Saturday, March 7, 2009
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MONTE WOLF
Mountain man Monte Wolfe chose the rugged canyons of the Sierra Nevadas as his home where he could range unhindered over several hundred square miles, hunting, trapping and fishing. He prided himself on his ability to live off the land and turned himself into a legend in the process. He loved the grandeur of the mountains and the quiet, privacy it offered. He liked people,too, on his terms. Some swore he was a wanted man, and were afraid of him. Others loved him for his unique lore of the woods and his willingness to share it. Monte disappeared in 1940. Those who knew him speculate that he would have enjoyed the controversy and mystery his disappearance caused.
Harry Schimke of Sonora was the last person to see him alive. He and his brother Art had a cabin in the Stanislaus range where they wintered and knew Monte from 1936 to 1940. Monte visited them whenever they were in camp.
"When I first met Monte," said Harry, "he was hiring out as a mountain guide from a tent at Tamarack. He'd take hunters and fishermen into the remote canyons. When he wasn't on a trip, he'd put on a campfire for the summer people. He was quite a showman and he'd tell great stories of his hunts with a lot of flourish. It was obvious he liked to entertain. Near Tamarack was a guy and his wife, Retha and Louis Bauer. They were good friends for years but not long after I met him, they had a falling out and Monte avoided their place. Louie would sit all day with a jug and lace his wine with pepper to spice it up a bit. Louie had it in for Monte and spoke viciously about "getting" Monte someday and I believe he was capable of doing Monte in. It was rumored Monte had an affair with Retha and Louis hated him for it. Louis was such a drunk and M0nte was so normal, and a virile man. I believed it. Besides, Retha was half Indian like Monte.
"Anyway, he gave up his GUIDE operation and continued to sell furs, hunt, fish, garden and live off the land. He'd have a drink with us at the cabin, or if someone else was buying, he'd drink at the bar, but he didn't buy drink, nor smokes. I never saw him inebriated.
"Monte turned into a superman after he disappeared, but he wasn't a superman really. He was a small guy about 165 pounds, but he was tough. He could hike miles up and down hill through rough country with a 100 pound pack on his back like it was nothing. He had huge calf muscles from all that hiking and he wasn't young. I remember him talking about being in WWI, but he was in such good shape he looked like he was in his forties. He had a habit of disappearing for months and then he's just pop in on you. I think he liked the idea of being a little mysterious and not telling anybody too much about his past.
"I liked Monte but he wasn't well liked by everyone. For one thing, he tended to take things that didn't belong to him. If something was left unused, he'd take it an use it. It was his way, but it caused resentments. Then there was his problem with Louis Bauer. He had a few scrapes with the law but the constable considered him harmless and didn'[t act on them. Some people said he was an ex-con running from the law. People were a little afraid of him. He had a temper if you got him riled up. And, no one knew for sure what his real name was. Veda Linford knew him well and wrote a book on Monte called Monte, The Lone Wolf of the Mokelumne. Its pretty accurate.
He stayed with us one night at Alpine. He took off the next morning on his skis. It was January, 1940. I saw his tracks up around Wheeler Lake on April 1st. That was the last sign of Monte Wolf. In June, the Linfords went to his cabins and found no sign of Monte. The last date marked off his calendar was April 20th.
To be continued.