My Forty Years Scribblin's
Tribulations of a Packer's Wife

This outfitting essay was written in 1996 and published in the June, 1996 issue of The Camp Robberand the January-February 1997 issue of The Montana Journal. Mildred does battle with yellow jackets.

I was introduced to "The Bob" on a camping trip shortly after World War II. It was then called The South Fork of the Flathead primitive area. Even now crossing the Divide into The Bob Marshall Wilderness is like stepping over the line into a different world. Highways give way to game trails, the telephone is forgotten in the wail of the coyote, and television is replaced by the music of the horse bells. I didn't suspect that this trip would change my way of living and my memories for the remainder of my life.

Otter Creek and Young's Creek go rolling along as they have through the ages. And the pack string plods along methodically while the landmarks appear one by one. Teepee camp (Leota Park, the Indians call it), Jenny Creek, Marshall Creek, Little Slide, where I crawled off the mountain on my hands and knees one night after a late elk kill. Then Big Slide ("Only four more miles to camp, Tuffy."), then Babcock and Cabin Creeks and the little knoll between the two where a trapper, also named Bob Marshall, had committed suicide and had to be hauled out on a hand-fashioned toboggan twenty-four miles to Ovando. At last the crossing of Young's Creek, named for Charles "Kid" Young, a trapper-surveyor-ranger who roamed the country a hundred years ago.

Now, saddle weary, we reached our camp on the banks of gurgling little Otter Creek, which was to be my home for the next two months without a glimpse of civilization.

From my domain, the cook tent, I could look across the valley floor over the willow growth that marked Young's Creek, to the foothills opening and Teeter-Totter, so named by the Indians who made it their camping grounds along Kid Creek to hunt and dry a winter's supply of meat. Whole families journeyed to the hunting grounds in the early fall, and the name was bestowed, so the story goes, when the men came in from a day's hunt to find the women and children playing, sitting on a pole over a log, giggling and laughing over their teeter-totter.

Behind Teeter-Totter rose Kid Mountain topped by Kid Lookout that deteriorated and blew down some years later, leaving me to look at an empty place in the skyline. Looking across the valley when there was snow cover, I could discern a movement like a parade of ants. With the help of the binoculars it turned out to be a herd of twelve or fifteen head of elk making their unhurried way around treeless Gordon Mountain. Scanning the panorama below the snow line, I detected a black gumdrop-size something against the light brown grass. The binocs showed the gumdrop to be a bear. I watched him meander aimlessly, then make his way down to the creek bottom, knowing that "Old Bob," our little yellow dog, would keep everybody awake that night while he dutifully kept the bruin out of camp.

On one trip into camp, our pack string ran into a yellow jacket nest sending the panic-stricken horses every direction, dumping packs and breaking lead ropes, their only thoughts to escape the fiery stings of the black and yellow devils. I rode into camp a day later, having missed the point of peril with my one horse, to find a woman of our party in bed recuperating from a painful landing when her horse bucked her off on a stump. Luckily her injuries were not serious.

There is no place colder than a tent when the fire is out. And there is no place hotter than a tent with two ovens in operation and the sun bearing down on the roof. Now the morning sun was sending signals over Jumbo Peak searching out my cook tent. The region was teeming with wildlife great and small, but this day the hunters and their guides had gone a-huntin', and the only wildlife in camp was me! Me and a swarm of yellow jackets. When the sun's first rays blessed the roof top, the little striped pests came out of nowhere, enlivened by the warmth and drawn by the cooking smells. They brought their friends and neighbors and dive bombed the place. Although I eliminated them as fast as I could, I didn't even make a dent. One sociable little fellow lit on my thumb while I was peeling apples for pies. One marched his impudence up my bare arm, and one dragged his feet across the back of my (rigid) neck. It felt as though he was wearing hob-nailed boots! At these moments, the bugs had the right-of-way. I didn't move a muscle or bat an eyelash. By sundown, the little critters had disappeared. My bed was on a raised frame at the end of the big tent and that must have been where they had their nest; it was the only place I didn't get to during these onslaughts. In all the years I spent as a packer's wife, I battled critters of all sizes, but only one season did I get put in my place by something as small as a blamed little bug!