This is a story I wrote of my series "Growing Up Gunnison" you can find it HERE
The Mountain Devil
It had to be the late 70’s or early 80’s Nix and I got invited up to help scout for elk at one of our rancher friends (who will remain nameless for hopefully obvious reasons) pack in camps.
I think it was late August and we rode in for several hours on horseback. We started right at the ranch and headed into an area I had never been to before.
Good thing we took the dude horses since neither Nix or I were very good with them, but things went nice and smooth.
We got to the camp in early afternoon and our rancher friend’s grandpa was there waiting on us with coffee and beans. We’ll call him Fenster.
Our friend left us in his care and went back down the mountain to the ranch to take care of his usual work load.
Fenster was a crusty old rancher who had spent his entire life on the ranch. “Born in a log cabin and likely die in one too” I remember him saying as we were introduced.
Fenster turned out to be quite the mountain man as well.
He knew the area we were as only someone who had spent their entire lives there could.
He took out for a ride over some of the easier terrain to do some glassing, and it seemed like every break in the trees or ridge top held a story about some dude (that is what they called the hunting clients) or another either shooting a monster deer, elk or bear.
Along with the success stories were peppered stories of great train wrecks that some dude had caused.
He even told us a story of a dude that had shot his guides horse out from under him, when he fell asleep and was startled by the guides return through the trees.
It was great fun for a couple high school punks who had hunted a lot but had never been privy to the closed ranching community. Fenster gave us quite and education traipsing all over those ridges.
The greatest stories came at night around the fire. Fenster would sip on a bottle of Old Quaker and tell us tales of the Gunnison Valley that his granddad had told him growing up.
The last night we were in camp Fenster imbibed a little more than usual. He told us some of the stories we had heard before, but then he just stared into the fire for a while.
After a time he looked at us and asked, “I got somthin to tell you boys but you can’t tell no one else.”
Nix and I looked at each other and naturally we shook our heads in agreement.
“This ain’t for those outside to know about.” he said after a time.
“It happened when I was just a young shaver…5 mebbee 6. We had a hard winter and during spring calving something was coming in and killing our calves.”
“Actually now that I think of it it started a couple weeks earlier with someone breaking into our root cellar out by the barn and stealing food from it.”
“I remembered that because that is how we caught him.”
“Who?” Nix asked.
“The f**kin’ Mountain Devil that’s who!”
Nix and I both sat back as this was the first time in the week we had been with him that we had heard a course word escape Fenster’s lips.
Fenster just stared into the fire and didn’t say anything. Nix elbowed me and nodded towards the old man…”your turn” he mouthed at me.
I swallowed and said “Fenster, What’s a mountain devil?” in as meek and innocent voice as I could muster.
Fenster took a long pull of Old Quaker and cleared his throat. “Well I only seen a youngun, and we only had him for a day, but he was sure a sight to see.”
“Ya see my Granddad didn’t take to someone stealing our food, not to mention our calves, so he kinda rigged up a special latch for our root cellar door and turned it into a trap.”
I’m pretty sure he was expecting to catch one of our theivin’ neighbors, but weren't we surprised at about 4 in the morning when we heard a gawdawful hootin’ and a hollerin’, and a banging and crashing coming from outside.”
“It woke everyone up and granddad and pa run out with guns…they said after that there was a couple somethings big and dark pounding on the roof of the root cellar.”
“They shot in the air a couple times and whatever they were ran off!”
Nix and I were completely enthralled by this point. We had heard some of the ranch kids mention mountain devils but neither of us had heard of anyone with first hand experience.
“So what did they do?” Nix couldn’t contain himself.
Fenster looked sideways at him but continued on.
“Pa lit some lanterns and they stood guard until first light. The whole time there was whining and screeching coming from the cellar, with similar noises coming off the hillside behind the old log house.”
“You probably saw it at the ranch. It sets up closer to the tree-line than the new house, and we park hay equipment in front of it.”
“Ya I saw that.” I said hurriedly “Then what?”
“They waited until it was light and went out to see what they had caught.”
“By this time the answering sounds on the hillside had gone quiet, and the cellar noises had mellowed as well.”
“I remember looking past my mama in the doorway while she held a shotgun, and granddad and pa walking over to the cellar to see what was in it.”
“They went up to the door and tired to look through the cracks with a flashlight. Finally pa told granddad to watch and undid the lock and opened the door a bit and shined the flashlight in.”
“I remember watchin’ him stumble back while holding his gun on the door, and he was shakin’, I mean down right hands shaking!”
I ain’t never seen my pa scared before or since but he was sore afraid right then!”
“What was it!” one of us asked, I don’t remember who.
“Turns out it was a baby, more like a toddler or kid.”
“What are you talking about !?” Nix sounded annoyed.
“It was a kid mountain devil. It was about five feet tall and covered in hair…Oh and it stunk to high heaven!”
“I guess when pa opened the door it went back into a corner and kind curled up in a ball and just laid there, kinda whining.”
“There was a lot of discussion about what they was gonna do with it. I remember ma wanted to call the sheriff, but granddad would have nothing of that!”
“He was the type that handled his own problems, and he didn’t want no “gubernet” men on our place.”
“So they took turns “guarding” the devil, and by that afternoon all us kids had pestered the adults enough to let us see it.”
“They wouldn’t let us in the cellar but they did let us walk by the door while the pa held a flashlight and his gun on the devil.”
“By that time the devil was sitting leaning with his back against the wall.”
“I will never forget looking into his eyes and seeing…well it’s hard to say… not a person but someone, inside. It was like you know a dog. A dog has a personality, but this was a lot more.”
“I think I should mention that the devils killed our dogs when all the hoopin’ and a hollerin’ was going on.”
“It started getting towards sundown when we heard the first “WHOOPS” up on the hillside. Pa got everyone inside the cabin, and locked up the cellar as best he could.”
“As soon as the sun went down it started.”
“What” I said.
“They started throwing things on the house and against the walls. Pa had the wooden shutters closed so we couldn’t see what was going on, but I remember huddling in the bathtub and crying with my sister whilst mama sat there with a shotgun.”
“Things crashed against the house all night long. Every once in a while the whole thing would shudder when something big would hit it.”
“By morning the noises stopped. Pa and granddad went out loaded for bear, but we didn’t hear a shot.”
After a while they came back in and told us to “come and see”.”
“Outside was a disaster! Rocks and sticks and even logs were on our roof, the logs on the side of the house were all dented up.”
“We went over to the root cellar, or at least where the root cellar had been and there was just a crater in the ground.”
“The mountain devils had tore the thing completely apart getting their youngster back.”
“After that we didn’t lose anymore calves, and never seen ’em at the home place again.”
“You mean you have seen them?” Nix asked.
Fenster hesitated once again before answering. “Well I think that kid we caught was pretty close to my age, and like I said there was something there when I met its eyes.”
“Pretty near every year since I been coming up to this elk camp, one of them mountain devils will let me see it.”
“I never know when or where but I will usually come around a bend somewhere and there it will be looking at me.”
“Been happening since I was about 15. I’m not sure how long these thing live, but I’m sure feeling my age, and that’s all I got to say about it.”
Fenster just shut up after that and no matter what we said he wouldn’t give us any more details.
The only thing he told us was to look at the old house and the pit where the root cellar was when we go back down to the ranch.
Nix and I didn’t get much sleep that night, and in the morning Fenster loaded us all up on the dude horses and led us back down the mountain to the camp.
We got to the ranch and immediately Nix and took off to look at the old log house. The side facing the uphill tree line was covered in dents. A couple of the logs were cracked and some looked like big gouges had been taken out of them.
Next we wandered over to the barn and in the side of a small hill you could see where there had once been a dugout, most likely a cellar. The area had been opened up like a crater some time in the past.
Our friend saw what we were doing and came over with a worried expression on his face.
“What exactly did granddad talk about up there in camp?”
“He told us…” Nix started “Not much, just hunting stuff” I interrupted.
He looked at us narrowed his eyes and said in a low tone. “If you ever tell you will never be welcome here again.”
As of this day while Nix and I have discussed it many times, we have never shared this story, until now.
Fenster, and his son, our friend’s dad have both passed, and they don’t take dudes up on the mountain much any more.
I do wonder if Fenster’s mountain devils still live up there, and maybe some day before I pass, I may go and try to find out.
Truth or not? You Decide...