Everything that mattered to the old man was gone. One by one he had lost his job. his wife and his health. Then he took matters into his own hands.
A hidden valley, a lost Indian tribe and a cougar named Kitten led him to an adventurous new life, a life that fulfills his every dream.
As he establishes his kingdom in the mountains, some people call him Sasquatch, some call him crazy. He calls himself Chief of the Ruby Indians.
My father, Sean Connell Sr., has been “dead” for twenty years. I buried him two summers ago. For most of his life, he was an ordinary, middle class executive. By the time he died, he was very rich, but this is not the story of how another wealthy man made his money. This isn’t an account of how an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, man became a mountain man and an Indian chief. Today he rests in the mountains he loved.
The old man is the author of most of the story. I have written it from his journal. The rest of the story comes from the stories he told me in the last days of his life, from my own memories, and the tales by those who knew him. He called himself the “old man”, but he was not very old when it all started. He was fifty-nine.
The old man had worked for the same company over thirty years. He started when he was just out of college and worked his way to branch manager of a large corporation with offices throughout the United States. He was confident that, when it became time to retire, his future was secure. He owned a large number of shares in the company and had a good retirement built up in the company pension fund. He would be in a moderately secure financial position for the rest of his life. He never dreamed that at fifty-nine he would lose everything.
It was nine a.m. in early July, when he got the news. There was no warning, no period of adjustment, or time to be prepared, only a telephone call. The message was short and swift. Today, Friday, would be the last day of operation. The company was bankrupt and no longer in business.
The C.E.O. and several of the board of directors had disappeared with all the assets. The employee benefit funds and company bank accounts were empty. All real estate had a mortgage. Payments were not being made for several months. Dad’s job was gone, and all the employees were out of work as of that moment. Along with his job, he lost all of his benefits, hospitalization, and retirement. His company stocks were worthless. All he had was what he had managed to save during the years. Not nearly enough to retire, but enough, he thought, to last until he could secure another position.
Finding another job was harder than he had expected. He applied to hundreds of companies, but none would hire him. It was a time when there were a great many people out of work. Most employers wanted younger employees. The phrase, “you are over qualified” was the same as “you’re too old” – and he heard it many times. Here was a man with college degrees and years of experience, applicable to several fields, who could not get a job of any kind because he was “over qualified”. One company did not hire him for a position because, “we wanted someone with more experience”. That company hired a recent college graduate with no experience in the field.
Tragedy struck again a year later. His wife, my mother, died of cancer. Without his life’s companion and without success in finding work, no matter how he tried, he became depressed and withdrawn. Her small life insurance policy covered a small part of the Hospital and funeral expenses. His financial reserves were very small.
That was then his health started to fail. Depression is a terrible illness, especially when it compounded by other events. Stomach trouble started, and he ate antacids like candy. His old hernia began to cause trouble. A nervous condition developed that caused shaking and insomnia, with the inability to sleep more than two or three hours at a time. When he did sleep, he had terrible nightmares. Lack of physical activity and overeating caused weakness and weight gain.
When I finally persuaded him to visit a doctor, he had gained forty pounds and tired easily. Specialists and endless tests showed nothing physically wrong. The only conclusion was that he had given up on life. Our family doctor was convinced that the old man would die within the year. Something had to snap him out of his self-destructive mode.
He would not consider counseling as the doctor recommended. The only thing left to do was to try to get him interested in something outside of himself. A job would have been ideal. He was unemployed just over two years when I graduated from college and began my career in the military.
It was September when he first started talking of the old days when he had lived in the woods. He told tales of his adventures and of the people, he had known when he was young. He told about living with “a real mountain man” who used to say, “You want sweet, you eat ants”. He did it, too!
We were talking about the price of meat when he told me, “One winter, when I was twelve, I furnished all the meat for four families with a twenty-two rifle. Generally, I brought in a deer, but occasionally a few rabbits. You know, son, a twenty-two is all you need, if you can shoot. I’d like to do that again.”
“You sure you could shoot that well now?” I asked.
“Sure could” he replied. “Shooting is like riding a bicycle. You never forget how. I might be a little rusty, but I could pick it up again. I remember one time I won a five dollar bill off a city hunter.
I was living with a widow woman with three kids at the time. It was my job to provide meat for the table. He met me while I was out hunting one day. When he asked what I was looking for I told him I was hunting pheasants. He did not believe me since my only gun was my old single shot twenty-two. Being a city man, he believed in the sportsman’s way of hunting Chinks. That’s what we called Chinese Pheasants in those days, Chinks. I didn’t bother to tell him I had planned to shoot one that was still on the ground. We walked together for a little way while I listened to his lecture about the inability to shoot Chinks with a rifle. He said he would give me five dollars if I could hit a Pheasant on the wing. I had never tried it but I didn’t tell him.
About two minutes later, one flew right out from under our feet. When a Chink flies, it goes low and straight out. I pointed that little single shot twenty-two and picked him off as pretty as you please. He handed me the money and stomped off shaking his head. I suppose he carried that fancy shotgun home and hung it up for good.”
One mountain family he had known had six sons. Two of the sons found a ruby arrowhead in the woods a few miles from their home in Northwest Montana. The three older sons had a gold claim in Alaska. One summer they took that ruby arrowhead with them. When they returned in the fall, they had hired a jeweler to make a chain of gold nuggets with the arrowhead attached to one end. The old man said, “It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. There was a string eighteen inches long of gold nuggets, each about the size of a pea. That gleaming, blood red, arrowhead was at the end. Kings don’t have jewelry that good.”
The stories he loved most were about how he had lived alone in the mountains most of one summer. He would say, “What do you think is the most wonderful feeling in the world?”
I would reply, “Tell me, dad”.
He would lean back in his recliner and almost close his eyes. Soon he would say, “It’s being in the woods, sitting beside a mountain stream. The music of the stream and the wind in the trees is more beautiful than anything man could possibly compose. The smells of the woods are sweeter than the finest perfume. I lived there once.”
“It was the perfect existence. When I got hungry, I went out and shot something, or went fishing. I got my fruit from the bushes and my vegetables from the ground. Everything I wanted the wilderness gave me. I could not have been happier. All I owned was that little single shot twenty-two and a carton of shells. I used a copper wire for snaring fish and an old hunting knife to clean my game.”
“When it was time to find a place to go to school I was sorry to leave, but I knew I had to do it. Education is important to an orphan.” There were many more stories of his turbulent youth. He always found solace alone in the woods.
I lived with him, so we spent a good deal of time together. Our discussions moved from current affairs to tales of the past. He began to long for the peace and tranquility of those past days and started to fantasize about returning to the mountains.
He thought about where he would go and what he would need. It would have to be a very remote place; he would want to get away from people. Years ago, he had heard that there were still places in the mountains no one had ever explored. He wondered if any of those places still existed. Regular road maps revealed remote locations, in several states, with no roads within fifteen to thirty miles in any direction. Three areas looked promising. In Montana, there was an area, according to the map, that was thirty miles long and ten miles wide which was twenty or more miles from any form of civilization. The area contained the headwaters of a river. Idaho had an area that was equally remote but only about three miles square, with the source of two different rivers within its boundaries. The Washington state site was about the same as the Idaho site, in size, but only 15 miles from civilization and with only one river. The Montana and Idaho sites were close to the continental divide. The one in Washington was in the North Cascades.
He said he was only daydreaming, but he was fascinated. He decided to pursue the idea. He thought it would be fun to think the whole thing out, and even vacation in the area for a month or so. I knew he was a good woodsman. When I was young we went camping, and he certainly knew his way around the woods. That was why I believed his stories. I had seen him shoot, catch fish, and find food that came from nature.
Roads are not the only access to the deep woods. There are wilderness camps, hiking trails and fire trails to consider. He ordered topographical maps from the Forest Service. The three choices all had one thing in common. They were all in the northern woods, high in the mountains. Conditions would be rugged and severe during the long, cold, winters. While waiting for his topographical maps he began to plan the equipment one would need to live in the woods. He made a separate list of equipment needed if, or when, he went on the month long vacation. He listed what he already possessed: binoculars, tent, an axe, a small hunting knife, pocketknives, canteen, fishing pole and gear, and then began his shopping list. “Always dream big when you are dreaming,” he always said, so he listed only the best and ideal equipment.
In the back of his mind, he thought he would have a companion, me, so he listed enough for two. Two of the best sleeping bags, several tarps, beans, salt, bowie knives, boots, clothes, etc. He listed everything anyone would want. For weapons he chose a 22-caliber lever action rifle, and two 22-caliber pistols. These would be good enough for small game. For larger game he chose a 30-30, again lever action, and for handy protection a 357 magnum pistol. He added plenty of ammunition for each.
The topographical maps arrived. He eliminated every area except the one in Montana. The maps showed that the head of the river in the selected area was, indeed, very remote, but that was not the only consideration. Even the topographical maps were vague about what was beyond the head of the river. Talk about ideal locations! Even the U.S. Forest service was not sure what was up there.
I encouraged him to quit looking for a regular job, and let me claim him as a dependent. “You can relax, enjoy life, and take your trip,” was what I told him. It took a lot of persuasion but he finally agreed. Listing him as a dependent allowed me to give him a military allotment. It was enough to get by, but nothing more. With his interest in his project, and having some income, his condition seemed to stabilize. At times, he even showed some improvement.
The nation was in a big recession. Larger competitors were driving out small businesses. Large corporations were going bankrupt or cutting way back on personnel. Unemployment reached higher proportions than at any time in our history.
Government programs designed to help were as useless as trying to keep the Titanic from sinking by patching the hole with bubble gum and bailing the water out with a teacup. Politicians had a field day with their proposed solutions to the nation’s problems. The only people who benefited from the government programs were the politicians who proposed them.
Crime was on the rise with drive by shootings, random killings, and mass murder in every part of the country. Street gangs were taking over large portions of the cities and even some of the smaller towns. It became dangerous just to drive down the street.
Drugs were even bigger than in the 1960’s. DEA agents were confiscating extremely large shipments of illegal drugs and that did not even slow down the flow. Narcotics became the biggest industry in the country. The rate of addiction was astronomical. It was not just a national shame; it was the shame of the whole world. The trouble in the United States was no worse than any other country.
Race relations in the nation were in bad shape. Rap artists, politicians, the media, entertainers, and professional hate mongers were making a lot of money, claiming violations of civil rights, and prejudice – even where none existed. If there was not a just cause, they invented one. It was obvious that the entire object was to make money and not to improve race relations. Radical groups were gaining strength at a greatly accelerated rate. It looked as though major riots would break out any day.
My father felt some of this first hand. The police captured the heads of the company where he had worked. The government gave them prison sentences (parole after three months) and fined each of them a large sum of money and that was the end of it. No one even tried to get the employee’s money back.
Current events began to work on his mind. The way the news media blew up the sensationalism of events did not help. These seemed, to him, to be much worse than most people thought. He saw the breakdown of order and the fall of the nation. He saw civil war. Street gangs would go to war with authority. The civil rights organizations would be fighting other civil rights groups with opposite points of view. He saw the breakdown of law enforcement and government coming in the very near future. There would be total anarchy, with every person a law unto himself or herself. He saw no hope for the United States.
It was about this time that someone burglarized the house. The police didn’t even try to catch the thieves. They took the report and listed the serial numbers, in hopes something would turn up in a pawnshop. They had so many cases that they could not even investigate a burglary. The old man didn’t seem to care any more. He said, “They only got things I’m never going to need again anyway. I don’t need a television, or a VCR.”
I received orders transferring me to a research station in Antarctica. I would leave right after Christmas. This happened just over a year after the old man first started thinking about the woods. I was unaware of his reaction to current events, or of what happened later. I did notice that he started working out and went on a diet. He started getting himself in shape. This pleased me. I was concerned about his health, and mental attitude. Both were improving rapidly.
That Christmas was the last one we would have together. I gave him a diamond and onyx ring. I never learned what he bought for me. He took my gift back to the store and got me an identical ring. He had both engraved and gave me mine at the airport when I left.
He no longer dreamed of the woods. The dream became a plan of escape, a flight for survival. My father was positive his nation was going to come apart, and he wanted nothing to do with it. Without my knowledge, he started to put his plan into action even before I left.