Here’s a Conservative Republican I’d Vote For
We need more Tom Brewers.
BY CHARLES P. PIERCE/Esquire
ATLANTA—In keeping with the previous post about forgotten Americans, let’s talk about some extraordinarily forgotten Americans. As the DNC meeting was breaking up the other day, Frank LaMere, who I’d written about the previous Thursday, grabbed me by the arm and said, “Do you really want a story? White Clay, Nebraska. That’s a story.”
Now, thanks to a tip from the redoubtable Jane Fleming Kleeb, we have the story of White Clay, Nebraska, and it’s a great, sprawling, bleeding tragedy of a story. It’s a place that doesn’t even have the memory of a thriving industrial economy to look back upon fondly. It’s a place that’s on the edge of the mouth of hell and has been for longer than anyone living remembers. The fond memories in a place like White Clay spin themselves deeply back through history, when people lived in the Plains. The fondest memories in this place are all legends, or the next thing to them.
The story comes to us from a brilliant team of student journalists at the University of Nebraska’s main campus at Lincoln. There are 12 official residents of White Clay and there are four liquor stores. In the past decade, these four stores have sold 42 million cans of beer, mostly to the residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation over the border in South Dakota. I advise you to read the whole thing and then to read it again, thinking as you do about all the stories you’ve read about the forgotten coal towns and abandoned factory cities since the election last November. Those places have a thriving past that living residents can remember. There is little of that in White Clay and even less across the border, where the beer cans go.
To me, the best work is found in the story of Tom Brewer, a 58-year old Lakota man who made a career in the Army and has come home to run for the state senate. (Nebraska never has had a Native in its state senate.) He is riding a mule as his campaign vehicle of choice. His story is an amazing one.
Back then, there were few choices for Indian youth like him, a direct descendant of the famed Sioux Chief Red Cloud. So when a military recruiter came calling, Brewer did the only thing he could think of: He signed up for a hitch, donning the uniform of the country that had destroyed his own. “The Lakota spirit is a warrior spirit and that’s what drew me to the military,” Brewer says. “We’re a warrior culture, and if you’re going to be a warrior, you should do it in uniform.” And so he did, serving 13 tours of duty. Six in Afghanistan. Countless battle wounds. Shot seven times. Blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade. Traumatic brain injury. Two purple hearts and a bronze medal.
So, what have you done for us lately, Tom?
Heroes and Horses. It was perfect – a program founded in 2013 and funded by various sponsors that relied on horses and mules to help heal the tormented psyches of wounded war veterans. He’d heard about it through Soldier Angels, an umbrella organization that matches veterans with programs designed to help ease their return to civilian life. The veterans who participate in Heroes and Horses spend several days in Montana learning how to ride, saddle, pack and care for a horse, and then navigate through the mountains on horseback. They also learn the traditional Native way of doing things like starting a fire. Brewer said the idea behind it is to remind the veterans they are capable, that they still have a purpose. Another idea is to use stress as a weapon to help confront the crippling PTSD that saddles many veterans. “We used this stress to give the men confidence in themselves,” Brewer explained. “We rejuvenated them to believe in themselves so the thought of suicide was no longer there.”
Suddenly, a mother grizzly and her cubs came out of the woods. Brewer was leading the group and summoned the other group leader, Kail Mantle, from the rear. But his horse, Rancher, lost its footing on the narrow path, sliding down the steep, rocky mountain. A dead tree branch skewered the horse’s heart, spraying blood everywhere “like you had opened a hose from your sprinkler or something,” Brewer said. Recalled Anna Mann, a female veteran of the group: “The veteran between Tom and I was starting to experience some serious symptoms from the blood and the yelling and the screaming. So I had to talk the veteran down with my words and tone and get them to look away, look at me, look at their horse.” Brewer and Mantle got the pack saddle off the horse and slowly led the women down the mountain. The grizzly followed behind, staring ominously. “It was nice to know those skills never leave you, of keeping your cool while the world is going pear-shaped,” Mann said.
Tom Brewer is a conservative Republican and I couldn’t care less. I’d walk ahead of a grizzly to vote for this tough old bird. Read the whole thing, as the kidz say. And, thanks to a helpful feature that comes with the series, in the time it took to write these 900-odd words, 77 cans of beer were sold in the stores of White Clay, Nebraska. Oops, sorry, we’re up to 88 now, and climbing.