By Betty Vanderwielen

Tales of Swan Valley outfitters


August 8, 2019

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

After demonstrating how to wrap and tie an outfitting pack, Tom Parker (left) and Rod Boothby (right) tie the packs to the mule and adjust them for balance.

SWAN VALLEY – Outfitting is not easy, and it certainly won't make a person rich, but the memories and experience of breathing in the wilderness will reward and sustain the outfitter for the rest of his or her life. That's the bare bones of what the speakers had to say Saturday, Aug. 3 at the Upper Swan Valley Historical Society (USVHS) program entitled Outfitting and Guiding in the Swan Valley and Surrounding Areas. The yarns and anecdotes that filled out those bare bones, that is what made the program so interesting, enjoyable and often hilariously funny.

USVHS Board Member Helene Michael introduced the program by speculating on the many skills an outfitter needs. Fishing, hunting and cooking are the ones that quickly come to mind.

Michael added, "I think you'd better be able to make a shelter, you'd better know how to start a fire. Navigation would be really helpful and first aid comes in handy over and over, maybe sometimes too often."

She also noted ecology and history of the area are needed to answer all those tourist questions. Nature conservation is also necessary to protect the areas the group travels to and passes through.

Michael said in the early days, an outfitter only needed a horse or two, a mule or two and some people interested in spending some time in the backcountry.

"That's not how it is today," she said. "Now you have to have state licenses to operate. It's become more and more bureaucratic. So what we're seeing now is a trend toward fewer and fewer [outfitters]. That's one of the reasons we wanted to have this event. Let's capture the good old times."


According to Swan Mountain Outfitters' Pat Tabor there were four or five other outfitters in the Swan Valley when he started in 2004. Now he and Tom Parker are the only ones.

Tabor added, "Just to give you a couple of statistics because I'm involved a lot on a statewide basis in advocacy for the profession, at our peak we had 42 outfitters in the Bob Marshall. Today there's 12. And out of the 12, I would tell you that probably only really six are viable. The other six are just kind of there, and when that generation's done, they'll probably be done. It's a profession that is dying. It's an art that's dying. And it's kind of sad."

In the next six issues, the Seeley Swan Pathfinder will bring you some of the tales the outfitters shared. Speakers included 93-year-old Leonard Moore who grew up in an outfitter family; Pat Tabor who called himself a relative newcomer to the profession; Rich Nelson who worked as an outfitting cook on more than 20 trips; Rod Boothby with tales about the pack mules; stories from interviews with Lloyd Hahn; and Tom Parker of Buck Creek Guide Service who collected tales from the old timers before he started living his own.


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