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From an unpublished book by Phil Coyote – this first appeared on Hippy.com
The First Rainbow Gathering, Chapter 5
the beginnings of the Rainbow Family
I was really tired of getting hassled because I was under age. I couldn’t count the times I went to juvies in several western states for being a runaway in the fall of 1971 and the winter of 1972. I’d always end up getting sent home. So I decided to try something. I convinced my mom to write a letter wherein she stated that I was under the care of Barry Adams. I had told mom what a great guy Plunker was, and that he really watched out for me. Realizing that she couldn’t keep me home, she did it. Then we went and had it notarized. It turned out that this little document would do just fine with the cops. They’d ask for ID and I’d also show them the letter. They no longer would take me in.
I got back to Eugene and found Barry Plunker. The Rainbow House had disbanded. It was the early spring of 1972. I was now fifteen-years-old. We were crashing at a big, two-story pad.
I met a hip, straight looking guy one night out on the street who had a new car and was heading to Denver, Colorado. I asked the man if he could take two riders with him. No problem, the dude said.
It was early morning, just before dawn. Plunker was at the crash pad, asleep on an easy chair when I gently shook him, asking, “Are you ready to go to Colorado?”
He woke up, a surprised look on his face. “Let’s go,” he said.
We were off.
We arrived in Denver, Colorado. We first went to the Order of the Holy Family, a mystical Episcopalian monastic order headed by Father John, a priest who had a deformed hand. The symbol of this order was a cross supported by a peace sign. The brothers and sisters at the monastery were sworn to poverty, chastity and obedience, and were committed to peace and helping the poor. Father John was very receptive, providing us with food, lodging and support. Soon, due to Father John’s help, we found a large, older apartment complex where we could stay in a community room. It became Rainbow Headquarters.
Once established, we went to the state capital building. We stated that we needed to speak to the Governor concerning the gathering. Instead, a meeting with the Lieutenant Governor and several other officials was arranged – rather quickly, I’ll add. We were ushered into a large room. Waiting for us at a long table were the Lieutenant Governor and other officials. Because we were Universal Life Church ministers (these credentials could be obtained for a small donation to this Modesto, California organization), we had introduced ourselves as Reverends from the onset of the encounter at the capital. We were addressed by this title throughout the meeting, which turned into a question and answer session. They asked the questions, and Plunker answered most of them.
“Who are the Rainbow Family, Reverend Adams?”
“We are brothers and sisters from all faiths and walks of life, all races and creeds, worldwide, but we have no set membership and no leaders. We include all people seeking peace everywhere.”
“Where is this group based?”
“In the human heart.”
“Where is this gathering to be held?”
“Somewhere near Aspen, Colorado.”
“How much land, and whose land will be utilized?”
“Three-thousand acres. Whether on private land or the public land, we don’t yet know.”
“How many people do you anticipate will attend?”
“144,000.” This last answer really raised some eyebrows from the panel.
We next journeyed to the headquarters of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. There we met with some top officials from the Bureau and the U. S. Forest Service.
“What basis do you have to justify having this gathering on federal public lands, if indeed that is the course that is taken, Reverend Adams?”
“The First Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion and the right of the people to peacefully assemble.”
“How will you manage sanitation?”
Plunker described slit trenches where the excrement would be covered with ashes, then buried. He then squatted down to demonstrate how the trenches would be utilized. The fed rangers couldn’t help but chuckle at that, Plunker was so outrageous.
“I”m kind of concerned,” the head official began. “There are a lot of folks up in these mountains who wouldn”t take too kindly to a gathering of this sort up in the woods. Some of them may bash some heads.”
Plunker looked over at me and whispered, “He’s talking about his friends.”
We headed back to our headquarters at the old apartment building. We never had a dull moment there. We had other hipster folks crashing in the community room, and all of us would socialize and party with the renters, most of whom were hip or strange.
There was a real mellow African American guy staying there. He later ended up convicted of an armed robbery and going to prison. I still wonder if he really did it. So often racial profiling can hang someone.
And there was a wino dude named Mountain. He’d lie around and drink himself stupid. Word had it that his liver was gone and he didn’t care.
But perhaps the strangest guy there was Mohammed. He was the heavy weight boxing champion of Iran, he said. He was muscular and bearded, and had the classic Middle Eastern accent.
One night Mohammed got really drunk on wine. He sat cross-legged and entertained us all with Barry’s plunker, strumming the thing while he droned out Iranian songs in Farsi, his native tongue. We then ate some dinner, standard hippie style, rice and veggies. Mohammed pointed to some spilled grains of rice. “This is sin,” he said.
Mohammed then tried to commit some real sin. He invited me into his room and then suddenly slammed and locked the door. Barry saw this move and came to the other side of the door. “Mohammed, what are you doing?”
“I want him for the night, Barry!” answered Mohammed.
“Mohammed, we don’t do things this way in this country.”
“But he is pretty, and I want him!”
“No, Mohammed! That is not our way in America! Now open the door and let the boy go!”
Mohammed realized the gig was up. He opened the door. “Why is this not your way here?” he asked, drunkenly leaning on the open door and staring at Plunker.
“He’s like my son,” Barry said, staring back.
“Oh, that is the same in Iran. I am sorry.”
Barry and I took some acid one night. Then he asked me to design the cover for a book that would be known as The Rainbow Oracle or How to Blow Minds and Influence People. On the cover he said that he wanted a map of the gathering camp. I complied, and designed a map, a layout plan really, of the first Rainbow Gathering, New Jerusalem, Mandala City. Barry said to consult the Book of Revelation in the Bible and see how many gates there were. Twelve it said. I decided on the New Mexico Zuni Sun Sign to serve as the map of the layout of the gathering. The circle in the middle represented the central council area. The twelve gaps between sixteen rays, sets of four of each which stretched from the center circle to each of the four directions, represented the twelve gates where greeters were to be posted. For reading material in The Rainbow Oracle, plenty was submitted by lots of people. I contributed a poem. In it I coined the phrase, “You are your own guru.” I signed it “Youth”. Barry was pleased. We soon had the book published and distributed. The volume was well received by the hip community, immediately becoming a collectable cult classic.
Barry and I made a side trip to Boulder to see Allen Ginsberg. The event was near the University of Colorado. The hall was packed. The event consisted of Ginsberg and his colleagues chanting mantras while they were seated in the lotus position on stage. Barry pranced down the aisle about midstream through the show and approached Ginsberg on the stage, handing him an invitation to the gathering. Ginsberg was polite and very receptive to Plunker, even familiar acting with him as the two engaged in conversation. Barry had now invited the beat poet. I doubt it was their first encounter. After all, they both had been in the Haight during “The Summer of Love”.
Our side trip to Boulder having proved eventful, we returned to our headquarters in Denver.
Then Garrick Beck showed up. With him he brought a new relic, the Rainbow Stone. It looked like sandstone, and was about the size of a football. It was kind of flat in appearance, and looked like its front and back were joined by a smooth layer in the middle. On its front there were about seven faces that looked carved and kind of Olmec or Mayan in appearance.
Garrick now told his story of how the stone tablet was found on the Rainbow Farm. “We were given some Hopi corn. We went to the garden and began planting the corn in the Hopi way, the men put a stick into the earth, and the women dropped kernels into the holes that were then covered up. When we were done, a rainbow appeared which stretched west to east from the garden to a tree stump on the hill. We walked up the hill to the stump. The stone was sitting there on it. Everyone asked each other if they had seen this object before. No one had. Clearly, Garrick was pointing out that this could be miraculous. And, of course, everyone had the same thought: That this could be the stone tablet that the Hopi were waiting for that the True White Brother was to bring to them, ushering in a new age.
Barry surely felt he was a primary candidate for the post of True White Brother. Many of us felt this way. Even the crumpled hat and red cloak he wore coincidently matched Hopi prophetic descriptions of the hat and cloak that the True White Brother would wear. But those hopes were soon dashed. With Barry and Garrick in the lead, we embarked on another caravan to the Hopi. When we got to Oraibi, the elders, upon viewing the stone, were quick to state that this was not the stone that they were expecting. Instead, they said, it was our stone.
Some other important developments ensued. Chuck Windsong, a Rainbow person who was searching throughout northern Colorado for a viable gathering site, hit pay dirt. In early June at a café in the small Rocky Mountain town of Granby, Chuck met a local rancher who, legend has it, had years before seen the Rainbow Gathering in a dream. The story is amazing. Chuck had been back east in one of the New England states. He was pondering about where the Rainbow Gathering in Colorado would be. Then he received a vision, wherein he saw a meadow in his mind, with children playing in it, all to the tune of the Beatles song, Strawberry Fields Forever. Another flash of the vision showed him a wagon wheel.
Going on this cue, Chuck headed to Colorado and searched up in the high Rocky Mountain communities, stopping at any place where a wagon wheel was displayed as a decoration, or where one was mentioned on a sign. It was in Granby, Colorado that Chuck and some other freaks stopped for coffee at “The Wagon Wheel Café”. A rancher who owned some of the future Rainbow Gathering site approached Chuck’s gathering site scouting party. The rancher asked Chuck and his friends if they were Rainbow people, and they replied in the affirmative, telling the rancher that they were looking for a gathering site.
Then the rancher told them of his dream. The rancher said that he had seen a movie theater in his dream. Playing at the theater was “The World Family Gathering”. The rancher asked the ticket person at the booth what it would cost to attend the gathering. “Everything you own,” the ticket person replied. The rancher agreed to the terms and entered. He was in the middle of a beautiful hippie gathering, on his land high in the Rockies, by Strawberry Lake. Chuck and his friends were amazed. The rancher’s dream matched up with Chuck’s vision. The rancher not only owned land around Strawberry Lake, but up on Table Mountain as well, the latter being a sacred site to the Arapaho Indians. The rancher agreed at the café meeting to open up his property for the gathering.
Soon thereafter, an initial group of hippies went up to the rancher’s large meadow near Strawberry Lake and began setting up for the gathering. As the crowd grew, most of the gathering site included the Rocky Mountain National Forest surrounding the rancher’s meadow, with the meadow serving solely as the main council area.
Within a matter of weeks hundreds, then thousands of freaks were camping up at the gathering site. What had started as a trickle of hippies was turning into a flood coming into Colorado – a state where hitchhiking was illegal. At this time we were hearing rumors that the jails were filling up with incarcerated hitchhikers.
Next came word that local law enforcement were blockading the gathering. Roadblocks were in place to stop persons and supplies from getting to the site.
Barry and I went up near the site. We headed to the parking lot, where a sea of buses, cars and vans were assembled. Thousands of freaks were waiting there to be shuttled up to the path, where they would hike miles to get up to the gathering site. This all depended on the authorities lifting the blockade. We didn’t know whether that would occur. But we believed it would happen. We just didn’t know when.
Meanwhile, Garrick Beck and others were busy routinely leading large groups of people on foot on a twenty-plus mile hike through the mountains, bypassing the blockade to the gathering site. These hikes were going on continuously, making a major dent in the effectiveness of the blockade. Thousands of hippies stealthily entered the gathering site this way. The inflow of hippies was unstoppable.
The authorities gave up. The blockade was lifted. The vehicles were allowed to shuttle people and supplies to the entrance path, where the long hike up to the gathering site was encountered.
It didn’t mean that harassment by the cops was over, however. The cops stopped the panel truck I got a ride up to the entrance path in. They shined a flashlight inside to view the about twenty or so hippies. “We love you!” all the riders yelled in unison as the flashlight was flashed from face to face. The cops quickly withdrew. It was just too much.
Multiple thousands of freaks poured in with no end in sight. Up the path they went – it seemed like an endless stream of freaks heading into the gathering site.
Kitchens to feed the people were quickly established, staffed by volunteers. The kitchens, set in different locations in the woods, became like small villages with their own unique flavors. There was “Little Harlem”, staffed by African Americans, where a real soulful cultural scene was reflected by food and conversation. “Love Kitchen”, where the Love Family dished out not only food, but good vibes. And “Rainbow Kitchen”, where a lot of people like Barry, Chuck Windsong, Garrick, Dominic, Byron, myself, and others who had been working on the gathering for some time camped. At every kitchen the smell of marijuana smoke permeated the air. Singing and instrumental accompaniment, all acoustic, on guitars, congas, plates (played by forks and spoons), and dancing, often continued into the night until early in the morning.
The councils held at the large meadow near the lake were democratic events. Anyone could speak. But the rules were thus: a wooden staff was passed to the speaker. No one could interrupt the speaker who held the staff. The speaker could speak as long as she or he wanted. The council circle was always huge, with hundreds or thousands in attendance. Usually council sessions started and concluded with all present joining hands and chanting Om. The council meetings had many speakers. It might be someone mystical, praying or sharing. It could be someone political, like when Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman spoke at length, explaining the significance of the black flag of anarchy, which he displayed.
A huge party was underway everywhere at the gathering. Many people took drugs, went naked, talked, related, made friends, saw old friends, and played.
Some got kind of bizarre – like Goldfinger, from the STP Family, and some of his cronies. I’d met this character in Berkeley. He wore a trench coat and gloves. He always had a sock and a can of gold paint. He would spend his time spraying the paint onto a sock and huffing the stuff. He was called Goldfinger because his gloved fingers were gilded-looking due to this practice. You’d be walking down a path and Goldfinger would be huffing and falling over off a log he was sitting on, and so would his pals.
Most folks went for more healthy thrills, however, like the hot rocks heated sweat lodge near the ice-cold lake. Getting plenty cooked in the steam bath and jumping into the lake was super refreshing. I did it. It felt fantastic when you hit the water, and you’d come up after being submerged and here was this beautiful, pristine lake, surrounded by awesome mountains touching the sky.
And I looked out upon the Council Meadow, and there was Country Sue, formerly from the Manson Family, throwing a frisbee back and forth with a guy. She looked happy, was smiling and content. I felt happy inside that she had come to the gathering, feeling that she was connecting once again with the original meaning of the hippy movement, peace and love.
I saw Barry Plunker walking on a path where masses of people were passing by, back and forth. He walked at a slow, steady pace, his arms kind of stretched out, his plunker in his right hand. His mouth was wide open and his face had a look of total amazement. He had lived to see his dream come true. It made me realize that a small group of people can have a huge influence upon thought and events. News of this gathering had been spread by word of mouth and the personal distribution of invitations. It had been promoted initially by only a few. Now about 35,000 people were attending it and the gathering was well known in hip circles around the country, and even was being discussed in diverse parts of the globe. I too felt Barry’s amazement.
There was an announcement in the council by Bear, a Rainbow person who hung out in Oregon. The image of a white buffalo in the form of the shape of snowfall had appeared on the face of Table Mountain, he said. Sure enough, we all looked up to the mountain and the shape of the snowfall did closely resemble a white buffalo. Bear, who I had met in Oregon, had often said that the appearance of a white buffalo would be the fulfillment of a Native American prophecy that he expected to occur in some way at the gathering. Others said they saw a cloud in this shape as well.
I left the gathering on July third. I had expected something more dramatic. I wasn’t alone in this – a lot of us had. I wondered: Where is the end of this age and the beginning of a new one? Fences and technology haven’t disappeared, and the world hasn’t returned to a more natural state. Barry had often hinted at these expectations. But they were not to be. Not on a grandoise scale.
On July Fourth several hundred persons who had hiked to the top of Table Mountain observed a moment of silence. It occurred at high noon. Love Family representatives read a proclamation. Some who attended said they went through a mystical experience.
But I had already left. The dream was over. I had awakened. The world, unchanged, with all its problems, is still here, I thought.
What I didn’t know, nor did anyone at the time, was that the Rainbow Gathering would not be a one-time experience. It was destined to become an alternative cyclical tradition, duplicated eventually on a worldwide scale.