We had the absolute time of our lives as we spent about the next 10 days proving what a bunch of first-class dumbasses we truly were. However, the ensuing adventure sure made some unforgettable lifetime memories for the three of us and we never regretted the whole deal.
Dear old Mother Fate has relegated me to be the sole survivor at this point in time, so I have to relive all those memories alone. I guess that is why it is important to me that the story gets saved. Our adventure really did make for quite a good long story around a lot of campfires, so I finally wrote it all down about 10 years ago and made it into a little book called THE GREAT BEAR BUNGLE OF 1970. I’ve shared copies with a number of interested folks and probably a few who were not. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d care to check it out. My sister Laurie Merrell was sweet enough to illustrate it for me and we are pretty proud of the outcome.
As the Bear Bungle story unfolded, we three bear hunters soon found ourselves in the Book Cliffs on the aforementioned horseback hunt except with no horses. The old sweethearts had realized we were a bunch of dumbasses as previously mentioned, so they had pulled a midnight mutiny and gone on home to Thompson Springs. It took a lot of doing and several pages to tell it in my little book, but we finally ended up trading the use of my dad’s horses for his old 1963 4X4 Scout a couple days later. Doing that allowed us to finally continue deeper into the Book Cliffs by skirting the Ute Indian reservation’s eastern boundary. We ended up down Willow Creek a couple miles below where the road to Weaver Reservoir cuts west up Corral Creek towards the head of Floy Canyon and Mormon Ridge.
By stupidly boonie crashing our way along Willow Creek Canyon we had put some serious distance between ourselves and humanity, at least it sure seemed that way to us. Eventually we came to a tight spot where we needed to get past some old beaver ponds which were kind of filled up with sediment and grassed over but still boggy. I was the Scout driver due to being much the oldest, of course, so after looking things over I put the red and white rig in giddy-up and tried to fly across the swamp. A few moments later it was easy to see that the old Scout was a better hole digger than it was a glider because we were up to the doors in mire. You can guess what the next several hours were like; digging, jacking, carrying rocks, brush, and logs followed by the whole thing repeated several times over.
We had a heck of a time getting a tire chain mounted on one tire but soon found it only helped dig our hole deeper, so we took it off. We even resorted to cutting sod chunks to shore up with after running out of rocks that were close enough to import but no matter what we did tire number one was always holding its breath under the muck once again by the time tire number four was jacked up to where it could breathe.
Around mid-afternoon we looked up from our no profit work in total amazement to see a cowboy on a big horse trailing 4 big mules with salt panniers hanging from their packsaddles. It was Bill Cunningham and he was sure having himself a good chuckle at our expense. After a minute he cocked his leg, rolled a smoke, and explained to our sorry mud caked dumbass selves that since we were the first vehicle to ever drive that far down Willow Creek, he guessed he’d better help us get out of the jam so we could turn around and be the last damn vehicle to ever be there.
It took our tow chain and our tire chains and Bill’s lariat rope to reach our four-wheel-drive rig. When we were all hooked up, Bill told me to get in the driver’s seat and give the old Scout just enough gas to help a little without spinning the tires. Then he and his big saddle horse pulled us right on out of that mess onto solid ground without even asking the mules to help. Mr. Cunningham was sure as heck our hero of the hour. I’m still pretty darn amazed when I think back to that day.
Bill gave us some good bear hunting advice, chuckled again, then gathered up his string and headed off toward what was probably his Bogert Canyon camp. We three brilliant teenagers breathed a sigh of relief, climbed in the Scout, waited for Bill to get well out of sight, then like the young and bulletproof dumbasses we were, headed farther down Willow creek instead of back the way we’d come.
Several days later after a series of comical misadventures a couple of us real bright boys found ourselves well lost and wondering where the heck we were for about three long days. Another of us found himself on a 20-plus mile midnight hike to call out the search posse. Needless to say, there were three youngsters experiencing some hair-raising moments off and on during that part of our big hunt. Bill Cunningham figured into additional parts of the whole saga, but you’d have to read the entire story to know how. Suffice it to say that he sure got to enjoy his chuckles quite a few times over the next 40 years whenever he’d run into me.
One morning in early November 1985 I came down off a rough steep ridge above the Cunningham Ranch in Nash Canyon. I was afoot packing my .54-caliber Hawken black powder rifle and was bloody up to the elbows. Just as I hit the dirt road I ran into good old Bill. He was horseback, as usual, and though we both had things to do and places to be we still took time to visit for an hour or so. Bill told me a damn good story that morning; one that I’ve always remembered and cherished. I’ll lay it out for you folks next time.