My Forty Years Scribblin's
A Tribute to Allen

Originally titled Hunting In His Blood, this was written in 1997 and sent to the Bugle. It was subsequently returned with the comment that it was "too much a tribute to Allen." We thought that would make the perfect title and Mildred agreed to let us change it for this book.

Twelve year old Allen with his first horse—Lady.There were no Hunters Safety courses in 1928 and guides were for the well-to-do. But one small boy was "all ears" for the elk hunting stories of the men folks and yearned with all his heart for the time when he would climb on a horse and lead a pack string into the South Fork of the Flathead. His name was Allen Chaffin and ten years of age was not too young to go a-huntin' if you've been born to the saddle, driven a horse and buggy to school and had a family of outdoors people to foster the idea. Now, with just such an excursion on the horizon the boy begged to go. The trip would entail a sixty to seventy mile ride one way—and in those days the season didn't open until mid-October. But his mom was going and Sam, his dad said, "He's a tough little devil. He can stand it if you can." To the old-timers, school was secondary to being able to survive in the wilderness. The boy won out. He was allowed to skip school for a chance to learn a few things not to be found in books. His father instilled in him the rigid rules of handling a gun. He listened, he learned, and he became a consummate hunter.

On this, his first trip into the "back country" his horse fell on him, putting him to bed in a makeshift camp on Otter creek with an injured foot. There came a heavy snow, and, he recalls, "we like to froze to death."

There were no Life Flights, no doctors available, his dad cut wood almost constantly and his worried mother hovered near. But the weather warmed and as soon as the boy was able to ride they moved on down to Big Prairie ranger station, their original destination. At Big Prairie they found several Indian camps and the snow had all but disappeared. Now Sam had done what he came for—to look the country over for future hunting territory, and as soon as he had his elk they packed up and were homeward bound. Reaching Seeley Lake the second day their horses got away from them, temporarily, and the ten year old hunter, not quite the man he thought he had become, cried, thinking he would have to walk the thirty-seven miles that stretched between him and home.


Mom had had enough, she never went again. But the young hunter, forgetting the hardships of the year before, would not be left behind. The Jocko route was but an Indian trail when the Chaffin party, including some family members, stopped at Jocko Lakes for the night. An Indian hunting party overtook them and camped nearby. During those years not many packers "mantied" their packs. The panniers were filled and hung on sawbuck saddles and top-loaded and tied on with a diamond hitch. The camp came alive the next morning when "two old white mares" that were tied to a tree in the Indian camp decided to kick up, unloading their packs and sending tin plates flying through the air and creating pandemonium. When the running figures and the shouting had stopped and the two heaving, frightened animals were quieted the campsite was strewn with a variety of equipment that had to be collected and re-loaded for a new beginning. To the youngster it was almost better than the Barnum and Bailey circus he had been treated to in the past summer, a break in the monotony of hour after hour on the trail.

The second night out they bedded down at Foot Of The Hill camp. The third night found them at the old camp on Otter creek. Ren Roberts, an Indian guide from Ronan, was camped with his party of hunters on Young's creek, nearby. Young Allen, being the youngest hunter in the region, enjoyed special privileges. The Indian brought the boy a whistle carved from a hollow weed.

"If you learn to blow this you can have it," the old man said. Although bugling season was pretty well past the boy huffed and puffed until his dad got tired of his aimless tootling.

"Stick your tongue in it," his father commanded.

Upon this advice he learned—and became the happy owner of his first elk bugle.

It began to snow—again. A well known Indian friend of Sam's, Michelle Kiser, stopped for a meal on his way to join the Indian camp down the country.

"Is all right, Sam," he said. "One snow good. Two snows—pretty good. Three snows—better move."

Perhaps in his subconscious the boy anticipated mulligan bubbling in the black kettle, wild chicken—or maybe fish in the frying pan and his father cooking bannock until it browned just right, over the open fire. But camp fare does not always offer full choices. Young Allen let it be known that he missed having cream for his coffee, the family cow having stayed behind. Someone in the party killed a cow elk so his brother-in-law stripped some milk into an empty cartridge and plugged the hole with a stick. The offering was graciously tendered at the evening meal. The youngster was instantly cured and ever after drank his coffee black!

Snow made hunting easier and the campers soon filled their tags and prepared to leave for home, the old Indian hunter, Ren Roberts with his party following behind. As they climbed toward Pyramid pass the snow grew deeper and the air colder. They were obliged to walk much of the way to keep from freezing. The deepening white stuff pulled at the boy's short legs, wearing him down so that the men must often put him on his horse to ride while he rested. Once over the pass the trek became easier but when they reached Foot Of The Hill camp at last the "littlest hunter" was steeped in the cold and exhausted. He remembers that "Dad and somebody" got a tent set up and beds spread out. And that somebody else got a fire started and supper in the works. But all the boy wanted was to curl up somewhere and go to sleep. His father kept shaking him.

"Stay awake now, you can't go to sleep until we get something in your stomach!

They got him settled near the fire and warmed him up which only made him more sleepy. Eventually, someone put a tin plate of food in his lap. And eventually, too, he was allowed to crawl into his blankets and sleep.


Now the Chaffin clan, family and friends were hunting in earnest,

"The Indians were hunting for their livelihood and so were we." The Great Depression was in full swing. There was no money, no work, no welfare, no food stamps, and for some time no help at all for people who needed it. They found the old camp at Otter creek teeming with activity. The government was building an air strip, blasting and dirt moving, big teams of work horses and scurrying men were everywhere, a situation not conducive to elk hunting. (The project was never completed.) Sam moved his party down to Basin creek, Willow creek, the Indians called it. Here in the Danaher basin they found "eight or ten" teepees already there, among them the Eli Morigeaus, Nine Pipes, Michelle and Mary Kiser, Mary Kaltime, (pronounced Kal-ti-mee) and the family of young Peter Poker. Allen and Peter knew each other from school.

Peter was a couple years older, but the two camps visited back and forth, sometimes hunting together. "Dad went over and helped the Indian women cut meat for smoking."

By now the boy had quit ducking under the covers when the coyotes began their night song. He also had a hunting license and was allowed to carry a gun. He was told to "poke along up the hill and watch for something." To his astonishment a bull elk walked into an opening. Presently he remembered that he was supposed to shoot at it. Bang. And bang again. Nothing happened . The bull ambled along undisturbed. A second one walked out and he shot two more times. The bull kept on walking and, unbelievably, a third one came out of the timber—with a repeat performance. The boy's astonishment turned to frustration. Sam came scrambling up the hill.

"What did you shoot at?"

"Three elk. I couldn't hit 'em."

"You're sure you didn't hit one?" The young hunter shook his head dejectedly.

"They didn't even stop."

"Lets go see." They went over to where the elk had crossed. No blood, no downed animals, only unhurried tracks. He felt that he'd let his father down.

But Peter Poker hadn't missed his elk. The next morning he was at the Chaffin camp.

"Come with me to get my elk," he invited.

Allen saddled his horse and the two kids were on their way.

"Aren't you gonna take another horse?"

"Don't need another horse," Peter replied, leading out to pick up his kill. The boys kicked away the snow and made a fire to thaw their hands and feet—and young Allen was about to receive a lesson in how the Indians packed an elk.

At Peter's direction they cut the skin loose to the back bone, cut the fore legs away from the ribs and hung one on each side of the saddle, disjointed the hind quarters from the back bone and hung one on each side of the saddle, hanging from the gambrel. Peter chopped along each side of the back bone and cupped a rib section over each front leg. He threw the back bone on crosswise and tied it down on both ends. Lastly he threw the hide over all "and climbed on top of the whole damn works!"

The sky turned ominous. By morning it was apparent that this was "three snows," time to move. But they had not moved soon enough.

By the time they reached the pass the snow was belly-deep on the horses. Progress was foot by foot, the men often having to search out the trail and break it through to help the heavily loaded animals. Foot Of The Hill camp at last. They were still more than forty miles from home, but the battle was mainly won.


Two weeks before his seventeenth birthday there were no family members free to go with him.

"There's the horses," his father said. "You know the way." He recruited his friend, Eddie, and the two left on the sixty-five mile jaunt at the end of October. Winter's first onslaught settled in at once. The thermometer plummeted, but undeterred, the boys kept going.

"Most of our food froze" Allen remembers. They threw their eggs and potatoes away. After two very long days' ride they reached familiar Otter creek camp. The third day out they killed their two cows within gun-shot hearing of camp. The fourth day they got part way home. The fifth day it was too cold to stop so they let the horses set their own pace and kept going. About 11 p.m. Sam, hearing noises in the yard, spoke into the darkness. "What'd you get?" Every one else had expected to find two kids frozen along the trail somewhere.

If experience is the best teacher Allen was well indoctrinated. Eventually he went to work for the Forest Service, yes, packing mules, a job terminating in the fall so he could go hunting. Soon after WW II he was bitten by the outfitting bug, going to go packing dudes and get rich! Of course he established a base camp at Foot Of The Hill camp and a seat of operations at Otter creek.

"There were a lot of really big bulls in the back country then," he recalls. With lungs like a bellows their battle calls vibrated through the atmosphere to echo off the canyon walls.

"You could get a fight out of them with anything, even an empty cartridge."

Sadly, the big bulls went into a decline after the early seasons pressure, not enough of them being able to reach full maturity.

Allen and Mildred Chaffin visited Bozeman in September of 1992. Photo courtesy of Yvonne Coopmans.Allen's expected "riches" somehow eluded him, but he did make some lifelong friends through eighteen years of commercial outfitting. A heart attack nearly put an end to his excursions to "The Bob," but now, with that inconvenience under control, a couple years short of eighty, he is shoeing horses, inhaling the sweet essence of saddle leather, sweaty horse blankets and wet canvas, planning to make for the umpteenth time, that "one more trip" into his beloved Bob Marshall Wilderness.