Destiny: Reflections on the Front

By Harry Joslin

Photo By Jeff Van Tine The Old Timers referred to it as The Back Country. To a little boy, Harry Joslin, it was an adventure to just gaze at those lofty peaks and wonder what was just beyond. From the hitching rail in front of the cabin in Joslin Basin Steamboat Mountain loomed in the western sky and often served as a warning of an approaching storm. Those peaks just to the west were a reminder of the way it always was....remote and untouched.

 My thoughts (now at 85 years young) keep returning to the heritage which began almost a century ago in the shadow of the southern end of The Front. My Grandad “discovered” the old homestead that injected a personal wonderment and appreciation into a number of subsequent generations....five to date. That bond with “The Front” has remained solid for almost a century and with all probability the upcoming generation (with a little help from Congress) will continue the obsession.

 We are but stewards of a land entrusted to us for safekeeping. Memories will fade and be dimmed by age but the country will always remain as it once was.....if there are folks who care.  I hope they will consider it’s value as I do.  --Harry Joslin --

 During our existence each of us should experience a day that is so filled with splendor that the vivid memory will last forever, never to be covered or erased by another happening. Let me tell you about just such a day. It could have been anybody’s day, but it was mine! be shared only with daughter Gayle. It would become the very first day of the rest of her life. We could not have known that this was the day she would discover her destiny.

 Life had begun to bear down on me. The demands of a growing business was requiring most of my attention so it was with some hesitation that I would agree to another stint in the Scapegoat back country guiding for Hobnail Tom. I was convinced the “Good Old Days” would soon become just fond memories. I was aware there were changes in the wind that would affect the future of the Whitetail Ranch. Tom was considering bringing Howard Copenhaver, his nephew by a previous marriage, into the business as a full partner. Such thoughts were on my mind when Tom opened the conversation to determine how much I would require to guide the forthcoming hunt in the Scapegoat country. He was jubilant and quick to acceptmy offer to contribute my services in exchange for allowing daughter Gayle to join us for the duration of the hunt. I called it Hootie’s Hunt. Houston “Hootie” Booth was one of the four from Clarksburg, West Virginia.

 It’s always darkest just before dawn, and the horse ahead was barely visible as our “safari” trailed single file down the North Fork of the Blackfoot then South up Theodora Creek. I led the way followed by Gayle and our two hunters. Scapegoat was at our backs. As I checked the progress of those behind me I wasastounded to see a crimson splash of light on it’s very tip top....the very beginning of a brand-new day. As we climbed the steep Theodora Creek trail the first rays of the sun splashed a full spectrum of blazing colors on the snow-capped cliffs of that majestic mountain. Each backward glance would find more of the mountain illuminated. Breathtaking! Strangely, darkness stubbornly continued to envelope us as the close, timbered ridge to our East held back the dawn.

 In the half-light the grizzly tracks were visible......three of them....obviously a sow with a pair of yearling youngsters. And they were nearby! She had to have been aware of our presence. Would I have spotted her in the predawn light had I not been distracted by the gorgeous panorama behind me? The eagerness of the hunters was quickly contained as I assured them that if we overtook those bears we would either have two orphaned cubs or a very angry sow to contend with. Actually, I could feel the hair crawl on the back of my neck, knowingwe were within yards of three grizzly bears. My .270 would be inadequate and my backup consisted of a fourteen-year-old girl and two dudes of unknown capabilities. We spent several moments gazing at the magnificence of Scapegoat while my anxiety slowly drained away. I convinced myself that discretion is most certainly the better part of valor.

 Even though the snow wasa foot deep we could feel a bit of warmth from the October sun as we crossed South Pass. Toward the Southeast the red cliffs of Olson Peak were brilliant.....and there in the shadow at the base of a precipice stood a small band of mountain goats. I think Gayle saw them first. A trophy Billy was among their numbers. (I would be responsible for his demise when I later related the day’s events. The following year V.K. Roe of Midland, Michigan, Chief Toxicologist for Dow Chemical, would make the trek and his efforts would be rewarded with an eleven inch trophy.)

 As we worked our saddle horses down the open parks of South Creek a cow elk bolted into the timber some four hundred yards away. I sent the hunters in the direction of the elk as Gayle and I secured the horses where they would be easy to locate.

 We spent the morning, Gayle and I, hunting thelower reaches of the slope without success. Our grumbling bellies reminded us that many hours had passed since I wolfed down breakfast following the early morning roundup. Helen and Gayle had prepared lunches while Tom and the wrangler saddled horses. There was heat in the noontime sun as we settled on a patch of dry grass beneath a large Douglas Fir. A brazen squirrel entertained us overhead while we took our nourishment. His incessant chatteringand acrobatic antics provided us with luncheon entertainment. We named him “Perry” after his counterpart in a popular disney movie of the day. Gayle was surprised when I announced that it was now nap time. Should we be snoozing when we could be hunting? I reminded her that I had developed the noontime nap habit a number of years before......a practice I had acquired from the animals themselves. There was very little movement that time of day. And besides, my day started at four in the morning and would continue as late as eleven at night....I would take a bit of rest whenever I could find it.

 All three of us, Gayle, the squirrel and I, were suddenly jolted from our repose by the sound of thumping hooves. Neither of us saw them....we only heard the rapid retreat ofa small bunch of elk that had happened upon two bodies sleeping in the noonday sun. By the time we had regained our wits the elk had disappeared over a rise and into the nearby timber. The squirrel joined in as we looked at each other in amazement and chuckled. We had just experienced a once-in-a-lifetime happening.

 And so it was that memorable day....such a successful day of hunting. We had seen Nature in all her splendor. We had encountered game of every kind without making a kill, yet fulfillment was complete.

 Yes,beauty truly lies in the eye of the beholder!

 The die was cast. Gayle would return the following summer to work sightseeing pack trips in the Bob Marshall Wilderness for the Whitetail Ranch. She would learn to wrangle horses. She would learn to throw a pack half again her own weight on a mule twice her height. She would pull a laden string of mules through the unbroken wilderness. She would later be known as “Grizzly Gayle” as she trapped and observed grizzlies in the Great Bear Wilderness. She would become the “Goat Lady” as she fought to protect the mountain goats of the Rocky Mountain Front.

 She discovered herself one October morning while looking upon the awesome grandeur of Scapegoat Mountain.......and I was there!


Montana Wildlife Federation      5530 N. Montana Ave., Helena, MT 59601      Mailing address: PO Box 1175, Helena, MT 59624
Phone: 406-458-0227      Fax: 406-458-0373      Toll Free: 1-800-517-7256      Email:
A Member of Montana Shares Like Us On Facebook