated, rural community. She demonstrated with childlike
fluidity how to build a shelter, shit in the ground, chop wood,
have a baby, etc. The project took her over a year, during which
time she left with the winter '69 exodus that took many Ridge
residents further north into Humbolt County.
"When she returned the next summer, she announced that
the newsletter had grown into a book which was being privately
financed and published by a Berkeley publisher with the title
Living On The Earth. It turned out to be a phenomenon, the first
edition of 10,000 selling out in three weeks. One copy found its
way to Bennett Cerf at Random House. Delighted and impressed,
Cerf bought the book and Alicia, now Alicia Bay Laurel, was sent
on a national promotional tour to explain to America the joys of
Open Land living. By the following Christmas, Living On The Earth
had become a best seller with 150,000 copies sold. It engendered
much sympathy and interest in a simple, non-technical life style.
Whatever it was we were doing together on the land, people were
hungry to know more."
In early December, the rains settled in with a vengeance.
Tents began to leak and the blow away. Folks huddled around
woodstoves for warmth until their wood stashes ran out and they
were forced into their beds. First-time carpenters' homes
suffered hopelessly from leaks and drafts, yet most everyone
enjoyed their new-found primitivism, even if it meant being wet
and cold. Periodically some resident would give it up and head
back to the city, a movie and a generous friend with a warm bath.
The flow of people through the land slowed considerably. Most
cars could not negotiate the butterscotch pudding access road
which boasted such historic spots as Gruesome Gulch, Oil Pan Rock
and the Cavernous Culvert. At least once a day someone got stuck
and had to be pulled out by the four-wheel-drive jeep. But the
bad weather, shared among so many, elicited an even greater
feeling of family than before. It was Open Land at its best.
Some health problems occurred, mainly because it was just too
cold to take a bath with the garden hose. Cases of
staphylococcus, ringworm, threadworm, scabies, lice and colds
which didn't go away plagued the residents. With professional
medical treatment unavailable, people turned to folk and Indian
remedies: sulphur for scabies, radishes and ginseng for
hepatitis, Aloe Vera for herpes, bay leaf tea and arrowroot
starch for dysentery, golden seal for skin infections. And garlic
for warding off colds, expelling worms and aiding the body in
fighting any viruses passing through. Studying Miwok tribal
customs brought the ranch another wonderful way to cure winter
ailments. A sweat lodge was built out of bent branches covered
with plastic behind the barn on the side of the West Canyon.
Several energetic men spent the morning splitting wood and
starting a fire to heat the rocks.
"Steambath! Steambath!" The canyons amplified the
shouts so that they could be heard on nearly every part of the
People came running, shedding their clothes in one motion.
Like sardines in a can, body to body, grown-ups and kids crammed
into the hut while the hot rocks were pitchforked into a central
pit. Rivers of sweat poured down naked bodies. Water was splashed
on the rocks which spit searing steam. It was the ultimate escape
from the winter miseries. Cooked bodies finally emerged, steaming
and lobster red, for the run to the garden and a hosedown,
leaving the participants refreshed and clean.
Late in January, a white plane flew over the Ridge and began
circling lower. Accustomed during the previous summer to
low-flying Piper Cubs with faces peering out of them, no one paid
much attention until it had circled for the sixth time. By then
the big white four-wheel-drive sheriff's van had driven up to the
door of the studio. One female and three male deputies got out
and informed Bill they were in 'hot pursuit' of draft dodgers and
underage juveniles. They were going to search the land. Gwen
quickly left to spread the news while Bill began yelling that
they needed a warrant.
With their walkie-talkies in hand, they drove all over the
land, asking questions and taking photos of structures which
later were used in obtaining a warrant to inspect for building
code violations. The plane continued flying around, very low,
radioing messages to the cops on the ground.
GWEN: "I felt angry and afraid. The life I was living
felt so pure and simple and harmless that it was hard for me to
feel like an outlaw. It was against the law to smoke marijuana,
to build and live in a house that didn't have electricity, and to
live in community with men who refused to fight in wars or with
others who had left their parents' homes before a certain age.
The tranquillity of the land was much disturbed by these armed
men whose very presence implied that we were doing something
BILL: "The elderly, slack-jawed officer in charge told me
they had received a letter from a young boy's parents stating
that he was on the land and that they wanted him back.
"'He's not here,' I told him.
"'We have positive information that he is,' he replied.
"'Where's your search warrant?'
"'We don't need one,' he answered arrogantly, and ordered
me to remain in the studio while they searched.
"Disregarding his order, I walked to the garden to find
Curly-haired Chuck. 'Go, go quickly - they are here!' I yelled.
"He ran off into the West Canyon. The circling plane
spotted him and radioed to the 'ground forces.' He stopped
running, feeling that flight was fruitless. Yielding to God's
will, he settled into a full lotus position and went into deep
meditation. But he was never found, nor was the boy the deputies
came for, although they asked for I.D.'s from as many people as
they saw. In order not to return red-faced and empty-handed, they
picked up another seventeen-year-old youth in spite of the letter
of permission from his mother he carried.
"'Gestapo pigs!' we shouted.
"'If that was true, there wouldn't be places like this
around,' they answered.
"On their way out, one of their jeeps became mired in the
mud. They unraveled the winch but didn't know how it worked. The
land had conquered them in a small way, and we enjoyed watching
the spectacle. Two deputies pushed, mud covering their uniforms.
They became as human as we, but what was about our simple and
peaceful life that made them treat us so?"
As springtime crept into Sonoma County, the Ridgefolk emerged
from their winter miasma of mud and moldy edges to shed their
clothes and revel in the warm sunlight. Their shared hardships
had created a family on the land, but one that often found Bill's
"He's not a hippie," one resident complained one day
when Bill pulled the plug and then the fuse at the front gate to
keep electric music off the land.
GWEN: "From the very first there were various objections
to Bill's role as supreme authority. People felt they should have
the same freedom as if the land belonged to them. Bill loved the
Ridge and wanted to protect it as he thought best. His
responsibility for the upkeep of the place prompted him to lay
down the law on what could or could not be done. But many could
not accept his authoritarian attitude. Because of his lack of
diplomacy, personal misunderstandings flared."
Gradually it became evident to both Bill and Gwen that they
were part of an experiment that was out of their hands. "Let
go, let go," Lou would chant to the tune of the Seven Dwarfs 'Heigh ho' song during his frequent visits, encouraging them to
just 'let it happen.' He pointed out that when a person's most
basic anxiety was relieved - a place to live - a joyous expansion
of the heart was the result. And Open Land offered that
possibility to anyone, regardless of their condition. The
difficulties Bill and Gwen were experiencing in adjusting to
their new life were merely part of a natural growth process, he
After a few weeks, spring sunshine ceased to be a novelty. The
raucous party spirit mellowed into frolicking celebrations of any
birthday or holiday that came along. For Easter, Crazy David
erected a huge cross of fir logs and set it in concrete on
Hoffie's Hill. It was the highest point on the land, named after
the first person to camp there where the land opened, and
afforded a magnificent view in all directions. On a clear day,
Mt. Tamalpais could be seen fifty miles to the south.
Early Easter morning, a group of sleepy, shuffling souls met
at the cross in the wispy fog where flowers, marijuana and
breakfast rolls had been placed. Hands joined, they merged their
voices in a long 'Ommmmmmm' as the first rays of the sun pierced
RAMON: "I had returned from New Mexico the previous fall
and continued on to Maui to visit The Banana Patch, an Open Land
community set in a valley of banana trees. Since 1966, a dozen
homemade houses had been built by young people in much the same
manner as at Morning Star. The owner, an older man named David
Joseph, was a native Hawaiian who shared Lou's big-hearted
attitude towards the homeless, although at the time he had never
heard of Morning Star. When the authorities began to pressure
him, he attempted to deed the land to God or to a church
dedicated to the principles of Open Land.
"David was a beautiful spirit, a fascinating and animated
talker. Ultimately he suffered considerable persecution for his
beliefs at the hands of the police and courts. He finally had to
sell The Banana Patch to one of his attorneys to pay his
extensive legal fees.
"I originally travelled to Hawaii with the intention of
taking a job in Honolulu, earning some money and continuing to
India. But Lou wrote me from Calcutta saying not to bother. He
already had found HIM for whom we were all waiting - meaning Chiranjiva, of course - and was bringing him back to Morning
Star. So I returned to the mainland on a ticket Lou paid for,
sleeping three days at the Honolulu airport on standby waiting
for a seat.
"I found Gina working as a Go-go dancer to pay the rent
on a flat on the corner of Haight and Ashbury. The minute I
arrived, she broke up with her boyfriend and invited me to move
in with her. The place was filled with Morning Star refugees and
street people, and she retained two 'bouncers' to shoo out the
speedfreaks at bedtime. A woman named 'Purple' in the next room
enlivened the nights by singing in an eerie falsetto. After a
week, I convinced her to give up her sociological experiment and
we moved to a commune on Cole Street. A chance encounter with Don
and Sandy King triggered our return to Morning Star Ranch."
On February 17th, John Butler was stabbed to death in the Haight-Ashbury. John used to tell Sonoma County officials,
"I can't leave Morning Star or I'll die." After
numerous arrests and over sixty days in jail, he was forced to
FRIAR TUCK: "John Butler was one hell of a man. Louis
Kuntz and I were living in the city, and John Butler left our
house fifteen minutes before he died. He and this chick and this
other couple came over and we partied for a couple of hours.
Finally he said, 'Well, we're splitting. We're going up to the
doughnut shop. Want to come along?' And we said, 'No, man, we're
too fucked up.' But we should've went. Had we gone, they might
not have killed him, at least at that point. But we all know why
he was killed. It wasn't because he was black with a white chick.
Absolutely not. He had been very big in the criminal
investigation division of the Army. He even told Lou one time, 'I
can straighten this shit out. If you have any big problems, let
me know and I'll call J. Edgar Hoover.' And the cat wasn't
kidding! He didn't say things that weren't true. Now you can see
why he was killed.
"The night of the day John was killed, both Louis and I
had taken acid and it was the first bum trip I'd ever had. Just
bummed out, man, just really bummed out, insane, crazy, a bad
trip, seeing knives being thrown through the air, really crazy
things. And I'd never had a bad trip before. Then the next day we
found out that John had been killed by Gypsy Jokers going from
our house to the doughnut shop on Stanyan Street. What supposedly
happened was that a couple of Gypsy Jokers drove up in a car - a
car, mind you, and I've never known Gypsy Jokers to roam around
in cars - and they jumped out, ran across the street and stabbed
John. The other guy tried to stop them and they stabbed him too.
He recovered. I really believe it was a political killing. John
once told me, 'I know too much. Some day they'll get me.'"
BART: "After John Butler was killed, the Hell's Angels
told the Gypsy Jokers to strip their colors. They just told 'em
not to have their club any more. They didn't like 'em, and only
wanted to have their own club around. They don't like other bike
clubs, 'cause what they do reflects on them."
RAMON: "I feel I owe my life to John Butler for his
intervention on that last crazy day at Morning Star. Somehow I
wasn't able to pay that debt before John was killed. He would be
alive today if he hadn't been forced back into the city. God
bless John Butler!"
Ramón and Gina visited Lou and Near at Morning Star to hear
all about Lou's new guru who was 'on his way' to save the ranch
from the county's persecution. However Sergeant Hayes from the
sheriff's department showed up and told them if he found them
living on the land again, he would run them in. So they rented a
cabin under the redwoods on the Russian River where Bill Wheeler
visited and invited them to move to his land. But Ramón
preferred to stay close to Morning Star where he could at least
spend sunny days. When his previous year's womanfriend Betty
arrived while Don and Sandy were visiting, Gina had a fit of
jealousy and left with Don and Sandy. Ramón returned with Betty
to Berkeley, accepting her suggestion to become musical director
of The Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company's current production.
One month later, Gina joined him. She gave a glowing report of
her visit to Wheeler's Ranch, and repeated Bill's invitation. In
April they moved to the Ridge.
BILL: "In the April of 1969, two of my closest friends
came to live at the Ridge, Gina and Ramón. She and I were
astrological twins, born on the same day, the same year."
GWEN: "They moved into the Mouse House with Katy the Dog,
and Ramón brought with him a quiet diplomacy that helped smooth
the differences between Bill and his rivals. He also brought his
accordion which he played everywhere, all the time. His music
made any moment a festive occasion and, with his arrival, music
began to flourish on the land, attracting musicians to settle and
inspiring others to learn."
BILL: "Ramón taught us about open-tuned music, access to
which was denied no one. To this end he invented what Lou
christened the 'Ramon-a-phone,' an autoharp with the machine
removed, tuned to an open chord, enabling anyone, even an infant,
to pick it up and instantly make beautiful, harmonious music.
Musical heaven for Ramón was the gathering of a half-dozen such
instruments and making a sound which in its complexity and
delight, could only be described as the singing of angels. I was
touched to see a musician of Ramón's sophistication express such
a Jeffersonian belief in people's innate musical ability. Once he
put an ad in the local paper asking for used instruments,
especially autoharps, for 'The Sgt. Pepper's Open Land Band.'
Firmly believing that the audience-performer relationship was a
deadening dichotomy, he encouraged everyone to make sounds,
whether on Ramon-o-phones or banging on pans, singing, flutes or
whatever. At gatherings where this spirit prevailed, incredibly
complex and beautiful music resulted. The individual
personalities merged symphonically in primitive, free-flowing
rhythms as an expression of the joys of the life on the