The Skinner Brothers
60 Years of Outdoor Wilderness Camps
by Terry Allen
April 25, 2018
"We'd give them three pancakes, and a slice of cheese for breakfast," said Ole Skinner. "Then, so they might be able to have something to eat for the other two meals in the day, we'd give them three fish hooks, some horse hair and a bit of string to try to catch some fish. To supplement that, we'd teach them how to gather and cook edible plants."
Our community gathered in the big room at Sublette BOCES Tuesday night, April 24th, to have a nice full dinner and hear stories of youth learning wilderness skills from Monte, Courtney and Ole Skinner. Along with their father, Clem, and brother Bob, they ran the Skinner Brother Outdoor Wilderness Camps for 60 years in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.
We watched old films of the Skinner Brothers youth wilderness camps in action, when they were young men and the hair styles of the kids from back east looked like they were cut by real barbers and then fluffed up in some way or another. It wasn't long as the films progressed that the hair looked more like a nest of pack-ratted upholstery stuffing.
Their brother, Bob, was also part of the operation when he was alive. He had taught survival skills to airmen when he was in the U.S. Air Force and knew every plant and animal that could be put in a pot or eaten with no pot at all if one had to.
The film showed the gathering of wild onions, Miner's lettuce and other wild plants that would go into a pot over the fire. One boy in the film said the first night they only had onion stew..."Just water, and what they said were onions and probably some dirt, but the second night we put a squirrel and a gopher into the pot and it worked." I asked a guy sitting next to me if the kid had said "dirt." "That's what I heard," he said. Ole mentioned that once in a while, if the kids were really dragging, he "might slip a bouillon cube into the pot to give the kids an emotional boost and make them believe they could make it."
These encouraging sleight-of-hand tricks often did the trick as in another example of a young man who put two snakes in a pot. "That was enough to keep us fairly well fed," he bragged.
A lot of the kids looked like they'd rolled around in the dirt or a moose bog, or looked like a toddler who'd gotten into a chocolate cake. One young man expressed his experience on film. "The Skinner Brothers are bad!" he said.
In spite of that, they never lost a wilderness camper...except the time Courtney's wife Maria who doubled as the camp cook, went into the woods to act the part of a lost camper so the kids could learn finding skills. They couldn't find her. "I was just sitting under a tree waiting for them to find me and they never did, so after a couple hours I just came back to camp," she said.
I heard rumors of campers who would contact the Skinner's in later years and thank them for the lessons they had learned and tell them the difference it had made in their lives.
One such camper who had gone to three years of camps is our own Greg Legurski who is the Principle of Pinedale Elementary School. "I gained an appreciation for the outdoors," he said. "I also learned the value of hard work, strength, leadership and problem solving skills. The Skinner Brothers are the main reason I entered the education field."
Monte finished the evening with a quote he said had proven true for the Skinner Brothers. "Everything you put into the lives of others, comes back into your own."
Thank you Dawn Ballou at Pinedale Online for sponsoring this story.
Terry Allen: email@example.com