I wasn’t quite eight years old when my maternal grandfather passed away. John H. Price was 82. He was found one cold fall morning slumped against a cedar fence post with a pitchfork in his hand. As usual, he had gone out to tend to his dairy cows and failed to come in for breakfast.
After the funeral services, his descendants, including my mother, gathered at the old homestead to discuss the disposition of his property and meager possessions. While they met, Dad decided to take my brothers and me into the nearby Wasatch Mountains near the foot of majestic Mount Timpanogas to check out the rustic old cabin that the men of the family had built and used for years as headquarters for hunting the big elk and mule deer that frequented the area.
I was fascinated by the place. It was built of weathered old logs and sported a big rack of antlers over the only entrance. My dad was a building contractor at the time. I remember when he loaded his green 1950 pickup truck with left-over Celotex which he used to line the cabin interior hoping to insulate it enough to keep out the wind and perhaps help the little wood burning stove inside to do its job a little more efficiently.
I loved the isolation of the place. It was accessible only by a narrow, dirt road that switch-backed up one side of a mountain and down the other side. There was a softly murmuring little stream that meandered past one side of the building, and pine trees and quaking aspen groves were found growing nearby in colorful profusion. In Utah you didn’t set up a blind and lure the deer and elk in with feed. You dressed in red to keep from being shot yourself and then proceeded out to hunt the beasts down.
On that particular visit the cabin was occupied by a couple of Basque sheep men who enjoyed the comfort of the cabin and its corrals when they weren’t being used by my relatives during deer season. Parked nearby was their iconic old sheepherder's’ wagon, the likes of which I remember seeing often in the Utah sagebrush country.
After that initial visit, I petitioned my father often to take us to the hunting cabin. I still enjoy looking at the old family 8mm movies taken during those yearly hunts. I think one of the things that attracted me most about the place was the camaraderie that it engendered between the hunters. Although my dad was an experienced deer hunter from Chihuahua’s Sierra Madre, it took him a while to be totally accepted into that exclusive “club” after he married into the Price family. He was treated pretty much as a greenhorn until the year he shot four deer within sight of that cabin while the others hunted all day, coming back empty-handed. They all took home a deer that year and nothing was said as to how they were acquired.
Then there was the year Dad shot a big beautiful buck that sported an impressive rack of antlers. One of Mom’s nephews called and asked Dad if he still had the head and asked if he could borrow it. The next time my father saw him, he inquired about that deer head. “I won a pair of binoculars with that rack,” the nephew replied. “Next time you come to visit, I’ll let you look through ‘em!”
Of course the hunting stories being told at family get-togethers were fascinating for a boy as young as I was . I came to love the smell of the solvent Dad used to clean his .300 Savage rifle at the kitchen table. Most of the others carried .30-06’s, but Dad preferred his .300 Savage. I was devastated when, before he died, Dad gave away that rifle to a Chihuahua rancher. (I think I shall discuss that with Dad next time I see him.)
The last time I visited Wasatch County, Utah, I looked wistfully toward where that old cabin and its rustic pole corrals had been located. The cabin is long gone now, as are most of the hunters that haunted it. Much of the nearby area has been converted into the Wasatch State Park. The little stream by the cabin is now pretty much paved over by a modern asphalt highway. I dare say that the elk and deer still play among the rocks and the trees, but “progress” rules and still marches on...