By Neva Bodin
Always on our camping trips, be it the Rockies or the Bighorns, our son-in-law regales us with tales of the old west. His grandpa homesteaded in the Big Horn Basin where the family now has the fourth generation of this family growing up. His father and he spent many hours camping, fishing and hunting in the Rockies and Bighorns, which cradle the basin between them.
This year, one of our long four-wheeling trips took us to Jack Creek, where the men roped and rescued a set of dried-out elk antlers stuck near a skull half way down a cliff, and our grandson found himself half-way up or down, (I’m not sure which) and needed rescuing also. His agile, mountain climbing dad obliged.
“On that mountain over there,” our son-in-law said as he pointed west, “was a whorehouse, only they called it a War House because no one wanted to say the name ‘whore house.’” He had our attention.
IF the building still stands, it was not visible to our eyes. This is rugged mountain country, around 9000 feet elevation. How? Why? Were there that many miners in the area? Three creeks that flow in the area of “War House Creek” are named after three of the ladies who worked at the War House: Betty, Eleanor and Vick Creeks, the story says.
The area is gorgeous, albeit isolated. There is a log ranger cabin only accessible by horseback or walking. A few years back, two rangers rode in to stay at the cabin and had some trouble removing a large sleeping grizzly bear from the porch.
We would never enjoy these trips without our own local home-grown guide. Beauty we would see, peace we would absorb, wonder we’d embrace. But all is enhanced by his filling in some blanks.
Also in the area, we were near where the world’s highest oil well once stood. His father actually helped with winching huge trucks and equipment up long, steep slopes and sides of mountains. It is capped and not in production, never was, but was a test well for a big company and I’m sure got rid of some big bucks.
This once somewhat populated and vibrant area is now visited mainly by rangers and hunters, and some ranchers. Much of it is Bureau of Land Management owned. We saw some of the current inhabitants: antelope, rock chucks, ground squirrels, a Martin, brilliantly blue blue-birds, and colorful butterflies. We found a pack rat’s nest in the rocks where we ate our picnic lunch at 9000 feet, out of the cool wind in the warm sunshine.
We made it back to the vehicles and loaded our four wheelers minutes before a mountain rain shower. The fragrance of wild flowers, sage and sweet smelling prairie followed us down the mountain.
Another successful family four-wheeling trip.