Once Upon a (Life)time
Halo Over Gordon
Halo Over Gordon - Part 2

Mildred remembers the bad times as fondly as the good.

Wherever there's an outing there's bound to be horse play and our come always come in for its share; such as a quart of Old Taylor being found in the preacher's sleeping bag, knots in the fishlines, boot laces or shirt sleeves. Generous helpings of firewood or rocks under the blankets, et cetera. No one ever knows how they got there!

But the weather, that old eccentric, was always with us. The time-honored "Golden Days of Autumn" are just next to Heaven and have given me many pleasant miles of trail riding to remember, and incidentally, some shots the men would literally give their eye-teeth for. But in rainy seasons the hours drip into days, each one more dreary than the last. I have huddled under the covers fully dressed and listened to the old burned snags falling around me in a violent windstorm, hoping the tent wouldn't make good its threat to come loose and go flapping off to some south sea island. I've been ferried across frozen, swollen Young's Creek on the tallest horse in the outfit with my knees drawn up and big cakes of ice floating past. (Pity the poor horse, not me.) But the beautiful, awful snow... it's my delight after I'm safely home and my bugbear's on the other side of the mountain.

As the season draws to a close there is usually plenty of snow mixed with a howling wind over Pyramid Mountain, as it was one day when we were bringing out the camp. Though we had risen at 4 a.m. dusk was settling over the hills when the string rounded Pyramid Lake with the Boss in the lead, two other men, each with a short string, and me at the tag end. We had two extra horses, "green broken" three-year-olds who, because they were prone to go around the wrong side of trees or haul back and break halter ropes, were traveling free. Ordinarily the horses water at the lake and the colts remembered. They left the string and started across the frozen lake with its deep white covering. I called to them but they seemed not to hear. They became two indistinct objects with tails flying in the wind-ridden dusk and I heard the report of cracking ice muffled by the soft snow. I had a panicky moment. But horses are guided by instincts we humans do not have and I didn't, nor would anyone else, dare to ride out on the lake to drive them back. The front end of the string began the last little climb from the lake's edge. The procession went up and over the top. I kept calling back to the colts and what a relief, to hear a whinnying behind me as we started down. The wind had whipped the snow off the peaks and dropped it all here along the mountain side. Then Tony, the troublemaker, laid down in the gloom and refused to budge. Who could tell what went on under that star in Tony's forehead? Perhaps he knew they were off the trail; anyway, it took the combined efforts of the three men to get him on his feet and they went back to their mounts only to find that he was down again; this time with his saddle caught under a knot on the hidden log making it necessary to cut the cinch to get him up. His pack was loaded on the Boss' saddle horse, leaving said Boss in a bad mood and on foot. It was now full night but the snow offered some light. The men discovered they were above the trail and the string had to be taken apart and inched down two horses at a time. The delay cost us nearly two hours while I sat bundled on my horse unable to see, hear, or do anything to help. Meanwhile, I fought my own small battle of guilt and helplessness, although I don't know what I could have done, for I soon perceived that only one of the colts had come back from the cracking ice and as the minutes ran into hours I knew the other one never would. I held my peace, for the men had troubles enough. We reached our old camp on Morrell Creek somewhat behind schedule and supper that night was at 2 o'clock in the morning.

It wasn't the only time we found old Pyramid in a tantrum. The early November skies had opened and dropped enough snow to drive the elk out of the deep brush, much to the delight of our California hunters, and now, almost to the end of the run, Allen, the Boss, got infection in one knee. Home remedies failed, and quite concerned, I persuaded him to go with our boy and the departing hunters, for medical aid.

"If I can't come back I'll send someone to help you out with the camp and I'll try to meet you up on top," he promised, meaning on top of the pass. The deluge of snow turned to one of rain at lower levels and when the boy brought back the empty string next day he also brought my son-in-law, Joe. They looked like two drowned rats! We packed, maneuvered, and cached what we could and with tents, ropes, canvas, pack-pads and saddles about as wet and unpleasant as possible, got going the second day. The miles wore on and we began the three-mile climb to the top, the heavy snow making it rough on the animals. The boy was ahead, breaking trail with the biggest and huskiest horse, and when we started down the little pitch to round the lake they jumped off into a drift, throwing a shower of snow that looked like a small explosion. The prayers I had been harboring all day came right out fervent and loud. We had yet to round the drifted lake and down a trail-less mountain side, a banshee wind was on the make and we had a seventeen-year old boy to lead us. Then I saw them. The tracks of two men on foot. My spirits soared—the Boss was better and he and one of our good neighbors had been here and marked us out a trail! But why so far out? From my place at the end I could see the leaders plowing snow belly-deep and I breathed another prayer of thankfulness for the partly covered man tracks; and a lucky thing it was that the lake was low. But the Lord walked right along beside us, for if we'd broken through into even a foot or two of water, we might have been in real trouble.

Now we were leaving the lake for the last short climb. The big gelding in the lead began to lunge, with snow well up on his ebony hips. The veteran roan mare and two whites behind her were lunging too, threatening to dislodge their packs in the process, but the drift was short and they beat a trail through for the rest of us. Soon I sat looking down on the outfit. One tortured little fir tree twisted in the wind. I had long ago made a mental note about that see, and about which side of it the trail went on. The boys were off searching it out on foot, but had stopped and were motioning to each other.

"The other side of the tree. . ." I screeched.

"Huh?"

"The oth-er side of the tr-ee-ee!"

No use. The wind-tossed words sailed over their heads. I could only hope they would find the way off that glassy mountain—and they did. As for me, I stuck tight to my saddle and trusted good old Rattler. After all he had four legs to plow drifts with, whereas I had but two. A couple of miles down we overtook the makers of the tacks, two strangers, hunters who had turned back. The Boss, I later learned, was threatening to abandon a warm hospital bed and take off after us if we didn't get in that very evening.

Even in camp a storm can be nerve-wracking. One night I lay wrapped around our little barrel stove (the Boss was keeping my back warm) so I could poke in the pile of wood he had carried in. Wind, snow and plummeting temperatures made it foolhardy to try Pyramid, but we were ready to move. About noon on the third day, the storm having blown itself out we tied the last pigtail and started for home by way of Monture, on the coldest ride I ever hope to know. During the season some man had left the biggest pair of overshoes I've ever seen, and the Boss made ,e put them on over my own. I credit them with saving my feet for I had to walk often to keep from freezing and dragging that foot gear through the snow would have pumped blood through the veins of King Tut. About 8:30 that night we reached Burnt Cabin, still nine miles from Monture. At that time my summers were occupied with cooking for the Forest Service and on delivering ms last party the Boss had, as if by premonition, brought along my key. He went to the cabin to phone for someone to meet us with feed for the horses and provide us with a ride home. He was soon back. The phone was dead.

"Hey," he said. "There's hay in there and I can bring some back when I come after the rest of the outfit. Want to stay here tonight?" Did I! The he-man overshoes notwithstanding, I felt I could knock off either one of my feet with a kindling sick! We took off the packs and loosened the cinches, but dared not unsaddle sweaty blankets would have frozen like sheets of iron. We spread our bed on the floor of the cabin and later learned that the mercury went to twenty six below zero during the night.

Next morning and well on our shivering way a pack horse fell as we were crossing frozen Yellow Jacket Creek and my frightened mare wheeled on the ice, pinning my leg between her and another horse. I calmed her enough to let me off and had slipped the lead rope over the horn when she jerked away from me. By the time the Boss came back to effect a rescue she had taken my string and gone all the way back to the cabin. Boss retrieved them in short order.

That's all we needed, or so I thought. The Boss traded  horses with me but I felt like walking again, my rope over the saddle horn, my horse following me at a slow walk. The trail was crooked and the timber hid us from the other pack string behind me. I heard a sudden commotion behind and turned to look. I didn't realize I was falling, it seemed that a tree was rushing up to meet me and I knew the horses in the string were bolting past my back. I had barely me for the thought—"hope none of them hit me"—I turned my head in time to see a sorrel leg flash by. I didn't feel a thing, but I once dropped a watermelon on a concrete walk and it sounded exactly the same as when my head made contact with that fir tree. When I awoke the world was empty, peaceful and still. Finally, not that I wanted to, I stood up and leaned against the lead offending tree. My horses! The last I knew they were running away. They would string packs from inhere to yonder" and panic the Boss' string, maybe causing him to be hurt. I tried to hurry. Then a slight movement below me made me turn my head. There they stood, the most dejected looking pack string anyone ever saw. They had missed the curve and ran down the hill a short way. The packs were sill intact, but they had legs over halter ropes, halter ropes under packs, and old Whiskey, the one I suspect of causing the double, had a hind leg entwined in the leadrope of the animal behind him. I have one failing the Boss has never been able to cure me of. I tie my reins together and my horse had gotten his foot through them, in which case he considers himself ground-tied until someone comes for him. Somehow I got them untangled and started up to the trail. But a couple of steps at a time was all I could manage—a reaction had set in. I was quaking, and panting for breath. However, I was staggering down the jail with my string in tow when the frightened Boss come hurrying back on my black mare. Poor Boss. I wonder why he didn't just dig me under on the spot. No shovel I suppose. What he said was, "If I ever get you out of here I'll never bring you back again!"

Several seasons came and went and I resigned, but of my own volition. I regard my experience in the some light as the lady with a brood of twelve. I wouldn't take a million for any one of them and I wouldn't give a nickel for another one like them! The Boss has his own explanation for me and he puts it quite simple: "She hasn't been herself since she got that crack on the noggin!" I've been a fair weather camper from then on, but for me, there will always be—a halo over Gordon.

A New Home at Seeley Lake
Our years of outfitting never brought us much in the way of riches, but all-told, our endeavors culminated in a lot of worthwhile memories and a host of good friends. By the time we had started in that business, all of our youngsters but two had flown the nest. By 1953, Allen had gotten a transfer to the Seeley Lake Ranger District, so we moved to Seeley Lake, operated "The Tamaracks" resort for a year and sold our property at Arlee. We took up permanent residence at Seeley and became involved with just about all of the activities that surfaced there, including and especially, the Seeley Lake Women's Club and the Community Hall. While Allen was at the outfitting, packing for the Forest Service, or working at the sawmills, I cooked for four seasons for the Forest Service, then put in one short term for the Anaconda Company's logging camp number nine. Their crew had dwindled to about fifteen to twenty-five men and I was told that I was first woman cook the company had ever had. It wasn't to be my only "first." One day I answered the phone to be told that I was receiving the "first" underwater phone call made in Montana (The phone lines were laid at the bottom of Seeley Lake to access residences across the water.) And then the county road craw cut the barrier string and allowed me to be the first to drive over the new and existing Clearwater River Bridge near the outlet of Seeley Lake!

Epilogue The younger generation cannot picture life as it was lived in the horse and buggy days. They were not around for homesteading, Model T Fords, the 1918 flu epidemic, World War I nor four-mile-walks to school. They are too young to remember the Great Depression, life without telephones, electricity, radio and television, so they have niggled me for ten years or more to scribble the way I grew up. Consequently, these "happenings" have come at last to be put on paper. But who would have thought that a backwoods, hillbilly kid without much to think with, would have the temerity to put something together for other folks to read?
Well y' never know!