A Friend Retires & The Big Dope Raid
In the spring of 1971, Judge Sheidecker, the kindly old man before whom so many of the
Morning Star and Wheeler's residents had appeared so many times, retired from the
municipal bench. He always had tried to be fair, and hated to put people in jail. A dinner
was held in his honor, and about thirty Ridgefolk attended as well as a group from Morning
Star after an anonymous donor made one hundred and fifty dollars of tickets available for
their use. The dinner was attended by all the Sonoma County bigwigs, lawyers, judges and
politicians. A discernible ripple went through the distinguished gathering when the
hippies arrived, some present even thinking there was going to be some sort of trouble.
Later it was rumored that Clara O'Brien had been the anonymous donor, and that she had
bought tickets for the Ridge because she was angry at the judge for being so lenient with
Shortly after the long-haired contingents arrived, the old judge stood up and
graciously welcomed them, addressing them as "Our friends from Morning Star and
Wheeler ranches." That broke the ice, and everyone had a wonderful evening, sitting
at the same tables as the people who had been their enemies. The benefactor's strategies
After the dinner, Bill wrote a letter to the Judge thanking him for his welcome. His
wife replied, agreeing that it had been a memorable occasion, and suggesting that if all
else failed in the struggle with the county, that the shining example of Gandhi should be
The Ridge did indeed set a fine example of civil disobedience. The residents continued
to build their community and form their tribe as if the official repression and court
orders did not exist. The documents were just so much paper, like the New England Blue
Laws which were still on the books but which no one obeyed because of their absurdity.
Enforcement of building and health codes in rural areas fell into the same category. One
court order required the destruction of the buildings and the removal of the people from
the land, but it was in abeyance pending the appeal. Like the condemned man, the Ridge
hoped for a miracle, a change in the law or the turning of the political climate into one
more favorable to their cause. Until then, they pursued the arduous course of stalling
officialdom, watching the revolution gain momentum and hoping the political pendulum had
reached its zenith in its swing to the right. The two hundredth anniversary of America was
on the horizon, and everyone hoped they would have something to celebrate.
BILL: "People were often mystified as to why we had so much legal trouble. Why was
it, they asked, that we ran so counter to the current while other Alternate Culture
communities were able to homogenize into the diverse fabric of American society? The
reasons were manifold, not the least being economic. Immediate neighbors were not able to
sell their land to the developers for the high prices they wanted because of our presence.
The legal battle represented a kind of range war, the outcome of which would determine
whether the land would be used for hundred-thousand-dollar homes set in concrete into
bulldozed hillsides or for small biodegradable shacks which blended into the landscape and
were infinitely more ecological. Our continued presence would determine whether the land
would be protected or exploited.
"But basically, our troubles stemmed from our being open. Any person was welcome
to come and make himself a rent-free home. This policy ran so counter to the American
private property mania, so totally out of the realm of most people's experience, that no
one could believe in its viability, especially those persons whose lives and work were
based on totally opposite presumptions. The authorities, as an expression of the common
will, were forced to take action against Morning Star and Wheeler Ranch. They viewed us as
a cancerous tumor which must be excised from the body politic, not as a healthy growth out
of the basic assumptions of the U.S. Constitution."
Delia and Bark were progressing with their plans for their thousand-acre spread. They
participated in the Ridge's food conspiracy, and the community truck stopped to deliver
their order to them. Gene Ruggles, a poet friend of Bill's and an old Ridge dweller, moved
over with his family and built a house there. Gwen and Bill seemed to have made up their
differences and were living together again. "If only we could be given another five
years, the result would be incredible!" Bill wrote in a letter to Ramón. "But
how great will be the sacrifices to get it!"
The weather that February was sunny and warm, triggering a burst of gardening activity.
Dozens of fruit trees were planted under Fruits 'n Nuts Nancy's inspirational insistence.
Raspberry was becoming a little girl, and Lou, Near and Vishnu held forth at Morning Star
where things were very mellow, although 'monstrously overdogged,' as Lou put it.
One day in late February, Bill was up at the front gate checking over the water system.
He spotted a pick-up with a camper driving down the road from O'Brien's hill. For some
reason it gave him an uneasy feeling. Having finished his chores, he started towards the
back of the land. He only had covered a short distance when someone caught up with him,
saying there were about ten men armed with rifles at the front gate asking for Bill. His
first thought was that this was the long-awaited vigilante raid. But another person came
up with the information that they were police officers.
He retraced his steps to find Butch Carlstadt from Narcotics waiting for him. Butch
said he had positive information that a San Quentin escapee was on the Ridge and wanted to
come on the land. Bill asked for his search warrant, and Butch replied that they were in
'hot pursuit' and didn't need one. Since this was the fourth time the county had used the
same excuse to raid the Ridge, Bill didn't take to it kindly.
"Get the fuck off the land!" he shouted angrily.
Butch smiled serenely. After about fifteen minutes, the rest of the posse returned from
the Knoll where they had been lurking in the bushes waiting for their prey -- who luckily
did not show up. Bustini, the chief narc, walked up carrying a submachine gun, and Bill
made a few sarcastic comments about the weapon. He reiterated that he was tired of illegal
raids, and that it would be to their benefit to get a search warrant before coming out to
the Ridge. Bustini, stung by Bill's remarks, replied that yes, indeed, they would have one
the next time they came back.
A few days after, a ranch resident returned after having done some time in jail. He
reported that he had overheard a conversation in the Sheriff's office about a proposed
dope raid on the Ridge. Word spread advising everyone to hide their marijuana plants, and
advising anyone who was 'hot' to leave for the time being. The two San Quentin escapees
left the Knoll that night. Joe had been serving time for rape, while Harold, one of the
land's best milkers, had been sentenced for rape and murder. Both were well liked for
their community spirit and mild manner. Harold was caught some time later, but he left
behind a woman friend on the ranch who later bore his child.
On the day of the expected raid, Bill opened his eyes when the first rays of sunlight
streamed into their little garden house. He jumped out of bed and ran outside to scan the
hillside on O'Brien's land.
"Jesus!" he exclaimed. There were scores of police cars parked all over the
He was on his way out the garden gate when he was stopped by several deputies and
marched back to his house. The men began to search through Bill and Gwen's belongings.
Gwen picked up Raspberry and went outside to take a 'somewhat paranoid shit' behind a bush
before walking up towards Hoffie's Hill. She wanted to warn people who were asleep, but
from the hilltop she could see groups of armed men already covering the whole ranch.
Over one hundred and fifty law enforcement officials from all over the Bay Area were
involved, deputy sheriffs, local police, all kinds of narcotics personnel, military police
and San Quentin guards. A helicopter and surveillance airplanes buzzed low in the sky.
BILL: "As a lesson in humility, I highly recommend having your house searched. A
lady cop helping the deputies found an avocado on top of the icebox which she suggested be
eaten because it was getting overripe. They searched drawers, medicine boxes, herb
containers, mattresses and clothing. The serial numbers of my cameras, binoculars and
chainsaw were carefully noted down. I watched the proceedings carefully because I knew
they were not above planting some dope."
Bustini showed up with a search warrant forty-eight pages long, containing among other
things the two-year-old article from Harper's Magazine which mentioned that dope was
smoked on the land, Bustini's statement that he had seen dope growing on the land and a
second statement that he had positive proof two San Quentin convicts were hiding on the
Ridge. He joined in the search of Bill and Gwen's house, finding a small steel box which
was jammed shut. He shook it and listened intently, a frown furrowing his eyebrows. Then
he worked on it with increasing frustration, convinced it contained Bill's 'works.'
Finally he gave it up grudgingly. Too bad, because all it contained were the parts for
Gwen's sewing machine.
Gwen remained with a small group who had joined hands on Hoffie's Hill. Together they
watched the police, grey-skinned and hairless members of their own species, crawl through
the bushes with their weapons at the ready. The sun was burning through the light mists,
roosters were crowing, and yet all over the land people were being awakened by armed men
asking questions and searching their belongings.
The raid was thorough, the authorities not taking any chances concerning its legality.
Even the District Attorney had come along to advise on any legal problems which might crop
up. They followed the strategy of posting a guard beside each house to keep the occupants
under house arrest until a search team of narcotics officers arrived to find the dope.
There wasn't much to find. But they had to find something for their efforts, and busted
people for seeds, spare roaches and suspicious-looking pills and powders. Some pot
seedlings had sprouted overnight in one house, and some new folks had arrived after dark
in another and hadn't been warned. The big white sheriff's van loaded up about thirty
residents under arrest and the procession of cars, helicopters and armed men wound its way
up O'Brien's road, leaving a stunned and speechless community in their wake.
COYOTE: "I was walking out my front door, just waking up, and I started to take a
leak. I looked up and saw this Day-Glo-colored helicopter disguised as a giant dragonfly.
They knew everybody on the land was into psychedelics, and they wanted to fool us. Well, I
stopped pissing right on the spot, and turned around and walked into my house and got into
my bed and got out again and walked back outside. It was just too mind-blowing for me,
that giant dragonfly, so I figgered I'd just start the day all over again. Next thing that
happened was my neighbor Bucky and his girlfriend brought their tomato crates with baby
marijuana plants out, and I heard this amplified voice say. 'All right, don't make a move!
This is the Sonoma County sheriffs!' And Bucky said, 'Whaaat?' I looked up, and this door
opened in the dragonfly and these guys were sliding down this rope with rifles and shit. I
was flipped out! I don't know, but I think they might have been more stoned than us or
something, man! I walked back into my house and rearranged all my American flags. Then I
put my marijuana plants out in front and just went for a walk. I ended up in Occidental
with Damian and we got drunk as skunks. We saw a sheriff's van go driving by with a bunch
of clean-looking freaks. Somehow they didn't look like Wheeler's people."
BART: "Oh, those poor people who got arrested! And a lot of them were visitors,
COYOTE: "All of a sudden somebody in the van held up a dope pipe, you know, up to
the window, with a big shit-eating grin. They were all waving and flashing the peace sign.
They didn't give us a ride, though. Well, I've seen two Highway Patrol cars eat it at
Oilpan Rock and Transmission Rock on the road into Wheeler's. Wow but they were pissed
off! I came by and laughed my ass off. I asked them if they were all right? 'Hey, man,
whyn't cha come down to Wheeler's, man? Wanta hang out with the freaks for a while?'"
Fifteen people finally were held on a thousand dollars bail apiece. Corbin got the bail
reduced, but still it cost a lot to get everyone out of jail. But after the County's
enormous expense and effort, the 'big dope raid' didn't even bring in enough grass to turn
on the people who had been arrested. When the District Attorney realized that the raid had
failed, he gave those arrested the choice of pleading guilty and getting off on the
condition they never return to the Ridge or pleading non guilty and going through with a
trial. All but one pleaded guilty, packed their belongings and left.
William Sheehan refused to plead guilty. The baggie of marijuana seeds which were found
in the tent in which he had been arrested were not his, and nothing in the world was going
to make him say they were. He took his plea through six months of court appearances with
Corbin defending him. He based his defense on the argument that the warrant used that day
was much too broad, and argued that using one search warrant for so many different
buildings was an outrageous violation of the Fourth Amendment, the search and seizure
article. The superior Court judge agreed with him on the narrow grounds that Bustini's
gathering of dope-growing evidence on his previous visit to the land invalidated the
warrant used on the follow-up raid. When Sonoma County appealed the verdict, the First
Court of Appeals agreed completely with Corbin that the Ridge inhabitants' constitutional
rights had been violated, and the Sheehan case is now precedent law in California. Blanket
search warrants can no longer be issued for the purpose of raiding communes of multiple
dwellings. They must be specific.
This court decision provided a small victory for the rights of Open Land residents.
Corbin also wanted wanted to file suit against the County, but Bill disagreed. It only
would have made them more enemies instead of what they needed -- more friends.
the District Attorney and their cohorts had made monkeys out of themselves in court, and
that was satisfaction enough.
Longer days and a warmer sun pushed the waiting buds into bloom. The green hills
sparkled, the grass rippling in waves in the breeze. Flowers covered the fields and
blossoms filled the trees. The musicians gathered and the Ridge social season boomed.
Homes were constantly filled with friends bringing good cheer and happy conversation.
GWEN: "If your house was empty and social contact was needed, grab up your
baby-guitar-dope-smiling face and take a walk to the garden, Hoffie's Hill or to a
friend's house where you would find the social scene of your dreams. Every morning the sun
rose on another day made especially for you to play in. May games were offered. Besides
doing nothing, there was playing house, playing carpenter, playing truck driver, playing
farmer, playing artist, cook, yogi, mother, -- or just playing, all free for the
Alicia Bay Laurel returned to the ranch with a strong sense of independence and an
interest in the sparkle of stimulation of the big world. After all, she was now a famous
writer and illustrator. That winter she was no longer the 'naked girl doing yoga in the
garden.' Instead, she began playing bass for the tight group of musicians forming out of
the Open Land band. She focused people's interests upon publishing the Second Open Land
Manifesto, and encouraged her friends to write, drawn and generally get involved in the
arts. In February, she received her first large royalty check from Random House, and with
this sudden wealth, she chose to contribute to the spirit of Open Land.
A joint for everyone at dawn on Hoffie's Hill began the day of celebrating her book.
Music and gourmet feasting spread across the land, and the celebratory spirit did not stop
until Alicia left a few months alter. A bakery was set up in the Pine Grove where Baker
Bart and the Mighty Avengers began baking bread every day, giving it away to anyone who
wanted it. Sunday feasts became bountiful spreads, and more and more folks shared in the
The Open Land band's music was a like a pot of rich soup, a broth of drummers,
percussionists, guitarists, strains of varying flavors added by flutes, fiddles, voices
and an occasional horn. Dancers served as garnish. The taste varied according to the
ingredients available at the time, but it unified everyone, spreading from its center to
every wildly dancing girl, cloud, tree, as the Sunday Feast reached its peak. Costumes,
naked bodies, laughing children, the happy hallucinator was in heaven in its midst.
As the sun sank towards the horizon, the music took a mellow turn and folks started
wandering home. A fog bank appeared over the western ridge like a huge, slow-motion wave
pouring into the canyon. The milkers gathered at the barn, the clank of the milk pail
punctuating the stolid crunch-crunch of Claudia munching her alfalfa in the stall. When
dusk faded into darkness, kerosene lamps and candles glowed in the windows of the small
houses. Another peaceful night of crickets and owls began, with the wind gently soughing
through the tree branches.
At the Easter morning service, Alicia arrived dressed as a bright pink Easter egg and
her friend Sunny in a baby blue bunny costume. Gifts were distributed of home-made
marzipan Easter eggs seasoned with Clear Light acid. The hot sun unfurled everyone's
consciousness, the petals of the group mind opening itself to absorb the healing powers of
the light and air. Alicia, Sunny and Lou led the procession to the western side of
Hoffie's Hill singing a song they made up along the way, 'Have A Psychedelic Easter.'
Hundreds of dyed chicken eggs had been hidden in the bushes and grass. Baskets in hand,
the children spread out to find them. The adults shed their clothes as the day warmed up.
An elaborate feast was carried to the emerald meadow at the back of the land and
arranged along a spacious fallen treetrunk whose branches were decorated with gaily
colored banners. Everything sparkled, everyone radiated bliss, the birds sang and the land
glowed. A steambath began, and the feasting continued on into the evening.
GWEN: "On Easter, the music flowed to its perfection. The creativity of the
performers synchronized with the many expanded consciousnesses of the listeners. Easter
evening, Alicia met with Cliff, Sunny and Ellen to suggest they begin playing electric
instruments. After two years of acoustic guitar, Cliff felt ready to start something new.
Sunny, a recent arrival, had sung with an electric band in the city and was the source of
the suggestion. Ellen had been playing fiddle with them and also approved of the idea. The
result was that Alicia rented the ranch one hill west of the Ridge where there was an
electrically wired house and the band moved there. Viewed from the air, the property
formed a five-pointed star, so they named their group The Star Mountain Band.
"Their departure produced a intense, tearing feeling in the community. Musicians
who were left behind felt cut off and left out. Appreciative listeners were suddenly aware
of the vacuum left by the departure of this musical core group. The very philosophy of
Open Land seemed threatened by the band removing itself to a closed place. But they
explained they still wanted to exchange with everyone on the Ridge, but also they wanted
to commit themselves to each other in a way that would further their musical interests. It
wasn't long before the Ridgefolk could hear familiar songs and voices echoing from the
western ridge, all to an electrical accompaniment.
"Although the move to Star Mountain was originally intended to include a small
group of people, a drummer was needed. So Drummer Dan went. An equipment manager was
needed, so Tall Tom went. Then Corky was needed, as were Mary, Willie B., Sally and
others. By the next winter, the Star Mountain population stood at twenty-five, all people
who had lived on Open Land, loved it and were looking for a way to recreate the lifestyle
without being hassled by the police. So they closed the entrance gate and locked it."
RAMON: "It is interesting to note that Star Mountain continued to
thrive and prosper through the years that followed. As an Star Mountain ex-resident
myself, I am very grateful that it did. But it also convinced me that it was the radical
Open Land creed that brought most of the heat from the County. As a philosophy and way of
life, it truly threatened the status quo in ways which those of us caught up in it could
not imagine. The very strength and justness of the cause triggered the authorities' to
close it down. 'What if this idea spreads?' they thought. 'What would happen to the whole
concept of land as a commodity to be bought and sold? To the privileges of the landed
few?' A lot of people looked at Open Land and it struck fear into their hearts, because in
their heart of hearts they knew that they had more than their share of this world's