The Dirty Shame Saloon – Continued Stories…..

In the last two Beerchaser posts, I have provided background on the “World Famous” Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana and tried to convey the incredible background and character of its owner, John Runkle, (he also owns the Yaak River Lodge about a mile and one-half down the road.)

Thebeerchaser and John Runkle

While I could easily fill several more posts on the most interesting of the 350 bars and breweries I have visited and reviewed during the last eight years, I will conclude with this and one final shorter post to wrap up my observations.   If you want more, you will have to make the trip to NW Montana on your own – a journey strongly recommended by Thebeerchaser.

Now don’t get the wrong idea from the previous and following stories, the Shame is not exactly a family-oriented establishment and may at times be raucous.

The “Dirty” in the name of the watering hole, however, describes some of the old slats in the floor or the occasional martini ordered by a more cosmopolitan customer who wants some olive juice added to his gin……..It is not a strip club or a place where debauchery pervades the atmosphere – at least most of the time………

Joan Melcher’s first book published in 1983.

As described by Joan Melcher in her first book Watering Hole –  A User’s Guide to Montana Bars written in 1983.

“The Dirty Shame is the fresh, sharp smell of pine, and the dank odor of dirt-laden, beer splashed floors, wild nights of revelry and mornings of shared pain.”

A number of stories of the Dirty Shame are centered on guns.   This is not unusual in rural Montana.  In fact, in a subsequent post on my Montana road trip I will relate the story told to me by Tom Davis, the eighty-three year old owner of the Wise River Club, about the murder that took place in the rest room of his establishment.

Part of the Montana culture…..

Author Melcher also relates the story told to her on her first visit about a Dirty Shame neighbor, named Jimmie, who some years back lived in a trailer adjacent to the saloon.

Based on the disruption to his property from a number of the free-grazing herd of cattle, he told people in the Shame, “I’m getting damned tired of those cows rubbing on my trailer and walking home drunk every night through all that shit.”  

Stay away from Jimmies trailer…..

After warning the cattle’s owner to keep them out of his yard, he finally “lost it” when he was playing pool at the Shame one night and a regular told him the cattle were in his yard again.

The intrepid Jimmie without hesitation handed the guy his pool stick and promptly shot seven cows in front of the bar – the carcasses ended up laying in the middle of the Yaak River Road.

He then, “walked back into the bar and shot the four ball into the corner pocket.”   Jimmie was arrested, jailed and purportedly later released after paying a $250 fine after protests from residents of Yaak about his incarceration. (Page 89 – Watering Hole)

The AR-15 Incident at the Dirty Shame

And John Runkle in our first conversation three years ago, talked about digging bullets out of the walls after he bought the bar – from the days when it was a hard-core biker bar.   When I told him in May that I was planning to come to Yaak the next month, he also sent me the following link to a story in the Daily Missoulian entitled:   “Troy Man Charged Following Saturday Night Incident at Yaak’s Dirty Shame Saloon.

As John stated – in part – in his e-mail:

“Don, you will see an article where a guy went nuts in the Dirty Shame with an AR-15 and you will also see the video of me bear spraying him and his brother trying to fight their way back into the bar and another video embedded in that article showing him running around the parking lot trying to shoot me through the window and then almost shooting his brother in the head.  

It was a crazy night. The Dirty Shame is truly still the Wild Wild West.”

The response to bear spray in the face….

I showed some friends that article and they advised me to install a gun rack on my Prius for the Montana road trip.

While I was in Yaak and asking him some additional questions about that incident, he told me that the bar was locked down while the shooter was outside in the back of the bar in his trench and the deputies were looking for him.

The Good Old Days

One very elderly man who was 95 years old was there with his son who was in his sixties.  The son told his dad that they had to stay in the bar because there was a guy outside trying to kill someone.

The father got a big grin on his face and stated, “This is the same old shit that made this a great bar in the old days.”  His son agreed that only at the Dirty Shame would such an incident be considered good publicity.

The Yaak River Road Murder

In the 2017 incident above, no one involved was killed or injured; however, that was not the case with a young couple – strangers – who walked into the Shame on Martin Luther King Day two years ago.  John said, “Both the woman and the man seemed pretty nervous and were not friendly.   They just shrugged when a regular asked them what they were doing in Yaak.”

On television, the next day was a story about a murder committed at Milepost 48 of the Yaak River Road (The Dirty Shame is at Milepost 29).   A woman and her boy friend allegedly shot and killed the woman’s husband and after dumping his body by the Yaak River, escaped in his car.   They were considered fugitives and law enforcement throughout the state was looking for them.

Yaak River Falls

John remarked to his bartender, “Doesn’t that look like the couple who ordered the double shots here yesterday?

The staff agreed so the next day he called the sheriff which brought a slew of deputies to investigate. The couple were later apprehended and the woman, Sarah Carpenter, was convicted of murder.

The call to the sheriff from John Runkle and the video of the couple at the Shame helped in the prosecution.    John was quoted in this article from the Bonners Ferry Herald as saying:

“They acted really unfriendly. I still remembered what they ordered. She ordered a double shot of Jack Daniels. He ordered a double shot of Sailor Jerry’s and they toasted each other, which I didn’t think was weird until two days later,”

This article entitled, “Guilty Verdict in Yaak Murder Trial” from the Western News tells the story including the result of the trial and the sordid details.

The Crawfish Festival

You missed 2019, but start planning for next Labor Day

Before regaling you with some more Dirty Shame stories, let’s review another one of the events in Yaak for which the Shame is the center of attraction.   In the last post, you read about the Sasquatch Festival and the Adult Easter Egg Hunt.

John’s truck in the Lodge driveway a few years ago.

The Crawfish Festival takes place on Labor Day weekend as a last fling since John states, “There’s pretty much nothing to do in Yaak during the winter.” 

(This year there were four feet of snow on the first weekend of the fall in parts of Northern Montana with kids even getting a rare snow day off at school.) The Daily Interlake  

John’ Facebook page announced the 2019 Festival in a typical promotional manner:

“Ok everybody. The Hollywood Knockouts will be returning to the Dirty Shame Saloon on Friday afternoon, August 30th to kick off the Crawfish Festival. For those who missed the show last year, these girls are professional cream wrestlers and they put on one hell of a show!!

That means you gotta be here Friday afternoon and evening to see it. You won’t be disappointed. FEMALE CREAM WRESTLING at it’s finest, only at the Dirty Shame Saloon!!!”

Besides outstanding and plentiful food, this year there was a mechanical bull, a gigantic inflatable gorilla (some maintain that it was actually a Sasquatch…) and some good music by multiple bands.

And don’t forget the ceremonial leg shaving.   I might add that I had not heard about symbolic leg shaving since I read Oregon’s Olympic Gold Medalist, Don Shollander’s autobiography years ago.   He talked about how competitive swimmers would shave their legs to mentally psyche them up for the meet.

Now I’m not positive that the leg shaving in the picture below was in preparation for the Big Foot Run at the Sasquatch Festival or for an event at the Crawfish Festival, but as you can see, it’s part of the culture at the Dirty Shame.

And of course, John had another great story about a past Crawfish Festival where some young women in the spirit of the event were having the guys in the Dirty Shame autograph their breasts with a sharpie.   Someone had called the sheriff and reported that their were some underage drinkers at the bar.

According to John, the Sheriff and one of his deputies – a big 6 foot 6 guy – walked in to check ID’s. The deputy took a few steps into the bar and one of the girls came up to him with the writing instrument.  John stated, “He turned beet red, did an about face and walked out to his patrol car.”

The Crack Pillow

Displayed prominently in a framed display behind the bar is what John calls “the crack pillow,” which you can see in the picture below and, of course, brought to mind another story.

Two hunting seasons ago (that’s how one keeps track in Yaak…) a young woman who looked like she had been through the wringer (and was obviously high on some substance) came into the bar wearing camouflage gear.

“You never know when you’re going to need firewood…..”

She was carrying a hatchet and she locked eyes with the bartender and laid the instrument on the bar stating, “You never know when you are going to need firewood…”

She then repaired to the ladies room at the bar and was there for an extended period. Since Yaak is at an elevation of 2,986, they figured she was not trying to gain solo membership to the “Mile High Club.”   She eventally came back out front soaking wet – she’d taken a “shower.”

She ordered a Mike’s Lemonade, but didn’t have any money and offered the pillow if John would give her the drink.   The “lady” then talked a young man into playing pool for unspecified benefits – he won and she got her coat on and proceeded to leave while asking the young man, “Are you coming?”  

The “Crack Pillow”

He drained his beer and walked out with her and like the couple indicted for murder, “They were never seen at the Dirty Shame again,” although the “crack pillow” occupies a permanent and prominent place of honor at the center of the back bar.

Well, I had intended this to be the last of three posts on the Dirty Shame, but it is already too long and there is a bit more to relate before I close out the story of this incredible watering hole. Stay tuned to find out why this saloon and its crew and regulars are a treasure to the legacy of historic watering holes.

The Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak – Part II

Big Sky Country between Yaak and Eureka

Followers of this blog are aware of our fourteen-day June road trip through Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming – the first six nights I drove solo before picking up Janet at the Billings Airport for the remaining eight days.  The two posts which provide an overview of this 3,700 trip can be seen by clicking on this link.

The first two night’s lodging were in the Moose Room of the Yaak River Lodge.  Yaak is near the NW border of Montana – 35 miles from the Canadian border – a community which about 250 people call home.  In the center of Yaak also sits the “World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon,” owned and managed since 2013 by John Runkle, who also owns the Lodge he bought in 2004.

I might add that even with its proximity, based on the beauty of the surrounding Kootenai National Forest, there’s no compelling reason to go to Canada unless you want to get Moosehead Lager Beer or visit the birthplace of native Canadian, Justin Bieber – a thought that would require a double shot of Canadian Club Whiskey rather than beer.  Hall of Fame hockey player, Wayne Gretzky was also born in Canada, although he never dated Selena Gomez But I digress……

The Yaak River Lodge which sits on 7.5 acres of beautiful property

Wildlife abounds in Yaak – and not necessarily just in the two bars in the “center of town.”  Besides a Sasquatch in a field (see photo below), I also saw elk, deer and feathered prey, but fortunately no grizzly bears.

And indeed, hunters are some of John’s main clients at the lodge and at the Dirty Shame Saloon in the fall.

Taken from the window of my car on Yaak River Road

Across the highway from the Shame is the Yaak River Tavern – owned by Gwen and which has a personality quite different from the historic and much written about Dirty Shame.  (There used to be a strip of four bars  in Yaak including the Golden Nugget and the Hell Roaring Saloon – these two are now gone but not forgotten.)

I spent quite a few hours in the Dirty Shame, interviewing John, talking to regulars and “drinking” in the ambiance of what became the most interesting of the 350 watering holes I’ve visited since starting Thebeerchaser blog in August, 2011.   These justify the title: “The World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon.”

Thebeerchaser and John Runkle – owner.

The first Beerchaser post on the bar chronicles John’s background – almost as interesting and varied as his bar and why he was named this blog’s most recent Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.  Click on the link above to read the story.)

You will want to read the highlights of The Dirty Shame before John bought it out of foreclosure – the only bidder and paying cash in 2013.   In that narrative, I tried to put to rest the concern of author, Joan Melcher, who wrote two wonderful books on “Montana Watering Holes’ and her fear in the second book about the Shame’s future.

I described why she loved the Shame when she first visited in the 1970’s.  (I used both of Joan’s books extensively for research and planning on my road trip and you should check them out.)

Joan’s trepidation was that Gloria and Don Belcher – the husband and wife from the East Coast who purchased the bar in 2006 – tried to “civilize” the bar.  The book clubs and music they introduced while attempting to turn it into a “bistro“ were totally out of character with the saloon’s roots.   (There was even carpet on the floor at one point!)

Joan Melcher’s first book published in 1983.

My narratives will try to reassure this wonderful writer that John has rekindled the spark that made hunters, bikers and adventurers return to the Dirty Shame to drink beer with the regulars.   Also to enjoy one of the community events Yaak celebrates and in which the Dirty Shame revels.

(I sent my last blog post to Joan in an e-mail and told her that her sense of loss was no longer valid and tried to convince her that she should return to validate my claim.)  She responded, in part:

“I do love the Dirty Shame and I’m glad it’s on the rebound.”

Now the trappings of the Dirty Shame are not unique – they reflect the same character as most good dive bars with a more western flavor –  a large rifle, cowboy boots, an old wood stove, a pool table, and Fox News on the big screen TV over the bar.  (The bullet holes in the wall when John bought it, have been removed.)

Oh, and there’s the bottle of MD 20-20 wine prominently displayed on a shelf and which John says dates back to 1978.  The two bottles of Benedictine Brewery Black Habit Beer that I brought as a “bar-warming” gift will now be displayed next to the “fermented juicy, luscious fruit infused with tasty flavor” contents in the Mogen David bottles, which we learned in college made it the “Original – Ready to Drink” or more aptly labeled, “Wine of the Century.”

What distinguishes the Shame are the people – not only John and his crew who run the place, but the regulars who reside in Yaak and those – be they the bikers and hunters, who return year after year and the tourists who have heard about this watering hole.

They come not only for the Sasquatch Festival, the Crawdad Festival and the Adult Easter Egg Hunt, but to mingle with the unconventional, one-of-a-kind characters.  These personae, who based on the stories from years past and recently, seem drawn to the Dirty Shame like a moth to the light reflecting off a bottle of Budweiser on a moonlit Yaak evening….

In the Adult Easter Egg Hunt, about sixty women search (often in the snow still on the ground) for the “golden egg” among those scattered around the outside of the saloon.   The lucky finder is the recipient of a “$200 Sex Package,” – one on which John commented, “I didn’t know what most of that stuff was…..”

Howie Long – occasional visitor to Yaak

As John emphasized to me, “You never know who you are going to sit next to at the Dirty Shame.” I’m not talking about “celebrities” such as sports broadcaster and athlete, Howie Long (who owns a home near Flathead Lake), or Mark Furman of the OJ Trial fame.

No, I’m talking about some who are clearly bad dudes and misfits, but most who are salt-of-the-earth patriots one wants to write about – so I will.   And I’ll also tell you about the events in Yaak that you should plan your next road trip around……

The Kehoe GangChevie and Cheyne Kehoe were two of eight sons raised starting in Arkansas.  Chevie, who was named after his dad, Kirby’s, favorite car was born in 1973 – the oldest, and when they moved to Eastern Washington, he was an honor student (but evidently not most likely to succeed) at Colville Jr. High in Deep Lake, Washington.   His mom, Gloria, then homeschooled the boys during their high school years, which may have been when Chevie became enamored with white supremacist ideas.

Chevis at his trial

To summarize, he and Cheyne were involved in a number of frauds and property crimes in Arkansas, culminating with the murder of a family which owned a gun store in 1996. They disappeared and ended in Spokane.   In 1997, they had a shootout with two Ohio police officers who had stopped their car.

The supermax prison that houses Chevie

Along the way, Chevie married three times and had three children.   As was inevitable, the law finally caught up with him in Utah. After a trial in which his mother and Cheyne (who had turned himself in) served as star witnesses for the prosecution, he was convicted of murder and several other felonies.

Chevie is now serving three life sentences in Florence Prison – known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” – in Colorado.

My second afternoon at the Dirty Shame, I noticed two men who were talking to Darilyn, the bartender. One of them stated in a soft-spoken voice, “Dar, I think I owe you for the meal I had last week and didn’t want to let that slide by before I forget.”  She checked and said that another regular had already paid it.

John introduced me and they were both nice, personable guys.   He stated that they do some maintenance and electrical work for him at the bar.   After they left, John told me that the older one was Chevie Kehoe’s, brother Noah and the other was Axel his son – the one who wanted to make sure his bill was paid.  Noah lives in Yaak and Axel in Spokane.

The Sasquatch Festival

So let’s talk about a few of the periodic events that attract visitors to Yaak and John has used to enhance business and add to the bar’s cache’.   These also are great events which bring the residents of this small but rugged community together.

The Sasquatch Festival was first held three years ago and is now an annual Yaak event held in the early summer months.

John’s friend, Todd Berget, a retired teacher who taught at an alternative school in Libby for thirty-one years, came up with the idea and is now the coordinator of the event which is heartily celebrated at both the Dirty Shame and the Yaak River Tavern.

As stated previously, there is a competition between these two establishments.  Although both are great places to get a beer, there is a distinct difference in character.

John summarized this quite well: “During the Sasquatch Festival, they have an Ugly Sweater Contest.   The Dirty Shame has a Wet T-shirt Contest!”  Nevertheless, the two rivals cooperate during the event which draws about 200 people to Yaak and has robust participation from residents.

This includes the Big Foot Run, where a local athlete dons a Sasquatch costume and about twenty-five contestants try to catch him (or her) and win the prize of free beer. (Three people have accomplished this since the inception.)

During the Festival for which the proceeds go to charities, the Shame is also center of a number of other competitions which John orchestrates.

These include the Miss Sasquatch Pageant and the contest for the hairiest male back – the female version of this competition was discontinued for obvious reasons…….

You also wouldn’t want to miss the beard contest, the Sasquatch screeching contest and related events.  Last year they showed the 1987 Academy Award-winning movie (Best Make-up and Hairstyling) Harry and the Hendersons (“The Henderson family adopt a friendly Sasquatch but have a hard time trying to keep the legend of ‘Bigfoot’ a secret.”)

One of Todd and his students’ creations that cause a double-take while driving……

Todd is responsible for one factor that enhances the festival – and the area all year round for that matter.  Before he retired, he started a fundraiser for his school by having his kids make plywood Sasquatch replicas – about six feet high.

These show up in fields, not only in Yaak, but in the surrounding Montana countryside.  Before I knew this, I took this picture – after I did an abrupt double take driving by a field on the way to the Shame.

I sat down and had a beer with John and Todd and loved the stories they related and seeing their rich friendship – an interesting fact and one which made the conversation robust because of their divergent political philosophies – John Runkle is a staunch conservative and Trump supporter.  According to John, “Todd is a liberal whose ideology would be left of Stalin’s!”

Two good friends with divergent political leanings in a typical civil conversation

Todd Berget is an artist and talented craftsman as evidenced by the metal sculptures which are displayed at the Dirty Shame and one can see coming into Libby, Montana where a metal eagle with a forty-foot wing span greets drivers on the highway.  He produces these in his Libby business formed in 1997 – Custom Iron Eagles.

He also has gifted the Dirty Shame with his collection of metal motorcycles that he started collecting when he was a kid. They are intricate and reflect an artistic talent for capturing detail which is intriguing and the displays add to the spirit of the saloon.

In fact one of the great stories involves Todd’s friend, Jay Graham who is also a teacher and was the high school wrestling coach in Libby for eighteen years.   Two young women came into the bar and needed money to get to Portland, suggesting that they strip for cash.  John responded that the Dirty Shame was not a strip club, but the enthusiastic guys there urged them to go ahead.

Todd and Jay happened to be present and Jay had his head lowered and turned away.  Todd asked him what was wrong and Jay responded quietly, “I taught Halley in third grade.  I just can’t look!”

I mentioned that John is a Trump supporter and his own timeline and that of the Dirty Shame on Facebook are filled with pictures of John and friends and bar visitors with a life-size cutout of Trump (life-size except for the size of the hands….).  John’s wife, Dallas, bought it for him as a present two years ago.

John inevitably is in his thumbs up pose and there is often a handwritten poster with some right-leaning phrase displayed. The one below is an example and since this is a family blog (of sorts…..) I won’t include the others although very entertaining.

John and I have distinctly different political philosophies, but he is a guy with whom one can have constructive and civil conversations about ideology and one’s view of government – a practice which is becoming far to infrequent in today’s society.

During the Crawdad Festival on Labor Day, 2018, a stranger who had consumed a number of beers, walked to the back of the bar where Trump was displayed, picked him up and dashed for the exit.

A biker who observed tried to stop him and the “thief” did a face plant by the bar’s entrance. He recovered, rode away with Trump and notwithstanding the wanted poster, has never been seen since (although there was one sighting in Greenland…)

The new Trump – also bought on-line in case you’re interested – is not as sizeable, but still is displayed as can be seen by this picture with John.

The replacement President….

The Bar Crew

I mentioned in a previous post that John met his wife, Dallas, who lived nearby and was working on graduate studies in Applied Behavior and started working as a bartender.  They just welcomed their second daughter in mid-August.

Darilyn Street, is a very impressive woman who helps John manage the Dirty Shame.  Besides handling a major portion of the bar duties, she is also a great cook – both at the bar and at the Lodge where I had her wonderful cheese omelet for breakfast.

John and Darilyn

She and her family – all very nice people live in nearby Libby and come to Yaak for the summer.   Her husband, (Robert and son Robert Jr.) work on the machinery and also do maintenance work around both operations and Vicki, the daughter, who just turned 18, started bartending – that’s minimum age for the job in Montana.

In the picture below, you can also see Sandie – the blonde on the right.  She joined the crew in May this year under somewhat unusual circumstances (except for the Dirty Shame….).

A disheveled Sandie showed up at the bar one week night – distraught and in somewhat ragged condition. She told Darilyn that her boyfriend got drunk and they had a fight.

Sandie then exclaimed, “I’m not going back there.”   They put her up at the Lodge and she started doing some odd jobs for her room and board.

Then about two or three days later, they see a “Missing Persons” poster with none other than Sandie’s name and picture clearly shown.   John called the Sheriff and let him know that the missing person had been found.   When I rolled into the Lodge on a Friday evening in June, Sandie checked me in and told me, “They found me and now I’m here for good!”   She’s now one of his crew.

And so ends the second post on the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon.  Stay tuned for the final Beerchaser installment and then the details on the other forty-eight bars and breweries we visited on our June road trip.

The Dirty Shame Saloon      

29453 Yaak River Road,    Troy Montana