Jim the Indian

The difficult thing about adulthood is that our lives are filled with so much responsibility and skepticism that it clouds the memories of those little adventures that filled our childhood. You remember childhood don’t you? It was that time in life when simple things filled you with wonder in such a way that a regular person can seem mystical in a child’s eyes.

I met someone like that on a trip in the middle of nowhere with my parents and another family. We were camped on the Skyline Drive, a dirt road that follows the ridgetops of the mountains of Central Utah. We usually went to the desert except for July when we traveled to high alpine areas for the cooler temperatures. One evening while we were eating dinner around the campfire we noticed what looked to be a cowboy just at the edge of the clearing where we made camp. He was majestic as he sat on his horse quietly observing us. Our dads approached him and introduced themselves. He reciprocated by introducing himself as Jim and explained that he was a sheepherder. We had noticed his sheep herder’s trailer and camp while we were looking for a place to camp but didn’t think twice about it since sheep camps were not an unusual sight in Utah. Eventually the dads invited him for dinner.

Mom fixed him a plate of food and took it to him. He took the paper plate and ate while still sitting on his horse. The kids gathered around and started asking him questions but the parents urged them to just let Jim eat. He was an indian. Today we refer to them as Native Americans but, in those days, he referred to himself as an indian and so he became Jim the Indian to us. The kids were told to finish their dinner and, before we knew it, Jim was gone. He had vanished as silently as he had appeared.

The next morning we saw him again racing through the trees in pursuit of a single rogue sheep. The wooly straggler was crashing through the under brush while Jim and his horse glided almost silently through the forest with only the occasional “pah-rump” of hooves touching the ground. Horse and rider would float in unison without disturbing a single branch. The pursuit raced past us as if he had wanted us to see him. I believe he may have actually glanced over at us and winked as he sailed by. Such are the memories of an eleven-year-old.

While we were eating breakfast he appeared again silently at the edge of camp. Again he was invited to join us for a meal. And again he ate while mounted on his horse. But this time he actually started enjoying the swarm of kids who would gather and ask questions. Our parents again urged the kids to leave the poor guy alone but it seemed that Jim the Indian actually liked the attention. Thinking back now, as an adult, it’s easy to imagine that Jim led a very solitary life and probably actually enjoyed all the attention and the food. I know now that when you live by yourself that you don’t usually go overboard on meals for one. So, for a few days, Jim the Indian had company and a few good meals. In fact, he showed up every morning and waited until invited to eat.

On the last morning, as we were finishing breakfast and while our dads were rolling up our sleeping bags, Jim actually got off his horse. He let us all ride the horse while he guided it through the forest. It was a rather solemn experience since we all knew that our short time together was coming to an end. Even at that young age I realized that I would never see Jim again. His was a nomadic lifestyle while our’s was carefully mapped out. Fortunately, we were afforded periodic serendipitous journeys into the wild.