My Forty Years Scribblin's
A Bad Beginning But a Good End

A short outfitting story written in 1996, published in the May 1996 issue of the Camp Robber, and the May-June 1997 issue of The Montana Journal. Mildred and friend Maxine are robbed by a bear.

Allen, "The Boss," had bought four mules from another outfitter, and three of them turned out to be renegades. If that wasn't enough, we had a balky black mare who took great pleasure in hauling back until she broke loose and rolled down the hill with the potato sacks on her. We had hired The Boss's nephew to help as a packer and guide, and he brought his bride along. Nice kids, and not long removed from their honeymoon. Maxine's dad, a little uneasy about her taking off into the wilds, topped off her layers of wool clothes with his ankle length slicker, so when the new mules broke loose and took off up the hillside, Maxine, trying her darnedest to be helpful, followed them! They made quite a picture: three mules on the loose and a girl dragging a yellow slicker around the mountain side above us. But we didn't appreciate the humor of it for quite some time. When the renegades performed, it caused combustion among the string. The horses wouldn't stand. Flies and gnats were chewing on them. They rubbed their packs off, and while one pack was being rescued, another was going under some other animal's belly. As evening approached, The Boss decided there was no use going on that late in the day, so we opened and unrolled a tent, piled the load on it, covered it with another one, and went back to the base camp. We had traversed about three miles of the eighteen miles to Otter Creek! Better luck the second day. Things got straightened out, as they always had.

We were having a good season. The bulls were bugling in the Young's Creek drainage, and Cabin and Babcock Creeks were prime hunting grounds. The Boss and his guide were kept busy with the hunters and making meat runs to Seeley Lake. Maxine helped with the "housework," but there were five and sometimes six stoves to keep going, so I put in some necessary time on the end of the cross-cut saw.

It was nice to have another woman in camp for a change, and it wasn't all work. When preparations for dinner and the next day's lunches were nicely situated in the refrigerator (the icy water of Otter Creek), we could go fishing. It was more fun with two of us, especially when I'd hook a nice one, and she would throw her pole to the four winds and run screaming to help me land it. That kind of entertainment was new to Maxine, and she boiled over with excitement.

Then came a time when both men had to be gone overnight. Would she be afraid to stay alone with me?

"No. Oh no, not a bit."

The day went fine until dusk came settling down. Max put some potatoes in the oven and fixed our supper while I sawed wood. It was kind of quiet and lonely, just the two of us, sitting on the bench by the table watching the flickering of the firelight. We began to listen for noises, an old habit with me but an unfamiliar one to her. Now and then she would pipe up and say something, not necessarily meaningful—just "whistlin' in the dark."

Then it came. There was a noise out there—a big one! I grabbed the rifle and stood listening. I should have known it would be like waving a pair of red underwear in front of a Texas longhorn to leave that meat hanging on a pole over the creek, but we'd had so much hustle and bustle around camp that there had been no bear trouble—as yet. I started outside with the rifle in one hand and a flashlight in the other to find that Maxine had tied the strings of the tent flaps in a knot! The dog must have followed the pack string out that day as he sometimes did, for there was no warning bark. I wasn't about to let loose of that gun not knowing at what instant a big hairy paw might rip the tent wide open. Trying to act as though this was an every-day occurrence, I said, "Get this thing untied." Poor Max. Her hands were shaking and most of her fingers had turned to thumbs. At last she got the knot untied. "Let me sit down before I fall down," she said. Cautiously, I poked the flashlight out through the tent flaps. Nothing there. I put a foot out the door and scanned the yard. Nothing there. So I made my way (judiciously) to the creek bank a few feet away, and shined my light on the meat pole. Nothing there either, the bruin had grabbed it, sack and all, and was by now somewhere out in the woods sitting down to his supper.

It wasn't my first bear incident, and it wouldn't be the last. Neither of us slept too well that night, although our visitor didn't come back. And anyway, we'd had enough thrills for one day.