Folkklassieker du jour: Cold Missouri Waters

Op 5 augustus 1949 brak er brand uit in het Helena National Forest in Montana. In een poging het vuur onder controle te krijgen werden 16 brandweerlieden in het park gedropt. Toen het vuur door enkele onverwachte, zware windstoten hevig oplaaide, werd de vluchtroute van de blussers afgesloten door de vlammen. De blussers trokken zich terug op een helling, maar ook daar bleken ze niet veilig te zijn voor het vuur. Uiteindelijk wisten slechts drie brandweerlieden te ontsnappen aan de vlammen. De voorman, Wagner Dodge, wist te ontkomen door een strook gras in brand te steken, waarmee hij een ontsnappingszone creëerde. Helaas begreep de rest van de crew pas wat hij van plan was toen het al te laat was. Dodge zou 5 jaar later overlijden aan kanker. Cold Missouri Waters is geschreven vanuit zijn perspectief, liggend op zijn sterfbed.
My name is Dodge, but then you know that
Cause it’s written on the chart there at the foot end of the bed
They think I’m blind or I can’t read it
I’ve read it every word, and every word it says is ‘death’

So, Confession – is that the reason that you came
Get it off my chest before I check out of the game
Since you mention it, well there’s thirteen things I’ll name
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters

August ‘Forty-Nine, West Montana
The hottest day on record, the forest tinder dry
Lightning strikes in the mountains
I was crew chief at the jump base; I prepared those boys to fly
Into the drop zone, C-47 comes in low
Feel the tap upon your leg that tells you go
See the circle of that fire down below
Fifteen of us dropped above the cold Missouri waters

I gauged the fire – I’d seen bigger
So I ordered them to sidehill and we’d fight it from below
We’d have our backs to that river
We’d have it licked by morning even if we took it slow
But the fire crowned, it jumped the valley just ahead
There was no way down, we headed for the ridge instead
Too big to fight it, we’d have to fight that slope instead
Flames one step behind above the cold Missouri waters

Sky had turned red, the slope was boiling
Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind
I don’t know why, I just thought it
I struck a match to waist-high grass, running out of time
Tried to tell them, step into this fire I’ve set
We can’t make it; this is the only chance you’ll get

But they cursed me, ran for the rocks above instead
I lay face down and prayed above the cold Missouri waters

And when I rose, like the phoenix
In that world reduced to ashes, there were none but two survived
I stayed that night and one day after
Carried bodies to the river, wondering how I’d stayed alive
Thirteen Stations of the Cross to mark to their fall
I’ve had my say, I’ll confess to nothing more
And I’ll join them now, those that left me long before
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri shore

Shenandoah, I long to see you
Far away, you rolling river
Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you
Way down the way, across the wide Missouri

Uitgelichte afbeelding: By Unknown author – Wildfire Lessons from National Interagency Fire Center (US Government), Public Domain,