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Q2 Rewind: Sheriff Johnny France Finds the Mountain Men - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Q2 Rewind: Sheriff Johnny France Finds the Mountain Men

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It was a cold Montana December day in 1984 when Madison County Sheriff Johnny France discovered the hidden camp of the father-son fugitives known as the Mountain Men, wanted for the kidnapping of Olympian Kari Swenson and the killing of her rescuer.

Father Don Nichols and son Dan Nichols had been on the run from law enforcement since July of that year, when they kidnapped Swenson and took her into the woods. Don had apparently wanted to find a wife for 19-year-old Dan, and the two kept Swenson chained to a tree for two days.

The kidnapping turned bloody when Swenson's friend, Alan Goldstein, came upon their camp while searching for her. Don fatally shot Goldstein, Dan accidentally shot Swenson, and the Nichols fled into the woods, leaving Swenson and Goldstein behind. Swenson would recover from her injuries.

It took five months for the tip that would lead Sheriff France to the Nichols' campsite. A rancher saw the tell-tale signs of campfire smoke, and France ventured in on snowmobile to investigate. When the terrain became too rough, he proceeded on foot until he came across their camp, startling them.

France told reporters that what happened next was "nearly a Mexican stand-off." The lawman pointed his rifle at Don, who also reached for his. France's mind started spinning: how high was he going to let Don raise his rifle before he'd have to shoot? After a few tense moments, Don set down his gun and France called in his arrest.

Don Nichols was eventually convicted for the kidnapping of Kari Swenson and the deliberate homicide of Goldstein. He was released on parole in August 2017. His son, Dan, was convicted of kidnapping and assault and cleared of more serious charges. He was granted parole in 1991.

France still lives in Ennis. His book about the ordeal, "Incident at Big Sky: The Inside Story of the Search for Two Savage Killers in Montana," came out in 1986 and was just released as a Kindle edition in March 2017.

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