Remembering A Protector Who Wasn’t One Of Those Dangerous Grizzlies

by Travis Mateer

When you see a man like Griz on the streets it’s very easy to make assumptions, like is it alcohol or drugs? Or maybe a criminal history? Obviously, you’d think to yourself, there’s got to be SOME reason that caused this man to live a life without a roof over his head, something like substance abuse or other poor life choices.

At Griz’s memorial on Saturday many stories were shared, and the fact Griz only PRETENDED to be a drinker is one of the more curious tidbits I heard as people talked about this incredibly kind man with a gift ready to give to almost anyone.

Why would someone pretend to have a drinking problem? I suspect it was just easier to use that cover story because it’s such a common one on the streets, but Griz wasn’t someone who drank to excess. At least not alcohol. He DID drink “chunky” coffee, which sounds absolutely disgusting, but putting bits of bread or donuts into his coffee is something Griz enjoyed doing.

What stood out to me most at the memorial was how many women shared stories of getting ACTUAL help from this man, not the kind of “help” with strings that is usually offered to desperate women in these types of situations. Griz wasn’t like that. He even listened to one woman vent for hours after she left an abusive relationship.

Here’s a picture of this woman’s kid pouring some of Griz’s ashes into the Clark Fork river:

Griz was in a position to help others because he had finally gotten into housing, so one woman’s story was about staying at his place for a few days during winter, which probably saved her life. But one woman couldn’t be saved, and she died while staying with Griz. From what everyone said, he wasn’t the same after that, and it was this tragic event that more than likely contributed to him leaving the apartment and returning to the streets.

And why would someone return to the streets? Why was Griz even on the streets to begin with? Those aren’t easy questions to try and answer, but the memorial gave me lots of insights to consider, and that’s thanks to some people doing God’s work.

That’s right, Eric and Terry are the ones who serve free food by the Missoula County Courthouse. I heard their work recently criticized by Susan Reneau because the overall aggression happening all across our valley led to some older conservative women feeling VERY unsafe when recently picking up Memorial Day wreathes from the Courthouse last month.

Susan Reneau, for those who don’t know, is a well-known Veteran’s advocate. Here’s some bio info from a Twitter account I just found out she has, and am now following:

I went looking at the City website for the video and/or minutes of the City Council meeting but, oddly, it’s not there right now. I sure hope that changes, since it was a pretty important meeting with other important information I was hoping to find.

If Griz was there on the day those women felt threatened, I guarantee he would have intervened. Instead, he was nearing the end of his earthly journey in a hospital up in Kalispell.

On Saturday night, long after the memorial, I took Griz on a final walk around downtown, at least the small portion of his remains I was gifted with.

I can’t say for sure what led Grizzly to be a generous fixture of Missoula’s street culture, but there’s a clue in the 30 knives he had in one of the bags he was packing around, and the 50 knives he had at the pawn shop. The traumas of living show up in different ways, and some people take collecting and/or the acquiring of things into extreme territory, bordering on hoarding, and the root of that behavior, generally speaking, is some kind of trauma.

Whatever it was, Griz is beyond all that now. For the protectors still here, breathing, the fight to expose the REAL predators continues.

If you would like to help me in that noble calling, Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF) is one way to support my work, and making a donation at my about page is another.

Thanks for caring.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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6 Responses to Remembering A Protector Who Wasn’t One Of Those Dangerous Grizzlies

  1. Mrs Stitch says:

    Oh dear. Perceived danger to “conservative women” is a feature not a bug to City Council right? I don’t think I would have taken this tack based on a few Facebook posts.

  2. TC says:

    Beautifully written requiem. Thank you

  3. John Kevin Hunt says:

    Travis, this is probably the most beautiful and thoughtful, valuable thing I’ve read of your works, over the past five years. It is compassionate, illuminating of the tragic effects of our prejudices, and truly representative of the goodness in your heart.

    Thank you.

  4. Eric says:

    We had a ‘Grizz’ that lived in his pickup topper in Red Lodge years ago too.

    He was a neat guy too – thanks for the memory!

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