Stop Romanticizing Vicious Criminals as “Mountain Men”
BY KARI SWENSON
I am disgusted by the continued characterization of Dan and Don Nichols as “Mountain Men” by the media and the Nichols. When I think of “Mountain Men,” I am reminded of Jim Bridger or John Colter, and scores of others who were hard-working outdoorsmen able to live and survive in the vast wilderness of the North American continent, almost two centuries ago.
Mountain men helped settle the West and bring our society to these lands. They were explorers, guides, hunters, trappers and brave men, certainly not criminals like Don and Dan Nichols. Using this description in conjunction with these two crazy misfits is truly maligning the mystique and legends of the mountain man. The Nichols lived in the mountains part-time but they couldn’t survive there, at least not without poaching, breaking into cabins and stealing supplies, leaving the mountains for months at a time and purchasing modern equipment. Ultimately they were caught without a fight because they were cold, hungry, and tired of living in the mountains. These are not mountain men.
They made the choice to live apart from society and defy its laws. When they kidnapped me and killed Alan Goldstein, these two men defied laws and took away rights to freedom. They claim that I asked to be kidnapped by just being in the mountains and running on that trail. Don Nichols told me that because I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt they thought I was the type of woman who may like to live away from society with them. Had I been wearing long pants and a coat on a hot July afternoon they would have still abducted me. The trail I was on was a popular and well-used trail to Ulreys lakes only a half-mile from a Big Sky road and trailhead.
You can see the type of crazy mixed up mind Don has just reading the ramblings in his letters and journals. They freely admitted on planning to abduct a woman for Dan and had the chain for that purpose. The time I spent with them in the mountains was not a fun-filled romp in the woods, as Don Nichols would like everyone to believe.
I endured being grabbed by both wrists, hit in the face, thrown to the ground, chained to Dan, threatened with knives and guns, marched through the woods, secured like an animal to trees and spent a terrifying night chained next to Dan. Don kept telling me what a great story this would be to tell my grandchildren. Are these the words of a sane man? During the night we could hear searchers calling for me, and I was told repeatedly by Don and Dan that anyone coming into their camp would be shot and killed. This kept me quiet and hopeful that no one would find me.
Yet Don also claims that it was my fault that he shot and killed Alan Goldstein. Alan was one of two searchers who happened upon us the next morning. I was chained to a downed tree and I saw the searchers first. I started to yell and scream at the two men to stay back and go away or they would be shot. They came into camp to help me. Don told Dan to shut me up. So he stood over me, with his drawn pistol and shot me in the chest. I suffered a sucking chest wound. Then I saw and heard Alan Goldstein being shot and killed by Don. The Nichols then aimed their guns at the other searcher and he fled for his life. They left me in the dirt to die.
I survived several long painful hours before finally being located by searchers in a helicopter and rescued. I spent days in the ICU having painful medical procedures done to save my life. I have spent years in counseling dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome. I still have shrapnel in my chest that causes pain and reminds me of that awful day. Anyone with a trace of humanity will see that criminals who thought only of themselves did these acts. I’m disappointed that some members of the public continue to glorify what these two men did to Alan Goldstein, our families, friends, the Big Sky community and me.
We the victims have a life sentence, not Don Nichols. They invoked a death sentence on Alan Goldstein. That is the ultimate sentence. The life sentence for me is that every day of my life I have to deal with the death of a friend, the memories and horrors of being kidnapped, being chained up like an animal, being shot in the chest, and then left to die. That day I lost my freedom and my athletic career. They took away my rights to live freely without fear. Victims of violent crimes are victimized over and over again by the justice system and the media.
We (me, my family, friends, Alan Goldstein’s family and the Big Sky community) have to address parole hearings for Don Nichols every five years and live with the possibility that this criminal may one day walk freely among the people of Montana and in particular Big Sky. Don Nichols was sentenced to 85 years in prison for his crimes. Yet he’s been up for parole three times now. If he’s not paroled, then he’s scheduled to be released in 2030. That would be less than half of his sentence being served. This is not justice!
I do not believe anyone could want him free and living in or around their communities. If he is released, I hope no one ever has to meet him on a street, in the mountains of Montana, or anywhere. What if this happened to your wife, mother, daughter, sister, cousin or friend? We should all worry that he will go back into the mountains and be a threat to anyone, man or woman. This is a risk we shouldn’t be forced to take for there is no possible benefit to society in releasing this man.
Dan Nichols has been making recent history himself. He was arrested on drug charges, released on bail, and failed to appear for his trial. There is a federal warrant out for his arrest. He is considered armed and dangerous.
Did you know the taxpayers of Montana paid for his higher education after his early release from prison? He’s obviously not using his education to become a better person and member of society. Since his release from prison he’s been unable to assimilate back into society and become a productive citizen. Where is he? He could be anywhere. If the parole board lets Don out of prison they might end up back in the mountains of Montana together and who will be their next victim?
Only victims of violent crimes and their families and friends can truly understand the anger, stress and emotions of what I’m going through. My family and close friends will be driving to Deer Lodge on April 27 to present our case to the parole board. Not only do we get to relive everything that happened to Alan and me, but also we have to do it in the prison. Talk about more victimization of the victim. Even though it’s stressful and exhausting, we plan to attend every one of his parole hearings to help ensure he isn’t released early.
We feel strongly that the parole board needs to hear our statements and realize just how much he is a threat to society, especially the people who enjoy the outdoors and mountains. I was unlucky enough to have spent time with the Nichols and listened to their crazy rhetoric and ideas. Don’s recent statements show an unwillingness to accept responsibility for his crimes, and he continues to blame the victims and the justice system. He obviously doesn’t believe in nor respect our society. We hope the parole board understands just how dangerous it would be to release Don Nichols. Don Nichols should never be released.
The media has been hounding me to answer their questions, but I’m reluctant to speak with them. I’ve been misquoted in the past, and I am not willing to have my words misconstrued. It is also very painful to continue to be reminded of this part of my past. I am willing to tell my story to keep this man where he belongs, in prison away from society. That is why I’m releasing this statement to the press. We have suffered enough. Give the victims and their families some respect.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my family, friends, acquain-tances and citizens of Montana for supporting me through the years. I appreciate your thoughtful letters that you write to the parole board in regards to Don Nichols.
It’s wonderful knowing I have your support. Thank you.
Kari Swenson is a veterinarian in the Bozeman area.