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1980s mountain man abductor seeks parole

By Matt Gouras

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 14 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

They forced her into the woods and kept her chained her to a tree most of the time when would-be rescuers stumbled upon the camp. In the melee, Dan Nichols accidentally shot Swenson. An armed standoff ensued, and the elder Swenson gunned down Alan Goldstein.

The Nichols left Swenson severely wounded and escaped into the woods. The experienced woodsmen evaded capture for five months living in the Madison Range, until a daring Madison County sheriff and former bronco buster named Johnny France took it upon himself to follow a tip and gave chase alone before storming the Nichols camp and forcing their surrender.

Swenson, despite diminished lung capacity from the gunshot wound, went on to win a bronze medal in the world biathlon championships. The Nichols faced a prosecutor, Marc Racicot, who would later become governor and a jury who didn't buy their argument that modern society misunderstood their mountain man ways.

The sensational tale made the cover of national newsmagazines, spawned two books and a TV movie "The Abduction of Kari Swenson."

Nichols had a far different take on the series of events, believing he was being unfairly judged by people who didn't understand nature or the mountains.

His "manuscript", written in tight cursive and finished in 1992, trashed modern society's pursuit of material goods, quoted famed environmentalist John Muir as he extols life in the woods and Friedrich Nietzsche's view of human nature.

The writing is filled with a yearning for pioneer days that Nichols believed more natural, castigates businessmen and politicians as the real thieves and killers, and claims "civilization is the insane byproduct" of rules and laws. All conspire to trample freedom, he argued, like the "virtual Nazis" running the country.

"The deer on the mountains don't spend much time worrying that there are a lot of things that might have notions on their freedom," he wrote. "Neither do Danny and I worry about such things."

His sketches include his son walking through the woods carrying a bow. One — that depicts events just one day prior to the Swenson abduction — shows a tranquil pond in the woods, with a tree inscribed "Dan and Don live in these mountains. July 14, 1984."

His recollection of the abduction, in writing that stretches from the time of the trial to after he spent several years in prison, appears to show no remorse whatsoever. Even after the shootings, he and his son continued to live in the woods seemingly with little care, or knowledge, that a manhunt was under way.

"In the summer of 1984, after the incident with Kari Swenson, Danny and I felt safe in our mountains, as usual, and spent most of our time wishing for pretty sunsets, planning the next day's activities, or talking over the continuous adventure of hunting, camping, and other things that is our life in the mountains," he wrote. "Maybe we should have thought about the flatland people more. Maybe we should have realized the truth wouldn't be told."

He goes on to argue his victims are to blame for the events, and believed it was being twisted by a "corrupt" media.

"Regardless of what the other facts are, if Kari had not been up at Ullery's Lake in the manner she was, Goldstein wouldn't have been killed by me," the elder Nichols once wrote. "That's a fact and her subconscious mind will always tell her that. So what does she think of herself now that her 'hero' is dead?"

Nichols even felt that in some way his actions "inspired" some Montanans and "scared the pants off totalitarians all over America, those who have been running things since the insanity of the Reagan presidency started."

His regret was missing life in the mountains. After a few years in prison, Swenson wrote longingly about the names he and his son had given to various camps.

"I think of a thousand beautiful sunsets and sleep so sweet we could taste it," he wrote in 1987. "There must always be mountain men."

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