The First Death & The Mighty Avengers
By the fall of 1970, the Ridge had acquired a fifty-passenger yellow
of riding like cattle in the truck, people now could go to town in style, sitting on
cushioned seats. On the day of the particular community run, Ridgefolk gathered by the
front gate early in the morning. When it was time to start, the volunteer driver announced
that everyone who was able to walk should follow the bus on foot to the top gate, a
distance of about a mile. Muttering complaints, the participants began the uphill climb
while the bus crawled, heaving and groaning, over the ruts, holes, gulches and rocks of
the access road. At the top gate it waited for everyone to catch up. At last, loaded with
people, kids and bags of laundry, it pulled out onto the county road. Generally every seat
was filled and then some.
In Occidental, the bus pulled into Jerry's gas station and a hat was passed for gas
money. Folks trundled off to the post office or store to buy a goodie before loading back
in again. The next stop was the laundromat in Sebastopol. Townsfolk would look up in
amazement from their magazines as the place filled with long-haired, naked children and
huge bags of very dirty clothes. Once the machines were filled, the bus proceeded to the
organic grocery store. Some folks stayed in Sebastopol to do errands or just stand around
Main Street to inject a little groovy atmosphere into a very bland environment. With all
the errands accomplished and the laundry folded, everyone piled back into the bus and
headed for the fruit stand on the way home. The fruit stand owners always were thrilled by
the sudden influx of customers but equally terrified of possible thefts. At last, packed
with boxes, bags of food, laundry, jugs of kerosene, packages, babies, the bus started off
on the final leg of the journey home.
Community runs were always long, and everyone was exhausted by the time they rolled
through the front gate of the ranch. There were those few who went along just for the fun
of it, but for the average person it was a necessary ordeal. Inevitably some kerosene
spilled or a baby had the shits or somebody complained bitterly about a particular stop
that hadn't been made. Grapefruits and oranges whizzed over heads in exchange for candy
bars. Often everyone broke into song on the home stretch while the bus maneuvered the
curves of Coleman Valley. Once on the ranch proper, the bus drove the length of the land
to let off people with their bags and boxes at the beginning of the trails to their
Those who had planned the trip carefully would not have to go on another run for a
while. Others would suddenly find they had forgotten something critical and would have to
go on the very next one. But the day after a run was a good day to stay home in the quiet
countryside with clean sheets and a full cupboard adding to the joy.
As Thanksgiving rolled around, Ramón and a Gina prepared to leave the land with little
BILL: "Ramón had become an enormous energy center, someone to whom everyone went
for help and advice. He began of feel the constant stream of visitors as a rip-off, taking
him away from family, music and writing. So they moved in with the Fowler family near
Morning Star, old friends with whom they had stayed before moving to the Ridge."
RAMON: "It was very hard to leave the land, but something was pushing us on.
Partially it was a desire to have a few more of the amenities such as hot water now that
we had a baby. Also, what with Bill and Gwen's breakup, we began to feel like the only
stable couple left on the Ridge. I did not enjoy playing the old and stodgy conservative
in the bubbling life-style experiment which the ranch had become. Whatever the reasons, we
did move before Christmas only to have Sol Ray contract pneumonia a few weeks later. He
and Gina spent a week in the hospital, Gina sleeping on the floor beside his crib until a
nice nurse moved a chair into the room for her. We spent the balance of the winter in the
southern California desert to give Sol Ray time to regain his strength away from the
dampness of Sonoma County."
Alicia Bay Laurel returned to the Ridge that winter, a celebrity because of her book
"Living On The Earth." The media followed her to the ranch, both The New York
Times and Life sending reporters and photographers. Life sponsored a slam-bang Sunday
feast, and the Ridgefolk put on the dog for them with a sauna and the Sheep Ridge Band.
Alicia strummed along on an acoustic bass guitar which was her only garment. But it was
all too funky for Life, who scrapped the article in favor of a slick, mid-western hippie
wedding where everyone looked clean and were dressed in the photos.
That spring, Alicia returned to New York to promote the Random House edition of her
book. An incredibly talented and perceptive person, she more than anyone else communicated
the alternate culture to middle-class America in a pleasing form. She was a hard worker
for the revolution.
BILL: "We all felt that the idea of Open Land had to be communicated. For once,
America had something besides war to export. We had no fear of revealing our location,
identity or activities to anyone who would listen. Good news! Open Land!"
Stephen Gaskin returned to San Francisco from the caravan bus tour of the United States
to start up his Monday Night Class meetings once more. The community bus began taking
people to the city every week for these high, spiritual get-togethers. Everyone who
attended benefited from the experience, but Stephen was preparing to go on the road again.
During the final farewell meeting, someone came up to Bill and whispered that the nude
body of a young boy had just been found on the Ridge, supposedly dead from a drug
overdose. In Bill's mind, this spelled immediate trouble, because the authorities and
newspapers would have a field day.
BILL: "It was just the sort of thing that gave moms and dads nightmares about us.
My first reaction was to keep the thing quiet, but the Ridge had a total inability to keep
anything secret - it just wasn't part of our way of doing things. When I returned home
that night, I felt compelled to check out the rumor. It was wet and cold outdoors, with
thick blankets of fog rolling over the land. The body was supposed to be under a fir tree
on Hoffie's Hill, but no one was too sure exactly which one. The hill seemed like a set
for a horror movie, the darkness and mist barely pierced by the feeble ray of my
flashlight. Ghosts, demons and monsters stalked me at every turn. I felt as if the corpse
was going to reach out and drape a chilling hand over my shoulder, but I stumbled on
through the wet bushes looking under every tree, morbidly fascinated yet terrified that I
would be successful in my search."
As it turned out, Bill's ghoulish pilgrimage turned up nothing, and he had to wait
until morning to be guided to the body by the original discoverer, David Poole. David had
recently come to the land after being evicted from the Open Land beach settlement in
Bolinas. On the west side of Hoffie's Hill, where hardly anyone ever went, the body lay
bruised and battered, with a slight tinge of green growing on him and a faint hum of
insects around his head. David explained how he had been smoking his morning joint down at
O.B.'s tent. Suddenly he got up and walked some three hundred yards directly to the body,
as if it had communicated with him.
The corpse did not seem as young as had been rumored. He looked about twenty, probably
just released from the service since he was clean shaven. But what to do with the body?
Bill's first inclination was to bury him then and there, because it was obviously long
overdue. But there was the problem of the authorities finding out. The body would then be
exhumed and embarrassing questions asked. Also, it seemed strange to bury him without any
idea of who he was. Someone suggested dropping him off at a street corner, but apparently
he had been dead for a couple weeks and would not have - ugh - held together for the trip.
The last alternative was the best: let the dead bury the dead and call the coroner.
Out they came later that day in a funeral procession, two deputy sheriffs, a camera
man, a coroner who wore rubber gloves the whole time, and an undertaker who told Bill he
had chosen his profession because it was the closest he could get to being a doctor. The
investigating officer assured Bill that he would do little with the case, adding with a
big wink that he know how the fellow had died.
Eventually the story was pieced together: the deceased came onto the Ridge with several
friends, camped up near the crest of Hoffie's Hill, dropped something they thought was
acid, and went on an extended three-day trip. His friends deserted him as he became
increasingly weirder, and he spent the next three days atop the hill hugging the cross the
Crazy David had erected there. A few people saw him and thought he was pretty strange. But
there had been a lot of rare, religious behavior by visitors before, so they shined it on.
On the third day, he took off his clothes, walked down to the fir tree, crawled up
underneath it and died of exposure. From the expression on his face and the thrashing
around he had obviously done, it had been an agonizing death.
This was the first human death on the land since it had opened, and it reminded
everyone of their mortality. The vibrations on the Ridge were mute and moribund that
evening when everyone gathered on Hoffie's Hill for a wake. Holding hands, they formed a
circle around a huge bonfire. After a silence, a long 'om' rang out. Drums gradually
joined in to reinforce the chanting, and someone with a lute inspired the guitars to
begin. The group sang and sang, singing every song they knew, and the music seemed to
revive everyone's spirits. Death was understood as a part of the natural flow of things,
and not as a portent of impending doom for the community.
GWEN: "Less than two months later, the community experienced its second death.
This one passed with hardly a ripple, because it was of a life not quite born. Annie had
given birth prematurely in the hospital where the baby was kept in an incubator for a
month. The day the baby was released, Annie moved up to the Ridge, took off her clothes
and the baby's clothes, and came walking down to the steambath. When I first saw her, I
had to look again. It seemed she was holding a miniature, very old man on the verge of
dying. I didn't want to stare, but my eyes kept turning in their direction. Annie wore the
expression of a very proud mother, but my God the baby! Could it be a member of our
species? Was it old or young? Dead or alive?
"The following morning the baby didn't awaken, and Annie buried it beside her
house. A few days later I watched her sitting cross-legged on the hillside throughout the
day, staring out at the horizon. Her body was getting burned by the sun. I told her I
thought she should move into the shade. 'There's nothing that matters,' she answered, her
smile showing her embarrassment at the pain shooting from her eyes."
A tribe formed on the Knoll who named themselves The Mighty Avengers after the Marvel
Comics superheroes. 'All hail to The Mighty Avengers! Right on, brothers and sisters!'
They worshipped a local species of woodpecker whom they called The Badaba, and used
'Badaba' as a greeting and a mantra. Mostly they seemed dedicated to excessive living
through alcohol and drugs, although on a number of occasions they provided a service to
COYOTE: "I remember that right after I went up to Hoffie's Hill one day I was
walking with Funkdog and Paul-Terry, and for some reason, I dunno, I fell flat on my face.
Then I woke up and started laughing my ass off. Everybody looked at me and asked, 'Are you
all right?' And I said, 'Well, I'm Captain America, you're Sargeant Paul-Terry, and you're
Private First-Class Funkdog. We're The Mighty Avengers! And Bart's Black Bolt, leader of
the inhumans!' And they said, 'Wow! All right!' And we tripped around and found Bart and
said, 'Hey, Bart, you anna be in the Mighty Avengers?' And he said, 'Wow, that's a good
idea! If we're all superheroes, we won't have any more hassles about war or anything!' So
we joined forces that day.
"Later I sobered up and forgot I even said it, but Bart kept saying, 'That's a
pretty good idea, you know,' so we began walking around telling everybody we were
superheroes. Maverick and Steve Weinstein joined us, and then we formed the Ladies'
Auxiliary. At one of the church meetings on Hoffie's hill, the Ladies' Auxiliary unit went
to Bill Wheeler and told him to announce there was going to be an orgy at Snakepit
Eddie's. Then they just snatched us, and we were just fucking all over the place, Just
prior to the orgy proper, Chick Johnnie came over and snatched me, and we wanted to fuck
on top of the Community Truck. It was filled with horseshit, but instead we went over to
the meadow where the Maypole was and started getting it on. Then later than evening we all
met over at Snakepit's and had a big old orgy. A wonderful time! Most people were shy.
Nobody wanted to take their clothes off, but we were just fucking and sucking all over the
place. Some guys couldn't get hard-on's, but the girls were pretty understanding. They'd
just entice 'em there and get 'em in their clutches and just do them under! I got the clap
righteously along with everybody else. The Community Hospital was blown away when we
pulled up in the schoolbus with forty people all coming in to get shots."
Maverick, tall, blond, handsome, was born in Kentucky. His parents abandoned him in the
Appalachian Mountains when he was three years old. He lived with the animals, eating bugs
and mice, and learned much woodlore. His clothes were made of animal skins and he exuded
the aura of an incredibly healthy, strong person. Many myths grew up around him, and his
high, spiritual qualities made him a nature god in the eyes of the women on the Knoll.
AMBRIELLE: "There was another orgy where I just fell in love with everyone there.
We all started drinking wine, and I was kind of freaked out because I had a bunch of
lovers there of both sexes. I had been with Maverick and this other guy too, but Maverick
just took me to him and said, 'Make love. It would be wonderful.' Then all of a sudden
everybody in the room started making love. But a couple of people showed up who we weren't
in love with, some real crass macho types who walked in and said, 'Oh, an orgy.' It was
like people had to have a certain consciousness of giving or else it would suck up the
Cats had become a problem on the Ridge, breeding profusely and many going wild. When
hungry, they raided people's food stashes. The mighty Avengers' attitude was, "Eat my
food and I'll eat you." As a result, a number of cats ended up being cooked in pots
for dinner. This took care of the surplus cat population as well as a few personal pets
that wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time. Jughead, one of the favorite barn
cats, met such a fate.
BILL: "A myth grew up around the cat-eating on the Ridge, confirming suspicions
about our weirdness in the eyes of some neighbors. Yet The Mighty Avengers' solution to
the cat overpopulation problem seemed more sensible to me than taking them to the SPCA to
be gassed, the most common alternative. I myself cannot imagine eating one, although I'm
told they are quite tasty, a bit like rabbit. Also it must be said of the cat eaters that
they used the whole animal, eating the flesh, wearing the fur, and fashioning jewelry and
roach clips out of the bones."
It became Maverick's job to kill the cat. First he would stroke it as it lay on his lap
purring, thanking it for the use of its body which was to become food. Then he delivered
one sharp blow to the base of its neck, breaking its spine before cutting its throat and
During 1971, Snakepit Eddie became president of the Ahimsa Church. As the people's
representative, he went to the county authorities and demanded food stamps for the people
on the land. Up until then, food stamps had been denied the residents since the time the
land had opened. It was the official policy of those administering the food stamp program
in Sonoma County not to feed hippies. During his meetings with the food stamp board,
Snakepit dressed immaculately, with a pressed suit, tie and polished shoes. His
indomitable will reduced the bureaucrats to submission, and finally the board awarded food
stamps to everyone on the land who qualified. The forty dollars a month of food stamps
made the difference between wealth and poverty for many. What the government spent in food
stamps, it saved in hospital expenses for malnourished people. Also it eliminated a lot of
ripping off from the local stores.
In general, the Ahimsa Church functioned as an organ of communication, allowing the
members to be heard in the politics of the county. Since Bill was no longer the legal
owner of the land, the courts could not fine or imprison him as they did Lou. Relief from
that burden allowed Bill to relax and enjoy life once more, now that he was no longer the
COYOTE: "The Mighty Avengers got real heavy one time because we were getting sick
and tired of people laying their no-tobacco-smoking trips on us. All the people who smoked
tobacco were supposed to sit at the back of the bus, but one day Diane sat in the middle
and lit up a cigarette. Instantly Cliff and a couple of others jumped on her for smoking,
and told her to get off the bus. So all the cigarette smokers immediately fired up in
sympathy with her. I heard about it, and got mad as well as a few other Avengers. So we
went into Occidental the next day and bought something like four cases of beer and four
gallons of wine and hitched back to Wheeler's. By that time we were roaring drunk. We got
to the land, and who should be meet but Cliff and O.B. When we saw Cliff, we all got on
his shit for the trip he laid on Diane. We all lit up cigarettes and blew smoke in his
face and told him if he didn't like tobacco he could just move out of the way.
"O.B. was going, 'You want some acid?' And we said, 'Yeah, we want some acid.' So
he started giving us acid. Bart and Quiet Steve showed up, and we were all getting drunk
and eating acid. The next thing I know, we're all down at the house and we heard the chain
saw go off. So Ross and I took off down the hillside with an ax handle. It was Today
cutting firewood for Bill Wheeler. And we said, 'Unh, cutting firewood for Bill Wheeler
again, huh? Whatsa matter? You like kissing his ass or something? Boy, every time we see
you people, you're so grateful for being here, aren't cha? How come you're doing all these
trips for him and how come you never do anything for anybody else? Look at all these
ladies around here, man. They need firewood too, you know. Why don't you cut wood for
them?' And he just went, 'duhhh.' So then Ross hit him with the ax handle on the hand, and
Today went 'Arhh!' and started yelling at us, and we're laughin 'at him and
"We came down on all the people who were acting like Bill Wheeler was God. So we
pulled Today out in the open, and the next thing we knew everybody's crowdin' around. And
Bart said, 'How's it going to be, Today. One at a time or all together?' And he said, 'I
give up. I surrender.' And he went out and cut firewood for the ladies.
"Then we went back to the house and put an ax on the ax handle. We heard some
yelling, so we walked over to check it out, and there's Quiet Steve standing and yelling
at Bill Wheeler, calling him an asshole. Gwen Wheeler came out with a bucket of water and
splashed it over Steve's head. So one of us went over and started chopping on Bill
Wheeler's private water tank with the ax. Wheeler came out, roaring indignant. 'You
deserve this!' he shouted, and the next thing I knew Funk Dog was pickin' me up and
me on the bed. I don't know how I got there.
"We even collaborated with Lou on a lot of our projects we did towards Bill
Wheeler. We went over to see Lou one time while we were tripping, and we told him about
how all the people flocked around Bill, like putting Bill at the head, you know, saying,
'Oh far out, Bill,' or 'Yeah, Bill, yeah,' but we just ignored it. 'Shit, it was just Bill
Wheeler, another person, you know. But when the shit came right down, he carried the ball.
I was amazed. He had a lot of heart. We even talked about makin' him an honorary Mighty
Avenger later on."
"So anyway, Lou asked us, 'Well does he smoke dope?' And we said, 'No. he's not
smokin' dope. He gave it up.' And Lou said, 'What you should do is go over there, tackle
him, pin him down to the ground and blow some pot smoke in his face.' And that's exactly
what we did! All these people were worshipping him all the time. We just stood there for a
few minutes and took in all in, and then we dashed over and jumped on him and gave him a
great big bear hug. I sat on his shoulders and said, 'All right, Bill, this is it, man,
and - poof! ' we gave him a supercharge! And this story is in dedication to Steve
Weinstein, formerly known as Supersteve, who just perished. He was a friend to all. Whew,
so many of the Avengers have bit the dirt. There's a lot of them that are gone."
BART: "Steve Weinstein, third in command of The Mighty Avengers, dropped dead in
July, 1976, in front of the Gurneville post office due to malnutrition and exhaustion. He
had been on the road for two years, and he always said he was going to be a martyr for
Open Land. He had just come across the country with a sixty-pound backpack, and he wasn't
a very big guy. He was on his way to see us and a sister in the area. Also, he was into
downers and had some in his system, but he wasn't O.D.'d or anything like that. But he
hadn't been eating, and it was on that really hot day we had. He was on his way up to
Wheeler's, but he was killed by the system, the freeways and all the pollution."
COYOTE: "Flash! Flash! Superman's alive and well, merely south of the border, all
rumors to the contrary! But the way all these people went out, there were no two deaths
When the rumors about Superman were sorted out, the truth was that he had died of a
brain hemorrhage in San Francisco General Hospital. A Morning Star brother of unknown
ancestry, sparechanger extrordinaire, Superman will always be lovingly remembered by those
who knew him.