Jeff Hammer: Duplicates

What’s in a name? Well, letters, of course…and words; but for me, the letters and words that make up names connotate memories. 

When we consider the names of people, we may know several people with the same name, but for the purpose of this column, I want to focus only on the duplicate name of a couple of places, specifically random blue lines that indicate waterways found on just about any map you might have lying around the house; and more specifically than that, I aim to consider a couple of little creeks like those found everywhere in the Rocky Mountains.

I have no idea how many Beaver Creeks one might find if one had the time and inclination to scour maps of every mountain range in Wyoming. I have neither, especially the inclination. Few tasks, in my estimation, would be more tedious than that; but right off the bat, I can think of two small free flowing creeks named after that toothy rodent that brought many trappers to our state, before it was a state or even a territory.

Advertisement

Hand a two-year-old a blue pen and a piece of paper, and she might inadvertently trace the exact route of Beaver Creek, starting near Limestone Mountain above Lander as it meanders its way in a rough horizontal U-shaped manner, crossing three highways (Highway 789 twice), before it dumps into the Popo Agie River north of Hudson.

One of my first encounters with this drainage was a day spent ice fishing on one of the beaver ponds found near the intersection of Wyoming Highway 28 and Beaver Creek south of Lander toward Farson. One of my favorite mental souvenirs of my father is him using a chainsaw to cut a cube of ice from the frozen surface of a body of water in order to make an ice-fishing hole. At the time, he was a construction worker, but he had kept a few remnants of his logger days when our family lived in southern Wyoming. Two of those items were his ancient beloved chainsaw and the wool trousers he wore in the winter. He put both to good use during our ice fishing days.

When he first touched the saw’s blade to ice, the frozen chips began flying up against his legs and behind him in rooster tail fashion; and when the blade powered through the ice, the water did the same thing. When he finished cutting, the tapered cube of ice bobbed a little in the hole, and he would use the blade to pry it up a little out of the hole so that one of us could grab it and pull it the rest of the way out.

He would then move on to the next hole. When he decided we had enough holes, the whole front of his body would be covered in ice chips and water, which would freeze in a few seconds. The winter days then always seemed colder than now. I don’t remember ever ice fishing in temperatures above freezing. He would then use his gloved hands to easily brush away all the ice, and he would be as dry as if he just emerged from our Willy’s Jeep before we had stepped foot on the ice. 

Advertisement

We caught a “mess,” of small brookies that day. To my father, a mess of any wild offering was enough to provide at least one meal for our family of six.

A few years later, my father as a member of the I.O.O.F., the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a label that seemed to me at the time (and still) rather…odd, was tasked with cutting Christmas trees along Beaver Creek on private property a mile or so below the highway as a fundraiser for that brotherhood dedicated to public service. 

Today, if one were to read its mission on the I.O.O.F.  website, that fine organization would now unfortunately be described by many Wyomingites as woke. My father and the other lodge members, I’m sure, just wanted to help a few folks less fortunate than themselves.

Advertisement

In addition to our dad, Brother Bob and I were detailed to go along and perform some of the cutting and hauling of trees to a flatbed trailer, which would later be towed down to Lander. The trees were to be then placed in front of the home of a man my father deeply respected named Joe Cook, one of the “old time cowboys” according to my dad. Joe would then sell the trees, with the proceeds going to the lodge.

On that day, after a morning of finding and cutting suitable trees, we warmed up and had lunch in a cabin near the creek owned by the landowner whose name I never knew, and then it was back out in the knee-deep snow looking for more suitable candidates for the ax. Late in the afternoon, after becoming tired and a little disinterested, I managed to ram my knee into the sharp blade of an ax. Slicing through my jeans and cotton long johns (I know better now), the cut produced a concerning amount of blood to my young mind; so much so, I believed my padre should be aware of its lethality.

My father’s reaction to the cut went something like this: “Seems to be quite a distance from your heart. I think you’ll survive.”

Advertisement

Lately, that same Beaver Creek is the site of some very challenging Nordic ski trails that, through the vision and hard work from countless individuals and two government agencies, provides some of the best and most rigorous ski trails in the state. While in the summer, those same trails offer hiking opportunities during which one can expect to never encounter another human being, which in my view counts for a lot. One will not find wilderness vistas, and if you don’t mind sharing the trails with a bovine or two, an afternoon or morning of complete solitude goes a long way to mitigate any stress that seems to permeate our lives from multiple fronts.

A different Beaver Creek is located in the southern part of our state, and I have reason to recall that small drainage with some particularly fond memories as a child and as a young adult. As far back as I can remember, my family would venture south from Lander to the Encampment area at least once each year to visit both my mother’s and my father’s relatives. 

My father’s youngest sister, Jeanette, married the son of a Greek immigrant who had homesteaded on Beaver Creek not far from where it exits the Sierra Madre Mountains but before it dumps into the North Platte River. 

A combination cattle ranch and outfitting business kept the Romios family busy every day of the year, but Pete and Jeanette always made time to visit with my parents over coffee, which seemed to me as a child the favorite activity of adults when they got together. All that talking left time for my brother Bob and I, in our preteen years, to explore the area close to the ranch house. Often, we would have our BB guns, and then later air guns, in our hands, searching for targets of opportunity. Whether they were grasshoppers or gophers or old tin cans, anything was fair game. 

“Just don’t shoot my cows,” warned Pete. I had recently heard those exact words from another weathered rancher seasoned by many tough winters of feeding cows near our home in Lander, coincidentally one with the same first name. Pete Spriggs offered Bob and I the same warning not long after we acquired our air guns as Christmas gifts from our parents when we asked permission to invade his property, also in search of targets of opportunity.

I’m not sure why they both felt compelled to put forth that warning. We knew better. Our parents would have chastised us to no end and confiscated our air rifles, never to be returned, had we committed an act so grievous, and besides, cows provided no challenge. Even as children, we had unspoken standards to uphold.

A decade or so later, as a student at the University of Wyoming, upon my first application for a bighorn sheep permit in 1980, I was successful for an area that included the North Platte River and its tributaries near the Romios ranch. Over the few years previous, both my cousin, David Hammer, a part owner of a timber company along with my uncle and his brother, and my Aunt Jeanette had also scored sheep permits for that area and both successfully harvested nice rams. 

So I felt pretty confident that I would also put a mounted ram on the wall, although I really didn’t have a wall to put it on. However, as a college student, only on the weekends did I have time to hunt. 

For seven weekends in a row, I would leave Laramie a little after noon on Friday, and three hours later, I would be sheep hunting. On Saturdays and Sundays, many times I was accompanied by my first cousins, David Hammer and Bill Romois, who were both older than me. Both men had different, but fully developed senses of humor, and we shared a lot of laughter.

I hunted twenty-one days for a legal ram I never saw, but collectively, the experience was more gratifying than I can adequately describe, largely because of the country, but more so because of the company I kept, thanks largely to those ranchers on Beaver Creek near Encampment and a logger from the same small town.

Our lives, from the time we are born, are interspersed with coincidences of various degrees of importance and significance to us as individuals. When our memories include separate places with shared names and the company of good people, those coincidences are just a little more sweet.

Advertisement

Related Posts

Have a news tip or an awesome photo to share?