Grin and Bare It: The Bear Canyon Incident

Streaking Bear Canyon

Pat Hill

The story you are about to read is true... The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

40 years ago five young Bozemanites set out on a winter night’s adventure which eventually involved some fancy footwork, not too many clothes, and too much beer. The five were about to indulge in a fad that was sweeping the nation at the time: streaking.

Streaking is the act of running naked in public places. Whether a prank, an act of protest, or the result of a dare, streaking really seemed to take off in the mid-1970s. Though the Ray Stevens’ tune, “The Streak,” which was released in March of 1974, may have cemented the practice into the mainstream (One of Stevens’ most successful recordings, “The Streak” spent three weeks at the top of the Billboard charts that spring), streaking was taking place long before Stevens’ song.

The first recorded incident of streaking in the United States took place on a college campus in 1804, and streaking seems to have been well-established, and in some cases sanctioned, on many college campuses by the mid-1960s. By 1973, streaking had reached well beyond the college campus, and in December of that year Time magazine even reported on the practice which was fast turning into a craze.  

The five young men didn’t really set out to streak that winter evening in 1975. They simply set out for some adventure in what was then (really) a small mountain town which didn’t offer that much of a night life for the high school crowd. The five had piled into a van which belonged to the parents of two of the adventurers, and they were cruising the backroads south of town, with plenty of beer to accompany them, when an idea suddenly surfaced in one young man’s mind.

“Let’s streak Bear Canyon!” he said, and the others were more than willing to comply. So the crew headed for what was then a ski area, set up for night skiing, with a restaurant at its base. They parked the van behind the restaurant, and three of the five took off their clothes, and took off through the snow for a little race in front of the restaurant. The establishment just happened to have picture windows so patrons could watch skiers on the lighted hill while they dined, and the three dashed through the snow in front of the windows, hesitating for a momentary dance before they fled around the building and piled back in the van.

Laughing and still naked, the crew headed back down Bear Canyon, cracking jokes and beers. As another car approached, headed up the road towards the ski hill, one of the five hollered “Stop the van!” Two of them then jumped out of the van and performed another naked dance for the oncoming vehicle. Too late they realized that the car approaching them belonged to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department.

Not that it made that much difference. There was only one way out of the mountains from the Bear Canyon ski hill, and the Sheriff’s Department was already on the hunt for the van, after receiving a phone call from the restaurant where the young men had grinned and bared it. The deputy sheriff driving got out of his vehicle, approached the van containing the hastily-clad young men, and asked the driver if he knew where the jail was. After a hesitant “yes” emerged from the driver, the deputy advised him to head the van for the jail, and made it clear that the next portion of their adventure would be under law enforcement escort. The smell of beer had made it clear that the young men were imbibing, and the suds that were left were turned over to the deputy before the journey began.

That drive to the jail took 15 minutes or so, and when they arrived at the facility and piled out of the van, the younger brother gave the older one a nudge and said, “What do I do with these?” He still had a can of beer in each pocket of his coat. He was advised to leave said beers outside the police station, and the five were escorted into the building by the deputy. As they entered the building, a city patrolman on duty glanced over at the crew and stiffened: his son was among the offenders.

“Theodore, WHAT is going on here?” the patrolman said as he approached the young men: it was the only time any of them could remember Tad being addressed in such a formal manner. The patrolman simmered down somewhat as he learned the details of the crime, and as the parents of the young offenders began to filter in to pick up their kids, the patrolman found himself simmering the other parents down as well.

How those parents dealt with their respective children regarding the incident varied, and those details remain part of family lore, but the adventure reverberated in the small school that all the young men attended. As a result, the principal of the institution decided that some punishment must be administered to them. Consequently, the young men found themselves scraping gum and other unwanted materials from beneath the basketball court bleachers within the school on a Saturday.

Thus the Bear Canyon streaking incident became legend at the school. After 40 years, it is still remembered with fondness and varying degrees of recall by the participants (and some parents). One mother remembered what her son said upon arriving back at home after the adventure and subsequent arrest and release: “Damn, those new shoes run fast.”    

This was made by

Pat Hill

Pat Hill is a freelance writer in Bozeman. A native Montanan and former advisor to Montana State University’s Exponent newspaper, Pat has been writing about the history and politics of the Treasure State for nearly three decades.

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