My Forty Years Scribblin's
Outfitting
Halo Over Gordon

An early outfitting account written in 1956, published in the Montana Outfitter magazine in 1965. Another season ends with a tough trip out of "The Bob."


It was one of those times that God had created special, Indian summer in the wilderness. The roar of a jet thundered off the peaks and I looked out the tent flaps to note that the pilot had made a playful sashay over western Montana leaving a jet stream in a perfect circle and right over the round, bald knob of Gordon mountain. I watched the small phenomenon while the circle lengthened to an oval and drifted ever so slowly down the valley, the halo seeming to signify all the good things I had known here and some not so good, for these take on a brighter aspect too, after they become memories.

The outfitter's dream is good bookings, good help and good hunting. Good help and good hunting means that every man-jack of them headed for the hills as early as sin and I can be anything I wish for the day—as long as I hold it to cook, flunky, washer woman and general chore boy.

My day begins at the shivering insistence of the alarm clock, upon which I hurry through the preparation of a dishpanful of pocket lunches, fry up a yard of bacon, a bucket of eggs, and a bushel of pancakes, and line up my general "tent work" before the sun gets his eyes open. And somewhere along the way I remember "The Boss' " wishful good-bye… "You might go down and catch a few fish for supper—if you've nothing else to do." So its likely that I'll be standing on the banks of Young's Creek by mid-afternoon. Didn't take time to put on boots so I can't wade today. There's a flash of a red belly turned up to the sun. I come to with a jerk… and crumple like a wet sock. The big one always gets away. And WOW—is that water cold ! Oh, well, they were old shoes anyway so I wade on across and take off down the stream. No use trying for him again. By now he's a smarter kind of fish than I am. Later I go squishing home on the double, the sun's downward, looks like I'm gonna be late! Eventually the rough table is laid for umpteen men and I sit down to wait and wonder for three whole hours. Are they dressing out all the elk in the Young's Creek drainage or did they just take off for New York, Chicago or San Francisco? One thing I know for darn sure… supper is drying to a cinder and the cook tent will know the clatter of pots and pans tonight after the last tall tale is told and the bunk tents will heave like a bellows from the snores of tired and bearded men.

I have known the anxiety of lost hunters, have written reams of letters… one gentleman in Texas became quite a pen pal. It came to be that I could guess within a day or two when his yearly inquiry would arrive. I would then sit down and fill the three or four pages required to answer all his questions as to what had transpired the year before. His town suffered in one of the Gulf's worst hurricanes and I heard from him no more. If he was among the missing, I'm glad I was patient, for his last letter came—as I knew it would—and in it I read—as I knew I would—"Well, I won't be able to make it again this year—but I sure do enjoy your letters."

I left my cookie making during one of my camp guard sessions, and went to investigate the prolonged barking of Laddie, the current guard dog and there, ignoring his warning, stood a great big chocolate bear! Our hunters had ridden and hiked uncounted miles in search of just such a specimen and now that they were thirty-six hours on their way home here he was in camp with me. I ran in the tent, got loose from some of the dough and reached for the rifle. I fired a shot over his head and he loped off into the brush but he didn't seem very worried. Not nearly as worried as I was when I looked out to see him ambling out into the open again. Not so cool now I shot for blood but I missed him, just barely. This time he departed with a cracking of brush and I collected a pile of bonfire material, guns, sleeping bag, and a whole arsenal of ammunition. I won't say I slept but I spent the night in the yard. Two nights later when the new party arrived The Boss shot my chocolate bear only feet from the door as he was perversely following the dog right into the tent.

Another day—another year—there was no banging of pans nor rattling of oven doors this morning. I was leafing through some old magazines, enjoying a three day vacation when I became aware of an uproar outdoors. Coyotes tormenting the dog again I supposed. (I'll just jump out from that sleeping tent and surprise them). But the surprise backfired. Came a snapping and snarling and a miniature thunder of padded feet. I darted out from behind the sleeping tent like a screaming jumping jack, beating my hands together in a frenzy. Out of the little dry wash and under the hitching rack shot a melee of animals. At my unexpected appearance two grey shadows somersaulted and leapt for cover behind the nearest jackpine thicket and two shivering dogs came to huddle against my legs, one on either side. My palms burned for an hour but goose bumps washed over me and icicles played tag up and down my spine. Coyotes? All biological data to the contrary those were two grey woolly timber wolves invading the quiet of my domain that morning

All set for another trip into the Bob, October 1963.The time-honored "Golden Days Of Autumn" are just next to Heaven and have given me many pleasant miles of riding 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 fearfully while the old burned snags fell around me in a violent wind storm, 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.

As the season comes to a close expect plenty of snow and often a howling wind over Pyramid pass, as it was once when we were bringing out the camp. The early November skies had opened up and dropped enough snow to drive the elk out of the high-country much to the delight of our California hunters and now, almost at the end of the run Allen, "The Boss", had gotten an infection in one knee. Home remedies failed and I persuaded him to go out 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 on top," he promised, meaning on top of the pass. The snow turned to 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 cached, maneuvered and packed and with all the gear as wet, frozen and unpleasant as possible, got going the second day. The miles wore away, the heavy snow making it rough on the animals. The boy was in the lead breaking trail with the huskiest horse, and when they started down the little pitch to round the lake they jumped off into a drift that looked like an 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 the trailless mountainside, a banshee wind was on the make and we had a seventeen-year old boy to lead us. Then I saw them. 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 of the procession I could see the leaders plowing snow belly deep and I breathed another prayer of thankfulness for the partly covered man tracks. A lucky thing it was that the lake was low and the Lord walked right along beside us for if we'd broken through the ice we'd have been in real trouble.

Now we were leaving the lake for the last short climb. Soon I sat looking down on the outfit. One tortured little tree twisted in the wind and I had long ago made a mental note of which side the trail went. The boys were off searching it out on foot. They had stopped and were motioning to each other.

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

"Huh-h ?"

"The oth-er side of - the - tree-ee-ee."

"HU-U-H-H?

No use. The wind-tossed words sailed over their heads. I could only pray that they would find a way off that glassy mountain. And they did. A couple miles down we overtook the makers of the tracks, two strangers, hunters who had turned back. Upon reaching home I learned that The Boss was threatening to desert a warm hospital bed and take off after us if we failed to get home that very night.

As we trailed down the mountain the snow decreased, the wind gave up and went back to its devilment up among the peaks. We had gone one more round—another season was behind us, just one of many that we spent in The Bob Marshall Wilderness.