Few of us know what it’s like to fall in love with the mountains, the backcountry of the High Sierra, and fewer yet who can put that feeling into words. But Bill DeCarteret has humbly woven a lifetime’s love of its rivers and rugged terrain with the mules, horses, and the “kids” who worked for him at Wolverton and Mineral King Pack Stations from 1958 through 1982.
Over 50 years ago, I was lucky enough to be one of those kids.
Bill became acquainted with the High Sierra as a Boy Scout in 1941 as he wrangled his way to his first job as a packer for Vaud Cunningham in 1945 near Huntington Lake. In 1947, he packed out of Mineral King for Ray Buckman from whom he later bought the pack station in 1958 with a $12,000 loan from Adolph Gill.
As the author unwinds his stories in chronological order, it becomes apparent from the outset that they could never happen again, that his experiences were limited to a slice of time that will never be repeated. In this regard, Mountains, Mules and Memories becomes a part of our local history.
The author’s voice on the page is consistent with the man I know, replete with his understated humor as he relates his stories, especially his observations and compassion for his horses and his mules. A must-read for animal rights advocates, DeCarteret was light years ahead of most.
Like so many outfits in the business of packing people on horses and mules, anything can happen anytime and usually did. It’s from the stories that we not only learn about the man and his wife, Marilyn, but what it took to keep their summer enterprise afloat for 25 years.
Perhaps the most important thing I took away from this book was the impact that Bill and Marilyn’s business had on so many lives, affording many their first glimpse of the Sierra, cooking on a wood fire, catching fish in mountain streams and lakes in the middle of miles of untarnished landscapes, and all the degrees of awe that must have inspired them. The 83 kids, mostly teenagers at the time who worked for him in those 25 years, had to know how to work, often long hours, and to take responsibility because he couldn’t be with them on the pack trips — his business depended on it.
Many are involved in the stories he tells as they became packers “his way”: safety first, learning to observe and read horses and mules — and most of all, how to reach inside for something more they didn’t know they had.
Thank you, Bill.
John Dofflemyer is an award-winning cowboy poet and fifth-generation Tulare County rancher who resides with his wife, Robbin, on their Dry Creek Drive cattle ranch. His daily musings on the beauty and challenges of ranch life may be read at www.drycrikjournal.com.