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In Brokeback Mountain, there are references made to a tire iron that coincides with hate crimes.

Ennis explains to Jack about an incident involving a tire iron involving a homosexual when he was younger:

And I don’t want a be dead. There was these two old guys ranched together down home, Earl and Rich — Dad would pass a remark when he seen them. They was a joke even though they was pretty tough old birds. I was what, nine years old, and they found Earl dead in a irrigation ditch. they’d took a tire iron to him…what the tire iron done looked like pieces a burned tomatoes all over him, nose tore down from skiddin on gravel

Ennis goes on to explain his father's hatred in regards to homosexuals while he and Jack were lying in bed:

Dad laughed about it. Hell, for all I know he done the job. If he was alive and was to put his head in that door right now you bet he’d go get his tire iron

Later, when Jack's wife is explaining his death to Ennis, she doesn't mention a tire iron, but Ennis is imagining Jack being beaten by a tire iron while she explains Jack's death:

Jack was pumping up a flat on the truck out on a back road when the tire blew up…the force of the explosion slammed the rim into his face, broke his nose and jaw and knocked him unconscious on his back. By the time someone came along he had drowned in his own blood.

Why does Ennis assume that Jack was beaten with a tire iron? Was Ennis so traumatized by the event from his childhood, that he thinks that if a homosexual is discovered, that they would automatically be beaten with a tire iron?

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I think you have answered your own question quite well. Quite possibly the drive of Jacks sexuality in his later years caused the the element of people Ennis explains about to become aware of his (Jack's) sexuality.

I believe the tyre/rim explosion is a convenient way of not having to say over the phone (especially when and where the film is set) we all know he was viciously beaten to death for homosexuality.

If indeed he was changing a tyre by the side of the road he would have had a wheel brace or jack handle near by which would cause the injury's Ennis had seen in his childhood if the wrong element had recognized him or if he hit on the wrong stranger.

Furthermore the death is explained as happening on a back road away from town which would bring back memories of a lonely irrigation ditch miles from anywhere and a known homosexual deliberately taken out there and beaten to death with any heavy object at hand.

Or a tyre and rim exploded in Jack's face and: "Ennis was so traumatized by the event from his childhood, that he thinks that if a homosexual is discovered, that they would automatically be beaten with a tire iron" Like you have stated.

Aside from asking Annie Proulx herself we may never know completely, however I believe her answer in an interview gives away that Jack was indeed killed rather than died in an accident. To quote an Indepentant.co.uk article Annie Proulx herself says the following:

“So they rewrite the story, including all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. And it just drives me wild.”

The key here is the Killed and not died. Although this could simply be a choice of words as either would be correct.

You can read the article here.

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