Alan Ferdman | The Crazy Horse Riot of 1992


I recently viewed a story, telling of a local resident who joined the “Portland Wall of Moms” to separate protesters from federal officers. There is not doubt in my mind, all the moms involved were looking for a peaceful evening, but instead, some moms received a dose of how painful and uncomfortable it is to be pepper sprayed.

For most, the protests are just images on a TV screen, and the viewers have no comprehension as to what it is like to be caught up in a similar situation. Even if your intent is purely peaceful, being in the “Wrong Place at the Wrong Time” might end up being very unhealthy. 

When I view images of the Portland or Seattle so-called protests, I reflect on a Fourth of July holiday weekend in 1992. Our group of holiday campers were anticipating a very pleasant and fun weekend. My wife, sons and I loaded up our truck and camper, hooked up our ski boat, and along with neighbors, headed to Crazy Horse Campgrounds, across the London Bridge, in Havasu, Arizona. We arrived on Friday, July 3, in the afternoon, paid our camping fees, and were told to find a campsite and settle in. 

Driving around we realized all the regular campsites were taken, so when we found a spot along the waterfront road, we grabbed it. The spot seemed perfect, as it backed up to a hill, making our campsite private, portable restrooms were close, and we would be right by the water. There was no hesitation as we launched our boat, set up camp, and stretched tarps between our trucks to provide shade. It was time to settle in for the evening and relax.

We were unaware the rangers did not restrict anyone from walking into the campgrounds. As evening fell, we witnessed about 100 young adults walking up and down the frontage road, with some stopping to climb the palm trees. Talking with some other campers, we were told not to worry, it was sort of a tradition at Crazy Horse, the crowd would be burning a palm tree on the Fourth. 

The next evening followed Independence Day and when darkness was upon us, the crowd grew to about 500 and the chaos began. One palm tree was not burned. Instead, all the trees were set ablaze. Stragglers would enter campsites and steal beer from coolers, but when they visited our site, they acted more timidly. They could not see inside, they did not know how many of us there were, plus we were not compliant or very friendly.

Soon there was nothing left to burn, and we heard talk of burning the boats. We were not going to let that happen, so my sons stayed along the shore, and were ready to take our craft far out on the lake if they were challenged.

But the worst was yet to come. Across the intersection from our campsite was a small block building used to house personal watercraft for rent. About 30 thrill seekers had climbed the building and were sitting on the roof. Suddenly, they started throwing full beer cans at the crowd below, which was followed by a barrage going in the other direction. Not surprisingly, a young man was hit in the head. He was bleeding badly, semi-conscious, and needed help. We loaded him in the back of one of our trucks and proceeded up the hill to find medical services. That is when we came upon the police line, who had the campgrounds locked down, and were not letting anyone in or out of camp. Finally, after my wife, Pam, an RN, yelled loudly enough at the firefighters, they accepted the injured man and assured us he would be taken to the local hospital.

When we asked the police officers why they were not going to put a stop to this lawlessness, they told us the situation was too dangerous for them to act. That is when we realized, we were on our own. Some of our group’s members were visibly frightened, while some were in disbelief, yet we developed a plan should the crowd turn its attention toward us. I have no idea how effective our plan would have been, but it would have been tragic, and I am happy even today that we did not have to take action.

The next day when the police came in to survey the damage, we did not have nice things to tell them. As soon as we could get out, we packed up and left. Traveling down the road to Parker, we witnessed a parade of police vehicles heading toward Havasu with red lights on and sirens blaring. It turns out this next night was even more devastating, as the building was set ablaze and the fuel inside exploded.

What my family and I learned from the experience is, the police are limited as to the degree they can protect the public, and sometimes just being in the “Wrong Place at the Wrong Time” can get you seriously injured. So, if you decide to attend a protest, and it turns into a riot, you need to leave the scene as quickly as possible. You may think you are being peaceful, but the pepper spray and rubber bullets have no way of determining the good guys and treating them differently from the ones causing trouble. 

If you do not believe me, just ask a mom who was in Portland last week.

Alan Ferdman is a Santa Clarita resident and a member of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee board.

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