Once Upon a (Life)time
Wilderness Travels
Wilderness Travels - Part 1

Mildred and Allen begin outfitting, with Mildred as camp guard.

Portions of the following story originally appeared in the Montana Outfitter Magazine, Fall 1960.

I was sure a "greenie" way back, when that mountain-minded man of mine fell for all that malarkey about the rewards of being a packer and guide. Oh, I'd tagged along a time or two when he'd taken some friends on a hunting excursion, but reared up like an old fly-back horse when he began to talk of "dude wrangling" for our bread and butter. (I darn well knew who was going to be his "man" Friday.) There was no talkin' him out of it, though. We farmed the kids out (at Grandmother's) but I can't remember what we did with our other commodities, except the dog—he went along. Due to the Chaffin clan's being so horse-minded we already had a herd of cayuses to draw from, so we sold our school bus and mortgaged our souls to get the remainder of the outfit together.

Equipment in those post-war years was mighty hard to come by, and in this department my "education" really began. Today, with many years of "savvy" behind me, I reach around and give myself a pat on the back as I look on the results of some of my early endeavors, while at others, I look back and thank the good Lord for taking care of people like me! Friend husband knew all about the country, having followed his father since he was a lad-had bugled the majestic bull elk since he could whistle, and could throw a diamond hitch with the best of them. He later discarded the diamond and top pack for the more simple forestry hitch.

Our first camp was to be on Otter Creek, near where it joins Young's Creek to form the headwaters of the South Fork of the Flathead River, in what is now the Bob Marshall Wilderness. We started freighting our camp stoves, canned food and supplies over Pyramid Mountain in early fall that first year. With me trying my darndest to be helpful, he packed up enough horses for two good men to handle. We got out of camp about noon. Then some brute that was greener than I would act up and cause combustion all through the pack string.

Allen, being the good partner that he was, later learned to cut down to about a string and a half. I learned a lot of brand new "cuss" words, and eventually, how to lead my part of the procession.

"Git that rope loose from that saddle horn!" It was one of my first lessons. I hadn't known that any untoward happening might cause the lead horse to pull back and upset my saddle horse on top of me, even possibly sending the whole string to the bottom of some canyon.

"Kick your feet loose from them stirrups!" was another, when we reached slippery rock, shale, or bad mud holes.

I even had to learn to shove vanity under the bed and put on clothes befitting my new occupation. After a few soggy trips when the rain ran down my cheeks, down my neck and trickled icily down my back, I discarded my pretty scarf for a hat. (Love that disreputable old hat! It had a wide brim and if I remembered to lean back, the water ran off outside my saddle.) Horses have a lot of human traits. Some are worth their weight in gold and some are born trouble makers. Take old Tony, for instance. Some horses just lag back, but Tony dragged his feet! I used to feel inside my coat at the end of a long day's ride to see if there really was a hole where my arm used to be! Then there were Prince and Bud, to mention a few, and don't forget old "Whoop 'em up" He never tightened a rope on a steep climb, but I furnished him power by pulling him for many a downhill and cross-country mile, and then the old hellion would plant his feet and stop-as though he suddenly remembered something—jerking the lead rope from my hand and leaving me to the ignominy of getting off and picking it up in the middle of an oozy, slimy mud hole!

After all those Tonys, Princes, Buds and even Whoop-em up, my right arm performed like a rubber band, stretching out at the beginning of a day's ride, and snapping back to position at sight of the hitch rack at the other end of the trail.

By dint of much exertion, we got that first camp set up. But there was one important thing we had overlooked.
We didn't have any bookings!

Friends had told us they knew literally dozens of people who were dying to make a pack trip into this wilderness area. And they meant it, too. We had gone merrily along without a worry on the subject!
On leaving camp for the last load before the opening of the season, I had left the cook tent in apple pie order—dishes in the pole cupboard, a shiny new oil-cloth on the table, and a four-lid cookstove with oven as a special inducement to my culinary efforts. Pots and pans were handy behind it. Canned goods and other supplies were stacked neatly near the stove.

This trip out for another load brought both good luck, and bad. On reaching home, we had word of two Californians who wanted to be packed in. The bad news was what we found when we returned to camp. I lagged behind with my string. When I pulled up to the tents, blue smoke and violent language assailed me. No wonder! My new cook tent stood rent and torn—positively the worst mess I had ever laid eyes on! The nice white canvas was smudged all over with bear tracks and inside the tent was bedlam—covered with mud. My new oilcloth lay outside the door in an unrecognizable state and a trail of dirty tracks  paraded the length of the table. The cookstove lay upside down among the ruins of what had been canned goods, dishes, pots and pans. If civilization had been any closer, I probably would have gone home to mother. But it wasn't, and there was no use in postponing the agony. We had to straighten out the mess and get out the next day to meet our fist guests. Luckily, we had food with us, for the old reprobate hadn't left us any!

By now, we had acquired a young "hand" to help with the wrangling and this was his first trip to camp. It was evident that we couldn't leave the camp alone after this, so it was decided that he and I would take turns at staying when the string went out. I went to work patching up the tent, while from Otter Creek nearby, came mutterings of a nearly depleted vocabulary of "such and such" and "so and so's." My better half was washing the outer layer of mud from the kitchen utensils. About half past midnight, we were ready to call it a day and turn in for a few hours before taking off for the outside again. We left the little yellow dog with the "hand" for company and a measure of protection, and I went along with the string. Our  first two guests were really nice guys, as are ninety-nine percent of the people we have met in the since we went into outfitting. All too soon it was my turn to stay with the camp.