OLYMPIC CHAPTER, THE BEGINNING
By Jim Murphy
December 18, 2012
I was recently asked to write a history of the start and early years of Olympic Chapter of Backcountry Horsemen of Washington. Once I began writing it became obvious that I needed to start by telling a story of some preliminary events, specifically the formation of Backcountry Horsemen of Washington and my start with horses.
My folks farmed with horses when I was a young boy, and as a 5-year-old I could drive the team back from the field and around the barn to put them up at the end of the day. Eventually the work horses went away and I did not have horses until I was grown. About 1970 my wife Carol and I decided to get a horse. We were living in Parkwood but my folks were no longer raising livestock on the old Glenwood Ranch homestead, so pasture and a barn was available.
The little gray mare “Ginger” was “her” horse and we went to the ranch frequently to care for and ride this first horse. It soon became obvious to me that waiting around while she rode “her” horse was not much fun. A few months later, a little bay gelding “Dusty” became “his” horse.
At that time you could safely ride all around Glenwood on County roads, logging roads, and trails... and we did. But we also hunted, camped, and fished, and were soon thinking about using the horses in those activities. So we tied on the frying pan, bacon and beans, so to speak and made our first over night “Pack Trip” three miles out Huckleberry Road to Wicks Lake where we spent the night, kids and all. At that time there was a nice little grassy area at the south end of the lake where we tied the horses on picket lines and were awakened during the night with Ginger all wound up in her picket rope and hog-tied on the ground. This was the first of many lessons learned about caring for and handling stock in the backcountry.
Our ambitions soon grew, so next we borrowed a two horse trailer, and with two horses and the proverbial frying pan, bacon and beans, we headed up the North Fork of the Skokomish River at Staircase. After a few miles of easy riding we started to climb up the switchbacks. The horses soon began to sweat so we stopped to give them a breather. We dismounted and sat on the bank beside our horses, our eyes about even with their bellies. Our timing must have been perfect because the sweat began to literally run off the horses bellies in a steady steam! We thought we were killing our horses. On that second pack trip we caught some fish, had a poor camping spot, and were surprised that the big black bear didn’t run away when I hollered, yelled, and smacked a tree trunk with a big stick.
That next winter I built a four horse trailer and the following fall took the horses on our annual elk hunting trip to the Little Naches River. We truck camped and rode out each day. Later during the winter I talked with an acquaintance, Les Leath a local hunter and horse packer. He wanted to know why I didn’t pack-in during our elk hunt. So I listed my reasons; no pack saddle, didn’t know how to pack, etc. As a challenge, Les said no problem, he had pack saddles for sale in his tack shop at Gorst... and he would teach me to pack. I immediately swallowed the offer hook line and sinker so to speak!
On my first visit to Les for a packing lesson, he just pulled in from Yakima with a load of mules. Les asked me to unload the mules and then went in the house. So as my first experience around mules, I cautiously unloaded and tied them up being careful to hold on tightly to the lead ropes. Soon Les returned from the house and pointed out that where I tied the mules, they had eaten off all his wife’s rose bushes! The buggers!
After a few packing lessons from Les, I bought a sawbuck pack saddle, built my own pack boxes, and designated one of our horses as “pack horse”. I bought a book on packing, attended several packing clinics, practiced a lot at home and was soon an “expert beginner”.
About that same time we read an article in the newspaper about the US Forest Service wanting to close a trail in the Olympics. From another source we learned that a person named Ken Wilcox was holding a meeting in Shelton concerning the trail closure and that Forest Service folks would be there to discuss the trail closure. Because we had future plans to ride in the Olympics we planned to attend the meeting.
On the scheduled evening we drove to Shelton and began looking for the PUD building.
I spotted a guy wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and decided he would be a good bet to follow. I also noticed he was bow legged and walked with a gimp in both legs. But he led us right to the PUD building. That was how I met Ken Wilcox, founder of this great organization, on a street in Shelton!
At the time Ken was a member of Washington State Horsemen and was Chairman of the Trails Division. Ken encouraged all trail riders to join the WSH Trails Division. From that beginning list of trail riders which included me, he started the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington.
In 1977 at a campfire at a scheduled weekend camp-out and garbage pack-out at Timothy Meadow on the Little Naches River, the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington was organized. Bob Caldwell was elected president and Ken Wilcox elected executive director. My wife Carol and I were there and tool part in this event. By the end of the year there were 222 members. BCHW started as a “state” organization with wording in the bylaws that allowed chapters to be formed. This was much different than Montana and Idaho which started as chapters without a state organization. The BCHW organization was in operation for seven years before the first chapter was organized.
OLYMPIC CHAPTER FORMED
During the early years of BCHW, all members were what are now considered “independent members”. In other words no one belonged to a chapter because there were no chapters. However some of us had hopes of forming at least one chapter as an example, to jump-start the process. Even though there were no chapters, members still rode and did trail work together.
In 1984, I was elected President of BCHW. That spring several local members asked me why don’t we start a chapter here? So early in 1984 we held a planning meeting at our house with five couples. I remember there were Carol and I, Janet and George Sparks from Port Orchard, Mr. & Mrs. Farmer and another couple from Key Peninsula area, and Jack ? and his wife from Wauna. At that initial planning meeting the consensus was to proceed with starting a chapter.
The plan developed that day included obtaining a place to meet, selecting a meeting date, sending out notices to all independent BCHW members in the vicinity and other horse folks that might be interested. We selected a person to be chair of the first formation meeting, and a chair person for a bylaw committee. We agreed that all BCHW members who attended that first formation meeting and all others who joined BCHW that night, would be considered “charter members” of the Chapter. The formation meeting was held at the Burley Fire Station which is on Bethel-Burley Road near the intersection with the Olalla Valley Road. Olympic Chapter was the first Chapter and it continued to meet at the Fire Station that first year until we out grew the meeting space.
One decision that was difficult for the group was the name of the Chapter. Guidelines were that the name needed to indicate the location of the chapter and suggested using “County” names. I suggested and really wanted it to be “Kitsap Chapter”, but half of the membership lived in the Key Peninsula area (Pierce County) and would not accept it. They suggested “Key Peninsula Chapter” which those of us from Kitsap County wouldn’t accept, and besides who knew where “Key Peninsula” was except people who lived there! So a compromise was reached using the name “Olympic Chapter”. Unfortunately this is a misnomer because Olympic Peninsula is different than the Kitsap Peninsula! Later when the Chapter at Port Angeles-Port Townsend formed, which is on the real Olympic Peninsula, the Olympic name was already taken much to their disappointment.
As president of BCHW at this time I wore two hats during this process. As a Chapter member I actively worked with our group to get our Chapter started. As BCHW President, I recorded the process we pioneered and made a generic copy of the bylaws. These two documents would be used later for other chapter start-ups, to make it easier for them to get going.
That first year Olympic Chapter started off like gangbusters. During the first few months the Officers worked diligently to get Bylaws completed and approved, and applied to BCHW for our official Chapter status and Charter. In addition to the formal paperwork, we held a bunch of rides and work parties that first year. Many of us went to Burke Lake for the State Spring Ride and then to Haney Meadow for the State Summer Meeting.
To raise funds for our treasury to support the mission of the Chapter, on May 5, 1984 we held our first Annual Poker Ride at Rhys Wood Acres near Key Center on the Key Peninsula. The entry fee was $2.00 with kids 16 and under paying $1.00. We advertised with flyers and by inviting all our horse friends. The event was successful although I don’t recall how many riders we had that day, but looking at the photos in the album there must have been 40 riders.
The first few years Olympic Chapter held many of our rides in the Key Peninsula area. Back then, almost 30-years ago, there were many skid roads and trails on timber lands available to ride in both Kitsap and Pierce Counties, including several beaches we could ride on.
We soon expanded our riding area, going to Capital Forest and camping at the Evergreen Gun Club for example. We also began riding and working at Browns Creek on the North Fork of the Skokomish River. There, beside an old beaver pond, with a lot of hard work we constructed a simple horse camp out of an old log landing. When complete the Browns Creek Horse Camp had about 6 camping spots, with hitch rails, a community fire ring, a vault toilet (which we built), and an access trail connecting to the Upper Skok Trail and to water. The main riding there was up the River on the old Upper Skokomish Trail. When we first started riding there, much of the old trail was blocked by downfall and had not been logged out for years. But with pack horses, good chain sawyers and lots of hard work we finally got it opened up. As a result of our work the forest service took an interest in the old trail and made many improvements to it during the next few years.
I recall an incident on that trail the first time we rode there. We logged out the trial for the first mile or so and finally made it to the bottom of the switchbacks. I had my dog Buck along, a large river husky. Buck jumped a tiny elk calf laying along side the trail. Just like his mother taught him the little bugger jumped up, ran for 20-feet and lay down again. Buck was well trained but the fascination with the baby elk was too much and I couldn’t stop him from walking up to the calf again. The process repeated itself several more times with the calf running 20-feet and flopping down again. In the meantime I dismounted, tied my horse and hurried after Buck who was now out of sight up the mountain side. I knew what might happen and sure enough it did... here came Buck on the run back down the mountain with a pissed off mama elk right on his heels. Of course Buck headed right for me leading the mama cow in. I looked back at the group of riders 100-feet behind me waiting. I wanted to run back toward them for safety but looking at those pilgrims, I just couldn’t lead that charging cow into the group. So I tuned back to face the cow hoping I could keep a tree between me and her. Fortunately when Buck ran up to me the cow elk saw me and without breaking her stride, ran right past me and on down the mountain side...Whew! I don’t think the group of riders waiting behind ever realized the drama taking place where I was standing!
The Chapter also began to ride on Green Mountain and I remember a work party held there to clean up the Horse Camp. Gosh what a mess it was! Whoever was camping there threw most of their garage in the fire pits and in addition it seemed to me they must have brought sacks of garbage from home to dump! We cleaned it up, I welded the broken pump handle and some of us had visions of a practice now called LNT.
In 1984 with the chapters help I held the first packing clinic at our Glenwood Ranch. Everyone was welcome and admission was free. Ken Wilcox came over from his place at Alderwood Manor to help out. I want to explain how this clinic started out, I thought it was cool!
Before the starting time I had my horses tied in the woods out of sight. They were all saddled and the pack horses were loaded. At the starting time using the newly purchased BCHW PA system, I called the 40 or so folks together in a park-like setting in front of our house. I welcomed everyone and then turned the microphone over to Ken for him to give the group a five minute sales pitch about joining Backcountry Horsemen. Carol and I then went to our horses, mounted up and in a round about route I led the two pack horses back to the group by coming in the driveway. I was wearing a remote microphone, so when I talked to the horses urging then along the people could hear me through the PA system. Hamming it up a little, I said to my stock “just look at all those people waiting over there in that group.” When I rode up to the group I told them I was going to ride right through them which we did and wow my horses did well even though they were not used to crowds.
We dismounted in front of the group. A few chapter members stepped forward and held the horses while we unpacked. I had a highline already set up over to one side and the stock was lead over and tied on the highline.
We unrolled the wall tent, grabbed the tent poles that were leaning behind a tree out of sight and put the tent up. The tent stakes were already driven in the ground so we just had to hook the ropes on. I set the wood stove up in the tent, attached the chimney and lit the paper and kindling wood that was already laid in the stove. Immediately smoke was coming out the chimney. While still in the tent out of sight of the crowd, I took the two thermoses of hot coffee out of the pack box and poured it into the coffee pot. Then I came out of the tent with the coffee pot and a stack of Styrofoam cups. In the meantime Carol had rolled out the sleeping bags in the tent and set up the two lawn chairs we had packed, in front of the tent. She sat in a chair with her cup of coffee while I poured coffee for the group.
In less than 10-minutes we had demonstrated arrival at camp, setting up a wall tent and stove, starting a fire in the stove, made coffee, had the stock high-lined, were relaxing in a real chair, and having coffee at a comfortable camp. I think some of the folks were impressed with the demonstration. I was!
At the 1985 BCHW Convention, Olympic Chapter and Skagit Chapter received Official Chapter status and their Charters. (The Skagit Chapter was an existing saddle club that converted to a chapter.) The Olympic Chapter Charter is in our first Photo Album. This Charter dated March 3, 1985, is signed by David Thompson, Olympic Chapter President, Jim Murphy BCHW President, and Ken Wilcox BCHW Executive Director.
In 1985 the Chapter held its’ Second Annual Poker Ride at Woods Acres. In 1986 the Third Annual Poker Ride was held at the Tahuya River Horse Camp. The price to enter was up to $3.00. In 1987 we held our 4th Annual Poker Ride, again at the Tahuya River Horse Camp. This year the price had jumped to $5.00 and this 1987 event may have been our last Annual Poker Ride. However, I recall that for several years about this time we also held poker style rides at Green Mountain Horse Camp. Perhaps someone can remember more details and timeframes for the rides at Green Mountain.
In 1985 we held a second packing clinic, this time at Cogdell Country Arena at Poulsbo. In 1986 or 87 we held another packing clinic at our place. I first met Dan and Jo Plummer at one of the packing clinics at our place. They joined the Chapter and Dan and I in the years since became riding buddies and good friends.
During the years after Olympic Chapter was formed and approved, many new chapters were formed across the state. New chapter formation was made easier by using the formation process and generic bylaws which I recorded during the Olympic Chapters start-up. This process provided as an example, saved much formation work for following chapters. One favorable result of the addition of new chapters was a large increase in membership, reaching a peak in 1994 of 2,813 members statewide.
During 1985 a tragic event happened. Chapter member Eileen McDonald was critically injured in a fall with her horse. Eileen and her young grandson were riding on the Dosewallups (or Duckabush) River trail in Olympic National Park. Eileen’s horse balked at a minor water crossing, reared and both horse and Eileen fell 100-feet down the mountain side landing on rocks below. Eileen was conscious immediately after and sent her grandson to get help. When help arrived she was unconscious. She died a week later of severe head injuries never having regained consciousness. This was a great loss for all of us who knew her.
RIDES AND OTHER ACTIVITIES
Some the Chapter rides we held or participated in are listed following. They are not in any order and I have not tried to determine the year of these events:
Volunteering for the Forest Service we built a loading ramp at Snoqualmie Pass for the northbound access to the Pacific Crest Trail. This was a one or two weekend project.
Built the new Horse Camp at LeBar Creek to replace the earlier Camp we built at Browns Creek. A cooperative project with Mason County Chapter, and made possible by a large donation of heavy equipment and operators from Ace Paving Company. To finish off the campsites during construction of LeBar Horse Camp a contest was held. A family team or a couple of individuals acting as a team, each adopted one of the camping spots. The contest was to see who could build the best horse camping site. Guidelines were provided and when construction was complete, a team of experts judged all camp sites. Prizes were given to the winners. The contest kept interest high and outstanding campsites were built. Many weekends and an unbelievable amount of man hours went into this project!......and then They put a fee on our horse camp!
A side story concerning this camp is that the only horse water available was a quarter mile down the road at LeBar Creek bridge. But the Forest Service solved the problem by drilling a well and installing a hand pump. The Mason County Chapter sawed out a nice watering trough from a big cedar log. It all worked fine for a year and then apparently the water table underground at the well site changed and the well went dry! So we went back to watering at LeBar Creek. A few years ago I camped at the horse camp again. After 20 + years this Horse Camp still looks good. However, still no horse water! And to make it more unacceptable, they have placed stumps to block off the area where we used to water stock at LeBar Creek Bridge. The blockage apparently is to prevent people from camping there but it effectively prevents safe watering of horses, so now there is no place to water stock! And they wonder why the horse camp doesn’t get more use?
Each year a number of Chapter members attended the BCHW annual Spring Ride at Burke Lake. This area is deceiving to look at when driving past on I-90 but proves to be a completely different type of country for us deep-woods west-side riders. This was always a fun event and although usually sunny, any type of weather could be expected.
Another annual ride that many Chapter members attended was the BCHW Summer Meeting and Ride at Haney Meadow. This was also a fun event with good mountain trails, picturesque views, and usually a chance to see elk in the meadows. After Saturday evenings’ potluck there were good times around a huge bonfire. I will say that the trail system was vastly increased by the work of Backcountry Horsemen during the first few years of the ride. I also must admit that the 8-mile drive from the summit of Blewett Pass up to Haney Meadow was not for the faint-at-heart.
A few of us members attended a horseshoeing school in the North Kitsap area about 1985. Long-time horseshoer and trainer Jerry Getts from Quilcene conducted the event.
So in February of 1986 we sponsored a school for members to learn to shoe their own horse or as a minimum replace a thrown or missing shoe. Jerry Getts was hired to conduct the event and it was held at Floyd and Janet Meeks Ranch at Wauna. The training consisted of one evening of classroom instruction and two Saturdays of practical shoeing. Jerry provided us with shoeing tools at his cost. There were more than a dozen students including a few women taking the course. Most of the students completed one horse but a couple of students were only complete one foot. Some of these members continued on to shoe their own stock from then on.
A group of Chapter members went to Capital Forest and held an overnight pack trip. The purpose was for training and learning packing and camping skills, and horse handling skills, without traveling too far from home.
We held a pack trip ride starting from a trailhead along Bumping River and packed eastward over Nelson Ridge and spent the night camped on the North Fork of the Rattlesnake. We made a loop ride returning to the trailhead by a different route. This ride offered an opportunity for members without pack stock to participate.
A large group of Chapter members went to Crystal Mountain and held a weekend pack trip. Because of the heartbeat limit in the Norse Peak Wilderness, we divided into two groups leaving the trailhead an hour apart. We rode through the Wilderness but camped together outside of the Wilderness on National Forest where our numbers were not limited. This ride offered an opportunity for members without pack stock to participate.
In 1986 we held our first “Falling-off” Party. This became an annual event at which time we roasted, toasted, and gave awards to those individuals who fell off their horse or were observed in some other boo-boo during the year. These annual award parties became a popular social event for the Chapter.
Some Chapter members competed in some of the contests at the yearly packing competition at the BCHW Rendezvous. To prepare for this and hopefully make a nice showing for the Chapter, we held several practice sessions at our place. Competitors set up their camp displays and then were critiqued for improvements. Some practiced log bucking with a crosscut saw, and others practiced their Dutch-Oven cooking skills. As a result of these practice and training sessions Olympic Chapter members placed well in the competitions.
One year the Olympic Chapter sponsored the BCHW Annual Meeting and Convention. I believe that was 1986(?), and was the first year that a Chapter sponsored this event. The event was held at a hotel in Fife and was a big event for us to take on with lots of planning, coordination, and members involved. It was quite successful.
In 198X? I started a New Years Day Ride and Breakfast on Green Mountain. The purpose was three-fold: 1) for Backcountry Horsemen start the new-year off right by riding your horse, 2) to limit new years partying because to get up early you had to get to bed early, and 3) enjoy a good cowboy breakfast on the trail. The intent was that everyone had to ride to the Horse Camp. The only driving up was the day before to haul water, dry firewood, and a shelter tarp to the Horse Camp. All other supplies and food was packed in by packhorse. At that time there was no shelter. All cooking was done over a campfire or Coleman stove, and if the weather was bad we put up a blue-tarp. To make the cooking process easier and in fact to make it possible, some food preparation was done at home the day before. For example; Pancake batter was mixed in gallon jugs (and re-mixed on the packhorse), eggs were opened and scrambled in gallon jugs, bacon or link sausage was pre-cooked in the oven. The first year we had about 30 riders, and it has grown considerably since then. Having the shelter built was as real plus for this event during rain or snow. Over the years most of you know the problems we have run into. Snow - cancel, snow - reschedule, icy roads - can’t drive to the trailhead, wind storm - pack chainsaws, rain - get wet, etc. In recent years as a show of good will, other Green Mountain users have been invited to breakfast, and the event has created a lot of good publicity for our Chapter. The large number of people now attending requires more vehicles to haul the increased amount of supplies and to bring folks up who are unable to walk or ride. However, I believe the original purpose still applies.
For a number of years a building project was adopted for activity during the slow riding months of winter. The following are some of those projects:
One of the first was building saddle racks for use in the house or tack room. We used a design that Roger Sutman provided and he lead the project. The saddle rack had a horse head and a tail. We built an extra one and donated it to the BCHW annual Convention
During another winter we built rifle scabbards. Boy these required a lot of hand stitching in heavy leather.
A rather ambitious project was building Decker Pack Saddles. As I recall we built a total of 17 of these saddles using a Forest Service design. The project included building the saddle trees. Some members built one saddle but a few built more than one. Jim Murphy did the planning, bought the leather and supplies and leather working tools. This project required a bunch of folks to learn some basic leather working skills. Skills that they hopefully used on other tack projects and repairs. The finished saddles were very professional looking. The cost for material for each saddle was about $275. This price may seem high but have you priced a good Decker Pack Saddle lately? I’m curious about how many members who build pack saddles still have them.
Another winter project was again building saddle racks for use in the house or tack room. These were a different design which Nora Sutman provided. The saddle rack contained a drawer in one end and a place to hang a headstall on the opposite end.
Another year a bunch of us built leather Chaps and Chinks. Jim Murphy did the planning and bought the leather and supplies for them. Once again a lot of hand stitching. I still have my Chinks and they are my favorite riding apparel.
Chris Olsen and Jerry Burke headed up a winter project building antique wood framed mirrors with a western cutout theme. That was a good simple project that didn’t take too long to complete.
Another year the chapter members built plywood silhouettes of a life sized cowboy and cowgirl.
In 1987 the Chapter began the Springwood series of rides as a fund raiser for the Chapter.
With that I will end my tale of the beginning and early years of Olympic Chapter. Age has fogged my memory of the dates of some events and the names of many Chapter members participating, but they were “shining times” to be sure.
Over the 28 years of Olympic Chapter I would estimate 300 or more members have come and gone. There are many reasons for leaving such as; our mission did not fit their riding preference, BCH just wasn’t their cup-of-tea, their spouse did not share the same hobby sand goals, their work schedule did not allow time to participate, they could not afford the cost of horses-tack-trailer-pasture-hay, they moved out of the area, physical limitations stopped their riding, they got old, their horses got old, etc. Yet with these reasons and more, we still have members who have stayed on since they first joined and continue to “ride-for-the-brand!”
If any of you can add names, dates, stories, or corrections, please contact me.
I also issue a plea to anyone who has any part of our old records stuck away in your closet or attic. Records such as membership lists, meeting minutes, photo albums, scrap books, etc. Any of these records no matter how small would help to fill in or complete our history. Please contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org.