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Dakotah - The Trail Ends



I met Ron “Dakotah” McGilvery November 28, 2008. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and I was on my way to an appointment to visit a new client; however, upon seeing his red, three horse-drawn Conestoga wagon pulling up a highway off ramp near my Eureka, California home, I made a detour. One that has certainly enhanced, dare I say, changed my life.

I am but one of the thousands of ordinary citizens over the last twenty-three years who, after seeing this solitary individual roll by at four miles an hour, felt the need to stop and give consideration to the life we ourselves were living. Many of the people I have met this past year, chronicling Dakotah’s journey, have exclaimed that he is “…living my life.”

One such individual stopped to speak to Dakotah just after he crossed into Idaho from California. The gentleman asked Dakotah why he chose his lifestyle. Dakotah replied,

“Why would anybody choose this lifestyle? I made my camp [wagon] after my wife ran off with a truck driver in 1986, and hit the road. I guess you could say I left part out of anger; part out of depression; and another part out of the need for a change of scenery.

Once I got out on the road, I found that I liked it; but I didn’t choose this lifestyle. No one in their right mind would choose this for a lifestyle; especially today with cell phones and people’s incessant need to dial 911 whenever they see me on the road, which brings out the law. And the law only knows two solutions; go away or go to jail. I am afraid the noose is tightening on the ability to move around this great country of ours by horse and wagon.”

I have come to know that Dakotah has a very quick wit; which at times could be interpreted as sarcastic. But in truth, he is equal parts truth, humor, and sagacious. I’ve asked him many times about his end-game; as it doesn’t take a doctorate in any discipline to know that, even for a man such as himself, in perfect health, he is closer to his seventieth birthday than his sixty-fifth, so the clock is ticking.

Whenever asked how he saw the last act of his passion-play, Dakoth would always give a variation of, “Well, ole Chuckie-boy, I suspect that I’ll just be on the road somewhere between where I am now and where I end up, and will have gone out on my terms; but the ‘when’ is not up to me.”

I would just shake my head and mutter to myself that my lack of understanding was certainly shared; as he had no clue either. But it seems the road caught up with Dakotah in Ennis, Montana; and unless things change, Ennis, Montana may very well be his final resting place. This ending was not one I saw coming or could I have predicted; however, just as with our ancestor Adam, who, when faced with a difficult choice, choose the woman.

Ennis, Montana is just Southeast of Butte, Montana on Highway 287. Aside from being home to the very shallow Ennis Lake (reportedly only between eight and fifteen feet) Ennis is somewhat unremarkable. The last U.S. census listed the population around eight-hundred and, aside from a few local businesses, Ennis becomes just another town that resides in anonymity while travelers venture along Highway 287 on their way to Yellowstone National Park some seventy-miles away.


One of Ennis’ residents, in spite of her demure appearance, stood out like a giant redwood amidst a grove of junipers. Teri Freedman, a blondish woman, all of five-foot, one inch tall, is a local artist who specializes in cut-out painted sculpture in the vein of cowboy art. Her whimsical artistic style is for sale and on display at her shop in Ennis, called the Rusty Cowboy ( www.rustycowboy2.com ).

Dakotah drove through Ennis about seven weeks ago and met Teri when she offered a portion of her property for Dakotah to rest his team of horses before traveling on. Dakotah could hardly believe his fortune in having been able to stay on the property and sit in the company of such a beautiful lady. I smiled as he exclaimed on one of our telephone visits, “oh Chuckie, there’s a blonde in our camp tonight!” Inasmuch as Dakotah had previously confessed a weakness for brunettes, I thought this was an interesting turn of events.

Over the weeks that followed, Teri began to take a greater interest in the travels of Dakotah; so much so, she started her own blog, www.rondakotah.com . I was, at first, a little taken aback by the pace with which she began to assume the role of care-taker. She began to call Dakotah more frequently and was calling ahead of his journey to alert the newspaper and radio media that he was coming their way in hope of garnering additional support for him. Teri even began inquiries of how to raise money for Dakotah from those of us who watch his journey with interest. It all seemed harmless and consistent for one of Dakotah’s fans.


A few weeks ago, as Dakotah traveled through Sturgis, South Dakotah, his team of horses took off in a stampede, after something or someone spooked them, while he was buying feed for the team. My cell phone rang that day, mid-morning, and I was surprised to hear Teri’s voice on the other end telling me that Dakotah had been in some kind of accident and that his wagon had been destroyed. In the ten-seconds it took Teri to get those words out of her mouth, I thought my worst fears had been realized and that Dakotah had met a fate similar to wagon-teamster, Bob Skelding. (Bob was critically injured last year while driving his team of Percheron horses through Meridian, Mississippi when a semi-truck hit Bob’s wagon from behind, full force. The accident also killed two of his prized horse-companions)


I called Dakotah immediately after my conversation with Teri and was relieved to learn that he and the team were ok and that the wagon was no worse for wear and could be repaired with a few new boards and a welder. After I hung up from my call to Dakotah it hit me; he had called Teri instead of me and asked her to call me. It was then that I realized the winds of change had begun to blow.

Two weeks after Ron’s near miss in Sturgis, Teri decided to drive the six-hundred or so miles to Rapid City, South Dakota to visit Dakotah; and the visit was, in her words, “magical”. Turns out that the sarcastic, gruff and sometimes scruffy Dakotah found something more valuable than his desire to travel; and apparently Teri found something more to value than her fierce independence. Holy, God; can it be?


“Chuckie, it is time for to quit this gig. I am in a land so flat, I can literally see where I’ll be tomorrow; yet, the Highway Patrol just can’t help themselves and have to run me off. Yesterday I saw only one truck the whole day; yet, the first Highway Patrolman that came along told me to get because I posed a safety issue. For what? Tumbleweeds? Are you kidding me? The universe is telling me it is time to hang it up. The wagon teamster is about to go extinct”

When I asked about the timeframe for his ‘retirement’ from the road, Dakotah told me that his son, Andy, from the U.K. is coming over to the U.S. for a six-week visit, starting mid-October. Andy and Teri are arranging for a horse trailer and some kind of truck with which to tow his wagon back to Ennis, Montana. Dakotah told me, “I am so excited; I am just counting the days. I called Lee the Horselogger and told him I was hanging it up, and he said he didn’t think I could do it. I told him, ‘just watch me’!”

And so it is to be; Dakotah is trading solitary travel through the Western United States, for roots in Ennis, Montana where he’ll enjoy the mutual company of one special person as she enjoys him. Dakotah is exchanging life in a wagon, driving at four miles an hour, for living life one day at a time; side by side with companion in hand.

Live on, Dakotah.



Alia Ahmed 8 years, 7 months ago


I read your story with some trepidation, I was afraid the ending was not going to be so happy. Good for Dakotah. It seems the betrayal of one woman led him on his journey and love of another woman helped him put down roots once again.

As I watched Ken Burns' documentary about our national parks last night, I understand the wanderlust that consumes Dakotah and others who commune with nature each and every day.

Thanks for telling this story. It's made us all richer because of it. It reminds me of one of my favorite poems, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost. Dakotah took the road less traveled by and it has made all the difference.

hedgehog 8 years, 7 months ago

Miz Freeman and I go way back. She had the courage to move from LA and the rest of us, to MT. Bravely, she faced an uncertain future (as we all are nowadays), but her challenge has beautified her, and when her path and Dakotah's crossed, it was truly magical. May their companionship weather the coming winter and blossom with the springtime! They are so blessed to have met, and rescued, each other...thanks to the roads and byways of America. May their journey be full of purpose and joy!

Charles Edwards 8 years, 7 months ago

Thank you both, Alia and Hedge.

It is so funny how small the world can be sometimes.

Like Alia, I too, savor the truth of Mr. Frost's poem. We all come to a place where the road diverged; yet not all have the courage to the one less traveled by. But when we do, it will make a difference.

Thank you for sharing your hearts and for taking the time to read the stories I have come to love.


Charles Edwards 8 years, 6 months ago

MD, you are sooooo funny.

Thanks for checking in and your usual hilarious input.


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