As a boy my folks gave me a special birthday gift each year, starting at age six, and each year after. My birthday was Sept 8, and that was when Dad began his fall hunting trips. I got to help him trail the horses over the Mission Range, to our corrals at Holland Lake, and then go with him on the first hunting party into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I thought I was in heaven on those ten-day hunting trips. Looking back now, it probably wasn’t the best thing for my schooling, missing the first and second week of school each year.
In 1943, I was 7 years old and a happy little boy. I thought I was pretty big as Dad had me lead a couple of the pack horses the 28 miles to our camp on Bartlett Creek. In those days our camp was not as fancy as it is nowadays. Dad did the cooking as well as the guiding and packing. Most of the hunters would pitch in and help with gathering wood and other chores. I was probably some help to Dad, but was more likely a pain in the rear. I usually went with Dad as he guided the hunters, but some days he had me stay in camp by myself. I enjoyed the days by myself. I would go down to the river and try to catch the big whitefish, and bull trout laying in the deep holes. I would practice on my water reed elk bugle, play my mouth harp, and slice myself a piece of cheese off the big round cheese block Dad always brought in for lunches. The block would last all fall, and cheese was a real treat to me.
One day I was with Dad and a hunter who had not gotten his elk yet. Dad had bugled in a big old grey-back six-point bull. It was really close to us but the hunter could not see it. Dad was trying to help the hunter spot it. I could see it plainly and whispered to Dad, “I can see it! Can I shoot it?” I think this encouraged the hunter to get himself pulled together, as he finally shot. Hunting with a mussel loader, he crippled it, and it went on up the mountain. The hunter took his horse and went back to camp while I went with Dad, following the elk. The elk went to the timberline, following a game trail and then turned up the canyon but angled downhill a little, which meant he was tiring, and it was hard for him to climb. His trail went by an opening in a cliff. We stopped and looked in. The opening was big, not a little hole like most cave openings. We went in a little way and I was in awe. Just a few weeks earlier Mom & Dad had taken my sister Ola, little brother Kenny an me to Missoula to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey circus. There were lions, tigers, and fifty elephants in the show. I loved the high wire trapeze acts, but was most impressed with the elephants. There was a parade from the railroad down main street with all those elephants, with men and women riding some of them. Standing in the cave that day, those elephants must have still been on my mind. I told Dad, “This room is so big you could put all fifty of the circus elephants in here!” We did not have time to explore the cave as Dad had to keep after the elk, which we finally got after a long chase. I always planned to go back and find that cave but never had the chance. I asked Dad in later years if he had ever gone back in it, and he said he had not. I think of it and wish I had gone back and found it. I would like to see if it looks now like it did to a seven-year-old boy in 1943.
There are many caves in the valley and throughout the Bob Marshall like the one pictured, Turtle Cave. I often wonder what role this and other caves played in the early days.