A few months after Dick Mauch’s initial visit to Grayling where Fred gave him the Kodiak bow, Dick was hard at work in Bassett when he got a surprise phone call from Fred. Fred needed another bowhunter to fill a spot on a hunt to the Kispiox River area of British Columbia when Ken Knickerbocker had to cancel. Dick immediately told Fred that he’d love to go along, and Fred replied that he’d never gotten an answer so quickly. Dick told him that it was because he didn’t have a wife he had to ask. Many years later, Dick married a wonderful woman, Carol, in Fred Bear’s office!
The trip began in September, and it was on that hunt that Dick met Bob Kelly, Bob Munger, Charlie Kroll, Glenn and Margaret St. Charles, Dick Bolding, Dale Marcy, Mel Malinowski and Dick Green. Most of these names are now well-known in the history of our sport. Bob Kelly and Glenn St. Charles are members of our Archery Hall of Fame.
Fred could read people quickly. And it is indicative of what we would all learn later; you couldn’t find a finer friend or better person with whom to hunt than Dick Mauch. He has proven that over and over during the past 40 years to scores of bowhunters who have been lucky enough to hunt with him. Fred always told me, “Dick, if you want to find out what a person is really like, go on a hunting trip with him.” The people who don’t immediately pitch in and do whatever needs to be done, but sit around and wait for others to ask them to help, or worse yet, refuse to help, would seldom be invited back to a Fred Bear bowhunting camp. They weren’t his kind of people.
Bob Kelly was hired in 1959 to go on the Little Delta hunt by Glenn St. Charles to be the roust-a-bout, camp cook and general “go-fer.” He ended up doing such a great job, and with such a fantastic attitude, that Fred eventually hired him to be the sales manager of Bear Archery. At the time Fred hired Kelly, he was president of the American Indoor Archery Association. Kelly later became only the second president in the history of Bear Archery, second only to Fred. And due to his mostly quiet work behind the scenes over the years, he eventually was inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame. Without Bob Kelly’s involvement there probably would never even have been an Archery Hall of Fame, and, certainly, his fingerprints were all over the industry trade association, the Archery Manufacturers Organization (AMO), at the time, as well as the American Archery Council (AAC). Kelly could make his opinion known very bluntly in meetings if he had to, but he also did a ton of quiet work behind the scenes for the good of our sport.
One thing you need to know about Rock and Brown counties in the Sandhills of Nebraska is that trees are at a premium and are generally found only in draws going down into creeks and rivers, or in town. But you will find some huge “grandfather cottonwoods” out in the countryside that some wild turkey jakes like to fly up into when they’re spooked, such as when a crafty bowhunter runs directly at them. And it’s a gently rolling country where you can see all the way back to yesterday.
For a time during 1965 Dick Mauch moved to Grayling, Michigan, to help Kelly and Fred out in the Bear Archery sales department. But he just couldn’t stand the closed-in feeling of all the trees in northern Michigan. He soon went back out on the road working out of Bassett where he didn’t feel so claustrophobic.
That day in Kelly’s office when I learned about Bassett for the first time, Kelly and Fred told me that we’d fly into Omaha and be picked up there by a chartered plane for the 150-mile flight over to the small air strip at Bassett. Dick Mauch was a guiding force behind the Bassett airport. Kelly and Fred told me we’d be hunting wild turkeys, mule deer and white-tailed deer, all of which were plentiful in the area.
It seems Dick had recently purchased an old, abandoned family ranch out along Plum Creek in Brown County to the west of Bassett and wanted us to see it and hunt on it. He was also going to invite some of his local bowhunter friends to join in the hunt with the legendary Fred Bear.
Fred’s old bowhunting friend from Wisconsin, Dr. Judd Grindell, was also invited. Judd was a prince of a man. His story had been written up in Outdoor Life. He had been a gifted surgeon in Wisconsin until his career came to a sudden end one day during a hunting trip out West. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was bitten by a rattlesnake on the back of his leg.
The subsequent permanent damage to his nervous system ended his career as a surgeon. He and I had a humorous moment on this shared bowhunt when we both unknowingly sneaked up on the same wild turkey. By chance I released an arrow first and screwed up Judd’s shot. I was more than a little embarrassed, but he was a true gentleman about it all. The turkey was no doubt chuckling as it flew away since this gaff happened just yards away from Laughing Water Creek.
And so it was that I made what would become the first of many trips to Bassett with Fred and Kelly. Before Fred died in 1988 he and I made one final sentimental trip in the fall of 1982. Although we often hunted with some of the local bowhunters during the days, there was plenty of time to be alone with Dick in the evenings and to talk about Bear Archery, industry problems and opportunities.
I’ve mentioned that Fred also treated Dick like a son, too, and at the time Bob Kelly was Fred’s best friend and a person Fred looked up to a great deal. Kelly had one of the two purist marketing minds I encountered during my 45-year career. The other person was Tom Blee, whom I replaced on the Bear Archery account when I was hired at the Bonsib Advertising Agency in 1966 when Tom was promoted to president of the agency.
That first year in Bassett we hunted out at Dick’s new property at Plum Creek. There was an old homestead there alongside the creek, the Keim place, but it was falling down and beyond repair. It looked like it hadn’t been lived in since the Depression. Fred commented at the time that the site would make a nice location for a log cabin. And Dick made sure that it became so. Fred and I later hunted out of the beautiful log cabin for many years with Dick and Carol.
The weather was blustery that first trip, and when we ate lunch at the top of Bill White Canyon on the old Keim property, we hunched alongside the 4-wheel-drive vehicles trying to stay out of the wind on the treeless hills. Dick gave us the history of the area as we ate venison sandwiches and drank coffee out of a battered L.L. Bean Thermos.
Our bowhunting group that first trip consisted of Fred, Kelly, Dick Mauch, Dr. Judd Grindell, Dr. David Strider (an orthopedic surgeon), Gordon Ford (K.K. Knickerbocker’s son-in-law), Dr. Gene Snider (a dentist from Rushville, Nebraska), and myself. We had a great week, although we didn’t score on any game, but had lots of shots at wild turkeys, and a few at deer. K.K. Knickerbocker would join us on subsequent years when we hunted out there. He was one of Fred’s first investors and a fine gentleman. Everyone called him Knick, although his given name was Kenneth Kermit Knickerbocker. He was just a year younger than Fred, having been born on July 8, 1903.
Dick surprised us one morning by making sourdough pancakes for breakfast using “starter” from the old Little Delta hunting cabin, built by a trapper in the 1920’s, on the Little Delta River up in Alaska. Dick had gotten the starter from the trapper’s old cache from Dick McIntyre in Fairbanks who had kept the trapper’s sourdough leavening alive. As I’ve mentioned, Fred hunted there in 1958 and 1959 with a group put together by Glenn St. Charles who had discovered the “game-infested valley” and later led Fred to it for the hunt. And it was one of Fred’s most memorable hunting areas.
The last two or three days of my first hunt in Bassett, Fred didn’t go hunting with us, saying he didn’t feel too good, and that he was going to take it easy. It was only on our last night in Bassett that he admitted to us that he had broken a bridge in his mouth earlier in the week, but didn’t want to spoil the hunt for us and didn’t say anything about it. He had been nursing himself with painkillers ever since, and couldn’t wait to get back to his dentist in Grayling. How’s that for a good friend?
This part of Nebraska is on the migration route of the regal scarlet-headed Sandhill crane as it heads to its winter grounds in Texas. So, during almost every hunt there, we were treated to thousands of the huge birds coming in to roost out on the predator-safe sandbars of the Niobrara. In the mornings they’d depart in huge pinwheel flights high up to their cruising altitude where they would then get their bearings and head on down south. Once we even saw three rare whooping cranes flying with the Sandhill cranes and registered an official sighting with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Diggin’ Up Bones
In order to get under Dick Mauch’s skin with his caustic Irish sense of humor, Kelly would often tell him that the property was a “biological desert” where nothing lived. Of course, he was joshing, and there were lots of mule deer, whitetails and wild turkeys in the area. And they had been there for centuries, along with the herds of buffalo back when they also roamed the plains.
Just upstream from the cabin there was a high cliff on the north side of the creek, and it had been a place where Native Americans drove buffalo off the cliff to their deaths below. I have an old buffalo skull that Dick found buried in the bank of the creek, one of several that he found there. The Lakota Sioux who lived in the area would butcher the buffaloes where they fell.
There is much evidence of old Indian camps on the property, and I have a bolo tie made of a small bird point that Dick’s wife, Carol, and I found one day digging in a campsite at the top of Bill White Canyon.
Carol is a former art teacher and is noted for the beautiful jewelry that she makes. She put the arrowhead on a piece of antler for me and gave it to me as a surprise at the end of my visit. Truly a memorable keepsake from a fine friend. It was as valuable to me, and still is, as the wild turkey and whitetail that I brought home from that visit for our freezer. I wear that bolo tie still to church services and other events. And it always reminds me of Carol, Dick and the old Native American camp in Bill White Canyon at the old Keim place. What wonderful memories bowhunting can give us.
Other ancient creatures had also wandered along this northern Nebraska waterway. “About 20 million years ago, a vast savannah, not unlike today’s African plains, covered the upper Niobrara country,” according to Jon Farrar. “The animals that grazed there were unlike any we know today, though some were surely their ancestors—a miniature rhino, no larger than a domestic pig, with a pair of horns side-by-side on its nose; piglike oreodonts, the most abundant of the larger animals, wallowed in the river’s quiet pools; herds of Parahippus, the “Miocene horse,” a type that would die out but leave fleet grass-eating descendants; many species of camels, some standing only 4 feet at the shoulder and without humps; and 6-foot-tall Dinohyus, the “terrible pig,” no doubt a foul-tempered beast with tusks as thick as a man’s wrist.”
One day when Fred and I were hunting out at the cabin with Dick, I spent some time after lunch picking through a huge pile of dirt that had been dug up to make a drainage channel. The channel led from a spring above the cabin down to a small pond that he built next to it for the benefit of the wildlife in the area and for use as a fish pond. As I poked and dug, I found the occasional fragment of fossilized bone, which I later learned was from a camel.
On this particular day I unearthed a heavy rock-like chunk that just had that certain look to it. I knew that it was old and I knew that it had come from something big. It was about 4 inches wide and 2 inches thick. I brought it into the cabin and showed it to both Fred and Dick. Dick said that he’d take it over later to a fellow named Morris Skinner in nearby Ainsworth and have him look at it.
Following the hunt he did just that, and I learned later when he sent it on to me that it was an ankle bone from the front leg of a 3 to 5 million-year-old long-jawed elephant, Trilophodon Phippsi. What a find for an old bone scrounger like me! Dick later found a much larger piece there on his property from the leg of a long-jawed elephant, perhaps from the same critter, and he sent it to me.
Morris Skinner had seen and studied many “dinosaur” bones from the area around Dick Mauch’s cabin. In 1927, shortly after high school, Morris and a friend from nearby Ainsworth, Jim Quinn, were exploring Horse Thief Canyon along Plum Creek on what is today Dick Mauch’s property just west of the cabin. It’s an area that Fred and I often hunted. Skinner and Quinn found a deposit of long-jawed elephant bones there that they eventually sold to the Museum of Natural History in Denver. The bones are still on display there. Morris used the $1,000 he received to enroll at the University of Nebraska where he earned a degree in 1932.
As a result of these finds, the boys also drew the attention of Childs Frick, a wealthy New Yorker, who was the son of Henry Clay Frick, the chairman of Carnegie Steel from 1889 to 1900. Childs Frick was also a fossil hunter and expert on the subject. Morris Skinner went to work for him during the summers while in college and after graduation Frick invited him to come to the American Museum of Natural History in New York where “he prepared and studied collections of fossil antelope, deer, peccaries, rhinoceroses, bison and horses.” He worked for the museum for more than 50 years.
Michael Voorhies of the University of Nebraska State Museum said that Morris Skinner was, “legendary among paleontologists and was the premier bone hunter of them all.”
On one of our later bowhunts at Plum Creek, Fred, Glenn St. Charles, Dick Mauch and I drove over to Ainsworth to spend part of an afternoon with Morris Skinner. It was quite a thrill for the four of us who were all amateur bone hunters. Morris Skinner died in 1989 at the age of 83, the year after Fred died.
On this first trip to Bassett, Dr. Judd Grindell stayed at Dick’s house in town with Fred. Bob Kelly and I got rooms at the old, two-story Bassett Lodge and Range Cafe just walking distance away. It was also across the street from Vawser’s restaurant where they served up those delicious steaks that were “half the size of Dallas.” You could cut them with a butter knife they were so tender. I could’ve eaten a pancake-high stack of them, if they would have let me.
Nearly every dawn before we’d head over to Dick’s house to go out bowhunting, Kelly and I would go downstairs to the Range Cafe and eat breakfast with the ranchers who gathered there to renew friendships and exchange the news of the day. What a fine bunch of folks they were, and knowing that we were in town with Fred Bear, they went out of their way to make us feel right at home. Matter of fact, several of them let us hunt on their ranches, including Tony Arrowsmith, Joe Leonard and Ed Hall. Denny Arrowsmith, Tony’s younger brother, was also a bowhunter and often hunted with us. We remain friends to this day.
As I said, we often hunted on Tony Arrowsmith’s property—quite appropriate, don’t you think, with his last name? This ranch actually consisted of many adjoining pieces of land—the old Walker place, Carns, the S.Y. Ranch, Hay Camp, the Dyer Place, Spring Box Canyon and some others, the names of which I’ve forgotten.
The most interesting part of the ranch to most of us, though, was on the old Walker place on a ridge just west of Walker Creek. There was a natural pocket nestled on this ridge known as Doc Middleton’s corral. Doc Middleton was the owl-hoot trail name of an outlaw, whose real name was James Riley. Doc killed a soldier in a bar fight in 1877, and even though everyone there said it was self-defense, he fled, and a price was put on his head. He quickly became the “most colorful outlaw in Nebraska, with a Robin Hood reputation.”
As Harold Hutton’s biography “DOC MIDDLETON, Life and Legends of the Notorious Plains Outlaw” says, “Middleton was wanted for murder, chased for horse thefts, loved by the people, betrayed, tracked by detectives, in and out of prison, on both sides of the law, and married three times. He lived under a dozen aliases.”
All that remained of the old corral when Fred, Kelly and I hunted there with Dick and the gang were a few corner fence posts. Dick Mauch tells me that local legend has it that the gang usually just stretched a rope around the perimeter of the natural hollow and that made up the corral for their riding stock.
Right alongside the old corral were deep wagon ruts cut 100 years earlier by the homesteaders heading west in their covered wagons. Needless to say, when sitting in a natural ground blind up on that hillside above the draw, as I did several times, I could “see” the outlaws walking around, as well as “hear” the old covered wagons as they creaked by behind my blind at that magic hour all bowhunters know just before it gets too dark to loose an arrow. I could hear the snorting horses as they climbed the rise to the north pulling the pioneers’ wagons, and Doc’s horses as they whinnied in the old outlaw’s corral.
To be continued:
Links To Previous Chapters of I Remember Papa Bear.
Leave a Reply