"IGGY'S STORY"

All of us at one time or another have wished,
dreamed or pretended to be somebody else.
 
For some of us the fantasies end as we grow 
into adulthood, and some of us never lose 
that dream. 
 
All my life I have read and studied about the 
mountain men who came west in quest of beaver; 
and in doing so, they explored the western 
half of a continent of what would one day 
become the United States. 
 
They adopted the ways and skills of the 
Indians in order to survive. They learned 
every inch of the land, occupied it, and 
developed a commercial enterprise to a degree 
the American Government could legally declare 
it a part of the United States. 
 
Those of them who returned to the United 
States told wonderful tales of high mountain 
ranges, beautiful valleys, fertile ground 
and unlimited opportunity. 
 
The stories they told were so large and 
outrageous that hardly no one believed them. 
But there were a few who listened and began 
to dream their own dreams, and in a few years 
they began to follow their dreams. 
 
 I guess that is where this story begins. 
Over the years I continued to read about and 
learn all I could about theses characters, that 
only show up fleetingly in our history books. 
 
Their story is fascinating to the point that I 
felt the need to do more than just read about 
them. I learned all I could about them to the 
point that I possessed much of the knowledge 
and skills that they knew. 
 
I learned the agony of setting traps for beaver 
in the freezing streams, lived in a tipi and 
lean-to and made my fire with flint and steel.
I’ve gone from “fat cow times” and buffalo 
steaks to “poor bull times” with rattlesnake 
on a stick.
 
There were others who were interested in what 
I had learned and I found myself teaching and 
giving living history presentations to civic 
groups and talks in schools from 4th grade to 
college history classes.
  
I developed a character whom I portray in 
these presentations. He is a composite of 
all the mountain men who roamed the west 
in the 1820-30's.
 
His name is Iggy.
 
Iggy came to the Rocky Mountains in 1824.  
He was with Bridger and Meek when they 
crossed the South Pass over the Wind River 
Mountains and down to the Seedskadee, the 
headwaters of that mighty Green River that 
many miles down stream cut the Grand Canyon.
 
He trapped and traveled all of the west over 
the next 20 years. He saw the smokes and 
geysers of Yellowstone, the stinking springs 
on the Big Horn, tasted the waters of the 
Great Salt Lake, and even spent some time in 
the beautiful Yosemite. He crossed the Mojave 
and swam in the mighty Columbia River. 
 
In all his wanderings, though, he never found 
anyplace better than that mountain valley they 
called Davy Jackson’s Hole. No matter how far 
he roamed across the mountains and valleys, he 
always returned to this favorite spot. 
 
He always spent his summers in the valley east 
of the Grand Tetons and thought of it as home. 
 
He even took a woman, one he had found living 
with the Crows. She was a white woman with 
beautiful blonde hair, who had been kidnaped 
as a child east of the Mississippi and been 
brought all the way out here.  The Crows 
called her, Hinziwin, Sun Hair Woman. 
 
He changed her name to Icamaniwin, 
“Walks Beside Him Woman”, 
but he called her "Itchy" for short.
 
They lived with the Indians, and he taught 
them how to make fire with flint and striker.  
He always chuckled at the their amazement 
of the wondrous magic piece of steel. 
 
Iggy and Itchy spent the winters with the 
Crows.  When he went trapping, he left her 
with the village; but come green up he would 
return, and they would spend the summer in 
Jackson’s Hole. 
 
In 1844 Iggy went back to the United States, 
to St. Louis, to see how the world had changed. 
He didn’t stay long. How could people live like 
that? All crammed together eating greasy pork 
and corn and he couldn’t stand the smell. 
Them people lived in dark, stale log cabins, 
and never washed, with pigs in pens nearby, 
and outhouses on the other side. 
 
He drank some whisky in the taverns with other 
men who had returned from the mountains, and 
told stories about the mountains and the 
Indians and all the things he had seen. 
The porkeaters and flatlanders listened with 
their mouths hanging open a mile.
 
Someone would say, 
“Iggy, that’s got to be a lie!”  
Iggy would grin and say,
 
“I’d tell you a story three different ways, 
afore I’d tell you a lie!” 
 
Well, the cool fall winds from the west came 
driftin’ in and Iggy smelled the mountains 
and his heart told him it was time to go! 
 
He was back in the Big Horns before the first 
snow. That winter he went north along the 
continental divide and over Togwotee, through 
Coulter’s Hell and up the Yellowstone River, 
into Montana and along the Greasy Grass 
(Little Big Horn) where 40 some years later 
the Sioux would wipe out General Custer and 
his command when he attacked their village 
on a hot summer day. 
 
In the summer of ‘46, he decided to go see 
Bridger at the fort he had built on the 
Black’s Fork of the Green.
 
He came out of the mountains and looked down 
on the slopes of South Pass and he couldn’t 
believe his eyes. 
 
There strung from horizon to horizon was a 
string of canvas topped wagons and people 
and cattle headed west. 
There was thousands of them.
 
He skirted around them and made his way to
Bridger’s fort. He found Bridger and asked 
what they was!  Bridger shook his head 
sadly and said,  
“They is Porkeaters, Iggy, a goin’ to Oregon. 
There has been over 5000 of them this summer, 
and they say it has only just begun”.
 
After only one day Iggy packed his plunder 
and was ready to leave. Bridger said, 
“I’ll ride a ways with you Iggy." 
 
"I’ve got to get away!” 
 
They rode for several miles in silence and 
reached a high hill. They sat there on their 
horses and watched the miles of wagons 
back down below. 
 
Bridger looked at Iggy and tears came to 
his eyes. “We ruined it Iggy!" 
"We was living in paradise, but we told them 
flatlanders about these mountains, 
and now here they come!” 
 
Iggy nodded and offered Ol Gabe his hand.
Bridger looked at Iggy for a second and 
nodded. He understood what Iggy was telling 
him. Gabe turned his horse back to the fort 
and rode into history, 
and Iggy turned for the mountains, 
and was never seen by a white man again.
 
Iggy and Itchy lived with the Indians from
then on.  They always spent the summers in 
Jackson’s Hole.  In the winter they lived 
with the Crows, the Shoshone or the Sioux. 
Iggy always preached peace with the white 
man, because he knew that they couldn’t win 
in a war against the swelling crowd of 
immigrants and armies flooding over the 
prairie and into the edges of the mountains.
 
They stayed with Red Cloud’s band in the 
winter of ‘66. Iggy and some friends were 
out on a hunting party when the soldiers came.
The army attacked the sleeping village before 
dawn on a freezing morning.  
 
Survivors on both sides of the fight told of 
the yellow-haired white squaw that ran out and 
tried to stop the soldiers and prevent a fight. 
She died in a hail of bullets and was trampled 
in the Cavalry charge. The Indian survivors 
were scattered into the storm and the village 
burned and all of the Indian ponies were killed. 
 
When Iggy and the hunters returned, the 
survivors were huddled there. Iggy found Itchy 
and his son. The signs showed the nine year old 
boy had died trying to protect his mother’s body, 
and that he had put up a hell of a fight.
 
Iggy buried them there on the bank of the stream 
that the white men now call Crazy Woman Creek. 
Iggy went back across the Big Horns, to the Crow 
camp and gathered his plunder. 
He never spoke a word. 
He rode west up into the Wind Rivers 
and was never seen again. 
 
Now I’m not saying there is a connection, but 
about 30 years ago during a summer break between 
college sessions, for some reason I felt I had to 
get away from people for a while. 
I took two horses and loaded them into a trailer 
and went to the Big Sandy opening at the south end 
of the Wind River Mountains. 
I unloaded at Comstock’s Cabin and left my pickup 
and trailer there. 
 
The cabin was abandoned, but I knew my rig would 
be safe for the two months I would be gone. I 
spent the summer riding and exploring the high 
country of the Wind Rivers, 
and the continental divide.
 
I rode the ridges and the valleys, up the 
Thourofare. I camped at Two Ocean Lake from 
which two streams flow. 
One to the Atlantic and the other to the Pacific. 
I straddled the backbone of America that day. 
Then I went north and west over Togwotee Pass, 
turned south-west and down off of Sleeping Indian 
Mountain and into Jackson’s Hole. 
 
One afternoon I rode out onto a promontory that 
looked down on the Snake River and across the 
valley to the Grand Tetons. Lord! That was the 
most beautiful sight 
I had ever seen.  I camped on the spot and found 
an old stone fire ring already there. 
I  knew that I was at the closest place there 
was to Heaven that a man could find on this earth. 
 
I had eaten my supper and was drinking a cup of 
coffee by the fire, and watching the sun set over 
the Tetons.  I was awestruck by the beauty and 
majesty of the scene.
 
Suddenly out of the timber appeared a thin and 
ancient man. He had long grey hair and a beard 
that reached almost to his waist. He was dressed 
in old and tattered buckskin clothing from head 
to foot and carried a flintlock rifle.
 
He approached slowly and scanned my camp 
with eyes that could look right through you.
 
I offered him a cup of coffee, and he sat on 
the ground across the fire from me. He sipped
and savored that coffee and held the cup in 
both hands like a long lost friend.
 
His eyes flitted from item to item in my camp and 
examined each as if he had never seen them before.
 
His voice was a croak, like he hadn’t used it in a 
very long time, “ Name’s Iggy, you got any Baccy?”  
I offered him a cigarette, but it appeared as if 
he didn’t know what it was. I carefully and slowly 
lit one for myself and handed him the Bic lighter. 
His eyes widened in amazement as he struck a flame 
and lit the cigarette. 
 
I chuckled to myself and had to admit that it was 
funny, watching a man discover a magic trick. 
I watched him as he slowly and deeply inhaled the
 smoke and held it as long as he could.  
It was clear he hadn’t had a smoke in a long time.
 
He finished the cigarette, slowly rose and moved 
around my camp. He gingerly touched and examined 
things with his eyes and his hands.  He touched 
my nylon-covered, goose down-insulated sleeping 
bag. He looked at the pictures of food on the tin 
cans in my packs, and ran his fingers along the
barrel of the rifle lying against the tree.
 
When he had finished, he turned to me. 
There were tears in his eyes.  
He looked me up and down and said, 
“Bliged, pilgrim”, 
and faded into the timber and was gone.
 
Over the years, I have told many people 
of the wonderful summer I spent in those 
mountains and the wonderful things I had 
seen, but I never mentioned the old man. 
I’m still not certain if he was real, 
or maybe just a dream. 
 
Well, this spring something started gnawing at me. 
I had learned so much about the mountain men that 
I felt the time had come. 
 
Could I meet the test? 
 
Could I make it on my own in the 
mountains living off the land?
 
Could I really make it as a mountain man? 
 
I tried to ignore the challenge. 
I turned my back on the mountain’s call, 
but in the end I gathered up my plunder, 
put on my skins, loaded the horses in 
the trailer and headed for the Wind Rivers. 
 
I drove up to the Big Sandy opening and back to 
Comstock’s cabin. Things had changed in the 
last 30 years. There were houses everywhere. 
I found the remnants of the cabin in a pile in 
the edge of the timber. They had torn it down 
and built a Mini-mart. 
 
I unloaded the horses and camped in the edge 
of the forest nearby. I tried to see the stars 
I remembered from so long ago, but the glare 
of the street lights overwhelmed their glow. 
Well, no matter, tomorrow I would drive to the 
end of the paved road that was the trail I rode 
years ago, and unload my horses 
and ride on from there.
 
Well, to make a long story short, the road 
didn’t end. What had taken me two weeks to ride
I now drove on a paved road in one day.
I came down off of the Sleeping Indian and there 
were the Tetons. I drove my Suburban up to the 
edge of the promontory where I had camped so 
many years ago, and stopped in front of a 
National Park Service sign announcing 
the Snake River Overlook. 
 
The place where I had camped was covered with 
asphalt and stone barbecue pits, cars and 
trailers and 30 foot motor homes with satellite 
dishes on the roof. I got out of the Suburban, 
and walked through the campground. 
 
The sun was going down, so I walked out to the 
point and watched the sunset until the last rays 
of the sun were gone. I looked back at that 
campground and the crowd of tourists there. 
 
A deep pain began to grow in my chest, 
I knew the hurt was in my heart. 
 

 Epilogue: 
Many of the tourists camped there that evening, 
had seen the strange old man with the long hair 
and grey beard and dressed in fringed buckskins 
walk through the camp. They shut off their TV’s 
and walked outside to see who he was. 
They gathered there in the fading light and 
watched as he stared off in the direction of 
that big mountain. 
They didn’t even know it’s name. 
They stood there in their shorts and bright 
shirts and sandals and wondered as they saw 
him slowly sag to his knees. Not one person 
understood when they heard his sobbing and 
anguished voice cry out,

“My God, Iggy!!

WHAT HAVE WE DONE?”

4/23/01