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Skinner Brothers Story

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 9 months ago

Skinner Brothers Wilderness School and Outfitting

 

By Judi Myers, 2006

 

 

 

Pre-WWII:

 

From 1936 to 2004 – 68 years! - the Skinner family has been teaching, guiding and packing people in the Wind River Mountains. Clement C Skinner, ‘the Old Man Of the Mountains’, and his wife, Vi were both from Cumberland, Wisconsin. They were married in 1918 and came to Wyoming. After homesteading in Shirley Basin north of Medicine Bow, Clem traveled around as a government trapper, specializing in grizzly bears and wolves. His boss was Charlie Bayer, and their son Monte, having the same birth date as Charlie, has Bayer for a middle name. With Norwegian Elkhound and Malamute/Elkhound mix, Clem worked and kept sled dog teams until there was no longer a future for them in the mountains.

 

 

 

One time while trapping in Minnesota, Clem was on snowshoes ahead of his dogs when he fell through an air hole up to his armpits. Unable to get his snowshoes back through the hole he had to hold on to an edge of ice while unbuckling the snowshoes with his other hand. It was well below zero and his clothes froze, but he made it back to camp, built a fire and thawed himself out.

 

 

 

For 4 years prior to moving to Pinedale, Clem and Vi and their 3 oldest boys lived at the Pitchfork Ranch, located just west of Meeteetse, Wyoming. Clem worked for Charles Belden on the Dude Ranch part of the Pitchfork. The 3 oldest Skinner Brothers: Bud (Clement Jr.)(born in Cheyenne in 1925), Monte (born in Rawlins in 1928) and Bob (born in Cheyenne in 1929) were there. While at Pitchfork Clem caught some mountain lions that were kept in a pen on the dude ranch. They had a domesticated mountain sheep and they caught antelope for zoos. When Monte was 5 or 6 he would be sent out on a horse with a little dog on his lap. When he spotted a fawn, the dog would jump down and hold it until the cowboys came. Sometimes they would have 30 antelope to ship to zoos.

 

 

 

One tame antelope named Billy loved to bunt. One time he bumped the heavy-set cook right into a creek. Clem put rubber horns on him, but they finally had to get rid of him. Clem took him about 30 miles down the road. Monte said, “Billy beat Dad back to the ranch”.

 

 

 

While working for Belden, Clem would go on month-long hunting and pack trips. When he moved to Pinedale in the spring of 1936, his clients stayed with him as their outfitter. Bud told Ole that he and several others trailed the horses from the Pitchfork to the Pinedale area while Clem trucked over, bringing a buffalo, an elk, a trailer and his family, which now included the 4th brother, only 6-weeks old, Courtney (born in Powell in January, 1936). Clem established a camp at Spring Creek Park. The Pinedale Roundup of 10/8/36 reported that bull elk were bagged by hunters from Skinner’s Hunting Camp on the first day of the elk season while hunting out of Spring Creek Park. At the end of October, 1936, it was reported that North Carolina men were on a week-long hunting trip at the Boxed K Dude Ranch operated by Clem Skinner. The brand was a K inside a box & was similar to Clem’s old boss, Charlie Bayer’s brand, the Box K which was a box followed by a K.

 

 

 

In the spring of 1937 Clem Skinner filed Articles of Incorporation for the Boxed K Dude Ranch. The directors were Clem, Saline O’Leary (wife of Clem’s guide Tim)(the O’Leary’s divorced in 1940) and Glen Coleman (whose house later burned down and was rebuilt by neighbors in one week). The ranch was located on Soda Lake just north of Pinedale. Clem and his partners, who included Tim, Glen and Clem’s brother “Uncle Mart”, built a lodge and 3 or 4 cabins (plus all the furniture) on a peninsula above Soda Lake near where a little stream comes into the lake. The foundation stones are still there. Two of the cabins were later moved to the backyards of homes on South Franklin in Pinedale.

 

 

 

One of the dudeens, Barbara Stephenson, remembers that Clem had pet elk around the camp. One of them was named Mary. One time the elk chased her sister into the outhouse. She also remembers that Vi Skinner “worked her heart out. She was a hard worker. She took care of all the meals, washing and childcare. When our parents went off on a pack trip, Vi watched out for us. We had fun. We’d make rafts and paddle around. Sometimes we went into town and played the penny slot machines.” Saline O’Leary also helped at Soda Lake. If you went for a ride with Saline, you’d have to cut a fence to get back. She’d always go a different way. Barbara also remembers that little Courtney never had anything new so her father took him to the Cowboy Shop and bought him red boots.

 

 

 

On pack trips Clem would not hobble the horses because of the bears. One time all the horses took off and could not be found. Barbara remembers this event because it became her first pack trip. She was allowed to help bring the extra horses up to Clem’s mountain camp. Clem’s special horse was ‘Midnight’. One time Clem got caught in a trap and his horse took off. The horse went home, alerted the others and Clem was found.

 

 

 

In 1939 Clem Skinner and Tim O’Leary were guiding a group of doctors (one of whom was Barbara Stephenson’s father) at the head of Willow Lake. The men in the group tried to see who could draw his gun the fastest. A member of the vacationing party shot himself in the leg. Tim rode to the Boxed K on horseback, drove a car into Pinedale, got a boat and took it to the outlet of Willow Lake and then motored to the head of the lake to pick up the injured man. He was rushed to the hospital in Rock Springs & recovered.

 

 

 

The Skinner family wintered at Soda Lake and Bud, Monte and Bob went to a school there. The school was later moved to the Bill Bayer ranch on the Soda Lake Road. Sometimes the boys would go over to the bigger Cora School for special events. Clem made them skis and they learned to ski while at Soda Lake. Bob said, “Dad shaped skis out of pine boards. He’d boil the ends and turn them up. He used a sawmill belt that was made into bindings. We’d have jumps down by the lake. The pine boards were brittle and we busted off a lot of tips.” The boys would ski to school, or over to a little pond. The 3 brothers would often meet Paul Hagenstein at Hay Gulch. They still can’t figure out how they each got word to meet there since they didn’t have phones and they didn’t go to the same school. Paul said, “We’d take turns whose horse pulled us to the top. One of us would ride the horse and the other 3 would be towed behind at different lengths of the rope.” The original “tow rope”. But they didn’t get to ski at recess. Monte said, “Our recess activity was cutting wood for the fire.”

 

 

 

The boys also learned to run trap lines at Soda Lake. One time Monte caught a wolf in his trap. He was only 11 years old. He had a bone that he used to thump the wolf on the nose and stun it. Then he had his horse stomp on the heart to kill it. Monte said, “But it ruined the hide. I guess I lost $30.00 on that hide”. Bob said, “We’d ride the trap line periodically. Mainly we got coyotes.”

 

 

 

One time Bud went to visit his friend, Paul Hagenstein, who lived in town. Bud spent the night and Paul remembers, “It was winter and Bud went sleepwalking outdoors. He came to the front door and knocked or we wouldn’t have known. The next morning we tracked his barefoot prints around the neighborhood.”

 

 

 

Clem and Tim O’Leary spent some of their days cutting and hauling burled trees with big bulges on their trunks out of the forest. Barbara Stephenson said that some of these trees are still decorating the Cowboy Bar in Jackson. Clem and Uncle Mart were hired to build a dude lodge in the Hoback. Monte remembers going to school there for the summer, then moving to Pinedale and having to go to school all winter too. This was when the Skinners first moved to Pinedale in 1936.

 

 

 

About the middle of December, 1939, the fifth child of Clem and Vi Skinner was expected at any time. Clem had Bud and Monte keep horses saddled in the barn to ride the eight miles to get Dr. Booth. The notice came on the 19th of December about 5pm. Monte can still remember the ride and the exact place where the horses spooked some sage chickens. There was a little excitement for a few moments. Monte recalls that there was no snow and it seemed like there was a full moon. The two boys met their Uncle Martin about two miles from Bill Bayer’s ranch and Uncle Mart then went back into town to get the doctor. The Skinner’s 5th son, Quentin was born at the Soda Lake Ranch in 1939. The whole family moved off of the ranch and into Pinedale about the end of December.

 

 

 

 

In 1940 Clem was no longer in the dude ranch business. He was working at the Thomas & Skinner Lumber Yard where he caught his arm in a circular saw and came within a fraction of an inch of a vein and bone. Dr Booth used 22 stitches to close the wound. The other partners were not able to get any business and WWII came. The last of the 6 Skinner Brothers, Sherwood was born in 1941. When he was born, Vi exclaimed, “Why, he looks like my brother, Ole.” He’s been known as Ole every since. His brother Monte was coming back from the CCC Camp on Fremont Lake when he heard about his new brother. The oldest Skinner brother, Bud was at home sitting on the front porch. The day after Ole turned 60 years old he called Bud and was talking to him about his birthday. Bud said, “I wish you’d have gotten that sailboat I had on Burnt Lake.” Ole said, “Why?” and Bud replied, “I’m checking out. I won’t be here. I hope to ski 60 days this year and tomorrow is the 60th day.” The next day Bud went up on the ski hill, had a stroke and died. He was 75.

 

 

 

The Skinner family lived in Pinedale during the 1940s and early 50s. They lived in the former Carson house on the corner of Magnolia and Franklin. Their neighbors were the Feltners, the Carsons, the Korfantas and the Shannons. Courtney remembers some of the brothers working for Walt McPherson, an old trapper who lived on Boulder Creek. He said, “I was 9 or 10 when I had to take dad’s horses clear across the old Fayette Ranch to Walt’s place. That was a big ride as I was a little kid doing it alone.” His brother Bob rode with Walt and was shown a bear den where Walt killed 3 bears. Walt had seen a bear go in a cave and built a smudge fire to smoke it out. When the bear didn’t emerge, Walt went in, found three bears, shot them all and went deaf. The location of this den has always been in dispute. Ole said he found it while trailing a wounded elk. The older brothers have always doubted the find.

 

 

 

Post WWII:

 

After the war Clem and his oldest son, Bud, started the Dude Ranch out of Burnt Lake. Barbara Stephenson went on some of their pack trips. She said, “Clem’s stories would make your hair curl. He told us never to shoot a bear uphill from you on a hill. It charges down! I remember Bud telling me ‘Don’t sleep on top of the snow. Sleep in it’. Bud even named Barbara Lake after me. It has 7 islands in it”. Monte said, “After the war we took some pack trips out of Meadow Lake, but our camp was always on Burnt.” He said that the old cabin on the Burnt Lake shore was old at the turn of the century – 1900 – when Mike Steele had a sawmill there. Skinners put a new roof on it and used it as a cook shack. Monte added, “It’s a historic landmark!”

 

 

 

Both Bud and Monte served in the Navy in the Philippines in WWII. Bud was a Pharmacists mate and was stationed in the Philippines at a Fleet Hospital that took care of marines and sailors injured during the battles of the South Pacific. One day they were x-raying a young sailor. Bud went off to develop the film. The others asked the injured man to take off his shirt and they saw the name Skinner. They asked where he was from and he replied, “Pinedale, Wyoming.” The next question was “Do you know Bud Skinner?” The answer was yes. Imagine the surprise when Bud came out from developing the x-ray film and saw his younger brother on the table. It turned out that John David Wilson from Pinedale was stationed on the island also. Sometimes it is a small world.

 

 

 

During these years the Skinner Brothers were fine-tuning their outdoor skills. The newspaper is full of their skiing awards. All six Skinner brothers attended the University of Wyoming with 5 graduating from the university with BS or BA degrees, two Master’s degrees and one Doctorate. All six brothers lettered in the sport of skiing all four years in downhill, slalom, jumping and cross-country! No family has ever had this many immediate members compete and letter in a sport at UW. In 2005 all 6 Skinner brothers were inducted into the Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame for their racing, teaching, coaching and encouragement of skiing in Wyoming. In 1949 Monte had his XC ski picture in the Denver Post, but “his face was not distinct because of the cork covering on his face to protect it from snow burn”. Monte said that at one time he was teaching skiing in Sun Valley and someone asked “Who has Esther Williams?” Well, I said I had an Esther in my class. I didn’t even recognize her or know who she was then.”

 

 

 

 

Bob was teaching “Survival Techniques” in the Air Force, doing extensive rock climbing with many first ascents (and a broken arm in1953), and tried out for the Olympics. Courtney won 4th place with his 8# 8oz German Brown Trout in a National Fish Derby for Boy Scouts. Quentin was Marbles Champ three years in a row and at age 14 climbed Gannett Peak (Ole’s son Ndi later climbed it at age 12 and Todd Skinner, Bob & Doris’s son beat that record). During the early 1960s Quentin was in Alaska training for the Olympic biathlon team. He was the first athlete from Pinedale to train for the biathlon and was followed by Monte Straley (Jim’s son – Maggot Springs story), Darin Binning, 1988, and Ntala Skinner (Ole & Karen’s daughter) in 1994 and 1998. Quentin is a professor at the University of Wyoming and worked at camp whenever he could get away.

 

 

 

Skinner Brothers Wilderness School:

 

In 1953 Clem and Vi moved to their ranch about one mile down Pole Creek Road. Vi was the legal secretary for the county attorney after WWII. John Mackey remembers, “Guy Hockett resigned about 1950 and I was appointed county attorney. Vi came with the office. She was very personable, a likeable lady. She never missed a day in the 8 years or so she worked for me. She was on the ball.” Tucker Smith said of Vi, “She was a wonderful, little lady – talked a mile a minutes.” Vi also worked as the bookkeeper for Delgado Oil for many years. Her granddaughter, Ellen, said, “She was good with figures.” Clem worked for Curt Feltner digging ditches and doing road work. He also ran a drag line. John Mackey said, “Old Clem was smart, but he was not an office guy. He liked to be outdoors. He knew these mountains.” Clem played the part of a mountain man in the Rendezvous Pageant. Paul Hagenstein played an Indian squaw. Paul rode his old horse Flicka and Clem would inevitably jump on the back. Paul would reach behind and pinch Flicka and she’d flip Clem off. Paul said, “It worked every year.”

 

 

 

In 1955 Monte and Bob Skinner bought out their father’s interest in the Burnt Lake Base Camp outfitting business and in 1956 the Pinedale Roundup announced “Skinner brothers to operate boys’ wilderness training camp”. Bob said, “We based it on the Air Force Survival School training I’d been doing and we threw in a lot of things we did when we were kids.” In Carol Chidsey’s 1984 interview, Bob said, “We started the camp to add to the length of the season.” Monte said, “We wanted a different kind of camp to teach kids about the outdoors.”

 

 

 

The first camp hosted 4 boys from age 9-14 and ran for 4 weeks. The cost was $350. The agenda for this first camp was just about the same as for the last year of operation, 2004. The camp of 1956 devoted 2 weeks to training in hunting, fishing, traps & snares, tracking, trailcraft, camping, navigation, edible wild plants, care of wild meat, backpacking methods, hiking, and horsemanship. The 3rd week was a pack trip and the 4th was a raft trip on the Green River. In 1972 Skinners added a Girls Session and in 1974 went to co-ed sessions. In 1986 the Wilderness Session lasted 30 days, was for children aged 10-16 and cost $1575. In 2001 the 3-week Wilderness Session was for ages 9-15 and cost $2475. More than 4000 young men and women have been educated at the Skinner Brothers Wilderness School. By 1986 the Wilderness School was as much a part of Skinner’s business as the outfitting. The Skinners and their staff instilled in students an appreciation of the outdoors and nature, and taught skills and knowledge that benefited them the rest of their lives. Their brochure truly states, “No other outdoor program in the world offers a broader range of integrated outdoor disciplines in each course.”

 

 

 

Except for Bud who was never involved with the wilderness school, each of the brothers became involved as they graduated from UW. Quentin was only involved for a short time but he used to come in the fall to hunt. Bob and Monte ran it for the first 4 years. Courtney became Program Director and Ole became part of the staff after 3 years in the Peace Corp. Monte was with the camp from start to finish. When Bob’s wife became ill, he had to cut back on his time at the school, but he was always part of the hunting season. Courtney was involved with the school and the hunting season when Skinners sold. Ole and his family had moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1988.

 

 

 

Richard Levitt, a Skinner camper, wrote about his experiences in 1977. Levitt said they lived in tepees at Burnt Lake and received 10 days of lectures and practice training in survival, living in the wilderness, cleanliness and responsibility. Each camper was given a number and taught to line-up. A work ethic was instilled with chores including planting trees, chopping, hauling, splitting and stacking wood. He describes the overnight trip with no food but sleeping bags and then another overnighter with food but no sleeping bag. He concluded, “I’d rather be warm and hungry than cold and full”. He had a 3-day rock-climbing trip and then a 3-day horse pack trip. After resting, there was the “dreaded, 4-day survival hike”. Each camper received a gun, one bullet, matches, an orange, a bit of chocolate, a bit of line and a fish hook. Levitt said, “The most abundant food was brook trout. Fishing meant using your arm as a primitive pole. The most effective bait, after the first fish was caught, was the eyes of fish we’d already caught.” He also said that some campers tried rodents and reptiles and one simply went without food except for the orange and chocolate. The last part of Levitt’s wilderness session was on the Green River with a 4 day float in primitive log rafts.

 

 

 

The Skinner’s program has always been based on safety and learning. In a 1984 Pinedale Roundup Ole said, “Safety first. Think of the consequences of what you’re doing. Don’t do anything solo.” The brothers said that they differed from other outdoor schools because they are working with safety all the time. They also instilled survival skills, self-confidence, love, understanding and protectionism of the natural environment, and zero or minimum impact camping. Monte said, “I guess we were environmentalists because we were teaching conservation and how to get along in the outdoors and enjoy it.”

 

 

 

The Skinner Brothers knew the danger of living in the wilderness and there was always close supervision. Bob said, “One of the reasons for our spotless record was because we set Burnt Lake camp up so we could watch everything all the time. If you were in the cookhouse you could see what was going on in the corrals.” But injuries do happen. One boy broke his hip when he fell on a rock while wrestling with another boy. Monte said, “It should have been a bruise. This kid was 12 and already had a dozen broken bones.” Another time a boy shot his survival bullet into his own foot. On a glacier climb a large 260# boy reached up to pinch a girl. His foot gave out and he broke his leg. Monte said, “We had to get him down. It was an emergency rescue.” But Skinners were always concerned with safety. Katherine Collins said that some groups would be packing in to climb Gannett Peak and when they got to base camp, Skinners would say, “You aren’t ready,” and they wouldn’t go on.

 

 

 

At Pipestone Lake one time, Monte was bringing some kids in from a weeklong pack trip. Sitting around the fire, some boys got to wrestling and throwing a tin can back and forth. Just as Monte hollered, the flying can hit another camper near the eye. Monte put on a butterfly bandage and by the time they got to town Doc Johnston said it didn’t need stitches. Skinners had some close calls but no fatalities. Monte said, “We never lost a kid in almost 50 years”.

 

 

 

The Skinners had to keep a firm hand with kids in the wilderness. Charlie Raper remembers, “I was just a little kid when I went up there. I had to build the Panama Canal! Some Colonel made us trench around his tent to keep the rain out. I just wanted to go home. But Bob took me aside and pretty much told me to grow up. I’ve liked him ever since.” Another camper wrote, “everyone should run a camp the ways you guys do. I also like the no bs style. If someone got out of line, you or someone else were sure to set him straight.” Another camper said, “One of the first things we heard when we got to camp was, ‘Get you hands out of your pockets and go to work!’” One parent wrote, “I am real thankful that there are gentlemen such as yourselves that I can allow my son to associate with and learn from. Good role models that will spend time with youth are rare indeed, and I am very grateful.” Another parent wrote, “I sent you an immature teenager girl. You sent me back a young lady.”

 

 

 

Dave Collins was a camper and then part of the staff for 6 years during the 1980s. He remembers an “epic climb” of Mount Sacajawea. “We started at 4am and most of the teams were slow, but I was on a fast climbing team and we got to the summit. I was 13. We were excited to make it to the top, but then our ice axes started humming! I took my helmet off and my hair stood up. We touched each other and got an electric shock. St. Elmo’s Fire – the electricity before a storm! We decided on a fast descent. Courtney met our team and gave us a good tongue lashing for not waiting for the others. A big blizzard moved in and we had to wait it out under a rock. No one else made it to the top. When the storm cleared, we started descending. It turned into a 23-hour day. We stumbled into camp at 3am but at least we got off that glacier before dark.”

 

 

 

When Collins was 17, he led a trip. He said Bob’s departing words where, “Keep you head on, Collins!” Their trip was more than 3 weeks long. He said they always did Mount Baldy first because it has a cornice with vertical snow. They learned snow skills, rock skills and ice axe skills. He said, “It was a huge responsibility. It was crazy. But Skinners believed in me. We climbed Baldy, Harrower and Gannett. One time I was trying to get everybody down off a peak. We got a bit spread out and one of the campers dislodged a rock. One piece went by my head and the other by my leg. We stuck closer together after that.” On a backpacking trip, their food drop was 2 days late. “All we had was gorp,” Dave said. “We tried to use our survival skills. We tried to catch Rainbows, but they were spawning and wouldn’t bite. One of the guys caught one fish by reaching his hand slowly into the water and tickling the fish under the gills! It’s an old Indian trick. We were even going after marmots with ice axes. Courtney finally came, yodeling and singing, and he’s famous for packing everything but the kitchen sink. He brought in bacon. It was best I’ve ever eaten in all my life.” He said that Courtney also used the yodeling and singing to wake campers up in the morning. It was quite different from Ole’s “military style” wake-up call.

 

 

 

Getting up early was a Skinner trademark. There was always work to do and they believed in a strong work ethic. They also passed on wisdom. Dave remembers Courtney telling him, “Don’t try to grow up too fast, Collins”. Dave said, “Bob was the most even-tempered. When he told you something, it hit home.” Monte caught Dave and another staff member napping in a tepee one day. “He was screaming, ‘Klamaco, get up! John, get out of that bed!’ and John replied, ‘One and the same.’ Monte couldn’t remember my name. They always called me by my last name, ‘Collins’.” Dave said that his Skinner training left a lifelong interest in white water and was the “most solid foundation for outdoor life.” Dave learned enough about horses to be hired by the USFS as a horse guide at the age of 18. He said, “One mule wouldn’t cross a stream so I used an old Monte trick and punched it on the nose. It didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned.”

 

 

 

Ellen Skinner, Monte’s daughter started cooking up at camp at the age of 16. She said, “I was the only girl, so I had my own tipi and my own outhouse! Roz Brown is a musician and he'd come up to camp and bring songs. He had one song about Moose Turd Pies and the tag line was ‘It’s good, though’ so my sister decided to make it for her boyfriend. She went to the willows and gathered real moose turds. She made a pie crust, filled it with the turds and put in some Butterfingers. Then she put on the top and bake it. It actually smelled good! I can picture her boyfriend putting it in his mouth. He was probably playing along.”

 

 

 

When asked about her uncles, the Skinner Brothers, Ellen replied, “Bob approached work with a lot of thought. He had things figured out ahead and he was efficient, from scrubbing the cook tent floor to planning an expedition to Everest. He is a do-it-yourself guy and was incredibly strong. He was quiet but when he got up in the mountains, he’d light up and get everyone enthused. He is an excellent artist too.”

 

 

 

Ellen was in the mountains with her Uncle Quentin. “He was Mr. Military,” she said. “But he had a soft heart. One day when we were little kids on our way up to camp, Quentin offered us some of his Beachnut Chew. He had to stop to let us throw up. He used to chew the leather he used to make moccasins. When he was training for the Biathlon Olympics, he’d run up to Horseshoe Lake and back. That’s 12 miles one way!”

 

 

 

Ellen thinks her Uncle Courtney was the funniest. She remembers him playing their piano and “he didn’t know any notes, but he didn’t care. He’d just make up music and play away”. She went on, “Courtney was a lot of fun. He’s Mr. Loving. Whenever he lost something, he’d offer a reward to whoever found it. One time the reward was horseradish! He was such a dreamer, but he did it. He’s always been who he is.”

 

 

 

“The happiest I ever saw Ole,” Ellen continued, “was on the Green. He’d been a river guide on the Salmon in Idaho. Ole was Hollywood Handsome. He had been a 2nd for stars and an extra some movie. My dad (Monte) once said he was the most naturally talented athlete in the family.” When asked about her dad, Ellen replied, with a smile, “He was a slave-driver!”

 

 

 

Both Ellen and staff member Dave Collins agreed that the brothers had to have a strong discipline approach. Dave said, “You couldn’t get away with it these days. It’s a dying way of life. Now everything is touchy-feely. The Skinners weren’t the sympathy types. Life deals blows. Skinner Brothers prepares you for that. They were hard and they made us tough. They taught us to reach inside ourselves. You couldn’t take Skinner Brothers social skills into the world! It was just the way they were – a real mountain men breed. They taught us pride and there was a team ethics that happened naturally. It was cooler to say you’d been to Skinner’s Wilderness School than to NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School).” Ellen added, “Plus if you were with the Skinners you had a better chance of making it out of the mountains! They taught us to work. There was a seriousness to each task. If there was any deficient, they’d make up for it with hard work and determination. They challenged you to do the things you needed to do. Everyone had a part and we’d look out for others. I thought Skinner’s camp was Utopia.”

 

 

 

Skinners also worked with the community. Pinedale elementary classes would have field trips to Skinner’s Camp. In 1983 the 2nd grade went to Burnt Lake and learned forestry skills. The Great Outdoor Shop teamed with Skinner Brothers to hold short-term climbing schools. Jenny Gosar remembered, “I learned to climb with Todd Skinner (Bob’s son). I must have been in 4th grade. I was scared at first, but he had this big smile and told me I could do it. It changed my life. I was so much fun.” In 1996 Skinners held a two-day, intensive, wilderness first aid training for the public and later that summer, a tepee building class in conjunction with the Museum of the Mountain Man and Rendezvous festivities.

 

 

 

The Skinners had kids coming back for extended learning, so by the mid-1970s the camp had added rock climbing. In 1986 the Wilderness Sessions brought together five facets: survival techniques, horsemanship (campers learned to take care of their own horses before they went on pack and fishing trips), water travel (culminating in the ever popular rafting trip down the Green River on log rafts), backpacking, mountaineering (rock climbing). Skinners also offered a Graduate Leadership Session for older teens or previous campers. This session instilled leadership qualities, advanced and intensive wilderness training, adventure, and harmony with nature. The Open Mountaineering Session, also for older teens, was almost 3 weeks of rock and snow climbing and backpacking. The Collegiate Session taught horsemanship, mountaineering, water travel and survival techniques at the college level.

 

 

 

During the summer the Skinners also offered pack trip services: stationary pack trips to scenic lakes with day rides to surrounding lakes and mountains; moving pack trips with several camps to scenic lakes and valleys; spot packs to haul in your gear and return later to pack it out. In 2001 they offered fishing trips, family pack trips, historic rides, trips to climb Wyoming highest peak, Gannett, wilderness pack trips, and horseback riding besides all their youth sessions! Skinner’s pack trips were “the perfect cure for today’s frenzied and high tech world.”

 

 

 

Bob remembers “We were scattered all over the mountains with pack trips and mountaineering. Our sessions overlapped and there was a crowding of time. Transportation was a problem too. We had to go to Salt Lake to pick up the kids. We had to leave camp at 3am to meet them.” In the later years they shortened the school sessions to three weeks because the kids and staff couldn’t take off for a full month when so many public schools were starting in August and Skinner’s couldn’t always find capable staff. They had to drop the rafting trip because of the high insurance rates and safety problems. Bob added, “Everything was making it tough to keep running the school. As we got older, we had to do most of the work. It was hard to find people who could take care of the horses. I got tired of taking care of 50 head of horses.”

 

 

 

Skinner’s base camp was on the shore of Burnt Lake. It consisted of tepees for sleeping, a sizable cook tent, Monte’s sheep wagon and the horse corrals and tack room. The camp used tepees so the campers could learn to use the fire as a tool rather than a convenience. They also had a wilderness camp at Horseshoe Lake. This camp had been moved from its first location and Courtney still remembers the day he found some old barbed wire and the original 3-hole toilet seat. With a smile he said, “Finding it was one of my greatest joys!”

 

 

 

Skinner brochures display a hand drawn map of the Wind River Mountains. It is signed by Tom Lea. Tom was a WWII correspondent in the Pacific for Life magazine and a guest at Skinner’s camp back in Clem’s day. The scrolls on the map were from the original King Ranch’s Spanish deed. Tom wrote a book about the King Ranch. Sarah Lea Lake is named for his wife. Tom wrote the novel, The Primal Yoke, published in 1960, using Clem Skinner as his model for the old man.

 

 

 

Hunting Season:

 

The Skinner’s tradition of guides for hunting trips spans almost a century. When Clem was scrambling for clients and times were tough, he wrote to a man back East and offered to give him a $2.00/day discount on a pack trip if the man would bring out 50#s of canned lard. Another of Clem’s clients was Colonel John Leavell. Leavell Lake (misspelled Leaville on USGS maps) is named for him while Shirley Lake is named for his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Charlie Leavell. Courtney remembers the Colonel catching little brookies from horseback and Courtney would take them off the hook, put them in a bucket, get them into the panniers and the horse would trot along with the water sloshing to plant them in Hidden and Leavell Lakes. “Those original ones grew to 11#’” he said. Charles Leavell and Tom Lea were from Texas and spent several seasons fishing with the Skinners. In 1955, to show their appreciation, they paid all the expenses for Quentin and Ole to travel to the El Paso livestock show with their lambs.

 

 

 

Quentin Skinner said, “Sonny Korfanta was like a surrogate father to us. He took us to ski meets and practices. Fanny (his wife) ran the drugstore and Sunny skied with us!” Quentin also mentioned the Leavells, Tom Lea, and Bob & Jim Harrower. He said, “Along the way you have people who influence your destiny. That’s what these people did.”

 

 

 

When elk season opened the Skinners moved to their hunting camp near Yellowstone Park. This camp was only used during the opening week of the season and was a bugle hunt. The most hunting was done from the Burnt Lake camp. The Skinners had a hunting success rate of 80% for elk. Monte held the outfitting license for the Skinner Brothers. That means he is responsible for anything his guides do. In 1988 and 1989 an undercover agent had come as a client, the USFS was pressuring all outfitters and one day a SWAT team descended on the Skinner’s office. Monte said, “Donna walked in and there was this SWAT team with guns and rifles! I was up in the mountains, but she called Courtney and he came to town. The SWAT team pretty much raided our office and confiscated everything. It was 5 years cleaning it all up and I lost my Outfitter’s license for 3 years. We had the camp in Jackson and some men who had hunted for years couldn’t come, so they sent their friends instead. I wasn’t in camp yet, so I didn’t know any of this. They went out and killed an elk. There were all sorts of unfounded accusations, but the main one was ‘transporting game across state lines’. At first I couldn’t step foot on the National Forest, but I went to the judge and they let that go. They tried to put me in jail. They couldn’t prove anything because there was nothing to prove.” Some of the other outfitters did go to jail. Bob had our Outfitter license for 3 years.

 

 

 

Skinners have a whole different language for places in the Wind Rivers. They also have stories to name these special places. Twenty Dollar Glacier was named in the 1970s when a boy on a pack trip, reached into the snow and found a $20.00 bill. The news of the day was that a man had hijacked an airplane and jumped out with $200,000. The boys all thought this was his cache and soon all the young people were down digging in the glacier. No more money was found, but the name stuck.

 

 

 

Courtney Lake was named by Clem. When Courtney was 9 years old, Clem and Bud were building a trail from Burnt Lake up Fall Creek Canyon. Courtney was left alone at this lake for what was to be ‘a short time’ that turned into 2 nights. It was his first time alone and he used up all the Coleman fuel, burning the lanterns all night. When Clem finally returned he thought Courtney was rolling rocks down a hill, only to discover it was a bear. He was so glad to find that Courtney was okay, that he said, “I name this ‘Courtney Lake’”. Courtney said, “I found out about the shadows that lurk in the dark and the value of Coleman lanterns. That trail dad put in gave us a record time of 1 hour 45 minutes between Horseshoe and Burnt Lakes, but it was so dangerous we only used it for 1 year.”

 

 

 

Maggot Springs received its name in the late 1940s. Clem and Bud were outfitting with a string of horses straight off the desert. They’d been taught to lead by jogging them behind a heavy armored WWII command car up to Meadow Lake. Courtney said, “I was about 10 and we were coming down from Horseshoe Lake. We got those 17 head packed and they all blew up. Hershey bars and stuff were scattered all the way down to Burnt Lake. It was a looooong day! Well, we got to this spring and stopped for lunch. We’d had roast beef the night before and we ground it up to make sandwiches. We opened the 2nd sandwich and it was crawling – literally – with maggots! I’d eaten half of it! Bud is our medic. He ran to the pack string and he was throwing off packs left and right trying to find his medical chest. It was so funny because Bud is in a stage of panic and now he’s screaming at us. Jim Straley was a college man working for Skinner Brothers and helping us pack and he thinks this is the funniest thing he’s ever seen to watch Bud running from horse to horse pulling those loads off. We named it Maggot Springs even though it’s got the most wonderful water. Well, nobody died. We had a little extra protein. But Bud might have had a heart attack. He left the Wind River Mountains shortly after that and only returned for short vacations.” Bud’s ashes are scattered at a lake he named in the 1940s. Jim Straley had worked with Bud when he did his Master’s Thesis on Horseshoe Lake’s water turning over during the ice-free months. Jim later joined the Wyoming Game & Fish as a Game Biologist.

 

 

 

Another place not on the topographic maps is Bear Bait Park. Monte said that Floyd Bousman used to put 6 or 7 dead horses up there as bear bait, thus the name. There is a beautiful meadow nearby that the Skinners call The 9th Green. This is on the way up to Horseshoe Lake. A young man of Skinner’s staff once said, “I want to get married here. It looks like the 9th green’. He was never married there, but the name stuck. It is an L-shaped meadow and went through the fires of 1988. Courtney believes there is a meteor crater up above Bear Bait, a bit towards Blueberry Lake and down on the ridge. Skinner Lakes are shown on the maps as Jacqueline Lake. There is a Skinner Pass to the north of Timico Lake at the Fall Creek headwaters. The Skinners have scattered the ashes of many people in the Wind Rivers. One of the urns is at Skinner Pass. Monte had 13 or 15 kids with him when they scattered this lady’s ashes. The names of all present were put in the urn. Some years later a Forest Service wilderness patrolman opened the bronze cairn and was reading all the names when a black cloud and a thunderbolt struck. He replaced the cairn and swiftly departed.

 

 

 

Graveyard Ridge is a bare ridgeline above Burnt Lake. As the story goes, in the days after WWI three miners dug a 14-foot mine shaft at Belford Lake. They had a half-finished cabin. One day 2 of the men went to work the mine while the 3rd man said he was not feeling so well. When the 2 miners returned, the 3rd man was gone with the poke. The chase was on. The men cut off the thief at Graveyard Ridge and killed him. Then one of the other men disappeared and the 3rd man showed up in Pinedale with the 2nd mans team of horses. When asked what he was doing with those horses, he said he bought them. He left for Montana and was never seen again. Courtney recalls, “We sat on this one rock up on the ridge a dozen times and one time we looked down at our feet and there was this grave. Once you know it’s there, it’s just so obvious. The big rock we always sat on is the headstone. I think the 2nd grave is down closer to Burnt Lake. I found a shoe and a pant leg there.”

 

 

 

Another Skinner place name is Mills Meadow. Bob was guiding the Mill brothers of WV on an elk hunt in 1986. They’d hunted all day and had nothing to show for it. They came through this meadow southeast of Horseshoe Lake. It was after dark and several bulls were in the park. They wouldn’t shoot after dark, but the next day they came through this same park and Willard Mills shot a 6-point elk. The next day his brother Willis killed a bull in the same place. Each year after that they came back and got a total of 6 bulls, so it is known as Mills Meadow,

 

 

 

Skinner Brothers has always been a family business. Bob married Doris in 1956, just before Skinner Brothers Wilderness School opened its tepee flaps. Doris was the school’s bookkeeper. Their 3 children, Orion, Todd and Holly have all worked in camp. Monte married Donna in 1961. Donna took care of the secretarial matters for Skinner Brothers. Their 3 daughters, Ellen, Amy and Mary grew up being part of the school. Courtney married Mary in 1967 and she took care of the camp’s communications. Their 2 daughters, Kezia and Darcy grew up at camp. Courtney’s 2nd wife, Maria knows many camp stories. Quentin was also married in 1967, and was a steady part of the Skinner’s Wilderness School until about 1972. He and Arlene have 3 children: Quentin Daniel, Katrina and Therese. Quentin’s children went through camp and one was a counselor. Quentin’s Master’s Thesis was on how Skinner’s Camp affected Burnt Lake compared to the nearby public campground’s affect on seagulls. Ole married Karen in 1969 and she was the camp nurse. Their 3 children, Ndi, Ntala and Ian, were pretty much raised up at camp. Bud had one son, Brian.

 

 

 

By 1982 Skinner Brothers were offering Winter Camp Trips. Courtney had been on 5 expeditions to the South Pole region with the US Antarctic Research Program Team. Skinner Peak on the Antarctic continent is named for him. He taught winter outdoor education and led winter assaults on Gannett Peak. This was a 10-day trip and included a 20 mile ski-in just to get to the base camp. A winter ascent of Gannett is considered one of the best mountaineering training grounds in the world. With years of planning Courtney led an expedition to climb Mt Everest for the Wyoming’s 1990 Centennial. Bob was the Mountaineering Director for the attempt. Skinner Brothers received their permit in 1985, raised one million dollars, and made the attempt in 1988. Their slogan was “Cowboys on Everest”, but storms smothered their best efforts.

 

 

 

Clem Skinner and his wife Vi both died in 1975. In 1970 Clem wrote, “I have spent most of my life trapping, hunting and guiding in the mountains”. Most of his sons followed in those footsteps. A 2001 Skinner Brothers brochure matter-of-factly states, “We grew up in the mountains of Wyoming. We learned important wilderness skills as a way of life, rather than a sport”. The Skinners have distinguished themselves in hunting, fishing, mountain climbing, skiing, exploration and survival and rescue techniques. They grew up in the outfitting game and devoted their lives to the great outdoors.

 

 

 

In Wyoming “A Summer Lesson in Survival” by Richard Levitt. Dec-Jan, 1977.

 

Wyoming Wildlife, “Mushing With Clem Skinner”, by Clem Skinner. Jan 1970

 

Monte Skinner Interview 8/11/2005. Museum of the Mountain Man/Sublette Co Hist. Society

 

Courtney Skinner Interview 9/23/2005. Museum of Mtn Man/Sublette County Historical Soc.

 

Pinedale Roundup 10/8/1936. 10/29/1936. 4/01/1937. 8/24/1939. 2/15/1940. 10/24/1940. 10/27/1949. 12/01/1949. 5/22/1952. 2/19/53. 5/21/1953. 7/02/1953. 5/06/54. 9/16/1954. 2/03/1955. 2/24/1955. 6/14/1956. 6/12/1975. 9/29/1983. 3/29/1984. 6/19/1986. 12/14/1989. 4/20/1995. 6/20/1996. 6/27/1996. 8/15/1996. 6/18/1998.

 

Sublette Examiner 4/28/2005. 7/24/2005.

 

Skinner Brothers Wilderness School brochures from 1970s, 1980s, 2001.

 

Janice Kanski interview 8-30-2006 Charlie Raper interview 8-30-2006

 

Courtney Skinner interviews –several, 2006 Monte Skinner interviews – several, 2006

 

Barbara Stephenson interview 8-30-2006 Ole Skinner 9-05-2006

 

Tucker Smith interview 9-08-2006 Bob Skinner 9-08-2006

 

Katherine Collins 9-07-2006 Jenny Gosar 9-08-2006

 

 

Ellen Skinner 9-12-2006 Dave Collins 9-12-2006

 

John Mackey 9-14-2006 Paul Hagenstein 9-17-06

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