Backcountry Tales… the Creepy Kind

As I sat outside, alone by the fire this evening, my dog sat with his ears perked up, staring off into the darkness. He was probably just listening to a squirrel or something, but it freaked me out that a moose was going to pop out of the bushes. When you are alone, you tend to “hear” things you wouldn’t normally.


Which got me thinking back to some of the best creepy backcountry tales that friends have shared with me over the years…. ’cause you know…. nothing like freaking yourself out late at night! Ha! I’m not saying I believe in ghosts, but I do believe that my friends have seen some pretty strange things in the woods…



The Legend of Crazy Clyde

When I used to work for the Flathead National Forest in Montana, we worked out of and maintained some historic cabins. One such cabin is Salmon Forks, on the South Fork of the Flathead in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Salmon Forks Guard Station was built in the 1920s. It’s a small log cabin, nestled back in a thick stand of lodgepole pine. It always made me think of the Hansel and Gretel story, as it was kind of dark and creepy, tucked back in the dark forest.

In the mid 1980s, a young man named Clyde had grown up, working as a wrangler for an outfitter in the Bob Marshall, near Salmon Forks. Clyde somehow got himself on the bad side of the Mafia. He came home to Montana and then shot a cop and also got on the bad side of the Law. With both the Mafia and the Law Enforcement after him, Clyde decided to hide out in the wilderness, which he knew well from his younger days. It took him two days to make his way in to the Salmon Forks cabin. It was late fall and it had been closed up for the season. The windows were shuttered and the doors locked. Clyde broke in through the rear door of the cabin and made himself at home.

Fast forward to late spring. The Forest Service sends a small handful of folks into the backcountry to open the trails and the cabins every year after the snow has melted. This particular year, a friend of mine, Bryan Nichols, was the first person to visit Salmon Forks for the season. He was pretty exhausted after a long day on the trail, so he tied his horse up on the hitch rail out front and went through the difficult process of removing the front bear door.  He finally got it open and he plunked down at the table that is just inside the door with a pitcher of Kool-Aid, ready to relax for a minute. After a long, dusty ride, the first thing most folks want to do when they get to the cabin is have a cold drink! As Bryan was sitting there, relaxing, he started getting a little tingly feeling and the hairs on his neck stood up on end. He turned around to face the bunk beds at the other end of the cabin. There was someone laying in the bottom left bunk. Bryan jumped to his feet and called out, “Hello?” The figure laying there didn’t move. Bryan made his way over to the bunk and noticed a dark stain on the log wall. Sure enough, there lay Clyde. He had put a bullet in his brain not long after reaching the cabin. His hat was still hanging from a peg next to the bunk.

To this day, the dark bloodstain is still faintly visible on the wall. Anyone who sleeps in Clyde’s bunk claims to have strange dreams.


Salmon Forks Guard Station - A recent fire burned down most of the trees around the cabin.

Salmon Forks Guard Station – A recent fire burned down most of the trees around the cabin.


The Ghost Herd of Danaher Meadows

Gordon Ash is an old-timer around the Bob Marshall Wilderness. He’s spent most of his life working for the Forest Service. He’s seen a lot of crazy things. Many years ago, he was out with his horse and mule on hunting patrol. He was trying to track down someone who had been hunting illegally that fall. He was riding across the broad meadow near Danaher Guard Station, when he spotted a gentleman sitting by a campfire. There was a small herd of horses and mules grazing around his tent. Now, in the backcountry, it’s considered bad form to ride up to someone’s camp with loose horses around. So, Gordon kept on riding to the edge of the meadow and tied his stock up to some trees. He turned around to walk back across the meadow to chat with the gentleman at the campsite… but it was gone. Completely, 100% gone. Gordon scoured the meadow for signs of the fire. Nothing. He scoured the meadow for hoof prints or sign of the horses. Nothing. There was no sign that anyone had ever been there. When he asked some old outfitters later, several of them claim to have seen, or just heard a herd of horses in that same meadow.


I took this picture of my stock in the same meadow the Ghost Herd has been seen in.

I took this picture of my stock in the same meadow the Ghost Herd has been seen in.


A Fire Lookout’s Frightening Night

My husband, Brian, was good friends with a gal who was the fire lookout for Spotted Bear Ranger Station in the early 90s. Her lookout was perched up at the peak of Spotted Bear Mountain, with a fantastic 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. She would be up there, alone, for a week at a time. She read lots of books and perhaps drank a little too much wine on occasion in the evenings. What else are you gonna do when you’re alone for a week at a time?

Late one night, the lookout woke up out of a deep slumber.  Asks he blinked open her eyes, she saw there was a man standing, in the dark, at the end of her bed. She thought she was only dreaming, so she closed her eyes again and pulled the covers up over her head. She heard the man say, “Are you warm now?” She started straight up out of bed, but there was no one there and the man she had seen a moment ago was gone. She decided it must’ve been a bad dream, or perhaps she had too much wine that evening, and she went back to sleep.

When she came back down the mountain from her week-long shift, the voice she had heard still bothered her. She asked around the ranger station and found out that perhaps she hadn’t been dreaming after all. Late the previous year, a hunter had been out on the mountain, alone. A snowstorm blew in and caught him unaware. He was much too far up the mountain to get back to his camp in the worsening weather, but he knew there was a lookout at the peak of the mountain. He could potentially get there and ride out the storm in warmth and safety. As he made his way up the mountain, the snow and wind steadily increased until it was a total white-out. He had reached the top of the mountain, but couldn’t find the lookout through the blinding snow. He froze to death, only a few hundred yards away from his destination.

Did she see his ghost, or was her vision just unhappy circumstance? No one knows, but it’s still scary!

This Jumbo Fire Lookout, the other main Forest Service lookout in the Bob Marshall.

This Jumbo Fire Lookout, the other main Forest Service lookout in the Bob Marshall.

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