SUN CAMP AND THE TWO BEARS
by W.J. Yenne

Copyright © 1983 by William J. Yenne
Copyright © 2010 by William J. Yenne



There is a cabin at Sun Camp, between Sun Point and Baring Creek, that I had occasion to occupy a lot of times. Once when I was there a vehicle was sent all the way from Headquarters for me. I was needed up the North Fork on the Jefferson Pass Fire. This didn’t set well with me at that time because I had made commitments with two of the trail crews to be with them that week for some important phase of their work, and to do some blasting for them.

As we drove over Logan Pass I could see smoke from a fire near the east end of the Glacier Wall that extends from Heaven’s Peak. I asked the ranger that had come after me what action was being taken on that fire. He was very vague, and I could sense that very little attention was being given. On questioning him I learned that a crew of CCC boys with a Fireguard and a CCC foreman had gone up there a couple of times but that there was fire deep down in cracks in the cliff. Duff down there was burning and they were unable to get to it. I pointed out a natural route for building a temporary trail up to it and explained how pumps with water vats could be placed every 1500 feet, and water could be relayed up to it.

I was on the Jefferson Fire only a few days when a call came for me to get to Headquarters on the double. Winds had come up and that little fire on the ridge had blown up and had become the famous “Heaven’s Peak Fire” of 1936.

A fire camp was to be put in at Ahern Pass, three and a half miles north of Granite Park. I got a string of pack stock from the pasture, and through the night Tiny Powell, brother of Ace Powell, and I hauled them by truck to Logan Pass. We loaded them just at daylight with groceries, pumps, hose, mess outfits, etc., and went north along the Garden Wall section of the Highline Trail. It was touch and go the first half mile from Logan Pass along what is called the “Rimrock.” Those big pump boxes were wide packs, and in order for the pack animal to clear the rock on their right there were times when their feet had to be at the very outside edge of the solid rock trail.

When we reached Ahern Pass, we had been preceded by a crew of two hundred men, overhead and two rangers, each man had carried a tool in with him. I told Tiny not to unpack until I had a chance to talk with whoever was in charge. It was quickly agreed by all that this was not the place to attack the fire. We went back to Granite Park where the camp was set up.

Much can . . . and has been written about the Heaven’s Peak Fire. It jumped the Continental Divide a short distance south of Swiftcurrent Pass, burned the Ranger Station, the new museum building and much of the motel at Many Glacier. It is said that had it not been for the slate roof on the big Many Glacier Hotel, it would have gone too. The densely forested area of the Swiftcurrent Valley and the lower slopes of Mt. Wilbur to Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Falls were completely denuded.

The Bar-X-Six, with its outlying camps, located near mountain lakes, had many good fishing guides. Diamond Dick, Jack Winkley and Hank McVeigh were among the best. Red Billingsley was a very expert horseman, a top-notch rodeo rider, and with his engaging personality, was an excellent guide. He was however, not a fishing guide. He had grown up and lived in an area where lakes and streams were few. Albert and Martha Fragner were perhaps the best fisher people among the regular summer “dudes” to come regularly to Glacier. They had been telling a young couple they knew about the wonders of Glacier’s lakes and streams for fishermen.

So . . . this couple, the Hastys, came to Glacier to fish and camp. They were expert fly fishermen, and it had been arranged for one of the better fishing guides to be at Sun Camp when they arrived, and would take them to Red Eagle Lake Camp. None of the better fishing guides were available when they arrived so it was decided that Red Billingsley would guide them to the lake and a fishing guide would come in as soon as one was available.

By the time the party reached the camp, the Hastys had become well acquainted with Red and had learned to like him. When they went out to fish they insisted that Red go along. He told me afterward how he made very excuse he could think of to avoid going and exposing his ignorance of fly fishing to these experts. Of course he used the excuse that he had no fishing rod. George Aahl, the camp manager, shot down that excuse by offering to lend his rod. When Red ran out of excuses, he reluctantly took Aahl’s rod and went with them.

Red was a quick thinker, with a keen sense of humor, so he used his best weapon. When they started to tie a fly to his line he noticed that a white butterfly had landed on a bush nearby. He said to the Hastys, “You don’t think you can fool those trout with something like that do you?” Thereupon he caught the butterfly and attached it to the hook. On his first awkward cast, one of the largest Cutthroat trout to be caught that summer took his bait. Red told me afterward that he was absolutely thunderstruck when he saw the size of that trout. He did not know what to do next. He did not use his reel, he just turned and started walking hastily away from the water, leading the fish.

The Hastys, seeing the size of the fish, stopped their fishing and started shouting  instructions to Red. When he reached the brush back from the edge of the lake, he laid his pole down and turned and started back to the water’s edge going hand over hand down his line, taking up the slack and pulling the fish in. When Red picked the fish up out of the water Mr. and Mrs. Hasty were at his side and helped take it off the hook. They were visibly impressed by its size. With his quick wit Red had to add a little extra, so when the fish was off the hook he said, “Shucks, you don’t keep little ones like this do you?”

He then made as though he were going to throw it back into the lake. With this, both of the Hastys tackled him like a football player. All three lay there on the lake shore laughing so hard they were unable to get up.

When they had left Sun Camp for Red Eagle Lake, I had been there as the Bar-X-Six horse camp was adjacent to my cabin and corral and Red had introduced me to them. He had told them nice things about me, many of which I wished were true. The afternoon that they arrived back at Sun Camp, they looked me up and suggested that the four of us, including Red, go to Many Glacier to the dance that night. All the way to Many Glacier they laughed about the Cutthroat trout incident. Their itinerary included other camps and other lakes, and now good fishing guides had become available, but they would have none other than Red.

*

My cabin in the Sun Camp (now Sun Point) area was of logs, clean and new, just a single room. On either side was a very large window. Because this was the domain of the bear, both black and grizzly, heavy iron bars had been put on the windows. The windows were side hinged, and I often left them a bit ajar for ventilation. One time when I was away for a few days a small black yearling bear managed to climb through between the bars and got into some of my food. Guides riding by to their camp next door saw him through the window, unlocked the cabin and chased him out.

The next summer that same bear along with his twin brother was back. Several times those two managed to get through the bars and into my cabin. The guides knew where I cached the key, as they often would lock some of their things there. A couple of times they saw one of the bears in there as they rode by and would unlock the door and chase him out. Each time the bear made shambles of my groceries. Of course word had spread to the chalets, which employed thirty or more young people. When I’d go down there in the evenings I would be plagued with inquiries as to whether I was afraid. In leaving the chalets after an evening there I’d say, “Guess I’ll go home and put the bears out and go to bed.” Or I would complain what a hard time I was having, supporting myself and two bears on my small salary.

Green suits were in vogue, and I had one. Once, when the guides reported that the bears had messed my cabin up, and I was not due back for a couple of days, two of the girls went up there and cleaned it up for me. They found my green suit on the floor. Later, at the chalets when they told me about finding my new suit on the floor, I replied, “Yeah, you know, the other night I woke up and one of them bears was trying the vest on.”

Sun Camp was eighteen miles from Many Glacier by trail and the young people who worked at these places would often hitchhike to the other of the places and then hike back over Piegan Pass. One day two nineteen year old lads working at Many Glacier did this. They had been given a ride to Piegan Underpass (also Jackson Glacier Overlook), and were hiking from there.

Upon reaching Preston Park, they saw three bears, two of them cubs, cross the trail ahead of them. When they reached that point a female grizzly dashed out of the brush and knocked John Daubney down.

The angry bear slashed at John’s chest and sides, his thighs, bit him on the side of his neck and on one ear. He was protecting his face with his forearms and they too received serious wounds. He told me later that the most horrible pain was when she bit his thighs. After a while she stepped back a few paces and just looked at him. He then staggered to his feet, and he told me that he kicked her on the jaw. She then went into the brush where her cubs were. John called to his friend who had run up the trail onto the shale side of Cataract Mountain. He came back and helped John back down to the trail to the Going-to-the-Sun Road. There they managed to catch a ride back to Sun Camp Chalet.

There, besides Miss Roach, the resident nurse, was a surgeon who happened to be a guest. He took one hundred and one stitches in patching John up. John was a courageous boy, and when he was out of the anesthetic, began asking questions as to what he should have done in a situation such as this. They told him that there was a Park Service man who lived in a cabin near there that knew more about bears than anyone else. They said this man actually lived with bears a part of the time in his cabin, and had no fear of them. (This speaks well for the many yarns I had been telling them about myself and those twin black bears.) John said he wanted to talk with that man.

That evening when I went to the chalets, I was immediately led to his room. I answered his every question truthfully to the best of my knowledge. Even told him that my knowledge was far less than he had been led to believe. He acted as though he would rather believe the others. I spent many evenings with him in his room. His parents had been notified and his mother came from St. Paul by train at once.

John told her about me with my vast knowledge about all things pertaining to wild animals and of course she wanted to meet me, and get my version.

This was in 1939.

In 1968, twenty-nine years later, and the year after the two grizzly killings in Glacier that inspired Jack Olsen’s book, Night of the Grizzlies, my wife was going to Minneapolis to visit her two brothers. I had heard that John Daubney had become a prominent attorney, and had been the mayor of St. Paul. I asked my wife to see what she could find out about him. When she told the story to her sister-in-law, the latter got interested and in no time had John on the phone for her. When my wife identified herself, John said, “Yes, I remember Bill Yenne very well,” and went on to tell her all about our conversations in his room. He said that his son, Tom Daubney, had been working at Lake McDonald Hotel in Glacier the previous year with Michele Koons, the second of the two girls to be killed on August 13, 1967 during the “night of the grizzlies.”

Tom Daubney had written his parents for permission to hike and camp in the back country on his days off. The hotel company required this permission for minors because of the dangers. John told my wife that the same day they received his letter, the newspapers, radio and television were full of the news of the two girls having been killed. The Daubneys then not only refused him permission, but had advised that he come home. In almost a lifetime of working in grizzly country I have had more than my share of close calls with them.

I well know how a grizzly scare can stay with you for a long time.