Quincy Dabney loved growing up in Lodge Grass on the Crow Reservation in Montana. But then, just like him, it started falling apart. Now Quincy is working to save the hometown that saved him.
As you drive north on Interstate 90, a giant green sign appears: LODGE GRASS 1 MILE. It would be an easy place to stop and take in the northern edges of the Bighorn Mountains and the rolling, bright green hills that make up the center of the Crow Reservation. Many locals pass it over, unwilling to stop in a town that’s been lost to time. But it’s my destination.
I drive up to a generic city hall building and walk past the bullet hole in the window as I step inside and finally sit down with the man I’ve been waiting to talk to.
Quincy Dabney is Lodge Grass’s mayor. He tells me how Lodge Grass was incorporated in 1927 and became a very important place on the reservation. The town is known as Aashbacheeitche in Crow, which translates to Valley of the Chiefs.
Quincy says, growing up in Lodge Grass, it was the kind of place where neighbors mowed each other’s lawns while they were on vacation, where parents called ahead to the store so their kids could pick up cigarettes. It had a town-wide alarm at 9:00 pm, blaring for kids to get inside and settle down before bed. It had 45 businesses at its peak, Quincy says.
One of those was the Cozy Corner, a penny candy shop that was an easy place for kids and adults to meet up and enjoy the summer nights as kids rode their bikes.
Quincy grew up as the white kid with a blonde bowl cut in a Native American community. He isn’t Crow, but he remembers learning about the tribe’s story.
“As the elders came in and told stories as everyone else was running around and not paying attention, and it intrigued me. Because I knew I wasn’t Crow. And I was like, ‘Your people did this, and your people did that.’ And eventually your people became my people as I spoke. And I was like I’m Crow, they’re amazing people. I like to say, I may not be Crow, but I have Crow stamped on my heart,” Quincy says.
But as Quincy’s best days were swirling around him, Lodge Grass was slowly changing into something else. Businesses started packing up and leaving. Kids didn’t want to take over the family business. The buildings people couldn’t sell, they left unoccupied.
Quincy figures he was about 13 years old when Cozy Corner had a series of break-ins. He says the owner was tired of it and shut down the place for good.
In 1997, the last and only police officer in Lodge Grass was fired. Drugs, mostly meth, started coming into Lodge Grass. Around that time, Quincy knew of seniors doing meth while he was a sophomore. And then it just sort of spiraled from there.
Lodge Grass today, weeds are everywhere, most everything is overgrown, buildings are shuddered. There are junk cars parked on lawns and in the street. Trash is scattered around town.
The Census Bureau puts Lodge Grass’s poverty rate around 55 percent. Quincy says it feels more like 70 percent. About 250 people live in the city limits with about that many living just past the boundary. There are now only three businesses: a small grocery store, a gas station, and a propane tank filling station.
Quincy guesses around 95 percent of Lodge Grass is Native American, making him one of about four non-Native people. But his wife, Tiffany, is Crow and his children, Teyan and Amarelle, are growing up as members of the tribe.
Once he got out of high school, Quincy’s life took a dark turn. For several months, he struggled with meth addiction. But his wife and his church helped him recover and soon he was making $75,000 a year as a coal miner. But he saw his hometown was stuck and wasn’t thriving like he was.
He started hosting town-wide clean-ups with a small group of Lodge Grass locals who wanted to get the town in better shape. But as he got more involved, people started noticing.
“By 2017, everyone was like you need to run for mayor. And I was like, ‘I’m not a politician.’ And they’re like, you don’t have to be a politician and that’s the great thing. I had elders coming to me, saying, ‘The way you’re loving the town, the way you’re moving to take care of the town, you could do some really good stuff in the mayor’s office.’ Next thing you know my running partner was like ‘Hey man, it’s the last day for you to run as a write-in.’ So we take off and there I am as a write-in for mayor,” Quincy says.
And even though he isn’t Crow, even though he was a last-minute write-in candidate, he won.
“I didn’t know it was going to go this far,” says Quincy. “I had the American dream. I was a coal miner. I was making $75,000 a year, I built my own house. It wasn’t a white picket fence, it was a chain-link fence but I had it all. I had the job, I had the insurance. My family was taken care of but there was that knocking on my heart that was like someone needs to step up for Lodge Grass.”
Special thanks for Sheridan Press Publisher Kristen Czaban.
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