The 26-year-old Army veteran killed in a vehicle crash Friday was no stranger to difficult times but worked hard to overcome them, his wife said Monday.
"He tried his best to enjoy life and was thankful for the people that loved him. He took it as it came and made the best of what he had," said Delina Cuts The Rope. Her husband, Paul Michael Heck, was fatally injured when the pickup truck he was in crashed about 13 miles north of Lodge Pole. Waylon Doney, 25, was injured.
Heck was a Montana transplant, having moved to the Fort Belknap area from California when he was a teenager, Cuts The Rope said. It was in Sacramento, Calif., that Heck met two people who would later become his adopted relatives - Marilyn Gone and Jon Powderface.
After coming to Fort Belknap each summer with them, Heck decided to move to Montana permanently, Cuts The Rope said. During a special ceremony at Sacramento's Urban Indian Center, Heck became Gone's adopted son and Powderface's adopted brother.
"She took him in under her wing," Cuts The Rope said. "That's what drew him to her and Jon - she adopted him and just took on another child. I think that's significant."
Heck, who was part Indian, became very involved in traditional Gros Ventre culture, his wife said. He loved to dance at powwows, and learned to craft his own dance regalia.
"Paul was someone who was known for being very interested in his ways at such a young age," Cuts The Rope said. "His plans were always about powwowing. He was always going to powwows throughout the state and across the country. He did sweats and other ceremonies. Anything having to do with traditions he was very involved with."
Heck's adopted grandmother, Bertha Snow, taught him how to bead, and he was a scholar of the Gros Ventre language, Cuts The Rope said.
In 1997, Heck graduated from Hays-Lodge Pole High School. Shortly after, he enlisted in the military and served for two years as a U.S. Army sniper-scout stationed in the Pacific.
"He wanted to go into the military to pay for schooling but also because he wanted to experience the concept of how a young man grows up to be a man and be a warrior," Cuts The Rope said. "He wanted to serve his country but he also had personal reasons."
Heck and Cuts The Rope met shortly after his return from the military in 1999. Like Heck, Cuts The Rope's brother was also in the Army and also danced at powwows. It was through her brother that she came to know Heck, Cuts The Rope said.
Heck was proud of his military service and participated in military ceremonies with other service members after he returned.
"A lot of times when there's a death, they do military honors at the grave site. It was important to him to go and assist other veterans," Cuts The Rope said.
The couple lived in Hays with their two children, Paul Mitchel Doney, 5, and Ithay Marie Heck, 6 months old. Heck also had twin sons, Braden and Aarone Cook of Billings.
Heck had a difficult life growing up, but learned to use the hardships as a source of strength, Cuts The Rope said.
"He had some kind of a strength in him, to