Where is Coulee City? A Geographical Error Almost Loses A Bet

By Del Muse

Above, the “renamed” Boots & Saddle Club basketball team, comprised mainly of former Central Valley High School standouts. Photo courtesy of Del Muse.

When I was a first year teacher at Central Valley High School in 1950, my high school buddy Chuck Randall organized a basketball team of mostly ex-Central Valley High School players to play in the Spokane YMCA league. This league was an official AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) league, and there were some pretty good teams in it.

Our team was very good. We had Carl Dahl, Dale Thomason, Al Strohmaier, Quentin Clark, and Chuck Randall. All had been star players at CV during the mid and late 1940s. We also had Ernie McKie, a star player from Montana and Dick King, a hot-shooting guard from Lewis and Clark High School. Sandy Sinclair and I were the bench.

Our team was sponsored by Bronson Motors in the Spokane Valley. We did quite well in the league, and we had a good time playing our favorite sport.

But this story is not about that team; it is about our alter ego, the Boots and Saddles Club team. It came about like this.

The Boots and Saddles Club was next door to Bronson Motors, so naturally the two owners talked to each other, probably on a regular basis. In the late winter of 1951, the club owner, who I will call Don, went to his neighbor and told him a sad tale. Don was from Coulee City, Washington and on a recent visit he had made a bet with a friend from that town. Seems as though the friend was bragging about the Coulee City town team, made up mostly of ex Coulee City High School players. So Don says to his friend, “I’ll bet you $1000 my team can beat your team.” The friend accepted the challenge, and so the game was on. Only trouble was, Don didn’t have a team. His visit to the Bronson Motors owner was to ask if he could borrow his team for one night. The Bronson Motors owner agreed to this plan and called up Chuck to tell him what he’d done. Now Chuck thought this was a great idea, and we all agreed that it sounded like fun.

Don had special uniforms made for our game, or at least special shirts that said Boots and Saddles across the front, and we became the Boots and Saddles Club basketball team for one night.

The big day arrived and we set out in two cars to drive to Grand Coulee. Yes, you can see the problem coming. Our coach had heard the word Coulee and assumed it was Grand Coulee. We got to the Grand Coulee High School gym about 7:00 p.m. and confidently walked into the gym, only to discover that two high school teams were playing. No one knew anything about a town team game. After a short frantic discussion, we figured out that we should be in Coulee City, some 40 miles away. Chuck borrowed a phone at the Grand Coulee gym and called Coulee City High School. Fortunately somebody answered the phone, and Chuck explained the situation to him, telling him we would hightail it for Coulee City immediately. The game was scheduled for 8:00 p.m.

We drove insanely fast to Coulee City; I was driving one of the cars, while my teammates changed into their uniforms. We knew the timing was going to be tight. We arrived at the Coulee City High School gym about 8:00 p.m., and a relieved Don greeted us at the door, sporting a shoulder holster with a pistol concealed within. I presume he had the $1,000 in his wallet or a money belt. $1,000 at that time was a third or more of a working man’s annual wages.

Above: One of two banquets given by the Boots & Saddle Club owner to the Bronson Motors AAU basketball team for their outstanding feats of skill on (and off) the court. Photo courtesy of Del Muse.

Eight of our players were fully dressed in their uniforms when they got out of the cars, so the game started immediately – no warm up for the latecomers.

We lost the opening tip to Coulee City, but we got the ball back without allowing them to score. Dick King brought the ball across the center line, dribbled the ball a couple of times and swished a 30-footer. We definitely had the better team, and we led from start to finish. Of course, Don was very happy because he was now carrying $2000 in his wallet. He took us out for a late night steak and sent us home in a happy mood.

He was so pleased that he later bought a warm-up jacket for each of us, and after the season was over, Don invited us to his club for a private dinner. We dressed up in our finest go-to-meetin’ duds and celebrated a successful and interesting basketball season.

Don liked our team so well that he decided to sponsor us in the YMCA league the next year. We did well in the league, going to Walla Walla for the state AAU playoffs and losing to a team that featured Vince Hanson, former All-American center from Washington State College.

Vince Hanson of Washington State College (now University) in 1945. Hanson was inducted into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. Public Domain image.

Of course, we had a replay of the previous year’s trip to Coulee City, only this time Don took us in style in a plush bus, taking our wives and girlfriends with us. Again we won the game, and Don won another $1,000.

But that first game, with the Grand Coulee/Coulee City mix up and the $1,000 bet, was something that none of us ever forgot.

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