Cabin Fever
Call of the Wild
Ovando Outfits

1989 Mildred Chaffin


There wasn't much money hanging around “in the good ol’ days,” according to Howard Copenhaver, long time outfitter and resident of the Blackfoot Valley. The White Tail Ranch, he said, was “started on a shoe string” on 160 acres on Kleinschmidt Flats east of Ovando. “Hobnail Tom” Edwards bought the land and built a cabin, improving the building as time went on. The original cabin now serves as the kitchen of the present setup.

Edwards was a teacher but began packing, in a small way, about 1945-46. He developed the summer place in the early 1950s. By the early 1960s, he and Howard Copenhaver had formed a partnership, packing into Meadow Creek in the Webb Lake area. By 1970, Howard had gone on to establish Copenhaver Outfitters. Tom Edwards had sold the White Tail Ranch and the outfitting business to Jack Hooker. Jack and his wife, Karen, still operate the now nationally-known guest ranch and outfitting service, making the White Tail Ranch the longest continually operating guest ranch in Montana. They offer “high adventure” pack trips and explorations of some of the most remote country in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

Early on, Ovando became a stock ranching country and at one time, the bleating and tinkle of bells permeated the atmosphere while numerous bands of sheep grazed from the slopes of Ovando Mountain to McCabe Creek and on over to Woodworth, Fish Lake and Seeley Lake.

There were trapper cabins all over the place, according to Copenhaver. Some trap lines in the early 1900s belonged to names like Danaher, Geary, Stadler, Young and Lynn. And then there was “Smoke” Deneau, a trapper, packer, and sometimes miner, who was known to pack fishing parties all summer as far as Banff, Alberta, trailing them back to the Ovando country in time for the hunting season.

An interesting character of prohibition days was a “moonshiner” who set up shop at various places in the hills to run off a batch of fermented brew. Trouble was the man was wont to sample the resulting product which generated hallucinations, leading him to believe that the “revenooers” were after him. Thereupon, he would pack up all his wares, including the still, and take off across country with his pack string in broad daylight, headed for a new location. The “revenooers” never caught up with him.

Copenhaver Outfitters, headquartered near Ovando, was operated for years by Howard Copenhaver. His son, Steve, now operates the well-known and successful outfitting business. Howard still goes along on some pack trips. He has also written a book about his life as an outfitter.