A week ago a 54 year old man walked out of an Idaho prison a free man after serving more than 20 years for killing 2 game wardens near the Idaho-Nevada border in 1981.
The mention of his name still stirs strong emotions and fuels debate over how government exercises authority in the West's wide open spaces.
Its no exaggeration to say that, 20 years ago, Claude Dallas had...at least to some.... the stuff of which legends are made.
A modern day Western outlaw. A cold-blooded killer to some....but.....surprisingly.... folk hero to others.
It's a story that's grown and taken on larger meanings in the retelling. A fatal confrontation and a manhunt in the high desert... cast as a clash of cultures....the old West meeting the 20th century.....mountain man against the agents of a remote and uncaring authority. Cold blooded murder and near escape from justice. Those themes have all been applied to the Claude Dallas story in song....books...a made-for-TV movie and a thousand barroom arguments.
A story woven of equal parts of myth and truth.
A lot of people in rural Idaho and Nevada quietly cheered Dallas during the manhunt. Few aided him directly, but many refused to share what they knew with authorities. A defense fund gathered contributions from around the country. To understand how a man who had killed 2 lawmen could gain such support....you have to look for clues in the personalities of Claude Dallas and Bill Pogue...whose body was eventually found by the way. It also helps to understand the times and the friction between those who live and work in the high desert.....and the government that administrates its use.
Dallas became a symbol of that struggle, some would say a folk hero or martyr. Tomorrow night we'll probe those issues to see if that divide still exists.