They don’t build guys like George Dabich anymore. If you saw him walking down the street wearing a brown cowboy hat you probably wouldn’t be impressed. He wasn’t tall, athletic, flashy, famous or rich. But you’d run out of things he wasn’t pretty fast because he had assets we all should wish to emulate.
As a 22-year old sailor in WW-2 George was cruising the South Pacific on a destroyer, the USS Brooks, when it was hit by a kamikaze. George was blasted end-over-end out into the ocean where he flailed around in burning oil and gasoline for hours until he was rescued and put aboard the USS Hovey, another destroyer.
In less than 24-hours that ship was torpedoed and sank while George watched again from the vantage point of an ocean burning all around him. He didn’t much care for the turn his life had suddenly taken.
After the Navy, George settled in Cody where he became a professional outbacker and hunting guide. And he was painting some pretty good Indian pictures. When we met, about 1967, I was teaching pilot training in the Air Force but had orders to Vietnam. His parting words to me were, “If you come back whole I’ll take you out where we can pick up some buffalo caps and maybe a skull or two.” We both were collecting western history things. That invitation may have motivated me to fly faster and keep my head down deeper.
Upon my return I gave George a hunk wax and asked him to create some figures for me to cast in bronze. I’d set up a foundry in my garage. He did that and so did I. Our relationship flourished into close personal and professional bonds.
And of course he took me out into the Skylight country north of Cody where we found several dozen buffalo horn caps and a few skulls. This is my best one. It was a young bull. I found in some shades of a giant lodge pole pine. It was covered with reddish-yellow lichen, the faded remnants of which can still be seen between the horns and down. I removed the pine needles that populated the eye sockets and nose cavity. Wish now I hadn’t.
And a basalt arrowhead was imbedded in the bone just inside his left eye. It penetrated only half an inch and broke where it was affixed to the arrow shaft. It didn’t kill the animal and the bone grew back around, holding it tight. I wish it had been me with the Crow Indian hunting party who released the arrow to fly on its last mission.
“In my solitude, it haunts me with memories of days gone by. In my solitude, it taunts me, with reveries that never die.” (Thank you Tony Bennett).
The brown hat I wear so proudly was George’s. He wore it while his hunters killed 28 grizzlies out there just east of Yellowstone. He placed it on my head beside a campfire one night, and said, “Fits you like a glass fits water, so I want you to have it.”
George died last year at age 91, and his passage went largely unnoticed, save for a scant few guys like me and some relatives. But the coyotes and sage brush know he’s gone, and so do the tall pines, under which he sat and drank coffee from a tin cup. The red embers of his camp fires will miss him badly, but not as much as me.