Jesika Harper Finds Stories in the Wilderness

There is no shortage of opportunities to hear about backcountry adventures in this beautiful place we call home. I love to hear others’ stories about wild places and listen carefully to their tales as we consider future plans. I have a deep respect for earlier generations, with their grit and all the changes they’ve seen. Many have painstakingly carved our trails and made seeing spectacular places possible. Similarly, I’ve grown fond of nature biographies, those memoirs found in dusty corners of little shops near trailheads that tell their stories so well.  

I learned about Beatty’s Cabin, by Elliott S. Barker while in the Pecos Wilderness of New Mexico. He was an original homesteader in the unit we were packing into. My husband and I had hauled our horses and mules from north Idaho to offer our brother in-law an elk hunt in the high country. He had sacrificed his own passion for wild places to serve our country for more than 20 years. Between scouting for elk and tending the stock, we had been taking turns reading Beatty’s Cabin and I carried it in my saddle bag each day. I felt a greater connection to where we were after learning the trials of those who were there before. One sunny day we rode up to the magnificent Truchas Peak which towers over 13,000 feet. The country is supremely rugged and stunning, in many ways like Scotchman Peaks. The previous evening, I’d read about Juan Climaco Maestas who in the fall of 1907 was searching desperately for his horses, lost and snowbound in the same area. Though it was nearly 70 degrees that October afternoon, the night before was a frigid 11 degrees with wind battering our wall tent. That evening, I thought about our stock on a high line nearby, thankful we weren’t in Juan’s shoes. I’m not sure if it was the vast beauty, my adoration for our equines, or all I’d learned from Beatty’s Cabin, but I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I treasure that experience and my worn copy of the book which is inscribed with a note from my brother-in-law, “I cannot describe the gratefulness I feel for the adventure we shared. Thanks to you, Beatty’s places are now our places.”  

I didn’t give too much more thought to the experience in the Pecos until a few years later in the Frank Church Wilderness. Our family was spending a week rafting the Main Fork of the Salmon River. In the evening, guides played guitars and shared high-water adventures around the campfire. They taught us about wild plants, Riveritas, and reading the river. They introduced us to homesteaders who live beautifully and in harmony with nature. One day, we eddied out and were encouraged by the outfitter to take a short hike. The destination was an abandon homestead with dilapidated outbuildings, rusty implements, and a modest cabin. We followed a trail through an overgrown orchard and found ourselves standing at the gravesite of the original homesteader, Reho Wolfe. We stood silently as the outfitter read her epitaph and shared her story. By sheer might and conviction, Reho had created a lovely home in the mid-1900’s in a fiercely rugged landscape while fighting off brusque men who wished to take it (and her children) from her. I had a lump in my throat as I stood there holding my son’s hand while we payed homage to this brave woman ahead of her time. Like the experience in the Pecos, I was overcome with gratitude because I had been reading about Reho in a book written by her son. Standing there with my husband and son on the edge of the great Salmon River, I felt beyond blessed by the experience we shared. 

When we return from wild places, it feels like no time before we’re back to our routines. A sort of autopilot, modern living with all the supposed requirements for living successfully in the 21st century. It’s an odd yin and yang, this dualism of loving Wilderness and the reality that we don’t get to stay there. As much as I think I would like to, I can’t go live like Reho did right now. I tell myself that’s okay, because I know that we can go back, Wilderness will be there for us next time. She is uniquely qualified to teach us like no other and that is why we need to protect her. I hope that stories like Beatty’s and Reho’s will be handed down for many years, and I am hopeful that we too are in the midst of a story yet to be written.

Voices in the Wilderness is a monthly column written by your neighbors, friends and visitors in the vicinity of the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. Voices features memorable personal experiences in wild places. If you have an adventure tale based in untamed country (it doesn’t have to be local), write to info@scotchmanpeaks.org for guidelines, or just send it along.  

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About The Author:

Henry grew up ranching and recreating along the Rocky Mountain Front in Choteau, Montana. He graduated from Carroll College in 2016 with a B.A. in Political Science & International Relations with an emphasis on public lands and environmental policy. Henry has been involved in elections administration, forestry, wilderness therapy, and outdoor education across Montana and Idaho. Henry resides in Troy and also works as a Student Life Counselor at Boulder Creek Academy in Bonners Ferry. His passion lies at the intersection of community engagement, outdoor education, and mental health.

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