SPOKANE, Wash. – Nearly 600 people crowded the ballroom at the Kalispel Tribe’s Northern Quest Resort and Casino to honor the 2009 Hometown Heroes at a luncheon, an annual event of the Inland Northwest Chapter of the American Red Cross. Local heroes were selected in 13 categories to receive this year’s recognition. One of the recipients was Cliff Matherly, a Spokane tribal member, who was presented the Adult Humanitarian Hero award.
Tim Lewis, one of the emcees, thanked everyone for coming, “To recognize and celebrate all those individuals who performed a remarkable act of heroism or service in our community over the course of the last year.”
The incident for which Matherly was recognized happened in January. Matherly, a BIA corrections officer, was working late one evening when a non-Native man entered the police office seeking warmth. He reported that his herd of about 40 horses was in danger of dying from severe winter weather and lack of food and water, and that he had neither the money nor capability to care for them. Matherly got off work after dark that night and began a rescue mission leading to this award.
At the awards ceremony, Matherly was introduced with some of the following comments. “Last December Cliff Matherly led an effort by the Spokane Tribe to rescue almost 40 horses from starvation and exposure. When he learned about the animals dire situation in the record cold temperatures, Cliff helped deliver food to the horses and recruited additional members of the Spokane Tribe to donate hay, plow the trail through several feet of heavy snow, assist with feeding, and also helped to find the animals a permanent home. All the horses were relocated to animal shelters in the area and Cliff continues to check on the animals. The members of the Spokane Tribe generously donated $1,000 to each of the two shelters to help with the care of those horses.”
“Cliff, we thank you and the Spokane Tribe for your compassion and commitment to making a positive impact in your community.”
Each of the 13 Hometown Heroes was presented with an American flag which had flown above the U.S. Capital building, and a clear glass desk award from the Red Cross in recognition of their achievement.
The event was emceed by local television personalities and was covered by local TV and newspapers. A representative from the governor’s office and other elected state and national officials were on-hand, in addition to large delegations from such groups as fire, police and military organizations.
“I figured it would be a small type of gathering,” Matherly said. “I get here and see hundreds of people. It was a little overwhelming.”
He also said it meant a great deal to him. “My best friend was killed in March, so I’m accepting this reward on his behalf also. Mike Wyrick helped me organize this rescue and was up with me late at night helping feed the horses.”
Matherly said all but three of the horses had been adopted. “I kept one. We call her Blessing. The night before the rescue we went up on the mountain and rescued three of the horses: Blessing, Illusion, and a third that’s unnamed. We’re keeping Blessing and Illusion. My other half has Illusion and she can ride him now and jump him and has him well trained. I put Blessing in the Spokane Fair this fall and she took Grand Champion in all her events. They’re doing really good.”
He lost track of the man who originally had the horses, but heard he tried to acquire more horses and was denied.
After the snow receded last spring, Matherly returned to the mountainside where the horses were rescued; he found 12 to 15 more carcasses. “We didn’t know about them at the time because the snow was so deep. So he (the original owner) had more than he was saying.”