Cabin Fever
Call of the Wild
The Murphy Outfit

1989 Mildred Chaffin


Joe Murphy was primarily a packer, now termed outfitter, who sometimes operated as a Dude Rancher. His ranch at Ovando was his headquarters where he began operations in 1911, packing over Hahn Creek Pass on a two-day trek to Murphy Flats on White River, now in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Through the years the Murphys encountered all the fortunes and misfortunes that could befall an outfitter—namely, snow, extreme cold, forest fires, high water, deserting horses, marauding bears—just to name a few.

Murphy’s was a popular camp where life was never dull. Guests endured and even enjoyed a certain amount of practical joking for the privilege of staying at a comfortable camp complete with good hunting, good fishing and good food. Camp life was made interesting by such fixtures as “White River Lou,” a fabricated wooden doll dressed in girls clothes that “somehow” got into the men’s beds. Supposedly, no one knew anything about the mystery woman.

“And,” Mr. Murphy himself once told me, “we chapped the men.” Which might be interpreted to mean that they spanked the dudes with a pair of leather chaps. Actually, they just made the dudes wear the leather trappings. “But we were more gentle with the ladies,” he said. “We just turned them upside down and put frogs down their pants legs!”

Murphy’s camp hired good cooks. When no good cooks were available, the Murphys had one alternative. A gentleman once told me of stopping at their camp and finding Joe himself in the cook tent making pies.

Murphy also conducted tours for the nationally known Trail Riders—a group of people who vacationed on dude ranches in the West. The schedule for the group was a twelve day trip from Monture Ranger Station to Holland Lake where they would pick up a new group and return to Monture and Ovando. “One such trip in July found the cavalcade in snow belly deep to the horses,” according to one good friend. “But they thought they were having a good time.”

Murphys had rules to protect their guests. They squelched excess drinking and once took two men back to Missoula for fighting.

Joe’s sons joined him in the business in 1948 or 1949. Harold Murphy’s sons carried on the operation for many years, finally closing in the early 1980s.