Cheyenne 1958

Sam Tyson

A too little known piece of non-violent action took place in Wyoming in the Summer. It was one of the earliest direct actions for peace and created its own history.

Two people at the Nevada Test Site walk-in on August 5, 1957, were Ted Olson and Art Springer; Ted was one of the eleven arrested there. Cheyenne was the site of the first missile base and was then under construction. The participants were mostly young people.

A furor arose in peace circles because construction trucks were being blocked. In 1958 no such activity was permitted in the unwritten peace action manual. Just imagine the violence involved with interfering in the truck driver’s right to deliver materials for the construction of an intercontinental missile base.

Leadership was tremendously upset at not being consulted and with having to face reality when a young man received a fractured pelvis when caught by a truck crossing the cattle guard entrance. It must be remembered that in those days the peace churches and other peace circles generally did not favor action to the point of arrest and jail. Peace work was to be confined to polite confrontation if even that.

Having been arrested in Nevada in 1957 brought involvement through a phone call. The organizers expected to be jailed; would I come up and fill in? There then was a group of young people who had been part of an audience in San Francisco at a Fellowship of Reconciliation Meeting with Ammon Hennacy, Catholic Worker and anarchist. He had some negative comments about the Nevada 1957 action though he was not present.

Next came a call from Chicago; Bob Pickus thought it would be nice if I did not bring along those young pinkos from the Bay area. Well all the attention could have been flattering but it all seemed very curious. Pickus had helped orchestrate the Nevada experience.

My trusty tan Studebaker pickup set forth with four of the unwanted young; one was a relative of Henry George, the single taxer. The trip was uneventful; so was a visit to the construction site. Off to court we went to sit at the trial. The District Attorney made a point of stating that anyone returning to the site would be arrested. Of course a trip to the site had to be made, no arrests. The project was killed; Larry Scott came from the powers in the East to do the termination. He arrived before our carload. My group felt cheated out of their arrest. The trip back to California hit bad weather and was no cinch for the two riding in the pickup bed in the rain; we took turns at the sluicing.

One result of this venture was that I lost my grape crop. The grapes got too ripe, shattered and could not be picked. The second effect was that the sheriff refused to allow the Bible in the Cheyenne jail because people might underline and that could be code. This caused a new uproar coast to coast from the church people. Bibles were again allowed. The third consequence happened at Vandenburg AFB, Lompoc, California at Christmas. Building on the Cheyenne action, Ross Flanagan, American Friends Service Committee, and I decided on a non-violent visit there without plans for confrontation. Some of the young folk carted to and from Cheyenne joined. Everything went well Christmas eve; even the base lights went out for fifteen minutes or so and there was this weird sense of another Christmas eve nearly 2000 years earlier.

"Leadership" decided to visit family for Christmas day in Santa Barbara. In their absence on Christmas day the "red hots" decided to walk into the base. Defense forces got out the fire hoses and washed them down the road. This was a good precedent for the City of San Francisco to wash protesters down City Hall steps in 1960 during Senator McCarthy’s red hearings.

Ross lost his dinner engagement with the base commander. We decided to return to Vandenburg and do it properly at Easter, l959. Ted Klaseen from Tuolumne Coop Farm(Illinois Ave., Modesto) and Saturday Night Group was part of that venture.

This bit of history goes from Nevada Test Site in August 1957 to the first missile base in Cheyenne, Wyo. summer, 1958, then to Vandenburg AFB Christmas 1958 in a zigzag line, all unauthorized by the East Coast peace power base.

Ironically, this Strategic Air Command (SAC) motto was "Peace is our Profession."

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from Roots and Fruits, a publication of the Stanislaus Peace-Life Center and the Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee

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