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Melvin R. Gourlie - Personal Communication
Interview, 11 September 2001I visited Mel for about an hour after meeting Kathleen Long. (See long-kathleen.) These notes were taken by hand since I didn't feel comfortable asking to use a tape recorder. Mel is a lively character. He has written hundreds of pages of stories about his life (in longhand) for his family. He showed me some of them, but I didn't have time to read them during this visit.
by Lowell Skoog
Melvin Gourlie was born in 1920 to Leon and Florence Gourlie of Wenatchee. Starting in 1927 his family began spending summers living in a tent in the area between Harts Pass and Windy Pass. They made a living during the Depression by higrading gold out of a prospect hole near Barron. Mel said that the Barron mines were abandoned in 1892.
In 1936 the Gourlies built a sturdy cabin at 6200 feet near Windy Pass, on the southeast slopes of Tamarack Mountain. They lived year-round in this cabin from 1936-41. Mel said he and his parents were the only people in the area. There were other people wintering in the Pasayten wilderness in those years, however. Over the Cascade crest in Barron Creek three men wintered at the Baltimore Mine. The Azurite Mine, two valleys to the west, was a substantial year-round operation in those years.
In winter the nearest road was eighteen miles away at Lost River. To reach Lost River from their Windy Pass cabin required 3 miles of steep downhill, a 3 mile climb to Harts Pass, then 9 miles of gentle downhill followed by 3 miles of flat. The abandoned site of Barron was 1-1/2 miles down the hill from their cabin. In summer a jeep road covered the entire distance and it was possible to drive to the cabin, but in winter the route was snow covered and they had to ski it. One particularly steep side-hill was called Dead Horse Point because a team of horses had been lost there in the old days. In winter the road across Dead Horse Point was filled in by snow. Mel remembers crossing the slope carrying skis over his shoulder and using a hand axe to chop steps.
The Gourlies made their own equipment and taught themselves to ski. For skis, they scrounged floor boards from the mine buildings, steamed them in a tub, and bent the tips over a rafter in their cabin. Mel said they had to re-bend them a couple times a winter because the skis gradually lost their shape. For bindings they took belts from old mine equipment and tacked them on the side of the skis. They didn't have "ski boots," just work boots. They made half-length climbers out of deer skin. The climbers extended from under the foot to the tail of the ski. The long hairs on the deer hides were trimmed to grip the snow while climbing. Mel said they used a single pole made of tamarack and sat on it to control their speed on steep slopes. (He showed me a picture of his parents each holding a single pole. Another picture showed Mel and Bill Long on skis holding two poles each.) For turns in the soft snow they did telemarks. They never read any books about how to ski.
There was no food to be had in the winter so they had to pack in stores in the fall. Once a month, during the full moon, Mel skied out to Lost River and caught a ride with the mailman to Winthrop. (Though I didn't ask Mel, I believe the mail was for the Azurite Mine. Mail was driven to Lost River, then carried to the Azurite Mine by dog sled.) In Winthrop, Mel would pick up fresh fruit and other supplies then return the next day to the cabin on skis.
In summer the Gourlies higraded gold and in the winter they trapped pine marten, weasel and fox. Mel and his father ran a trap line along the West Fork Pasayten River 16 miles north to the Canadian border. They would ski over Windy Pass and down the Pasayten periodically during the winter to check the trap line. They'd dig a snow hole, build a fire and spend the night out during those trapping trips. Mel was good with a slingshot and in summer he could kill grouse with it.
In February 1940, Mel's mother had to make an emergency trip to Wenatchee for gallstone surgery. Mel skied out ahead to break trail and summon a dog sled. Ed Kikendall was the sled driver. (Kikendall supplied the Azurite Mine and is described in JoAnn Roe's book, The North Cascadians, roe-1980.) As Mel and Kikendall headed back, they met Florence about three miles up the road skiing out under her own power. Mel showed me a few Wenatchee World clippings (one dated 10 Feb 1940) about the incident. In one clipping, the doctors said his mother would not have survived if the operation had been delayed 24 hours.
Mel and Bill Long met at school in Wenatchee. Mel said they were both loners but they got along well. Mel had completed the 10th grade when his family moved to Windy Pass and he never finished high school. Bill Long visited the Gourlies' cabin on skis in April 1939. He returned in December 1940 and stayed for a month. Mel had a copy of Long's five-page story of the trip that Long's wife Kathleen gave me. Tamarack Mountain was right above the cabin and the two of them enjoyed skiing on it and other peaks in the area.
Mel relished his memories of those years in the mountains. The war brought them to an end. Mel joined the Marines and was in combat in the South Pacific at Okinawa. Following the war he took a job with Montgomery Ward in Wenatchee. He said the Gourlie cabin is still standing near Windy Pass, or at least it was a few years ago. Mel said he is the last of the old timers who lived year-round in the Pasayten wilderness in the years before the war.
Meeting, 2 March 2002I visited Mel again to copy some of his photographs. He mentioned that following WWII his parents had a fur farm 1/2 mile west of Winthrop. During the big flood in the spring of 1948 they lost everything.
by Lowell Skoog
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