Opinion: 'Kill Bill'

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | November 18, 2020 12:50 AM

Note: In John Fraley’s Book “Heroes of the Bob Marshall Wilderness,” one of the tales is from packer Bill Workman. Bill and I met in an unfortunate way in 2014. The following is my recollection of the harrowing incident.

Read Fraley’s book to get his side of the story.

The following is a short excerpt from a short book I did on a long journey I took through the Bob.

This is it, I thought.

This is the end of the journey. Two days in.

The man and his horse were coming around the blind bend with a pack string. All I saw was a pair of horse ears and the packer gave a little yelp and off they went, over the sheer side of White River Butte.

There was no way they didn’t tumble down the 60-degree slope.

I got off the trail about 15 feet down, which doesn’t sound like much, but the slope off the Butte was so steep I could barely stand up with the bulging pack on.

I waited a few minutes and listened. There was

the initial clattering of rocks when the horse went down the slope, but now there was silence.

There was no moaning or groaning and I couldn’t see a wrecked horse and rider down in the trees. I traversed across the wet slope a short distance and saw horse tracks but no obvious signs of a wreck in the muddy slope.

It was raining, softly.

I got back up on the trail and looked around and there he was, the packer, standing in the middle of the trail about 50 feet away, no worse for the wear.

What the? How the?

“We rode it out,” he said. “Don’t know how we didn’t wreck.” The packer and his horse and two mules somehow went partway down the slope and managed to run back onto the trail without tumbling.

The remaining mules, there were about five of them, stayed behind after the rope broke.

“Geeze,” I said.

“There’s something to be said for having four legs.”

“There’s something to be said for living,” the packer said.

The packer went to straightening out the pack string and I said goodbye and got the heck out the way. I later learned his name was Bill Workman, has packed for the Forest Service for years. Sorry, Bill.

Bill and I met again on Sunday, as I took his photo for an upcoming story. We had a nice chat and we hope to see each other again in the wilderness — just not on White River Butte.