Folk music has a long, proud history of political involvement and Rosalie never shied from a cause she believed in. In 1970 the cause was saving the White Clouds from a proposed open pit molybdenum mine at the base of Castle Peak. The song, “White Clouds,” was not meant as a particular poke in the eye for Governor Samuelson, though he took it that way. It was a poetic appeal to save wilderness from commercial encroachment and pollution. And it wasn’t so much that the governor was annoyed by Rosalie’s song as he was by the fact that a state employee was singing it. Stacy Gebhards was the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s fishery management supervisor in 1970.
Gebhards performed “White Clouds” at several events rallying support to save the mountain from development. He and a couple of friends also performed it at a state dinner at which Interior Secretary Walter G. Hickel was in attendance. Governor Samuelson was there, too, and when the accompanying slide show started showing dramatic shots of pollution around the state, Samuelson began steaming.
Hickel later gave Gebhards a personal commendation and congratulatory letter. But word came from the governor’s office that if he ever sang the song in public again, Gebhards would be fired.
Paul Swenson, a writer for the Deseret News out of Salt Lake quoted an un-named source as saying, “The governor blew his stack.”
Gebhards kept his job. Rosalie Sorrels kept writing and singing. Samuelson lost the next to election to Cecil D. Andrus, and Castle Peak remains pristine today.
Much of the information for this post came from Rosalie Sorrels’ book Way out in Idaho: A Celebration of Songs and Stories.