Riding with Hawk, The Mountain Man

Looking as though he walked off of the pages of a historical novel, Hawk cuts a striking figure. Tall, erect, and strong, his rugged face, calloused hands, and hand-sewn leather attire tell of another age, another era when men lived alone in the mountains for years on end. But it’s his boyish grin that invites you in. Clearly this is a man at ease with himself and with his environment. This is man you want to know, to hear his story.  

 Rick “Hawk” Hurst  is the real deal. As a member of two of the most exacting and challenging organizations in the world, Hawk had to prove his mettle. Both the American Mountain Men Association and Long Riders’ Guild do not seek members. They value quality over quantity. The Mountain Men Association prizes dedication to preserving the traditions and wilderness skills embodied by America’s bold and self sufficient western adventurers from the early 1800s; while the Long Rider’s Guild represents men and women who have completed a single journey of 1,000 miles or more on horseback. Few pass the entrance requirements for either organization.

Hawk more than demonstrated his worthiness in 2010 by using authentic mountain man equipment to ride his equine partners, Cazadore and Snake, from the Mexican border in Texas to the Canadian border in Montana. For much of the trip, Hawk rode alone. 

Like so many happenings at Dunrovin, a horse is responsible for bringing Hawk to us. No, he didn’t ride in on his equine partner, Cazadore; rather he was selling a horse on Craigslist. His posting contained a link to a video of the horse being used by a French actress in a German television production re-enacting a ride from Mexico to Canada by a mountain man. Well, who wouldn’t follow that link?
A quick click brought Hawk into our purview. 

Not only did I purchase the horse, but I became intrigued and then smitten with the charming “mountain man” and his equally tall and lovely wife. Hawk and Julie had just arrived in Montana and were in the process of constructing a new home in the woods. In talking with Hawk, it was immediately apparent that here was a man passionately involved with horses, wilderness, and the history of the mountain west. Clearly we had a lot in common.

Hawk spent every available childhood moment hunting and fishing. The 1972 film, Jeremiah Johnson, created a powerful urge in Hawk to live his life in the manner of the early mountain men. He studied countless books and old documents, experimented on his own, and gradually learned the history and ways of the EuroAmericans who first ventured west to hunt, trap, and live among the Indians. 

Dunrovin Ranch recently received a permit from the Lolo National Forest to offer guided trail rides along a very primitive section of the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail that runs through the Bitterroot Mountains above Lolo Creek. This ancient trail is the same one that Old Toby (Pikee Queenah or Swooping Eagle), a Western Shoshone Indian, shared with Lewis and Clark in 1805 and 1806. Upon meeting Hawk, we knew that we had found the perfect person for guiding guests along this historic trail.

Like Old Tobey, Hawk escorts our guests and shows them the way on a trail that is so lightly used that there really is no “trail” to follow. The undeveloped nature of the trail combined with Hawk’s commanding presence and his authentic gear immerse riders directly into the mountain man era, experiencing the country much as Lewis and Clark did on their epic journey. 

Hawk’s enthusiasm for this country and the mountain man way of life spills out of him as he explains, “The mountaineer trappers that left St. Louis to come West might not see civilization for years again if ever.  The Indians that used  the Nee-Mee-Poo trail would leave their families behind with a hug and hope to see them again when they returned. Sometimes it was months before they would return, depending on what purpose they were traveling for. So you have to put yourself into their time period in which they existed and lived every day. Those people weren’t just historical figures, they were real people. They had family and children and friends, dogs, and favorite horses. They lived a full life. They were happy, sad, excited, hopeful, tired, adventurous, hungry, thirsty, the same things we feel but in a different era.

“This trail was part of their world just as the highways we drive down every day are part of our world. I love to feel/imagine their thoughts as I ride along looking out across the vast landscape into the far blue mountains with the very same sun shining still, as it did every day in their world.”

Hawk uses only original handmade equipment. Guest are encouraged to examine each item and hear its stories. He offers authentic 1800s Indian and mountain men foods, such as parched corn, pemmican, and jerky. These dried foods were essential to Indians and mountain men alike and are sometimes combined into a special pinole for a nutrient dense and filling survival food. 

Hawk has infected Dunrovin with his mountain man dreams and schemes. We have only just begun to incorporate him and his ways. He appears in our kids’ summer camps, leads rides across the Bitterroot River that end at his tipi for some demonstrations, and fireside chats and stories. We hope to soon offer overnight trips with him into the wilderness. 

How glad we are to have found Hawk. That Craigslist ad brought us way more than a new horse. It brought our local history alive in the body of a man who doesn’t just know it, but lives it. Come join us for a ride back in time with Hawk.

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