Badger Holes

by kfrego

Walt Mason lived in Challis and hired out as a driller for me. Linda and I became good friends with Walt and his wife Candie. Walt was born and raised on a Nevada ranch, rode broncs on the PRCA rodeo circuit, and had lots of scars to show for it. He had his own guide business in the southeast corner of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River National Wilderness area. Walt was a cowboy first, a guide second, and a driller lastly. He had lots of campfire stories about his escapades. We shared a couple adventures together.

Walt knew of several old mining prospects in his hunting areas near Sheep Mountain and Lake Josephine south of Stanley, Idaho. We researched the area for records of old and existing mining claims. We located several good prospects, staked the claims, and filed them. Many people who had claims in the area asked us to do their annual assessment work for them. The government requires a minimum amount of work on each mining claim every year. We would leave Linda, Candie, and the kids in camp with the dogs. Each of us carried a fifty pound bag of ammonium nitrate prill behind our saddles. Our caps and fuses were in our saddlebags with a few sticks of dynamite. We carried six foot pieces of inch and a half black pvc pipe in our rifle scabbards. We would locate the proper claim, ride around until we found a deep badger hole, pour the prill down the pvc, and fill it with enough prill to blast a big hole. One of us would pull the horses away while the other lit the fuse, Then we would ride away through the trees. After the explosion we’d return to the hole and stack a few rocks to show mankind had been there. We could complete assessment work on six or eight claims in an afternoon while the girls and kids enjoyed camping. It paid pretty good.

During the day Walt and Candie seldom tethered their horses in camp. Walt assigned the feeding of the dogs to our son Jamie. When the horses saw him pick up the dog dishes they would come running. As Jamie removed the lid from the container holding the dog food the horses would be waiting nearby. On his return trip with the full dishes the horses constantly badgered Jamie so they could get a few bites of the dog food. The dishes had to be kept far enough under the vehicles so the horses couldn’t reach them.

Walt, like most ranchers and miners, had no use for bears. He showed me some remnants of old log bear traps. The miners, ranchers, and sheep herders would make a large box out of small logs, put a trap door on one end, and bait the trap. They never returned to the trap afterwards. Most modern ranchers, miners, and sheep herders carry rifles all the time. Seldom do they hesitate to kill a bear. It has nothing to do with cruelty, it has a lot to do with survival of stock and animals.

Assessment work was fun………we always out ran the fly rock from the badgers abandoned home.