Seeley Swan Pathfinder -


By Betty Vanderwielen

Tales of Swan Valley outfitters - Leonard Moore


August 15, 2019

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

Leonard Moore shares stories from his time as an outfitter.

SWAN VALLEY – Ninety-three-year-old Leonard Moore was the first speaker at the Aug. 3 Upper Swan Valley Historical Society (USVHS) program entitled Outfitting and Guiding in the Swan Valley and Surrounding Areas.

Moore said, according to his mother's notes, his first packing trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness was in September of 1926 - the year he was born. According to the USVHS website, Moore "rode in the saddle with his mother or in a pannier on the pack string's lead horse."

When he was seven years old, he shot his first elk. He said, "[the recoil from the rifle] pretty nearly knocked me down."

But it wasn't just his ability to take down the spike bull that made the trip memorable. His dad had sold one of their horses to a ranger at Big Prairie, so they were one mount short.

Moore said, "Here's two quarters of elk meat on a gentle horse and me a settin' in between 'em to come out of the hills."

Another memorable trip Moore recalled took place in 1939 when the family was outfitting for the Double Arrow at Seeley Lake. It was a hunting trip with Hilda and Rudy, a German couple. Their goal was to get a mountain goat and a black bear. According to Moore, the group was halfway to Pyramid Lake when Hilda realized she had left her pajamas back in the cabin at the Double Arrow, so Moore was sent to fetch them. It was about 11 p.m. when he got back to the camp.

Meanwhile, the guide who was supposed to take Rudy to find a goat had gotten injured. Thirteen-year-old Moore was requisitioned as guide.

As Moore told the story, "Here's a pretty nice goat standing there. We get off our horses and Rudy starts shooting. I kept telling him, Rudy, you're way to the left, you're shooting behind him. Well, pretty quick his rifle is empty. He turned to me and he said, 'You shoot 'em.' Now I'm not gonna shoot his goat, so I handed him my rifle and he shot and the black smoke come out and the horses stampeded. We had one heck of a wrestling match but I finally got the horses quieted down and got back over there and found Rudy's final shot was successful."

Moore said he didn't go to school much as a youngster. Whenever help was needed at home or on the trail, he would be doing that instead. He recalled one fall in 1940 or 1941 when he spent 45 straight days taking pack strings between his parent's ranch south of Holland Lake and the mouth of Gordon Creek in the Bob, 25 miles each way.

"I had two pack strings," he said. "And had help on both ends. I'd go in one day and change strings and come out the next. That was one of the reasons I never went to school much. Too busy haulin' groceries and meat and stuff that way. Packed a lot of hay into the Bob Marshall."

He concluded, "I suppose that was why it took me 'til 1970 before I finally got a high school diploma. But," he added, "at the same time I got my high school diploma, I got my degree for forest management at the University [of Montana]."

One story Moore said he just had to tell was about the first year he and his wife were married. "Ethel was a town girl," he said. "Grew up in Missoula. We went into the Bob, middle of June. We got up there at Upper Holland and the snow was too deep, we couldn't get over the pass. I had kinda thought about that before we started and I took some baled hay with us and we camped at Upper Holland. When we got back down, I had a notice that I had got a government contract for the geological survey. They wanted 16 head of horses for the summer. I only had six. So down to Potomac we go, where I grew up, and we got all the stock we needed. Two of 'em had never had a halter on. The 5th of July we left Spotted Bear Ranger Station with them geologists and we came out at Augusta the first of September and we trailed that stock back through from Augusta to Holland Lake. That took us three days. We went to Missoula, spent two nights with her folks and got some heavier clothes and went back. Set the hunting camp up and stayed until the 15th of Nov.

"Now how come a town girl could fit into that way a life? She turned 17 in August and they put her on a payroll after a little pencil pushin'. She was one of the first women cooks in the backcountry that the government ever hired. And I was 17 with a government contract. Anyway, that's the way we spent the first summer of our marriage. I guess you'd call that outfitting."

Moore had a few other tales to tell, even one he was reminded of after one of the other outfitters spoke at the USVHS program.

Moore said, "One year we took a party from Los Angeles, three guys and their wives. One of the gals was in the corral. She was lookin' over the horses. I kinda thought maybe she knew her way around a little bit, but I didn't pay much attention. Pretty quick she came over and she said, 'I want to ride that sorrel mare that's got that white spot on her nose.

"And I said, "Well, that horse is just a little bit squirrely.'

"Oh no,' she said, 'I can handle her alright.'"

So we got the saddle out and got [the horse] all fit up. [The woman] went over to the far side of the meadow. I was busy getting' the pack ready and I heard that horse a runnin' and I thought, 'Oh no, we're in trouble.'

"I turned around and looked and she was comin' across the meadow full speed a standin' up!

It turns out, in years later, I found out her name was Trixi McCormick – from Ovando. [McCormick, known as the Cowgirl from Montana, performed trick riding feats standing on the backs of her riding horses. She performed all around the world and appeared with such notables as Slim Pickins and Bob Hope.]

Moore, who has written three books of cowboy poetry and is currently working on a book of his stories, is a nominee for the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Moore ended by reciting one of his poems, "This is one of the things that was going through my mind one day when I was kinda twiddling my thumbs. I call it 'Cold Feet.'"

Cold Feet

Did you ever go to bed at night

To cuddle beneath the sheets

To find your space is occupied

By a pair of icy feet?


There's many a poor husband

That groans in deep despair

To find his space is occupied

By a two-foot Frigidaire.


Now there's no use in counting sheep

That's just a waste of breath

'Cause those poor creatures

Would simply freeze to death.

Now everyone knows there's more cold

In a woman's single toe

Than there is in arctic circles

Where it's forty-five below.


The little gal that shares your bed

May have a heart of gold,

But why did nature spoil the mold

With feet so icy cold?


There is one consolation

If you think about it, men,

Just be glad she's got two feet

Instead of havin' ten.   


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