Surviving The Mountain Man Phase

On The Back Page With Daryl Gay - August 2005

Daryl Gay | August 6, 2005

Psychiatrists, doctors, fortune tellers and the like will back me up when I tell you that man experiences a series of phases throughout his lifetime.

Truth be told, my phases are not apt to be exactly the same as your phases, and they may not even overlap. One thing’s pretty sure: we start and end in diapers. But what we do in-between those first and final phases is what constitutes all the good stuff.

You may well remember my Robin Hood phase, when most of the flesh of my left forearm departed for Parts Unknown and I developed lifelong disdain for, and fear of, bows and arrows of any description. Then came the  Minuteman phase, during which I delved (much too) deeply into the wonders of black-powder rifles, specifically attempting to load and accurately fire one within the span of a minute. Since then, many people have expressed admiration for my trademark mustache. But I wear it only because I have neither eyebrows nor nose hair. They all went up in the monumental “POOF” which signaled the end of the Minuteman phase.

Ever wanted to be a mountain man? Hunt and fish and trap and frolic all the time? Eat only what you can catch or hunt down, feasting on buffalo  hump and the fat ribs of mountain sheep while exploring new lands.

Yeah, I’ve been there, too. I remember it all, just like yesterday. In fact, one of the recurring nightmares came just last night…

We named it the Ken-Gay River. Its widest point was likely five feet, its deepest pool less than that. OK, so it doesn’t qualify as a river or even a creek — unless you’re a mountain man. Kenny Haynie and I “discovered” the broad Ken-Gay, and named it upon the event of our first crossing, which consisted of a skip apiece. For two days, we explored its every winding turn and the surrounding bottomland. But Haynie, alas, was not cut out to be a real mountain man. When I tabbed him for the expedition, I never would have thought he’d revert to flatlander on me.

But then, as I recall now he was the only one of all my neighborhood friends not too terrified to take to the woods with me in the first place. However, despite his loss, I prepared to soldier on as a good and proper mountain man should, taking each challenge as it came.

Then I remembered the new kid.

His daddy was the preacher at our local church. We went through about six or eight a year, so I figured he’d be just about right to explore the Ken-Gay Badlands with me before Dodge County’s first hard snows of winter set in. So, Kenny was out and Gary was in.

A true mountain man he was, too. At my shoulder always, helping in hardship and toil, in times of plenty and times of hunger. The hunger part was what I remember most, especially as squirrel season slips in upon us once again. Never a squirrel hunt or fry goes by that I don’t remember my crusty old partner. Or the ptomaine.

One morning after a particularly arduous trek along the Ken-Gay, Gary and I found ourselves truly famished. Summing up the situation and coming to the conclusion that all we had nearby to eat was dirt, we commenced to look for alternatives. I was packing my Hawken .50 caliber, otherwise known as a Winchester single-shot .22, and so became inclined to seek out our friendly neighborhood buffalo herd, which, strangely enough, roamed among the oak and hickory treetops eating nuts of various and sundry types. I was allowed to carry the Hawken under extremely tight conditions, because even though I was a bona fide mountain man, daddy was still daddy! Because Gary was but a mere novice mountain man, the gun was not to trade hands. Nor did it. We eventually spotted a trio of buffalo and the .22 shorts dropped them in their tracks. Three buffalo seemed to be enough for two hungry mountain men, so after butchering them — basically rip it, grip it and strip it — off we trekked to Gary’s winter cabin.

Now about this cooking thing…

Gary’s cabin ain’t got no fireplace where we could impale the squirrel/buffalo and hold it over open flame until solid black and therefore done. But he’s seen his mommer whip up squirrel and gravy, and figures he can make do. We’ll have to do with light bread over biscuits, but then that’s just typical mountain man hardship. So, Ol’ Gary flops a couple of huge dabs of Crisco into a cast iron frying pan, sets the squirrel pieces daintily on top, and then dashes in a finishing little salt and pepper before the really big doings: turning on the stove.

“I figure we’ll start low and then from there,” is his way of putting it.

Well, 10 minutes later, we’ve got three buffalo roaming around in a pound of lukewarm grease, and I’m getting hongrier by the second.

“Think you might want to boost that there fire a touch?” I ask. He coddles it up to medium, which fairly soon makes the grease burp a time or two. But little else.

“Uh, I ain’t exactly Jim Bridger, but I believe buffler’s a’gonna take a heap more far to cook through to the marrow; that contraption got a ‘High’ on it?”

That’s the way mountain men talk.

Gary finally bit the bullet and fired that old Westinghouse up to the gills. Within three minutes, you could have sent smoke signals to the Sioux in South Dakota! And speaking of Sioux, we dashed about like a war party in an ant bed trying to find and put out the fire behind all that smoke. Gary was all for fetching water and tossing it on the whole doings, but I rescued the buffalo first. From there, he grabbed the pan full of smoldering grease and flung it out the back door. (Which set the grass fire that burned down Old Man Flanagan’s reading room just as he was turning to the centerfold, but that’s a story for another day…)

All that rescuing and tossing and fighting fires did was make us even hungrier than before. So like starving wolves, we lit into that buffalo.

Ever et buffalo?

How about eel? Marinated in kerosene? Boiled in Vaseline? Garnished with pork and beans?

Such a meal takes approximately one bite and no swallers to complete. It also sets one to contemplating one’s future. Somehow I knew at that illustrious moment in time that the life of a mountain man was not for me.

Sometime when you got a spell, I’ll tell you all about my Great White Hunter phase…


Order your copy of Daryl Gay’s books, “Rabbit Stompin’ And Other Homegrown Safari Tactics,” $19.95 plus $3 S&H and “Life On the Back Page,” $14.95 plus $3 S&H from or 16 Press, 219 Brookwood Drive, Dublin, GA, 31021.

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