Tag Archives: Bill DeCarteret




                                                                                                           The gods
                                               abhor halters and stirrups, even a horse
                                               blanket to protect our asses is forbidden.

                                                                   – Jim Harrison (“Poet No. 7”)

Handful of mane, wrap
of hair gripped and entwined,
I plowed the pine duff on the Kern
with my chin loping back to the picket line,
bell mare clenched between my legs
when she shied.

                    A pigeon-toed bay,
                    my legs and heart
                    grew into.

A plucky kid
leading mules and people

                    over granite scree
                    to snowmelt meadows
                    framing heaven’s
                    blue-cloud reflection

I could have died
half-dozen times
were I not so close
to the hands of gods
and goddesses

that may have placed
a rattler in the corner of her eye
for entertainment.

                                                  for Bill DeCarteret

“Mountains, Mules and Memories”


Exeter Garden Party



I was humming Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” yesterday while working in our own garden, but the song was triggered by the Exeter Garden Party, a fundraiser sponsored by the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, that we were invited to last evening by our Dry Creek neighbors Steve and Jody Fuller. The highlight of the annual event for us is being able to visit with Dick and Pat Jacobsen of Rocky Hill Inc. From long-time pioneer families, both Dick and Pat have a wealth of historical information.

I went to the Lincoln School in Exeter until the fifth grade where Pat (Pogue) Jacobsen first began as a teacher. Last night she reminded me once more that my sister Virginia was the perfect student and that I was an incorrigible little boy. My memory of those days is hazy, but to be among children our age while living out in the country could easily become an adventure.

Dick asked me if I’d read Bill DeCarteret’s “Mountains, Mules and Memories” and told a story about a mule named Dynamite that he and John Crowley had taken on a pack trip. I’d packed the mule myself and swapped the story of a layover day in the High Sierras (unbeknownst to Bill) when a couple of young packers thought they could saddle and ride him. Typical of most mules, Dynamite was willing to endure being packed, but not being rode.

I referred to Dynamite as one of a half-dozen Number Nine mules that Bill DeCarteret had in his string, knowing that the mules had come from the Oregon Ranch that Jim Pogue owned. Pat went on to tell me that “9” branded on their hips was a really a “JP” and that the mules had draft horse mothers that her dad had bred, which accounted for their extraordinary size and endurance.

Exeter hasn’t grown much since I was a boy with a population of about 4,000, today it’s 10,000, but it’s a delightful, well-kept town with many service organizations. A throwback to the old days, it’s always a pleasure to do business in Exeter. It was a delightful evening, but I suspect we were the only ones talking mules.


“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