Take it from an eyewitness: "Jump" was a chaotic mess

woodwardcolumn@hotmail.comSeptember 27, 2013 

This column was originally published in the Idaho Statesman Dec. 1, 2007

Seen from the vantage point of 33 years later, Evel Knievel's 1974 "jump" over the Snake River Canyon is thought by some to have been historic.

It wasn't. It was chaos.

I was there. Part of a team sent to cover the event, I spent three days in Twin Falls as the crowd grew in size and volatility.

It was, in the terminology of the day, a "happening." Spectators and groupies came by the thousands from all over the country, bringing drugs, alcohol and nudity in profusion. It was Woodstock without the music.

Or the peace and love.

As the countdown to Knievel's launch grew shorter, tempers did the same. Conflicts between conservative locals and free-wheeling visitors were commonplace.

It was oppressively hot and crowded, and that combined with substance abuse turned a segment of the crowd ugly.

People broke into beer trucks and threw unopened cans and bottles at anyone handy. A Knievel handler brandished a shotgun to keep the crowd away from the man who had started it all. Knievel himself fumed that the event had become a monster, then slugged an NBC cameraman who said he hadn't seen anything like it "outside of wars and riots."

Moments before the launch - the fizzle as it would come to be called - hotheads near the canyon rim tried to push those on the canyon rim over the edge because they had a better view. Law enforcement officers did their best to restrain them, but gradually lost ground. As one of those on the rim, I remember that part vividly.

Our unexpected saviors: the Hells Angels. They arrived just in time, helping the cops out by knocking heads. The crowd pulled back, and those of us on the rim lived to tell the story.

Far from historic, it was three days of insanity best forgotten.

Except for the Hells Angels.

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