The Warbonnet is the No. 1 hang in Browning.
There are four bars that you’ll want to consider next time you’re living on the Blackfeet Indian reservation in northwestern Montana.
The Warbonnet is in Browning, which is sort of the biggest town on the rez. It’s a good place to get really, really drunk, and you are guaranteed to see a fight if you’re there during the weekend. We saw one of the most vicious girlfights ever at the Warbonnet. This one girl was holding this other girl down in her chair by the hair and then using her free hand to make a fist and repeatedly smash it into her opponent’s face. Nobody made a move to break it up—everyone just stood around laughing until the female bartender came over and pried them apart. While she was being kicked out of the bar, the aggressor in the fight shouted out to her victim, “I’ll see you in the fuckin’ parking lot, you cunt!” (This was an empty threat, by the way. She went straight home.) Murray the bartender can tell you more…
STICKS AT THE WARBONNET
Browning’s Fave Bartender
I was born here, but I chose to leave and go to Los Angeles when I was 22. I was tired of all the fucking snow here, so I up and left to L.A., where I worked for the telephone company for 25 years. There were a lot of storms back then, a lot more than now.
I came back here in 1995 and settled back in. The town hadn’t changed that much at all. There were some new homes built while I’d been gone. I did notice that. I got a new house too. Tax-free.
The pace of life here in general is very slow. You do what you want to do. I’m married, and my three kids live out here too.
You’ve got a 75 to 80 percent unemployment rate here because there’s no place to look for a job. A lot of people have been going down to New Orleans for work since the storm.
Sure, alcoholism is a problem on the reservation. Indians have a low tolerance for alcohol. I’ve got to turn people away all the time. The younger crowd drinks a lot. I have to cut people off every now and then. Once in a while we need to hire a bouncer. There’s also a long list of people who are 86’d from the Warbonnet—permanently banned. If you start a fight or something like that, you could get banned. Last Saturday we had a wedding party in here and the groom and his brother got in a pretty bad fistfight.
My most popular drinks are beer, Black Velvet whiskey, and tequila. A beer is $2. A mixed drink is $2.50 to $3.50. We’re open until two in the morning.
Sometimes you see people who come in high on drugs. Crystal meth. Their eyes are huge. They drink a lot on that stuff too.
Generally, I like it here. I always have. The summertime is beautiful in Browning. I’m 65 next month but I don’t know if I’ll retire yet. I don’t like to sit around.
MURRAY “STICKS” HARWOOD
Then there’s Ick’s Bar, also in downtown Browning. Everyone that you meet will tell you to cross Ick’s off your list. Don’t go, they’ll say; it’s too rough there, it’s depressing...
As far as we could tell, Ick’s is a great, solid beer-and-a-shot bar. Just like at the Warbonnet, you have to knock to get in. They come around the corner and look at you through a few inches of bulletproof glass and if you pass muster, you’re in. You can play Toby Keith on the jukebox, get a $2 can of Bud, and riff with dudes like this...
He decides if you get into Ick’s or not—and when you leave.
It was a goddamn good cattle season this year. I was born and raised here all my life. I work with agriculture. And I work with fish and game. My deal here is to preserve all the things like hunting rights that contribute to our lifestyle and how we lived here years ago. Our style right now is that we have a lot of hunting. We do a lot of deer, antelope, and elk. Whatever. It’s a great deal. We’re huntin’ bear, we’re huntin’ grizzly. We’re gettin’ permits for this. The thing about it is that it’s a great deal for me because I hunt with a lot of my friends. Oh, wait, my friends are honking the horn for me outside. Let me get one to go, man.
THIS GUY BOPPED OUT THE DOOR WITH A DIXIE CUP FULL OF BOOZE BEFORE HE COULD TELL US HIS NAME
The bartender at Ick’s is a recent transplant to Browning...
I remember once hearing the radio commentator Paul Harvey say that if you want to commit murder and get away with it, do it in Browning, Montana. I guess the police force here used to be pretty lax. The tribal force. But then the BIA—the Bureau of Indian Affairs—stepped in and took over the policing, and I guess things have been a lot better since.
I’ve only lived around here since last February. I moved here from Washington, met a girl, and got the job here at Ick’s. The front of this place is a liquor store that stays open until two in the morning. I thought that was kind of odd at first. I’d never seen that before.
This isn’t really a public bar. It’s more of a private club. I’ve got a whole list of people who can’t come in here ever. It’s pretty mellow though. People say they can come in here and not worry about getting in a fight or anything. You’ll find that Indian women seem to get into scraps even more than the guys. They fight just like men, too. I live out here with a Blackfeet Indian woman. An enrolled member. People here have no problem with that. This isn’t the 1960s.
I like this job. It’s fine for me. Everybody knows everybody. They all call each other “cuz” or “auntie” or “uncle.” But I think it’s more of a metaphor, like they might not know for sure if they’re family, but they act like one big family.
Indians are just like anybody else. There’s nice people in any race, and there’s jerks in every race. Some people here see me and go, “Big bald white guy? Cool, we’re friends.” Others see me and go, “Big bald white guy? What are you doing out here?” But I deal with it. My size kind of gets me through things.
I just recently got on the internet and was checking out Montana ghost towns. That really interests me. I wrote everything down and then we drove around checking them out. It was fun. We got to a bunch of them this summer but we have a bunch more we want to hit.
Charlie’s Bar is over in the town of Babb. It’s the most white-friendly bar on the rez. In the summertime, it’s full of kids who come to the rez to work in the park. They’re pretty much all hippies who are really into bluegrass-y jam bands and snowboarding. A very Colorado vibe pervades Charlie’s—you only want to hang out here as a last resort. We didn’t talk to anyone there because we don’t talk to hippies.
Last, but far from least, we have Kip’s Bar in the town of St. Mary. Just last summer, a white kid was stabbed by a Blackfeet here. Kip’s has a reputation for being rough, so if you’re white, don’t show up there without a local friend. You should even have your Indian friend go in and scout it out for you first, making sure that none of the Natives are restless. Once you’re in, Kip’s is rad. They have a “barred for life” sign over the bar that includes the names Martha Homegun and Smurf, and the bartender makes the saltiest popcorn you will ever have in your mouth.This is where a couple of white kids got themselves in some shit last summer.
Natives vs. Whites at Kip’s
In the summertime, St. Mary’s comes to life because of all the tourists hitting Glacier Park. You get people from all over the world coming there and not really knowing anything about this place. It’s pretty easy for kids to get jobs working for the park in the summer too. So a lot of kids from the East Coast end up working out here. I know it sounds weird to have people coming out to work in a place that has 80 percent unemployment, but Indians don’t go into the park. They think hiking and all that is for white people.
Anyway, there’s not a lot to do at night around here. If you want to drink, you go to Kip’s or you go to Charlie’s. Kip’s has the rep of locals running the place.
This last August, two non-Indians were attacked at Kip’s. One was a kid named Nick and the other was named Sean.
There was a group of six or so white kids drinking at Kip’s, and then there were four local guys there too. Both parties were drunk. There’s a guy named Ben who kind of grew up around here. He isn’t really a local, but he knows the rez. He was there and he had his little wiener dog, Chubs, with him. The local guys were giving him shit about his dog. He knew what the potential in the situation was so he left as soon as they started. He removed the problem.
None of the other non-locals followed him. I guess they figured that if the dog was gone, they would be left alone. So Sean was just sitting there and one of the local guys came over, tapped him on the shoulder, and then punched him. Knocked him right to the floor. Then they ganged up on him. Three of them were kicking the shit of him while he was in the fetal position on the floor. They weren’t really showing any signs of stopping, so Sean pulled out his little Swiss Army knife and just started swinging it.
On the other side of the bar, Sean’s friend Nick was being held back by another local guy. Now, Nick didn’t recall how this happened later, but at some point over there he was stabbed. They got him through the rib cage and his lung was punctured. It was a pen or pencil or screwdriver—that sort of object. They never figured out what it was.
So the next morning, Sean was getting hauled off by two BIA officers, two state patrol officers, and two state policemen. Nick was in the hospital at that point, and they were accusing Sean of stabbing him cause he was the only person who’d been seen in there with a knife during the incident. Then the doctors said that the cut in Nick was nowhere near clean or shallow enough to have been caused by a pocketknife. So they let Sean go.
One of the locals, a guy named David Armstrong, had his kneecap stabbed by Sean in the struggle. He wouldn’t even talk to me after the incident. I’m Blackfeet, but I worked with the white kids and was friends with them. I don’t know if he saw me as a race traitor or what, but now it’s been a few months and his wife will finally come up and say hi to me. Maybe they thought I was taking sides and they thought they had to as well? I don’t know.
Kip’s is a rough bar. Kip himself has pulled a shotgun on people. He’s bear-sprayed and maced customers. If he doesn’t want you in his bar, you’re out. It isn’t like normal bar rules. So there have been stabbings in these bars before. Probably even killings or whatever—who knows what hasn’t been recorded.
JENNIFER WHITE CALF
Another good thing about Kip’s is that you can meet people like Charlie Fisher, who’ll talk your ear off if you turn the page...