I’m not sure whether this fish story is true, or a real whopper of a tale.
In the July 17, 1913, edition of the East Oregonian I found a story about two men who braved the elements to engage in some trout fishing. Their destination was Green Lake, which I found buried smack in the middle of the Eagle Cap Wilderness at about 6,700 feet elevation, about 15 miles west of Wallowa Lake as the crow flies. These days the lake can be accessed by a trail, but even in July the trail hasn’t been cleared by the U.S. Forest Service this year. In 1913 the trip was compared Frederick Cook’s 1908 attempt to reach the North Pole, with the pole trek judged the easier one.
U.S. Commissioner Woodson L. “Pat” Patterson and Dr. H.J. “Doc” Horton of Baker embarked on several-day sojourn to the remote lake anticipating a few days of fishing. When they arrived, in sub-zero temperatures, they found the lake frozen over and snow several feet deep on all sides.
The story gave excerpts from Doc Horton’s journal, and I’ll quote them here:
“Midnight, Saturday Night — Pat thinks we have lost our way; not a fish in sight.
“1 a.m. Sunday — Enabled to build a fire and eat a few pieces of frozen bacon; gaining strength to press on for another half mile.
“3 a.m. — About all in; snow getting deeper and mercury dropped out the bottom of the thermometer. Finally made camp with great difficulty. Pat built fire and put his boots over to make soup. Cold was intense; so were we.
“Early Morning — Arrived at lake with feet and ears frostbitten, and all dogs frozen to death but one. Slight rise in temperature enabled us to get our tackle out, and Pat, after several hours, found a hole in the ice. Tried to fish, and lines froze stiff the minute they were pulled from water after the first cast. Four trout about three feet in length leaped from water to the ice, and were frozen stiff instantly.
“Noon, Sunday — Decided to make a dash for home. I here had a grand hunch that saved our lives. Taking the four frozen trout and banding them with straps from our hunting outfit, they made excellent skis, and after four hours hard climbing we made the summit and coasted down hill to North Powder, arriving in a blinding snow storm. Thawed out here and reached home in safety.”
The story said the four trout were brought home to prove their story; the intrepid fishermen planned to have them mounted for exhibition at the Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker.
Now, I’ve heard some good fish stories in my time (and told a few), but I can’t decide whether this is a true tale or a tall one. If true (and the remoteness of their destination certainly supports the story), I’m torn between awe at the conditions they faced and disbelief that they would endure such hardship for a few fish (even three-footers, though those are some mighty nice trout). If it’s a tall tale, I find Doc Horton’s account dripping with dry humor (which I appreciate). Whatever the truth is, I’ve found that true sportsmen will go to great lengths to catch “the big one,” whatever their target might be, and Pat and Doc certainly seem to fall into that category.