My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
Mountain Man—“Kid” Young

A different version of this story was printed in Montana's Little Legends(1963). This was written in 1996 and published in the January-February 1997 issue of The Montana Journal. Charles "Kid" Young was a product of the pioneer days.


Charley Young had earned a place in Montana's history, roaming the mountains as a hunter, packer and guide, trapper, forest ranger, lumberjack, and surveyor, becoming known as "Kid" Young, by the turn of the century. He had traveled across the United States by railroad, covered wagon, and stage coach as a small boy, to grow up on his parents' homestead in the Blackfoot Valley at Ovando. Somewhat a loner, he gloried in the ability to live on what the land afforded, spending months at a time in the "back country" that became The Bob Marshall Wilderness. On these sojourns he saw no one but "a few Indians," and his diet consisted mostly of jerky that he made from elk meat.

"A lot of elk wintered in the Danaher Basin and Big Prairie," he said. One time, while spending six months in the "out back," he heard two shots "up country" just before dark at his cabin at Big Prairie. Taking his rifle, he gave an answering shot, thinking that some trapper was lost. He was awakened in the night by someone at the door. It developed that his brother and a man named Courtney had come in to find him and bury his remains!

Kid Young took the first party of surveyors into the (now) Bob Marshall Wilderness where Young's Creek, Young's Mountain, and Kid Mountain are named for him. One of the earliest forest rangers, he was stationed at Neihart, in the Little Belt Mountains. Later, he and two other men set up a camp at Camp Creek in the Danaher Basin.

"We made up the force in the South Fork of the Flathead, as it was known then," he said, remembering that he was paid $60 a month and furnished his own transportation (saddle and pack horse) and his own tools and nails to build a cabin for shelter and to store supplies in. But Young quit the Forest Service "on account of red tape." He had to come out and report every two months whether he had anything to report or not!

As a lumberjack he rode the spring log drives down the Blackfoot River to the sawmill at Bonner. And when people of the Blackfoot Valley relied on snowshoes for transportation, he carried the mail, his route covering approximately twenty miles, for a dollar each way.

But Charley's favored occupation was trapping, and outwitting the grizzlies was his choice.

"I got some mighty big bears back then," he reminisced. "And I got as much as $175 for a hide."

Speaking of life on the trap line, he remembered a time when he reached one of his trapper's cabins "dead tired and after dark." Trappers built their cabins facing a big tree or other landmark so they could start digging the snow away where the door ought to be, hoping some varmint hadn't gotten there first. The door, usually just high enough for a man to crawl in on all fours was easy to bar and discouraged marauders. Charley dug his way in to find that the roof had leaked and his bed was wet. Exhausted, he lay down anyway and "got the pneumonia." Pioneer medicine and his own resourcefulness had taught him to take care of himself. He boiled spruce needles and drank the tea.

I saw Charley's cabin on Babcock Creek in the 1950's. The logs had rotted down and the roof had fallen in. Pack rats, the elements, and creatures of the wild had ravaged what appurtenances there may have been.

He was ninety years old when I talked with him at Ovando.

"The Indians were always hunting" he said. "There were tepees everywhere, but they never bothered or stole anything—not even my traps that I left hanging In the trees."

"You could kill an elk any time right here on this ranch," he declared.

Then I heard from another oldtimer that Charley had once taken the trail of an elk and followed it into the wilderness and back to shoot it two days later within a mile of where he started. Why? With Charley "Kid" Young, it had to be an endurance test.

When Charley left his beloved mountains, his body was tormented with the pain of a broken hip, but his mind and his memories of his younger days were as bright and clear as his blue Montana skies, until a short time before his death at ninety-odd years in 1963.