To one degree or another, most young people learn how to fight. For those with brothers and sisters, fighting at home is not an option. Older siblings tend to push their younger brothers and sisters around. At times going as far as to land a few punches. All with love, of course. Truth be told, these conflicts help prepare young people to defend themselves on the playground.

I would wager my small hometown on the Flathead Indian Reservation had as many brawls, schoolyard fights, and gangland shootings as the city. Per Capita, anyways. Okay, we didn’t have gangland shootings, but what we did have something else: Rumbles! There’s a word we don’t hear very often. Well, I don’t know what else to call it.

Small towns such as Polson, Montana, have only one high school. Fights between students were expected, at times almost a daily occurrence. At some point, every kid in school had their day in battle. Some of us had many. A few graduated to a higher level of combat outside of town.

With high school comes cars and driving. There are only a few things boys with cars do in small towns. For those with muscle cars, racing is extremely popular. For everyone else, cruising the main roads on Friday and Saturday nights is expected. For those with a reputation for getting into trouble, rolling to neighboring small towns seeking adventure is often the plan. Of course, seeking adventure means only two things for teenage boys: girls and fighting. Or fighting and girls. Oh, and let’s not forget alcohol and marijuana. Everyone was drinking, and most of us were smoking.

Cruising the main street in the next town could be dangerous. Dropping by a house party could be deadly. Well, maybe not fatal, but I’ve taken a few friends to the emergency room for cuts, broken bones, and blows to the head. Thinking back, it seems like it was always the same couple of guys being carried into the E.R. in the middle of the night.

Okay, getting back to rumbles. I don’t know what else to call a fight between five and 20 guys. It seems like we were always outnumbered, sometimes in a terrible way. On one specific occasion, two of my buddies and I faced off with around a dozen guys. We were being chased through yards and over fences, eventually being cornered between two houses. I have a vivid memory of a kid holding a shovel and another one waiving a sword. Luckily, nobody was seriously injured beyond some minor nicks and bruises. I caught a rock to the face just as I turned around. It’s a miracle I didn’t lose any teeth. At the end of the night, one of my two friends ended up in the emergency room with stitches across his forehead. Yes, the same kid who’d gone to the hospital a few weeks prior. Looking back, that poor kid was always getting beat up by his older brother as well. 

Joseph Shanklin

August 7, 2021

2 thoughts on “Growing Up On A Reservation [Rumbles]

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