“Mountains, Mules and Memories” by Bill DeCarteret




Few of us know what it’s like to fall in love with the mountains, the backcountry of the High Sierras, and fewer yet who can put that feeling into words, but Bill DeCarteret has humbly woven a lifetime’s love of its rivers and rugged terrain with the mules, horses and the ‘kids’ who worked for him at Wolverton and Mineral King Pack Stations from 1958 through 1982. Over fifty years ago, I was lucky enough to be one of those kids.

Bill became acquainted with the High Sierras as a Boy Scout in 1941 as he wrangled his way to his first job as a packer for Vaud Cunningham in 1945 near Huntington Lake. In 1947, he packed out of Mineral King for Ray Buckman from whom he later bought the pack station in 1958 with a $12,000 loan from Adolph Gill. As the author unwinds his stories in chronological order, it becomes apparent from the outset that they could never happen again, that his experiences were limited to a slice of time that will never be repeated. In this regard, “Mountains, Mules and Memories” becomes a part of our local history.

The author’s voice on the page is consistent with the man I know, replete with his understated humor as he relates his stories, especially his observations and compassion for his horses and his mules—a must read for animal rights advocates, DeCarteret was light years ahead of most. Like so many outfits in the business of packing people on horses and mules, anything can happen anytime and usually did. It’s from the stories that we not only learn about the man, and his wife Marilyn, but what it took to keep their summer enterprise afloat for twenty-five years.

Perhaps the most important thing I took away from this book was the impact that Bill and Marilyn’s business had on so many lives, affording many their first glimpse of the Sierras, cooking on a wood fire, catching fish in mountain streams and lakes in the middle of miles of untarnished landscapes, and all the degrees of awe that must have inspired them. The 83 ‘kids’, mostly teenagers at the time who worked for him in those twenty-five years, had to know how to work, often long hours, and to take responsibility because he couldn’t be with them on the pack trips—his business depended on it. Many are involved in the stories he tells as they became packers ‘his way’, safety first, learning to observe and read horses and mules—and most of all, how to reach inside for something more they didn’t know they had. Thank you, Bill.



Saturday, October 29th
Noon to 4 p.m.
Courthouse Gallery and Museum
125 S. ‘B’ St.
Exeter, CA

% Bill DeCarteret
758 Sherwood St.
Exeter, CA 93221
(559) 592-2878
349 pp. $21.95

15 responses to ““Mountains, Mules and Memories” by Bill DeCarteret

  1. Wish I could be there!


  2. Nice review John. I think it is fair to say that Bill cared more for the proper treatment of his stock than the comfort of the dudes they transported to the back country,


  3. Tho I cannot make the book signing, I will look for the book online. I spent several years as a Wilderness Supervisor on several different forests for the Forest Service so I’m aware of his feelings for the mountains. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Kelly DeCarteret

    Fantastic, heart-felt review John!! Thank you for your kind words reflecting on Dad’s book. I agree with you that it was well done, and am so proud of him for getting it written! His recall to the details is truly amazing!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I was one of those kids too, in the summers of 74 and 75. Bill and Marilyn took this girl out of the city and changed my life. They are exceptional people. I was at the book signing yesterday and the response was as it should have been… overwhelming.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for the story, great read in the Bee this morning. If you’ve lived in the valley all your life like I have your story brings many emotions. Having made a few trips to the high country with a packer named Tom Venner a few years ago I loved your story. Very interested in buying your book. Thanks again Jim Beggs – Clovis, CA.


  7. Marilyn Johnson Dale

    Marilyn Johnson Dale: Just got your book and right away started seeing names of people I have known. Read the book and laugh. Thanks again for your book.


  8. I received your book as a gift and could not put it down!! When I was young, I worked for Vaud building fence. He was a family friend. In ordering a copy if your book for my son in law. This is just a wonderful book!


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  10. So proud of my Dad for writing this amazing Book.
    I’ve read it four times and learn more each time I read it.


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